Lumpy but lovely

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

‘Lumpy’ is a word much used by cyclists to describe any hilly route, whether that be Cotswold hilly or Alpine hilly. The route described below is the former, so enthusiastic cyclists won’t choke on their energy bars. Indeed, what could be more satisfying on a Saturday morning, with the sun shining, a lie-in, leisurely scan through the weekend papers, mug of coffee and out on the bike for the day? At just under twenty-five miles, this journey in the south eastern Cotswolds is a snapshot of all that is best in a glorious region. Ancient buildings, riverside lanes, silent villages, the Wychwood Forest and little traffic, all competing for attention.

Starting outside the Wychwood Inn, or inside if you prefer, a short stretch of main road leads to a left turn just beyond The Shaven Crown, a lane that goes over a multiple junction, climbing steadily towards the Charlbury/Burford B road, a road that stretches along the watershed between the Evenlode and Windrush valleys. Stop at the crossroads and look back – just stop and stare. Continue across and straight down a tree lined way, corkscrewing around the aptly named ‘Hit or Miss Corner,’ onwards into Swinbrook. This is the first of several picture postcard villages, famed for its church containing the vertical ranks of Fettiplace tombs and, in spring, its banks of daffodils. Then there’s the River Windrush to cross as it winds its way down towards Witney. Well-heeled travellers can often be seen idling over their pints on the banks outside The Swan.
Once over the river, turn left past Asthall Manor, former home of the Mitford sisters, and left again along the village street. Past here the rider re-crosses the Windrush before a steep ascent, one that is steep enough to put hairs on your chest; male riders may also have to work hard here. A right turn at the top shows riders an eyeful of long and lazy reaches of the Windrush before reaching Asthall Leigh with its carefully converted church, and down a long hill into Minster Lovell.

It might be a bit early to stop for a lunch break but there are few better places along the way; there are the playing fields on the river bank plus the austere and spectral remains of Minster Lovell Hall, complete with tower and dovecote, manorial remains that date back to the fifteenth century; the Hall is best reached from the parking area beside the church. For a picnic site, this takes some beating.
A single track lane follows the valley to Crawley where riders turn left at the war memorial, up –yes, sorry, past The Crawley Inn, a favourite haunt of bikers, and onto the Charlbury/Witney road. Here, a left turn takes us past the rugby club and a right turn leads into the centre-less village of Poffley End, a classic example of ribbon development.

Still no traffic as the route meanders along to Ramsden, climbing so imperceptibly that the rider has little thought of complaint. Ramsden is another picture postcard village, porches overhung in the early summer with clematis, wisteria and roses, the only spoiler being the cream painted concrete base under the war memorial. The gradient through the village and beyond is still gradual in the extreme, and the rider is rewarded by the looming sight of Hilltop Garden Centre, perhaps the ideal spot for tea and something unhealthy. Its facilities are much used by local cyclists out for club rides; if this discriminating crowd of hardened and born-again cake eaters approve of it, the casual rider will love it.
Our route now leads on towards Leafield. Soon after the village is reached, a right turn, signposted to Chadlington, takes the rider down a steep hill, the latter part of which is bordered on one side by a lengthy row of crab apple trees, beautiful in late spring, prolific in the autumn. The Wychwood Forest lies ahead.

The Forest, now a fraction of the size of its past, was a royal hunting forest and this section was shut off to the public for most of its years apart from one path that was open just on Palm Sundays. Nowadays, the Charlbury Circular Walk passes through it but for the cyclist, this ‘lumpy’ road, lumpy by undulation and lumpy by surface, is the main access. A deserted road between mature deciduous woodlands, past former hunting lodges – it takes some beating, and just when it comes to an end at its meeting with the B road, a huge view across the Evenlode valley opens up, a sight for your eyes.

We’re nearly home. Turning left along the B road towards Burford, riders follow the valley side, looking across to a patchwork of arable fields as they rise to the Chipping Norton road. Before long, a right turn descends into the valley and into the village of Ascott-under-Wychwood. Immediately beyond the school, turn left and, after a sharp bend, left again along the village street and past the Tiddy Hall. From there it’s barely a mile back into Shipton and the end of a lumpy but lovely ride; cycling doesn’t get much better.

Bob Forster

June – July 2018