Cotswolds and Chilterns bike ride

Easter Monday 2011: Fine sunshine in London and all across Southern England. Booted, leather suited, ears plugged and helmeted head well in the supersportsbiker zone, I left home while the roads were still quiet. Westwards, down in to the Thames valley at Stokenchurch, clear skies and clear roads as far as the eye could see...

Oxford ring road was still quiet, just a few bank holiday Monday joggers plodding along the footpath. The road narrows to a single carriageway to the west of Oxford and climbs to a spectacular ride over the Cotswolds towards Burford.

Huffingtons bakery was till closed so on to Stow-on-the-Wold - “where the wind blows cold”, as the saying goes.. The church clock was chiming ten as I removed my biker lid and Huffingtons opened their doors. The wind wasn’t blowing cold, not even fresh, so I enjoyed a delicious pair of artisan Hot Cross Buns and a coffee in Stow square opposite the remains of the town stocks, the timber now rather the worse for the years and the harsh winter.

On from Stow via the perilous descent down Fish Hill (140m altitude difference, several steep hill signs plus a couple of very interesting bends, almost hairpins) and in to Broadway, the “Jewel of the Cotswolds”. Still not full awake, certainly less “early morning” life than in Stow. Still sunshine in the Vale of Evesham but the fruit tree blossoms had already finished. Spring has been early this year as well as this spell of sunshine like summer.

The bike took me around Evesham and through regency Cheltenham; I had an offer to work there when I graduated.  Then another fine hill back up to the Cotswolds on the way to Roman Cirencester. Many road cyclists coming the other way, presumably on the Cotswold Spring Classic run; 650 or so cyclists trying for either a hundred miles or a hundred kilometres from Cirencester.

Bibury duck race had attracted a huge attendance - that's a race of yellow plastic ducks along the picturesque and slow flowing Rover Coln through Bibury, another village vying for the title of “Gem of the Cotswolds”!

My parents used to use a route of the B’s to travel from Cambridge to Bristol: Bicester, Burford, Bibury etc. The pretty road from Burford to Cirencester runs roughly parallel to a dismantled railway, not yet reconstructed, unlike the GWR (The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway) preserved steam and diesel line now running trains on the Honeybourne line near Cheltenham.

The day-tripper traffic was beginning to increase so time to head back home roughly down the Thames Valley, named the Isis in these its upper reaches. The names on the signposts are wonderfully evocative around here: Golden Balls, Kingston Bagpuize - the name always makes me wonder if it was the inspiration for Bagpuss, the television character. Abingdon, Dorchester - a Roman ford of the Thames. Shillingford: now a beautiful stone bridge that succeeded the timber bridge sketched by J.M.W. Turner in 1803.

Lots of airfields on this run too Cotswolds’ RAF Brize Norton, Chilterns’  RAF Benson, infamously one of the coldest places in Southern England his past winter.

Finally, another familiar route and scenic route through Nettlebed in the Chilterns down to another bridge across the Thames, this at Henley. Used to be my biking backyard when I lived in Maidenhead and I know those roads well. Last views of the Chilterns at Maidenhead Thicket and then the M4 back to Hammersmith.

That's the fourteenth Easter run for my orange bike: it's a CBR600FW from 1998, now well over 45,000 miles other clock and going fine. It's almost a classic, one of the last supersports bikes with carburettors. Bill Bunn Motorcycles do a good job keeping it going despite the abuse it has received parked on the road here. Now at last it has a full-time garage nearby.