«100 mile bike routes»
This ride around the southern half of the Cotswolds starts in an ancient Roman city, looks at the Wiltshire Downs, then grapples with the Cotswold Edge, while playing hide and seek with the infant River Thames. Also, it clearly shows the contrast between the steep western edge and the shallower dip slopes of the eastern side of the Cotswolds. Cirencester was Corinium to the Romans, and there’s lots of evidence of their occupation in and around the town. The first section of the ride runs north-east along a ridge that is cut by streams and rivers, notably the Colne in Bibury. The ridge runs to Burford, where the route changes direction, going south down a steep descent to enter the upper Thames valley at Lechlade-on-Thames. The river is navigable as far as here, and it’s where David Walliams began his 140-mile Thames Sport Relief swim to Westminster in August 2011.
Map of south Cotswolds
South cotswolds. You ride past a section of the Cotswold Water Park, which has 147 separate lakes and covers 40 square miles in total. Then the route loops south past RAF Fairford, once host to USAF B-52s and stealth bombers, as well as being the only Space Shuttle abort runway in the UK. You pass the rest of the Water Park near Cricklade, where the route gets hilly again. You are in Wiltshire now and the road undulates up through Malmesbury, then climbs back into Gloucestershire past Badminton, of Horse Trials fame, to the top of the Cotswold Edge. A steep descent takes you to Chipping Sodbury, where the route swings north. The various ‘Chippings’ in the Cotswolds come from the Old English word cepping, meaning market.
The hills get serious now. Widden Hill is tough, but Coombe Hill is harder. You climb from 73 metres in Wotton-under-Edge to 195 metres in two sinuous kilometres, so an average of 6 per cent. Then there’s a long drag to the summit at 247 metres. There’s also a long descent to Nailsworth, before what I think is one of the best bits of this ride. Stroud is built up the steep sides of the valley of the River Frome, and the town scrambles up the hillsides in layers, like the tiers of a wedding cake. This is a literary town, with many famous authors having lived or been born here. My favourite is the Reverend W. Awdry, who was vicar of Rodborough and the creator of the Thomas the Tank Engine children’s books. The route passes his church just before starting its climb out of Stroud. Laurie Lee is another Stroud man.
South cotswolds. The killer climb, Swift’s Hill, comes soon after Stroud and lifts you out of the Slad valley, which is where Laurie Lee grew up. This is another winding climb that is quite spectacular. It has two very steep sections after two corners, one at a quarter of a mile up and the other exactly one mile into the climb. There’s a descent through Bisley, which ends in a very steep down and up into and out of the Frome valley, then the route trends downhill back to Cirencester. You pass the site of a Roman amphitheatre on your left as you enter the town, where the ride finishes in the square.
Villages in South Cotswolds
Go north-east from the square over the A419 roundabout and join the A429. Go straight ahead after the A417 flyover where the A429 turns sharp left and follow the B4425 north-east to Burford. Turn right at the roundabout off the A40 onto the A361 and follow this road to Lechlade-on-Thames, and turn right onto the A417. Take the left turn to Whelford, and then go right in Kempsford to Cricklade. Turn right at the roundabout and follow the B4040 through Malmesbury, Sherston and Luckington to cross the A46 and descend the steep hill on the A432 into Chipping Sodbury. Take the first right in Chipping Sodbury and keep right to Horton to climb Widden Hill, then turn left at the top. Turn left in Hawkesbury Upton and take the second right just before a steep descent. Follow this road to Wotton-under-Edge.
South cotswolds. Turn right at the roundabout onto the B4058 and climb Coombe Hill. Turn right onto the A4135 at the summit and turn left onto the B4058. Turn left onto the A46 in Nailsworth and follow this road through Stroud, going straight ahead at each of three roundabouts. Join the B4070 to climb the Slad valley. Take the first right and keep left up Swift’s Hill to Bisley. Descend through Oakridge Lynch and cross the River Frome to climb up through Frampton Mansell. Carry straight on across the A419, and then take the second left. Go through Tarlton and Coates to the A419 and turn right to ride back into Cirencester.
South cotswolds. Start and Finish: Cirencester
South cotswolds. Getting There: Cirencester is 14 miles north-west of Swindon on the A419. The nearest rail stations are in Stroud and Swindon.
South cotswolds. Bike Shop: Independent Bikeworks in Brewery Court
South cotswolds. Cafe: Jack’s Cafe right next to the museum
South cotswolds. Local Delicacy: Chestnut soupA Four-Inch-Long Penis Is More Than Adequate