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Escape festival special: Handlebars to hedonism

Scenic: The route to Shambala took in country roads and towpaths

WHEN it comes to music festivals, I’ve always been a purist in that I never sullied these pristine, hedonistic weekends with anything healthy. In my regular life I run every morning and eat like a hippy but the whole point of a festival, surely, is to be our irregular selves. So I’ve dodged yoga tents, sidestepped carrot juice stalls and devoted myself to the pursuit of thumping bass guitars, sweaty mosh pits and straggly-haired boys.

This all changed, however, when I joined a group of 30 cyclists making a two-day, 100-mile trip from London to the Shambala festival in Northamptonshire. Our ride was organised by Red Fox, the brainchild of former banker Richard Wake, who launched its pilot series of festival rides last summer. His move followed a four-day cycling trip to Glastonbury in 2017.

‘I began wondering whether I could turn this hobby into a career,’ Wake tells me. ‘I started Red Fox with the aim of reducing the overall carbon footprint for the UK festival sector and simultaneously getting people cycling.’

Pack it in: Participants had their rucksacks taken to the site by van

His research revealed that audience travel to festivals, primarily in cars and camper vans, is the most significant contributor to the events’ total carbon emissions — something most festivals are trying to tackle. In fact, transport is the most polluting UK sector and makes up 26 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions.

Richard, his partner Tui and the rest of the Red Fox team have found the best route, packed snacks and booked a campsite along the way. Crucially, they cart your tent and rucksack in a van. Taking my rucksack was a real selling point because I wanted to enjoy the ride unfettered by heavy panniers — and enjoy my vintage dresses and sequins on the other side.

Arrival of the fittest: Anna and her bike

Two days before Shambala kicks off, we gather in north London, split into three speed tiers and set off. I’m in Squirrel, the fastest group, because my companion is a show-off.

I’m more of a city cyclist, commuting around London on a comfy, three-gear Foffa. A 100-mile trip requires a more serious bike so I’m on my new Genesis Fugio. It also calls for more serious underwear so I’m in a pair of Decathlon’s padded cycling shorts.

We cycle on canal towpaths, cycle tracks and quiet country roads, stopping every two hours to refuel on coffee and Tui’s homemade cookies. By the end of the first day, which we round off with dinner at a pub near our campsite, we’ve made new friends. It’s a varied demographic: PhD students, doctors, teachers and bar staff. Some are cycling for environmental reasons, others as a healthy counterpoint to the beer drinking they intend to do at the weekend and the rest simply because it sounds like the nicest way to roll up at a festival. And when we do so the next day, I realise I’d happily cycle to every one.

Final destination: The long cycle ends at Shambala

Red Fox has been wheeling and dealing so that most festivals now offer incentives to those travelling on foot, by bike or via public transport. Richard and the team whip away our bikes to the lock-up and we’re fast-tracked through security in time for the free sauna session. There, we all find ourselves naked with people we’ve seen clad in Lycra for the previous 36 hours.

And that first cold beer tastes really sweet. It turns out that health and hedonism can peacefully coexist at festivals.

Shambala runs from August 22 to 25, shambalafestival.org. Red Fox’s other guided festival cycle rides from London include Wilderness (from £80pp, two days), Latitude (from £60pp, two days) and Boomtown (from £75pp, two days), redfoxcycling.co.uk