A Spring Ride
by Tracey Maund
Cheltenham is beautifully placed at the foot of some of the best and biggest hills of the Cotswold scarp. Which is lovely but there are no easy ways out of Cheltenham, or rather the only easy way has been stolen by the A40. So we start our ride as usual by climbing a horribly steep hill; this time Aggs rather than Ham. Colin asks which is the less hard, thinking this wasn't as bad as he remembered, but I point out that we haven't actually got to the steep part yet. When that's done and Aggs has demonstrated its true standing in the hierarchy of nasty hills, we fork leftish and onto a bridleway. This evidently often doubles up as a streambed but it's mostly ridable except when it isn't at all. There is a motorcycle scramble area near the top and plenty of fragments of fat inner tubes and pieces of metal have been splattered here and there.
This track has very recently been "improved" to make it wide vehicle track, no doubt for access to the scramble course. Onto road that runs along the crest, and a huge view of the town, the Severn Valley, the Malverns and even further to the Clee Hills and mountains of South Wales. And onto Cleeve Common. It's a fantastic huge expanse of grass that in practice is a free-for-all for messing about on. We ride down the famous gallops - a long wide swathe of lush green grass, trending downhill, with enticing shimmering views of hills beyond. At the end we turn left onto the white-road. It's usual for this stretch to be a right mud-trap gouged into deep ruts, and rarely rideable. Today it was dry. It becomes a good stony track before long, dips downhill to the ruins of Wontley Farm and climbs up again. It turns into road at the next farm, where there are great views of Winchcombe and a great whizzy downhill to the top of Corndean lane.
Here we go right onto the road and along a stretch, downhill, until the sharp left to the track through some sheep pasture fields. There's a gate with 1000 pieces of frayed string to undo. Sheep peacefully lazing on the track go flying. Sheep droppings also go flying. There's a down and up then a bend right to head a long, fun downhill, with great views of the climb that is going to face you next.
At the bottom where there is a house or two, it's right onto a wide track. The track has been “improved” recently (2009?) and is far less fun than it used to be. Some stretch of the track is footpath only but we've never seen anyone to chase us off. After some farm building it embarks on a long climb. The steepest section, and it really is rather steep, has been tarmacked. I'm not sure what I feel about this as I used to grumble rather when it was more challenging; now I miss the challenge. There is a swanky house ahead and once at the house, the track becomes a boringly tarred drive, but it is decorated with a nice selection of narcissi in the spring. At last we reach the road near Roel Gate.
Right here then first left at Roel Gate and downhill to the next crossroads where it's straight on. This is a very pretty spot in the valley, with poplars and a handsome grand house to the right. Soon there is a left fork, with an Unsuitable For Motors sign. Twenty years ago this was a real road but it's one that the county council granted to rough-stuffers as a gift (meaning "abandoned"). It's actually not a great deal worse than other allegedly maintained Cotswold lanes. It's a nice ride along a valley in deep woods. Sharp right, then follow road to Temple Guiting; an exotic looking name for what's an unshowy and half hidden village.
Cross the main road and go through the village, down and up. Then look out for the bridleway sign on the right, just after a small village lane; the sign is barely visible. Down, then follow the obvious track up, through woods. Today it was dry but it's steep and bumpy and there's a thick carpet of leaf-stuff and I can imagine it's a bit of a pig in wetter conditions. Top of the climb, you're out of the woods follow the track through some fields to the next piece of road. I admit that this isn't terribly interesting - it's typical of the Cotswolds that away from the scarp the tops of anything are standard farmland and it's the deeply cut valleys instead that provide the scenic and riding interest.
Right, taking you past the Cotswold Farm Park and tons of cars, Hey! you forgot there could be that many cars around, we've barely seen any on our ride. The Farm Park cafe claims to be open without having to buy a Park ticket, which might be useful to a hungry cyclist. To crossroads then left, and after a while, downhill into woods. Look for the right fork, which is pretty clear and I seem to remember it being tarmac. Soon into a parky sort of place obviously swimming in a lot of money. You get a stretch of non-tar but it's pretty easy. Then a drop to the B-road to Stow.
Left here, then in the valley bottom, right onto BW that follows the stream. This will take you towards Upper Slaughter and deep into tourist picture postcard territory and there will be plenty of tourists strolling about. It is of course a nice spot along a stream but with quite a few gates. Upper Slaughter itself is richly pretty, a little bit too much and it's like being forcefed clotted cream. Extract yourself from the village onto the road above the place. You could treat yourself to lunch at the Lords of the Manor, if you weren't splattered with sheep droppings.
Right turn off the road and a drag uphill which I have a particular hate for. Then left, and then right onto a track, not signposted as far as I can remember. This becomes a cute narrow BW down into the valley, to Aston Farm, a delightful out of the way spot with pretty cottages. This is somewhere you'd never imagine was there, at the end of a dead-end, and one of the thrills of rough-stuff is stumbling across these unexpected gems. Ho, then it's uphill again. Straight over the A-road then right and drag yourself into Cold Aston for lunch.
The Plough does slightly fancier food than a cyclist might want (can I have extra extra toast, Colin asks, with his Tuscan Chicken salad).
From here the return is a standard ride for us, and a minor classic stretch of roughstuff. There's a string of long tracks in and out of valleys where you can forget all obout the existence or even the need for roads. Form Cold Aston down a good track; uphill on a more gravelly stretch and finish up on a tree-lined avenue into Turkdean. Then the track to Hazleton, a bit bumpier and potentially muddier. The farm near the end can be quite gatey. In Hazleton, first left towards the church and keep going; through the notoriously bumpy field and to Salperton. Very grand house and park, grand even for the Cotswolds. Then resort to roads back home, because I'm afraid we're tired.