“When walking out the office to go on holiday, a fellow traveller was questioned as to how cycling 25-40 miles a day could ever be classed as a holiday!”
Ruth Howarth from the Wilderness office team shares her experience as a comparative biking newbie on her first road cycling holiday.
My forays into cycling have been limited to commuting, charity bike rides or casual day rides around the countryside, but nothing too extreme.
In May, I was lucky enough to join the Road Cycling, Island Explorer trip visiting the isles of Arran, Islay and Jura, and I was hugely excited at the prospect of experiencing a slightly different holiday than I’ve been used to in the past. But 40 miles a day seemed like a LONG way and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to keep that up for days at a time, especially whilst managing to achieve some of the rest and relaxation that we all associate with our time away from the daily grind.
A concern of mine was if I was fit enough to complete the trip. I’m fairly active in my day to day life, but I’m not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination, and I was apprehensive about being too slow or not being able to get up the hills. This concern was quickly dispelled on the warm up ride in Arran. Having completed the few miles quite easily and enjoyed the views out over the south coast, some of the group opted to cycle home back to the hotel for a G&T in the sun on the patio, and, and the others carried on to conquer our first hill of the trip. I surprised myself and opted for the latter, as I’d seen the restaurant menu, and knew that I had to earn my dinner!
I also knew that one of the guides was staying with us in the support van, and could quickly boost us back to the hotel if we got tired. This same support van was there throughout the trip, and gave me that confidence, but also defiance that I would get up those hills! The following days settled into an easy pace of enjoying a leisurely breakfast, and then jumping on the bike when we were ready. The cycling was punctuated with distillery visits, sightings of Golden Eagles, coffee and cake stops and good banter. It never felt too much, and we all went at our own pace, grumbling on the uphills and whooping together once we had reached the top.
Now the other thing that makes a good holiday for me, is the food. Scottish food has historically had some bad press; apparently all we eat is Haggis and Deep-fried Mars Bars washed down with Irn Bru. The reality is quite different and the tiny islands that we visited amazingly had some incredible restaurants. We had Scottish-style tapas in Arran which nearly outdid us, the freshest Langoustines with garlic butter and a Bradan Rost Smoked Salmon and Smoked Mussel pizza in Islay. Not forgetting that everyday, our guides produced the most amazing picnic lunches, seemingly out of nowhere, showcasing the finest Scottish ingredients.
The weather is also an important factor in how enjoyable a holiday can be. We were very lucky, and experienced some of the finest weather for riding with bright blue skies and cooler temperatures for most of the time we were away. We also had some typical Scottish weather, but our guides seemed to miraculously arrange that day so that we were cycling when the weather was good, and eating a cafe lunch or doing a distillery tour when it was raining. I’m completely convinced that even if we’d had more frequent poor weather, we wouldn’t have noticed it thanks to our guides deftly juggling our activities for the day.
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Finally, the all important R&R, did I come home feeling relaxed and refreshed? Physically, maybe I was a wee bit tired, but only in a good way, and it was lovely to come home feeling fitter than I had at the start; something that doesn’t happen to everybody on holiday! The cycling each day had refreshed my mind, and I hadn’t thought about work or daily life the whole week we were away. Did it feel like a holiday? Well, great company, fabulous weather, excellent food and the incredible sights, all mixed with an overwhelming sense of achievement at the end, made it one of the best ones I’ve ever had!