Britain's annual festival of futile motoring is held tomorrow on its traditional date of the late May bank holiday. Just over half the nation's 35 million cars are expected to be on the road, completing weekend journeys that average 304 miles, not all of which go as planned. By Tuesday morning, the AA and RAC will have attended around 85,000 breakdowns. And this holiday, just to add to the gaiety of it all, fuel prices are increasing almost daily. Tomorrow, filling the tank of a Renault Espace diesel will cost £103.09 – £22.75 more than a year ago.
But a remedy is at hand for the fuel-price oppressed who still want a day out: join the latest recreational trend and leave the car at home. It's an idea whose hour seems finally to have come. Local bus companies are offering special services and tickets, cycle hire is booming, and venues and events are now offering freebies to those who arrive by bike, foot, bus or train.
The National Trust leads the way. More than 50 properties give discounted entry or tea-room vouchers to those who forswear the car, and English Heritage and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust may follow suit. Events such as the Balmoral Show in Northern Ireland offer discounts to the car-free; regional tourist sites like discoverdevon. com have pages of car-free ideas, and more and more attractions are promoting their proximity to the National Cycle Network, whose 10,000 miles are mapped at sustrans.org.uk. Many youth hostels give discounts to those arriving on foot or by bike, and even hotels are beginning to offer incentives to car-spurners. Roll up to the Cottage Lodge Hotel in the New Forest on foot or bike, for instance, and it's free tea and scones all round.
Scores of websites have ideas for carbon-friendly outings, and, in addition, VisitBritain suggests to IoS readers the following, less organised car-free activities:
* Get up at 4am, walk or cycle to your nearest woodland, and take in the dawn chorus – mind-blowing at this time of year.
* Visit your oldest nearby cemetery for a free local history lesson carved into the tombstones, and the wildlife all around.
* Go to the seaside Edwardian style – by train. Tantalising glimpses of the sea from carriage windows, no parking woes, and, at day's end, the diddly-dee, diddly-dum of the tracks soothing you to a homeward snooze.
* Take a double-decker bus ride out of town and peep over those hedges and walls that restrict the car travellers' view.
* Get in the mood for BBC's Springwatch (which starts tomorrow), by taking the field guides out for a wildlife audit of your area.
* Ramble to a country pub, linger awhile, stroll back, and have a sense of achievement unknown to the M-way users fidgeting and fighting their way home behind an Eddie Stobart artic.
And remember, walk at 3mph and in two hours you'll burn off 680 calories, the equivalent of a roast beef dinner. Happy petrol-free holiday.
Fun without petrol
Here are websites across Great Britain offering carbon-friendly outings, trips attractions and events:
The East of England
National Cycle Network Maps available at www.sustrans.org.uk/
Wildlife and Heritage
Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at: www.wwt.org.uk/visitus/4/visit_us.html
www.waterscape.com/ for walks, cycle routes, pubs and restaurants by the water across Great Britain
Additional reporting by Siana Bretherton
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