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Cotswolds Cycling

Playing Dress Up with The Guvnors’ Assembly

All about the details: custom fenders and champagne-cork-topped handlebars

Lastweekend we made a special trip back to Cotswoldia to take part in a “sporting event” I’ve had my eye on since last year: The Guvnors’ Assembly’s annual Jolly in the Wolds. The Assembly is a group of cycling enthusiasts who hail from all over Britain and distinguish themselves with sartorial elegance. This elegance begins with the choice of bike—a Pashley Guv’nor for the men and a Pashley Princess for the ladies—and extends into every other imaginable detail, from cat-eye sunglasses to the waxed tips of a mustache.

My love affair with Pashley cycles began in 2011 in Berlin—somewhat ironically since Pashley Cycles’ headquarters is in Stratford-upon-Avon, which is more or less the north Cotswolds—when I purchased a periwinkle-blue Pashley Poppy. She cost more than was strictly necessary to transport myself around the city, but, at roughly the same price as a designer shoe and infinitely more practical, the purchase was easy to rationalize. I like to think of her as the Jimmy Choos I’ll never own. My Poppy has followed me as we moved from Berlin to Boston and finally back to California, turning heads everywhere she goes. Sadly, when we moved back to Berlin this time around, we left Poppy in our California garage to enjoy a brief sabbatical.

A collection of Pashley Princesses

This left us in a dilemma over what to ride when we joined the Assembly at the weekend. We were in possession of some rather garishly colored road bikes, but we worried they would tarnish the aesthetic of the collective. The Assembly may have been worried about this possibility too, because, despite the fact that we were complete strangers, a longstanding member, Mr. Corky, offered to lend me a Pashley Princess and my husband something he called the tweed steed: a completely custom affair hand-upholstered in the finest Harris Tweed.

Bikes secured, we moved on to the question of what to wear. Berlin does vintage well, and it didn’t take me long to secure a 1950s-style sundress of yellow gingham with a cheerful cherry print. Husband relied on a more traditional Cotswold clothier, Pakeman Catto & Carter, acquiring a pair of tweed plus twos in their summer sale. (Curiously, shooting apparel does double duty very well as vintage cycling apparel.)

1950s me

Despite our efforts, when we arrived at our point of embarkation—a very fine pub called The Royal Oak Tetbury—husband and I were cowed by the collective splendor of the Assembly. The ladies didn’t just have elegant vintage dresses. They had gloves and hats and flowers and bunting strung through their baskets. They wore heels! Standing there in my sundress and very sensible white plimsolls, I felt like Sandy at the slumber party in Grease, only instead of The Pink Ladies I was surrounded by a gang of early-Mad Men Betty Drapers.The Rizzo of the group (I’m only calling her that since she organized the event with her husband, thus making her the gang leader of the Betty Drapers) soon put me at ease by offering me a lucky dip from the assortment of mini-cans of G&T and Pimms residing in her wide-mouthed bicycle basket. Another of the ladies, who goes by the moniker of Sussex Bob, offered to lend me her cycling cape (yes, a cape!) should the weather turn inclement that afternoon.

The men were equally as welcoming and well turned out. There wore braces, flat caps, cravats, and a smattering of the Assembly’s very own custom-made, vintage-style wool cycling jerseys. The bikes wore accessories, too, from bespoke wood fenders to a honking loud horn that, unfortunately for the ears of all those visiting the countryside that day, was attached to husband’s borrowed bike. One of the founding members of the assembly, Gent Cyclist, chose a more subtle attention-getting device: a cylindrical chrome police whistle attached to a perfectly patinated piece of twine.

The Guvnors’ Assemby assembles outside The Royal Oak Tetbury

After posing for pictures, we were off on our jolly. And it was a jolly—speed is not the point of an Assembly outing, although at 35 miles it wasn’t exactly a dawdle either. Manhandling a Pashley Princess up a Cotswold hill in blazing sun is serious business. These substantial bikes are elegant if not agile, squeaking on the ascents like a group of convivial mice at a tea party. Luckily for me the Assembly abides by a policy of “no man or woman left behind,” and regular stops ensured everyone could catch up.

The Assembly waits patiently for me

One such stop was for lunch at the Red Lion in Cricklade, where husband and I chatted more with G., one of The Pink Ladies/Betty Drapers, and learned her commitment to looking this good extended into everyday life. “I get dressed like this to walk the dog,” she told us. “My neighbors think I’m mad.”

Lunch stop at Red Lion Inn Cricklade

Seeing our group trundling around the Costwolds wearing woolen clothes and hats and heels as the temperature swelled into the eighties, you may well have thought us mad. But mostly people who saw us smiled and honked and waved and took pictures. The Assembly seemed to make people happy and the feeling was mutual. Maybe it was the just the tight bodice on my sundress, but as I rode my Princess I found myself sitting up straighter than usual, head held high. The air was filled with streamers of hay from passing trailers piled high with the
stuff and the occasional burst of dandelion confetti. Riding with the Guvnors’ Assembly felt like being in a countryside ticker-tape parade.

The Details

The Group:
To join the Guvnors’ Assembly for a ride, check out upcoming jollies on their website here.

The Gear:
More about Pashley Cycles here.

The Guide:
Our 35 mile loop started by heading southeast out of Tetbury on the B4014, tracing a shallow bowl of a route through Minety and up into Cricklade (about 15 miles). Leaving Cricklade we headed west through the beautiful village of Ashton Keynes, skirting the Cotswold Water Park before passing through the charming village of Oaksey. We continued up to Culkerton before turning left on the main A433, which brings you out just north of Trouble House. Turn right out of Trouble House and continue for 2 miles back into Tetbury.

The Grub:
We lunched at the excellent Red Lion Inn in Cricklade, which conveniently has its own microbrewery, The Hop Kettle Brewery.
Red Lion Inn
74 High Street
Wiltshire SN6 6DD
+44 (0)1793 750776

Refreshment was taken at the best-named pub in the Cotswolds, Trouble House. I stuck to lager and lime, but will be returning to taste the delicious-looking cakes.
Trouble House
London Road
Gloucestershire GL8 8SG
+44 (0)1666 502206

Supper was back at The Royal Oak Tetbury, where both service and food was outstanding.
The Royal Oak Tetbury, aka TROT
1 Cirencester Road
Gloucestershire GL8 8EY
+44 (0)1666 500021