• Barmy British Weather!

    28th August, 2019

    “There is no such thing as bad weather – just the wrong clothes…”

    Popularly attributed to Alfred Wainwright (famous for his walking guides) this quote had to be by a Brit and really sums up the attitude needed to enjoy everything the British weather can throw at you!

    In general, as an island on the edge of a large continent our weather is temperate without extremes of heat or cold, or dangerous tornados, monsoons or droughts. However, within that temperate range the weather can vary on a daily basis. On a perfect summer’s day there is nowhere more beautiful than the British Isles with fluffy white clouds in an azure sky, the warmth of the sun tempered by a gentle breeze and the hedgerows full of wild-flowers, busy bees and clouds of butterflies as you pass by. The next day of course it will probably rain!

    Predictably Unpredictable

    In early summer May and June, the nights are lighter and while daytime temperature can reach 20-25 Celsius, the evenings can be cool, but wonderful to sit outside until 10pm where possible. Having got sunburnt in Scotland in early May, we returned south to the Chilterns to find we were lighting the fire on several June evenings!

    July is generally the warmest month, and temperatures have soared into the 30s Centigrade on a couple of days this year. Whilst this is still rare, these sorts of temperatures are appearing more frequently. Extreme heat will often be followed by storms - of the exciting rather than scary sort (unless you happen to be trapped on the golf course!)

    September, October and even November can provide wonderfully warm afternoons, and while the days are getting shorter, the stunning Autumn colours can make these ideal months for a walking trip. Knowing there is a cosy pub with a roaring fire and a good meal at the end can make even the less clement days enjoyable and provide a sense of satisfaction as you warm up with a well-earned pint (or hot toddy!)

    Be Prepared!

    We always send out a suggested clothing list to our clients and we would suggest you pack for every eventuality – loose light clothes; sunglasses; hat and sun-cream for the hot days, - extra layers; a rain jacket; hat; sturdy shoes/boots and maybe some spares for the rainy days.

    Keep an eye on the local forecast (even in such a small island weather can be very local), so you have the best chance at not getting caught out. The British Meteorological Office (known as the Met Office) is the place to go for all things weather - click here for up to date forecasts.

    Air Conditioning

    A couple of weather related questions we have been asked concern air conditioning, and cycling in the winter months. Where possible, the hotels we choose are traditional and characterful and often several hundred years old – built well before air-conditioning! Whilst some larger and more modern hotels will have a/c, it is not common outside the larger cities and rarely needed. Of course, if it is a priority for any guest we will endeavour to find properties with air conditioning – but we can’t promise!

    Winter Wanderings

    Another request we have received a couple of times is for a cycling trip in mid-winter. While we hate not being able to oblige, we have to remind clients that while we can have pleasant sunny (if chilly) days in November and December, winter weather may include ice and fog as well as rain, and with darkness falling as early as 4pm (and earlier if it is a cloudy day), we would recommend cycling only to those hardy souls who are experienced and prepared!

    Fortunately for anyone in need of a winter getaway we have some Winter Warmers - short walking breaks in the UK that inlcude some indoor sightseeing and lots of cosy inns! For those in need of a little more sun and cycling before winter we have some lovely trips in warmer climes such as Portugal, France and the exciting new Crossing of the Andes.

    The vagaries of the weather have undoubtedly contributed to the British national psyche, and whilst we may grumble about it, how unexciting to know what to expect each day - and what on earth would we talk about!

  • Why Provence this Autumn?

    6th August, 2019

    Provence, a region in southeastern France bordering Italy and the Mediterranean Sea, is known for its diverse landscapes, from the Southern Alps and Camargue plains to rolling vineyards, olive groves, pine forests and lavender fields. To the south is the Côte d'Azur (or French Riviera), where the elegant city of Nice and glamorous resort towns such as Saint-Tropez and Cannes line the coast.

    PROVENCE AS WARM AS AN ENGLISH SUMMER

    With warm days and mild nights continuing well into the autumn, daytime temperatures in Avignon can reach highs of 25 degrees Celsius / 77 degrees Fahrenheit in September and 15 degrees Celsius / 59 degrees Fahrenheit, even as late as November. This is the time of year when the region really shines – away from the hustle and bustle of the summer months, you’ll find a quieter, more accessible Provence – ready to surprise you at every turn with its unique specialties and natural beauty.

    THE WINE

    Autumn sees the vineyards of Provence transformed into a fabulous blaze of gold, bronze and red, and the towns and villages celebrating the grape harvest and - they hope - a vintage year. Avignon does so with an all-day festival, the Ban des Vendanges at the end of August which marks the gathering of the grapes from the papal vineyards, with tastings of Côtes du Rhône wines, a farmers' market, picnics, dancing and music. For a vintage wine-tasting experience, try the 225-acre Château La Nerthe, one of the oldest vineyards in France with its subterranean cave dating from 1560 . Wine touring is a doorway to the unique history, culture and ‘joie de vivre’ of a wine producing country. Wine tastes better if it comes with a story, such as meeting the winemaker or owner who has conveyed his passion for the craft of wine making. You will make better choices in purchasing wine after the tour and you will have a better understanding of value in wine when buying and ordering in restaurants.

    THE ARTS

    After the end of the big July music, theatre and photography festivals in Aix, Avignon and Arles respectively, the arts scene shuts down for August. But in September the action starts up again with a key event - September 15th & 16th September, the Journées du Patrimoine. It's variously known as European Heritage Days, Doors Open Days or Open Doors Days in English-speaking countries. During these two days entrance to many museums and galleries is free of charge or at a reduced rate.

    VAN GOGH

    Visit an abandoned rock quarry, now developed into an image and light show, the Carrieres de Lumières - this year’s theme is Van Gogh ; Back in 1888 he settled down in Arles and started the most productive period of his life, certainly influenced by the luminescent skies and the Provençal sun. He painted some of his most famous artwork : the sunflower fields, olive groves, cypress trees, cafés, local folk groups & ancient abbeys.

    Take a peek at our Potter through Provence walking trip or Cycle through Provence and the Wild Carmargue and experience Van Gogh’s landscapes in this mellow time of year.

  • E bikes open up The Highlands!

    17th July, 2019

    E Bikes open up The Highlands!

    A recent trip to Scotland to update our route for the Lochs and Glens to Edinburgh trip, gave one of the team a great opportunity to not only test the Ride with GPS app which is proving such a great hit with our clients this year, but also to experience the fun of riding an e-bike. We grade the 7-night trip as a Gentle – Level 5 (one of the more challenging ‘gentle’ trips but not quite in the ‘not so gentle’ category). So, while distances each day are rarely more than 25 miles, there are a few significant hills such as the climb out of Drymen and the ascent of Glen Ogle as well as the ups and downs of rolling countryside.

    E-Bikes Explained

    The e-bikes are undoubtedly much heavier than a regular hybrid because of the battery, however once you are underway this is not really noticeable especially if you keep the bike in low power mode as our host recommended we do. On approaching a hill a combination of changing down through the gears and up through the 4 power modes allows the rider to remain seated even up the steepest incline – and whilst a few good natured shouts of ‘cheat’ from other walkers and cyclists led to a fleeting guilt as we passed them going uphill, this was soon forgotten in the sheer joy of whizzing back down!

    Battery Power

    Concerns about the bike either ‘running away’ or running out of battery were both unfounded, and this would probably only be an issue if the power was kept on the highest level even on the flat. Even on the longest day the battery level did not fall below 3/5 and on most days only went down to 4/5. Still important to charge each night – just to make sure there is enough juice for any eventuality or detours! For a moderately fit walker, but not a keen cyclist, this was the perfect option; enough good exercise to give tired legs, a good appetite for dinner and a great night’s sleep, but not so much that we did not have time to ‘stop and stare’; enjoy a good lunch and the odd ice cream; but still arrive at our destination mid-afternoon in time to explore a little before dinner. E bikes are available in all our UK destinations – but please book well in advance as numbers may be limited at peak times.

    Ride with GPS

    Putting all our routes on GPS was a mammoth task for the team over last winter. This not only makes it easier to customise routes, but for the rider, the ease of following the route on the map as well as the verbal cues telling you when to turn etc have made it a big hit. Some clients have been concerned about roaming charges when using their smart phones, but links to download the routes are sent well in advance so routes can be downloaded at home. Phones are then used on airplane mode during the rides so avoiding data usage and conserving battery (although we do provide a battery pack and waterproof phone holder for each booking, just as back up). It is really worthwhile to download the app in advance and have a little play, so you can amend the settings to suit (miles or km for example, continuous visual or screensaver) and to make sure you get the most out of it.

  • Food specialities in Britain

    31st May, 2019

    Britain is known for its amazing variety - all within our small island. This is no less true of its food than of its landscapes and dialects. Many of these foods are associated with specific regions of Britain, some have a unique history and others are eccentrically British. Here is a selection from some of the regions where we offer walking, touring and cycling holidays. Your Adventure Handbook and route directions will highlight where you can find and eat these delicious specialities.

    Scotland's haggis

    The main ingredients of haggis are probably enough for you to never want to sample it! Having said that, it is delicious - sheep's heart, liver and lungs, and stomach (or sausage casing); onion, oatmeal, suet and spices. It comes presented as a large oval shaped sausage and is often served on Burns night around January 25th which is the birthday of poet Robert Burns, whom the event celebrates. It's an ancient recipe - dating back to the 17th Century and is thought to have been an easy food to prepare and eat after a day's hunting. We can offer the haggis but not traditional hunting whilst on our cycling or walking trips in Scotland.

    Welsh cakes

    Pice ar y maen, are a Welsh teatime treat passed on through generations and still as popular as ever. The cakes have been popular since the late 19th century with the addition of fat, sugar and dried fruit to a longer standing recipe for flat-bread, baked on a griddle. They are roughly circular, a few inches in diameter and about half an inch thick and are served hot or cold - so great for a snack whilst walking in Wales

    Yorkshire pudding

    As the main photo above shows, this is a savoury baked pudding made from batter consisting of eggs, flour, and milk. The secret to getting gloriously puffed-up Yorkshires is to have the fat sizzling hot before you put the batter into the oven. They are so good that they are cooked throughout Britain and are traditionally served with roast beef. They originated when shrewd cooks in Yorkshire devised a method of using the fat that dripped from meat to make puddings with wheat flour when it first became available. Preferably best eaten after, rather than during, one of our day's walking there!

    Kendal Mint cake

    One of the Lake District's most famous food and exports is its mint cake. It originates from Kendal, one of the Lake District's biggest towns, where 4 generations of the Romney family have been making it for a hundred years. The cake is a glucose-based confection flavoured with peppermint and is high energy so popular among climbers, mountaineers and cyclists. It famously comes wrapped in grease proof paper in a distinctive blue tin, a nice memorabilia of your trip in itself. Include it in your day pack when taking our walking or cycling tour in the Lake District

    Cotswold cheese

    Stinking Bishop is an unlikely name for a soft cheese but it is produced on one farm in the Cotswolds and is made from the milk of Gloucester cattle. It's strong flavour is a favourite of mine - or perhaps I just love its characterful name! Single Gloucester cheese also emanates from this area. It was sometimes known as the haymaker's cheese as it was matured for a short time and ready for eating by farm labourers during the haymaking season. It can only be sold under this name if it is produced on farms in Gloucestershire with pedigree Gloucester cattle.

    Devon clotted cream

    Clotted cream is a must try experience when you stop for a break whilst walking or cycling in Devon - perhaps less justifiable if you are on one of our touring itineraries! The thick cream is made by heating full-cream cow's milk and then leaving it to cool slowly. During this time, the cream content rises to the surface and produces "clots" or "clouts". It forms an essential part of a cream tea when you pile the clotted cream onto a scone and add strawberry jam. Some say you add the cream below the jam; you can argue that one either way!

    Cornish pasty

    Although widely available throughout Britain these days, the pasty is thought to have originated in Cornwall for consumption by tin miners there at lunch time. Its shortcrust pastry, crimped on one side means its easy to hold and OK to eat with dirty hands. Filled with meat, potatoes, swede and onion, it's a substantial food. Traditionally it was made with the addition of a sweet filling at one end making a complete meal. Go underground in the tin mines on our Captivating Cornwall bike holiday.

  • Islands that inspire

    30th April, 2019

    We include such a wonderful array of islands on our cycling, walking and touring trips that we thought we would share a selection with you.

    13th Century split

    Marken was separated from North Holland by a storm 8 centuries ago and remained an island until a causeway was built in 1957. Its isolated history remains evident in its wooden housing. To keep their feet dry, inhabitants built their houses originally on artificial knolls and later on stilts. Cycle this tour to enjoy.

    A river folly

    As you cycle, walk or float along the Thames river, you pass many islands but none as high profile as Temple Island. It marks the start of the Henley Royal Rowing Regatta and its fishing folly, designed as a Temple is a gorgeous landmark in one of the prettiest stretches of the river.

    Narrow sand dunes

    The Curonian spit is joined at its southern end to mainland Russia; its northern end has a narrow opening into the Baltic at Klaipeda in Lithuania, so strictly it isn't an island. Formed of sand dunes, it's 61 miles have been moulded by sea currents to form a spit, barely 400 m wide at its narrowest. It was the loved summer retreat of Thomas Mann and the playground of military officers during the war. Its peace and extraordinary being are beyond measure. Enjoy it on our Curonian lagoon cycling holiday

    The Long Island

    Scotland has its own Long Island, otherwise known as the Outer Hebrides. They are a collection of islands off the west coast including Lewis and Harris which are hilly and the Uists and Benbecula which are flat. Wind and history play a part. Barra on the other hand hosts the only airport that has a runway where tides are relevant - you land on the beach. How romantic is that? Cycle our Highlands and Hebrides trip

    Inishbofin

    Just 7 miles off the coast of Connemara in Galway, Ireland, the small island of Inishbofin has 180 inhabitants, white sandy beaches and magnificent scenery. Its name, meaning island of the white cow is these days more linked with traditional Irish music and a half marathon every May. Visit on our walking holiday or cycling holiday of Connemara.

    A mountain in the Mediterranean sea

    An island of contrasts, Corsica is French whilst retaining a distinct Italian culture. It has craggy peaks alongside dense forest and stylish coastal towns and beaches that range from the absurdly busy to frankly, remote. It's good local produce and wine and its size - smaller than Sicily or Sardinia but the 4th largest in the Med, make it a fascinating visit. Check it out on our walking trip

    Fossils and Needles

    The Isle of Wight sits off the south coast of England and several of our New Forest and Dorset cycling holidays take you there for a day. There is great fossil hunting and the famous 3 stacks or huge chalk rocks known as the Needles lie adjacent to its coast as shown in the photo above.