• The National Trust - for everyone, for ever

    23rd January, 2020

    “Our lives are overcrowded, over-excited, over-strained. We all want quiet. We all want beauty. We all need space. Unless we have it we cannot reach that sense of quiet in which whispers of better things come to us gently.”

    Octavia Hill Co-founder of the National Trust

    This year one of Britain’s most cherished institutions, the National Trust is celebrating 125 years of protecting and caring for our natural and cultural heritage. Originally founded in 1895 at the end of the Victorian era by Octavia Hill, a dedicated social reformer and philanthropist, who together with Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley and Sir Robert Hunter, worked hard to save green spaces in London for the poorer members of society. The result was a campaign for the opening-up of graveyards for the people, the saving of Parliament Hill from developers and then the creation of the Trust itself, so that London’s fast-disappearing green spaces could ‘be kept for the enjoyment, refreshment, and rest of those who have no country house’.

    Now 125 years later the National Trust has 5 million members and looks after 500 special places.

    Special People

    One early supporter of the National Trust was Beatrix Potter who used income from the sale of her books to donate 16,000 hectares and 14 working farms to the Trust. Her home at Hill Top which she bought in 1905 with the proceeds of her first book ‘Peter Rabbit’ is full of her favourite things, and the house appears as if Beatrix had just stepped out for a walk. Every room contains a reference to a picture in a 'tale'. The lovely cottage garden is a haphazard mix of flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables now lovingly conserved and a highlight on our Quintessential Lake District tour.

    The birthplace of Thomas Hardy - another of our celebrated writers – is also now owned and cared for by the National Trust. Few authors have such strong associations with the natural and cultural heritage of their local area as Thomas Hardy whose works are synonymous with Dorset. This cottage, where Hardy was born in 1840, was built of cob and thatch by his great-grandfather and has been little altered since the family left. Although the garden reflects most people's idea of a typical cottage garden, with roses around the door, once inside you will discover that 19th-century rural life, with its open hearths, small windows and stone floors, was not always idyllic. Despite training as an architect, writing was Hardy's first love, and it was from here that he wrote several of his early short stories, poetry and novels including 'Under the Greenwood Tree' and 'Far from the Madding Crowd'.

    In 1885 Hardy built Max Gate, an austere but sophisticated town house a short walk from the town centre of Dorchester, to show that he was part of the wealthy middle classes, to reflect his position as a successful writer, and to enable him to enter polite society. The house was named after a nearby tollgate keeper called Mack. He wrote some of his most famous novels here, including Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, as well as much of his poetry. You can explore the areas that so inspired his writing as well as visiting the cottage and his later home Max Gate on our several of our Dorset tours.

    Special Places

    20 percent of National Trust Land is coastal including the White Cliffs of Dover and the Needles on the South Coast of England making up some of the 780 miles of British Coastline protected by the Trust, along with twenty percent of the Lake District and the whole village of Lacock in Wiltshire. With its central grid of four streets, Lacock today looks much like it did 200 years ago. Its oldest house is older than the thirteenth century abbey but since the loss of the village's main source of income from wool in the nineteenth century, new development has been minimal. Today it will be familiar to many as a film location with some of the village’s most famous appearances in 'Downton Abbey', the BBC’s 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Cranford', and the films such as 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'. There are a couple of lovely hostelries in Lacock and a delightful stop on ‘A Cotswold Ride to Bath’.

    With a shared belief in the importance of historic places and green spaces Hill, Rawnsley and Hunter fought to preserve them for everyone’s ‘enjoyment, refreshment and rest’. These values are still at the heart of the National Trust and has enabled innumerable natural and architectural treasures to be preserved for the enjoyment of all - and we will be forever grateful for their foresight.

  • Stars Twinkle over The Lake District

    21st November, 2019

    There are 8 special stars shining over the Lake District – Michelin Stars that is – making this beautiful area of England not only a paradise for lovers of the great outdoors but also for those who love the bounty it produces. The Lake District’s reputation as one of the most mouth-watering foodie destinations in the UK has been given a welcome boost – thanks to three new Michelin stars announced this month and we are delighted that so many of these special places are featured in our Lake District Tours. Seven restaurants now proudly enjoy membership of an exclusive club of Lake District eateries which all share the seal of approval by the team behind the internationally-respected Michelin Great Britain & Ireland Stars for 2020 guide.

    CONTINUING TO SHINE

    Both HRiSHi at the Gilpin Hotel and Lake House, and Forest Side at Grasmere, which feature in our Luxury Quintessential Lake District have retained their one Michelin Star rating. Hrishikesh Desai – creator of HRiSHi and Gilpin Spice is becoming justly renowned for his exciting combination of great Lake District produce and classic methods to deliver innovative textures and flavours – modern British cuisine with a twist. In September he was also awarded 4AA Rosettes for Culinary Excellence.

    Paul Leonard recently joined Forest Side in Grasmere as Head Chef and brings with him a great depth of experience working at the highest levels, including retaining a Michelin Star at the Isle of Eriska on the west coast of Scotland. He joins Forest Side from the Devonshire Arms in Bolton Abbey, where he won the Burlington restaurant four Rosettes within his first year. His new The Lal 'Un (7 course) and The Grand 'Un (10 course) tasting menus are rich with local seasonal produce.

    NEW STARS

    We are also delighted to feature Askham Hall on our Luxury Quintessential Lake District walking tour whose ‘Allium’ restaurant has just earned its first star and which judges say “makes great use of produce from its gardens and estate”.

    The other new arrivals are both small independent restaurants; The Cottage in the Wood at Braithwaite, near Keswick and the Old Stamp House in Ambleside, both of which champion local produce superbly prepared. For the complete gourmet experience we can arrange a dinner at either of these as part of your trip.

    RISING STAR

    Simon Rogan, who is already renowned for his 2 Michelin Starred L’Enclume and 1 Star Rogan & Co., both in nearby Cartmel, recently took over the restaurant at Linthwaite House, which features in both Electric Lakes and our new Dales Way Luxury Walking Tour. With stunning views over Linthwaite’s immaculately landscaped gardens, HenRock - pictured above - will showcase natural, seasonal ingredients from Rogan’s own farm. The restaurant is named after Hen Holme (a rocky outcrop on Windermere that is often visible from the terrace of Linthwaite House). In a relaxed and elegant setting Henrock’s menu features small plates and sharing dishes leaning heavily on influences, techniques and produce discovered on the chefs’ travels around the globe.

    Having been fortunate enough to dine there recently I can confirm that the poached cod with black lime curry and buttermilk is exquisite, and I was only sorry that dining alone on a business trip I was unable to enjoy one of the sharing plates. (It’s a tough job but somebody has to do it!). This will surely become one of ‘the’ places to dine before long and I look forward to a return visit!

  • 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.