Category Archives: Customer Stories

Stories from our trips written by customers

Customer Story: Grumpy Guide to the Loire Valley

Regular Skedaddler (and amazing photographer) David Bentley and his lovely wife Leila this time set their sights (and wheels) on the land of fairy tale castles, royal residences and incredible Renaissance architecture – the famed Loire Valley, one of our cycling holidays in France! To our delight he came back with stunning photos to show off his journey and a few curious insights to share too…

Cher and Sleeping Beauty
‘Getting out of Tours was easy enough but took a bit of time until we finally emerged into the countryside and reached the River Cher. I was disappointed to find out that it wasn’t named after the famous singer but this didn’t stop me humming ‘I’ve got you babe’ as we cycled along. Appropriately it did turn sunny (or Sonny for those Cher aficionados) a few minutes later.

By the time we arrived at our first stop at the Château de Villandry I was on to ‘If I could turn back time’ which received some funny looks as we wandered round the famed gardens. The surroundings were indeed spectacular although the pictures probably won’t do them justice.

Ten miles further on was the Chateau d’Usse known as ‘Sleeping Beauty’ castle. By now I was merrily humming the ‘Shoop Shoop Song’ which I thought was appropriate for the occasion. I couldn’t work out why Prince Charming made such a fuss of getting into the place though as there’s a bloomin’ great road straight up to the front door. He’s probably just a cheapskate and cut though the dense dark woods at the back just to avoid paying the entrance fee. Sleeping Beauty had obviously woken up and gone shopping or something as there was no sign of her, nor Prince Charming for that matter, but even without them to show us round the Chateau was well worth a visit.

Degustation and the Chaser Sisters
Today found us pedalling along the banks of the River Vienne for a circular ride culminating in a visit to Fontevraud Abbey. After a completely flat day yesterday we met our first hill which was a bit of a shock to the system for a short climb up the side of the valley to be greeted by rolling vineyards for as far as the eye could see. I am reliably informed it is considered extremely rude not to stop for a tasting or ‘degustation’ of the local produce. So reluctantly we complied at a couple of wineries on the way. You get to try 3 or 4 different varieties of vino at each stop with the anticipation that you may purchase a box or two (although when they saw our mode of transport they didn’t look very hopeful).

The Abbey of Fontevraud is an impressive world heritage site where Henry II (King of England), his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their son, Richard the Lionheart were all buried. It was disestablished at the time of the French Revolution and became a prison right up to 1963.

One of the most interesting information boards listed the hierarchy of the monastic community with the various roles each sister played. The ‘Portress’ (receiver of messages) and the ‘Doorkeeper’ (holder of keys) both seemed to have fairly easy lives, whilst the ‘Chaser Sisters’ would come in really useful in our household in their role to “chase up the idle, the chatterers and the dozers” Noticeable by their absence however were the ‘Pointer Sisters’ (who could give directions), the ‘Scissor Sisters’ (obviously hair cutting) and ‘Sister Sledge’ (who could organise winter sports activities).

Gateaux by the Chateau and Lycra Envy
Once in Azay-le-Rideau, with our bags still not due to arrive to the hotel for a few hours, we wandered over to the chateau for another immersion into the French Renaissance. One disconcerting thing you notice as a cyclist walking round historic houses is that almost everyone looks you up and down and then says something quietly to their partner. I hoped they might be thinking how good I looked in Lycra with my herculean toned body, but then again maybe not.

The chateau itself was probably my favourite of all those we visited and a photographer’s dream. Especially good is that they open the grounds at 10pm in the summer months free of charge so you can see the chateau lit up in all its glory.

Infidelity and a baguette
With blue skies promised all day we decided on a picnic and acquired the various provisions at a local market on the way. Indeed it is a little known fact that Napoleon invented the baguette so that it would fit in the back pocket of a cycle jersey for that very purpose.

Chenonceau is spectacular and was gifted by Henry II (the French one) to his mistress Diane de Poitiers who lived there for 12 years and created a formal garden. It is alleged that when receiving guests Henry would sit on Diane’s lap, play the guitar and chat about politics all in front of his own wife Catherine de Medicis. On Henry’s death unsurprisingly Catherine evicted Diane and claimed Chenonceau for her own, creating her own formal garden in the process and no doubt gleefully dancing on all the plants in Diane’s

Chambord and a light show
With a couple of potential chateaus on the way we decided to miss the first so that we could concentrate a lot of time visiting Chambord the largest and most flamboyant chateau in the region. Built originally as a hunting lodge it’s totally over the top, with a small matter of 440 rooms and 84 staircases all surrounded by a 13,000‑acre wooded park enclosed by 20‑mile wall. The cost of upkeep was so great that for a good proportion of its history it was left abandoned as no one was prepared to take it on.

Much of the building fabric however has now been restored and a few of the rooms filled with furniture to provide a glimpse of its glory years. In addition some of the building’s upper floors have been devoted to more modern art exhibitions. It really is worth a good wander round.

Blois Castle is noted for its summer light shows which start around 10.30pm. After a tiring day I must admit sleep was beckoning, but in the end sitting on the hard courtyard helped us stay awake and the spectacle was indeed very much worth the discomfort.

An unscheduled stop and Chris Froome
One of the first villages you pass by is Chaurmont with its own Chateau. We decided just to have a quick look, but ended up spending four hours! The chateau is fascinating on its own, but combined with the gardens which host an international festival each year we were really glad we’d dropped in.

After a couple of hours cycling we came across a village fete and stopped for a few minutes rest and refreshment. Without any hesitation the local master of ceremonies complete with roving microphone made a beeline straight for us. Now my French is virtually non existent, my wife on the other hand is reasonably fluent so she ended up being interviewed in front of the whole village. By the end we were local celebrities, everyone knew where we were from and our full itinerary for the holiday, I was told later we’d also got an invite for dinner, another ‘degustation’ at the local vineyard, and gained marriage proposals for our two daughters.

While all this was going on I had various locals come up to shake my hand and wish me well. One in particular emerged from the beer tent to shout “Anglaise, Anglaise, Chris Froome, Chris Froome” putting his thumbs up and dancing about. He took pleasure in examining my hire bike making various approving metering before patting me on the back shouting “Chris Froome” once more for good luck and making his way back into the tent.

Final thoughts…
Was it only 6 days ago that we started out from the very same place? It seemed that we had done so much. The problem with this holiday is not what to see, it’s more what to leave out. There is just so much to do in this region that you could do it all over again and visit completely different things.

One of the best things about a cycle holiday is that there always seems to be a sense of achievement when you’ve completed it. You are often a little bit tired at the finish but this is the first time that we can say we were well and truly Chateau’d!’

David is our August Customer Competition winner! Check out previous winning stories from our customers and learn how you can share your cycling holiday experience with us too for a chance to win vouchers for your next trip.

Let our experts turn your dream ride into a reality

Whether you’re a group of friends looking for a unique bonding experience or are searching for a suitably challenging fundraising trip, our Tailor Made cycle holidays could be for you! We asked regular Skedaddler Russ Cummings why he keeps coming back for more bespoke cycling tours with us…

You keep coming back for more Tailor Made experiences, Russ. There must be a reason?
‘The routes, the people and the picnics… Skedaddle have years of experience and their encyclopaedic knowledge of the best roads for cycling means they take us to wonderful places, quiet scenic and appropriately undulating. The staff are fantastic, whether it is the team at HQ organising and taking bookings, or the team on the road. They treat us like friends, yet work tirelessly behind the scenes to make the event a success. And the food… those picnics by the side of the road are legendary, fresh local produce in wonderful locations (or is it just that we are so hungry when we stop, we’d love anything they gave us!!)’

Tell us about your experience organising these tours?
‘The planning is almost as much fun as the riding. Discussing routes and logistics adds to the anticipation. Before we finish one trip we start planning the next (David has this knack of sowing the seeds of his favourite roads in Corsica, or unfinished business in the French Alps!). So the anticipation keeps us going throughout the winter. The admin staff are brilliant, helping coordinate everyone flying in from different places.  And if I haven’t mentioned it before, those guys work so hard during the week itself! Rising before dawn to sort bikes, prep the route, provision the van, then last to bed (certainly keeping us company in the bar!). Nothing is too much trouble for the staff and they really know the formula to keep us all happy and together – not and easy task at times when tired and hungry!’

What for you is the best thing about each of your holidays with Skedaddle?
‘The routes, the people and the picnics – plus we’ve been taken to some wonderful, memorable places off the beaten track.  Places with character, often with lovely views where cyclists are welcomed and well fed… if only they weren’t all on top of a hill!’ Russ

Still not convinced? We have also asked another regular of Tailor Made trips Scott Brown about what he thinks makes a Skedaddle experience so unique and personal…

‘The Skedaddle team have a knack of judging the routes so they stretch and challenge us without turning a trip into an ordeal or tribulation and, as a result, we surprise ourselves by achieving something that truly feels like a real accomplishment and this brings immense satisfaction. If you told me a few years ago that I would be climbing (and just as importantly descending!) Tourmalet, Ventoux, or Stelvio, I would have laughed. The Skedaddle team have shown us what we can do when we put our minds to it and are suitably motivated… and related to this there is a sense of camaraderie that forms during, and that lasts beyond, these memorable trips.’ Scott

Want to discover for yourself? Read more about our tailor made cycling holidays. It’s your chance to turn your dream cycling tour into reality!

Photos by Lighttrapper Photography

Customer Story: C2C, a long way up!

Juliet England joined us on the 130+ mile bike ride from Whitehaven to Tynemouth – the classic coast-to-coast route. She hasn’t been on a bike in years. What could possibly go wrong?

Day 1 – Whitehaven to Threlkeld – 36 miles
Riders setting off on coast-to-coast rides traditionally dunk their front wheels in the sea at the start and finish points, a symbolic baptism.

At Whitehaven at the start of the odyssey to Tynemouth, the sea slops at the bottom of a greasy concrete slope, and we’re warned that the ‘wheel-dipping’ isn’t really necessary, but I insist on going down to the edge, where I slither in up to my ankles. I have to be hauled to safety, a not inconsiderable operation, and it makes for a soggy pedal-off. Still, in the words of the local newspaper cliché, this unscheduled christening doesn’t dampen my spirits.

This is the big one. The C2C, the sea to sea. We’ll tack our way from west to east, and ever northwards, the sun and wind at our backs, from the Irish Sea to the North one, across the nation’s backbone, mainly following National Cycle Routes 71 and 72.

Then there’s the bike fitting and induction from the Saddle Skedaddle guiding team of Les, Jayne, Francis and Dave. They’re passionate, borderline-obsessive bikeheads to a man (and woman) – the essential deal being that they’ll do everything bar actually turning the pedals for you. Even then, if you asked nicely enough…

Day 2 – Threlkeld to Alston – 38 miles
I’m pedalling (I use the term loosely) with Jayne the guide, and the climb is rewarded with a stupendous view over Penrith. Jayne does an excellent job of ensuring I’m safe, even if I do have to stop her from giving me a backie.

By lunchtime on the green at the splendidly named village of Langwathby, we’ve done some 19 miles. Chillingly, the guidebook warns that this is the last place to “kick back before the serious stuff kicks in.” Right. So what we’ve done before hasn’t been serious?

Unfortunately, it’s no word of a lie. How to convey the full horror of the Hartside ascent? It’s a monster of a mountain, an insult of an incline, a hellish hill. Such stuff as recurring nightmares are made of. For the last 24 hours, it has been whispered of in our group with fear and awe.

At the bottom, Les, the head guide, says this climb has made grown cyclists weep. Some have had to push their bikes up all the way; others have had to be conveyed to the summit in the van.

“Sloooooow and steady,” offers Les in his Tyneside tones.

Suddenly, somehow, I’ve done it, and I’m propping the bike up outside England’s highest café (1903m) before stumbling in, beetroot-faced. My legs buckle beneath me as I fall into a chair, hyperventilating. Someone pushes a mug of tea in front of me. I am so disorientated with exhaustion that I don’t even ask about the cakes. That’s how serious it is.

Day 3 – Alston to Stanhope – 24 miles
Today’s shorter mileage doesn’t mean much, since, in terms of hills, this is one of the hardest days, reaching the ride’s highest points. Alston is still pretty high above sea level – some 1,000 feet or so, high up in the North Pennines.

Luckily, this day includes my favourite accommodation of the trip. A former stationmaster’s house, it was bought derelict by Lorraine and Terry Turnbull, who have turned it into a haven for cyclists. Stunning views, a hot bath, even a gluten-free steak pie, for goodness sake. What more could a weary biker demand?

“Smashed it!” I say punching the air as Les arrives, grinning at my words, while I sit in the front room enjoying a restorative brew.

Day 4 – Stanhope to Tynemouth  – 37 Miles
On our last day, before we know it, we’re in the urban centre of Gateshead and pedalling over the Millennium Bridge in the shadow of the Baltic Arts Centre to The Cycle Hub, Saddle Skedaddle’s HQ and temple to all things bike-related.

We practically float the last few miles through what was once a thriving ship building area, past Wallsend until, finally, we’re shooting along the sea front at Tynemouth.

On the train home, there’s time to reflect the last few cobweb-blasting days. All the hard work has been worth it. The coast to coast thing offers a real focus, a reason to keep going until you next see sea. I would have benefited from more training (er, I would have benefited from any proper training…). But, truly, it’s been totally brilliant, and, if I can do it, anyone can. You might just have to get off and push.

Feeling like taking on a C2C challenge? We have a fantastic selection of supported and self-guided coast to coast cycling holidays in the UK. There’s nothing like the sense of achievement when you finish a coast to coast ride!