Tearing along the bumpy dirt road, the children were deliriously happy. They were on their bikes and heading to the seaside beneath the dappled sunlight of Dunwich Forest, along a traffic-free lane that connects Walberswick Nature Reserve and the trendy coastal village of Walberswick in Suffolk. Not too far away, we have the use of my parents’ vintage 1960s Eccles caravan, which the children have loved staying in for summer visits going back as long as they can remember.
Now 11 and 14, they’ve been begging to go on cycling expeditions for the last few years. But how do you transport four bicycles – three adult-sized – easily? Most seem to carry only three bicycles and appear to hang precariously via a jumble of straps from the back of the car. We’ve looked into bike roof-racks, but you have to know how much your bikes weigh – and hoisting them up looks far too much like hard work.
Then we happened upon the Halfords Platform Towbar Cycle Carrier 262028, which costs £149 and fits to your tow-bar. Only we didn’t have a tow-bar, and Volkswagen quoted us £900 to put one on our Passat. Swift research found that tow-bars come in different varieties for different cars; all need electrics – even for bike-racks – and if you’ve got a newish car, dedicated electrics is recommended as it shouldn’t invalidate your warranty.
Companies such as Towbar Express and Towrite will give you an online quote then bring their van to your address for fitting. For us, prices started at £230 for the basics, going up to around £500 for one with dedicated electrics. One question to ask is whether the service includes coding (integrating it all into your electrical system), because while companies such as Towbar Express include the service, others leave you needing to book your car in to your main dealer for this.
That done, however, a new world opened up to us, and it now took longer to organise the picnic lunch than attach the bikes.
Suffolk is a splendid place to cycle with children; it’s relatively flat and there are plenty of tracks and trails. The Nature Reserve was itself at the bottom of a long and winding lane past hundreds of gloriously happy pigs, delighted to be part of the growing Blythburgh Free Range Pork. The wide forest path is more like the sort of medieval lane you’d see in a Robin Hood movie, and it finally emerges onto a quiet B-road that takes you to the heart of picturesque Walberswick, crabbing capital of Britain.
After reaching the waterfront, where the River Blyth joins the sea, we cycled along the raised river-bank, across the footbridge and along Southwold harbour, stopping for fish and chips from one of the growing numbers of wooden hut cafés there (generally identified by the queue outside).
Timeless Southwold is our favourite seaside town, and we flitted between the quirky pier and the model-boat pond nearby, to the Friday farmers’ market behind Adnams Cellar & Kitchen Store and the beach-hut-lined promenade that skirts the beach. It was a longish cycle ride back, but the journey looked different in reverse and no one objected.
On other days we loaded up and drove to the seafront at Aldeburgh, cycling north along the beach path to the 1920s holiday village of Thorpeness with its café and boating lake. We also went to Orford, to potter around the quiet streets near the English Heritage castle. On the road down to the harbour, where you can take a boat out to the National Trust’s Orford Ness National Nature Reserve, there’s a lovely little grassy picnic area hidden away by the car-park.
That was half term, but with the summer holidays imminent we’re planning more focused jaunts. The Suffolk Coastal Cycle Route is a 140km circular route that comes up from Felixstowe and goes through Dunwich and out into the country – a bit too much for a family day out, maybe, but there are manageable chunks that can easily be done. And now we can load the bikes up, anywhere can be a cycle excursion.
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