By Kevin Purdy • April 3, 2017
The first time we visited Stratford-Upon-Avon and the Cotswolds, many years ago, we toured via rental car. This time, we booked a Shakespeare’s Country bike tour. We soon discovered that bicycling was by far the best way to tour this beautiful region of England. We saw more sights and enjoyed the leisurely pace. We also met way more fellow travelers and friendly local blokes.
Swans on the River Avon in Stratford Upon Avon, England
The best way to start a bike tour of Shakespeare Country is to become familiar with the town of Stratford-Upon-Avon and all the famous Shakespeare sites such as the Shakespeare Birthplace, Hall’s Croft, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Mary Arden’s Farm. Each of these sites present visitors with a satisfying sampler of history, culture and interesting sites. They also make for a full day of touring whether you are biking, walking or riding the tourist bus. You could easily spend two or three days in the area immediately surrounding Stratford. We recommend you save your Shakespeare theatre visit for the last day of the bike tour or thereafter.
Warwick CastleTudor Era Barnyard at Mary Arden’s Farm
The next must-see destination was Warwick Castle and the accompanying historic bicycle loop ride. Warwick Castle was first constructed under orders of William the Conqueror in 1068. The original motte of the castle still exists in the form of Athelfleda’s Mound on the southern end of the castle courtyard. In addition to touring the stunningly beautiful and historic castle, we enjoyed the Flight of the Eagles Birds of Prey exhibition just outside the castle walls on the scenic castle grounds. We also enjoyed a cream tea in one of the area tea shops. In addition, we toured the Great Hall and State Rooms complete with lifelike mannequins and suits of armor. The castle history spanned many centuries of British history and provided plenty of interesting signs as well as guided tours.
Warwick Castle in England
On the way back to Stratford-Upon-Avon, we were able to experience one of the many “only on a bike” moments of the tour as we pedaled the serene route of Stratford Greenway, an abandoned railroad route from the 19th Century. This allowed for a leisurely pace with abundant opportunities to visit with fellow bicyclists from around England, Europe and the rest of the world. The Greenway provided five miles of traffic-free cycling and offered two railway carriage cafes and plenty of photo stops along the way. After this leisurely cycling experience, I found myself wishing that there were more rail trails throughout our tour of the Cotswolds.
Stratford Greenway Rail Trail
We soon realized that there is no better way to explore the iconic Cotswolds than on the seat of a bicycle. We reveled in the fresh air and 360° views of the British countryside. We marveled at the bucolic farmyards, scenic villages and panoramic views of flower fields and sheep-littered pastures. Each rolling hill presented us with new views and breathtaking scenery. We never lacked for places to stop for an afternoon tea or for a nip of hard cider along the way. We were often flabbergasted by the sheer numbers of footpaths we encountered along the way. We could have stayed in the Cotswolds for months and barely had time to explore half of the scenic hiking trails.
Cotswolds Footpath to Broadway Tower
Give Our Regards to Broadway
One of our favorite Cotswold towns was the village of Broadway. Although our daily bike rides provided plenty of exercise, we decided to take a stroll to Broadway Tower, high atop the surrounding hillsides. On our hike up the hill, we had the pleasure of meandering through sheep pastures covered in blossoming fruit trees and covered with quilts of vibrant yellow flowers. Once at the top, we were rewarded with an incredible view of the surrounding Cotswold hillsides and villages. Broadway Tower, designed by the talented Capability Brown, provided the crowning glory to a splendid Cotswold hilltop.
Broadway Tower in the Cotswolds of England
Another benefit of bicycle touring was the ease of negotiating unplanned side trips. Our tour provider arranged a magnificent itinerary of sites and stopovers, but bike touring lent itself to occasional detours from the established routes. On one such unscripted excursion, we found ourselves adrift in the lovely stone village of Lower Slaughter. It was absolutely fabulous!!! Centered around an ancient water mill, Lower Slaughter turned out to be a hidden gem of cobblestone paths, sleepy stone cottages, and friendly locals. We even made the acquaintance of a pair of Old English Sheepdogs that seemed to be as much a part of the village as the streets, paths, and buildings. This was just one of many dreamlike side-trips that rewarded us with pleasant diversions and cherished memories.
Old English Sheep Dogs in the Village of Lower Slaughter, England
Bourton on the Water
Next, we discovered why they call Bourton on the Water the “Venice of the Cotswolds.” A lovely stream ran smack-dab through the middle of town and, every hundred yards or so, a cobbled bridge spanned the stream allowing pedestrians, bicyclists, equestrians and an occasional pesky automobile to cross. The shops and restaurants of Bourton on the Water were hypnotically intoxicating, and we could have easily wiled away the remainder of our day there. But we still had a few miles left to go, so we hopped on our two-wheeled steeds and pedaled into the sunset.
One of Many Bridges That Spans the River Windrush in Bourton on the Water, England
Royal Shakespeare Theatre
What would a tour of Shakespeare’s Country be without watching one of the Bard’s plays? On our last night in Stratford-Upon-Avon, we had the pleasure of viewing Cymbeline, one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays. It fit in perfectly with the theme of the trip. Just like the eclectic production, our bike tour allowed us to explore new and less familiar byways in England. We were fully convinced that the only way to tour England was on the seat of a bicycle. For that matter, we realized that the only way to tour anywhere was on a bike.
Upscale Shepherd’s Pie
Looking for something a bit different? Check out all of our bike tours in England.
Here are some more photos from the tour!
(Click to enlarge)