For this month’s komoot Coffee & Ride, we're taking a tour of the Cotswolds. The hilly route features many of my favourite lanes, concentrated to the north east of Cheltenham, with a selection of cafes, plus a suggestion for 'accommodation'. While it won’t be for everyone, the route has the option of camping before and/or after the ride.
Cafe: Hayles Fruit Farm Tea Room
Cafe location: Winchcombe, Cheltenham, GL54 5PB
Ride location: Cotswolds, 20 minutes north east of Cheltenham
Ride details: 71km intermediate road ride, good fitness required, 990m of elevation
The ride starts at and features Hayles Fruit Farm, a fast growing, family run enterprise boasting a great tearoom and more. It welcomes outdoor enthusiasts all year round, offering quality coffee, a huge range of home-made cakes, plus hot and cold food to fuel and replenish walkers and cyclists alike. If you’ve worked up a different kind of thirst, Hayles’ own craft cider (is that four ‘c’s’ then?) might hit the spot, or their chilled apple juice. Both are made exclusively with Hayles’ apples.
The tearooms, tucked away up a dead end lane, look out over a small part of Hayles’ own grounds: rows of strawberries, their friendly campsite and views to the Malverns beyond.
The orchards, originally planted by Lord Sudeley in 1880, have been maintained and managed by the Harrell family since the 1930’s. The tearooms, established just over 30 years ago, have always welcomed cyclists, offering plenty of indoor and outdoor seating for large groups and sturdy racks for bikes, but there’s been a more recent, fresh injection of cycling-hospitality thanks to the youngest member of the family being a keen road cyclist himself.
Hayles is the start point of my route, though in reality there are several ‘ideal’ start points, particularly if you are visiting one of the the more popular tourist spots in the region. Bourton-on-the-Water, Lower Slaughter and Northleach all lie on the route. Stow-on-the-Wold and Winchcombe are just off it. Cheltenham is the busiest nearby town.
At the beginning of April, bell tents are erected on Hayles’ campsite and available to hire, so you don’t even need to bring your own tent. With a well-stocked farm shop right next to the tearooms, it makes a night or two away from it all an easy option. Mountain biking is very popular in the area and there are many more route options in addition to the one I’ve planned here. The Cotswold Way, a popular 102 mile walking trail through the AONB, is accessible from Hayles and includes lengthy sections of bridleway.
Regardless of whether you stay at Hayles or not, it’s possible to park on site for a small fee which is refunded against a purchase in the tearooms or farm shop.
Despite being a rather lumpy route you get a gentle start with a descent past Hailes Abbey, over the old Cheltenham-Broadway railway line, down to the main road, before turning back towards Didbrook and Stanway Woods. You’ll have had a couple of opportunities to see the steam train that runs as a tourist attraction, with a station stop nearby at Toddington.
Stanway monument, just opposite the Jacobean Stanway Hall (where visitors can view the UK’s tallest fountain), marks the start of the first climb. Stanway’s a long, winding ascent with wooded banks to your left and intermittent views to Cheltenham and beyond over your right shoulder. Early spring is possibly the best time for views here, before the trees obscure views with their foliage. It’s hard to believe that there’s a quarry tucked away in the woods. Whether you can enjoy the views or not, it’s a gentle start to the day’s climbing tally.
At the top of Stanway the route takes a sharp left to stay in the woods. Doubling back on yourself (you might catch a glimpse of the climb you’ve just come up) you are very much sheltered from the world for a mile or so as you finish gaining height. A sharp right turn in the road brings some relief and a descent to one of my favourite vistas in the Cotswolds.
Here you’re close to the affluent village of Snowshill, the famous Snowshill Lavender and, a little further on, Broadway Tower. The route turns away from all this though, taking you in the direction of Ford and Stow-on-the-Wold.
For several miles, you take in well-kept hamlets and villages, linked with dry stone walls and littered with road-side treats. Added cargo of bedding plants, vegetables or eggs isn’t recommended for the full route though; there’s still plenty of climbing to be done.
In the village of Kineton the route turns north-east. Be sure not to let loose gravel and the blind bend leading to a deep ford catch you out; this is definitely not a ford to be ridden through. A pathway to the left takes you across the water to a rise out of Kineton. Steep banks up this narrow kick remind me of racing in Limburg - sheltered, compact climbs leading to exposed open roads. This one isn’t as harsh as those, but certainly rewards you with open views on the wider, open road that is home to Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm.
A left turn off this road leads to Lower Swell. Make the most of a bit of everything here: open meadows, woodland, scrub- and farmland. It’s difficult to find any kind of rhythm on this section, particularly in the second half. It’s best to just enjoy the rollercoaster effect and beautiful surroundings with some generous gearing.
In the village of Lower Swell, the route dog-legs over the main road and carries on to Lower Slaughter, the first of a few villages likely to be swamped with walkers and tourists. Take time to look around though; this is quintessential, postcard Cotswolds.
You climb away from the hustle and bustle in no time, using another narrow lane leading to open views of endless fields. Next on the list is Bourton-on-the-Water, the most popular village on the route and home of the annual rubber duck race. If you’re starting to feel hungry there are umpteen cafes and shops here. I am personally not a fan of the crowds that flock to Bourton, but pick your time and you could get a grassy patch among the tourists, by the water, with a duck or two for company. The Bakery on the Water is a great place to buy some home-baked goods for the next few climbs. It’s on the route too, just on the right after you’ve crossed the Windrush River.
The climbs are getting steeper now, but the lanes remain relatively traffic-free. The road towards Farmington and Northleach is littered with stables and gallops, evidence of Cheltenham’s association with horse racing. Gradual climbs and fast descents, one after the other, are great fun. Nevertheless, it’s worth exercising a little caution; I’ve encountered plenty of hazardous wildlife along here: indecisive pheasants, twitchy squirrels and scatty muntjacs.
After passing through Farmington, there’s not much more hard work before you can enjoy a pit stop in the market town of Northleach. Options here, include the Black Cat Community Cafe and The Curious Wine Cellar, both overlooking the market square. They are popular stops with cyclists, the latter serving great coffee by Fire and Flow, coffee roasters based in nearby Cirencester, and offering modest indoor seating in a contemporary setting.
There’s also some outdoor seating, though places to rest bikes are limited; larger groups can better follow the route out of the village and stop at The Old Prison. It’s actually closed to the public as I write, though it should be open by the time this is published. It’s steeped with history, built in the late 1700’s and pioneering better care and rehabilitation of prisoners, and offers large indoor and outdoor seating areas plus a huge range of cakes.
If you suffer from cafe legs, the sting out of Northleach towards the hamlet of Hampnet may not be appreciated, but the ensuing lanes will compensate. From now on, I’d advise being careful in some of the villages and on descents; there are patches of potholes and piles of gravel in places. You’ll be reminded that you aren’t far from civilisation as the route crosses the (potentially busy) A40, but you soon escape the buzz of traffic as you ride, for a short time, towards Cheltenham.
Hopefully, the refuel will make the drag through to Hazleton and Salperton more tolerable, efforts are rewarded with a long descent to Syreford from where the route comes back on itself. After navigating another ford (via a path to the right) you climb out of Brockhampton, by-passing the steep ascent directly through it, and use a small section of the medieval Saltway trade route to Hawling. All of these villages and hamlets will impress with their well-kept verges, beautiful gardens and characteristic cottages.
From Hawling, a picturesque valley lane follows a stream towards the Windrush river and the village of Guiting Power. Another warning for gravel comes here; take care when dropping down towards some prominent farm buildings as there’s always a pile of it, exactly where you don’t want it to be.
We’re not far from finishing now, but that’s not to say you can’t squeeze in another coffee stop. The Old Post Office in Guiting Power is a great choice. It’s only small but on a sunny day, the grassy bank opposite is a popular resting spot for walkers and cyclists. I’ve picked mainly independent, family run cafes and this one is no different. It thought out of the box during the pandemic, fighting to stay afloat. Supporting these kinds of businesses is easy as a cyclist and it’s nice to be able do that.
It’s homeward bound from Guiting Power, though you still have to work hard for the final descent. The drag up Campden Lane towards Winchcombe seems to go on forever. At the top, there’s a right branch off the lane to some stunning panoramas before the sweetest reward; a perfect finale to Hailes (that’s the village closest to Hayles Fruit Farm).
Keep your head up at the start of the descent; staying left is the best way to avoid a cattle grid, but the left ‘option’ is occasionally gated. Once you’ve navigated one side or the other, all that’s left to do is enjoy the fast, smooth surface of Salters Lane descent, with Hayles’ orchards to your right and uninterrupted views in all directions.
From Hailes, the route turns back towards the Fruit Farm, past the Abbey and campsite for some well-earned refreshment...
Ready to plan your next coffee & ride? Head over to komoot to get started.
Emma’s first encounters with a road bike were in between swimming and running. Soon after competing for GB in the World Age Group Triathlon Championships in Edmonton in 2001 she saw the light and decided to focus on cycling.
After a couple of half decent UK road seasons racing for Leisure Lakes, she went out to Belgium to sample the racing there and spent two years with Lotto-Belisol Ladies team, racing alongside the likes of Sara Carrigan, Grace Verbeke, Rochelle Gilmore and Lizzie Deignan. Emma moved from Lotto-Belisol to Dutch team Redsun, then a new Belgian team of primarily developing riders, where there was less pressure, an opportunity to share her experience and help build a whole new team; a nice way to spend her final years of professional racing.
Since retiring Emma has returned to teaching. When not coercing kids to do maths, she is invariably out on two wheels. In addition to the daily commute, Emma still enjoys getting out on her road bike and having her legs ripped off on the local club rides and chain gangs. She has also developed an addiction to touring, with destinations including Iceland, Georgia and Albania, to mention just a few. There have also been rare sightings of Emma off-road on a mountain bike…