Stow On The Wold, Cotswolds

16th - 18th March 2007

[1 - The Cycle] 


My very good Hungarian friend, Zoltan, who had been in Germany for the last 8 years, shortly to return to his hometown, Budapest, had for some time been wanting to fly over to the UK for one last 'fling', prior to taking over his new job. I had planned to take the Friday off and make a long weekend of it. As things turned out, Bernard Gardner, John Adams and Tim Porter had planned to do a cycle from the Cross Hands Pub/Campsite  car park on the A44, 3 miles west of Chipping Norton, starting at 10h00. They had camped there the night before.  National Cycle route Number 40 runs through there.



Estate village of Cornwell; Our lunchtime stop at the pub in Swinbrook, for a quick pint.


I had an off-road bicycle of my own - the problem was how to organise one for Zoltan. To the rescue came the ever dependable Bob Gaskell, who offered the use of a spare bicycle of his.  And so it was that Zoltan flew over on Thursday evening 15th March from Munich to Stansted. I fetched him after work. Due in at 18h00, the flight was delayed by at least half an hour. It was cold and the fact that my car's heater and fan had recently failed on me, helped matters. We drove to via Royston to nearby Baldock to fetch the bicycles from Bob, securing mine on the hatchback style bicycle rack upon our return to Garden Walk.



Pretty lanes through Swinbrook; Rambling old limestone house, where every brick tells a story.


We had planned to set out at about 07h00 to allow enough time, my car hardly being anywhere near Formula One quality. The route was simple.  From Baldock the A507 west took one from the A1(M) across to the M1 near the fastest growing town in the UK, Milton Keynes, now fast approaching city status. From there the A421 led down to Buckingham, just a hop away across a minor road to pick up the A361 down to Chipping Norton. Zoltan navigating faultlessly meant that we made it to the campsite with 15 minutes to spare before the scheduled departure. Tim was astounded that we had made it on time, being at his most complimentary. We were all in good spirits and the landlady came out to encourage us.



Wychwood Lodge, Swinbrook, near Burford; Horses lazing in the field, Swinbrook;


Hurriedly we donned our gear and prepared our bicycles.  The plan was to stick to all quiet minor roads and lanes. This was our route south until the lunchtime break at Swinbrook near Burford. It was sunny but cool to begin with. A long downhill track from the pub took us to the estate village of Cornwell. Restored in the 1930s as a model village by a rich American, it was pretty perfect and very private. This was where we had our first bit of bad luck, with John's chain coming off and then Bernard experiencing a puncture. Then on south to Kingham with a huge village green and lots of typical sandstone houses and a beautiful church, a section of the High street had the distinctive smell of sea sand.


The "breakaway" Friday Club - Bernard, John, Tim and honoury guest Zoltan - c'est moi who took the photos.


Now it was warm and sunny.  We continued on down farm lanes skirting to the south of Milton  and Shipton under Wychwood. Then a long downhill run in a lane took us through a delightful, dramatic farming valley with few houses. Woods to left and a babbling brook to right had us ending in the perfect village of Swinbrook. Tim and I learnt not too get to far ahead of the rest of the gang after we had negotiated a huge trough in the landscape. Having ascended the long incline, I suddenly heard Tim yell something that sounded like "Gloucestershire". Bernard, John and Zoltan were nowhere to be seen! All that lay behind us was a long deserted road, so we had to turn around.



View down the High Street of Burford on the Hill; Bizarre artefacts outside Walker's Antiques, looking up the High Street. Anybody for a wild boar in Cotswolds sandstone?


Tim was later heard to say "I'm staying at the back" but his enthusiasm soon got the better of him. He was undoubtedly much fitter than the rest of us. We had lunch in a warm, sunny setting on a bench in the front of the pub by a brook, quenching our thirst with a well-earned pint.  Judging from the accents, we could tell that it was a particularly up-market location. Zoltan went off to take some photos, whilst John Adams was considering taking forty winks but changed his mind. We soon followed Zoltan and explored the village of Swinbrook with its brooks, ford church and magnificent houses.  The road coming in to the village leading down to the pub was particularly delightful, with a bed of bright yellow flowers lining the roadside. We had basically come as far south as we had intended.


Tim ambling down the High Street of Burford on the Hill.


After lunch we headed west along the flooded Windrush valley to the busy tourist town of Burford on the hill.  From here it was the return north and mostly uphill via quiet lanes but it was cooler now with greying skies. Via Taynton to avoid the main A24 and stopping in the village church at Fifield with the round tower and on to the rival village of Idbury with the square tower and larger houses.  Up to Kingham and a rest at the village green, revisiting our original outbound route. A short-cut on the way back that turned out to be a very muddy bridleway had Zoltan fuming, as he was wearing his only good jacket, causing him to push his bike up the hill. Our bicycles became caked in thick, gooey mud, which was a great pity, particularly as we had managed to keep them clean up to this last stretch. Our final return now became a long uphill track from the Cornwell estate to the Cross Hands car park. It was a most enjoyable ride with good company and only one puncture. In all we covered 36 miles involving nearly 6 hours cycling, a little too long for some?  The nice thing about it was that there was no traffic and we took in a string of very pretty and interesting quiet Cotswold villages. A good start for the "Cycling branch of the Xerox Hiking Club". We then drove to the hostel located at The Square in Stow-on-the-Wold.



Tim views the beautiful stone buildings; The bustling High Street, Burford on the Hill.



[1 - the Cycle]

[2 - The Walk]

[3 - The Walk (cont.)]

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