Dutch take to Elgar's song cycle

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The Independent Online
Dutch cycling enthusiasts, who are finding that their sport is as flat as their country, are booking holidays in a mountainous English beauty spot so that they can relax with a back-breaking uphill struggle.

The members of Europe's keenest cycling nation are becoming so bored with always being on the level as they pedal through their land of bulb fields, windmills and canals, that they are turning their attention to Worcestershire's 1,300 feet high Malvern Hills. They have started travelling there with their own bikes by ferry, train and car to experience the sheer bliss of pitting their aching muscles against hilly country roads with gradients of up to one in eight.

The trend has become so marked that Malvern Hills district council is devising routes for them based on the favourite bike rides of the composer, Sir Edward Elgar, who used to pedal round the hills more than 90 years ago to gain inspiration.

Council officials have started marketing their cycling for non-softies in the Netherlands. When they attended a holiday show in Utrecht, they were mobbed by cycling aficionados clamouring for information.

"We handed out every leaflet we had," said Malvern's tourism officer, Warwick Toone, who first discovered the Dutch craze for hills which British cyclists avoid.

"I can't blame them because Malvern is beautiful cycling country - although I would prefer not to go myself. I like it a bit easier. The Dutch are fit because of all the cycling they do, so the Malverns are ideal."

Three rides varying from 10 -25 miles have been mapped out with the help of Malvern Cycle Club. They incorporate such attractions as an ancient hill fortress, the Malvern Water bottling plant and views from the Cotswolds to Wales.

Elgar used to go for rides on a Sunbeam bicycle which he called "Mr Phoebus" after the Roman god of the sun. He often rode with people featured in his Enigma Variations, including Dora Penny, G R Sinclair who was organist at Hereford Cathedral and Rosa Burley who was head of the school where he taught the violin.

"This was the time when everything started happening for Elgar," said Chris Bennett of the Elgar Birthplace Museum. "But he gave up cycling in 1910 because he felt the roads were becoming too busy."