Sunday, 9 March 2008

Serious exercise in the British countryside

Three great sources for exercise freaks on the lookout for a weekend hit make up this week's post. Whether you prefer swimming, cycling or running, below are our favourite suppliers for a top weekend's activities - all include a little bit of coaching as well.

Red Spokes speciality is their big trips - they do some incredible sounding rides, including one that climbs to Everest Base Camp (have a look at some of our 'offset yourself' ideas that you could combine with those). But by way of a taster before you take on something like that, check out their weekend and day trips. The price of these covers accommodation and food, but they're assuming you'll bring your own bike.
Best ideas:
London to Brighton, 1 day, £15
Yorkshire Dales, 3 days, £175

Again a company that specialise in longer-range trips, Swimtrek have a couple of options for shorter adventures closer to home. So before you leap on a plane and head off to the (admittedly extremely tempting-sounding) Dalmatian coast, check out the options below. Price includes accommodation, food and transport between swims, and wetsuit hire.
Best idea:
Lake District, 3 days, £275

This is more of a coaching weekend, but a great thing to do if you're training for a marathon or something like that (a great thing to do in itself, and the subject of a forthcoming post). This time cost includes accommodation, food, a bit of coaching, and of course the guides on your runs.

Best idea:
Cotswolds running weekend, 3 days, £195

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Isle of Wight: Green island tourism

As green tourism starts to get hold, it's good to see we Brits are leading the way. You may have heard that the New Forest won the top prize in the Responsible Tourism Awards - as the best eco destination in the world - but the nearby Isle of Wight will be a serious challenger next time round.

With a fully dedicated web resource at greenislandtourism, there are very few places that have done so much to make green travel so easy. The website is a little complicated (it is being updated), but you can just download the pdf leaflet which carries a map of the island with all the certified businesses and activities listed on there.

Just to simplify things completely, here's one good way to spend a Greenhiker weekend. A return trip from London Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour will cost you about £30 - it takes about an hour and a half each way. From there, the ferry to Ryde will be about £20 return, taking about 40 minutes (book through Wightlink). So you could comfortably leave London at 6pm and be on the island by 9pm, and travel back Sunday night the same way at a total cost of £50. Not bad.

Once you're there, you'll probably want to stay the night in Ryde (there are several awarded places listed on greenislandtourism). Hire bikes the next day at Tav Cycles (£20 for two days) and hit the round island trail - it's 100km long in total, and beautifully scenic. Stop off overnight wherever takes your fancy... if you can, make it as far as beautiful secluded Ventnor (above). Then complete the trip the next day, and head for home. Genius.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Eurostar tips for green travel

We went to see Stelios of easyJet fame speak the other night, and while it's good to hear that not all cheap flight operators think environmentalists are 'nutters' (thanks Ryanair and Mr O'Leary - how's your share price by the way?), we're unconvinced by some of his chat. If caring is really what easyJet are all about, why don't they offset flights at no cost to travellers, given Stelios himself said 'it's only a couple of pounds'...?

With that in mind, it feels like a good time to give a bit of a plug to Eurostar. Not only do Eurostar journeys create 10 times fewer emissions than the equivalent flights, they offset all remaining emissions as well, at no cost to you. They also have a great little selection of ideas on their website for green travel in most of the destinations they offer access to - it's hidden away, so follow this link and peruse at leisure. There's some great stuff even in London. Just to pick one out, scroll down to the bottom and check out Les Orangeries. It's pretty much France's first real eco-hotel by the looks of things, with electric bikes, energy-saving lightbulbs, and even special low-toxin paint on the walls. Plus, with a return from London to Poitiers taking about 5h40 and costing from £79, and luxury double rooms at Les Orangeries starting at 75 euros, it's sounding a pretty good option.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

The best way to see polar bears

Traditionally, there's not a great variety of options for seeing these magnificent creatures (and if things carry on as they are, there'll be even fewer fairly soon, some would say). And the fact remains that if you're going to do, it's going to cost you. A lot. But there's one or two special options about for making the most of the opportunity.

There are really two places where the bears come close enough to civilisation to be accessible to you and me. One is Spitsbergen, off the very far northern coast of Norway, for which the best season is summer when the bears are foraging for food; the other Churchill, in the remote north of Canada, where they gather in huge numbers in October and November each year.

The default option for this sort of thing is a cruise, which is great, but really expensive. A 6-day Spitsbergen cruise in the lowest available class of cabin starts at £1195 with Hurtigruten, based on two sharing, and that's only once you've got to Longyearbyen, which isn't the cheapest place in the world to reach... Hurtigruten's Spitsbergen cruises are the cheapest we've found of the sort, and they've good, if not outstanding, environmental credentials.

One better is to travel round Spitsbergen under your own power. Hurtigruten offer two trips of this sort - a 9-day kayaking trip (covering much the same territory as the 6-day cruise) at £1365, or a 13-day trekking holiday costing £1755. These trips both sound incredible, though the idea of going on polar bear watch during the night while your fellow holidaymakers snooze in their tents around you is mildly unnerving!

Getting to Spitsbergen - Hurtigruten will book it for you if you ask them to, quoting a price of £670 return at the moment (including offsetting), which includes an overnight in Oslo. The most environmentally friendly way we could find takes you from Newcastle to Bergen by overnight ferry (from £43 return, and offering a chance to take in the fjordlands on your way), followed by a flight from there which will cost about £250 with SAS, though will involve changing planes in Tromso.

Perhaps the ultimate polar bear greenhike, though, actually takes you to North America. This isn't something we'd normally go in for, but then, there aren't any other places where you've actually got the opportunity to help study the environment at the same time as having a dream encounter with polar bears.

Earthwatch have an expedition in October from Churchill which they call 'Climate Change at the Arctic's Edge'. You spend 11 days staying at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, helping scientists from the University of Alberta monitor ecosystem responses to global warming - in the middle of the highest concentration of polar bears in the world. Once in Churchill, the trip comes in at £1395, though it should be said this is a true 'offset yourself' trip - you will be working!

Again, it's getting to Churchill that spirals the cost, and of course the environmental impact. Flying there from London will cost something in the region of £800. But again there is an incremental improvement you can make, and boost the scope of your trip at the same time. Fly to Toronto, which costs from £250 return, then take the train up to Churchill via Winnipeg. This will take you through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, and cost in the region of £250 return. That saves you £300, which could happily fund a few days looking around Toronto and Winnipeg on the way.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Covert Cabin: Simple breaks in SW France

Wow. We've just found the best holiday location.

If you want peace, quiet and simplicity, check out the Covert Cabin website. They've got the Woodsman's Cabin that's been open for business since 2005, and are currently building Undershot Cabin to open in June this year. The theory behind both is the same - an entirely self-sufficient little holiday house on the shores of a lake. Both are off-grid, but have all the facilities you'll need. Simple, quiet luxury, at a great price - in the high season, the 2-person Woodsman's Cabin is £300 for the week. Outside that, it's £200. A series of lovely authentic French villages are within a short cycle (bikes are available for hire for the princely sum of £25 for two bikes for the week). Return trips from London to Angouleme available from £99 through eurostar.

Luxury accommodation. Budget prices. Proper local flavour. This is what green travel's all about.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Greenhiker research: The Destinations Show

It seems to be the season...

The Destinations Show (sponsored by the Times, in a non-too-subtle battle with the Telegraph's sponsorship of the Adventure Travel Show) opens today, at the Earl's Court exhibition centre. This one looks like it'll be a little less in line with greenhiking values, but that said there's a big Europe & the UK area, which is laudable (and notable by its absence at the Adventure Travel Show - naughty Telegraph).

We're going along on Sunday, so we'll write it up then. But if you want tickets, click here.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Greenhiker research: The Adventure Travel Show

The annual Adventure Travel Show is now open at the Business Design Centre in Islington, North London. If you're in town, it's worth going along to have a look around - although not devoted to green travel, most of the ideas here will involve getting a bit closer to the people and places you're visiting, which can only be a good thing. We like the look of the features they're putting on in the main theatre in particular - we'll definitely get our seats for 'From source to sea: the World's first expedition to walk the Amazon' (tonight at 6.45pm).

PS - writing this a couple of days after the show, we're hugely impressed by these guys. What they're taking on is an incredible challenge, and for very good causes, not least bringing attention to the significance of the Amazon basin to the fight against climate change. We'll be following their progress closely - you can too if you join their facebook group, or just go straight to the blog.