Oh, we had such good intentions. What do you do when you're on a green holiday, in a green place like the southern tip of the Isle of Wight, where the beaches are untouched and the farmland rises to the downs? You cycle, of course. Even when there are only two adults to supervise a nine-year-old and three five-year-olds.
And where do you go to cycle? That's right, a proper cycle path, of which the island has many. They're graded according to difficulty and set out in attractive maps available from John, the man who agreed to hire us cycles and deliver them to wherever we wanted. And who wore a curious smile as he unloaded the bikes at our holiday home, the ridiculously beautiful Gotten Manor.
He may have been smiling at the wonder of the place. We were, for a whole week. There has been a home on the site since the Domesday Book. The Old House, built in 1305, would make for a deeply romantic bridal room, with its ancient stone walls, huge cast-iron bath, open fire and perfumed garden outside.
We were not in there – next time maybe, without the kids – but across the courtyard in the Milk House, one of two very groovy conversions of 200-year-old barns. Both have exposed stonework and huge windows in the bedrooms, with views of the surrounding designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
A mile inland, we were on the side of St Catherine's Down – which is quite steep for five-year-old legs, even on a bike. The only escape is down a tight, meandering lane in which an unexpected tractor might do to the children what a combine harvester does to corn.
The smile on John's face, it turned out, was the sort of indulgent one you might give to a lunatic. "You know," he said, carefully, "we could have delivered these somewhere more ... suitable." Yes. But we had booked the bikes before seeing the place. He left us to an hour of wobbling up and down the lane, scraped knees, some tears and lots of shouting.
That's how we ended up doing something which made us all feel ashamed: we drove. In two cars. One for the people, one for the bikes, because we had no racks. To somewhere that felt safer. Namely ... the pub. The Wight Mouse, with its big playground.
This was turning into a compromise – a bit like attempts to market the Isle of Wight as a place to Go Green. The landscape is certainly that colour, as the brochure says: "The island has one of the greenest landscapes in Britain with high rolling downs, ancient forests and meadows, wetlands, rich pastures..." Half the island is an AONB, and another 11 per cent is set aside as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. From our bedroom we could see a copse and a sloping field on which a pheasant often strolled. Bats flittered at dusk. A screeching noise at night freaked out my daughter. ("The door is alarmed," I told her, "and big bad wolves can't operate electronic keypads. Their paws just aren't built for it.")
A short ferry trip is undeniably less damaging to the planet than a long flight, but once you offer Green Getaways – as the operator Wightlink does – you invite awkward questions. Are those big ferry engines being offset, for example?
Similar questions are asked by Green Island Tourism, a partnership of businesses and environmental organisations, which presents awards every year to the accommodation providers that score best for their water conservation, energy policy, waste recycling, use of local produce and closeness to nature.
Gotten Manor, owned by the former film producer Caroline Gurney-Champion, holds a Gold Award. The water in the taps came from a spring on the down. The barns were converted using materials reclaimed from derelict homes. There were no solar panels but Caroline planned to get them, she said, when she could afford them. And she had a quibble of her own: "The public transport is terrible."
You could cycle the 10 or so miles from the terminal, I suppose, with all your stuff on panniers. But not with my family. Why couldn't we go back, they moaned, to Planet Ice, the rink in Ryde where my two little girls had fallen in love with their brilliant instructor Matt?
Persisting, we found a quiet lane and unloaded – just as a lorry came out of nowhere. This was madness. But an hour later we were all still alive, if shattered and nettle stung. "Dad," said my son, "can we do that again?"
You know what? There had been no mad queues at the airport, no cancelled flights. We'd spent a week in a place that felt enchanted and we had at least tried to do the right thing by the planet. And John had let us keep the maps with the cycle paths for next time.Reuse content