The Mechanic proposed, what initially sounded like a romantic night away at a smart hotel…that was until I realised that he was suggesting we cycle there. It wasn’t that I was adverse to the idea of travelling by bicycle. I just wasn’t sure that I would enjoy dinner and a lovely hotel if once there I had to pad around in my socks and lycra.
I’m too old to really care about what people think, but I do have some self respect. My aim to not look like a cyclist when I arrived needed to be balanced with my desire to not look or feel like a tourist whilst cycling. So I took on the challenge of packing, a glamorous evening outfit, with a fine edit of make-up and hair products into a small saddlebag. Also mindful that anything I took with me I would be carrying ( or maybe the Mechanic would be!)
My usual weekend cycle rides are rarely longer than 100kms, so generally all my routes are within a 50kms radius of our home in South London. An overnight stay gave us the opportunity to venture beyond Surrey and Kent, and with our potential radius doubled our chosen destination was Amberley Castle 60miles away in West Sussex.
We headed south out of London, with the most glorious weather, sunshine and a light breeze. Up and over the North Downs, dropping down into the familiar Surrey countryside, before continuing southwest into West Sussex. Traversing the South Downs and then turning in the direction of the coast towards Arundel, to our final destination, the village of Amberley
The approach to the castle (our hotel for the night ) is magnificent, a long gravel drive, flanked by lush green manicured lawns. The castle in completely enclosed by a 60ft wall, we cycled as far up the drive as we dared, the gravel terrain rather hazardous under skinny tyres, but I didn’t feel it would be appropriate to ride across the carefully kept grass. We walked our bikes over a bridge, crossing what was once a moat, now housing a croquet lawn, entering the castle walls through a grand archway with a working portcullis.
As we entered, we met the head gardener, who I believe thought we may be lost, he disguised this thought by politely asking us ‘ are you here for afternoon tea?’ Mr M. explained we had a room reservation, and we were then directed to reception, still wheeling our bikes and click-clacking in our cycling shoes on the flagstone floor. We had a similar conversation at reception, the charming receptionist seemed rather bemused by our enquiry as to where we should put our bikes, she wasn’t sure explaining that it was a question she had never been asked before. We were beginning to feel a bit of a novelty.
Our bikes were found a home for the night and we too were shown our room. A hot shower, plenty of hotel toiletries and thankfully an ironing board and iron, helped us transform from cyclist to Amberley Castle guest. In fact when we re-emerged at reception, I was delighted that at least two members of staff did not recognise us from our arrival.
We had a wander around the castle grounds; rose covered archways led into enchanting gardens, with white doves punctuating the castle walls. We also met a resident peacock, and saw a rabbit enjoying the early evening sunshine, quite indifferent to our presence. Amberley Castle is a magical place, I recognise that not every weekend we will be cycling off to a fairytale kingdom and such luxury, but as we sat with a pre-dinner, glass of rosé in a sunny courtyard, I took huge pleasure from the fact that we had got there under our own steam. I also knew I would enjoy a three course meal in the knowledge that we would be cycling 100kms back home the following day.
A mini-tour in my mind could not be much better.