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Esther Lafferty is the anchor of the hugely successful Oxfordshire Artweeks festival and a keen triathlete.

Where the Grass is Greener

Esther Lafferty

Oxford is always on the lookout for transport solutions that will enable everyone who’d like to visit to do so quickly, cheaply and harmoniously in an environmentally-friendly manner. I may have the answer.

Segways, for those that don’t know, are micro-vehicles with two wheels at the bottom of an upwards-pointing stick, rather like an old-fashioned hobby horse without the head. They have small electric motors fitted to platforms between the wheels on which you stand so you can travel along on them the speed of a fasttrotting horse rather than a hobby horse, unless Victorian children could match Mo Farah in their hobnailed boots, which I doubt.

The Significant Other and I have seen groups of Segways when we’ve been out and about on occasional European city breaks, smugly shaking our heads in disbelief at the laziness rife in other tourists and the type 2 diabetes that they were clearly catapulting onto themselves with their holiday lifestyle decisions while we trudged our way into the Fitbit hall of fame with worn out trainers and bleeding feet. Besides, the two wheeled contraptions looked frankly ridiculous and surely no self-respecting traveller could selfie ‘en Segway’.

Then, however, a friend recommended a Segway tour as the best thing to do, ever, in Rome – and yes, they were right. Putting aside the long-held ethos ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do,’ we armed ourselves with bicycle helmets (though gladiatorial plumage would have suited the moment better) and stepped aboard. Or should I say wobbled. There’s a counterintuitive moment as the Segway sets off – it forges ahead of its own accord and you then control all its movements with gentle leaning and, apparently, gyroscopic physics.

Our first ten minutes gave us an in-depth experience of 200 metres of a rarely visited backstreet a little off the tourist trail, before we were off on our standing walking tour at running speed, like a line-up of distractible ducklings behind the Tour Guide. We ducked and dived between the slow-footed, nipped up and down hills and in and out of ruins.

Now, earlier in the year Oxford hit the news for being too full of tourists and I think the Segway might be the answer – if everyone used Segways, travelling at 15mph, then they’d be able to whip round the sights in single file five times faster, and then clear off to Blenheim or Bourton-on-the-Water, reducing the number of visitors in the city at any one time fivefold.

Mind you, although I’d never advocate it, the more gung-ho amongst us might suggest a more Boadicean approach to Segway use: with knives on the wheels, they’d reduce the crowds a whole lot faster. Instead of this latter technique, I could help out with a 21st century Lady Godiva approach, on a Segway instead of a horse: it would leave me decidedly chilly, but I think it too would probably see the streets clear.

- Esther Lafferty