17th April, 2015
We're going to tell you a little story. Years ago, when The Carter Company started, one of our first ever enquiries was from a group of South African journalists, who were writing a book about fascinating journeys by bicycle around the globe. England was one of their last stops, and they asked us if we could suggest a trip that was 'geographically interesting'. We proposed the Thames Path and they accepted, intrigued. When we met them after they had completed the route, they told us they'd had a real hoot (that's old-fashioned English for a wonderful time, if you're reading this from outside the UK!) They also told us something that's stuck with us ever since, and that's kept us going since the days when people thought we were mad to try and sell cycling holidays. They said that they'd cycled all over the world, but that Britain was unsurpassed in terms of the sheer density of interesting things to see along the way. Britain is indeed a compact country, and it has bucketloads of history, so it's perhaps not that surprising when you think about it. We do think it's one of the biggest selling points though for cycling holidays in the UK, and it's something we've worked very hard at maintaining when designing our trips abroad too. The luxury of a gentle cycling holiday is that there is plenty of time to hop off your bike as and when you please, to visit the local places of interest, and to take in the local atmosphere, culture, history, heritage, cuisine, and of course, horitculture!
One of our favourite places to visit whilst on a cycling holiday is a garden. And our tours take you past the front door of a fair few absolutely spectacular ones. We count down our favourites below.
Hidcote Manor Gardens in the Cotswolds features on our aptly named Cotswold gardens cycling holiday. Created by the talented American horticulturist, Major Lawrence Johnston, its colourful and intricately designed outdoor ‘rooms’ were a conceptual innovation at the time. Explore the maze of narrow paved pathways and discover secret gardens, magnificent vistas and plants that burst with colour. Many of the plants found growing in the garden were collected from Johnston’s many plant hunting trips to far away places. We love the Skunk cabbages and the multicolour tulip blooms.
Kew Gardens need no introduction. It's hard to pick out highlights, but if we had to, we'd say the Princess of Wales Conservatory, which recreates ten climatic zones; see Madagascan baobab trees, orchids from Central America and carnivorous plants from Asia here. Second, The Palm House and Rose Garden, for its steamy jungle-like interior and fantastic architecture. Finally, the Kitchen Garden - recently updated by Raymond Blanc - where a bountiful range of mouth-watering fruit and vegetables can be seen growing here across the seasons. Visit on our London bike tours along the Thames, including this one.
Cluny House Gardens is a magical woodland garden in Perthshire created by Bobby and Betty Masterton in the 1950s. It contains two magnificent Wellingtonias, including Britain’s widest conifer, with a girth of 11 metres! The Mastertons had a particular interest in Himalayan plants and many of the seeds they grew are now large trees, such as the Tibetan cherry, notable for its mahogany peeling bark. You'll also glimpse 4m high lilies and blue poppies. Cluny is also home to extremely rare red squirrels. It features on our tailor-made Scotland cycling holidays, and on our soon-to-be-published Trossachs' tour. Contact us for more info if you're interested.
The Flower Island of Mainau (see photo above) on the shores of Lake Constance in Germany is a sight to behold. It may only cover 45 hectares of land, but it is home to an extraordinary diversity of trees, flowers and shrubs. Its other attractions include a 13th century baroque palace, a palm house and the biggest butterfly house in Germany. It was created by a Swedish prince, Count Bernadotte. Among the particular treasures are rare and often very old trees, for example the Viktoria lime, planted by the grand duke in 1862 to mark the birth of his daughter, or the bizarrely knotted pagoda tree, also around 150 years old. Visit on our Lake Constance cycling holiday.
RHS Rosemoor in Devon was created by Lady Anne Berry, and is a true plantsman's garden. The seasonal displays here are pretty impressive; they planted 30,000 English bluebells last autumn under a beech woodland that overlooks Lady Anne’s garden, which will erupt in magnificent sea of blue. The Queen Mother Rose Garden contains a fantastic collection of Hybrid Tea and Floribunda roses. You can visit this garden on our longer Devon cycling holidays.