Let me just say this first… the fact that my bike ride through the Cotswolds wasn’t a rousing success was to no fault of the cycling company with whom I made the arrangements… they were fabulous. No, no the fault lies with me. But if you want to take this opportunity to learn from my mistakes and give it a go, you should have a fabulous time!!
A bit about the bike rental company: Cycle Cotswolds http://www.cyclecotswolds.co.uk/, in Chipping Campden, UK, is run by the lovely couple, Stefania and Peter, and they offer an entire suite of services, including bike and equipment rental, custom cycling routes, bicycle pick up and/or delivery (within a certain radius) should your journey begin and/or end somewhere other than Chipping Campden, and if you don’t feel like schlepping your bags along on your ride they’ll even give your luggage a lift and have it waiting at your destination!! May I suggest (nay, implore) that you take full advantage of ALL these services? Trust me, their value far outweighs the nominal cost. I, sadly, did not. I had decided, in advance, which villages I wanted to visit, Google mapped the distance between them to ensure I was keeping it (I thought) to about 12 to 14 miles, and asked if they could map out the best bike route. They did exactly what I’d asked. I now know I did far too much planning myself, without any real knowledge of the area. Had I told them what I was looking for, released control and allowed them to plan my trip, especially with regard to the distance and level of difficulty I was comfortable with, and let them chose my towns accordingly (because, let’s face it, they’re all beautiful!), I’m thinking these next few posts would be entirely different!! But I didn’t. Ah, well… this is how we learn!!
OK, back to my ride. The day before I left I was fitted with a bike by Peter, and he went over my route. While looking at my itinerary, I’d noticed that my second day of riding was quite long… 18.4 miles!! Peter said that they’d given me a longer route to avoid some of the busiest roads. This made good sense to me and, since I’m in pretty good shape, I didn’t think too much of the extra miles. The morning of my ride I, once again, ate an astoundingly large English breakfast (hey, come on, I needed the fuel!!), packed up, checked out, and was ready to go. Stefania gave me their emergency contact info, some last minute tips for navigating my way out of town (“you’re going to go up a big, big hill but you’ll get a great view at the top!”), and with hug, a smile, and some parting words of encouragement… she watched as I peddled away.
I was off!! Down the main street, where I’d staggered into town only two days before, delirious with jet lag, I rode like the wind... hair flying behind me!! (ok, maybe “like the wind” is a bit of an exaggeration… I was actually moving in a forward motion just fast enough that I didn’t tip over. And… my hair was in a ponytail and shoved haphazardly under my helmet, so I may have taken a bit of artistic license there, as well.) I expertly navigated the first 3 turns out of town without incident (maybe because I stopped about every 30 feet to check my map and make sure I was going the right way?) I came upon the first big hill exactly as Stefiania had described it. Wow. She was right!! That IS a big hill! Who cares!! I can do it! I was a runner for years!! I hike in the mountains!! I’m a yoga and FITNESS instructor!! I eat hills ten times this size for breakfast (well, ok, maybe I hadn't that morning, but still.) Woo HOOOOO!! I started up the hill, fueled by excitement, determination… and about three pounds of eggs, beans, coffee, sausage and bacon. As I peddled the bike up… I shifted the gears down. And down… and down…. and… wow… this is a BIG hill. But I can do it!! Only wimps, quitters, and four year olds get off and push (instant karma in three… two…) But my bike was already in first gear…. And my feet were zipping around about three times faster than the bike was moving. And it was becoming nearly impossible to continue. “Holy moly…. This is really steep!! Is there a gear below first?? How much farther is it?? I must be getting there, right??” Wrong. I wasn’t. A quick survey behind me and up ahead… I was approximately 1/16th of the way up the hill. “Are you kidding me?? OK. Maybe I should consider getting off and pushing…. Just this one time.” I got to the point where I literally couldn’t move the peddles anymore. I had to get off the bike and push. I had no choice. “Just this once”, I told myself. “I’ve only just started… I’m not even warmed up yet, really. I’m on vacation and in no hurry, so who the heck cares!?!” I got off the bike and began to push it up the hill. Thankfully, my backpack wasn’t with me. Peter was dropping it off in Guiting Power, today’s destination. After about ten minutes of walking I was nearly at the top of the hill! The view was getting spectacular up there! I was on a quiet country road surrounded by open, grassy fields. The hillsides were dotted with limestone cottages and farms, sheep lazily grazed in disjointed herds, and stone walls created softly geometric boundaries. I could see the outer edge of Chipping Campden beneath me. It was truly beautiful. An occasional car sped past and I would give them a quick wave and a smile which was nearly always returned. I was happy. I was living out my dream!! I was about to crest the first hill of my mini biking tour of the Cotswolds… and I was doing it all by myself!! I reached the top of the hill and there were glorious, sweeping views in all directions!! Well… almost all directions… all but one. That would be the direction directly in front of me. I had not reached the top of the hill. I had reached the top of the first bump of the hill. It was not, however, the last. This was a big damn hill. One of my maps said this was 12.3 mile trip and would take me 1 hour 5 minutes, total. I was about 20, or so, minutes in and had gone about a mile… maybe a little more. Hmmmm…
Eventually I did reach the top of that hill and was rewarded with several miles of glorious, gentle, peddle-free coasting, down the other side!! The rest of my ride that morning was mostly uneventful, albeit rather challenging. With the navigating tips Stefania had given me I was, thankfully, able to find my way without too much trouble… but I REALLY had to pay attention. I stopped and got out my map at, literally, every turn. Nearly all the turns and intersections I encountered were only marked with signs pointing in various directions. Each sign had the name of a different town, and the number of miles to it. By locating each of those towns on the map, I could ascertain where I was. I quickly found that it was just as helpful to make sure that I was heading away from the towns in the “wrong” direction as it was that I was heading toward the towns in the “right” direction. I rarely found roads marked with street names, nor did I find signs with the name of my “destination” town until I was within two to three miles of it… but when I did I always let out a big cheer in celebration… and relief!!
As I neared Guiting Power, I did become a bit confused with my directions and believe I may have been on the wrong road, but a local man out for a late morning walk was kind enough to stop and help me. He got me headed in the right direction and assured me that I was only about two miles away and I’d find my little village without any trouble. He was correct. The road toward the village was truly breathtaking. I did have to climb another big hill but when I reached the top I could see for miles!! As I stopped and looked out in the distance I could see Guiting Power (at least I HOPED it was Guiting Power), nestled in the valley on the other side of the hill, just about a mile away. I was so relieved. It had been a long ride and the hills were much larger than I anticipated, the navigation was more challenging than I anticipated, and… how shall I put this delicately… the robust aroma of some of the sheep farms and the freshly fertilized Spring fields were far more frequent and, shall we say, “intense” than I anticipated!!
As I’d mentioned, one of my maps said that the journey from Chipping Campden to Guiting Power was 12.3 miles and would take me 1 hour and 5 minutes, total. However, without taking any breaks, and only stopping to check my map, it took me… just over 3 hours. NAILED IT!!
The village of Guiting Power in the Northern Cotswolds was beyond description. It’s located in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire on the slopes of the Widrush River valley (thus, the hills) and has a population of around 300. What it lacked in size it more than made up for in beauty. It was as if I’d ridden into a living, breathing postcard. Part of the attraction, for me, was that it was so quiet and serene, and I attribute that, partially, to being there off season. I easily found the inn, got checked in, and settled into my room. I had a fantastic meal in the pub, then set out on foot, late in the afternoon, to roam around the town. I was able to take my time… wandering around and taking pictures to my heart’s content, and I was able to do it in a couple of hours. I was really tired and only there for one night so I found that to be ideal. I do wish I could have explored the local market but, because it was Sunday, it was closed… and I would be gone in the morning before it opened. My loss.
I stayed at the Hollow Bottom Inn http://www.hollowbottom.com/ and I absolutely loved it!! It’s home to a pub that serves the most incredible local fair and I was fortunate enough to be there for their traditional Sunday dinners. Clearly proud of their horse racing history and their connection with The Cheltenham Races, the pubs décor pays homage to this rich history. As a former equestrian, I spent my entire meal entranced by the racing silks and newspaper articles lovingly framed on the walls, and by pictures of some of the most gorgeous thoroughbreds I’d ever seen! I, simultaneously, found myself being fully absorbed into the warmth and conviviality of this place and, although I was alone, I felt anything but. The food was delicious, the staff and the patrons were all so very friendly and engaging, my room was cozy, clean, sunny and inviting… the village was picture perfect and it’s residents were welcoming and, in my experience, extremely funny!! In case you can’t tell… I really liked it!
The day was over and night had fallen. I was tired, I was fed, I’d checked in with my friends and family on Facebook, and I’d exchanged my daily emails and had my nightly phone call with my charming, French tour guide (whom I’d previously met in LA, and with whom I was becoming quite close) about the days adventure, my upcoming arrival in Paris and, as always, I received a big dose of encouragement and moral support. The bike ride was far more challenging than I expected, but I did it. I was happy. I sunk into the great big bathtub for a long, hot soak, made my way to bed and, that night, I slept like a rock. In the next 24 hours I would discover this was a very, very good thing because, man oh, man… was I gonna need it!! I had a long ride ahead of me the next day and, although I didn’t know it at the time, todays ride was, far and away, my easiest…
What's the biggest lesson, and/or the best mistake, you've learned on vacation?? I'd love to hear your comments below!!
If you enjoy this blog and my photos, please "Like" below and share the link!! Thanks!! Safe and happy travels!! ~Amie~
"I'VE LEARNED SO MUCH FROM MY MISTAKES
I'M THINKING OF MAKING A FEW MORE."