Cotswold Gravel

I had another random Tuesday off this week so I didn’t let it go to waste. I decided to do another mini-adventure in the same vein as popping up to the Peak District a few weeks ago. I didn’t fancy travelling far, if at all to be honest. I considered Cannock Chase and the Wyre Forest but the offroady bits around Broadway have been tugging at me for a while now so I decided to focus on them this time.

I rode the Hell of the North Cotswolds or HONC as it’s known now, years ago and remembered how good (and hard) some of the trails were around there plus I’d ridden a few on an MTB with my mates probably 25+ years ago. I had a vague recollection of where they were so I used that as the basis of my route

I plotted a route of what effectively took me up and down the Cotswold escarpment and then over to Bredon Hill to do a circuit. I tried to keep it on byways and bridleways and connected them with the quietest of lanes I could find on the map. All a hunch. It’s been so long I didn’t really have any idea what I was in for except I knew they might be rideable.

I threw my bike and kit in the van and drove to Evesham and parked up by the River. The weather couldn’t make up it’s mind. I had arm warmers on as it was cool until the sun came out then it was really warm. I decided to keep them on for now.

I took my camera for this one and captured some of the offroad sections. The editing is very basic just to give you a flavour of the terrain.

Over the bridge and straight out of town on the A46. I opted for the path adjacent to the main road as it ran to my turn to Aston Somerville in about a km and it was safer than mixing with artic’s bombing south to the M5. Into the lanes to cut across to my first climb at Buckland and it was quiet. Lovely in fact. In the distance you could see the hills rearing up. I was looking forward to the first one.

Into Buckland and through the little hamlet, the nice smooth tarmac basically runs out and ends up as a broken road, clearly unattended or maintained for years. After I stopped to turn my camera on, I cracked on and found it quite a stiff climb that gained height pretty quickly. The sun was out and I was baking in my arm warmers.

the latter part of climb of Buckland

Over the top the trail flattened out and became more of a dirt/gravel road peppered with the odd pothole. No gates, it was great to have such an uninterrupted wide gravel trail to follow. I rolled through a messy farmyard which kicked up very steeply out the other side and was pretty rocky and loose in parts too. It got me breathing pretty heavy. Over the top and the byway just flowed nicely and gently downhill and joined a very minor road or lane. The sort where there is grass, gravel, it’s narrow and has a crap surface. The views across the top were superb though.

these roads are the best roads

It wasn’t long before I hooked a right and the Garmin decided to throw a wobbler which I kind of expected as my planned route criss-crossed itself a few times. It appeared I’d gone off course in the farmyard but was able to pick it up again further up the lane. Try telling that to the Garmin though. A km of road and I was back offroad. A bridleway this time skirting a field. Flat and pretty fast it was a shame the gates broke it up.

Why can’t all bridleways be like this?
shame about the gates

I had a great few secs along here at the end with a bird flying really low in front of me for what seemed like ages. See if you can pick them out on the video below, you might need to turn the resolution up!

look out for the bird leading the way!

Back out on the road again. A familiar one as it turned out. Back in the early 90’s one of the longer Sunday morning club runs we used to do (70+ miles) used to ride south to climb Stanway Hill and then would turn left and continue to climb along an unclassified road which was where I was now. This time I was heading the other way down it. I stopped at the main road to turn my camera back on and continued straight across onto another bridleway which I last rode in a HONC event years ago. Initially, wide with plenty of rock and stones it got a bit gloopy in the shade before it veered off to the right into the bushes and became a decent length of singletrack. Overgrown in places I prayed I didn’t meet anyone coming the other way as it was a bit blind at times. It’s called Campden Lane on the OS Map but a lane it isn’t. Basically a path.

At the end I just popped out of the bushes and around a gate post. The Garmin was complaining again as I was near a crossing point on my route. I zoomed out and eventually worked out I had to go downhill someway before a lengthy road climb for a change. The views were pretty cool when the sun came out. This high up you could see for miles.

peeking out from the singletrack

After a brief but failed chase of a cyclist that had passed me while I sorted my Garmin out, it was right onto Salters Lane and I was now descending to Hailes and trying not to be tempted by the teashop there. I stopped to soak up the amazing view as I descended. A cyclist was pushing his bike back up the other way. It’s a superb downhill but a long arduous climb. Noted for future attempts. It would make a great hill climb event. Steep, long and open.

Descent to Hailes. A great view and a great climb the other way

In Hailes I took a right and couldn’t resist a pic of the beautiful church before the wide, rocky but steady climb. The early parts are all under cover before the track opens up and rolls back onto tarmac past some houses at the top. Not as steep as I expected but a long one nonetheless. All this climbing was hard work.

No rest for the wicked

Back onto tarmac I rode back to where I popped out of the bushes and stayed on a grippy road back to the top of Stanway Hill, crossed my route again and enjoyed a car-free, super-fast descent on the open road before a right to Stanton which is your quintessential Cotswold village full of picture postcard houses.

Stanway House. No one was in.

The climb up Stanton was very hard and a real test of my skills. The road rolls up to a pub called The Mount just to give it that mountain flavour and the track bears right up a ridiculously steep track with steps to negotiate (which I did! skillz!) to a gate. The first 20-30m after the gate were just too steep and rocky to even ride so I shouldered the bike and got going again further up. I was struggling to roll my first gear of 40×40. Narrow and very rocky it was a pretty technical climb. A couple walked past me going down the other way seemingly in disbelief saying well done as they gave way. I could hardly murmur a thank you back.

Over the top I was crossing my route again, this time back up the byway to the farm and left in the dirty yard onto another bridleway. Annoying this one because it had gates every 100m. After this the descent to Laverton I’d plotted was probably more technical than the climb out of Stanton. Testing even for an MTB. Steep, narrow, rocky, some big rocks, some small drop offs and a stream running down it too. It tested all my skills and my arms and wrists weren’t happy at the bottom either. I wish I’d turned my camera on as it got a bit sketchy at times but I made it down fine and gave myself a big pat on the back. Still got it. I’ve not ridden anything that technical in years yet alone on a gravel bike.

Cotswolds escarpment done, I now had a flat ride across the Vale to Bredon Hill and my final test. Two ascents of this monolith which I see every day on the M5. Through Dumbleton, yet another picture perfect village, I crossed the A46 (death trap) and rode up to Ashton-under-Hill and climbed upto another farm yard and a bridleway which took me literally straight up onto the top. The first section was very rocky and I struggled with traction but out of that and onto the grass it was just a grind past the sheep looking at me bemused.

are you Baa-my?

Through yet another gate, the bridleway trickles around the edge at the top still gaining height on the edge of a field before it levels off and you can ride to the tower. Up here it was windy but the best views of the day.

I knew today was going to be a tough one so I’d given myself a bail out if I needed. Straight off the top and back to base without dropping down the other side and riding back round and over the top. But me been me I just kept pedalling. The descent was rough in places. My arms, wrists, shoulders, back and neck were all sore but who cares eh?

Malvern Hills in the distance taken from the tower

The road out of Lower Westmancote was welcome but the climb back into Kemerton, even on the road, was a grind and the first time my legs were saying no more.

I dropped a bollock climbing back onto the hill. For some reason I climbed over a gate and climbed through a field of long grass, sheep, cows and shit before realising I just needed to stay on the lane I was on. I got back on it and literally ground out the last of what I had to get to the top on a bridleway that edged the fields going up. It was a long one, straight up again and seemed to go on forever.

too knackered to keep the phone camera still

All my climbing done it was just another stupidly steep descent back to Elmley Castle through more gates and then just roads back into Evesham town for the last few km.

Back at the van it was now hot and I was proper knackered. 4hrs+ and 80km of exploring done.

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