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  • Top Tips for Cycling Beginners

    2nd March, 2020

    With cycling becoming ever more popular you may like the idea of a cycling holiday - but have a few questions and concerns! So we asked our Founder and Chief Route Designer - Wendy Carter - for her top tips to get the most enjoyment from your trip.

    LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD

    For lots of couples or groups, one rider may be fitter and more confident than their partner. To level the playing field, choose an electric bike that makes hills a breeze and gives you a helping hand if you start to fall behind.

    KIT TIPS

    Don’t worry about what your rear looks like – comfort comes first! Buy some padded cycling shorts which protect your body parts in contact with the saddle. They are worth every penny. Check out the thickness and width of the padding as it can vary.

    Bring a gel bike seat cover. They go neatly into your suitcase and fit on top of the saddle to give you double protection. Again, they vary in thickness and shape so worth checking out a few different buys.

    Do wear a helmet. If you don’t it may invalidate your travel insurance, and it’s just general common sense. Make sure you adjust it to fit before you start your ride, using the knob at the back and the strap under your chin so your head fits neatly but not tightly. If you are hiring a helmet and don’t like the idea of using one someone has worn before, then buy a helmet liner.

    Bring comfortable shoes with reasonably thick soles that have some flexibility – trainers are good, flip flops and sandals are not, especially as they don’t protect your toes and feet from small stones, stinging nettles or mud.

    Wear layers of clothing that you can peel off and carry neatly in your pannier.

    Sun glasses have the dual benefit of protecting your eyes from bright lights and insects you may end up cycling through.

    WELL ADJUSTED

    Few novice cyclists take the time to adjust their bicycle before they start riding. Getting the saddle at the right height can make a huge difference in terms of the effort you put in to the power you get out. For maximum efficiency, adjust your saddle so that when your pedal is at its lowest position your leg is straight.

    It may help to adjust the handlebars too, making them higher so you don’t have to lean over or put so much weight on your arms, and bringing them nearer if you don’t want to stretch your arms as far. If you have to make a lot of adjustments then the bike you have been given is probably too small or too big.

    ON YOUR BIKE

    Only change gear when you are pedalling otherwise you risk the chain coming adrift. Look ahead and start changing gear before you reach an incline rather than when you reach it, which is too late. This is especially true if the incline is steep when you will need to go down several gears (rather than just one) and you should get up as much speed as possible before the incline arrives. Keep changing down until you are riding at a comfortable pace. Don’t be proud - if the slope is defeating you just get off and push!

    For safety, use both brakes when you want to slow down.

    Padlock your bike to something that’s not just temporary or can be easily snapped and try to put the cable through the front or back wheel rather than just through the frame.

    If you get a puncture, you must find and remove the offending object rather than simply replacing the inner tube. If you don’t find the cause of the problem you’ll keep getting the same problem.

    If you’re cycling behind someone, don’t get too close, otherwise if they stop abruptly you don’t have much time to react.

    In busy areas always cycle single file and keep close to the curb.

    If you’re crossing a curb, railway line or a drain, cross with your wheel at right angles to the obstacle.

    For safety keep your ears open as well as your eyes peeled. No ear phones.

    RIDE READY

    Keep your water bottle topped up and preferably have one that you can open and use with one hand or else you will have to stop every time you want a sip.

    Carry some snacks. Sometimes you might go a distance before finding somewhere to eat or buy food.

    Look at your itinerary the night before and have some idea of the shape of the day ahead, the highlights you might want to visit and where you might stop for lunch. It’s best to complete more than half the miles, sometimes even two thirds of the distance, before lunch.

    Check what time frames you need to meet, such as boat or ferry crossings. In the UK, many country pubs stop serving lunch around 2pm, and may close from 3pm to early evening.

    Try to find out where public restrooms are located for the day ahead. If you get caught out, prepare for a rural spot by bringing tissues or wet wipes with you. These are also great if you have to repair a puncture and get oily hands. If all else fails, use grass!

    GO SLOW

    If something catches your attention take the time to go and explore it. This is what slow travel is all about. It’s the journey that matters rather than the arrival.

    Engage with the locals especially en-route. They can often tell you even more about the local history or point you in the direction of hidden gems that you don’t want to miss.

    AND FINALLY

    Ask us! We have lots of experience of designing the perfect trip and we love what we do!

  • 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.