Yomp, slurp and chomp through the glorious Chilterns
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 Saturday and runs from 25 March until Sunday 2 April. You are invited 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. It’s going to be that good! 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 I was lucky enough to have a sneak preview of the festival programme last week, when I had my very first taste of an e-bike, with my friend Mary, from primary school days.
There are 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, and here is the Muddy review by Pippa, the former Muddy Herts editor. I judged the sloe gin competition there back in January, and you can read all about it here.
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. Mary was wondering whether the pedalling would be measured on her Fitbit but I’m not sure that it worked. Allan took us through the different modes. 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 exhilerating. 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.
It wasn’t the warmest of days, and Allan rather gallantly lent Mary his gloves, but you do need to wear something to reduce the wind chill factor and gloves are recommended. Helmets are optional but Mary and I both thought that we wanted to look out best for the photos. With red kites soaring overhead, we arrived at Frithsden Vineyard where Simon and Natalie were doing a photo shoot for their Mother’s Day afternoon tea, and I took a pic.
Frithsden Vineyard is a place that I discovered recently and it is fab! During the festival week there is a supper evening on Sat 25 March, and again you need to be quick. Mary said that she’d like to have supper here and then sleep in the hayloft. You can also do a tour of the vineyard and sample some of their wines, including Solaris which has just been launched. Mary and I tried it mid morning, and the word quaffable was on our lips within seconds.
Mary has declared that she wants to do the Henley cycle ride, although she was a bit disappointed that her daughter isn’t old enough to do it. You need to be 14 for an e-bike although it is possible to accompany an Electric Bike Tour on a wind-up bike, and let’s face it, the younger you are, the easier the hills. 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.
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.
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.