Going Out - Gin & Markets Ride (Tally Ho Cycle Tours)

Is there anything more idyllic than hopping on a bike and pedalling through London's quiet back roads, as the golden autumn sun casts long shadows on the cobble pavements? 

That may seem like an extremely specific scenario, but thanks to The Indytute and Tally Ho Cycle Tours I got to experience it personally, and I can honestly say that there may not be a more picturesque way to spend an afternoon in London.

Tally Ho Cycle Tours in a London based cycle tour company who run a variety of quirky tours, including the tantalisingly named Gin & Markets Tour. For Dutch Courage lovers, the tour provides an excellent introduction to the history of the drink once nicknamed Mother's Ruin, as well as ample opportunities to sample the stuff. Meanwhile those new to London and those familiar with the city will enjoy exploring some of the city's most beautiful and photogenic areas. 

We began our tour at the Tally Ho London base, a few minutes walk from Lambeth North tube station. After a quick and informative safety talk, we were introduced to our rides for the afternoon; beautiful Pashley bicycles complete with little baskets on the front to store any bits and bobs that we might have brought with us, or any market purchases. We were also offered bicycle helmets and I accepted one gladly. Although I used to be an avid cyclist, I'd not dared venture out on the roads in London before, and was willing to accept any protection I could get against angry motorists, competitive cyclists and straying pedestrians.

The bikes took a while to get used to, and as we set off in a long caravan there were a lot of rattling bike frames, squeaking brakes and surprised exclamations! But after a while everything settled down and we all gained a bit more confidence as we travelled down scenic roads and alleyways towards our first stop; Trinity Church Square, where we sampled our fist gin of the day. Or rather, we sampled some jenever, the spirit dutch juniper based spirit which would become known as gin to the English when soldiers returned from battle overseas in the early 17th century. 

Having tasted the (slightly unpleasant) first gin, we continued on, safe in the knowledge that our next beverage would be a much more flavoursome one. We had our first brush with car related danger as we approached the St Mary Magdalen church in Bermondsey, but everyone escaped unscathed and we parked up in the grounds surrounding the church to sample some pretty unusual tonic water. Unusual it that instead of being the typical clear liquid we all know and love, it was a rusty brown colour. We didn't let the unusual colour scare us off though, and it's a good job we didn't, as the tonic water had a lovely warming quality which complimented the gin extremely well.

Thoroughly impressed, we moved on. By now, all of our stomachs were rumbling slightly, as having been cycling (and drinking) for a rather long time, we stopped off at Maltby Street market to refuel. The market was a delight for the senses. Everywhere we looked, food was frying, poaching, stewing, and the aromas were blending together to create an almost overwhelmingly delicious perfume, which drifted through the air and attracted the noses of many a passer by. We hand little over half an hour to have a look around and grab something to eat, so after shuffling my way through the crowds and perusing every stall, I settled on an incredible waffle adored with goats cheese, figs and blueberries. Even just reading the name it sounds completely delicious, but to taste it was something else entirely! I was slightly sad when our lunch break ended and we had to move on, as I'd spotted some absolute gems in the market and quite fancied a second course. Definitely a little spot to return to at a later date. 

The tour took a bit of a radical turn when we stopped off at Leake Street tunnel and engaged in a bit of (legal) graffitiing! Theatre fans may know the area as the home of the atmospheric underground performance space The Vaults, and the whole tunnel has been designated as a safe space for spray paint artists to display their work. and is always full of frankly stunning murals and designs by a whole host of creatives. We were lucky enough to arrive just as one artist was putting the final touches on his own design. When our tour guides produced a couple of spray paint cans from their bike's basket the whole group got a bit excited, but the best we could muster were a few hearts and stars and some wobbly initials. I certainly gained an extra layer of respect for the graffiti artists whose masterpieces surrounded us. 

The sun was low in the sky as we pulled up outside The Kings Arms pub in Waterloo. On our 4 hour journey across London, and through the history of gin, our little tour group had gotten pretty friendly with one another, and the stop was the perfect opportunity to chat more over a gin based cocktail. The group was comprised of both tourists and locals, and it felt like the tour catered for all.

By the time we arrived back at the Tally Ho Cycle Tours' base, I felt slightly bittersweet. I'd had a fantastic time pootling around on my little bike, and although it screeched and shook quite a bit, it'd really grown on me, and I was sad to see it go. We all said thank you to our fantastic guides, and bade each other good night as we parted ways. 

The tour was fantastic for a number of reasons, not least because it marked my first experience of cycling in London, and although we stuck mostly to quiet back roads, I felt my confidence grow throughout the journey. Who knows, I may try cycling to work some day soon now? For just £45 pounds, the value for money was incredible. Our guides were knowledgeable and enthusiastic about both gin and cycling, and our historical gin knowledge was most definitely bolstered. For a slightly unusual afternoon out and about in London, there's really not much to compare.

I was invited to review the Gin & Markets Cycle Tour thanks to The Indytute.