The Tearoom: As Integral to Booting and Biking as a Rucksac and a Bike Pump?

Just what is it about tearooms and cafes that makes them so intrinsic to walking and cycling?

Well, the guilt-free consumption of calorific cakes and fry-ups, smug in the belief that your energy expenditure more than offsets that cup cake, or sausage sandwich, is a good start.  And, the expectation of finding some wisteria-bordered, gingham-clothed tearoom nestling in the village progressively more visible as you descend, is one of the best stimuli in coaxing you to the top of the climb to begin with.

But it’s not just about cute little pavement tables and slabs of chocolate cake. In truth, there’s no such thing as a “typical” tearoom for booters and bikers: many cyclists, in particular, gravitate to “greasy spoons”, enjoying a fry up before, during, or after their ride; a village shop in the right location with a few tables outside, as long as it serves sufficient hot and cold drinks, can often be a busy stop; many supermarket cafes can combine a refuelling and toilet stop, with the opportunity to buy some on-the-go sustenance as well.

Indeed, the variety of buildings now transformed into tearooms and coffee shops adds to the experience: converted churches, watermills, warehouses and other former industrial units, as well as the spare room in a private house and, of course, the van in the lay-by; the  range  is wide.

The lure of the tearoom, or cafe, includes elements of comfort, reward, self-indulgence even, but at heart, it’s just an ideal way to begin, refuel, or end a delightful and/or exhilarating day out, enjoy some foodie treats and the opportunity to linger and chat that’s  not always available on a normal working day. And, of course, you can access many popular villages unsuited to large volumes of traffic far easier on foot or by pedal – this works well in city centres too.

But, although some of the reasons for our love affair with the tearoom might be rather abstract, the positive influence of walkers and cyclists in sustaining cafes and tearooms is much more tangible.

At a time of increasing concern about the decline of rural services, it’s probably safe to claim that booters and bikers contribute considerably to the trade of cafes and tearooms throughout the country.  Their survival is important because, despite the proliferation of high street coffee outlets in the last couple of decades,  Britain still doesn’t “do” cafe society, at least not in the same way our continental neighbours do. (Some would say the ubiquitous tepid, frothy milk masquerading as coffee is  perfect testament to this.) Despite some excellent exceptions around the country, cafe culture is still not widespread in Britain.

Look across the channel to France and the rest of Europe and the cafe, present in every community, large and small, has a far greater status. OK, overall they might have better weather for their pavement tables,  but cafes selling decent coffee and food are as fundamental to Scandinavia, the Low Countries,  the Alps and Dolomites, as they are in Mediterranean areas.

Indeed, so ingrained is cafe society  in European culture,  that coffee houses and tea shops themselves are ideal centrepieces for walking and cycling tours of major cities, see our TOURS of Vienna and Budapest.

But, maybe things are changing for the better in Britain.  Although some  high street outlets may serve questionable coffee,  at least they have attracted people back into coffee bars. The current flavour of the age, the cupcake, is perfectly at home in a chintzy tearoom and increasing concern about food miles and encouragement of  local suppliers mean that  cafes often provide an ideal market for local home baking.

A cafe opened in my local village this summer, creating a much-needed focal point in the main street.  Its clientele ranges from elderly shoppers, hungry sixth formers and building workers, to lonely home-based workers and writers looking for some JK Rowlingesque inspiration. But among its most regular customers are the  pelotons  of hungry and thirsty cyclists who swoop through the village en route to, or on return from, a day’s cycling in the Peaks : a happy story of the positive effects of mutual benefit.

CAFES AND TEAROOMS WE LIKE; a personal, slightly idiosyncratic and certainly not definitive, list loosely based on  the locations of some of our tours . Please add your own recommendations below:

Skinny Kitten, 23 Main Street, Barton under Needwood, Staffordshire DE13 8AA 01283 711217

The Lavender Patch, Hall Croft Farm, Uttoxeter Road, Hilton, Derbyshire DE65 5FZ

The Strand Cafe, 16 The Strand, Derby DE1 2QS

Tapa Bakehouse, 21 Whitehill Street, Dennistoun G31 2LH and 721 Pollokshaws Road, Strathbungo, Glasgow  G41 2AA

Atrium Coffee House, 58 Cresswell Street, Glasgow

Inversnaid Bunkhouse, Inversnaid, Stirlingshire FK8 3TU

The Pier Tearoom, Stronachlachar, by Loch Katrine, The Trossachs, Stirlingshire

Pestle and Mortar, 41 Glasgow Road,  Blanefield, Glasgow G63 9JD

Oak Tree Inn and shop, Balmaha, Loch Lomond, G63 0JQ

Harbour View Coffee Shop, Harbour View, Dunure, Ayrshire KA47 4LN

The Watermill, Mill Street, Aberfeldy, Perthshire PH15 2BG

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Forget Flying: Why Flying and Sustainable Travel are Incompatible

While many of my friends and acquaintances consider me completely barmy to go off on holiday, on my own, loaded down with a backpack, or fully laden panniers, the aspect of my travels that arouses most incredulity is my refusal to fly.  I have never needed to forget flying, simply because I have never flown through choice at any time in my life: I hated the experience, loathed airports and their associated queues, the hours of waiting around and the necessity of arriving and departing miles from anywhere in an environment that bore no relation whatsoever to the country I was visiting. Continue reading “Forget Flying: Why Flying and Sustainable Travel are Incompatible”

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Outdoor gear: is the great outdoors the new designer catwalk?

Take yourself out on the hills these days, particularly in the more popular areas, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that many of your fellow walkers had escaped from a fashion catwalk, rather than were out to climb a hill.  And, strike up a conversation and you are as likely to end up discussing the relative merits of your techno layers, as the view from the summit.

Now, while it’s obviously good that there are far fewer ill-equipped people in jeans and trainers on the hillsides, have we now actually gone a bit too far in our love-affair with designer labels and, more importantly, how many of them fulfil their stated function and are worth anything like their high outlay? Continue reading “Outdoor gear: is the great outdoors the new designer catwalk?”

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How can you travel affordably by train: and take your bike?

The essence of a boot and bike holiday is to travel by foot or bicycle, leave the car behind and make getting to and returning from your destination a highlight of your trip.  So, unless that destination is within a fairly short distance of home, then the outward and return journeys will be made by public transport; usually train, if a bicycle is to be transported.

But Britain’s rail system is notorious for expensive fares and lack of connectivity between competing private companies, so just how can you secure affordable fares and joined-up journeys? Continue reading “How can you travel affordably by train: and take your bike?”

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What’s the best way to travel on your own?

About a third of adults in the UK now live on their own and, although they don’t necessarily always go on holiday without a partner, or friends, the number of solo travellers is on the increase too.

Gap years, career breaks (at all age stages) and growth in activity and less conventional holidays have all contributed to this increase.  But, despite this, travelling on your own is not always easy and many people, particularly women, continue to be daunted by the prospect.

It’s expensive (see Directory: Finding Accommodation), it can be lonely and you can feel very conspicuous and, overall, it is usually better to go for a drink, or meal, in company rather than sitting on your own, perhaps hidden away in a corner.

Given the choice, most people would probably prefer to travel with others, but  in reality, the option is often: go on your own or not at all.  So, what is the best way to enjoy a solo holiday? Continue reading “What’s the best way to travel on your own?”

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Where should I stay if travelling solo?

The single person supplement, still unfairly levied by most hotels, guesthouses and tour companies, is the bane of solo travellers and can increase the cost of a holiday by up to 40-50 per cent – if in doubt, glance at the small print in adverts for cruises, train journeys and the like.

Many hotels don’t even offer single rooms and, if you book as a solo guest, you will usually be charged the rate for the room, not per person. When single rooms are available they are often substandard – tucked away like a cupboard without en suite and other facilities and often facing the back of the hotel, just above the delivery area.

So, for those of us not keen on sharing rooms with complete strangers, what, if any, are the best ways to find decent, affordable accommodation?
Continue reading “Where should I stay if travelling solo?”

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