14 November 2019

Cycling Holidays Made Easy

By Rachel Sloane

Twenty eight years ago, Andy Patton had a decision to make. An accountant, he did not want to relocate with his banking job, from London to Birmingham, partly because his fiancé was from Ipswich. But what were his alternative careers? He loved two things, cheese and cycling…and he is still glad all this time later that he chose the latter rather opening a specialist cheese shop!

“We had done one cycling holiday and used to cycle around Suffolk at the weekends,” Andy remembered. “When we started organising cycling breaks, the problem was that people didn’t know where Suffolk was, so it was an uphill battle to get recognition. It helped that we were featured on the television Holiday programme – that put us on the map.”

Based at Alder Carr Farm, Needham Market, in Suffolk, with two vans, 50 plus bicycles, and a team of seven, Cycle Breaks has over 1,000 holidaymakers each year, who head off on a “gentle adventure”, taking a self-guided ride, armed with a recommended route, but with no overnight bags to worry about as Andy’s team delivers them to the next overnight stop.

By partnering similar holiday companies overseas, Andy can send his clients to France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Austria, while their cyclists come to Suffolk and Norfolk.

“I’ve just come off the phone to a couple in Switzerland who want to book one of our twelve-night holidays in Suffolk, but wish to extend it by a few days – and bring their dog, who will ride in a trailer,” explained Andy. “They are experienced cyclists but like the idea of having everything organised for them, the accommodation, routes and a van that takes their luggage to the next stop.”

Andy does offer walking holidays too but says they can be more challenging to organise,

“Cycling is the main part of the business and Norfolk and Suffolk lends itself very well to cycling with its gentle terrain and quiet roads. Of course, the coastal paths are very popular, and walking is easy as it is so flat. We ought to do more walks …. but there are so many things on the to-do list!”

“We have cycled every route that we offer,” he went on, “and can be confident, when we send our cycling holidaymakers off, that the way-marked routes and lanes are maintained, but footpaths are different. They sometimes get overgrown if they haven’t been used much. We need to need to work out more routes, and also solve that issue.”

Forget youth hostels and guest houses, Cycle Breaks use some of the best hotels in our area. The hotels provide a comfortable overnight stay for cyclists – and somewhere to safely store the bikes,

“There is usually a garage or a shed available but, if needs be, the bikes go into a conference room or even the ballroom!” Andy laughs. “We have luckily only ever had two bikes stolen -and that was in Italy. We do warn our clients that although Suffolk and Norfolk are very safe, they still need to be sensible and lock the bikes!”

Since 1991, when he started the business, Andy has seen many changes,

“For a start there are many more cyclists on the roads, especially those doing sports riding. There are also sadly far fewer pubs around. Technology has changed so we also have fewer punctures and fewer people getting lost! When we buy a new bike we replace the tyres with expensive ones that don’t puncture so easily, and we use a GPS system where the route is entered, and goes beep when you are approaching a junction and then again when you are there. It saves valuable time as cyclists used to have to stop and consult the maps we provided, plus there are many people now who have never learnt to read a map!” he admitted. “One other change is that we have e-bikes. They are ideal for someone who loved cycling when they were younger but would struggle now, or as often happens, are part of a couple where one is a keen cyclist ,while the other one just wants to keep up! Even with a low level of support you can still get a work-out, and do 50 miles a day!”

Andy scratches his head a bit, when asked which are his favourite routes, in Suffolk and Norfolk

“There is such a variety! Personally, I like the off -road routes at Dunwich and Southwold, but I also like the challenge of hills, so south Suffolk is great. But in Norfolk I love the Brecklands as it is so flat, with big skies and distinctive treescapes.”

Andy says that, increasingly, groups of friends who are experienced sports cyclists are keen on having someone else make all the arrangements,

“They cycle longer distances – 70-100 miles a day. The only problem, we have as our strapline, ‘Gentle adventures’. We’d need a new title for those who want something more challenging… but we are working on that! Often, they are cash-rich and time-poor… and they also value our local knowledge when we create the routes.”

Families, unless the children are experienced cyclists, usually prefer to stay at one location and cycle from there each day,

“We have single site locations and deliver bikes to them. There is a glamping site in Hasketon we deliver to, and some good hotels with a pool and facilities for families.”

Routes go from one or two days, to a couple of weeks, and are planned with plenty of things to do and time is allowed for breaks for visiting tourist attractions,

“That is one of the challenges as we’ve moved away from maps. Before we could make lots of extra suggestions, but with GPS there are just three routes short, medium and longer, from which people can choose. For example, Ramsholt is an extra two or three miles off the main route but is beautiful and really worth it, even if it is on top of a thirty-mile day.”

Andy has few regrets about leaving banking. He sits wearing shorts, in the sunshine, with his dog Nessie at his feet,

“This is work? You can’t beat it. Especially when I am route testing overseas…”

(This article was first published in Suffolk Norfolk Life magazine in July 2019)