Weekend One

wine in a bike light hayley 2 view


If you are looking for something amazing to do on your bike this summer, then check this out:

Wine Rides is a fantastic new company offering a unique cycling adventure around Britain’s award-winning wine growing region.

This new trip involves camping amongst the vines on two of the UK’s loveliest vineyards, eating amazing locally grown food, drinking phenomenal wine and cycling in one of the most beautiful parts of the UK.

The first Wine Ride took place at the end of May and here, Alex Wine Rides Director tells us what happened. 


David Mowat    Ruth Francis 6   flip IMG_7959


Until I set up Wine Rides I worked in documentary TV. In that job, I was insanely lucky. I’ve managed to work with my hero Sir David Attenborough twice and my other hero Ray Mears once, but despite how much fun I was having; I always had a burning desire to own my own company and passionately believe that cycling is a universal good. So in the end I felt compelled to make the jump and start Wine Rides with my wife Hayley and my brother Marcus.

We are concerned about the environment and it was important to us that our company provide relaxing and enjoyable holidays, which focused on local food and British wine and most importantly use the bike as the primary mode of transport rather, than the car. We want our holiday to be good for our guests and good for the environment.

Our pilot weekend at the end of May was a wonderful, if rather hectic event – here’s the lowdown (warts ‘n’ all) to give you a flavour of our adventure so far.

Day 1 – setting up camp

I am not going to lie to you. Our prep day started badly. We had been delayed by about four hours that morning because our catering van which would be the field kitchen we used to prepare the nightly three course meal for our guests had failed to get off the drive. I have never had car problems before in my life and it was sods law that it had to happen on this of all days.

The delay resulted in us still pitching camp as the sun set after which we then had to drive our van through the night to pick up an emergency kitchen (my in-laws barbecue).

As we pounded along winding country roads in the dark Marcus let out a slight laugh.

“What are you laughing at, tell me” I said.

Marcus smiled and said to me: “Alex, in all the time I’ve worked as a chef. I’ve never seen anyone cook a fish pie on a barbecue”.

I love the fact that in almost all adversity my family’s instinctive reaction is to try and make light of the situation. So, in the dead of night, somewhere near Dorking, long after they had gone to bed we picked up the barbecue which had been left outside my in-laws house. At least now, we had the absolute bare minimum to prepare the food we needed for the weekend.

At 2AM I returned to my flat in South East London, my wife Hayley who was slightly delirious, was icing a lemon drizzle cake and telling me: “the sandwiches are made, but they look a bit rustic!”

Holiday-Day 1                                       

On the morning of day one of the holiday, we were up at 7am, loading the van with the rest of the equipment. It was an absolutely beautiful day and I couldn’t wait to get going.

Losing the catering vehicle meant we set off heavily loaded and when we arrived at our bike supplier and picked up our guests bikes I open the back of the van and was relieved to see that we had managed to have just enough space to get everything in.

As I mentally patted myself on the back and got ready to get back on the road, one of the bike rental guys tapped me on the shoulder and said, “where is this one going?” pointing to the lone bike that wasn’t in the van. (You can choose your own expletive that sounded in my head)

But there we were, parked on double yellow lines, a van absolutely full to the brim and somebody won’t have a bike to ride unless we could work this out.

I walked to the front of my van looked my brother and my wife in the eye, and said to Marcus. “Good news: is Marcus, you get to have a break, bad news is you’re staying in Tonbridge.  “I’ll have to work out how to come and pick you up later.”

Hayley and I pulled into Wadhurst station (the start point for Wine Rides) just as the first of our guests got off the train. I jumped out the van and greeted everyone with a big “HELLO” hoping to distract them from the fact that my wife was now disentangling herself from the bike on the passenger seat.

As I swapped bikes for bags with the guests, it was a very emotional and surreal moment. Wine Rides had started as a “wouldn’t it be cool if“ idea I had mentioned to Hayley two years ago and now here I was handing out directions, fitting people for rental bikes and greeting the kind, adventurous and utterly wonderful people who parted with their money to come on this first trip.

I felt an amazing sense of relief and pride as Hayley led our first group of guests onto the country roads and into the distance. Marcus appeared on the next train, shopping bags in hand and two bike tyres over his shoulder. In my experience, very few people at work ever show that level of initiative. Working with family can prove to be a nightmare, but in this instance, I was totally delighted.

As our guests sat eating door wedge sandwiches which I’m reliably informed had “exactly the correct ratio of meat, bread and chutney”, Marcus and I set about building what was to become the Wine Rides emergency field kitchen. Someone once told me that a brilliant chef, can cook a three course meal with a teaspoon and a candle. Things weren’t quite that bad, but I’ll always be amazed and grateful for what Marcus managed to achieve with this setup.

That afternoon, we had the first fantastic wine tasting and vineyard tour at Carr Taylor whilst Marcus and Hayley prepared a meal consisting of asparagus and tarragon tart, made with seasonal local asparagus, fresh tarragon, local cream and eggs, a Spring lamb tagine made from local Romney Marsh lamb and seasonal veg followed by a wonderful rhubarb crumble. One of our guests, Jenny described it as “a wonderful hearty but healthy meal, served piping hot with no one waiting long to be served”

Dinner was followed by a series of competitive croquet matches and marshmallows roasted over the campfire. Sleep deprived and exhausted Marcus, Hayley and I looked over at our happy guests and were elated with the day’s outcome. As the sun set, it became apparent there was one rather crucial thing we had forgotten, and sadly, that was to pitch our own tent.

Day Two – cooking fish pie on a barbecue

As day two dawned, breakfast was had, coffee was consumed and tyres were replaced.

Our hares, the faster riders, took to the hills again to go visit every last vineyard the Weald had to offer. And our hounds enjoyed a leisurely pedal to the seaside over the stunning grassland of Romney Marsh.

Marcus, Hayley and I had a day that involved packing down camp and transferring it to Sedlescombe, an organic vineyard, setting up in time for our guests’ arrival in the late afternoon. So while we shuttled bags and built tents, our guests took in in Bodiam castle and the historic town of Rye. When they arrived they were met by a wonderful organic wine tasting and later a fish pie made from Hastings catch of the day.

Over dinner we shared stories of cycle trips in Europe with our guests. Many of them had also cycled abroad, and we all agreed that the Weald is one of the most enjoyable places to cycle.

Day three – the pilgrims return

Our guests packed their bags and brought them down to our main camp before they departed for their final day’s ride back toward the station. We somehow managed to pack everything into one single van and had the delight of seeing our group pedalling through the absolutely stunning Wealden countryside. As we passed the Wine Rides cyclists, we waved and cheered them on.

So what did I learn?

My wife can’t cut bread straight for toffee, but wonky bread creates the perfect ratio of bread, meat and chutney. You can’t achieve anything without delegation and you can’t keep a talented Chef down. If you leave Marcus or Hayley alone for more than a minute they start working even when they have been told to take a break and you’ll spend the rest of the weekend thanking them for it. But most of all every plan has built in assumptions. Some of your assumptions work out, and others don’t. In the case of Wine Rides the one assumption I made that I am most pleased came true is that this weekend creates a self-selecting group of wonderful people, who are really up for a challenge and want to enjoy themselves. Giving people like this a brilliant weekend away was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done and I will never forget the first of what I hope is many, many Wine Rides to come.