Slow travel in TransylvaniaWith the gradual relaxation of Covid restrictions in the UK and overseas, many of us are starting to lift our eyes to the horizon and contemplate travel further afield.  Given that we’ve all become used to a slower pace of life and simpler pleasures, slow travel may have a greater appeal than ever before. That appears to have been the experience of many who took to canal holidays during the pandemic, in addition to the more obvious camping and caravanning.  Even if forward motion is slow, the view is still changing and we get to see new places and meet new people, all without flight anxiety or guilt.

Walking is arguably the slowest form of travel but still widely popular, especially as part of pilgrimages, and we in MCA were proud to welcome the Camino to COP pilgrims who walked through Leek on their way to Glasgow last year.  That of course was a walk with a purpose but many walkers now participate in the Camino de Santiago for recreation rather than faith, especially as the route network extends way beyond the confines of France and Northern Spain and at least as far as Denmark and Slovakia.

Cycling is an ideal form of slow travel.  You can travel further in a day seeing more than a walker, while carrying your luggage with less effort.  This makes onward travel more feasible, with less dependence on other people moving your luggage for you by car or van, which rather undermines the low-carbon impact of such travel. Carrying lightweight camping equipment allows even greater independence, especially in countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark that have healthy networks of sites and facilities and where English is almost always spoken.

In the UK, the charity Sustrans is the go-to source for information on routes, with Cycling UK another charity that provides advice and support. A valuable resource for European touring is Eurovelo, the European cycle route network, although the comprehensive cycle lane networks in the countries mentioned above make spontaneous route finding easy if you just want to get from A to B without having to tangle with heavy traffic.  There are also lots of cycle apps available online, although some seem more interested in performance than direction finding.  Nevertheless they are a boon for paper-free navigation, eliminating the need to locate, buy and post home selections of rather heavy paper maps, which is what we had to do in the ‘good’ old days. Having said that, Sustrans does produce some rather good compact maps of the National Cycle Network at a scale of 1:110 000, which is better suited to cyclists’ needs than the OS equivalents.

A great boon with cycles, especially folding ones, is being able to connect with other transport modes.They work perfectly with trains to extend the cyclist’s geographical range, even from Transylvania and beyond, always assuming the trains have adequate cycle storage capacity on board, not always the case in the UK. They also work ideally with ferries of all sizes, from big ro-ro ships to estuary and delta hoppers to tiny ferries that shuttle to and fro all day across a plethora of largish European rivers. They can be identified on most maps and their frequency/continuing existence checked on-line. These are a joy, as some are gorgeously eccentric and mostly easy to access.

Some trains offer slow travel in their own right. Spain still has plenty of regional lines with trains that take you on a leisurely pace through scenic countryside and a new railway company in France will soon be introducing Trains à Grande Lenteur that will travel slowly through the country on little used lines between provincial cities.  The other wonderful form of slow train travel is the night train. These may start and end in major cities but otherwise trundle through towns quite slowly so as not to wake up the residents. They are a wonderfully romantic way to cover huge distances, even though the views may disappoint, being at night. Fortunately there’s lots to see on the very long distance routes, especially in summer. They were in decline before Covid due to the spread of high-speed rail but are now making a comeback.

Finally, no discussion of European train services can be complete without a link to the indispensable site The Man in Seat 61.