In May 2021, we cycled Oxford to Bath through the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the southwest of England. In this article, I’ll share some thoughts and practical tips as well as photos from the route.
We booked our self-guided cycle trip through Headwater who set us up with a local operator, Hikes and Bikes. We were given route information beforehand and Headwater has an app for navigation. However, we really love the Komoot app, so we plotted the routes into Komoot and used that on the way. The 24-gear bikes were provided with a side pannier and two locks and were fine for the route, which is mostly quiet roads and trails.
My husband, Jonathan, is an experienced cyclist and very comfortable on a bike. I haven’t been on a bike for several years and am definitely not bike fit, so it was a little challenging in parts, even though it’s not a very hilly route. Headwater rated it 1+, generally relaxing with some hills.
If you are not bike fit at all, then consider an e-bike, which are becoming very common and help you up the hills. I would definitely consider one next time and they are a great idea if one person is less bike-experienced than the other as both can enjoy the trip more.
In late May 2021, the pandemic restrictions had been eased enough to stay away from home. We spent most of the day outside and you could forget the pandemic even existed in the sun with the birdsong and the trees around you! At the accommodation, shops, and restaurants along the way, we wore masks and sanitized as per regulations.
Oxford to Woodstock following the canal
We stayed at The Oxford Coach and Horses which was lovely. The host, Sylvia, is very welcoming and friendly and the room was much bigger than expected, cool and quiet, even though it’s on the main road. In terms of restaurants, check out Gee’s or Quod. You can use the Open Table app to find other places in Oxford.
For more of my thoughts on Oxford (as I went to University there 1994-1997), check out Decadence, Discipline, and Dreaming Spires.
After a safety briefing and bike introduction with Andrew at Hikes and Bikes, we set off. It is a short cycle through town to the canal where you go off the road. The previous few days had seen heavy rain so the towpath was muddy which made it a bit hard-going at times, but the route is beautiful and peaceful along to Port Meadow.
You soon reach the ruins of Godstow Abbey, a medieval nunnery dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539.
Get off the bike and walk when close to canal boat moorings. Use your bell a lot especially near bridges and other people.
We stopped for a coffee break on a canal lock. I always take a flask just in case there are no coffee shops on the route. I am a bit of a caffeine addict in the mornings! There are lots of pubs on the route which usually open at 12 noon. It’s best to book if it’s the weekend or a Bank Holiday.
The route is mostly flat but it was pretty bumpy. Definitely wear your padded cycle shorts!
In Woodstock, we stayed at The Blenheim Buttery, which was pretty basic but functional for the night. There are plenty of pubs for food.
Woodstock to Burford
At Woodstock, you can visit Blenheim Palace, which you need to book in advance. It is the seat of the Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill. You can visit his grave at St Martin’s church in Bladon just down the road.
There are lots of churches along the route and there’s always a bench to sit and rest.
One of the highlights of the day is Minster Lovell. Follow the signs to the church and in the field behind, you will discover the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall. You can just wander around as it’s free to visit.
It was the centre of the Lovell family estate from the 12th century.
It’s a short cycle into the village. Minster Lovell has some beautiful thatched cottages, which are a feature of the area.
There is also an excellent pub, The Old Swan, where we sat outside and had lunch and a drink in the sun. It was a gorgeous day’s ride in truly beautiful countryside.
The church of St John the Baptist, Burford, is surprisingly large and worth a visit even to walk in the grounds.
In Burford, we stayed at Greyhounds, which was remarkable for its eccentricity and attention to detail. We had a beautiful garden room with a four-poster bed and the room and separate bathroom across the hall were packed with everything you could possibly need, including lots of books and magazines as well as snacks, teas, and coffees.
The huge garden out the back is gorgeous if you have time to linger and the host, Michael, has some fascinating stories … It’s just off the main street with lots of independent shops and we had a lovely dinner at The Angel.
Burford to Bibury
This was a beautiful ride! Lots of little churches …
Quiet roads with good surfaces for easy cycling …
We had lunch on a stone wall in a green valley.
Lacy cow parsley in the hedgerows, bright yellow rapeseed in the fields …
In Bibury, we stayed at Cotteswold House which was lovely. A modern room with everything you need and a short walk down hill to the village. We ate local trout for dinner at The Catherine Wheel just down the road, which was excellent.
Bibury to Cirencester and on to Westonbirt
Fairford has a lovely church and an excellent bakery, Lynwood & Co, so definitely buy your coffee, cakes and sandwiches here. There is a public toilet but you need 20p, difficult in pandemic times!
This part of the route ducks out of the Cotswolds for a stretch, but you do cycle through the Cotswold Water Park, which is an area of lakes you can explore with lots of facilities if you want to stop.
We stayed at The Old Brewhouse, just a short walk from the centre. We had dinner at Teatro in Cirencester, which was excellent.
Cirencester to Westonbirt
After cycling out through town and a short road section, it’s back into the Cotswolds with its distinctive stone buildings and beautiful landscape.
We stopped for lunch at The Wild Carrot at Chavenage, very popular with cyclists with lots of places to park your bike, delicious food, coffee, and ice cream as well as facilities. (You can always go to the toilet if you stop for coffee/food on the way, but often, I just went at the edge of a field along the way. We hardly saw anyone!)
You can also visit Chavenage House, used as a set in the Poldark TV series.
Cycle on to Tetbury, which has lots of independent shops, coffee and restaurants. You can park in the bike area of the car park near St Mary the Virgin church.
Since it was pandemic times, they had an appropriate sign at the door.
It’s a short cycle ride to Westonbirt from Tetbury village.
Westonbirt to Bath
In Westonbirt, we stayed at The Hare and Hounds, where the dinner was excellent. It’s a short distance to Westonbirt Arboretum, which is always worth a visit, and particularly beautiful in the autumn when the maples are aflame.
As we live locally, we cycled back in one morning (as it’s only about 30km) but the official tour stopped in Castle Combe for the night. It’s a beautiful ride back to Bath.
I recommend cycling back along the Kennet and Avon canal path. Just use your bell a lot as it’s popular with walkers!
One of the wonderful things about going on an active holiday is the rest in between cycling days and also the relief of coming home and not cycling! We had an excellent holiday but it’s good to be home again. We definitely recommend Headwater and Hikes and Bikes if you want to do a similar trip.
For articles and podcast episodes on Bath, check out:
- Druids, Freemasons, and Frankenstein. The Darker Side of Bath, England
- The Hidden Side of Strange and Unusual Bath, England
- Walk the Kennet and Avon Canal from Bath Spa to Bradford-on-Avon
For podcast episodes on cycling, check out: