The Cotswolds

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Cotswolds Medium Route – pdf
Ridden Clockwise
Distance: 22km
Climbing: 606m
Duration: 2 hours

Cotswolds Hard Route – pdf
Ridden Anti Clockwise
Distance: 29.8km
Climbing: 983m
Duration: 3 hours

Cotswolds Easy Route – pdf
Ridden Either Way
Distance: 17km
Climbing: 600m
Duration: 1.5 hours

It had started with a plan to write about the trails in Bristol. I’ve ridden there many times over the last 15 years or so and have always found the riding there to be fun, twisty and a great challenge. Thinking about it, though, I’d never actually found the riding, I’d always been in the company of a Bristol local or two who had shared their hard-won
knowledge of the many serpentine trails surrounding the Avon Gorge.

However legion those trails though, they’re shared by many other users, all of whom can ride or walk there from the
city centre. This has led to more trails, both sanctioned and ‘cheeky’ being built and cut, adding to the maze of trails in the woods. Trying to explain how to find them, and how to tell good from bad, and legal from grey, is another matter.

issue42pic2So, despite Bristol having some great riding from the city centre, that’s something to save until you or I are in the company of a local, who can give us the personal tour of all the hotspots. We’re going to cast our gaze a little further – to somewhere with an equally expansive network of trails, some good pubs and even more challenging hills – all less than a dozen miles north of Bristol.

My riding partners for the day would be Emily and Kirsty, both from the ‘annoyingly fast AND cheerful’ school of riding. And our guides in turn were Andy and Ross from local distributors (of Felt Bikes and Castelli clothing) Saddleback.

Where now?

The day started suitably lunchtimey, thanks to the final arrival of Daylight Savings (and the fact that some people have proper jobs they need to skive off) and thanks to a ‘but I thought you said we were meeting here?’ moment, we were afforded plenty of time for lunch and coffee at the pub before Ross and Andy arrived, complete with a couple
of extra bikes to play on. We’d decided to start in the quaintly named village of North Nibley as it was close to the trails and the final descent drops you right there. It does, however, sit at the bottom of a rather big hill…

I’d packed the full camera bag, or as we like to call it in the trade ‘the excuse’ so I was happy to troll along at the back as the guys gamely tried chatting as the girls romped up the first climb of the day – and it’s an absolute stinker. Steep tarmac right out of the gate made for an instant warm up. On the climb though, between the grey and yellow dots crowding my vision, were glimpses of the trails to come as they wove off to the side of the road on the way up.
Before we were allowed onto the snakey stuff, we had to earn our keep and slough through a few sections of forest mulch – though considering the previous day’s snow, the trails were remarkably firm – and lacking in the threadbare, pokey rock look of Bristol’s trails south of us.

The local boys took some persuading to stop for pictures, so used are they to riding the route, that I had a hard time getting them to stop at the pretty bits – for there are many. I guess it’s the same with locals’ trails the world over. If you ride them daily, you find it hard to realise that a stranger could find your home trails scenic, or fun, simply because
their charms have worn off on you.

Lucky Charms aplenty

issue42pic3There were charms aplenty though (apart from our one hailstorm) as we took in an abundance of different terrain: some proper, tight ‘don’t look at the tree’ singletrack, some mellow tree-lined doubletrack through the woods, quiet lanes and springy, sheep-shorn grass. Considering the rural setting of the trails, praise goes to our hosts as we didn’t
ride a single trail that skirted a ploughed field, usually the staple of ‘countryside’ routes. Even the roads we span out on were fast and fun and allowed a breather before the next bridleway climb or descent.

The route we took was rolling enough to keep the speedy lot interested and the grumbling photographer happy. In fact it’s a route that would suit both after-work, matesracing or summer heat and a picnic. You’re not always in the trees, with no view or sense of progress, but pop out of the woods into the sunshine with pleasant regularity.

A spot of scrumping?

The spring had arrived earlier in the south, so we were treated to buds and blossom even though my Yorkshire trails and trees were still bare. There was a lot of fragrancy going on, and as the afternoon wore on, and my lunch wore off, I started noticing the wild garlic especially. A few bunches fried up with a duck breast perhaps, I’ll have to see what
Matt recommends.

One thing that was absent, though, were other trail users. Admittedly it was a Monday afternoon, but it was sunny and mild and the only people we saw all day were within 200 yards of the end of our ride.

Before the end came into view, though, we had another couple of valleys to cross. And valleys mean views, which can really add to the sense of distance traveled on a ride. As the golden light of the dipping sun started turning everything scenic, we came to a big grass bowl, the greenest of green, with a track running through it. The peloton got into formation as I got the big lens out. Once caught up again, I had to get the camera out again as we forded a shallow stream with sprays of water catching the late sun. I then had to get the camera out again as we rounded the corner and everyone got all backlit and picturesque again – but the best, or oddest, of treats was to come as the bridleway dropped us into the grounds of a fancy house, complete with horses and groundsmen. It’s one of the joys of our
historical access through our land that these trails continue to exist. If a posh landowner in the States didn’t like a trail going through their garden, they’d probably get it closed. Here, we rode up their garden path, with neatly clipped hedges either side, past the private chapel and up to the ornate gates of the grounds. I thought we were trapped -
that we’d gone the wrong way and would have to retrace our tyre tracks, but the gates opened up for us and let us carry on our way.

The best is yet to come.

We crested our final hill and passed the Tynedale monument that’s visible for miles around. It’s also visible from the pub where we started – only from the pub, it’s a long way up a big hill. Could we possibly be ending a route with a descent? We were – and what a descent! A real ‘sunken road’ pinball alley, complete with all manner of drops and
halfpipe rides. Once again I doubted we were on a bridleway as it was just far too fun – but as we popped out onto the road, there was the sign. And there was the pub, a mere 50 yard freewheel away.

If you’d imagined that the Cotswolds were just twee villages and thatched cottages, those are still there, but between quaint villages with names like Waterley Bottom and North Nibley, there is a lattice of sweet trails.

North Nibley isn’t as far in away as it sounds. It’s minutes from J14 of the M5 and not that far north of the M4 near Bristol. Being twee and all, there are a lot of local B&Bs and country hotels, depending on your budget and taste.

Staying

Any internet search should bring you a choice of places to stay. If you fancy keeping it local, have a look at ww.northnibley.com, which has a good spread of choices. Check out the community-owned village shop if you’re there in the morning too.

Eating

We parked outside the Black Horse and had lunch and dinner there too. Great food served by very indifferent staff. They do B&B too. The village shop’s only open until 1pm mind…

Categorised as:

South West England