The following is the story of how one man and his wife built a bakery business in the Cotswolds, creating handmade multiple award-winning sourdough loaves. It is the stuff of fairy tales.

It all started six years ago from their Aga. Having a successful 30-year IT career, making sourdough for his family as a hobby, Mark Woodgate heard a programme on Radio Four about the slow food movement, with its emphasis on the pleasure and life-enhancing qualities of making and eating slow food from good quality local ingredients. Mark decided to follow his dream to make his sourdough professionally. Sourdough is definitely on the slow side. It takes two days to make Mark’s sourdough, resulting in a delicious taste, and soft and squishy texture; not hard and dense like most other sourdough – suitable only for toast – and of course it’s nutritional, benefiting from the fermentation process. A loaf that deserves to be eaten and enjoyed slowly.

As Mark loved making sourdough, and people loved eating it, his wife Sharn persuaded him to enter it for an award, which he did, winning Bronze in the Amateur category of the World Bread Awards, the Oscars of bread. It stood out from 200 sourdough. Mark’s passion for making sourdough using only the finest local ingredients never wavered from that moment on.

Great British Life: Mark at work hand-crafting loaves. Mark at work hand-crafting loaves.

Experimenting with over 20 different flours to find one which consistently gave him the best bake, he found it just six miles from where he lived; Matthews Cotswold Flour at Shipton-under-Wychwood proved a hit every time. In 2018, Mark acquired the test bakery at the mill as a self-taught baker. Awarded Bronze for his Cotswold Crunch, Bronze for Spelt, and Silver for the White, Mark was recognised from 600+ sourdough in the professional World Bread Awards.

The more people tried Mark’s bread, the more people wanted it. He soon needed bigger premises with his own commercial oven, and so in 2019, he and Sharn created their own commercial bakery in Chipping Norton.

Mark is clear the Cotswolds itself has played a huge part in the success of the bakery.

‘Sourdough is an interaction between the baker, the flour and the environment,’ he says. ‘Our flour comes from family-owned Matthews Cotswold Flour, a traditional artisan mill, still using stone wheels in the top of the building, giving the most unprocessed, ‘clean’ flour possible. The air in the mill – so important to the flour and sourdough through the action of natural yeasts – blows in from the trees and fields of the Evenlode valley.’

Mark only has four ingredients in his award-winning loaves, and he says flour is critical to the success of the bakery. Eighty per cent of the wheat grows all around the North Cotswolds, grown by a farming cooperative, with some of the farms being so small the mill fetches the grain. The premium, number-one graded Churchill flour, which Mark uses throughout his baking, is named after the beautiful Cotswold village of Churchill, where the wheat is grown on a farm just down the road.

Great British Life: Matthews Cotswold Flour Mill, Shipston-under-Wychwood. Matthews Cotswold Flour Mill, Shipston-under-Wychwood. (Image:

‘At 87% hydration [most sourdough has 60%] in our sourdough,’ he explains, ‘the baker must have the lightest of touches. We only employ bakers who have the understanding to handle our very high hydration sourdough.’ By 2021, the bakery in Chipping Norton employed five bakers, six drivers and two dispatch staff.

It is impossible to industrialise the making of real sourdough; it has been made by hand, using the same slow process as has been done for thousands of years, with no added manufactured yeast. It has to involve the human touch. Real sourdough typically has three ingredients to achieve the best possible bake (80% of the bread eaten in the UK is made by the Chorleywood Process, invented after the war). By adding yeasts, fats, and many differing chemicals, combined with intense mechanical working, the Chorleywood Process makes it possible to use lower protein wheats, producing a loaf of bread, from flour to sliced and packaged in about three-and-a-half hours.

No such speed and use of nasty additives in Marks’ sourdough loaves. This is the third reason he believes the bakery is so popular and his sourdough has won so many awards.

‘Our sourdough loaves contain only flour, salt, water and chia seeds,’ he says. ‘The tiny Peruvian seeds – an MCB “trademark”, crucial for his hydration – have to be imported, but the flour, salt, and even the water is local.’

Great British Life: Three of Mark's Cotswold Bakery's electric vans in the new woodland location at Heath Farm. Three of Mark's Cotswold Bakery's electric vans in the new woodland location at Heath Farm. (Image:

By 2023, the bakery desperately required larger premises again. Supplying to the top restaurants, pubs, hotels and delis across the Cotswolds, to Stratford, Oxford, Cirencester, Cheltenham – as far as Gloucester and everywhere in between – compelling the bakery to invest in electric vans, so reducing emissions and enabling delivery to the good folk of the Cotswolds.

Readers of Cotswold Life may be familiar with the bakery’s vans and their distinctive liveries, displaying their awards and with a sign on the back saying ‘No dough kept in this van overnight’. Together with the need for larger electric ovens, the electric vans called for more energy than the bakery’s site in Chipping Norton could supply.

A long search for a new premises finally found them Heath Farm, near Swerford, a location which couldn’t be bettered. Nestled at the heart of a 70-acre organic nut farm, surrounded by the trees and meadows of the Swere Valley, even the water is drawn and filtered on the farm.

‘We had to adjust the recipe on moving to Heath Farm with its own natural spring water,’ says Mark, ‘because it interacted with the flour slightly differently; something we were delighted to discover.’

Great British Life: Heath Farm, the new location for Mark's Cotswold Bakery. Heath Farm, the new location for Mark's Cotswold Bakery. (Image:

Celebrating the opening of the new premises, Mark and Sharn threw a big party in the bakery itself, inviting all their customers, suppliers, staff and friends who had supported them on their journey. The party was also an opportunity to showcase the bakery’s latest products – freshly baked sourdough lamination, such as croissant and pain au chocolat.

Miniature baked sourdoughs were served straight out of the ovens, accompanied by Ampersand Butter and a smorgasbord of Cotswold delights. Local caterers Ross & Ross prepared canapés from various breads, topped with delicious local artisans Kingstone Dairy cheese, Saltpig, and Smokin’ Brothers, all located within ten miles of the bakery.

Guests were invited to vote on their favourite canapé in a competition, with the winning team securing a night baking with Mark and his team. Cotswold head chef Victoria Hamilton and pastry chef Miceala Lewis from Feldon Valley in Brailes won the competition.

Great British Life: Voting on favourite canapes. Voting on favourite canapes. (Image:

Victoria gives perhaps the best explanation of why Mark’s Cotswold Bakery just keeps rising and rising:

‘We only use the finest ingredients at Feldon Valley and always local where we can, and Mark’s sourdough is exactly that. As chefs, we need to accept where people can make things better than us, and Mark’s bread is one of those things. He’s worked for years to perfect his sourdough and I can’t wait to learn from him in the bakery! We’ve worked with Mark’s Cotswold Bakery almost from the beginning, and it’s a real pleasure to see a local business grow and thrive.’

What is remarkable about Mark’s Cotswold Bakery is the way it has grown and achieved commercial success while still making consistent ‘real bread’ and maintaining all the artisanal virtues so valued by customers across the Cotswolds.

Great British Life: Mark with one of his Gold award-wining loaves. Mark with one of his Gold award-wining loaves. (Image:

How Cotswold sourdough became among the best in the UK

Wins in the World Bread Awards:




‘We know the farmers who grow the grain, we know the millers who mill the flour, and the chefs think of us as the bakery extension to their kitchen, as we partner to create bespoke products for their menus.’ Mark Woodgate