Final-year French & Philosophy student, Henry Bell, crowned his year abroad with a 400-mile (or 700km) bike ride from St Malo, in Brittany, to Caniac du Causse in the Lot. Henry, who spent two semesters studying French and philosophy on the Erasmus scheme at the Sorbonne in Paris, saw large parts of western France from the ‘comfort’ of his saddle. Looking back on his long ride through la France profonde, Henry notes “After a year in Paris, it was my first encounter with small village France. Though I only had a passing look, I often had the feeling to be entering the same place again and again, and many villages contained very little besides the obligatory church. I often wondered if the whole population of some places would even fill the church.

Henry Bell and his friends in rural France

Those whom we encountered there though were very amiable, and happy to refill the bottles of some grubby cyclists passing through, and many times we had cause to be grateful to them.” Henry and his three friends – none of whom is keen cyclist in daily life – had to get used to carrying their belongings on panniers. From Brittany, the group pressed south at surprisingly high speed. Henry continues “After skirting round Rennes and Angers on our first two days, we spent our third morning haring it alongside the Loire towards the beautiful town of Saumur. After a lunch in the centre of town we headed up into the hills around Champigny, and caught our first sight of vineyards. The evening brought us to our best campsite yet: by a lake, and with the sun shining.” As the ride progressed, the temperature rose and injury forced one of the team to pull out, and head on to the final destination by train. To Henry, who admits to a fondness for comfort and certain laziness, the town of Limoges will forever be associated with struggling in 38 degrees heat.

Planning the route

By this stage, the ride was quite a battle; Henry concludes “For the home stretch we took the main roads, ignoring the lorries raring past in our single minded pursuit of our goal, though we did find time to leap into the Dordogne to cool off. We arrived at our destination, the village of Caniac du Causse, in the late evening to a finish line with beers waiting on the other side.” Henry, now throwing himself into his final year studies (including a dissertation supervised by Dr Alison Smith) has not yet been spotted on campus on his bike.

Henry (centre) and friends at the end of the ride