I hear my grown-up children exclaim “Cheat!” as I sheepishly inform them I will be getting a little battery assistance on a cycling excursion in the Cotswolds.
Indeed, until a few years ago, cycling purists and gym addicts may well have held that view, admits James Milner, managing director of Wild Carrot, an eco-adventure tour company that runs guided eBike tours and glamping experiences in the Cotswolds.
“There used to be a stigma attached to it, that eBikes were for old or unfit people, but that has largely gone. We are getting lots of couples and groups who want to try them out,” says Milner at the company HQ at Manor Farm Barn on the historic Chavenage House Elizabethan estate in Tetbury, Gloucestershire.
With an eye on sustainable energy, the hybrid eBikes are solar-powered – charged by the company’s solar panels – and, of course, they’re not pumping out CO2.
I had long eschewed a challenging cycling holiday (steep and sweaty). But my husband observed that some of his cycling pals had converted to eBikes to give them freedom to go further without becoming exhausted.
So, I was persuaded to try a new Cycle & Stay package that includes eBike hire offered by The Painswick Hotel in the sleepy Cotswolds village of Painswick, near Stroud.
The hotel was built in the 18th Century at the height of the wool trade and the grand Palladian-style building and was converted into the village’s vicarage in 1897.
In the restaurant, with its parquet flooring and wood panelling, you can still see the old wooden door through which children would enter for Sunday school.
In the little cocktail bar in the tiny former chapel barmen mix drinks, which you can take into either of the two lounges with real fires and deep sofas.
Painswick is situated in the south Cotswolds, a less well-trodden tourist path than the celebrity haunts of better-known chocolate-box towns such as Bourton-on-the-Water, Moreton-in-Marsh and Stow-on-the-Wold.
The pretty nearby villages such as Slad – whose main pub The Woolpack was poet Laurie Lee’s local – and Bibury, with its famous Arlington Row 17th Century weavers’ cottages, have a more tranquil feel.
It’s an excellent base from which to explore local attractions, including Painswick Rococo Garden, created in the 18th Century.
Once well fed – the small but perfectly formed hotel menus include dishes like Wye Valley asparagus and Cotswold rack of lamb, with options of local wine from Woodchester Valley, a vineyard and winery you can visit – I’m ready for my eBike adventure.
Milner’s guided eBike tours will accommodate the interests of the guests, whether Roman history (passing Chedworth Roman Villa), fossil discovery or famous TV landmarks such as Chavenage House, which was filmed for Poldark, or the landscapes that featured in Lark Rise To Candleford.
I choose to explore the path of the royals – namely, Highgrove, the country home of the Prince of Wales, to one side of Chavenage, and Gatcombe Park, home of the Princess Royal, to the other.
Cycling around the perimeter of Highgrove you can’t see much because of the high wall and hedging – the company can arrange a grounds tour if you book at least six months in advance – so we move on to the polo fields where Prince Charles and his sons William and Harry played, stopping as our guide shares snippets of history and points out local landmarks.
On the cycle back, we stop at Hookshouse Pottery in Westonbirt. The genial potter, Christopher White, mentions his wife, Lise, is about to open her garden up to the public as she does every year for the National Garden Scheme, raising money for charities, and offers us a preview.
It’s a one-and-a-half-acre sensory treat with borders about to burst into flower, a woodland area and an impressive pond. Had we been in a car we wouldn’t have seen it. But on a bike there’s more chance of finding the nooks and crannies of country life.
“The best feeling,” Milner observes with a twinkle in his eye, “is when you get to overtake the road bikers in all their pro gear going up hills.”
I’ve learned to dismiss all those taunts from my children – and intend from now on just to sit back and enjoy the ride.
P.S. Did you know cycling three hours or 30 kilometres per week halves your risk of heart disease and strokes? And women who walk or bike 30 minutes a day have a lower risk of breast cancer?
Two-night Cycle & Stay package (thepainswick.co.uk) starts from £286 per night and includes breakfast and eBike hire from Wild Carrot for 24 hours. See also wildcarrot.co.uk and woodchestervalleyvineyard.co.uk
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