Day 1 Friday- Coventry to Banbury
After weeks of excitement and a busy Women’s Festival, nine of us set off on Friday morning, across familiar territory to Napton. We stopped at Dog Lane Fisheries to load up on food and take a chance to get to know each other, as riders came from our different Tuesday, Sunday and Wednesday rides. We compared panniers and bags and the contents of our packing, wondering if we had enough clothes given the scary weather forecast for the 3 days ahead.
The next part of the route was unknown to most of us as we climbed further above the valley that holds the Oxford Canal and a small tributary of the Cherwell, which flows from Boddington Reservoir, and looks across to the Dassett Hills and Edgehill. We paused at Wormleighton to explore the deserted medieval village in the meander of the canal and Marina told us the history of the Tudor Manor House in the present village.
The road to Cropedy was delightfully quiet as we passed through Claydon and Clattercote and we could ride and chatter in the peaceful sunshine. We got to the teashop in Cropedy just before it closed, to have our first session on the tour of “Tea and Cake”. The final leg of the day took us across the A361, getting busier on Friday afternoon, in to the lovely Oxfordshire village of Chacombe and then back across on a small section of the NCR into the north east of Banbury. The very busy traffic at the roundabout on the inner ring road slightly shattered our idyllic afternoon and we were somewhat relieved to reach our Premier Inn close by. A meal on site was welcome and an early night.
Day 2 Saturday – Banbury to Evesham
This was another fine day and after foraging for breakfast in the centre of Banbury we had photo opportunities along side Banbury Cross and the Fine Lady on a White Horse. (Yes the statue exists!) We then left on the Broughton road and picked out several stretches of back roads through to Shipston on Stour. I think this was my favourite section of the tour, in terms of scenery. There were many fields of wheat ready for harvest and as well as borage, grown in contoured lines around the hillsides. The villages were beautiful and travelling on the south side of the hills between the Cherwell and Stour Valleys we got the full sun warming us as we eased through the ripening countryside. My favourite spot was Traitors Ford Lane, near Sibford Gower, where we dared and cajoled each other to cycle across the flowing stream. We had great fun on this tour and I think photos of this moment in particular, capture that spirit. Apparently the ford may have been “Traders Ford”, due to the nearby old trading route, or Traitors Ford due to the close-by site of executions of Parliamentarians in the English Civil War. The history of this place is well concealed on this quiet back road.
The road from Shipston to Chipping Camden was less challenging than I expected, following the B4035 on the south side of the Illmington -Camden hills. The team managed the rolling hills with confidence and we eased into Chipping Camden, still feeling a bit full from our morning eats. We lazed on the green, next to the Cornmarket and studied the old houses and the bustle of a Saturday morning in this Northern-most Cotswold town. The ride down to Mickleton was a fast flight down, with one or two spots of rain as we passed through Nineveh Bridge. We were at last in the Vale of Evesham, and able to dawdle through some lovely Worcestershire villages. Terry suggested we visit the Fleece at Bretforton, supposedly the oldest pub in England. We had a cheeky unplanned drink there, before cruising into Evesham. We got to the Premier Inn which was a good mile out of town in the Country Park. All the routes and stops had gone really well on the tour until we realised the meal venue that night, which was only a mile way, was on the other side of the river and there were no nearby bridges!! Our WhatsApp message said “shall we swim or get an Uber?’ Janet quickly sorted out taxis, which helped us to have a very enjoyable evening by the river at Offenham.
Day 3 Sunday – Evesham to Coventry
On Sunday the energy was still strong and we made a rapid ride across the valley floor to Welford for brunch. Here we met Libby’s Husband Ian, and said goodbye to him and Libby who were off to Cornwall. The weather still held for us all the way home, across hillier but more familiar territory for some of us. We stopped at known favourite places in Wootten Wawen and Hatton, for more Tea and Cake.
We were so fortunate! The weather forecast was blessedly wrong and we hardly had a spot of rain. We were well prepared for the journey and so were our bikes. There was a lot of sharing of cycling experiences and expertise and we felt a real team of supportive and capable riders, keen and ready to start talking about our next adventures.
Here are some of the comments flying around on our Whatsapp group afterwards.
“My favourite question of the week ‘ we could swim across or get a Uber’ – makes me laugh every time I think about it ! Learning about the Four All’s and the history of Wormleighton was fascinating. How many people in Banbury looked totally lost because Weatherspoons was shut & then watching Julie and Ema making the most of their DIY avocado breakfast.”
“Finally just thought it wonderful how the leaders and everyone essentially, looked out for one another all the way through whether it was en route or back at the hotel or sharing information and knowledge here to make sure we all had a good tour”
“ ….learning about the disappearing villages and history lesson from Marina. Thank you Marina. I never knew about that. All the wonderful stops we had, cake and tea and food. Getting tips about swarfega and sudacrem and comparing all the panniers to see if we had more stuff than we needed. Thank you for watching out on the roads and being kind and thoughtful and we all cared for each other helping out as Shona said which makes it feel really special. I loved hearing stories from you all about what you have done. All the planning came together. “Standing in field in sunshine learning about mottes & baileys, Spencer family home Loved asking Jill about her global cycling – to Istanbul & many other wonderful places” “What wonderful memories we all have. Just a had good laugh over the dinner table recounting the story of the taxi or swim! Loved the impromptu stop and swift draught at the Fleece Inn. So many highlights, it is difficult to choose a favourite.”
“I enjoyed it all: cycling on new roads, the views, the beautiful buildings and the refreshment stops, incl the fishery at Napton, the bakery at Shipston and the lovely pub in Offenham. I also learnt things eg the importance of Instagram”