‘My greatest sense of freedom is being out on a bike,’ Simon Smith enthuses. Having cycled in childhood, he rediscovered the pleasure of pedal power as an adult in the mid-noughties after his partner gave him a mountain bike. Recreational off-road riding encouraged him to explore the Cotswolds, he says, and that also led him to his job with the Cotswolds National Landscape (CNL) as Nature Recovery Lead. ‘My present of a bike was life-changing in a number of ways!’ he laughs.

‘The Cotswolds is probably one of the best areas in the country to explore by off-road riding,’ Simon continues. ‘It has a great network of tracks and the ground is limestone so water tends to disappear through it and it gets less mud than many other places, although mud can be part of the fun. There are hills along the scarp, but it is mainly undulating terrain, while the eastern side of the Cotswolds is flatter.’

People hop on bikes for many reasons: to boost fitness, get the endorphins flowing, clear their minds or for simple leisure escapes. ‘For me cycling is about exploring, not being an athlete,’ Simon says. ‘Over a certain gradient, I do get off and walk!’

Great British Life: Simon enjoys the open air and wildlife on his bike rides. Simon enjoys the open air and wildlife on his bike rides. (Image: Simon Smith)

He enjoys plotting his own routes by using Ordnance Survey maps and an app, checking out bridleways, byways and other legally rideable routes (footpaths aren’t open to cyclists).

‘Exploring by bike you can cover so much more ground than by walking and you can get to undiscovered hamlets and villages without any worries about where to park a car. Riding over the high wold, the views are fantastic: across the vale to the Forest of Dean, into the middle of the Cotswolds, or to the North Wessex Downs.

Great British Life: Burnt orchid – a rare and beautiful find. Burnt orchid – a rare and beautiful find. (Image: Simon Smith)

‘I see terrific amounts of wildlife, which seems unconcerned by a passing bike, and I’ve had some wonderful nature discoveries too: one summer I was riding along the side of a valley and spotted some good limestone grassland, so I diverted along a bridleway and found a mass of wildflowers including several burnt orchids [one of our rarest plants] – one of only two times in my life when I’ve discovered them without being told where they were.’

To encourage others to cycle some of the Cotswolds’ best scenery and countryside, Simon has designed six off-road routes that can be downloaded from the CNL website. Try a challenging ride around Brailes Hill, for example. Sweep across the high wold plateau exploring ‘Snowshill and Beyond’. Or discover ‘Hawkesbury via Westonbirt’ taking in rolling hills and valleys around Lower Kilcott.

‘When you are cycling you become genuinely part of a landscape,’ Simon says. ‘All you need is a bike and a helmet, and once you are cruising along a Cotswold track with the fresh air on your face, the sound of birdsong, and rays of sunshine on the landscape, you will be off riding around the Cotswolds for the rest of your life.’

Great British Life: Mountain biking is a great shared activity. Mountain biking is a great shared activity. (Image: Cotswold Mountain Biking)


Tim Porter agrees that the Cotswolds is blessed with a ‘phenomenal’ network of bridleways, byways and off-road cycling available for public access. Based between Stroud and Dursley, he has been riding in the Cotswolds for more than 20 years and shares his lifelong passion for the outdoors through his venture, Cotswold Mountain Biking, offering day and half-day guided off-road cycling experiences.

‘If you have an interest in the outdoors, adventure, scenery, traffic-free countryside and exercise, then mountain biking brings it all together,’ Tim says.

He is keen to underline that, while off-road cycling can be challenging, it can also be enjoyed by everyone according to their abilities. He likes being able to introduce people to the activity and says, ‘First-timers, in my experience, get hooked.’

The range of his customers is broad: experienced mountain bikers; couples or friends on holiday looking for an activity; small family groups (teenagers age 14 and above); solo riders ‘who want a little guidance on trails to explore and on sharpening up their off-road riding skills’. Locals, including repeat customers, come for different trails that they would not routinely ride.

Great British Life: Tim Porter, Cotswold Mountain Biking. Tim Porter, Cotswold Mountain Biking. (Image: Cotswold Mountain Biking)

People bring their own bikes or they can hire one from Tim: mountain bikes, a gravel bike (ideal for less challenging rides that combine quiet rural roads, bridleways and canal paths), and electric mountain bikes. ‘E-bikes are a real game-changer for people who can ride a bike competently but who have never ridden off-road before. I’ve had 14-year-olds and 70-year-olds who have found a little added assistance helps them to do so much more.’

Whatever a rider’s experience, Tim covers bike-checks, ride safety and trail etiquette before setting out. Cyclists can be using the same trails as walkers and horse-riders, and it is important to be friendly and share space, he says, using your bell early to alert your presence, and managing your speed. ‘I always ask [bike] riders to give way to walkers with dogs and horse-riders, and a courteous “good morning” goes a long way.’

As well as outstanding panoramic views from the escarpment and commons, the Cotswolds’ ancient history – sites like Uley Bury Iron-Age hillfort, and Uley and Nympsfield long barrows – proves popular to build into routes, Tim says.

Tim, Simon and CNL also have some exciting news. After much work on their parts, there is to be a brand-new circular Cotswold Riders’ Way right around the Cotswolds, taking in top sights and experiences. The route will be available as a digital download – keep a look out, more info soon!

Great British Life: The view from the saddle. The view from the saddle. (Image: Cotswold Mountain Biking)


Visit the cycling page on the Cotswolds National Landscape website to find cycle routes to suit diverse abilities and interests, from easy going canalside outings, to historic adventures, and Simon’s curated off-road explorations, cotswolds-nl.org.uk

Brush up on the Countryside Code for cyclists, including trail etiquette and where you can legally cycle off-road, cyclinguk.org/article/countryside-code-cyclists

More info on Cotswold Mountain Biking: cotswoldmountainbiking.co.uk. Further info on guided cycle tours and bike / e-bike hire in the Cotswolds: cotswolds.com

Great British Life: Get yourself a good mountain bike and head off into the Cotswold countryside.Get yourself a good mountain bike and head off into the Cotswold countryside. (Image: Cotswold Mountain Biking)