BEFORE THE FESTIVAL
When we stumbled across an announcement of the first ever cycle touring festival to be held in the UK, we immediately bought tickets. Usually, we avoid festivals like the plague – all those people crowded together, tents so close together that guy lines cross, noisy nights, long queues for smelly toilets, etc., etc.: we’re getting way too old for that sort of thing! This sounded different, however: right up our street. And being based in Clitheroe, half way up the country, we decided it would give us the impetus to continue on to Scotland and do a trip that we’d always wanted to do – a cycle tour of the Outer Hebrides.
So, Friday, 1 May, saw us excitedly loading up the car with panniers and bikes for our trip north. It wasn’t too long, though, before we were reminded of why we hadn’t used our car for the past 5 years of holidays but instead left our home on our bikes (we’re lucky enough to live within 10 miles of the port of Poole, giving us easy access to France). Road closures, long-winded diversions, motorway madness, accidents, long tailbacks, 40 mph speed limits – the journey took almost twice as long as it should have done.
On finally reaching Clitheroe, we stopped at the first opportunity to buy some fish and chips. Getting back to the car, a man approached us and said out of the blue, ‘Would you like a book?’ ‘Er, what type of book?’ we asked, mystified. He proceeded to delve into the boot of his car and dragged out a pile of books on subjects as random as cigars, poinsettias, politics, … We plumped for an album of World War I photographs – well, we would, wouldn’t we!
Oblivious to the fact that our fish and chips were getting cold, he then proceeded to tell us about his love life! How he’d just split from his partner of 16 years but that he was going to try to woo her back as it was no fun cooking for one. We listened politely as he seemed lonely and wanted to talk. Eventually, we clambered back into the car to tuck into our by now cold dinner!
THE CYCLE TOURING FESTIVAL
On arriving at Waddow Hall, we were greeted by a familiar figure. Well, Tim Moss was, of course, familiar to us; having followed his blog, we felt that we knew him. He, on the other hand, didn’t know us from Adam!
And so this was the start of the most amazing weekend, way, way beyond our expectations.
At first, we felt somewhat star-struck. ‘Wow, look, there’s Tom Allen, there’s That Emily Chappell, Anna Hughes, Helen Lloyd, the McNeils on Wheels, the Pikes on Bikes, Kate Rawles…’, the list went on. All these people whose blogs we had followed avidly over the years. Some of them were extreme adventurers and initially we felt a little out of place, having only done short cycle tours during holidays from work. That feeling didn’t last long. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. And there were lots of other people like us who, for whatever reason, can only fit in small chunks of cycle touring.
There was such a camaraderie between everyone – we all understood each other and had a passion for travelling by bicycle, be it on round-the-world tours or just a short hop over to France. Blanca summed it up perfectly, ‘I feel I have found my tribe’. It felt like we were all part of one big family: sharing knowledge, talking about gear, routes, bikes, clothing, actually feeling normal for a change and not that odd couple who carry all their kit on their bikes and cycle everywhere for a holiday!
The talks were interesting and informative – those more experienced were happy to share their knowledge with newbie tourers. Mealtimes were fun, giving us the opportunity to chat to so many different people and to share experiences. The guys on the couple of trade stands that were there were so friendly, enthusiastic and patient, nothing was too much trouble for them.
For us, cycle touring allows us to travel at a slow pace – it’s not about how many miles we do, it’s all about the places we pass through, the sights we see, the smells on the road (good and bad!), and, most of all, the people we meet. To have spent a weekend with 200 or so people who felt exactly the same was absolutely fantastic. Roll on the next Cycle Touring Festival – we shall be there!
AFTER THE FESTIVAL
To be continued……