Reasons to be Cheerful

snowdrops: a sure sign of spring

 At last, it’s the end of February, the snowdrops are flirting defiantly in the wind and, as the daylight sneaks past late afternoon and the first glimpses of crocus colour emerge across our parks and gardens, it’s official; spring is unmistakably on its way.

 It’s been a rather strange winter in many ways: that early, unseasonable snow before Christmas, followed by raw, grey days of piercing cold, interspersed with the odd, mild sunny mid day where, even at the end of January, the soft buzz of a brave bee nudging out of hibernation was audible amongst the clamour of the blackbirds and starlings.

 In other respects it has also been a bleak period of predictable economic downturn and pessimism about the impending cuts and their impact on all aspects of the community.  But we mustn’t overlook our recent victory over the forest fiasco: insignificant, perhaps, in comparison with the devastation about to hit our public services, but vital in terms of preserving access to our great outdoors and a positive example of the impact of public anger, if channelled effectively.

 And, while forward thinking in the autumn –  viz. dark nights and  Christmas decorations in September – usually has some  some kind of depressive element, planning to get back outdoors and  make the most of lighter evenings is essentially more uplifting, even if it is throwing it down and blowing a gale outside.

 Talking of which, a few days in Glasgow last week, sadly coincided with some typical Wegie weather and didn’t provide any opportunities to get out on the hills, not even the “wee hills” surrounding the city (make sure you invest in the Harvey map, Glasgow and Popular Hills, as it gives good information on the Kilpatricks, Campsies and Arrochar Alps, as well as public transport options).  But, with a bit more time on my hands, the inclement conditions did at least present the chance for a winter reconnoitre round some of the city’s cafes.

Boot and Bike recommends: 

Cherry and Heather • http://cherryandheather.co.uk 7 North Gower Street, +44 (0)141 427 0272 – a tiny jewel of a deli/cafe hidden away in Ibrox, but just a stone’s throw from the Glasgow Climbing Centre on Paisley Road West.    

The Left Bank –   http://www.theleftbank.co.uk/ 33-35 Gibson Street (virtually next door to Gear Bikes) +44 (0)141 339 5969 – and its sister cafe/bar, The Two Figs –   http://www.thetwofigs.co.uk/ 5 & 9 Byres Road, +44 (0)141 334 7277 – at the Kelvinhall end of Byers Road.

heron on the watch in Kelvingrove

So, along with spotting a heron in Kelvingrove Park, sampling some decent coffee, scoffing calorific cakes and enjoying the friendly humour were the highlights of a short, but welcome break.

 And one final reason to be cheerful, as the calendar turns to the first month of spring: harmonising with the return to British Summer Time, ScotRail resumes its extra service on the West Highland Line on March 26.  So, with the additional train from Oban back to Glasgow, calling at Arrochar at 18.02 on Saturdays, you’ll again have plenty of time to take a day trip out of the city on this great little railway, fitting  in The Cobbler, and/or one of its neighbours, without having to wait around too long for the only return train.  Of course, if you prefer recovering in the pub for a little longer, you can still catch the last train back at 20.08.

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Keep them Free, Keep them Open, Keep our Forests out of Private Hands

 We may have just about struggled to the end of mid-winter, but if you were fortunate enough to have been down to the woods this weekend and gently moved some of the fallen leaves on the ground, you may well have spotted the first tentative shoots of the wood anemones and bluebells that will carpet our woodlands  come the spring.

subtle shades in winter woods

Our glorious woodlands and forests, with their amazing biodiversity, are sensitive barometers of the changing seasons; just one reason why, down the ages, they have been the cherished destinations of families, walkers, cyclists and equestrians. But now, our traditional right of access to forests and woodlands – an integral element of our heritage –  is under threat; a threat sufficiently serious to jeopardise  our historic relationship with these mystical places.

 

What is happening?

On Wednesday, Parliament will debate a proposal that could change the face of our countryside and our enjoyment of it.  A quarter of a million people have already signed a petition opposing the government’s  proposal to sell off the  260,000 hectares of land that comprise the public forest estate in England (powers in Wales and Scotland are devolved), and which the Forestry Commission (FC) currently manages. This accounts for 18% of England’s woodland. 

 

Why is the government doing this?

Well, certainly not for the revenue it will raise: it’s estimated the sale will bring in £100m, a proverbial drop in the ocean. Furthermore, campaigners say the sale will not save money because the FC carries out its regulatory and conservation work for £10m a year and its work is subsidised by the timber it supplies to the market. “Subsidies to private forestry operators already amount to £36m,” says Eric Robson, Chairman of Gardeners’ Question Time and a high-profile opponent of the plan.  “And that could go as high as £60m-£80m if more forests go to private ownership.”

So, the cynical amongst us may wonder if it is yet another depressing example of dogma: perfectly fitting the prevailing government view that if it moves, privatise it; that anything in the public sector is fundamentally bad and would be much better off in the hands of private shareholders.

woodland walks

Perhaps, but in this particular case there may be another ulterior motive. Investing in forests brings some juicy tax breaks for those who can afford it, like exemption from inheritance tax (after two years of ownership), no capital gains tax on any rise in value of the trees, no income tax on timber sale:  a few little sweeteners to compensate for the continuance of the 50 per cent tax rate?         

 

Why should we oppose it?

1.The FC already does a great job in managing our woodlands, why change something that works?

2.There are big holes in the government’s promises: 

  • They say they want to encourage community groups and charitable trusts to buy, but as even the Woodland Trust cannot afford it, what chance is there for any other group?
  • Plausible government ministers appear in the media to re-assure us that current access rights will be guaranteed, but many experts challenge this and believe this only applies to those on foot, not so-called higher access rights for cyclists, wheelchair users, equestrians and orienteers.
  • And the portents are not hopeful: forestry sold into private ownership at Riggwood in the Lake District has already sparked anger among locals about the reduction of access, with the car park now fenced off and entry restricted to those on foot.
  • In any case, if full access rights are retained, this reduces the commercial attraction for any future purchaser, so defeating the entire objective in the first place

 

What should we do?

  • Write to our MPs: http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/speakout/MP-forests
  • Sign the petition: http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/save-our-forests#petition, or http://www.savelakelandsforests.org.uk/ 
  • If you can, contribute to the fund to place adverts opposing the plans throughout the national media: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/contribute/sponsor-a-forest-ad 

 Numerous “celebrities” – Dr Rowan Williams, Melvyn Bragg, Carol Ann Duffy, Dame Judi Dench,  Bill Bryson, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall –   organisations, like the Woodland Trust, the Ramblers and other walking groups, cycling organisations like the Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC), as well as the National Trust, have been vocal in their opposition. Please join them, make your voice heard and help keep our forests out of the hands of developers and tax avoiders. 

And this is a battle we can win.  Although Cameron and Spelman may be motivated by an obsession with privatisation  and a desire to reward their city friends with more tax avoidance schemes, opposition to the sell-off has enraged many traditional Tory supporters, including the British Horse Society, the New Forest Association and even the UK Forest Products Association: a rather different, but potentially explosive, Countryside Alliance.

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Resolve to make 2011 the year you strap on your boots, get on your bike and help fight to save your countryside and environment.

This is the season of resolutions – usually forgotten by the end of January – but this year, stay healthy, get fitter, save money and contribute to fighting the serious threats posed to our environment and countryside.

David Cameron warns us that 2011 will be a year of austerity. Well, he should know. Thanks to his government’s policies, millions of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens are already struggling and, with the public sector set to be slashed over coming months, the pernicious effects of ConDem ideology will soon begin to affect many more of us.

 If you need to tighten your belt, try to cut back on your own expenditure as creatively and positively as possible.  One of the most beneficial and effective ways of saving money is to slash your car use:

  • give yourself a radius of, say, five miles, and resolve to make all journeys within this either by boot or bike and if you do have to drive – maybe to transport a heavy load – then ensure you also use the journey for something else, like visiting the recycling centre, picking up friends/family from the station etc
  • share lifts to work, or better still, walk/run/cycle there and back  instead
  • shop locally and walk/cycle to the shops
  • order from (responsible) supermarkets and retailers online – most customers find they save money this way and it obviously makes environmental sense too

One of these least successful, and most expensive, resolutions annually made is to attend the gym regularly. Compare the fall in attendance between  January and, say, March, work out how much your increasingly rare visits are costing and resolve to exercise more cheaply, more effectively and more healthily. Use your savings from gym fees to:

  • buy a bike – search local adverts and bike shops, eBay or companies like CycleRecycleUk for good quality, used bikes and spares
  • kit yourself in good quality, but reasonably-priced running/walking gear – you do need comfortable, waterproof footwear and outer layers, but you can pick up serviceable clothes at Aldi/Lidl and outlet stores 
  • see our section on Kit: https://www.bootandbike.co.uk/overview/

 Better still, join a Green Gym. Initially set up by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), then subsequently often run by local groups, this initiative gives volunteers the opportunity to improve their health and the environment at the same time, by tackling physical jobs in the outdoors that benefit local green spaces.  Find out more at: http://www2.btcv.org.uk/display/greengym

For a fraction of the cost of a gym membership you can take out an annual subscription to  www.ramblers.org.uk  or www.ctc.org.uk  where you will find local walking and cycling groups that organise walks/rides and also social activities, give technical advice, advertise gear and equipment, as well as  walking/cycling holidays.

These organisations also give members the opportunity to volunteer – maybe even become part of Cameron’s Big Society, although perhaps not quite in the way he envisaged.  Coalition plans to sell off national parks and our ancient forests threaten not just the environment, but our long-cherished right of access to the countryside.  Equally, reductions in council budgets will result in withdrawal of bus subsidies, preventing many from even reaching the countryside, and the disappearance of rights-of-way officers.

Everyone who cares about the countryside and is horrified at the prospectof their beloved green spaces falling into the hands of developers and big landowners needs to join together to fight these proposals:

  • if councils have to cut back on rights-of-way, then we need to provide the Ramblers and others with enough volunteers to take their place and ensure footpaths stay open
  • all of us should support action groups, like www.38degrees.org.uk lobbying to keep our national parks and forests out of private hands and exposing rich individuals and companies who avoid paying their fair share of taxes

Public pressure does pay dividends.  Cameron, a self-professed huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ guy, has already had to backtrack on his promise to offer an early free vote on lifting the hunting ban.  MPs of all political hues have to be sensitive to the views of their constituents and cannot ignore the consistent 75% of the public opposed to hunting, despite the efforts of Cameron’s friends in the Countryside Alliance.

 So, make 2011 a year to remember: get fit, stay healthy, try to protect the environment and do your bit to preserve your countryside and green spaces.   

Happy New Year.

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Revel and Rejoice in this Staycation Christmas

So, after a couple of recession-dictated stay-at-home summer holidays, we’ve now got a climate-induced staycation Christmas. Good news! Now you can vote with your boots, or  bike, avoid airport hell, unreliable trains and jammed motorways, stay local, do something different and make merry.

Being stuck on the West Coast Main Line, somewhere between Carlisle and Penrith, for 10 hours last New Year, condemned to counting the parallel lines of stationary traffic on the M6 as an interesting distraction from the religious fundamentalist in the next seat, persuaded me not to travel anywhere this festive season. Blessed are the smug, you may say, as I raise a glass to the miserable queues at Heathrow and St Pancras with a mixture of sympathy, empathy and conceit, sitting by my warm fireside with the added bonus of a  winter wonderland right outside the front door.

 For the first time in nearly 50 years, lowland Britain is looking forward to a real white Christmas.  Snow might clog up the airports and roads but it doesn’t stop you travelling: by boot, or by bike – if you are on two wheels, take  care, get some  advice on tyres, riding strategies, equipment from experts on blogs like http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/bike-blog/2010/dec/22/snow-cycling-weather-toronto 

Why spend  on an overseas ski trip later in the season when you can enjoy this unexpected winterscape on your doorstep, and not just in Scotland but throughout Britain? Find your boards and skis, hire some snowshoes – there are even some in vogue entrepreneurs who will  rent you a sled – or lace up your walking boots, just get out and enjoy.

Visit your local forest or national park – even the Peak District is relatively quiet on Christmas Day – now transformed into wondrous silvery vistas. Then, when you get home, campaign with http://www.38degrees.org.uk and others, to save these national treasures from privatisation – the Coalition’s latest ideological, immoral idiocy.

 If you can’t reach the  retail mall, stay local and buy from your neighbourhood traders. You’ll be helping your local community and you might find they offer more than you expected.  Anyway, the fewer cars sliding about, the more chance of the delivery vans arriving.

But, if your online orders don’t arrive in time, adapt, use your imagination and skills – cook, sew, paint, make – to create authentic and unique presents that will probably be appreciated more by their recipients.  And, if you’re totally useless then utilise the kids – teenagers are universally expert at downloading and other computer-related stuff – into producing favourite playlists and videos for absent grandparents and relatives. Ignore the jibes about fogey music and they’ll usually oblige by showing off their IT skills.  When your original presents do arrive, they’ll be an extra post-Christmas surprise.

 If nobody can get to you and you can’t reach them, sample a unique Christmas Day on your own.  Thinks of the positives: no in-laws, no having to thank people you don’t like for presents you don’t want, no having to watch the Queen’s Speech and you can cheer up by  comparing your plight in a comfortable, heated house with those at Terminal 5.  If you simply can’t cope with spending Christmas Day at home on your own, then don’t. Find yourself a local old people’s home, an acute children’s ward, or homeless shelter and spend some time with people who deserve some quality time and company. Take some of your food stockpile with you, or invite some lonely old person, or deserving but hard-up family to join you at home, make soup with the leftovers, portion into meals, freeze and you’ll have ready meals for the next few months.

Greater mobility, milder winters, more extended families have all resulted in more of us travelling further afield in mid-winter. It’s impossible to say if this makes 21st century Christmases better than those of yesteryear and, in any case,  hypothetical debate is no consolation for those who can’t be where, or with whom, they want to be.  But you can make the most of this unique December; leave the car in the garage, save on that overseas trip, feed the birds, get out and enjoy this Alpine winter right on your own doorstep.

Remember, there are times, even at Christmas, when your journey is not really necessary.

Have a great festive period, wherever you are.

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10 Reasons for Celebrating the Snow

 

Let’s be positive about seasonal snow:  after all, isn’t it supposed to be like this in the winter?

1. It’s enchanting: who can resist that delicate white blanket covering the bleak, brown earth, the ethereal icicles and frozen cobwebs decorating naked trees and bushes, or the blood orange sunsets reflecting on the glistening silver landscape?  

2. This unexpected beauty lifts spirits at the darkest, most dismal and depressing time of the year and the special light helps counter the onset of SAD and other seasonal afflictions.

3. For those of us who do get out and about in the winter, soft clean snow and sharp sunny days beat waterlogged fields and persistent rain and wind any day.

4. It’s an ideal excuse to wear those down jackets, salopettes and four-season boots in the conditions they were originally designed for.

5. While motorways are gridlocked, airports closed and trains cancelled, those who travel by boot and bike (this is when your off-roader with chunky tyres comes into its own) arrive at their destinations with the bonus of a little more exercise and unhindered by the usual volume of motorised traffic.

6. The conditions have forced drivers to be more careful and cut their speed, so making the streets safer (give or take the odd slip) for children, pedestrians and well-equipped cyclists.

7. In an age of video conferencing, Skype and the internet, the experience of the last week should encourage sensible employers to offer more opportunities for flexibility and working from home.  And, schools could look north to Scotland, where GLOW, the world’s first national intranet for education, allows joined-up working for pupils and teachers, in and out of the classroom.

8. Children across the country, including teenagers in lowland Britain who have reached adolescence without ever experiencing this level of snow, literally on their doorsteps, have enjoyed a few days of traditional winter sports: the novelty, camaraderie and excitement of actual, as opposed to virtual, activity outdoors far outweighing any educational damage from a few days out of school.

9. It’s a timely – in the week of the UN climate conference – and salient reminder that we can never take nature for granted.

10. Adverse weather is one of the few topics that gets reserved Brits talking to each other and it also tends to heighten our awareness of and concern towards the old and the vulnerable, as well as wildlife in our locality.

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In Praise of Urban Twilights

Another dreary weekend, little light, less warmth, winter is setting in.  No real point in heading for the hills because as soon as you start you’ll have to think about getting back before it gets dark: the joys of the northern hemisphere once the clocks go back.

Think of walking and cycling and most images will be of hiking and biking in the hills, coastal walks, rural rambles, forest trails: however diverse the activity the common factor is the location; always the countryside. But, as the dark lengthens, the leaves turn to mushy litter and diminishing daylight and unpredictable  weather make expeditions to the hills and mountains more difficult and time restricted, why not make full use of what limited light there is by exploring urban this autumn?

Indeed, the couple of months from the clock change in late October until early January is the one time of the year when, on balance, I actually prefer to be in the city, especially at twilight: bright lights glistening on the wet pavements illuminating the spindly silhouettes  of naked trees in misty parks, the treat of a hot chestnut stall providing a Dickensian tinge and unmistakeable reminder that Christmas is on the way.

And the impending festive season is  another reason  to enjoy a  wider city experIence, away from the retail ghettoes and without the crowds of fair weather tourists, This is the season to take back ownership of the parks and the attractions often too crowded to enjoy in sunnier and holiday times.

Victorian philanthropy bequeathed an impressive legacy of parks and open spaces in our major cities.  Often they also house museums, galleries and other places of interest.  Use them, make up your own walking and cycling trails linking different parks and other circuits round the city. And, as this is usually the quietest time of the year,  you’ll probably have them to yourself on raw, late autumn weekend afternoons when the visitors have left and the indigenous natives are desperately thronging the shopping malls and retail centres in pre Christmas hysteria.  Stop off at the museums and galleries en route – you’ve probably always intended to visit anyway, but never got round to it – enjoy their collections and warm up at in their (mostly) decent cafes and tearooms.

Perhaps you live in an unattractive post-industrial city that you try to get out of as much as you can?   Well lucky you, devote a few afternoons to get to know it better and take advantage of what it does offer.  The heavy industry of the nineteenth century may have declined and permanently scarred the landscape, but it will almost certainly have also left  a post-industrial legacy of canal towpaths and disused railways.  Use them. OK, you won’t find many gradients, but they are great ways of getting through cities and the longer the industrial decline, the more established and varied the flora and fauna. You’ve missed the blackberries and sloes, but you’ll find plenty of ducks, swans, moorhens and other wildlife to keep you company on the way.

Think up a theme – history, art, sport, literature, famous people, anything from the locality – get the kids involved, put together some related clues to find on your circuit, maybe devise a photography competition and you’ve got a whole day’s outing, maybe six to eight hours, with as much exercise as you would get on a three hour country hike or hilly cycle. You will be using all the daylight available with no long travelling times and, if it does get dark before you finish, you’ve always got the streetlights to see you home.

And don’t overlook the weird  allure of the city in the raw, murky months heading to mid winter. Those solid, but extravagant, Victorian municipal buildings assume an eerie and bizarre beauty highlighted in the shadowy orange glow of streetlights and headlights.  River vistas strike a more dramatic edge with the lights from bridges and quays reflected vividly  in the black water

Our continental neighbours, perhaps as a response to their traditionally colder climate, seem to make much more of their winters than we do and lighten up the darkest months with markets, celebrations and festivals  So, take a leaf out of their book, get out and about, resist the temptation to crawl into a hibernal nest  and instead, exploit what daylight there is.  Re-acquaint yourself with your city and, when the first signs of spring emerge in the new year, you will be fit and raring to get back on the hills and in the forests.

Oh, and getting out, getting hot and keeping the circulation active, sure keeps the home heating bills down during the day.

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Big Society or Big Business? How Spending Cuts and Reductions in Regulation threaten the Environment and Access to the Countryside.

 

Six months into Coalition rule and perhaps, just after the spending review, the student protest and last week’s welfare announcement, it is probably only now that many of us are actually beginning to realise the extent of the proposed cuts and change in policy and waking up to the reality that they will, whether employed or unemployed, young or old, private or public sector, affect us all and in ways we might not have originally considered.

Well, yes, maybe but what’s this got to do with getting out your boots and bike and heading for the great outdoors, I hear some of you asking? Well, rather a lot and, as more and more proposals are rolled out, the potential effects on all aspects of life and groups in society are becoming ever more evident. And, as far as the great outdoors is concerned, with proposals to sell off woodlands in England and threats to move ownership of national parks out of government control, we’ve already got enough to get on with. Clearly, whether you welcome, or fear, these proposals depends largely on your own personal political viewpoint, but what is not open to debate is that these radical changes could affect access to and use of the countryside.

Of course, the countryside is also a place where people live and work and does not exist solely as a playground for the rest of us, but mountains, coasts and forests should never become the exclusive preserve of those who can afford to buy large tracts of land, or who want to exploit them for commercial profit.

At a time of increasing concern over inactivity and conditions like obesity, combined with the need to understand as much as possible about climate change and environmental factors, it is absolutely vital to encourage and enable as many people as possible to visit, enjoy and conserve the countryside. However, if large areas of land now fall into private hands, particularly if accompanied by a reduction in regulation, then opportunities to experience the countryside will inevitably decrease.

Depressingly, the portents don’t look too great. The Guardian (November 13th) reported that representatives from, amongst others, McDonald’s, Pepsi Cola, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association and catering company Compass (of turkey twizzler fame) are now to be at the heart of writing government policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease: all part of the Coalition’s desire to work with relevant commercial partners to explore voluntary, not regulatory, approaches and to support them in removing obstacles. A strategy described by Jeanette Longfield, head of the food campaign group Sustain, as akin to putting the tobacco industry in charge of smoke-free places. “This isn’t “Big Society” it’s big business,” she added.

Meanwhile on the same day, the Independent headlined that the Coalition intends to allow badgers to be cage-trapped and shot and is set to scrap a tranche of animal welfare measures including:
*the proposed ban on beak mutilation of laying hens
*intended prosecutions of slaughterhouse operatives accused of kicking and stamping on animals, some of which had their throats cuts while fully conscious
*a proposed ban on keeping game birds in battery cages, following intense lobbying from the Countryside Alliance and shooting organisations
These measures were justified by James Paice, the agriculture minister, as important ways of cutting bureaucracy.

Cutting bureaucracy may be close to the Coalition’s heart, but responsible access to the countryside is regarded as a fundamental right by millions of citizens of this country and any indication that the government is being unduly influenced by the Countryside Alliance and landowners’ organisations should raise alarm bells among everyone who has supported the fight to remove restrictions on access.

Indeed, access is already difficult enough for a number of reasons. Although many millions enjoy walking, cycling, climbing, visiting gardens and country houses, many more never visit the countryside at all, although many of them claim to want to. The reasons are varied and complex, ranging from lack of knowledge of, and confidence in, the countryside, to disability, social isolation and cultural alienation.

Large numbers of people, and not just in inner cities, simply cannot reach the countryside because they cannot drive or do not have access to a car and this  problem can only get worse when proposed cuts to bus subsidies and local authority spending begin to bite. Our public transport provision is already limited enough, our trains expensive, overcrowded and sparse in rural areas. so any further reduction in bus services and public transport will simply cease to exist. Given that we should be trying to limit car use, particularly in sensitive environments, withdrawing what little public transport there is makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Reduction in regulation may be an appealing catch phrase for some but, as far as access to the countryside is concerned, we must all ensure Cameron’s Big Society includes all of us, not just big business and big landowners.

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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  http://www.strandcoffee.co.uk/

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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