RCUKTravel: Staycation in the Cotswolds
The best of British in a cycling-specific package
by George Scott
This month on RoadCyclingUK we will be featuring some of the world's most well-known cycling hotspots: the French Alps, Majorca and Italy among them.
Iain Bailey, a long-time hotelier and self-confessed born-again cyclist, hopes to add the Cotswolds to the list of must-visit destinations.
Bailey has run The Ormond at Tetbury, a 15-room hotel in the picturesque Gloucestershire village of Tetbury, since 2005 and this year started Cotswold Cycling Breaks, which offers cycling-specific packages based at the hotel.
Bailey believes he is the only hotelier in the country to offer a fully integrated package for riders. "Most hotels or B&Bs say they're cycling friendly but then just provide a shed to lock your bike in," he says.
"A cycling holiday where every detail had been thought of, in a gorgeous location, didn’t seem to exist in the UK - and that’s when Cotswold Cycling Breaks was born."
I hot-footed it from London to Tetbury to sample the Cotswolds Cycling Breaks experience.
Riders can book a stay that is as short or long as they like, staying in the superbly appointed hotel, with comfortable beds, modern and recently refurbished rooms and a fine restaurant which, during my visit, was packed with Tetbury residents and tourists alike enjoying the excellent, locally-sourced food.
The package includes a cooked breakfast each morning and a two-course evening meal but what sets Bailey's operation apart is the attention to detail. Riders are provided with two SIS Hydrate powders, an SIS GO energy bar and an SIS Recovery bar every morning to fuel the day's ride, while there's a protein-rich hot chocolate nightcap before you hit the hay, plus your bike will be washed and the chain lubed each evening, and you can have you kit laundered overnight.
It's a well-priced package, with a midweek break based on two cyclists sharing a room costing £79.50 each for dinner, bed and breakfast, and all the cycling-specific extras, while the price rises to £100 each at the weekend. Bailey has also teamed up with Andy Cook to offer a two-day training camp, with the first pencilled for February 2013. Cook is a long-time organiser of training camps in Majorca but was attracted by Bailey's unique home-grown operation.
But what about the cycling? Bailey, a member of the Tetbury-based Ormond Velos cycling club, has mapped the best routes in the area, from short but hilly 30-mile jaunts to century rides in the surrounding counties. Local knowledge is put to good use, with quiet car-free country lanes, testing climbs and recommended pub stops the order of the day.
Rides are organised into easy, moderate and hard routes and each night you can flick through a folder containing details (length, elevation, tourist hotspots, lunch stops and a map) of every ride. Take your pick and Bailey will provide the group with a Garmin Edge 800, on which every route is uploaded and can be followed with turn-by-turn instructions.
I ventured out for a 40-mile ride with members of the Ormond Velos. Midway through the ride one of my guides sheepishly apologised for the number of cars. What cars? We'd barely seen a vehicle all day but he'd considered the scattering of cars a busy day on the roads. Far from it.
Cycling is about adventure and the Cotswolds is a stunning area to explore, with a vast network of country lanes, wool paths and deserted tracks, and a host of challenging climbs. We dipped into the picture-perfect village of Castle Combe for a well-earned slice of cake.
The weather didn't play ball and, having not yet fitted mudguards during my visit in early October, we were left covered head-to-toe in mud (it's fair to say the Cotswolds is a more seasonal destination than the warm weather bases of continental Europe) but returned to The Ormond at Tetbury having enjoyed a fine ride, ready for lunch at the hotel's restaurant.
But why would riders choose the Cotswolds over, say, Majorca, where Alpine-like climbs basked in sunshine are all but guaranteed?
"We have the benefit of being within just a few hours drive of much of the country," says Bailey. "We think the Cotswolds offers some of the most picturesque cycling in the country and we've put together a package which makes it easy to enjoy."
It's like touring with a modern twist, with riders able to head out for days on end without touching the same roads, guided by both local knowledge and a Garmin, and returning to a fine hotel managed by a cyclist. Cotswolds Cycling Breaks offers the best of British in a hassle-free package.
The Boudicca Cycle Challenge takes riders on a four day ride through Norfolk and Suffolk, including the towns of Diss, Lowestoft, Dereham and Cromer. Pre-booked hotel accommodation and luggage transfer service frees the riders from logistical concerns.
Yorkshire's The Way of the Roses tour offers breaks of different durations, from four to seven days, all starting from Morecambe and taking in the towns of York and Bridlington. A mix of pub and hotel accomodation is offered, with Michelin-starred grub on the Gourmet Gallop.
The Devon Coast-to-Coast ride from Ilfracombe to Plymouth is held for groups of six to 16 riders, with a mechanic in a support vehicle, and can be completed in two or three days, with guest house accommodation overnight.