Three Unexpected Wonders of the English Cotswolds - VBT Bicycling Vacations Skip to Main Content


Three Unexpected Wonders of the English Cotswolds

Posted on Thursday, June 13th, 2024

Story by: Molly Waldstein | Travel Writer


On VBT’s England: Bath & the Cotswolds Guided Tour, it’s easy to find examples of a British culinary revival—whether it’s sitting down to enjoy elegant fine dining or popping into a local pub for a simple ploughman’s lunch, the menu tends to be fresh, innovative, and ultra-local.

Three Unexpected Wonders of the English Cotswolds 1

OK, let’s get real. When you think about English cuisine, dishes with names like “bangers and mash”, “toad in the hole”, and “spotted dick” may come to mind—and in decades past, England was not exactly known as a destination for foodies. Fortunately, those days are long gone! With shows like the Great British Bake Off and celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, British cuisine has been kicking it up a notch—and steadily gaining international recognition and acclaim. “I think many people have an impression of what British food was like in the 1980s—really quite bland and stodgy,” explains VBT trip leader Dan Guest. “But lately, our food culture has become so vibrant! Even at the local pubs, something simple like a pint of local beer with fish and chips—you’ll find all these traditional English dishes are being crafted on a whole other level. This is due, in part, to seasonal produce that’s locally sourced, and a fresh new farm-to-table mentality.”

On VBT’s England: Bath & the Cotswolds Guided Tour, it’s easy to find examples of this British culinary revival—whether it’s sitting down to enjoy elegant fine dining or popping into a local pub for a simple ploughman’s lunch, the menu tends to be fresh, innovative, and ultra-local. “Quite a lot of the local hotels and pubs have kitchen gardens, and they pride themselves massively on growing their own produce,” explains Dan. “They’ll often display an information board about where any other food has been grown—so there’s an interesting environmental aspect based on cutting down on food miles, eating more seasonal foods, and focusing less on imports. The food in many pubs these days is just incredible! We’ve got a pub literally 25 meters from my house, and it used to be terrible. But it was recently taken over by a Michelin starred chef, and it’s booming now—and dangerously close to home!”

Not only have British main course become fresher and more elegant than in days of yore, but sweet treats are getting rave reviews from VBT guests as well. “Everybody seems to love sticky toffee pudding,” chuckles VBT trip leader Conor Murphy. “It’s a very typical English pudding that is usually served with vanilla ice cream, or custard. Every time I sit down to dinner with VBT guests who have never heard of sticky toffee pudding, the same thing seems to happen. One person tries it, and from there it ends up being a thing that everyone has to have—like, every night. It’s a big treat to look forward to at the end of the day.” Well, look out Italy—and hold onto your gelato! Sticky toffee pudding is rapidly becoming a contender in the post-cycling indulgence department. Mamma mia!

It’s All About the People.

Conor Murphy grew up in the Cotswolds, and he knows his way around. “I have a lot of family connections to the Cotswolds,” explains Conor. “I don’t necessarily drop this in right away, but my granny is the niece of C.S. Lewis. She was also a guide around Oxford—and she knows so much!” Wandering through the dreaming spires and charming village greens of Oxford and the Cotswolds, one can almost imagine C.S. Lewis dreaming up the magical land of Narnia beneath your very feet.

“I took VBT guests to meet Granny once,” recalls Conor. “There’s a big garden out the back so we could go and walk around and say hi. By this point, everyone had heard about Granny and wanted to meet her. So, I just called her and asked if she would be comfortable with the visit—she’s 98 years old after all. But she loved it! We had a nice chat with her—and it was great because we go through a lot of these picture-postcard villages, but you never really get to see inside the homes.” Whether or not you have the good fortune to meet Conor’s granny, your VBT trip leaders are always happy to introduce you to local people. Chance encounters and serendipitous meetings can truly bring the magic of the Cotswolds to life.

Of course, the English garden has a strong tradition of facilitating new friendships. “In the Cotswolds, the front garden is a real showpiece,” explains VBT trip leader Hattie Guest. “Just imagine cycling past traditional thatched cottages with beautifully tended front gardens. VBT guests love to stop and take photos—and if we’re lucky enough to be there when the master thatcher or stone mason is working on the cottage, I’ll often say, ‘Hey mate—can you just give us a quick chat about what you’re doing here?’ And they are usually very obliging and happy to explain their craft.” With techniques passed down through centuries of craftsmanship, it’s inspiring to witness local Cotswolds artisans working to preserve this unique and picturesque region for future generations to enjoy.

Cotswolds Lavender? Yeah, It’s a Thing.

Built in 1799, Broadway Tower stands at the second highest elevation in the Cotswolds at just over 1,000 feet above sea level. Conceived as a “folly” project, the tower was built to honor the Countess of Coventry who wanted to know if a beacon lit upon the tower could be seen from her house over 20 miles away. As the Countess was later pleased to discover, it could. “The view from Broadway Tower is massive, a 360 degree view all around,” explains Hattie. “VBT guests love that—especially on a clear day. Once we leave the tower, the path is a gently undulating ride that goes past Cotswold Lavender—a local farm. It’s easy, open farmland and they can see for miles and the lavender fields are a totally different color than everything else.” Cycling up the hill to Broadway Tower is an accomplishment that’s rewarded by stunning views of the surrounding countryside. In the right season, the fields of blooming lavender add an unexpected pop of purple to the verdant landscape.

“Broadway Tower is the highest point in the surrounding countryside so it’s got these amazing views. On a really clear day, you can essentially see over to Wales,” explains Conor. “There’s a whole farm dedicated to these lavender fields, and you can cycle right past them, and at the right time of year, you’ll suddenly see these purple, lilac-colored, rolling hills. And if you get the right day where the wind is just kind of like rolling through the barley and the lavender, that’s really special.”


0 of 4
Tours Selected