By Conor Murphy
After a long year spent cooped up in doors, it was finally time to pack our wellies and don our best spangly attire because festival season was here!
I was guiding with Red Fox Cycling, a company focussed on promoting green travel to and from UK music festivals. They had invited me to join the team for the London to Wilderness ride and I had been itching to be involved with their tours for a long time. So, naturally I was quite excited.
Instead of travelling by car or bus, crammed in with your mates trying desperately not to squish your energy bars for the weekend, you could hop on your bike and have an adventure on the way to the festival. Saving you some money on travel and doing your bit to help the environment, not to mention having the physical and mental benefits of cycling and connecting with nature.
Our ride was starting in Richmond green and finishing 90 miles west in the beautiful Cornbury Park nestled on the edge of the Cotswolds. We would be taking in some of the best countryside the south has to offer, passing along canal paths, quaint country lanes and gazing across some breath-taking landscapes. As well as reconnecting with each other face to face and blowing off some steam from the last year in lockdown.
The plan was to split the 90 mile ride into two days, covering similar distances on each day and enjoying an overnight camp with a hearty pub dinner in between. That way we could take our time and appreciate the beautiful sights and sounds around us. Essentially, we were extending our festival experience by two days and getting to know some like-minded folk along the way.
So once the bikes were checked and bags loaded into the van, the first group of three set off – The Robins! We were the slowest group, but what we may have lacked in speed we made up for in enthusiasm. Everyone was chatting away, sharing stories of festivals and bike rides, with occasional ‘woop’ of encouragement being heard as we slowly made our way to our first rest stop along the Thames.
Red Fox have everything ready and waiting for your arrival. Drinks and snacks to keep you well fed for the journey ahead and secluded locations so that your bike is secure whilst you enjoy a quick rest.
It is a great option for those travelling alone or in couples as you instantly have something in common with people and can form relationships prior to arriving at the festival. Who knows you could even end up bumping into one another on the dancefloor!
After a quick refuel the other two groups were catching us up so it was time to get moving. This next leg was heading towards Windsor where we would have lunch and then make our way to the campsite on the edge of the Chilterns. There were some technical difficulties along the way but nothing us guides couldn’t handle! Then before we knew it, we were a short climb away from the Chiltern rural retreat.
The thought of food and beer propelled us up the hill and everyone arrived together and smiling ready for a night of rest. It was wonderful to see those who were slightly doubtful of their abilities at the beginning of the ride have that sudden realisation – ‘I cycled here!’ there is no feeling like it. And that first pint never tasted so sweet!
As the sun rose the next day, the catering team had all the necessary bribing tools at their disposal. Coffee and sarnies to sooth some sore heads. There was also talk of the weather taking a turn for the worst so there was little time to waste.
As a group of 70 in total, the organisational logistics can be incredibly challenging. But Red Fox have thought of every potential outcome or issue and planned for it accordingly.
I was particularly excited about our first stop, the no-car café, which as you can probably gather by the name, is only accessible by bike. I love being able to access parts of the countryside that are otherwise impossible by car or bus, it highlights the benefits of choosing to cycle and Red Fox do a great job of finding these hidden gems and linking them along the route.
After a delicious coffee and cake it was time to hit the road, but this day had a different atmosphere. Although we had some more challenging climbs ahead, you could sense a growing realisation that by tonight we would be arriving at the festival. The tunes began to play as one of group chose the perfect funk playlist to get us in the mood. It was good timing as at this point the heavens opened! We still had around 15 miles to go and the Cotswolds to conquer.
But as we edged ever closer the power of the group shone through the rain and clouds. We had journeyed together, through the good and the bad. And now there was tangible bond amongst the robins, one that a few measly raindrops could never break.
A favourite moment of mine was when ‘Proud Mary, Tina Tuner’ came on. Giving us an effective boost to get us over the rolling hills!
As we cruised into Wilderness, soaked to the bone and cheering at the top of our lungs we certainly turned a few heads, with a few onlookers baffled by the ecstasy of the group as the rain hammered down. But we had done it! Cycled from London to Wilderness and all of us arrived with a smile on our face and new friend by our side.
It really is the best way to get to festival. You arrive so full of love and excitement which is the perfect platform to start your festival weekend.