Tasty trips for wine lovers

One of the wine classes run by The Local Wine School.

One of the wine classes run by The Local Wine School.

Wine tourism is a growing trend, with specialist groups focusing on tasting and appreciating wine and visiting vineyards to learn at first-hand from the professional growers and makers. Val Baynton checks out the experiences of organisers of different types of groups, and learns how both specialists and non-specialists can enjoy discovering more about wine.

Since 1971, Howard Hunter has been nurturing his passion for wine, joining the local branch of the Yorkshire Guild of Sommeliers in that year and continuing his interest in his retirement. Howard is also involved with other local groups such as Rotary and he regularly meets with a group of good friends for private wine tastings too

Since 1971, Howard Hunter has been nurturing his passion for wine, joining the local branch of the Yorkshire Guild of Sommeliers in that year and continuing his interest in his retirement. Howard is also involved with other local groups such as Rotary and he regularly meets with a group of good friends for private wine tastings too.

Howard Hunter, a former electronics engineer in Scarborough, has a passion for wine, which now forms the basis of his group travel activity. Howard is an enthusiastic member of the Yorkshire Guild of Sommeliers, founded in 1962, which brings together wine lovers from Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire to enjoy wine tasting events, overseas trips and social events throughout the year. There are nine sections and each one has its own chairman and committee.

Over the last 12 years, Howard has shared his passion by organising overseas visits to Europe, primarily France, for his local group, the 47-member Scarborough section. The seven to 10-day wine tasting breaks usually take place in September or October, with around a quarter of the places booked by members from Scarborough, and the rest filled from the 500-strong membership of the whole Guild.

Wines tasted during the monthly meetings often inspire a particular trip. As Howard says, “Having tasted a wine and enjoyed it, it’s then most instructive to go and see where and how it is made.” Having decided on a vineyard, and thus region, Howard plans other parts of the itinerary partly by consulting books written by experts. “I also talk to the wine importers we have become friendly with over the years to find out what they would recommend in that area,” he adds.

Howard also researches hotels and makes some selections. Venues such as the Best Western Shonenberg in Riquewihr are praised by his group for the quality of the accommodation and friendliness of the staff. To finalise the arrangements, Howard hands over his draft itinerary to Pamela Edwards at specialist tour operator Golden Compass (see page 47). “I’ve worked with Pam for a number of years,” he says. “She always gives a great service, coming up with further suggestions for hotels and local restaurants. Over the years, she has come to understand just what our group wants from the trip, and liaises with the coach operator to ensure a good value package.” Howard points out that because Golden Compass also operate their own Wine Tour itineraries, as well as specialising in tailored and personalised tours overseas, they have the exact type of expertise his group requires.

Howard books a 49 or 50-seater coach, but the tours are actually restricted to 20 people; a core of around 10 members always come, and he’s found that giving everyone enough space on the coach, so they can sit on their own or move around, makes the journey far more pleasant for everyone. And, since the group likes to bring back wine, the large tri-axle coaches thus have sufficient storage space for numerous cases! Howard also says, “Twenty is the maximum number that smaller vineyards can welcome on a tour. Sometimes even this is too many, and we have to split into smaller groups.”

Yorkshire Rose Coaches is Howard’s transport choice. “The Mills family who own and run Yorkshire Rose are superb,” he says. “The coaches are immaculate and the service they offer is second to none.” For trips to France, the group travels by P&O Ferries from Hull to Zeebrugge and, if the destination is southern France such as the Rhône or Bordeaux areas, they stay overnight in Reims. Last year, the group visited Spain, and sailed with Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to Santander.

WINE TASTING ITINERARIES

Howard and his group enjoying lunch at Bistro Des Grand Crus Chablis during a trip to the Loire region.

Howard and his group enjoying lunch at Bistro Des Grand Crus Chablis during a trip to the Loire region.

Howard’s trips have been made to the Alsace, Rhone, Bordeaux, Loire and Champagne areas of France and the 2015 trip will be to the Champagne, Macon and Beaujolis regions. Itineraries have also focused on visits to bodegas in the Rioja and Navarra regions in Spain, and the group has also called at German vineyards whilst in Alsace. The group was very impressed by wine made at Germany’s largest co-operative winery, Badischer Winzerkeller in Briesach. Howard recalls, “We were surprised to learn that the wine from each of the producers in the co-op was vinified separately, hence the reason for its quality.”

Wine tasting takes place every day of a trip and, in total, 10 or 12 vineyards will be visited on each tour. Viewing the cellars and vineyards is an important part of each individual visit, as well as meeting the wine maker. When the sommeliers arrive at a vineyard showing their enthusiasm and that they have more than a basic knowledge for wine, they are often invited to taste older, more exclusive vintages. Howard is anxious to point out that at vineyards the etiquette is to taste a wine and not to drink it. “We are privileged to sample some very exclusive vintages,” he says. “Some can cost over £200 a bottle.” He continues, “The time for ‘drinking’ wine is in the evening at meal times.” Usually, Howard plans a mixture of pre-booked meals in the hotel or local restaurant, as well as nights for ‘free-style dining’.

He makes notes during each vineyard visit about both the wines they have sampled and what the group thought. These notes are great reminders of the trip and can be used at future monthly tastings and presentations.

Howard has lots of ideas for the future, but is looking forward to the Champagne trip, where the group will taste some of the best of the region’s wines. He is particularly anticipating his first sip of a Laurent-Perrier champagne!

CHRIS TAKES WINE SCHOOL SCHEME NATIONWIDE

Chris Powell  Prior to setting up the first Local Wine School in Newcastle upon Tyne in 2000, Chris Powell, a fully qualified engineer, had a 20-year career in petrochemicals and commercial management. As well as an engineering degree, he also has an MBA,  which he studied at Durham University.

Prior to setting up the first Local Wine School in Newcastle upon Tyne in 2000, Chris Powell, a fully qualified engineer, had a 20-year career in petrochemicals and commercial management. As well as an engineering degree, he also has an MBA, which he studied at Durham University.

In 2000, having been a professional engineer for some years, Chris Powell decided it was time for a change. Inspired by an enthusiasm for food and wine, he set up The Local Wine School in Newcastle upon Tyne. His objective was to make wine accessible for everyone and to offer a range of fun, friendly wine tastings, courses and experience days. The concept was quickly successful and so Chris has replicated the idea, establishing franchises for the schools, and there are now 26 Local Wine Schools throughout the UK, with some 60,000 clients. The schools’ courses are run by tutors who have qualifications from the Wine, Spirit and Educational Trust (WSET) and students can opt to attend professional courses that will lead to the WSET qualifications, or join the more informal tasting evenings or days. All schools are run independently of any retailer or wine merchant.

Chris has also organised five-day wine tasting holidays for students from the schools to visit vineyards in France’s Rhône Valley. The breaks are put on in conjunction with the Auberge du Vin, a wine school based in a converted 18th century farmhouse in rural Provence, near Mont Ventoux, run by Linda Field and Chris Hunt. Linda is a qualified wine educator and she helps Chris Powell plan a varied itinerary for each of his holiday groups, and provides essential support such as interpreting.

A local wine school trip.

A local wine school trip.

Around 12 to 14 people are typically on each trip, and Chris has found it works best if group members make their own way to France. Individuals or couples can then opt to make the wine break part of a longer holiday, or to use their own transport if they also want to buy wine to take home. “The emphasis is very much on wine and food,” Chris explains. “We may visit three different vineyards or chateaux in a day but there is also time for relaxation, and the Auberge has excellent facilities including a swimming pool.” The group tends to visit specialised vineyards that Linda and Chris have developed relationships with over the years and, usually, the group will meet the wine makers or owners, and frequently enjoy a special lunch with these experts whilst sampling the wine.

Originally the holidays were restricted to members in the Newcastle area, but since the school network has expanded, participants come from all over the UK. Last year, for example, a group of six students from the Hertfordshire Local Wine School, run by David Rough, joined the Rhône party. David says, “It was great to take part in this trip and it was very well organised with a good balance between discovering more about Rhône wines, such as the Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Rasteau and Beaumes-de-Venise appellations, and being extremely relaxing. There was lots of added value to the tour because it was customised to our specific group needs and made very personal to us. Elements such as visits to private vineyards were included that would not have been possible to experience if visiting the region as an individual.”

David also organises visits to vineyards in the UK. These trips take place a couple of times a year and typically there are around 20 in the group. Because members come from all over Hertfordshire, people make their own way to the vineyard, although quite a bit of car–sharing does take place. A recent visit was to Frithsden Vineyard, near Berkhamsted, which makes red, white and rose wines. The group had a tour of the vineyard and also enjoyed a tasting session and an informal supper. David says, “Going to a vineyard and meeting a wine maker helps to bring the theory we’ve talked about during the courses to life. Members also appreciate the chance to socialise with each other too.”

U3A WINE APPRECIATION GROUPS

Many branches of the University of the Third Age (U3A), in Britain and overseas, include wine appreciation groups that, alongside regular tasting sessions, organise trips to vineyards. In Jávea, located between Alicante and Valencia on Spain’s Costa Blanca, Geoff Woodward is the leader of the town’s U3A wine appreciation group. Geoff organises regular meetings with wine tastings for the group’s 85 members and, once a year, usually in June or September, he arranges a trip to a bodega so the group can see and taste at first hand some of the wines they have learnt about. Generally, the group visits bodegas that are within two hours travel, and 50 to 55 people go on each trip. Geoff reports that the last two trips have been unusual.

In 2013, they went to the Unión Vinícula Del Este bodega in Requena to learn about the production of the sparkling wine Cava. “We saw many parts of the Cava making process including the bottling line and we enjoyed seeing how it differs to wine making. We also had tastings of various Cavas, learning about the different qualities of each,” says Geoff.

The Jávea U3A at the Bodegas Mustiguillo in Utiel, Spain.

The Jávea U3A at the Bodegas Mustiguillo in Utiel, Spain.

In 2014, following a presentation at a meeting by the oenologist (or specialist in wine making), Paco Masia, from the Bodegas Mustiguillo in Utiel, which specialises in the Bobal grape, the group were invited back to visit the bodega later that year. Geoff states, “The bodega is one of the most prestigious in Spain, being only one of 15 in the country that are allowed their own wine denomination. We felt it was a real privilege to be invited, especially as they asked us to come at one of their busiest times – during the harvest in September.” During the visit, the group were led around the vineyards by Paco, who described the hand cultivation and watering system. Geoff continues, “We also toured the bodega and saw the wine making process from start to finish, including how grapes are sorted by hand, and we were introduced to the bodega owner, Toni Sarrión.” The group then visited the Wine Museum in Utiel, where members were guided around the displays with information about the history and origin of wines in the Utiel-Requena region, as well as the historic collections of wine making equipment and farming implements. The visit concluded with a fine lunch in Requena’s Fortaleza restaurant.

In Britain, U3A wine appreciation groups can be found all over the country from Matlock in Derbyshire to the Exe Valley in Devon. Fetcham & District in Surrey is one of the most active U3A branches, with over 80 different groups – including no less than eight concerning wine appreciation! The leaders of its wine appreciation group 7, Adrian and Jenny Coulson, explain that wine tasting is a popular activity as it allows members to socialise as well as learning about wine. Tastings take place in members’ homes so 15 is the maximum number for any one group and thus to cater for demand, additional groups have been set up. Adrian and Jenny’s group is particularly active, visiting a French vineyard at least once a year as well as English ones. A favourite trip is to the pretty and historic town of Ardres, about 15 miles south of Calais, where the group enjoy a wine tasting organised by wine expert Guy Boursot – sometimes in his own cellars in the town, or whilst taking lunch in the nearby Le Relais Restaurant. “Either way, we are able to taste a wide variety of wine and learn from Guy about each one,” Adrian says. “We also have some delicious food and, after the meal, there is a chance to buy wine to bring back home.” The Coulsons have organised the trips since 2009, and this year they are planning a visit to the Champagne area too.

Pat’s passion gives her village group a great time travelling

After a refreshing cuppa in the Bat’s Wing Olde English Tearooms at Godshill on the Isle of Wight.

After a refreshing cuppa in the Bat’s Wing Olde English Tearooms at Godshill on the Isle of Wight.

Super-enthusiastic Pat King has turned her retirement into an opportunity to arrange group trips for her village in Cambridgeshire.

Pat King.

Pat King.

Pat King officially became a GTO in 2000, when she retired, and found that she’d already learnt many of the skills required for organising trips and short breaks during her career as a teacher and youth leader. As Outings Organiser for Buckden Friends, Pat’s programme includes approximately 10 day trips a year, as well as two five-day short breaks. Her group is made up of around 100 members drawn from Buckden Women’s Institute (WI) and friends from the village in Cambridgeshire, about six miles south of Huntingdon. Pat is helped by her husband, Brian, a retired electronics engineer and explains, ‘I couldn’t do it without Brian’s support; he shares the burden of organising the trips and is great at looking after people when we are away, making sure everyone is happy.’

BECOMING A GTO

Pat and Brian in New Zealand.

Pat and Brian in New Zealand.

When Pat and Brian retired, they decided that travel would be a key part of their new life and have since spent a lot of time exploring the world. One of their most exciting adventures together was in 2006 when they travelled to Australia from the UK, on a nine-month overland trek. They bring their love of discovery and of experiencing new places to organising trips for the Buckden community.

Joining Buckden WI in 2000, Pat discovered that the group rarely went on outings, so one of the first things she did was to organise one! This was for around 30 members to a recording of This is Your Life at the BBC TV studios in London, with actress Anita Dobson as the guest of honour. It was much enjoyed by the group and Pat found she had made a new role for herself as Outings Organiser! The success of the trip led to more days out and, as word spread through Buckden, Pat found that non-WI members wanted to come along too. Nowadays, the expanded group is called Buckden Friends. In the process, the WI recruited more members to its monthly meetings and activities, and it now has a healthy base of 70 people. ‘Word of mouth and personal contact are the best way to expand a group,’ Pat says and she continues, ‘I think there is a real demand for group excursions – both for days out and longer breaks. Many people, especially women, do not want to travel on their own and getting together with friends is the perfect alternative. If you are struggling for numbers for a trip, I recommend inviting other people in your local community to join in, as I am sure this will have a very positive effect.’ She assesses her contribution to the WI and Buckden Friends as one of an enabler. ‘I want to enable people to do things or to get involved in ways they might otherwise not have done, so that they can live their lives to the full.’

THE DAY TRIP PROGRAMME

The Day trip programme Pat ensures that the annual programme includes variety – both in places visited and in timings. During the year, there are weekday and weekend trips, and day and evening itineraries so that people who work can also take part. Generally around 35 members go on the trips, which are around 90 minutes travel time from Buckden, although occasionally the group goes further. For example, the group has recently been to Down House in Kent. This English Heritage-owned property is the former home of Charles Darwin and the group were thrilled to walk in his footsteps on the Sandwalk – Darwin’s famous thinking path – and see hothouses with carnivorous plants and exotic orchids, as well as tour the house. In the afternoon, the group went to another English Heritage property, Lullingstone Roman Villa, where there were dressing-up opportunities!

Pat always includes a refreshment stop on the way out and on the return journey. ‘This is a key element of the day, and members who have been on trips with other groups often come back complaining that there were no stops for a cuppa,’ she says. Pat chooses a variety of places for these short stops such as factory outlet stores, an interesting small town or a National Trust property, and avoids motorway service station stops. She says, ‘We often stop at a Wetherspoons, which offer good value for money and are in interesting buildings such as old post offices.’ The tea stop on the outward journey is particularly important, as it allows new members to meet the group and for bonding to begin; the same is true of the lunch stop at the start of a five-day trip.

The group learn about chocolate making at Hotel Chocolat.

The group learn about chocolate making at Hotel Chocolat.

Many of Pat’s trips include a fun element, reflecting her and Brian’s passion for trying new and different activities, but it’s an approach that is al­so much appreciated by her members. Hands-on experiences are popular and these have included chocolate making with Hotel Chocolat in Huntingdon. Pat says, ‘We had an excellent time here and felt like royalty! We came away with generous goodie bags.’ The group also enjoyed an evening trip to Edible Ornamentals, a chilli farm at Chawston in Bedfordshire. ‘It was a very well organised visit,’ Pat says. She also favours factory visits but these, she notes, are harder to book than they used to be because fewer sites now offer tours – either because they no longer produce goods in the UK or safety legislation has become too restrictive.

Like many GTOs, Pat tries to add value to each of her trips, to make sure there’s a benefit to going as a group that couldn’t be accessed by visiting on your own, such as a guided tour or a ‘meet and greet’ at the beginning of a visit. As she explains, a cheery greeting and a brief talk is an invaluable way that an attraction can add that ‘little something special’ to a visit. Some attractions only offer tours to groups – such as the gardens of Buckingham Palace and Cutlers Hall in Sheffield.

The group on a visit to the Sikh temple in Peterborough.

The group on a visit to the Sikh temple in Peterborough.

Other notable visits have been to a Sikh temple and to a mosque – both in Peterborough. ‘On each occasion we were made to feel very welcome,’ Pat says. ‘It was very interesting to have an insight into these religions and their traditions. After sitting on the floor for over an hour at the temple, some of the group needed aid standing up, but there were plenty of helping hands!’ she jokes.

Coming up for the group this year is a day trip to Norfolk, to the Davenports Magic Kingdom in North Walsham, followed by the RAF Air Defence Radar Museum in Horning. Whenever possible, Pat researches itineraries by pre-visiting an attraction to check the quality of what’s on offer and to make sure it will be suitable for the group. She also notes any steps or inclines that might cause a problem for her less active members. ‘This promises to be an exciting trip,’ she says. ‘I went on a familiarisation trip organised by the museum and was delighted in what I saw, and I am really pleased to support the Davenports in their new family business. The Radar Museum was fascinating too. It will be an early start for the group but it should be a ‘magical’ day out.’ The Davenports Magic Kingdom is part museum, with a large collection of magic-related memorabilia, and part show – with a 30-minute live magic show included. The Davenport family has been involved with magical entertainment since 1898.

SPRING TIME TRIPS

The group in Llandudno, North Wales.

The group in Llandudno, North Wales.

The May break for the group (see panel for autumn breaks) has taken them to many different areas of Britain such as Devon in 2012 and Llandudno in 2008. For the spring holiday, Pat works with a tour operator who can help negotiate the best deal for hotels and help with the single room challenge. For many years, Pat has used West Yorkshire-based Airedale Tours, whom she praises. ‘They are an excellent tour operator, and the team is always helpful and friendly.’ For this year’s trip to Morecombe and Lancashire, she is working with just for groups! of Norwich for a change.

The key qualities Pat looks for in a hotel are good food and friendly staff; the group doesn’t have any particular favourites and is happy to use local independents as well as the more well-known chains. Pat arranges the five-day excursion programme herself and for each visit she also tries to make sure there are options that will suit the less as well as the more active members of the party.

For last year’s holiday to Derbyshire, the outward journey was broken with a lunch stop at Nottingham’s Gallery of Justice Museum. This preserves Nottinghamshire’s old courthouse and county gaol and a vast collection of spine-chilling artefacts relating to crime and punishment. Costumed re-enactors bring the exhibition to life and, as part of the visit, Buckden Friends dressed up in wigs and acted out a trial. Pat says, ‘This was a brilliant lunch stop. One of the best we’ve ever done.’

The group stayed in Belper at the Clarion Collection Hotel Makeney Hall, the former home of the Strutt family, who developed the town from a small hamlet to a thriving industrial community. The five-day programme included a tour of Strutt’s North Mill, in Belper. ‘This was very good,’ Pat explains. ‘The group was split into smaller sets of six, allowing everyone to hear the guide and to have the chance to ask questions.’ They also visited Eyam, the Derbyshire village that sealed itself off from the outside world to prevent the plague spreading in the 17th century.

Pat is now working on her programme for 2016 and, following a GTO Readers’ Day event with Visit York in October 2014, she is looking at basing a five-day break around York, with a visit to Fairfax House, Pat and Brian’s favourite visit of the day, being high on the agenda.

PAT’S TIPS AND CHALLENGES

With years of experience behind her, Pat has some salient advice for GTOs:

• Always keep your members informed both before and during the trip.

• Smile all the time as this is infectious, and never ever look worried.

• Make sure you take care of the people on your trip – you will be sure they’ll book again.

• Preparation is everything! Pat advertises forthcoming breaks towards the end of each holiday; last October for instance, 34 out of the 36 members on the holiday signed up for next autumn’s break at Thoresby Hall.

• Pat’s challenge is finding hotels who can supply sufficient single rooms – sometimes between 16 and 20; she says there’s a big market for hotels who can work with groups in providing the required allocation at an affordable price!

 

Two-wheeled group travellers ride for fun together!

The first day of a cycling tour the group enjoyed with French Cycling Holidays.

The first day of a cycling tour the group enjoyed with French Cycling Holidays.

Malcolm and Gia Margolis founded the Harrogate Wheel Easy cycling group to cater for people who wanted to enjoy friendly, not competitive, cycling. Continuing our focus on highlighting ‘groups who like to be active’, Val Baynton finds out more about tourism on two wheels.

 

Malcolm and Gia Margolis began cycling as youngsters and continued to follow an active lifestyle as they became adults and parents, with Gia playing competitive tennis and Malcolm opting for squash. For nearly 30 years, they ran a sports business - Argos Sports (no connection with Argos Stores, the name was derived from Margolis!) They specialised in quality products for a wide range of sports and leisure activities, and gave excellent ‘old-fashioned’ service, which multiples couldn’t match. When they retired in 2005, they had time to take up cycling more regularly, and the following year they set up the Wheel Easy Cycling Club. Gia is currently the Chair of the group and Malcolm helps to look after publicity and the website. Gia adds,‘Our whole committee is vital to the success of the club; everyone puts in a lot of work to make sure it runs smoothly. From my point of view, it’s one of the most satisfying things I have done.’

Malcolm and Gia Margolis began cycling as youngsters and continued to follow an active lifestyle as they became adults and parents, with Gia playing competitive tennis and Malcolm opting for squash. For nearly 30 years, they ran a sports business – Argos Sports (no connection with Argos Stores, the name was derived from Margolis!) They specialised in quality products for a wide range of sports and leisure activities, and gave excellent ‘old-fashioned’ service, which multiples couldn’t match. When they retired in 2005, they had time to take up cycling more regularly, and the following year they set up the Wheel Easy Cycling Club. Gia is currently the Chair of the group and Malcolm helps to look after publicity and the website. Gia adds,‘Our whole committee is vital to the success of the club; everyone puts in a lot of work to make sure it runs smoothly. From my point of view, it’s one of the most satisfying things I have done.’

The opening three stages of the Tour de France’s 2014 visit to Yorkshire and London revealed the enthusiasm for cycling that exists in Britain, an interest that was kick-started by the London Olympics in 2012. It’s not just competitive cycling that is attracting record numbers of participants and spectators; there’s a growing trend for getting on bikes for simply social activity. Groups of enthusiasts meet up locally to enjoy outings aimed at discovering the countryside, making friends and gently increasing fitness. The Wheel Easy Cycling Club in Harrogate, established by Malcolm and Gia Margolis in 2006, is one such group and now encompasses nearly 300 members aged from their mid-twenties to 82 years, with outings for all levels of ability organised twice a week as well as overseas trips.

One of the factors in the growth of ‘pedal power’ is that the support infrastructure for cycling has developed over the last 20 years. The National Cycling Network was officially created in 1995 and has grown from 5,000 miles in 2000 to 14,700 miles today. Cycling is now actively promoted by VisitBritain, and many local tourism destinations, while specialist operators help groups plan and enjoy longer cycling breaks both within this country and around the world. See page 48 for more about all these initiatives.

Setting up Wheel Easy

Malcolm and Gia Margolis retired in 2005. Feeling that it would be more fun to explore their enthusiasm for cycling with other like-minded people, they decided to set up a group. ‘For us, cycling was, and still is, about enjoyment,’ Malcolm explains. ‘We don’t want to go fast or compete against other cyclists.’ Since they couldn’t find a local group of this sort, they contacted the Harrogate Advertiser, announcing that, on 7th May 2006, there would be an easy 10-mile cycle ride to Knaresborough and back, and inviting cyclists to come along. The route also took in the Beryl Burton Cycleway, named after the internationally renowned cyclist who was born in Leeds in 1937 and received the OBE in 1968 in recognition of her achievements. To the couple’s amazement, 35 people turned up and the group was born!

Initially rides were Sundays only but, as the weather improved in the early summer, more people joined the group and weekday rides were introduced. Longer and harder rides were also offered to cater for more experienced cyclists but the social and pleasure focus remained key. A committee of 10 people was formed, a leaflet was created – which became the basis for the website – and the name for the club, ‘Wheel Easy’, was coined. As Malcolm says, ‘It’s a very appropriate name; it is exactly what the group is about and the bonus is, when you say it, you can’t help but smile.’

An important ethos guiding the group has been the principle of ‘looking after the slowest rider’ and this spirit has encouraged a lot of new or returning cyclists to join, and is particularly attractive to women. ‘Members really do look after each other,’ Gia adds. ‘A lot of new friendship groups have been created and the ethos has sustained the group. Over the last eight years, some members have suffered bereavements, illnesses and undergone replacement hips or knees, yet the caring philosophy has encouraged individuals to get back on the saddle, knowing the support from the club is there.’

New cyclists join the group each week, learning about it from word of mouth and also from the weekly article in the local newspaper’s ‘clubs and societies’ section. Gia notes that in the last year more women in their 30s and 40s have taken up membership. Annual membership is £5, the club has insurance from CTC (the Cycling Touring Club, which dates back to 1878 and is now also the national cycling charity) and members are encouraged to take out personal insurance from CTC too.

Members went on a short ride in Yorkshire to look at some of the decorations organised for the Tour de France including the Dotty House.

Members went on a short ride in Yorkshire to look at some of the decorations organised for the Tour de France including the Dotty House.

Typical Rides

Rides now take place every Sunday and Wednesday, with cyclists meeting at Hornbeam Park Railway Halt, Harrogate, for departure at 9.30am, and there’s a choice of routes from 25 miles to 100 miles or more, with beginners’ rides of around 15 miles also taking place on Sundays. Return time is usually by 3.00pm. Routes are detailed in advance on the website and confirmed on the day, dependent on the number of members and their abilities.

Each ride is led by one of the club’s 40 ride leaders, who has researched the route. The Wheel Easy committee encourage members to observe basic rules, as framed by the CTC, covering equipment, the Highway Code and safety and etiquette. To ensure safety, especially on road routes, members are usually split into groups of around eight cyclists, taking slightly different routes with rendezvous points. ‘Cafe stops are an important part of every ride, as is chatting!’ laughs Gia.

Exploring Yorkshire

Setting off for Blubberhouses!

Setting off for Blubberhouses!

Routes take members all over Yorkshire and favourite stopping places include Fountains Abbey, Studley Royal Deer Park, Ripley Castle and Beningbrough Hall Gardens, as well as a host of cafes enroute such as Oliver’s Pantry in Ripon.

Over the last seven years, Malcolm has been involved with the development of the Nidderdale Greenway – a former railway line – connecting Harrogate to Ripley, which has brought back into use the Grade II listed, seven-arch Nidd Gorge Viaduct and provided a new safe crossing of the A61 near Ripley. ‘We’ve worked with the transport charity Sustrans in developing the route, and it has made a fantastic difference to off-road cycling,’ says Malcolm. ‘We are trying to extend the route to take it into the heart of Nidderdale.’

Occasionally, the club takes in a cultural visit or annual events such as Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival in August or the Masham Steam Rally in July. The Yorkshire Stages of the Tour de France were on the group’s programme – with ringside spots in Harrogate for the final sprint on the first day, 5th July. The next day, eight members rode to the Cote de Blubberhouses to enjoy the carnival atmosphere and to watch the professionals speed past.

There’s also a varied social programme with different members organising activities within the group such as theatre trips and visits to the Velodrome at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester, as well as inspiring talks from members about overseas rides.

Pedalling further afield

Terry Wadkin (second right) and the Wheel Easy Group enjoy some sightseeing whilst on tour with Simply Cycling Slovenia.

Terry Wadkin (second right) and the Wheel Easy Group enjoy some sightseeing whilst on tour with Simply Cycling Slovenia.

Each year, members of Wheel Easy organise longer trips, which any member of the club can join. They’ve taken the train to Edinburgh and over four days cycled back to Harrogate. Other journeys have taken coast to coast paths such as the Ways of the Roses from Morecombe to Bridlington and the Sea to Sea route from Whitehaven to Sunderland. Generally, members carry all their luggage on these rides, staying in pubs or small hotels enroute.

Trips to Europe include a memorable break in Slovenia in 2013. This was organised by Paul Wadkin of Simply Cycling Slovenia (SCS), whose father, Terry, is a member of the Wheel Easy Club. Eight members flew to Ljubljana in Slovenia from Stansted with easyJet and SCS organised transport to their first hotel near Ljutomer in the Pomurje region of north east Slovenia. The week-long tour gave members an insight into the beautiful landscape of the region, and they crossed borders cycling into Hungary, Croatia and Austria too. Around 50 miles were covered each day, with time to visit local landmarks. Highlights included relaxing in the thermal baths at the hotels, being together and socialising as a team. The last day was spent exploring Ljubljana’s castle and trying out the funicular railway. Luggage was transported between hotels by SCS and Wheel Easy members used SCS’s bikes – it is usual to hire bikes locally for overseas tours, although it’s possible to pack a bike in a special box for transport by the airline. To ensure members don’t get lost, mobile phones and sat navs are essential equipment, especially in countries where little English is spoken. A number of countries are ideal for European cycling tours (see below).

 

European wide cycling

Canadians riding in support of the Wounded Warriors charity pedal  away during their tour around Canadian War Memorials in Northern France.

Canadians riding in support of the Wounded Warriors charity pedal away during their tour around Canadian War Memorials in Northern France.

The National Cycling Network is a series of safe, traffic-free lanes and quiet on-road routes that connect to every major city and now stretches for 14,700 miles across the UK. The concept began in Bristol in 1977 with a campaign to improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists in the city. The first success was the opening in 1984 of the Bristol and Bath Railway Path, a 17-mile traffic-free trail along a disused railway. The charity Sustrans continued to develop the idea and routes elsewhere in the country opened, with the overall network being established in 1995 with a grant from the National Lottery, and officially opened in June 2000 when 5,000 miles had been completed.

The network links into the European Cycle Network, known as EuroVelo, and one third of a projected 37,000 miles of cycle paths are already open in countries including Austria, France, Germany, Italy and the UK. EuroVelo routes in the UK include the Atlantic Coast Route stretching from Plymouth to Aberdeen and the Capital Route starting at Holyhead, travelling through Snowdonia to Cardiff, visiting Bristol, Bath, and London, and finally travelling north to Harwich. The North Sea Route starts in Harwich and travels north through Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Northumberland to Edinburgh and the Shetland Islands. In development is a route linking Devon and Cornwall with Brittany and Normandy. To find out more about both networks visit www.sustrans.org.uk.

 

Ways to get you Cycling at home…

Going for a ride away from home can be a challenge to plan but there is plenty of advice to help groups spread their wings. VisitBritain has put together its favourite 10 routes around the UK, with distances varying from under 10 to over 100 miles, and covering both hilly and flat terrain. Choose from beautiful countryside, such as a circuit of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland and the Millennium Coastal Path in Llanelli, Wales, to the foodie-themed Chocolate Tour around the canals of Birmingham, and the Crab and Winkle Way linking Canterbury with Whitstable Harbour. Many regional tourist destinations such as the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley or Visit Kent give details about local cycle trails, and where to hire bikes, on their websites. London-based cycling specialists include Mind the Gap, which organises small group cycle rides from London to Windsor, led by guides who recount interesting histories and anecdotes enroute. Discovery Richmond’s expert guides lead a tour around the town taking in a short part of the route used in the 2012 Olympics. Admission to Strawberry Hill House – one-time home of the 18th century politician, Horace Walpole – is included in the price. Both companies include hire of the bike, so this is a good option for a non-cycling group looking to try a new activity.

…and away

There are plenty of options in Europe too. In Germany, there are 200 long-distance cycle paths following rivers, and linking historic towns, coastal routes and mountain scenery. The German National Tourist Office website, www.germany.travel/cycling, has helpful advice about where to go and how to plan your cycle route with online interactive maps, as well as hotel listings including over 5,400 ‘Bed & Bike’ accommodation offers, which cater specifically for cyclists with lockable and sheltered racks, and drying rooms. French Cycling Holidays offers a complete solution to a cycling break in France. Fully tailored cycling tours can be arranged – whether a tour of the World War One Battlefields, as recently booked by a 100-strong Canadian group supporting the charity Wounded Warriors (similar to the UK’s Help for Heroes), or an energetic ride over the Alps! There are many other options too, but beautiful views, charming hotels and fine regional cuisine are always part of the package! Meanwhile, for trips further afield, gadventures organises bespoke international cycling tours for private groups to places like Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, China, Cuba and India, tailoring each adventure to take in specific needs and budgets. Meanwhile, Exodus has 12 new cycling itineraries for 2015. Half of these are road cycling tours, reflecting the growing popularity of Exodus’ cultural road trips. Farflung destinations include Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica and the Mekong Delta.