• Travel Photography Tips

    8th January, 2019

    Part of the fun of visiting somewhere new is looking at the photos when you get home, so we have asked photographer Rachel Piper to share some of her tips in getting the best from your walking trip, cycling tour and touring holiday shots! Here is the first of her articles -

    An Introduction

    I have been passionate about photography for a very long time. My first ‘proper’ camera was an old Russian Zenith B, with no light meter, so I had to gauge the light myself. At the age of 11 or 12, I started developing film and printing photographs on a homemade photographic enlarger made from tin cans and old lenses. You might think that things have changed since then (it was quite a long time ago!), but many of the basic principles of photography remain the same. I often hear people complain that you need to have a very expensive camera in order to create award-winning photographs, so in 2010 I set out to show that this isn’t true. The location I chose was my back garden, the camera a £300 Nikon, and the subject a frog in a make-shift pond. And here’s the proof that you can do it! Me with my frog at the start of a major exhibition at Kew Gardens! The image I took with this relatively inexpensive camera reached the final of International Garden Photographer of the Year in 2010. I’ve been successful in other major competitions, but this remains my proudest moment.

    I hope the following words will help you to improve your photography skills.

    Choosing Your Camera

    Once you have set your budget what factors should you take into consideration before buying your camera? Weight is an obvious one, particularly for outdoor photography, so compromises might have to be made. Before choosing, I would always recommend reading several web-based reviews from reputable authors, writing a list of your requirements first. To get you started, here is an explanation of some of the types of digital camera available to you.

    Compact Cameras (also known as point and shoots) are small, light and are usually relatively inexpensive. Most of them tend to perform less well in low light, in particular the budget models with small sensors, but the compact camera market is changing. Manufacturers are now designing models with larger sensors and improved image quality to compete with the smartphone market, but these come at a price. With compact cameras it is impossible to obtain a shallow depth of field (see below) and there are many other limitations, but this might be the right option for you.

    Single Lens Reflex Cameras with interchangeable lenses are my preferred choice, but I have, on several occasions, fallen flat on my face because I am carrying too much and looking at my subject not my surroundings! I also miss shots because my camera is wearing the wrong lens. The benefits are, of course, improved quality and more control, but they are not necessarily the best option for bicycle riders! If you like the idea of having interchangeable lenses, but don’t want to break your back it is worth considering a mirrorless camera.

    Bridge (Superzoom) Cameras offer an excellent compromise and are popular with enthusiasts. With manual and automatic controls and a non-interchangeable zoom lens with a good range, the Bridge is far more portable than the SLR. Due to their wide zoom range, most feature built-in image stabilisation to keep your photographs as sharp as possible.

    The Megapixel Myth

    When you are choosing your camera, don’t just look for the one with the most megapixels: more megapixels do not necessarily equate to better quality. The size of the sensor is far more important. Yes, you will need more megapixels if you carry out significant cropping post-production or if you are going to make very large prints, but most of us just do not need the number provided (and they eat up memory!).

    Manual Settings

    I use manual settings all the time, mostly so that I can control the depth of field (the amount of the photograph that is in focus), obtain action shots with a fast shutter speed or adjust the lighting. If you want to get the most out of your camera you will need to understand the relationship between the three fundamental elements of exposure: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. I will not go into these in detail, but instead I will let my photos do the talking. If you like what you see I would suggest that you search for the Exposure Triangle on the Web.

    Close-up photo of flower Shallow depth of field (f2.8 aperture)

    Photo of lighthouse from a cliff looking out to sea Large depth of field (f16 aperture)

    We hope this is helpful if you are planning to treat yourself to a new camera in 2019! Look out for our next blog where Rachel will give some more tips on composition and lighting.

  • Winter warmers

    14th December, 2018

    Winter holidays are often an unexpected bonus and a wonderful time to slow down and engage with special places away from the crowd. With our knowledge of the grand array of historic and cultural gems in Britain, we have created a small selection of breaks that we feel are perfect for the winter season. They blend short, fascinating walks with our favourite inspirational places.

    With cosy pubs, delicious afternoon teas and stays in warm, friendly boutique hotels and inns, these short winter walking holidays will warm the cockles of your heart. The footpaths we have chosen are largely hard surfaced and sheltered for most of their length. All trips include substantial time indoors be it in a castle, a workshop, a palace or a glasshouse. And we have included transfers in many cases, should the weather not be to your liking! They are available from November to 31 March. We are sure you will have a brilliant time.

    Winter warmers in England

    Potter and paint in the Cotswolds Cotswolds

    History and 'her' story Thames

    Culture,countryside and couture Oxford

    The Cotswolds tour

    This combines countryside walks with a little history and the chance to develop your creative talents at a painting, craft or cookery workshop at Daylesford Organic Farm. We have planned this break with some lovely winter walks but also optional transfers and indoor activities - just in case the weather decides to be unkind! This tour includes some of our favourite places such as Sudeley Castle and Bourton on the Water, with a chance to embrace the views and fresh air with shorter walks that end in cosy hostelries. You will also have the opportunity to explore some of the history that abounds in case the weather is not so kind. The routes follow a few well worn Cotswold walks as well as lesser known tracks - our speciality. We have also included a workshop - choose from painting, calligraphy, floristry, or cookery and spend a few hours indulging your passion or trying something completely new! Tell us what you would like to do or the dates that suit and we will do our best to find the perfect match.

    The Thames tour

    This a remarkable short walk along this famous river exploring some of the fantastic history of England from a female perspective - from present day with the fairytale marriage in Windsor of our present Queen's grandson to a beautiful American Actress back in time to all 6 of Henry VIII's wives at Hampton Court, and on to Kew Gardens the site of Kew Palace. Here is a celebration of royal history. Monarchs built their palaces and planted their gardens along the banks of the River Thames. They hunted on the vast tracts of land surrounding these palaces which remain today as unspoilt royal parks. We have arranged a series of shorter walks so you can experience the sights and smells of quintessential England, as this great river threads its way through sleepy rural villages, pretty landscapes and through the heart of bustling historic towns such as Windsor, Richmond and London, but also with plenty of opportunity for indoor exploring if the weather is unco-operative! Royalty and history beckon, whilst water meadows, old inns, wildlife and weirs lead you serenely on.

    The Oxford tour

    A feast for all the senses whether you are a connoisseur of history, culture, wildlife or the more material pleasures of luxury shopping. This winter walking holiday covers it all! Start off in Oxford where there is so much to explore from the world renowned university - the oldest in the English speaking world; the one thousand year old Oxford Castle; and Museums and galleries galore with plenty of cafes and hostelries for refreshment. We have included a city tour to help you get the most from your visit. The next day get away from from the bustle with a surprisingly rural walk along the canal and river with lunch at one of our favourite pubs. After a second night in Oxford we will take you to Woodstock for the next two nights and a day exploring Blenheim Palace with a choice of outdoor walks in the grounds and indoor discovery in the Palace. On your last day it's time for a little retail therapy. Our driver will take you to Bicester Village - Britain's leading designer shopping outlet and return you to your hotel for a last night in Woodstock.

  • Meet the host for our Cotswolds and Thames walking and cycling holidays

    24th October, 2018

    Hello and welcome to the third installment of our 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 Rob (pictured above). Rob is the host for many of our cycling and walking holidays in the Cotswolds and along the Thames. Born and brought up in Oxfordshire, Rob has a huge spirit of adventure and spent a number of years in the RAF where he lived and worked in several far flung locations across the globe. He is a very keen (some would say over keen) cyclist and adores bikes; he is passionate about history and meeting interesting people is what makes him tick. As a previous Operations Manager with The Carter Company, he knows all our tours and routes inside out, as he does Oxford where he lives.

    Wendy: Rob, hello! Can you tell us a little about your role as a host in the Cotswolds and Thames? How did you end up becoming a Carter Company walking and cycling holiday host?

    Rob: Being a fan of landscape and history, I wanted to share the amazing variety and wealth this area I love, has to offer in these respects. And sharing it with people who come from all over the world to this area I'm so proud of is very rewarding. I find the questions I get asked before they set out are fascinating: is there any danger from wildlife? (none at all!) Will we be cycling on busy roads or walking on paved paths? (no to both). How can I achieve the comfiest saddle? (I lend them a gel cover!) We only have trainers to walk in, is this OK? (not the best!)

    Wendy: What's your favourite thing about being a host in the Cotswolds and Thames?

    Rob: I think the excitement of clients! Both before their impending adventure and at the end of their trip when I often meet clients,as they are so happy and full of tales. They are always surprised at the number of villages they went through every day, the charming quirkiness of the accommodation and those staying in classic hotels comment on them exceeding their expectations. They are full of the special things they have discovered about the area for themselves.This is what makes my job so worthwhile!

    Wendy: Everyone has their favourite spots in the Cotswolds and along the Thames. 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?

    Rob: Kingham is a delightful village where you can sit in the village pub looking over the green. Its peaceful and quiet and feels a million miles away from crowds or bustle. Along the river, I just adore the village of Kelmscott; again it has a characterful inn as well as the fascinating manor house where William Morris chose to live.

    Wendy: Do you have any advice for our readers who are thinking of visiting the Cotswolds or the Thames?

    Rob: Come in June and July when the summer is fresh. Don't rush - enjoy the journey and take all day as there's just so much to see. In the Cotswolds, remember that wolds means hills - not mountains, but the terrain is rolling.

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

    Rob: It has to be China!, the whole experience is so alien and utterly fascinating. And there's great history too. Nearer to home, I'd like to cycle in the Netherlands, just to experience their amazing network of bike paths and the cycling infrastructure they've built up.

  • Amusing (and Strange) UK Place Names

    30th August, 2018

    The UK is a truly unique place, and our ancient heritage often leaves strange reminders of the past. Amusing hang-overs from history often come in the form of names - here are our picks for Britain's funniest place names.

    Once Brewed/Twice Brewed

    With a different name depending on whether you are entering from the East or the West, this little village supposedly got its name in the 1400s after Yorkist soldiers insisted their beer be brewed again to make it, and them, stronger for battle. Despite being very small, theres a lot of history here. The village is a stop along our Hadrian’s Wall Walk, so remember to pop into the inn for some of the famous ale.

    Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

    With the longest place name in Europe, this small Welsh town has become rather famous for being near unpronounceable. Unsurprisingly, as you need a good grasp of the language to even attempt to say it, Llanfair has one of the highest percentage of fluent Welsh speakers in Britain. Taron Egerton, star of Kingsman, comes from Llanfair, and if you want to hear the name pronounced correctly, look him up on YouTube.

    Upton Snodsbury

    Nestled in sleepy Worcestershire, Upton Snodsbury is a sweet little village easily mocked for its silly name. When it was founded, almost a thousand years ago, it probably seemed quite sensible.

    Boggy Bottom

    Recently crowned Britain’s third funniest place name, Boggy Bottom is a neat hamlet in Hertfordshire. ‘Bottom’ is of course a common name for places in valleys, or for road ends. Bogs too are common, and yet the name rarely fails to prompt a giggle. It’s the wonderful combination of the two that make this such a special place to live!

    Droop

    Down in Dorset you will find the amusing village of Droop. If you are on one of our Dorset tours, you may be lucky enough to pass through Droop, and have a good laugh at its expense. The name really just means ‘outlying farm’, but that’s not very funny.

    Giggleswick

    Yorkshire has some great spots, but one of our favourites is Giggleswick – what a name! Found in West Yorkshire, near to the Lancashire border, this town is actually quite lovely, and has plenty of heritage. It is also the home town of several famous faces, including Richard Whitely and Anthony Daniels (C3-PO).

    Rest and Be Thankful

    While barely a hamlet, Rest and Be Thankful in Scotland is a very special place. Theres an Inn and a postbox, but the real reason to Be Thankful is the phenomenal view. The picture above is of that very scene. As it’s difficult to give directions to places with such strange names, you are likely to have the view all to yourself. For more scenes like this, check out our Highland Coast to Coast tour.

    Beer

    Beer is a village in Devon, situated on Lyme’s Bay. While the name isn’t actually derived from the drink, this hasn’t stopped the villagers from celebrating the supposed connection. Beer is really famous for stone, and stone taken from the quarries has been used to build some of the most incredible buildings in the UK, including St. Paul’s Cathedral.

  • A Very British Summer Picnic

    28th July, 2018

    Here is our guide to British regional food. Whether you are cycling or walking in Britain this summer, you should definitely give some of these a try. Complete your picnic with a nice flask of tea, or a bottle of English sparkling wine...

    Savoury

    Scotch Eggs – A delicious savoury Scottish invention, the ‘Scotch Egg’ consists of a hardboiled egg encased in sausage meat and breadcrumbs. Today, they are a national favourite and can be found in pretty much every grocery shop – they also come in all sorts of varieties and sizes. If you want to try a more traditional one, we recommend seeking out a local farmshop.

    Ploughman’s – this traditional English lunch is simple but satisfying. As the name suggests, this is the typical country man’s meal, and has been for centuries. The ploughman’s is usually made up of celery, tomatoes and pickled onions, alongside fresh bread and butter. There is often a cold meat, hardboiled egg and local cheeses. As a platter of local prides, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with a Ploughman’s.

    Regional Cheeses – Of course, if you are travelling in the UK, it would be remiss to not try some of our wonderful cheese. Cheddar is a must, but you should also try Red Leicester, crumbly Wensleydale, and smoked Lancashire. If you like blue cheese, then you must try the famous Stinking Bishop. Cornish Yarg and Shropshire Blue are also very good!

    Sweet

    Welsh Cakes – known as Bakestones within Wales, Welsh Cakes are yummy little snacks made with cinnamon and nutmeg, and with raisins or sultanas. Though rare, they are sometimes served with butter or jam.

    Eccles Cakes – these are the northern English equivalent of Welsh Cakes and are similarly packed with fruit. Unlike the Welsh Cakes, they are lighter, often with flakier pastry, and are decorated with sugar.

    Bakewell Tart – invented in Derbyshire, the Bakewell Tart is made with a shortcrust pastry base, layers of jam and frangipane, topped with icing and almonds. The Bakewell Tart is the height of indulgence and is a beloved favourite around England. You can buy a big one to share, or little ones for afternoon tea. While readily available in supermarkets, you are better off visiting a good baker’s.

    Scones – debate is rife across the UK as to the origins of the Scone. The scone has been claimed by practically every region down to Cornwall, with each having their own twist. It is most likely, however, that the Scone originated in Scotland, and was named after ‘Scone’, the area where monarchs were traditionally crowned. While technically Scottish, the Scone is the ultimate English afternoon tea treat, and is must when visiting the UK. If you don’t believe the controversy over scone, check out this Independent article about the Cornwall versus Devon argument, which had to be settled by the Queen!