Gentle pedals. . . big steps!

Gentle pedals. . . big steps!

IT’S been three weeks since I brought home my first electric bike, courtesy of the new Electric Bike Shop at Hatton Adventure World.

The bad news is, I’ve struggled to find the time to get out on it as often as I’d hoped.

The good news is, my relationship with e-bikes is such already that I know the situation will improve  – I’m eager for it to do so.

Amanda Chalmers

You see, this has been somewhat of a mini revelation for me, to the extent where I’m afraid to say three’s now a crowd. And I think it’s time for my traditional road bike and I to part ways.

Purchased as a birthday gift around 10 years ago, the intention was genuine – to hit the road every weekend and transform my deteriorating fitness levels back to something approaching at least average for my age. Genuine or not, I don’t think it left the garage more than a couple of times, but putting the brakes on my cycling days was like admitting defeat to the ageing process.

I now realise, as an e-biker (probably haven’t quite earned the right to call myself that yet, but let’s go with it. . .) that the journey back to increased fitness doesn’t have to be an arduous and painful one.  

The logic is simple – if you’re using your e-bike to do something that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do, it carries great long term mental and physical health benefits. E-bikes can get older or less fit folk cycling again – and that’s what I feel it is doing for me. Without it I can either keep living the lie that my road bike will ever see any traction again in the coming years – or throw my (not insubstantial) weight behind a new biking chapter. . . a chapter that makes cycling enjoyable again, while gradually and gently rebuilding my fitness levels.

Well, you have to start somewhere!

The sunny Easter holidays enticed me out and, in a short time, my confidence in handling the bike and ability to get the best out of it, is improving. I’m keeping distances short at the moment but plan to build on that, especially as the summer months break through.

And thanks to advances in technology e-bikes now last longer between charges (some modern models can last for up to 110 miles on a single charge) so there is nothing to be nervous about when I do decide to tackle the further flung destinations.

And when you do need to charge your bike – what better excuse for a well-earned refreshment stop while the friendly pub’s plug socket does its thing.

The popularity of e-bikes is massively on the rise and it’s widely predicted they will outsell road bikes within five years. – They already do in The Netherlands!

If you’re older, unfit, recovering from an injury or illness or simply lacking in cycling confidence, the arguments for investing in an e-bike are cumulative.

That’s all very well, you say. “Sounds perfect. But they don’t come cheap!”

E-bike prices tend to start at around £1,000 (and up to several thousands) which is undoubtedly heavier on the pocket than a traditional bike. But in the long run they can actually be the most cost-effective option. That’s because an e-bike is more convenient so you’re likely to use it more often.

Cycling instead of driving – even for short commutes – brings big savings on the costs of running a car, including fuel, parking and depreciation caused by wear and tear.

It’s also worth noting that the Government’s Cycle to Work Scheme allows you to save up to 42% off your e-bike. Click here for more information.

Included in part 3 of my blog COMING SOON are the subjects of security and maintenance.

Read Part 1 of my blog here

Read about the new Electric Bike Shop in Hatton plus an interview with Karl Haden here


Inspired by their thirst for success

Inspired by their thirst for success

THERE are few people we come across in our lives who genuinely inspire us.

Moores of Warwick
Martin and Lorraine Moore

I have been lucky enough to meet two this week by the names of Martin and Lorraine Moore, a married couple from Warwick who are celebrating the long-awaited launch of their new business.

And that in itself is reason enough to earn my respect. Building a business from scratch and making it a success are challenges enough for anyone. But when you are also staring down the barrel of a proverbial gun while you’re doing it – in the form of a cancer diagnosis – it takes entrepreneurial commitment and achievement to a whole new level.

Where I think it’s fair to say, most of us would mothball our business ambitions for the future to concentrate on our present health battles, Martin Moore took the opposite view. In fact, receiving the news that he had just months to live proved no barrier to his ambitions!

Trial immunotherapy treatment has stunted the growth of his tumour such that he’s been spurred on to follow his dream – and this month marked a magical moment for the husband and wife team as they celebrated the doors opening on Moores of Warwick Gin Distillery and Gin School.

Martin Moore

In 2011, after spotting a mole on his back, Martin, 59, was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma.

Despite six months of surgery, four years later the couple received the news they had dreaded – the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes.

Unable to treat the condition with chemotherapy, Martin was signed up for an immunotherapy drugs trial.

But the diagnosis marked a significant turning point for the couple who decided to take the leap – together.

Believed to be Warwick’s first gin distillery, Moores of Warwick makes small-batch hand-crafted gin using a selection of 12 botanicals, including honeysuckle, the flower emblem of Warwickshire and known as Shakespeare’s Woodbine.

It was around 12 years ago when Lorraine was first introduced to the drink by Weightwatchers as a lower-calorie alternative to wine. She soon converted Martin and the couple’s love affair with gin began.

But passion soon turned to ambition and today they operate out of a unit at Hatton Shopping Village where their gin school is also already proving popular.

Groups are invited to hear a short presentation on the history of gin before concocting their own unique recipe using the mini stills, then bottle it and add a personalised label, all while enjoying some G and Ts. Records of each unique blend are also kept so re-orders can be made.

What a wonderful idea – and one I know will be well received around here!

You don’t necessarily have to be an ardent gin drinker to appreciate their efforts. Lorraine told me she finds nothing more rewarding than passing on her passion – and knowledge – of the brand to customers who love concocting their own recipes and taking them away at the end. What’s not to love?!

Far from slowing down, Martin already has his sights firmly set on growing the business and there are – rather exciting – plans afoot for a Moores Vodka and a Moores Rum as well. Watch this space for more on that!

Moores of Warwick Gin Distillery
Martin and Lorraine Moore next to their main 100-litre still, Nellie – named after the elephant in the room (Martin’s cancer.)

Meeting the couple – and hearing all about their story – it’s easy to see where their motivation lies. And their infectious enthusiasm for their product will, I have no doubt, inspire theirs – and others’ – success.

To book a place on the Moores Gin School visit:

 Photos by




From Avon riverside to Swan!

From Avon riverside to Swan!

The Swan Hotel, Kineton
The Swan Hotel garden circa 1910 (Photo courtesy of David Beaumont)

IT was a welcome surprise to be reacquainted with Carl Harrison again recently.

Carl Harrison
Carl Harrison

I first met Carl a few years ago in his capacity as manager of the popular View fish and chip restaurant in Stratford, when his passion for his trade was quickly apparent.

He has worked in the fish and chips business for more than 15 years and knows a thing or two about running a restaurant.

It was good to hear then that, after being controversially forced to leave The View by the landlords, this popular Stratford man is making a success of his next venture a few miles down the road in Kineton.

He also runs two chip shops in Warwickshire – Brinklow Fish Bar in Broad Street and Chaplins in Abbey Green, Nuneaton but also ran the chippie in Kineton between 2002 and 2009.

Carl’s departure back in January 2017 dealt a blow for the local community with which he was very popular. That’s in no small part due to the fact that he did a lot to support that community, with fundraising events and giving over his free time to cook for the more vulnerable – and free time was already in very limited supply! You’d think the man would want a break from the kitchens!

But you can’t keep a good businessman down for long – and now in his second year at The Swan Hotel, in Banbury Street, Carl has already added his own stamp, including a new team and light refurbishment – and next has plans to step up the fundraising to support – and entertain – this new Kineton community.

And Carl doesn’t have to look very far to be reminded of his own family history. His mother and father, Tony and Marlene, were born and bred in the village. In fact Tony lived in The Chestnuts, the house opposite The Swan today. And the family owned Central Stores which is now Nifty Needles.

Carl and I will be working together to celebrate all that’s great about his business, including exciting news coming soon of a first for its diners! Thought I’d whet your appetites…

Of course he is the latest in a long line of mine hosts at The Swan, which dates back to 1668 – yes the former coaching inn marked its milestone 350th anniversary last year! And talking of stones, 1668 is still etched in stone above the door.

In celebration of the three-and-a-half centuries, I have delved back into some of the history of this building, which sits in the medieval part of the village.

* When a new landlord was sought in 1849, it was described in the advertisement as ‘An old established and well accustomed Commercial Inn and Excise Office now in full trade and comprising every requisite convenience, with excellent stabling, spacious yard and walled garden.’

It is likely to have served as a coaching inn but the history books also tell us that it was used to host the Petty Sessions Court alternately with the nearby Red Lion for much of the 19th century.

The Swan Hotel, Kineton
The Swan Hotel circa 1906 (Photo courtesy of David Beaumont)

The Swan also served as a meeting place for many Kineton organisations including the Old Friendly Society (established in 1785), the New Friendly Society and annual meetings of the Kineton Gas Company, the Kineton and Wellesbourne Turnpike Trust and the Horticultural Society.

During the First World War the licensee claimed to be providing stabling for 30 horses although when the inn was inspected for billeting purposes in 1917, it was said to be suitable for only 20 horses – but also 50 men!

No sign of any horses today! – But its history and charm remains  at the heart of the business in the 21st century.

I look forward to working with Carl in the coming months to help spotlight the great work he’s putting in behind the scenes and to, inevitably, further build upon its success.

In the meantime – and in true form, he is inviting nominations for local charities to benefit from the proceeds of his fundraising events throughout the year. (Stay tuned. . .)

Nominations, which close on Monday, February 4th, can be made here

Visit the hotel website here

* Information courtesy of the book Kineton, The Village and its History.

Big challenges for small businesses – invest in the help you need

Big challenges for small businesses – invest in the help you need

THERE are more than five-and-a-half million small businesses in the UK. This accounts for 99.3% of all private sector businesses – 99.9% of which are small or medium-sized (SMEs).

SMEs are growing in popularity and increasing numbers of skilled workers are taking the leap from employment to employer and setting up on their own.

Embarking on the challenge of building your own business is exciting and daunting in fairly equal measure – I know because I joined the ranks of the self-employed just three months ago.

I have spent 30 years working as a newspaper journalist and, come what may, the security of a monthly deposit into my bank account has been the reliable norm.

But, when you know the time is right (and it was) and are confident you still have a lot to offer – you know and enjoy your trade and you know exactly what your customer wants – and your gut instinct is screaming at you to follow your (new) dreams – it’s hard to ignore.

Small businesses

It’s not very long, however, before you discover that the secret to becoming a successful entrepreneur rests on more than just ‘knowing your trade.’

Because your own skillsets are just one factor. Suddenly a whole new bunch of learning curves are thrust upon you – and it’s at times like this that we need to embrace our ‘uncomfortable zones’ and shouldn’t be ashamed to outsource.

For instance, I’m a writer, my background is words. Expect me to balance my books or file my tax returns or design a website or design a logo or take a professional quality photograph or. . . you get the idea. . . and I lose all my confidence.

This is why then, there is an increasingly growing demand for professional help (and I don’t mean of the psychiatric variety!) for us SMEs.

Cue then the first of what I’m sure will be a series of training courses and workshops for yours truly, courtesy of FL1 Digital Marketing Company.

FL1 are a successful St Albans-based company expanding their training offering in response to the aforementioned growing demand – and the good news is (not least for me) they’ve just arrived in Warwick.

One of the very first bums on their training room seats, I was about to take my first foray into formal digital training. And it was Google Analytics on the agenda.

I quickly realised that building a shiny new website with all the bells and whistles was great in so far as it goes. But if I was to really let the site work for my business and gain maximum advantage, it had to come down to a better understanding of how to do it.

The prospect of digital training can bring on a cold sweat for many of us luddites. I’m one of these people who feel the need for an interpreter every time someone from the IT department opens their mouth! (I know I’m not alone in that.) I’ll remind you – I am a wordsmith not a techie!

FL1 Google Analytics WordPress
Jason Sammon.

FL1 co-founder Jason Sammon isn’t fazed by this. In fact he presented a potted version of Google Analytics for beginners if you will, with unintimidating clarity.

Our small group (I’ve always hated large classroom setting scenarios where the lecturers gallop off at high speed along the ‘information highway’) is taken through the following key areas at a friendly pace:

  • Installing Google Analytics – The rest of the course is pretty pointless without this!
  • Tracking Visitors – Important overview of visitor behaviour, such as how long they are spending on the site and the average number of pages viewed per visit;
  • Traffic Sources – How are visitors arriving at your site, eg: from search engines, referrals (other sites) or typing in url;
  • Content – What are your visitors looking at when they’ve arrived and what does this tell us about our products or services?
  • Measuring Performance Goals – You can set up and monitor specific events or actions within your website, eg. data analysis of completion of a sale or enquiry form;
  • Useful Tips – Does what it says on the tin! Really it’s all about getting into good habits by, for instance, checking your analytics every month, setting at least one goal every month and changing/adding content regularly.

This is all very well I hear you say, but what do these results tell us? None of it means a thing unless we have the wherewithal to interpret it.

Jason’s bitesize sessions and simplified language arm us with the confidence to go forth and do just that.

Far from being fearful of the murky world of digital, I’m now looking forward to my next FL1 workshop, on March 1st – WordPress Essentials. It looks at:

  • What is WordPress and how to use it;
  • Pages, Posts and Categories;
  • Tagging your content;
  • Customising WordPress;
  • Features and Plug-ins;
  • Tracking your readership and capturing statistics;
  • Integrating WordPress with Social Media.Learning your way around this widely used web platform is essential. Once the ‘nuts and bolts’ of it have been built for us – and without a highly-skilled IT team across the hall or at the end of the phone to troubleshoot – we’re on our own. So this is another valuable way to invest a couple of hours into your business plans. I’ll be reporting back on how I fared in that one in a couple of weeks.
    Further details on the WordPress course and how to book can be found hereLook out for news of more workshops being announced soon.