Saturday, June 6
We were up and moving pretty early this morning, just so we could escape the “holiday park”! We once again packed up under grey skies (the sunny streak had ended!) and the wind was blowing at 32km/ph too, so it was very blustery for riding. Off we went and the first village we came to was just up the road, the little hamlet of South Cerney. What a picture it was! A beautiful, quaint little village and it was very little, with just rows of houses and not much else. The stone cottages and dry stone walls just created an oil painting scene, even under grey skies and in the drizzle.
We rode on and came to the village of Barnsley, another chocolate box village that just put a big grin on my face, it was so gorgeous. As we rode on, the wind still blew but the sun came out every now and again, which made things even more picturesque.
We rode along narrow country roads again, with the lovely dry stone walls beside us, the rolling green hills in the distance and the avenues of oak trees creating a ceiling of green as we rode through. As I rode behind Steve I called out, “It’s everything I hoped it would be! It’s like a dream come true!” What I was seeing, was just that! The scenes were everything I had imagined and hoped riding through the English countryside would be and I was getting the full nine course banquet of delights with a triple helping of dessert, with what England was dishing up for me in the scenery and experiences. It was simply beautiful. We stopped at the top of a hill to look across at the hills and the fields and to look at a field of wheat beside us, that was rippling in the wind like the waves of a green sea stretched out before us. Magic. As I stood there, I couldn’t help but just clap! I clapped and said, “Thank you. Thank you England. Thank you for this!” because it was so gorgeous and so special that I thought it deserved a round of applause and I stood up out of my bike seat so the round of applause could be a standing ovation!
We stopped in Cirencester, the “capital of the Cotswolds” to have a quick look around and decide how far we might ride on. I really liked Cirencester. I knew it was going to be a bigger town, not a village, but it was still quiet and even the main street was designed to keep traffic to a minimum, so it was lovely to walk through it and look at the buildings. It had a nice “feel”. We think we might return for a better look around on another day. Steve found some supplies at the bakery and then we stopped at a cafe for a cuppa before riding on. As we sat outside, with the bikes beside us, a man walked up and commented on our load. We again gave a brief description of where we were from and what we were doing and we said we were now riding through the Cotswolds. He looked at us with something like a “do you know what you’re in for?” expression and then gestured a rolling up and down motion with his hand. He was clearly nonverbally warning us about the “Cotswold hills”!
“Yes,” we said, “we’ve heard about the hills. We’ve ridden through Devon and Dorset, so maybe that was our hill training for the Cotswolds!”
He laughed and wished us well and hoped we had a good holiday. Another pleasant chat with a local, all initiated by the sight of our bikes!
The next perfect scene came as we rode past a gravel drive that led up to a big, historic house and the drive was lined with a row of trees. Under the trees stood two beautiful grey horses and they stopped and stood and looked at us. It was a perfect scene – two gorgeous horses, quietly standing under the trees, with dry stone walls enclosing the field. A storybook scene!
We soon came to a campsite that was one of our options for the day. We hadn’t ridden far, only 27km, but the wind was blowing and we were looking for a site that may be a little more rural or rustic and less “holiday park”. This one had camping in fields and a designated “glade” that offered camping away from the cars and surrounded by woodland. We decided to stop and see if they had a pitch for us. When the man was telling us about their camping, he also mentioned their “shepherd’s huts” which were also in the “glade”. He took us for a look and the three little huts sat up on the hill and were just tiny little wooden huts, not much bigger than a tent, so a bit like a wooden tent really. “Let’s do it,” said Steve. So we settled in to our little hut and while the wind blew and the rain started again, it was quite nice to sit in a little hut and have a rest from the weather. It wasn’t long before it actually turned absolutely freezing! It was already chilly, but the wind just turned icy cold and Steve layered up in puffer jackets and each time he ventured outside, he came back into the hut with a loud, “Brrrrrrr, it’s freeeeeezing out there!” I know it’s cold when he says it’s cold! I can’t trust my own body thermometer because I feel the cold constantly, so for Steve to complain of the cold, it was cold! With that icy wind, the little shepherd’s hut gave us some shelter and a small measure of comfort and gave the little tent a rest from having to hold on bravely in the strong winds. Steve actually rode in four layers today, he felt that chilly. I tried to toughen up and I only rode in one long sleeve shirt and a vest and I wasn’t cold, so I’m trying to recalibrate by personal thermometer.
We decided to rug up and take a stroll into the nearby village of Northleach. I donned my thermal, fleece and two puffer jackets, so as to again resemble a cross between the Michelin man and a telly-tubby! We walked up the road and then down one of the “public footpaths” which was simply a dirt path through a field, then down a farm lane and out onto the road into Northleach. Northleach was another gorgeous, seemingly untouched little village. It reminded me a bit of Lacock because it was so small and the houses and buildings were original, without development or extensions or new additions. It was lovely. The village square was nothing more than a post office, small village store, bakery, a cafe and a pub. The cars that were parked in the village square though, were Audis, Mercedes, BMWs and Volvos, nothing “olde worlde” there! I read where the property prices in Northleach can be up to two million pounds! So it may be a small, quaint and out of the way village, but I guess those are the features that attract people that have a spare mill floating around to pay for the unspoiled village experience!
We called into the village store and Steve spotted something that was an unexpected and welcome discovery! At home Steve drinks bottles and bottles of Bundaberg ginger beer and whenever we travel he’s always in search of a ginger beer that equals it and, apart from one we found in Maine, he hasn’t been able to find what he considers a good ginger beer. Well, what did we see in that tiny little village store in that tiny little village of Northleach? Bundaberg ginger beer! Yep, the genuine article, fair dinkum, ridgy didge, made in Bundaberg Queensland, ginger beer! Who’d have thought! We also noticed that half the wines on sale in there were Australian too, so maybe the little store is owned by a rich ex-pat! So Steve had his bottle of familiar ginger beer, which he wanted marked with a photo beside the historic village wool church, so he had a photo of, as he described it, “a historic moment marked at a historic location!”
We had a look around the church, which was a lovely 15th century building and in its day received large donations from wealthy wool merchants, hence being called the “wool church”. In fact the image depicted in the window shows one of the wool merchants in the corner of the window, holding the church and offering it to God! That particular wool merchant was one of the church’s biggest donors, so there he is now, remembered for all time with his own image in the church’s stained glass window!
We roamed back along the lanes and fields to our little hut and walked past the campers in their tents wearing t-shirts and some were out sun baking! I tell you what, I am so impressed with the hardy Brits! Weather does not deter them from enjoying their outdoor experiences! There we were, in our multiple layers of fleece and puff and we were freezing and there they were, baring skin and going about their weekend camping oblivious to the fact that it was freezing cold! We looked at them and muttered, “This is not summer weather! Why are you in t-shirts!?” I know why…because they are hardy and fearless in the face of the elements and we are complete sooky la-la’s!!
Today was another day of falling in love with gorgeous scenery, delightful villages and having my dreams of the English countryside realised right before my eyes! We didn’t encounter anything we would call a “hill” as such, so the warning we received, so far wasn’t necessary. There were some uphill climbs but in the grand scheme of things, they weren’t much at all. It was just a nice ride, even if it was cold, with blowing wind and grey skies, but the sun did peek out occasionally, so that was good. We continue our ride through the Cotswolds tomorrow and we are searching for somewhere to base ourselves so we can explore some more of the villages. On we go..three cheers for the English countryside and villages…round of applause! Bravo! Bravo!
Sunday, May 7
There were no bleating sheep to wake us in our little shepherd’s hut, just the twittering of birds. Another chilly morning, but the sun was shining again! We packed up and set off riding, first to get to a town or village that had wifi (our campsite did not) or at least phone reception so we could use 3G (our campsite didn’t even have phone reception) so we could find somewhere to stay tonight. The next main village was Bourton-on-the-Water, which we hadn’t intended staying in because we’d been told it was very touristy, so we thought we’d pass through and head on to another smaller, quieter village, but it would have to be our next stop to hopefully pick up a signal or wifi in order to find another place to go!
We rode along the narrow country roads again, back through the village of Northleach and then beyond, up some hills. Yes, the Cotswolds delivered a few hills this morning! As we wheeled down one hill, gaining momentum to power up the hill on the other side, a couple of road cyclists whizzed alongside. One of them turned to me, gave a thumbs up and said, “We are so cheating aren’t we!” I laughed. Yes, I guess when it comes to climbing hills, they did indeed have it a whole lot easier than us!
On we went and finally rolled into the village of Bourton-on-the-Water. This village is known as the “Venice of the Cotswolds” for no reason other than it has a river running through it and some tiny little bridges going over it. It was indeed very busy, very touristy and not the sort of village we would normally choose to stop in. Nevertheless, needs must and we sat on a bench by the river, discovered we had a phone signal so began searching for campsites. We really needed to find somewhere with wifi. It’s been next to impossible to find campsites that have wifi, which has been somewhat frustrating. The only places we’ve really had wifi have been hotels or sometimes the bigger caravan parks, the little farm or forest campsites we tend to like definitely don’t have it. We sat and searched for sites in various villages in the Cotswolds and came up with a big fat zero each time. They either didn’t have wifi or they didn’t accept tents or they were for caravan club members only. In the end we had to search for hotels and guest houses and again had trouble because they all cost three times our daily budget, just for one night. We went back and forth between hanging the expense and staying somewhere nice, just for the wifi, or doing without wifi again. We really needed internet though because we now have some idea of where we need to head in order to meet up again with Steve’s mum and dad, so we needed internet access to plan our forward route. Finally, we found a relatively budget friendly guesthouse that was located…right around the corner from where we were sitting! Hmmmm, did we want to stay here with the crowded street and coach loads of tourists? Not much choice at this point! We tried to book the room online and it wouldn’t accept our details, so we walked around to just front up at the door and try our luck.
As soon as we left the high street, the village became a lot more peaceful and village like. I began to feel like this wasn’t such a bad spot to stay after all. We arrived at the guest house and I waited with the bikes while Steve went in to enquire. While I was standing there, a man, obviously someone working at the guesthouse, walked up to me.
“Hello my dear, can I help?”
“We were hoping to get a room. We tried booking online…”
“But you had difficulties?”
“Yes, it wouldn’t accept our postcode.”
“Were you looking for a room for tonight?”
“I’ve got one for you!”
All this occurred with this lovely, smiling, friendly man, who spoke in such an open faced, wide eyed, welcoming fashion, that I immediately felt like we had made the right decision and this was the place to stay. He also turned out to be the owner. After speaking to me, he went in and found Steve and I heard Steve laughing, so he was obviously having a nice friendly conversation with him too.
The two of them returned to where I was standing and here’s the conversation. This is probably too much trivial information, but he was so lovely, that this conversation and meeting him has immediately become another tour highlight, so I feel the need to share it!
“It’s so lovely to meet you. So are you touring the Cotswolds?”
We explained what we were doing.
“Oh, I’m so jealous. How marvellous. Of course it means you can enjoy so much food! You can eat anything because you must be losing weight constantly. You can have cake! And chocolate! The car over there is leaving today, we can park your bikes there if that’s suitable for you. The room’s not ready but you’re welcome to leave the bikes here and when the car moves I’ll wheel them over to that space, if you’re happy with that. You can sit here in the sun or if you want to go for a walk around the village, there are pubs and cafes along the river. The bikes and your bags will be perfectly safe, we don’t have any crime here, we have CCTV but we don’t need it. Here’s your key, your room is up the stairs on the right. When you go in, you’ll see some curtains. They’re just for decoration. If you look past them you’ll see the blind! You’ll also see a kettle and tea and coffee on a table and if you pull the drawer in the table open, that’s where you’ll find… the hairdryer! It’s not something I ever see myself needing again. Well, it’s so nice to meet you. Thank you for coming. Do enjoy your stay. Help yourself to the guest lounge and if there’s anything you need or you have any questions I’ll be around here and please ask. So nice to meet you.”
That’s basically what happened. That all came from the lovely man, barely without drawing breath, with the quip about his hair (he was a bit bare on top!) and the hairdryer delivered with such deadpan humour and his explanations of the blind and the hairdryer were given in a wide-eyed,“how about that” tone of voice, almost as if he were telling us about a secret place in which we would discover amazing riches! Steve said he reminded him of Alan Carr Chatty Man and yes, there were some similarities. He absolutely flew off the scale of friendliness, helpfulness and all round loveliness. He was just a delightful man.
While we waited for the room to be ready, we strolled back into the village to begin our new tradition. We’ve decided from now on, wherever we are on a Sunday, we’re going to have an English pub lunch. So that’s what we did! We sat outside in the sun and Steve enjoyed his steak and ale pie and I had my jacket potato and beans and it was all most enjoyable. We’ve decided that when the English don’t go to the seaside for their weekend, they all go to Bourton-on-the-Water! The village was absolutely full to capacity with people sitting by the river, walking the streets, enjoying the tea shops and pubs and of course partaking in the great British pastime of eating ice cream!
Once we’d settled in, we walked along the quieter streets and the village grew on me. I’d had my reservations, since it was so busy and touristy, but it also has its charm. We went for an evening stroll and as we were walking down the street near the guesthouse, a lady came down the street in a little trap pulled by a small pony. How gorgeous! Walking along a village street, with stone houses and having a pony and trap trot towards us. Delightful!
This will be our base for a couple of days and we’ve decided to be villagers and make use of village public transport! Tomorrow we’re going to catch the bus and explore some of the other villages and return to Cirencester for a longer look. It’s a bit hard to wander the villages when we have the bikes, so we will see the Cotswalds on a village bus and venture into the nearby places to roam and explore. I think it will be jolly good fun!