“ Address: The Activity Centre / Dinton Pastures / Sandford Lane / Hurst / RG10 0SU „
Whizzing around on a Segway has always looked like fun mostly due to the complete lack of obligatory limb movement one would commonly find associated with the operation of other such personal transportation vehicles like bicycles and I was finally able to get the chance when my lovely sister bought me a birthday voucher for 2 (valid for 1 year) to take place at the Dinton Pastures nature reserve in Wokingham, run by the company Berkshire 4x4. I'll give you a quick rundown of how a Segway works so you'll know right off the bat if it is for you or not. The name actually originates from the Italian word segue, meaning smooth transition, so is pronounced the same but obviously spelt differently. Basically, it is a two wheeled, self-balancing battery-powered / motorised machine containing a computer which utilises gyroscopic and fluidic sensors to monitor its own centre of mass and can adjust and maintain direction and speeds based upon the detection of weight shifts. As a user you effectively just need to shift your own weight backwards and forwards (with the strength determining velocity and corresponding direction) and you can steer left and right via the handlebars getting up to speeds of over 12mph so falling off is not advised. Sounding good right? Did I mention Segways are both illegal on UK public roads due to not meeting safety standards and with a somewhat bitter twist the UK millionaire who bought the firm Segway was actually found dead in 2010 at the bottom of a cliff with a Segway found near his body...? Soooo, still sounding good, right? Don't let that put you off...
Address: The Activity Centre, Dinton Pastures, Sandford Lane, Hurst. RG10 0SU
Telephone: 01183 271575
Prices: £35 for 1 person, £55 for 2 people.
Rules and Regulations: Minimum age is 12 and anybody under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult; minimum weight is 7 stone (45Kg); maximum weight is 18 stone (115Kgs).
Booking unfortunately can only be done over the phone and their website is not all that revealing and looks a bit amateurish (in fact it's downright obscure) with how the process works alongside such things as timeslots and availability so you kind of have to wing it when you do get through to the one person manning the phones. They do offer tours around Dinton Pastures as well as parties for special occasions (which involve relay and slalom racing) potentially every day of the week throughout the morning and afternoon hours weather permitting (so winter and rainy months seem unlikely) and I think, although I am relying on my Swiss cheese memory so don't quote me, that the first slot is 8am and the last is 4:15pm so not great for a working day since evenings are out plus weekends seem to get filled up quite quickly. My advice - book well in advance (unlike me that left it 2 weeks before my voucher expired and was forced to go on a Sunday afternoon - thank God I'm not religious). You should receive an email confirmation of your time (suggesting arriving at least 15 minutes early) plus additional safety and participation guidelines including dress code (warm gear for cold weather, flat shoes, long trousers), cancellation policies and weather rescheduling.
==The Segway Experience==
Upon arrival if you come by car you will have to pay at the pay and display car park - 2-4 hours cost us £1.80 so fairly reasonable, although there are plenty of other activities at this centre so you may stay longer if you are making a day of it which will naturally cost you more. Then you meet up with your tour guide and other participants at the main centre right by the car park who will walk you to the practice ground and spend a few minutes collecting fully charged Segways before talking us all through the safety, technical and legal ramifications of using a Segway and, upon our absolute assurance of complete understanding of our own risks, the signing of legal waivers. You can bring your own helmets, although there is an ample supply on site, but even though they suggest high visibility jackets and gloves should be worn, these were not available (though I personally don't feel they would be absolutely necessary, at least on the bright sunny day we visited on). My hands certainly weren't affected throughout by the lack of gloves so perhaps these are purely if you're intending to fall off in order to do yourself a mischief. One thing I would say is our tour guide was not particularly proactive in checking our safety equipment (by that I mean the helmets, gloves etc and not the actual Segways themselves), very much relying on our own ability to safely wear helmets etc. so if somebody was wearing things poorly this may go unnoticed.
So once all the legal formalities are out of the way everyone gets the chance to hop on their Segway (well gently stand and find their balance without the machine running away), trying desperately to ignore the warning labels doom-mongering almost certain injury and death, and begin the tentative journey around a small course which is basically a two tiered piece of land allowing for speed, turning, stopping & starting, uphill & downhill and mounting & dismounting practice. My extreme sports fan / adrenaline junkie friend was first to give it a go and showed us all how easy it was. My kangaroo style start amused those around, but it didn't take too long to get the hang of it and nobody managed to embarrass themselves at all so the omens were good. Once our tour guide was satisfied that death and the plunging of the £5,500 equipment into the nearby lake would be avoided, which for us took about 10-15 minutes between 5 people, we were able to commence our tour around a small area of Dinton Pastures which lasted for a good 40 minutes or so with a few breaks along the way.
You are somewhat thrown into the deep end at first by having to go up a steep incline and across a bridge which demonstrated to me that I did not have the best technique for speeding the Segway on an upwards trajectory. The act of leaning your weight forwards is a confusing one as you feel at first like you're going to tip the Segway over and you need to develop an inherent trust in it which I struggled with at first hence the slow and humiliating progress up the ramp. The trick seems to be keeping a straight back and leaning, rather than bending your back which is the natural urge but so utterly wrong as it causes gyroscopic mayhem. Anyway, once everyone is safely across the bridge you begin following your tour guide single-file along fairly smooth gravel paths, with the only real obstacles being people, small children, angry dogs and low hanging branches. The more natural controlling the Segway gets the better as you can begin to take in the truly pleasant surroundings of Dinton Pastures with lovely lakes and beautiful natural greenery, whereas at first I found myself rapt with concentration controlling the Segway whilst trying to avoid painful face-plants and so probably missed out a bit of the earlier surrounding environ which was a shame.
So, despite it being a very hot day in the middle of the 2013 heat wave, with a cool breeze as we flew along around the reserve it was very pleasant indeed, although as time went on I began to feel some pins and needles in my feet, and I also felt my arms were a bit stiff probably slightly from a smidgeon of nervous tension as the Segway is quite easy to lose control of when faced with bumpy ground and inclines / downward slopes which I was constantly very much aware of. The bumps and potholes you may stumble upon highlight greatly that these machines have no suspension and you do feel the effects of contoured areas so the Segway is definitely not suited to those with any back or knee issues and extended use would probably not be great for your health. Although there were a few areas of "treacherous" terrain we went around mostly incident free, except I almost caused a Segway pileup when going up one such steep incline whereby my technique once again let me down and I felt the Segway tipping forward with the only way to correct it a backwards lean which caused my speed to drop dramatically and thus triggering a domino effect behind me, which did have the advantage of showing people they were perhaps too close to those in front...
Our tour guide was nice enough, with a few jokes here and there, but gave the impression through some quite forceful words that our safety was really in our own hands and to be honest with him out front leading the way on the actual tour he wouldn't have been able to prevent any incidents, only clean up the mess afterwards, so you are heavily reliant on your first bit of training. As a result his role was more like a safety monitor than an actual tour guide, so you sadly don't get to learn a lot about Dinton Pastures itself - the only time he actually did any real talking was on a couple of our pit stops, which then mostly consisted of giving our feet a rest, taking photos or admiring areas of natural beauty between ourselves but despite offering a few interesting facts about Segways and checking on our general state of wellbeing it didn't really feel like a proper tour of the area as you might expect, so the main focus of this event is purely getting to take the Segways out for a spin so if you were hoping for more you might be a bit disappointed.
£35 might seem expensive per person (obviously discounted by £15 if you go in pairs) but you are paying for equipment hire and training so I don't think as a one off splurge it is that bad, but I wouldn't recommend making a habit of it for the sake of your bank balance not to mention I also think prolonged exposure to a Segway could be bad for your back and knees with that absence of suspension. The day after I was a bit sore in my right leg and across my shoulders which could well be attributed to poor technique, but you probably should expect a little pain afterwards just in case. Once you have mastered the Segway it is a superb way to travel around, very fun with that subtle hint of danger, and I do feel on this tour you get your money's worth with the amount of time spent touring round Dinton Pastures, though I personally would have liked it to be a bit more like an actual tour with information about the reserve itself, but as an experience purely in Segway control it more than did the job.
If you are late for the training session it seems this company is pretty strict and you may miss out on your place on the tour with a no refund policy and you would probably have to pay more to get on the next tour so I would definitely ensure prompt arrival to avoid any unpleasantness in this respect. Poor weather conditions are also a factor and since the company reserves the right to cancel at any time you have the pressure to rebook within the succeeding 14 days for a time within 3 months since the original date otherwise you will lose your money which again is pretty harsh so certainly a sneaky loophole to keep on top of. Apart from these sinister business practices, I had no issues with the company in my own experience, with a competent tour guide offering reassuring training and a (mostly) incident-free tour which was exciting and fun, giving a great chance to take in the beautiful surroundings of Dinton Pastures in style (though not necessarily comfort) so I can recommend this tour, as long as you pick a nice day for it, as a great way to get out of the house for an hour or so.