Cycling vacations in the Cotswolds

“All of our routes in the Cotswolds have been put together by people who actually live there – Phillipa and Martin, for instance” explains Harvey Downard, head of our vacation partner Cycling for Softies. “They’re a retired couple who are also parents of one of the members of our sales team. They know the area really well and have a great understanding of where to go to avoid the summer crowds. It’s this level of local expertise that allows us to work closely with independent businesses, including hotels, and provide an experience that’s mutually beneficial for both visitors and locally owned businesses.”

It’s not too hard to peel back the chocolate box facade of the Cotswolds and discover real life underneath. Overtourism in summer, especially, is one issue that causes issues for local residents and this feeds into the routes put together by Cycling for Softies. Country lanes and car parks around beauty spots, market town high streets will often be backed up with queues of cars during July and August. It’s good news for the outdoor supplies stockists and quaint tea rooms but for anyone trying to just get from A to B, it can be a right pain.
You can avoid adding to the crowds by getting on your bike and following the advice of people like Phillipa and Martin. A tailor made cycling vacation in the Cotswolds encourages visitors to explore and to rediscover the beauty that made this region such a big draw in the first place. The joy of being on a bike is that you can pedal right on past popular villages such as Bampton and Bourton-on-the-Water if there are one too many bees around the honey pot. Also, as you’re not traveling by car, you won’t have to spend hours searching for a parking spot.

Cycling allows you to stay in smaller out-of-the-way places that larger tour groups rarely reach. This gives you an opportunity to explore and get to know a place on foot after a morning spent in the saddle. You could even book a spa treatment or cooking class, or just while away an afternoon at the village pub. Some coach tours won’t even stay overnight in the Cotswolds. This means that local people rarely benefit from their presence… apart from the souvenir shops springing up on the Downtown Abbey circuit.

Where to cycle in the Cotswolds

The best routes take you away from coach tour itinerary stops and into the countryside: “Our cycling routes in the Cotswolds take you to places that you wouldn’t experience by coach,” says Harvey. “There are a couple of popular locations that we do recommend but even then our route just passes through these villages. The great thing about being on a bike is that you can just leave if a place is too crowded. Often you’ll find equally beautiful countryside scenes just down the road from busy areas, but you’d never know they existed if you weren’t able to explore by bike.”

And if you only had one day? “There’s a great circular cycling route that takes you alongside the River Windrush before opening out into the countryside as you pass by a handful of small villages and over a couple of hills – no problem on an e-bike. These tracks take you through quintessential Cotswolds scenes, including a couple of the region’s best known villages: Bourton-on-the-Water and Lower Slaughter. If you only had one day of cycling in the Cotswolds, this would be the route that I’d advise you to take.”

Tailor made vs independent cycling vacations

Of course, it’s easy to grab a bike and cycle in the Cotswolds – but you’ll be surprised at how a little local knowledge can go a really long way. Following trails that have been tried and tested by cycling enthusiasts from the local area is one key benefit of booking a tailor made tour. Not only will gradients and distances have been plotted in advance, but route notes will also include the locations of independently owned pubs and lesser-known villages like Coln St Aldwyns and Bibury.

Cyclists on a tailor made tour can also meet the people that planned the route before setting off. This is a great opportunity to ask questions and build confidence so you can pedal off without worrying about where you’re going.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about England cycling or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Get on your e-bike

A cycling vacation on an electric bike is a great way to take steeper gradients like Cleeve Hill in Gloucestershire in your stride. Tailor made cycling tours will use local e-bike rental companies for their expert local knowledge and top quality safety gear and equipment.

Electric bikes help you experience the freedom of cycling outdoors, but with the added enjoyment of pedal power so you don’t feel out of puff. You can cycle longer distances and arrive back to your B&B ready to explore, not ready to conk out. If you haven’t tried an e-bike before, the best way to describe it is that it’s like getting a gentle push which stops whenever you stop pedalling.

Best time to cycle in the Cotswolds

You can cycle in the Cotswolds on a self guided tour all year round. However, be aware that many of the honeypot villages such as Bourton-on-the-Water and Lower Slaughter can become exceptionally busy during July and August.

Cycle outside of summer, and the Cotswolds is a lot less crowded. The end of September and October are ideal months for comfortable temperatures and discovering autumnal foliage in Wychwood Forest, Cleeve Common and Cranham Wood, for instance.

Spring is slightly cooler but no less rewarding, with wildflowers and newborn lambs making dreamy countryside scenes to cycle past.

Winter will be dark and damp. There isn’t much daylight to enjoy, but there are plenty of cosy log fires in village pubs to sit beside with a bowl of soup after a few hours in the saddle.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: John Dancy] [Intro: Vieve Forward] [Where to cycle: Uniq Trek] [Tailor made vs independent: Des Blenkinsopp ] [Best time to cycle in the Cotswolds: Ivy Barn]