Last weekend we set off to explore the Cotswolds on bicycle, thanks to The Carter Company, a family-led organisation who offer ready-made and bespoke cycling and walking tours around Britain and Europe. Wendy Carter was inspired to set up the company after exploring some of Austria’s beautiful lakes by bike on a family holiday and realising that travelling by bike or on foot really is the best way for a visitor to really see and experience a place. The Carter Company (previously known as Capital Sport) has been running for over 25 years and with Wendy in the role of Chief route designer, researching and trying out each and every route on offer, you know you’re in for something special. In her words –
“it’s not just about the destination, it’s about all those hidden gems you discover along the way!”
With this in mind, we were very excited to explore the hidden gems of the Cotswolds, an area we thought we knew pretty well. As we sadly didn’t have a long weekend to spare, we sampled (more or less) a day of the Carter Company’s ‘Cotswold villages and Oxford‘ tour – a gentle circular route of just over 20 miles, which in our case started and finished at The Plough in Kingham. We were met by Rob, their very knowledgeable Operations Manager who took us for a coffee to go over our thoughtfully prepared welcome pack (which all tour goers usually receive in advance of their trip). The pack contains a welcome letter, a comprehensive route directions booklet, an adventure guide which provides detailed insider knowledge of the places you’ll visit along the way, a packing notebook, luggage labels and some very handy wet weather seat covers.
Rob also brought along an OS map with hand drawn directions and a useful plastic wallet with Velcro straps which we could attach to our bikes so we could see the directions as we went. As this was a self-guided tour, it was really useful getting insider information on the route before we set off, with Rob showing us detours we could make or alternate routes back avoiding A roads if we wanted to shorten the ride at any point. With the clouds darkening outside, and the rain beginning, we donned our waterproofs and went out to see our bikes. Rob made sure we knew where the tools and bike helmets were (stored in a handy strap on bike bag), had water in the water bottles and were fine with the saddle height and gears etc. before waving us on our way.
The route started with a gentle ride along the B roads out of Kingham but it wasn’t long before we were directed to turn through the electric gates of an entrance marked Bledington Grounds Farmhouse. We would have assumed this was private but our route guide informed us that this is actually a public bridleway and we were soon whizzing along country paths through the gorgeous Cotswold country side, pausing every now again to take in the views.
After a gentle downhill cycle towards Oddington, we spotted signs for Dayelsford organic farm shop and spa which we thought would make a relaxing place to stop for an early lunch of fresh local produce. With strawberry season in full swing the fields were full of pick-your-own opportunists, filling their punnets to the brim before the next rain shower.
Restored and with the sun briefly appearing through the clouds, we were keen to get moving again so we pushed on towards the pretty villages of Adlestrop and Broadwell, gently riding past fields of grazing sheep, village greens, beautiful Cotswold stone houses and eventually splashing our way through the shallow river ford at Broadwell…
We were now on the look out for signs to Stow on the Wold and were told by a couple of passing cyclists that we’d be making the most of our gears! This was the first real uphill stretch of the ride so far and I admittedly had to walk my bike up the last bit but we knew the upward journey would be worth it (for where there’s an up…). The directions soon took us off the road and onto a wooded bridleway which we would otherwise have missed. It wound all the way into the market town, alongside stunning views and ancient spring-fed wells (which were the town’s main water supply until 1937).
With the clouds gathering again, we made it into Stow just in time as the skies soon opened and people everywhere were sent scuttling into pubs, cafes and shops to avoid the downpour. This gave us time for a cup of tea and a break in the White Hart where we got the maps out and looked at the journey forwards.
With the rain soon clearing outside and the sun re-emerging, we were eager to get back on the bikes for the promised ‘freewheel downhill to the Slaughters and Bourton on the Water’. This was a real highlight of the trip for me, whizzing down the hill, splashing through rainwater runoff and gently descending into the sunbathed village below. We continued to follow the signs for Lower Slaughter (name stemming from the old English ‘slothre’ meaning muddy place rather than after a bloody battle site, as people often think). Muddy no longer, Lower Slaughter is a pretty village intersected by a stream – Copse Hill road was apparently named the most romantic street in England in 2011!
We paused for a moment outside the beautiful village church, making the most of the now brilliant blue sky (the sort you sometimes get after a storm has suddenly cleared). The pretty Lower Slaughter Manor is just next door so we wheeled the bikes into grounds, contemplating an afternoon tea but having looked at the time, we realised we had better start making our way back to Kingham if we wanted to be in time for dinner at The Kingham Plough (whose head chef Emily Watkins recently won the ‘fish course’ at the Great British Menu). This would mean skipping Bourton on the Water so we dug out the OS map and found an easy route back to Kingham. The ride back seemed to flash by and we arrived back with 15 minutes to spare before our booking (leaving time for a quick change and a pint).
That evening Emily was serving her now famous fish dish called ‘on the beaches’ which was served in the GBM series finale to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. It made a perfect end to a really enjoyable day. Thanks to The Carter Company team!
The Carter Company offer a comprehensive range of rather special walking and cycling tours – from island hopping with bicycles in the Hebrides to woodland strolls along the Thames. Find out more here or catch up with their latest Tweets @