• 5 Surprising Benefits of Walking

    16th February, 2017

    Here at The Carter Company, we consider walking one of life’s greatest wonders, especially when wandering in a beautiful setting. Adventuring on foot is the ultimate means of slow travel, a chance to fully engage with your surroundings, both natural and historic, and allow your brain as well as your body to roam free. But don’t just take our word for it: scientists are frequently investigating the positive impact of perambulating on our physical and mental health. Below, we’ve chosen a few of our favourite facts about the benefits of a brisk walk – and if you’re looking to book a holiday to enjoy them, we highly recommend our Ceredigion coast walking tour, following the spectacular and varied coastline of Cardigan Bay on the west coast of Wales.

    1. Walking aids concentration

    Our brains get just as tired as the rest of our bodies, if not more so. The ever-increasing pace of modern life can be over-stimulating – indeed, average concentration spans are lower than they’ve ever been – but the good news is: walking can help fix this. A study in Edinburgh used lightweight brain-scanning devices to monitor the brain function of 12 participants as they walked around the city. Those instructed to wander through busy, built-up sections quickly grew frustrated and antsy, while those pottering in parks and green spaces witnessed a calming, meditative effect. This in turn led to an unconscious surge in the power of concentration, Jenny Roe, the professor behind the study told The New York Times. "It’s called involuntary attention in psychology,” she explained. “[Natural settings] hold our attention while at the same time allowing scope for reflection."

    2. Walking enhances creativity

    Writers and philosophers have long extolled the virtues of walking as a means of sparking ideas. “The moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow,” wrote Henry Thoreau. While Michel de Certeau noted that “writing is one way of making the world our own, and walking is another.” Dr Sowden of the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey agrees, explaining in a National Trust blog post that not only does walking improve our attention span, memory and recovery from mental fatigue but it also allows us to shift between modes of thought and offers fuel for creativity. “Walking exposes us to the constant flux of a changing environment providing us with an endless array of new and unique experiences,” he writes, “which combined with our past memories may, through serendipity alone, provoke new associations and give birth to new ideas.”

    3. Walking is just as good for you as running

    Given that running really gets your heart racing, while the effects of walking feel less noticeable, people often (wrongly) assume that running is the more beneficial form of exercise. However researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory looked at long-term studies of runners and walkers, and rather remarkably discovered that, when covering the same distance, the heart health benefits for both sets of participants were almost exactly the same. Both running and walking led to the reduction of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, as well as the risk of diabetes and coronary heart disease, the only difference being that walking takes a little longer. (All the better to enjoy the journey, we say!)

    4. Walking can help alleviate stress and depression

    The endorphins produced during a walk are known to improve your mood and reduce stress and anxiety. If you can surround yourself by nature while walking, all the better! Interaction with the natural world – from national parks to coastal paths – is scientifically proven to have a positive effect on mental health and stress management, for many of the reasons detailed above. The University of Stirling conducted a study using 341 patients which found that a brisk walk was “an effective intervention for depression”. It is also a form of exercise that can be done socially, unlike other more rigorous sports, and is a great way to let off steam with your friends.

    5. Walking makes you live longer

    Everything points to the fact that the more you walk, particularly in natural settings, the better your mind and body feel. It reduces the impact of all kinds of bodily ailments, from alzheimer's to arthritis, it helps weight management, boosts our immune systems and more. But what about the long term effects on your health? Well scientists say that making sure you take time to walk for a distance of 20 to 25 miles each week can extend your life by up to two years. If that doesn’t get you out of the house and off on a walking holiday, nothing will!

  • 3 Fabulous Flower Shows to Plan a Cycling Holiday Around

    29th January, 2017

    In the midst of the winter frost it’s hard to believe that spring, replete with new life and vibrant colours, is just around the corner. For flower lovers, the warmer weather brings with it the excitement of new blooms, celebrated every British summertime with a diverse array of flower shows scattered across the country. This year marks the opening of a new flower show from the Royal Horticultural Society, taking place in the verdant grounds of Chatsworth House in June. In celebration of this new addition to the botanical calendar, and to spread a little warmth during a very chilly January, we've picked three brilliant UK flower shows, set in the grounds of beautiful historical homes – all of which you can incorporate into one of our cycling tours.

    1. RHS Chatsworth Flower Show

    Chatsworth House is the lavish stately home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, located in the Derbyshire dales, and its 1000 acre parklands are the ideal spot for floral festivities. The newest flower show from the RHS, which will make its debut between June 7-11, promises to surprise and delight visitors with an immersive horticultural experience centred around the theme of ‘Design Revolutionaries’, with the aim of imbuing traditional design with an innovative twist. We recommend kickstarting your summer holiday with a visit to the show, followed by a weeklong ramble and ride around the Cotswolds, starting in Oxford and taking in glorious scenery by bike and on foot.

    2. Ayr Flower Show

    Head up to Scotland to enjoy one of the country’s finest flower shows, set in the sumptuous woodlands surrounding Rozelle House, an imposing 18th-century mansion. Expect specially-created miniature and themed gardens, as well as a variety of delicious food and drink stands and cookery demonstrations. The three-day event takes place in early August, but you'll need to keep an eye on the website as this year’s dates are yet to be released. Ayr is located just south of Glasgow, and is the perfect pit stop for travellers to the dramatic shores of Loch Lomond – incidentally the starting point of our lochs and glens to Edinburgh tour. Scenic cycling heaven.

    3. RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

    Less home, more vast medieval royal household, Hampton Court Palace is one of Greater London’s most extraordinary buildings, boasting a unique combination of Tudor and Baroque architecture. Best known as the residence of King Henry VIII, Hampton Court is now equally recognised for its annual hosting of the world’s biggest flower show in the palace’s breathtaking park. Featuring show gardens, floral marquees and pavilions, as well as complementary talks and demonstrations, it is the second major national show after Chelsea and differs in its particular focus on environmental issues and self-grown produce. This year’s show takes place from July 4-9, so why not make a trip of it and plan your visit around our Thames-side cycling holiday Windsor and Hampton Court – a freewheeling celebration of royal history.

  • The inspirations behind The Carter Company

    17th November, 2016

    As it's Thanksgiving just around the corner, we thought it was a good time for us here at The Carter Company HQ to reflect on who and what we're thankful for. There are lots of people, products and brands who have inspired The Carter Company. When we re-branded a few years ago, we played a game where we had to think what we would be if we were a book, a person, a place, a fruit etc. It sounds a bit eccentric but it really helped us to think about the kind of company we want to be, and the service we want to provide to our customers. It also proved to be rather illuminating in revealing who we take inspiration from. So we thought for this thanksgiving-themed post, we would share some of our biggest inspirations who we (try to!) emulate in everything we do. They're a lot to live up to. But then we are aiming to make our cycling and walking holidays feel like a genuine cut above the rest!

    • Michael Palin
      One of our favourite travel writers and presenters, we love what Michael Palin represents: a sense of adventure, a curiosity and openness to new places and cultures, and a very British sense of humour.

    • Daunt Books
      Daunt Books is an original Edwardian bookshop with long oak galleries and graceful skylights in London, with a special focus on travel. They are also rather famous for packing up purchases in branded canvas bags which have become rather fashionable in certain circles! Their flagship on Marylebone High Street (which is lovely if you haven't been before) is a real treasure trove - head to the back and check out the antique travel books.

    • Aston Martin
      A favourite brand of John's, one of the original founding members of The Carter Company, the Aston Martin embodies a very British kind of elegance. Aston Martins are high-end and uniquely individual, which is exactly what we aim for when designing our walking and cycling holidays. The brand also has an affinity to the area where we are based, Aston Clinton: Aston Hill in the Chilterns is so named because they used to test the Aston Martin cars there!

    • Famous Five
      The Famous Five represent the spirit of adventure we cherish here at The Carter Company. It's one of the key reasons we focus on self-guided cycling holidays and walking tours here. Discoveries are best when you feel like they're your own. Self-guided holidays mean you can explore off route if you so please, and follow your nose - much like Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy did.

    • Brooks
      Brooks has to be the ultimate English cycling brand. Founded on values of quality and integrity, their iconic saddles (and all the other beautiful products they make) are beloved by cyclists all over the country. We love their backpacks and accessories too. If we could choose any cycling brand to do a collaboration with, we would choose Brooks.

  • Meet the host for our Lake District walking holidays

    11th November, 2016

    Hello and welcome to the second installment of our new blog series, where we profile the brilliant people who act as 'hosts' on Carter Company cycling and walking holidays across the Uk and Europe. It's the host's job to look after you from the very moment you arrive to the moment you leave, from briefing your route at the start of your trip to answering any questions you might have on the tour, as well as leading any guided days of walking or cycling that might be included in the itinerary. Our hosts are really our superstars and we want to champion them more. They are also full of interesting stories and the kind of people who like adventures, so we hope you enjoy getting to know them a little better through these interviews...

    Today we meet Ian (pictured above). Ian is the host and guide on many of our walking holidays in the Lake District. As the Lakes can be challenging to navigate in poor conditions, we always ask Ian to step in as a guide for any high level ascents. He's a very experienced fell walker and has just about every qualification in mountaineering guidance you can get. He is also a Blue Badge guide, which means he has a fascinating amount local knowledge that he can share with you on your walk.

    Iona: Ian, hello! Can you tell us a little about your role as a host in the Lake District? How did you end up becoming a Carter Company walking holiday host and guide?

    Ian: Much of my working life has focused on introducing people to new challenges. Whether it be the skills and the confidence to climb a rock face or to head down white water rapids in a canoe or to take off on a 7 day sailing adventure, they all require the support and encouragement of your companions who are sharing the experience with you. A shared experience in the outdoors invariably brings out the best in us. Guiding is just another way of introducing groups to the outdoors whilst sharing the knowledge I have accrued over the years.

    Iona: What's your favourite thing about being a host in Lakeland?

    Ian: Meeting new people from all parts of the world who for differing reasons have made their way to The Lake District. I would like to think that the time we spend together is the highlight of their holiday. No matter what the weather brings there is always somewhere that can surprise and provide that memorable moment.

    Iona: Everyone has their favourite spots in the Lake District. Some are more crowded than others (!). In fact, getting away from the crowds is one of the big challenges for visitors during peak season. Can you recommend anywhere quiet in high season?

    Ian: There is a valley south of the town of Keswick which is a busy tourist centre, called Borrowdale. I just love the way that even on a busy day you can get away from the crowds as there are so many paths to choose from. A walk can be so easily combined with a boat trip on Derwent Water which adds to the overall experience of the day. If you know where to look you can find a cave which was once the home of Millican Dalton a self-styled “professor of adventure” in the early 20th century who offered “hair raising escapes”. He lived in this cave for the summer each year, it’s a marvellous spot only a few minutes from a well-trodden path yet most people pass by unaware of the nearby cave.

    Iona: Do you have any advice for our readers who are thinking of visiting the Lakes?

    Ian: Come in the spring when there is still snow on the hills but in the valleys the wild flowers are blooming and there is a sense of optimism in the air.

    Iona: And finally, if you could go walking or cycling anywhere else in the world, where would you choose and why?

    Ian: It has to be Nepal, the people are so happy and friendly and you will always be meeting the locals on the paths, in much of this mountainous country there are simply no roads so the paths are their main thoroughfares. The mornings are just superb when the air is crystal clear with a touch of frost and the mountains appear to “float above” almost unworldly. Memories that stay with you for the rest of your life.

  • The 5 best hotels in the Cotswolds

    1st November, 2016

    Here at The Carter Company, one of our favourite things to do is scout out hotels. We're a picky bunch when it comes to choosing accommodation for our tours, and our search criteria are very specific. First of all, the hotel has to be in a great location - and by that we mean it's possible to walk out of the front door into the local town/city without having to work up too much of a sweat. Secondly, the place has to have character: we don't go in for Hilton-style homogenous modern monoliths, even if they are billed as 'luxury'. Thirdly (and most importantly) the hotel has to stand for real quality - in its rooms, its food and its service. So without further ado, here are our top 5 Cotswold hotels:

    1. Foxhill Manor in Broadway is the newest addition to the list of hotels in the area and already in our top 5. A private manor-house hotel with genuinely personal service, it offers lovely views down to the village of Broadway. The building is classic Cotswolds - a gorgeous Grade-II listed Arts and Crafts country home, which has been modernised in excellent taste. The Sunday Times even named it their Hotel of the Year 2015.

    2. Lords of The Manor in Upper Slaughter was recently named ‘Country House Hotel of the Year’ by Good Hotel Guide. Located in the utterly picturesque Upper Slaughter, it’s also not far from the popular Cotswold towns such of Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold. Boasting the only Michelin starred hotel restaurant in Gloucestershire and lovely gardens, it’s an all round delight.

    3. Barnsley House in Bibury. Everyone knows Bibury for its famous Weavers’ Cottages - supposedly the most photographed site in the Cotswolds - but it is also a stone's throw from Barnsley House, situated in Barnsley village. This hotel is seriously luxury, but in a characterful way (the absolute opposite of anonymous international hotel chains). It has a well reputed spa, a private cinema, fab staff and even a kitchen garden, where they grow their own produce to serve in the restaurant.

    4. Whatley Manor in Malmesbury - which amusingly appears on old maps as ‘Twatley Manor’ (!) - has a big reputation for food, with two restaurants and two bars. The food, by Michelin two-starred chef Martin Burge, is described as classical French with a modern twist. The interior feels like an English country home, and of course they have the requisite resplendent gardens and private cinema.

    5. Le Manoir outside of Oxford. Saving the best ’til last? Very possibly. Raymond Blanc’s hotel (see pic above) is a real triumph and a total treat. We love how all the rooms are individually designed with a different theme - from the French ‘Lace’ to the old-Asian ‘Lemongrass’ and the utterly beautiful restored Dovecote. The gardens are idyllic; wander around and you’ll find giant vegetables growing in a greenhouse and at the very bottoms, an unexpected Japanese water garden complete with a little thatched tea house! Obviously it goes without saying that the gastronomic experience here is second to none. The restaurant has held 2 Michelin stars since opening in 1984.