This blog was originally posted in April 2016, after Dirty Wknd founders David & Emma returned from a trip to Japan.
Cycling in a new and interesting country is a special kind of riding. The possibility of experiencing something completely new really fuels the desire to get out on the road. With adventure travel and active weekends growing in popularity, getting a ride in whilst you’re away is becoming easier, and the chance to ride in an exotic and unfamiliar location should never be missed!
How you go about researching, planning and executing that ride, however, is just as important as where you go. If you’re on holiday and are planning just one or two days riding, then it’s even more important to get it right. Recently I travelled to Japan for a two week tour of the country, and never has the importance of good planning been more apparent.
Bath is the perfect city to see in a weekend; intimate, but packed full of amazing history and nightlife. The incredible North Somerset countryside also offers excellent cycling and walking routes. At only two hours from London, it’s the perfect spot for a Dirty Weekend!
There is also something magical about the Ancient Roman city during the festive period that makes now the best time to go. From the Christmas market surrounding the Abbey, to the quaintly decorated Georgian streets; Bath at this time of year will have you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.
1. Visit Bath Christmas market
Bath Christmas Market is the largest in southern England with over 170 wooden ‘chalet’ stalls selling all kinds of craft gifts, over 80% of which are hand made by local traders. An afternoon in the market is an afternoon well spent; with the smell of mulled wine, fresh mince pies, and the sounds of carol singers to accompany you. And if you do need a little break from shopping, pop into the Apres Ski bar (new this year), and just drink in the atmosphere. The stalls surround the Abbey and the Spa in the centre of the city, so there aren’t many more spectacular locations for a Christmas Market. More info — http://www.bathchristmasmarket.co.uk/
2. Cycle to Cheddar Gorge
Cheddar Gorge is one of the South West’s most beautiful sights, and is something of a pilgrimage for cyclists. Nestled in the Mendip Hills (itself an outstanding area of natural beauty), it is Britain’s biggest gorge, boasting cliffs of 450 feet. The road that runs through the gorge is an incredible cycle; it’s hilly and challenging, but the beautiful landscape will keep you going. We recommend storing your bikes at the visitors centre and taking a walk around — there’s loads to see and do, and a nice little cafe for a spot of lunch before the ride back. It’s a 25 mile cycle south west from Bath, so doable on an active weekend away; the outstanding landscape is well worth the effort! More info — http://www.cheddargorge.co.uk/
3. Hike the Bath Skyline walk
Bath is a great city to hike around, with incredible hills, history and scenery right on your doorstep. It’s compact size means that as soon as you get out of the centre, you’re basically in the countryside! The Skyline walk starts just south of the city on Bathwick Hill and heads out in a 6 mile loop over stile and through meadow, offering some stunning views of the city along the way. The route takes in an iron age fort and an 18th Century castle, with plenty of wildlife along the way. It is a challenging walk, with some steep hills, but it’s definitely worth it for the views. The route ends where it began, so you can wander back into the city for a well deserved drink. More info — Bath Skyline Walk
4. Climb at Cheddar Gorge
We really can’t recommend Cheddar Gorge highly enough! It offers so much to the active weekender, and is so close to Bath, you really can get the best of both a relaxing city break and an extreme weekend! If you’re not a cyclist, then Cheddar Gorge is a short drive from Bath with free parking at the visitors centre. Once there, you can hike the limestone cliff path, complete with incredible views of Somerset, or book yourself onto a rock climbing excursion. There are different level classes, so complete beginners can be shown the ropes, and more experienced climbers can tackle some of the gorge’s tougher climbs . If you’re planning a Christmas trip to Bath, then aim for the 4th December: Cheddar Gorge’s festive night! Carol singers and festive food and wine; all set in the beautiful surrounds of the gorge. More info — http://www.cheddargorge.co.uk/
5. Visit the Spa’s, old and new
No trip to Bath is complete without visiting the Roman and Thermae spas. One ancient; one ultra-modern, and both incredible experiences. Pick up aSpas Ancient and Modern pass and get entry into both spas, with lunch or champagne tea in the Pump Room. The Roman Baths are one of the most famous historical sites in Northern Europe, and the free audio guides make the tour incredibly interactive. You can even listen to commentary from Bill Bryson, the American best-seller, who lived in bath for a while. From the ancient history of Roman Britain, you move seamlessly onto the very 21st Century modern Thermae Spa. It is the country’s only naturally warm spa, and a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon, especially if you’ve cycled or hiked the day before. They have taken the ancient spa waters, the very same that the Romans bathed in nearly 2000 years ago, and housed it in a high-tech setting complete with modern architecture. So come to Bath, and do like the Romans do — spend an afternoon in the Minerva Bath, indulging in one of the spa treatments, or just relaxing in the roof top pool. When in Rome… http://www.romanbaths.co.uk/
The well documented rise of cycling has lead to many positives; the expansion of the UK cycling network, an active online community, and a national team we can finally be proud of. Another very welcome institution on the rise is the ‘cycling cafe’.
For many years cycling cafes were the dwelling of hirsute East Londoners, trading couriering war stories and swapping rare Japanese fixie parts. However, as the sport of cycling has become more mainstream, thanks largely to Tour de France victories and the media coverage that affords, a new crop of cycling cafes have emerged. This new breed are doing their bit to grow the sport by turning on new cyclists with advice, camaraderie and excellent coffee!
Opening in 2014, The Velo House quickly became the focal point of the burgeoning North Kent cycle scene. Ollie and the team are cyclists first and foremost, and they have kept that in mind with their refuel, reduce and reward mantra. They serve Coffee Officina, Tea Pigs and a wide variety of beers and wine, alongside a delicious, healthy menu. Upstairs the shop sells an eclectic mix of cool gear, and the workshop team in the back can fix, shine and tune your bike whilst you wait. Weekly club rides and regular events are also on offer to feed your cycling habit.
The name Rapha is now synonymous with high end, high quality cycling kit, so it’s no wonder that their first cafe offering in 2012, in central London, was a huge success. So much so that the brand have opened another ‘cycle club’ in Manchester, and it’s doing just as well. Many have written off the cafes as a ‘gallery’ to show off Rapha products, but it’s hard to argue with the style and atmosphere they’ve created. Alongside events, exhibitions and film screenings, there are also organised weekend club rides out to Cheshire and the Peak District. If you’re lucky, you might even bump into a Team Sky rider or two!
Norwich may be (in)famous for Alan Partridge and Delia Smith, but it has an exciting and emerging cycling culture to rival anywhere, and an excellent cycling cafe in Dandy Horse. They sell excellent coffee which changes daily, alongside fresh cakes and sandwiches. The workshop is staffed with over 10 years of mechanical and wheel building experience, so your beloved steed will be in good hands. What Dandy Horse pride themselves on, however, is their custom builds and restorations. Take in your frame (or pick one of theirs) and have them build your dream bike. Grab a coffee and drool over the beautiful selection; you won’t be disappointed.
Pedalling Squares is so much more than a cycling cafe! An event space, a retro jersey emporium and a ‘Supper Club’; there’s always something going on at The Old Brassworks. They brew locally sourced ground coffee and ‘feed stations’ offer ‘cycling legend’ themed panini’s (we had Greg Lemond). The Workshop is run by Vieri Velo, the nicest bike blokes in the North East! They’ll fix your bike, fit parts you’ve brought in for free, and even buy you a coffee (if you’re extra polite).
Maison Du Velo is the perfect pre or post ride stop if you’re out in either the Surrey Hills or the North Downs. This ultra-modern cafe and shop has a gallery feel to it, with the bikes and kit very much ‘on display’. They are passionate about the choice brands they stock (and the coffee they serve), and have complete confidence in their performance ability. The workshop team offer a range of services and comprehensive Bike Fit options to make sure that your setup is on point. Shop rides are weekly and vary by ability, so everyone can get involved.