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Back in July 2013, Andy Beanland, previously Cycle Tourism Development Officer at Nurture Lakeland, set off on a fact finding tour of North Western Europe funded by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. He has just published a report of cycle tourism based on his experiences so we caught up with him to hear what he found out.
Tell us about the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.
The WCMT was established when Sir Winston Churchill died in 1965. Thousands of people donated generously to establish a memorial trust for the benefit of future generations. This fund now supports 100 Travelling Fellowships each year. Travelling Fellowships provide opportunities for British citizens to travel aboard to gain knowledge and bring back best practice for the benefit of others, their profession and community in the UK. I applied in September 2012 to research best practice in cycle tourism
How did you decide your research topic? What did you hope to find out?
In August 2012, I was appointed as Cycle Tourism Development Officer at Nurture Lakeland, a non-governmental organisation which promotes sustainable tourism activity in the Lake District National Park and Cumbria. We commissioned a cycle tourism feasibility study to provide recommendations on how to develop cycle tourism with our area. The study, while thorough, drew on evidence from other similar projects in the UK. Inspired to do some further research I discovered there was an opportunity to learn from my European counterparts which led me to apply to the WCMT.
I wanted to talk to organisations involved in cycle tourism in Europe to learn what they considered best practice, what they had been doing to develop and promote cycle tourism, and understand if there was a genuine economic and environmental argument to support the funding of new cycle tourism projects in the UK. To keep my own travel emissions as low as possible, and to experience first-hand how cycle tourism was implemented on the ground, I decided to travel as a cycle tourist.
So, where have you been on your travels?
My route was determined pretty much by the people and organisations I had managed to arrange meetings with and I tried to use recognised cycle routes wherever possible. From my home in Kendal in the north west of England and rode to the nearest station at Oxenholme and caught the train all the way to Hull where I boarded the overnight ferry to Rotterdam. Arriving in Rotterdam, I cycled all the way Stockholm via Bremen and Copenhagen.
As I couldn't get my bike back to Copenhagen by train, I had to dismantle my bike, pack it into a box and fly to Frankfurt in Germany. From here I took the Main cycle path, before picking up the Romantischer Strasse cycle route to Fussen in Bavaria. I then cycled through Austria to Bodensee before picking up the Swiss Alpine Panorama route which took me over some very high mountain passes before reaching Lausanne. I then headed back north via Basel and along the Rhine to Strasbourg, through Luxembourg to Brussels. I then continued northwards to Utrecht and Amsterdam before heading back to Rotterdam to catch the ferry home. That was just over 3000 miles by bike. Phew – makes me tired just thinking about it!
How did the meetings go? Were you able to find out what you wanted to know?
The meetings were great, and I was able to learn a lot about the history of cycle tourism in each country and was given some great ideas on best practice in cycle tourism – from local details to national and European level strategies. Everyone I met was incredibly generous with their time and provided me with lots of relevant documents to support the aims of my fellowship, so a big thank you to everyone I met.
How did you find cycling conditions in the countries that you visited, especially compared to the UK? Any interesting experiences 'on the road'?
Cycling conditions obviously varied hugely between countries, but my highlights would be the Dutch LF routes and fietsknooppunten networks which are just fantastic. I also really enjoyed cycling in southern Sweden, it wasn't the most developed in terms of cycle tourism infrastructure but the big empty spaces and distances between places made it feel like a huge adventure! Being constantly overtaken by elderly people on electric bikes in Germany was quite inspiring. I really hope they become as popular in the UK as they seem to open cycling to people who would never normally consider going cycling. My favourite thing that happened though was a random act of kindness and generosity by a German lady in Neuenberg am Rhein. She shook my hand and gave me a huge bar of chocolate when I told her how far I'd cycled – I must have looked very tired!
So what are the next steps now that you have completed your trip?
Since I returned, I've been translating some of the documents I was given, deciphering my notes and writing up my report. I'll be disseminating the findings to key stakeholders in the cycling and tourism industries in the UK, and within my region. In the meantime, I have delivered a couple of workshops at a sustainable transport conference to share some of the things I learnt during my trip.
Can we have a sneak preview of what some of your conclusions and recommendations will be?
I think one of the main things that came out of my fellowship was that to successfully develop cycle tourism requires the coordination of many different organisations, interest groups, governmental departments and business. This requires strong and independent leadership, free from cycle advocacy campaigns, which I'm not convinced existing in the UK. I also thought that a nationally consistent cycle tourism brand that is recognisable to the visiting tourist which incorporates quality monitoring of cycle tourism routes (both long distance and regionally) helps to reassures the end user that they will have an enjoyable cycling experience. All this needs funding, but evidence suggests that cycle tourism projects deliver much more back into local economies through tourism revenues.
Where can people find out more information about your project?
My full report can be found on the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust website.