Yomp, slurp and chomp through The Chilterns
Muddy Herts editor Sandra was lucky enough to have a sneak preview of the festival programme last week, when she had her very first taste of an e-bike (weeeeeeee!) Here’s what she had to say about it, plus her tips for the highlights to book now. Over to you Sandra…
At last! The Chilterns Food and Drink Festival! What took them so long? As with all the best ideas, you wonder why nobody had the idea before. It’s an area that has rich pickings, so much so that back in the day, the Chilterns were known as ‘the larder of London’.
So, where to start? The festival opens this Friday and runs from 25 March until Sunday 2 April, inviting us all to celebrate the bounty of Bucks, Herts and Beds in a series of deliciously greedy events.
First things first: you need to book. You can do this through the festival website, and if I were you, I’d be quick. It’s been so popular that a couple of events are almost full and now the organisers are actually adding more events. So, what do you fancy – breadmaking, wine tasting, a brewery tour, chocolate tasting or a cream tea on a train? You can sample all of these delights and more. And if you’re already thinking that there’s not much fun to be had in a vineyard when you’ve got to drive there and back, let me just tell you that you can do the whole tour on an e-bike!
There are, in fact, several e-bike adventures on offer during the festival week. They are run by Allan, an engineer who recently set up Electric Bike Tours, and he knows a lot about the Chilterns and its history. You can join in with a picnic ride to Henley, and on Saturday and Sunday, there are two tea ride tours of Berkhamsted and Ashridge. We did a mini tour, starting in Berko, and ending up at Frithsden Vineyard. Frithsden is a pocket of such gorgeousness that you just want to stay for a whole weekend. It’s also home to the Alford Arms (I was just about sober enough to judge the sloe gin competition there back in January).
For some reason I thought that an electric bike would motor along without me needing to do anything, but it’s like a real bike that you have to pedal. You can turn the electricity off and then you’re using your own energy, but you can also choose options such as ‘sport’ which I found the most exhilarating. Imagine being a child and cycling for the first time and your mum or dad suddenly gives you a push and…you’re off! Well, I am now a convert to an e-bike, particularly when navigating the hills in the Chilterns. There were moments of great joy when we’d be pedalling along, and Allan would call out ‘I’d go for sport now!’ and all of a sudden, those hills that usually have me standing on pedals, hovering and starting to roll backwards, saw me surge forward with a grin on my face.
With red kites soaring overhead, we arrived at Frithsden Vineyard – I only discovered this place recently and it’s fab! During the festival week there is a supper evening on Sat 25 March, and again you need to be quick. You can also do a tour of the vineyard and sample some of their wines, including Solaris which has just been launched.
Mary has declared that she wants to do the Henley cycle ride with her daughter (though said daughter might be fist-pumping that at she’s too young – you need to be 14 for an e-bike. Being outside for so many hours was a delightful respite after many screen hours, and we both started saying things like ‘Why drive, when you can cycle?’ We definitely recommend the biking bit of the festival.
Harrow & Hope
The flinty Chiltern soil is perfect for wine, and there are several vineyard events with more being added. You’ve got Harrow & Hope in Marlow, Daw’s Vineyard in Radnage and Waddesdon Wine Cellars at Waddesdon Manor, and that’s just for starters. And then you can visit and do tours at Puddingstone Gin, the Chiltern Brewery and Malt The Brewery. Saddle up that electric bike and leave your car in the stable!
What’s great about this festival is that rather than have a whole lot of producers in a field, you go to them. All the events have been really well designed and the variety is tastebud boggling. If you want to roll up your sleeves a bit, then have a look at the Fire and Feast course in some private woodland Chalfont St Peter where you bake your own bread and cook your own meat and fish over flames.
At Redbournbury Mill, near St Albans, you can also bake your own bread. This is a wonderful location where his nibs, Paul ‘My home is the big white tent’ Hollywood has baked with the resident baker.
I like the look of a cream tea on the light gauge Leighton Buzzard railway, or even the afternoon tea at Wycombe Museum on Mother’s Day.
If you don’t fancy cycling but need to up your step count, then there’s a walk that starts at Garson’s Farm in Ipsden with a stop at the Blue Tin farm shop. Nordic walkers are most welcome.
Also on the events menu, and you’ll be amazed when you look at the Chiltern Food and Drink Festival website where there is loads more stuff to digest, is a trip to Tring Brewery to savour Side Pocket for a Toad or Brock Bitter.
Something that Allan, our Electric Bike Tours guide recommended, is one of the walks where you have lunch at the no-car Turville barn. And, how could I forget, there is also a chocolate tasting event. This takes place at the fine Auberge du Chocolat in Chesham. Good luck. Prepare to be dazzled. Some events are free, and for the others, everything is on the website, which is being updated all week, with new opportunities for you to yomp, slurp, pedal and chomp your way around the abundant larder of the Chilterns.