On the late May bank holiday for the past three years, a group of around 200 to 300 people get together to talk about bicycles, listen to engaging stories of amazing cycle touring journeys, learn, eat, sleep, drink a few beers, go cycling and have a bloody good time in the company of like minded people. It is called the Cycle Touring Festival and I had the pleasure of going this year. This is what I found.
It was the day before the festival and time had been moving way too fast and I was faced with getting my bicycle and kit ready whilst trying to work from home! I had told myself there would be plenty of time, but as ever that was wishful thinking as I frantically packed my car. I was leaving later that evening and was picking up another attendee on route, who had put a request on Facebook for a lift to the festival the night before and I was happy to help out. A quick detour and we headed north on our 250 mile journey. It was good to have company along the way - with lots of bicycle talk, it wasn't long before we arrived.
We set about unloading and scouting around for a gap in the busy camping fields. With a gap successfully found, we set to work whilst trying to be very quiet! With the head torches shining here there and everywhere and a little banging around probably didn't make us any friends, so apologies to the other festival goers!
Morning soon arrived and I was awoken with beautiful sunlight filling up my tent. I love camping at this time of year - the sun rises are often spectacular, giving you a real spring in your step for the day. The bright yellow sky against all the tents made for a postcard perfect shot. Remembering that I packed fresh coffee and my jetboil was an added bonus. Life was good :-)
I had planned to go cycling, but instead went for a walk to get my bearings. Off I went exploring.
The festival is held at a Girl Guide Camp Site, just outside a town in Lancashire called, Clitheroe. The site is surrounded by stunning countryside, a central house with outbuildings, beautiful grounds with plenty of space to chill. It is shame we couldn't access the high and low ropes area, as they did look fun :-) And there is the river Ribble if you fancy a dip! A great setting to get away from everyday life and host a cycling festival.
The festival is hosted over two days, with a large selection of talks, workshops, Q & A sessions and plenty of eating, drinking & laughter in between. Dare I say it; there is barely a chance to get out on your bicycle!
The event is organised by Laura Moss with the help of her husband Tim (http://thenextchallenge.org), along with family and friends. It is this family spirit that spills into the event by creating a relaxed and chilled out atmosphere. To me it was a refreshing change to not attend a commercially driven event with sales people trying to grab your attention everywhere you go. You you can relax, talk about bicycles, be social, wander, listen and take everything in at your own pace. It is this that differentiates it from the rest. The commercial aspects that are there, are a very small selection of bicycle and camping small businesses displaying good quality gear to look at if choose to.
This is what you get for your £85 ticket (£75 if you book early). You have to agree this is an absolute bargain. But what makes it more special is that Laura runs the festival 'not for profit', with any profit going back into the following year.
- Entry to the festival
- 45 sessions: speakers, technical workshops, film viewings and more
- Camping for up to 3 nights
- Breakfast, lunch and dinner for the Saturday & Sunday
- Tea, coffee and cold drinks throughout the day
- Awesome cakes with your tea & coffee!
After the opening session with Laura and Tim welcoming everyone, I headed over to hear Andrew Sykes talk about his latest cycle touring adventure (and associated book) from his journey from the geographic south of Europe to the most Northernmost point of Europe. That is Tarifa, Spain to Nordkapp, Norway for those of us not too hot on our geography (i.e. me!).
Andrews's talk was an enjoyable hour of humorous, lighthearted talk about the adventures he had along the way. From the challenges of actually reaching the geographic South, to staying in a Warmshowers host's allotment shed! The talk really set the standard with Andrew's engaging style - I suspect something to do with being a school teacher in a past life!
I'm please to say that Andrew has agreed to be part of a Q & A post for www.cyclingtouring.org about this trip and past adventures, so watch this space.
Next up was probably one of the most inspiring talks. And to be honest, I hadn't actually planned to go to. I just got chatting and stayed in the room. And so I'm glad I did. Heidi and her family had an amazing story to tell about their cycle tour across various islands in Scotland with two very young children. This was no weekend away trip to the local campsite. It was a long and exciting adventure!
This family really showed everyone that having children doesn't prevent you from exploring the world by bicycle. Children adapt and it gives them an education on the road that is hard to replicate in school. Learning using travel and experiences should be part of every child's education.
Although only a 30 minute talk, I came away with a real sense of anything is possible when you put your mind to it, and having children shouldn't stop you.
Time for some beginners video tips from Barry Godin and Geoff Broadway. Have you ever been frustrated by producing some of the worst video clips from your cycle tours?! If you haven't, you are either incredibly talented, or lucky! I'm neither, and despite my best attempts to capture my tours by video, the results generally fall into the boring category, or technical disasters! Or I just haven't got round to even watching them yet!
We were treated to two different styles of video making and editing. Barry with his fast paced, chopping from scene to scene, in your face, selfies galore, down with the kids style of video. And Geoff with the more gentle approach; soft music, time lapse scenes and beautiful landscapes filmed over long periods of time. I really liked them both.
Both Barry and Geoff gave some good practical advice. It seems I have been going wrong with editing. As in, I don't really do any! This is where the magic should happen - you need to give your masterpiece some TLC. Mixing up the the cameras was another great tip - maybe use a go pro style of camera, along with a smart phone. That way, you can chop and change and keep it from entering the boring category.
Check out Barry's short video he put together for the festival. Watch Barry's Cycle Touring Festival Video
Here is one of Geoff's videos from a cycling trip to the West Coast of Scotland. Watch Geoff's Video
I sat down for a session with Dan Joyce, the editor of the Cycling UK magazine for the past 17 years. Dan gave a very insightful talk about the trends of cycle touring and cycling in general over the years, and his views on everything from equipment to what we wear while cycling.
It was an interesting hour taking in Dan's views, backed up with his years or cycle touring knowledge and experience editing the Cycling UK (formerly CTC) magazine. What really struck in my mind was the view that cycle touring is 'niche' and has been known to be a little 'un-trendy' in the past. Makes me a little downhearted that people see it that way. And there was me thinking my converted MTB touring bike is the coolest sight on the road with it's mud guards and panniers! As Dan went on to say, bikepacking is the new trend, and travelling the world by bicycle has become cool again. But is bikepacking any different to touring with panniers? We all just travel by bicycle with equipment & bags attached at the end of the day. It it all boils down to clever marketing and branding. At the end of the day, who cares. What is important that more people explore the world and travel using bicycles. Choose your bicycle, wear what you want and get out there and be proud of your achievements.
It proved to be a popular session, with many of us enjoying taking in Dan's views. Although telling everyone, back in the day he went touring in a pair on denim shorts is so wrong!
After lunch, the Saturday afternoon was kept quieter to allow people to take part in the cycling treasure hunt - a 15/20 mile ride around the local area. Am ashamed to say I chickened out due to the torrential rain, so camped out watching a selection of cracking cycle touring films in the main hall. With nine films being played back to back, covering trips to the Hebrides, Colorado, Iceland and more. It was good to see the full version of Barry Godin's film from a trip to Iceland that he showed the group clips from earlier in the day during his talk.
Where had the day gone!? It was soon early evening and onto the entertainment. With a bar open and an amazing array of splendid Greek food, it was set to be a good evening. With the festival atmosphere being so friendly, dinner was a time to reflect and chat about the day with new friends and listen to a Q & A session with Ann Wilson and Helen Lloyd. Both Ann and Helen have had amazing journeys by bicycle, clocking up thousands of miles between them and having lots of stories to tell. With Helen spending 3 months cycle touring in the freezing temperature (-50C) of Siberia, and Ann's incredible achievement of touring the world in her 60's. Amazing ladies with great stories to tell.
The evening came to a close with an open mic session to hear a range of engaging, enlightening and humorous stories. A fitting close to a great first day. Full of food and beer, I headed for my tent.
Day 2 didn't quite bring the same sunrise as day 1, but it did bring me a slightly fuzzy head after the previous night festivities! So, determined to at least get a few miles on the bicycle in before I left that evening, I fired up the Jetboil and made some strong coffee. I was soon flying along the quiet roads taking in the views. I didn't intend on going too far, just far enough to see more of Lancashire than the festival and be able to say I went for a bike ride - avoiding the, 'So Peter, you went to a bicycle festival and didn't ride a bike!?' I went up a big hill in the mist & drizzle and came back down again. Job done!
First up today was a yoga session from Alice McNeil. Having only having attempted yoga once or twice in front of a television to the great amusement of my children, I wanted to give this a whirl, especially as the session was designed with cyclists in mind. And with Alice having cycled all over the world, she is well qualified to show fifty or so people the ropes.
I enjoyed this session so much and am trying to keep it going at home (away from the giggles of my children). With my body starting to get a little old and cranky after nearly 40 years, it really helped me understand how to stretch correctly. No more of the quick 30 second basic stretches before hopping on the bike for the day. I now have a worksheet of exercises that will have me contorted in all directions!
Really pleased to say Alice will be writing a guest blog post for www.cyclingtouring.org over the coming weeks. In the meantime, do check out the exercise worksheet below. Or download it here. As with any new exercise, or if you have injuries, always take advice from a medical professional. The exercise worksheet is a suggestion and not a replacement for professional advice.
Heading to the main hall, my next sitting was to watch and hear about the North Coast 500 miles ride by the Adventure Syndicate. The Adventure Syndicate is a group of ladies who complete amazing cycling challenges. And the film captured all the moments during a continuous 500 mile ride across the coast of Scotland in 36 hours.
A wonderfully shot and edited film that showed the grit and determination of everyone involved in this challenge ride. It was a real team effort, not only from all the cyclists, but the support crews that made their achievement possible. The film was followed by questions to one of the riders Emily Chappel and the film editor, Anna Kubik.
The film will be released to the world shortly, so do check out the Adventure Syndicate website. Here is a snippet from their Vimeo page.
After yet more food, talking and relaxation, I headed back the main hall to hear an amazing story of a journey from Ann Wilson. The same Ann Wilson from the previous evening Q & A session. This time Ann was talking about her first cycle touring journey. And not just any journey, but a round the World journey at nearly 60 years old! It was an engaging, funny and down to earth talk from an amazing lady who kept going despite setbacks like having your bicycle stolen very early on, to having a parasite in India! Look up Ann's journey on the internet. And if you ever think you are too old or not good enough to going touring, think again - this lady is truly inspirational!
After hearing from the family on bikes the day before, I went for more. This time their talk was about another journey. This time the destination was Japan for 6 months. A real family effort to deliver yet another inspirational story from their time in Japan. They really captured what is great about Japan; it's traditions, the people, food, landscape, culture and most importantly, hot spas!
Their journey was possible by camping along the way and working on farms to support their adventure the length of the islands. Japan is yet another on my list of 'go to' countries and their stories added to that desire to go. The thought of a hot spa after a hard day on the bicycle sounds too good to miss.
Day 2 came near to end with an hour session from Leigh Timmis. I remembered the name from a BBC post I came across a few weeks prior (see it here). In a nutshell, about 7 years ago Leigh left the UK on a round the world trip and this talk was all about the ups and downs of that journey and the challenges he faced along the way. Leigh travelling 44,000+ miles across 51 countries and raised in excess of £10,000 for charity.
Leigh brought his cycle touring adventures to life and you really felt the pain and glory of his trip. After 7 years away from home, those post adventure blues may kick in. I suspect this won't be Leigh's last adventure!
The day rounded off with a final message from Laura and Tim, a big round of applause, and those who wanted to stay another night were welcome to. Myself on the other hand, had to head home that night, so off I walked to the campsite to round up all my gear and start my journey home, wondering what next years festival will bring...
Arriving home, I found something very special from my daughter in my office :-)
I really recommend you check out next years festival. I had a truly fantastic weekend with so many like minded people. There was fun, laughter, eating, drinking and of course, a bucket load of cycling talk from both speakers and attendees. Judging by past years, the 2018 event will be held on the last UK bank holiday weekend in May. Check out the Cycle Touring Festival Website for updates.
To round it off, check out all of my photos from the weekend.