Head west from Broadway to discover historic English villages full of wattle and daub (black and white) houses before returning via Stanway Manor House and its impressive grounds.
Throughout my time in the Cotswolds I have been struck by the timelessness of the area, but I felt that especially on today’s ride. Cycling beside the wattle-and-daub houses of Elmley Castle I could picture a horse-drawn cart trundling up a dirt road beside me. In my research later I found a picture from 1899 where the village appeared identical – except for the odd post-box or car - to the one I had pedalled through. This continued with every village throughout today's journey. The pub and the church appeared an important focal point around which each village and its social scene revolved around, just as it has for centuries. Wwhile the outskirts of each village might have newer developments, the centre was old, and mostly unchanged.
The ride climaxes with Stanway House, a large, elegant property built in the 16th century and surrounded by acres of estate. The house and gardens were designed and built to be a spectacle; in the gardens you will find the highest single-jet fountain in Britain shooting a spout of water 300-foot into the air. (For contrast, the second highest is 121 foot, nearly a third of the height of ostentatious Stanway Fountain).
Pop into one of the village pubs during this ride; historically the pub and church has been at the centre of every village community. These pubs are centuries old and if walls could talk, I’m sure they’d have some stories!
Whilst the majority of this route takes place predominantly on rural roads, there are a few sections on busier roads - namely the first and last 2 miles via Cheltenham Road. Take extra care on these sections. Drivers are generally used to seeing cyclists so are courteous, passing slowly and giving plenty of room. Be sure that your cycling is predictable with no erratic movements, and whenever you are changing roads, communicate that with hand signals. Before turning onto a busy road, it is advisable to consult the map and read the turn-by-turn directions, so you know where you are turning off and don’t have to stop on the edge of the road to check.
There are some testing uphills and thrilling descents today, where it is tempting to let loose of the brakes and fly down; on these country roads, however, it is important to cycle expecting the unexpected and adjust your speed appropriately, so whether there is a pothole or an escaping sheep you have enough time to slow down.
Today the route crosses railway tracks. When crossing it is important you slow down and ride perpendicular (at right angles) to the railway tracks so there is no risk of your wheel slipping down a hole. If you don’t feel confident, don’t worry about getting off and walking over.
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Points of Interest
Stanway House and Fountain
Stanway House is cradled at the foot of the Cotswolds Escarpment which rises sharply behind it, lending a beautiful setting for this 16th century house. It is still inhabited today by the 13th Early of Wemyss and retains much of the original furniture from when it was built. Also on the acres of surrounding estate and gardens is the highest single-jet fountain in Britain, which shoots a 300-foot vertical jet of water.
More information available here: http://www.stanwayfountain.co.uk/the-house/
Just 100 metres from Stanway House you can visit this Mill, which has been restored to full working order, and is processing the wheat that is grown on Stanway Estate. It is only open a few days a week during peak season, so if you get the chance to visit, it is well worth it.
More information available here: http://www.stanwayfountain.co.uk/the-watermill/
Broadway Museum and Art Gallery
This museum in the centre of Broadway uncovers the history of the village and how it rose to prominence through the wool trade. Much of the success story is told through art.
More information available here: https://broadwaymuseum.org.uk/aboutus/
Food and Drink
You will find a pub where you can eat and drink in many of the villages that you pass through today, though most appear in the first half of the ride. Elmsley Castle has a nice pub, as does Beckford, Alderton and Gretton. After Gretton it becomes harder to find food until you arrive back in Broadway, where there is a large selection.
All normal cycle equipment and outdoor gear is required, including a helmet, gloves and a wind-break layer. Even if it doesn’t appear necessary ensure you bring enough warm and waterproof clothes as weather conditions can change quickly.
Padded shorts are recommended, as saddle pain takes the fun away very quickly!
This route is mostly on rural roads so be sure to bring a bottle of water and a snack in case you find yourself a long way from the shops.