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Cotswold cycle routes

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

Cotswolds Europe

Down and Out in Paris and London

For several years now I have held the view that London is only for the very young or the very rich, and that therefore Samuel Johnson of the “…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” quip was full of crap. One place I never expected to tire of, however, was Paris.  Thanks to the largess of a friend of my sister’s with digs on the Île Saint Louis and the ease of traveling by Eurostar, Paris has been a favorite weekend destination for husband and me since we moved to England. And we could think of no better place to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary last week.

But things did not begin well. We had flown to England for a few nights in the Cotswolds before heading to Paris, and on that first Saturday we drank too much wine at a sardine BBQ at the wine bar. I awoke on Sunday to find ten strips of raffle tickets in my purse that I only dimly remembered purchasing and had no idea in aid of what (this being the season of village fêtes, the possibilities were endless). Unfortunately this was not the worst after-effect of such indulgence; that was left for Monday when the two-day-deferred-morosity that is the mark of such excess set in on our train ride to Paris.

Upon our arrival the first thing we noticed was the traffic. The midday taxi ride from Gare du Nord to the center of Paris was painstaking, with every hundred-meter progression feeling like a major victory. Once on the the Île Saint Louis we observed the crush of humanity outside Notre Dame and remembered it was June and American kids were out of school. We pressed on, literally, stretching our legs on a jog to the Tuilieries and back. In the early evening we headed to our favorite café in the Marais for a glass of wine. The people watching from a pavement table was still the best in the world, but the man hawking jasmine garlands was more aggressive than usual. This was nothing compared to the affront I felt when we sat down for dinner at the bistro next door and discovered our waiter was Irish. Was it too much to ask to be treated rudely by an old French waiter for your anniversary?

The week continued and so did the list of irritations. The workers at the Musee d’Orsay went on strike closing the museum for the day.  There was a hair in my turkey club at our favorite lunch spot on the Rue Cler. It rained. I got bit by mosquitoes. The stench of urine on the cobbled banks of the Seine marred our morning jogs.  Of course there were pleasures—aside from the turkey club we ate and drank very well—but even those were suspicious given my ill-timed decision to pick up my reading of Down and Out in Paris and London on our last day.  In it Orwell expounds on his life as a plongeur in the bowels of a Paris hotel kitchen; I can only the hope the filth has subsided since he worked in the city in 1928.  By the time we boarded Eurostar back to London, the mutual feeling was of relief.

Yesterday the Cotswolds had its first true summer day, and we were there. We rode our bikes out through Hampnett and Turkedean, then Notgrove and Guiting Power, stopping for lunch at the Black Horse in Naunton, weaving through the day trippers in Lower Slaughter and Bourton-on-the-Water before heading back through Farmington and home. Poppies rouged the apple-green cheeks of the hills, and fields of linseed blooms in a sheer lavender hue provided the dose of Impressionism we had failed to get from the Orsay. It was by far the best day of the vacation.

Reading back over this I am aware I sound like a spoiled brat complaining about getting to spend a week in Paris.  On the contrary, I count my lucky stars every day that I have the kind of life right now that affords me such whims.  I know that one day before long we will be back in the U.S. where if we are lucky we will be employed, and such employment will be rewarded with a paltry ten days vacation in a currency that doesn’t go far in Europe.  When we decided to go to Paris for our anniversary it was precisely because we were thinking we won’t always have Paris.  What I forgot is that, God willing, we’ll always have the Cotswolds.

Cotswolds Cycling

Cycling the Hollywold Hills

Before I moved to England I lived in Los Angeles for ten years. Despite my residence in the capital city of celebrity, I rarely encountered one. In fact, I can think of only three times when I did, and one of those happened before I even lived there. I was thirteen and visiting my grandmother, which always involved a lunch outing to Canter’s Deli on Fairfax Avenue. On this occasion our elderly and insistent waitress pointed out Whoopi Goldberg at the deli counter and ushered me over to ask for her autograph, which Ms. Goldberg obligingly provided. Later, when I actually lived in L.A., I worked at Capitol Records for a few years. One day Bonnie Raitt was wandering around our floor with her hair in rollers before a video shoot. I didn’t see her though; I was out to lunch at the time of her reported appearance. My penchant for going out to lunch was rewarded when I later saw Quentin Tarantino in a booth at Birds, a chicken restaurant near the Capitol Tower.

Five years ago I moved to London from Los Angeles and then, three years later, to the Cotswolds. I went rural for the same reason I imagine many people in their thirties and forties leave London: that intangible oft described as quality of life. The last thing I expected to find amongst the honey-colored stone and rolling hills was a profusion of celebrity, but in the past two years I’ve had more star sightings than during my decade in Hollywood. I chalk this up to two factors. One is the pervasive car culture in L.A. Given the proportion of time most people spend in their cars there, it’s amazing you ever meet anyone in the flesh. The other is that neither my budget nor social stature in California supported frequenting the haunts where celebrities like to spend their time when they are not in their cars, Quentin Tarantino’s taste for budget chicken restaurants aside.

In the Cotswolds there is a distinct absence of establishments with velvet ropes and twenty dollar cocktails. No bouncer in a headset is going to ask you if you are “on the list,” although I do know somebody who managed to get banned from our local wine bar due to non-payment of his tab and the general indiscretion of being, in the words of the proprietor, an ass. The point is that the celebrities here have to mingle with the regular folk because pubs and inns and the odd wine bar are the only places to go if you want to have a drink out.

The other notable change in my lifestyle in the Cotswolds versus Los Angeles is that my preferred method of transportation is, weather allowing, my bicycle. There are endless country roads where you are more likely to come across a tractor than a car, and travelling them by bike puts you in touch with the landscape — the patterns of the hills and valleys, the flora and fauna — in an up close, visceral way inaccessible by car. It also happens that most of my Cotswold celebrity encounters have happened on cycling outings. And so in the spirit of the Hollywood star map I offer up the Hollywold map, two intermediate, all-day (thirty to forty mile) cycling routes with celebrity spotting potential. Even if you don’t bump into someone famous, you’re sure to encounter the real stars of this place: chocolate box cottages and stately manor homes, all in quintessential Cotswold stone; a cast list of snowdrops, daffodils, rapeseed, May blossom, elderflower, and blackberries in roughly seasonal order of appearance; and of course the sheep, cows, odd pheasant, race horse farms, and, if you’re lucky, a Gloucester Old Spot pig or two.

Route 1
Northleach – Daylesford loop


Both rides start in Northleach, a market town near the center of the Cotswolds whose local inn has fed and watered several music superstars. Recently spotted: a member of the Rolling Stones.

1. Head out of Northleach on Farmington Road, just northeast of the market square. The ride starts with two climbs in rapid succession before you freewheel through Farmington and into Sherborne.

2. Past the Sherborne Social Club, take a left following the sign for the National Trust Water Meadows parking lot. It’s up another hill before you hit a stretch of semi- desolate plateau with sweeping views of the valleys to either side. On the left you can look down over some of the most famous Cotswold villages, Bourton-on-the-Water, and farther west, the Slaughters.

3. Take the first road on your right (if you get to Clapton, you’ve gone too far). Head down the steep hill, taking care along this weather damaged stretch of road. Follow the road into Great Rissington, then up past the Lamb Inn. At the next junction go left, past the airfield into Upper Rissington.

4. Church Westcote, reportedly Kate Winslet’s neck of the woods, is just to the east, but avoid the busy A road and, at the top of Upper Rissington, jog left then right towards Icomb. Follow the signs to Bledington then Kingham where you can make a pit stop at the Kingham Plough. You may not bump into Blur bassist Alex James here, but you can do the next best thing and eat his goat’s cheese. Better yet, take the left fork out of Kingham and in a short while you’ll be at the Daylesford Organic retail complex.

5. Daylesford has outposts around London, including Notting Hill, Pimlico and Harvey Nichols, but this is the mother ship, boasting a spa, yoga studio, garden and kitchen boutiques, butcher and food store/cafe. It’s no wonder celebs feel at home here; even the vegetable displays look set designed. During my last few lunches in the cafe I spotted a member of resurgent British boy (now middle aged man) band, Take That, on an outing with his kids and a British actor best known, according to Wikipedia, for playing “assertive bureaucrats or villains.” Should you wish for more bucolic company, pick up some goodies from the deli and enjoy a picnic on the estate.

6. Leave Daylesford and retrace your route through Kingham. Instead of heading right to Bledington, head left for Foscot, where you will fork left for Milton under Wychwood. Fork left again off the High Street then take your second right, crossing the A424 and heading into Taynton, then Great Barrington and right into Windrush. Follow the road into Sherborne where you’ll recognize your turn off from the morning by the National Trust Water Meadows sign post. Continue straight, taking the second left where this time you’ll see National Trust signs for Ewe Pen parking. It’s uphill to the A40 where you should take care crossing.

7. Once over the A40 you’ll cycle past another National Trust property, Lodge Park, which was used for deer coursing, gambling, and drinking in the 17th century. In other words it was a rural version of Vegas which the celebrities of the day may have enjoyed. Take your first right towards Eastington, which leads you back into Northleach.

Route 2
Northleach – Eastleach – Barnsley loop (a.k.a. The Supermodel Circuit)


1. As with the first route, leave Northleach via the Farmington Road and continue through Farmington into Sherborne. Instead of turning left at the sign for the Water Meadows parking lot, continue on into Windrush then little Barrington, all the way into Burford, about ten miles in total. There are many options for refreshment on and around the handsome Burford high street, but you may wish to wait for the more secluded pub in Eastington, seven miles away.

2. After you’ve had your fill of Burford, head out the same way you came in, on Sheep Street, and take your first left on to Tanner’s Lane. Head up the hill to the A40, where you jog right along a pavement before crossing with care at the next left.

3. Follow the road through Westwell all the way to Eastleach where, just to the left as you enter the village, the Victoria Inn is perched on a hill. The star offering on the menu is pork from the nearby Eastleach Downs farm, but the first time I went to this pub I had a star sighting of another type: Kate Moss made an appearance, wearing wellies and a mud splotched cardigan. As she drove off in her vintage Roller, she tooted the horn and gave a wave to the bemused patrons sitting at the picnic tables on the front lawn.

4. Leave Eastleach the way you came in, then head left briefly before turning right for Hatherop and then on to Coln St. Aldwyns. From here you could go right into Bibury, site of Bibury Court, a fine Jacobean mansion converted into a hotel, as well as the oft photographed series of cottages known as Arlington Row. Alternatively go left out of Coln St. Aldwyns towards Quenington, taking the first right onto the Welsh Way before you hit the center of Quenington. This takes you all the way into Barnsley along a less busy road than the B4425, which you’ll have to brave if you choose to get to Barnsley via Bibury.

5. Barnsley’s most famous resident is yet another supermodel/actress, Liz Hurley. I’ve never seen her there, but I have enjoyed the fine gardens at Barnsley House, which are open to the public for a small admission charge. Barnsley House also owns the Village Pub across the street, a good place to stop for refreshment before the last leg of the journey back to Northleach.

6. Leaving Barnsley House or the Village Pub, take the second right off the B4425 and follow it all the way back, through Coln Rogers, Coln St Dennis, and into Northleach.

The Details
The Wheatsheaf Inn

West End
Gloucestershire GL5 3EZ
01451 860244

Kingham Plough
The Green
Chipping Norton
Oxfordshire OX7 6YD01608 658 327

Daylesford Organic
Gloucestershire GL56 OYG
01608 731 700

Lodge Park
Nr Cheltenham
Gloucestershire GL54 3PP
01451 844130 (Lodge Park)
01451 844257 (Estate office)

The Victoria Inn
Nr Cirencester
Gloucestershire GL7 3NQ
01367 850277

Bibury Court
Gloucestershire GL7 5NT
01285 740324

Barnsley House/The Village Pub
Cirencester GL7 5EET
01285 740 000

Cotswolds Cycling

Supermodel Sunday

I have finally gotten serious about training for our upcoming London to Paris charity bicycle ride. I think it was seeing that thermometer on my fundraising web page exceed 100% that made me realize in 3 months I really am going to have ride 95 miles then get up and do most of it again the next day. And the next day. And the one after that.

So on a recent Saturday morning, helped out by an appearance from the sun, husband and I roused ourselves for a 25 mile expedition down through the Coln Valley. The next day we got up and did most of the distance again, but this time heading north into Farmington and Sherborne and nearly Burford before we looped back. It was on this second day where we were rewarded with the kind of serendipity that cycling affords and that gives me hope for what small pleasures might accompany an awful lot of saddle soreness come May.

First, we saw a sign for the rural cinema which was showing a film we both want to see on an upcoming Saturday night at the Windrush Village Hall. The sign asked viewers to bring a cushion and a log for the fire, the kind of thing that two years into our rural adventure I still find endearing. Then we stumbled on a full English breakfast service in progress (and every second Sunday of the month) at the local social club. Despite having already eaten breakfast, we stopped in so husband could replenish himself with just a wee plate of hash browns, fried bread, beans, mushrooms, and fried eggs. I had a cup of tea and, feeling pious from my 25 miles the previous day, a slice of fried bread.

The next weekend serendipity turned surreal when, in the midst of a pub lunch break from our training ride (we take the eating as seriously as the cycling), Kate Moss and her entourage decamped to the picnic table behind ours. Their hips were accessorized with either cardies sporting a stylized assortment of mud splotches or boho babies and, on their feet, the inevitable Hunter wellies (never mind it was a perfect, sunny day). They were a self-conscious crew who seemed to find reasons to say “Kate” aloud often. It wasn’t necessary as most of the pub had already clocked the celebrity arrival and, for those who hadn’t, Kate honked her horn and waved out the rolled down window of her vintage Roller when she left 30 minutes later.

On today’s training ride there were no celebrity sightings. But there were daffodil sightings and what seemed to me more uphill than down. With the onset of spring the palette of those hills has brightened into plusher greens and browns flecked through with the orange of our Cotswold stone, ploughed up and strewn about like rubble in the fields. Despite the climbs, I think I still have enough energy left to stay awake during tonite’s outing to the rural cinema at the Windrush Village Hall.