Cycling holidays don’t have to feature long-haul flights and are great fun. Alison Shepherd talks to the intrepid Grays.
Meet the Grays: mum Jean, dad Jamie and the kids Edward, 9, Robert, 8, Elizabeth, 5, and Frances, 2. When these six decided to take a break, they didn’t load up the car and extra pod like the rest of us or head for the nearest airport. They went on a cycling holiday, instead.
This intrepid sextet loaded up a couple of panniers, slung them over two bikes and off they went. “We make quite a procession,” says Jean. “With Jamie, Robert and Elizabeth on a triple tandem followed by me and Edward on an adult/child tandem pulling the carriage with the baby. We seldom go past anyone without getting a smile and a wave, which is great.”
The family cycled the 27 or so miles from their home in York to stay at Lockton youth hostel, near Pickering in the North York Moors National Park. “It is the first time we’ve taken a holiday and cycled all the way,” says Jean, a former primary school teacher. “Previously we have driven to wherever we are going and carried the bikes. But this year we decided we could fit everything we needed into the panniers as we had less baby stuff than before.”
The welcome they received at Lockton appears to have helped soothe any saddle-weary limbs and all the family enjoyed the refurbished facilities that the hostel has to offer. “The staff there were really friendly and made a real effort for us. The kids loved reading all the signs that explained what a difference the various facilities were making to the environment, such as the composting toilets, or all the recycled products. It made it very easily understood, especially in the kitchen which is laid out so that recycling and composting happens naturally.”
Jean freely admits they are not the greenest family, but says they do what they can. “We’ve talked about solar panels – or given that we are in York, maybe wind turbines would be more suitable. But we live in a terraced house, with a yard not a garden, in the middle of the city, so there’s a limit to what we can reasonably do.
“I do try to walk when I can, but need the car for supermarket trips. And I do try to use eco-friendly and soundly sourced materials, but I had to fight to get my dishwasher!”
Jamie, who works for Yorkshire Water on a programme to turn sewage into compost, is actually the only true cyclist in the family, taking part in road races as well as pedalling for fun. But, even though they’re not as passionate about pedals, the children also enjoy the trips. And mum has found that a bag of bribes, or ‘sweets’ as the kids know them, is the real fuel that keeps them going.
Fit, healthy and green
“They don’t really get a lot of choice in the matter,” says Jean. “They do enjoy it – in the end. And it helps keep them active. It’s as much about being fit and healthy as being green.
“We are lucky that the children don’t pester to go abroad – apart from just one mention of Disneyland, which we simply ignored, they just accept that we have holidays in this country. We have thought that in the next couple of years, when the girls are a bit older, we could take the bikes to Holland. But there’s plenty of time to introduce them to the cultural benefits of going abroad. We’re not in a desperate hurry.
“Because we don’t go too far and never stay in hotels, but in cottages or hostels, it means we can go away for long weekend breaks quite a lot. And I think that’s much nicer than just one two-week holiday every year. There’s something to look forward to all the time.”
• Originally published in GreenerLiving magazine in February 2007