Experienced, fit ultra-distance cyclists won’t need this page and might find the Kemble Round quite straightforward. For most riders however, even those participating regularly in club-level events, completing the route in a single day will be a significant and serious challenge and might need some special prep.
The following is given in the form of friendly advice only – take as much as you need.
What to expect
The route is mostly on quiet unclassified and B-roads, off-road doubletrack (from fast-flowing to rough), a small amount of singletrack, and there are one or two brief field crossings which are usually well-drained and completely rideable. It’s a ‘gravel’ route, well-suited to a rigid drop-bar cyclocross-style bike, but adventurous in nature, straying into mountain bike territory occasionally. You will encounter boneshaking hardpack, a few loose stone-filled gullies, several steep and rutted descents, and a handful of small rock steps. Everything is rideable, but if you’re more comfortable walking the gnarly sections then be assured they’re all short-lived.
Roads make up approximately 50% of the route and are nearly all quiet, remote, or pass through small towns and villages in 30mph limits. The only places with potentially faster traffic are past Coaley Peak picnic site, the scenic descent from Pitchcombe to Edge and across the A4173 north of Stroud, a short section of the B4070 south-west of Birdlip, and about a minute on the A436 west of Kilkenny (which is a trunk road, but is wide, has good visibility, and is all downhill). Any potential danger spots are mentioned in the notes on the Route page.
Climbs vary from short, sharp off-road stingers to strung-out road winches, and although the route does not include climbing for the sake of it there is a still a lot – somewhere towards 10,000ft or 3000m. Climbs in the Horsley section, out of Wotton-under-Edge, north of Stroud, and around Cleeve Hill and Andoversford are long, steep and relentless. There are also three or four short, steep off-road sections that will end up being pushed by most riders, to save the legs. They should amount to no more than about 20 minutes of the total completion time. Everything else is rideable in most conditions with typical off-road gearing.
The infamous Gloucestershire mud can be a feature in several places, but the route largely avoids it, and in dry conditions you’re more likely to finish covered in dust.
When to attempt it
The round is best tackled Spring to Autumn, in dry periods, on a fine day that’s not too hot. In winter some of the route could be unpleasantly muddy, and only a few very fast riders would be able to complete it in daylight hours. Even in the summer you could easily spend 12 hours or more in the saddle, so have backup power available for your GPS, and consider carrying an LED rear light (at least) for the road sections. Note too that in July and August a few sections (Tor Hill, Huddinknoll Hill, Pinswell) could be quite overgrown – nothing ever becomes impassable though.
What bike to use
The Kemble Round is ideally suited to good quality gravel, cyclocross and cross-country mountain bikes*. Hydraulic disc brakes and cushioned bar tape will help avoid hand fatigue. Tyres with some cornering edge tread make sense in all but very dry conditions.
*By chance all three types were represented on the first completion of the route in June 2021 – a Cannondale Topstone (pictured above), Focus Mares and Niner Air 9.
Aside from obvious personal stuff – bike, drinks and clothing – some or all of the following can prove really useful:
- GPS unit with loaded route – compulsory, perhaps
- USB power bank for GPS battery backup
- Ordnance Survey backup mapping. A dedicated OS mapping app on a fully-charged mobile phone makes sense. For the belt-and-braces paper option Landranger 162 and 163 cover the area at 1:50000 scale, or you can order a one-off Landranger with centre coordinates of 391965,208035 which covers the route on a single sheet.
- Backup windproof/waterproof layer
- Backup energy food stash (gels etc)
- Basic first aid (antiseptic wipes, plasters etc)
- Spare tubes, puncture repair kit, emergency tyre boot/patch, pump – a spare folding tyre isn’t excessive
- Essential tools, chain splitter, cable ties, spare derailleur hanger
- Bell (a few sections attract a lot of pedestrians, especially at the weekends)
Food and drink stops
It can pay to plan where you’ll replenish water and take on food. That’s particularly true for the latter half of the route, where you’re often a long way from civilisation. Good, accessible options include:
- Towns and villages in which you pass supermarkets and/or convenience stores:
- Wotton-under-Edge (22 miles – Tesco/Co-op/cafes in High St)
- Dursley/Cam (30 miles – newsagent in a parade of shops on a side-road parallel to the route)
- King’s Stanley (37 miles – Co-op)
- Andoversford (59 miles – newsagent, just where you join the bridleway north out of the village)
- Cirencester (92 miles – newsagents, supermarkets etc)
- Well-situated bike-friendly pubs:
- The Royal George, Birdlip (51 miles, less than 1/4 mile off-route in the village): spacious beer garden and good quality pub grub
- Frogmill, Shipton Oliffe (78.5 miles): more upmarket – not ideal for sitting in if you’re covered in mud – but extensive outdoor seating
Support meet-up locations
Another possibility for supplies (and a morale boost) is to meet friends or family members somewhere along the way. The following locations are all directly on the route, have ample parking (most of the time), and a mobile signal on most networks.
- Stinchcombe Hill – 28.5 miles – A spacious car park at the end of the golf course access road, with great views – OS Grid: ST743984
- Coaley Peak – 35 miles – Picnic site, plenty of parking, with stupendous views over the severn – OS Grid: SO794012
- Painswick Beacon – 46 miles – Parking areas to the left and right of the steep access road up on to the beacon – OS Grid: SO867117
- Birdlip Viewpoint – 52 miles – Spacious car park at a picnic site with one of the best views in Gloucestershire – OS Grid: SO931154
- Cleeve Hill south car park – 64.5 miles – Highest point in the Cotswolds, next to a remarkable windswept transmitter station – OS Grid: SO994248
- Cleeve Hill north car park – 66 miles – Lower down on Cleeve Common near the golf course club house, quite sheltered – OS Grid: SO989271
- Frogmill pub/hotel – 78.5 miles – In the large car park of this charming old pub, well situated for the final push – OS Grid: SP026182
Who and why…
The Kemble Round was a pandemic lockdown project dreamt up by me, Robin, a Gloucestershire-based rider and founder member of Kemble Cycling.
The initial inspiration came from hearing about a fell-running route, The Corris Round, that had also been put together during lockdown by a father and son team in Snowdonia – the 20 minute film about it on the website is beautifully made and well worth a watch, even if you’re not a runner.
Though obviously very different in nature, both these challenges tie into an idea of seeking out adventure on your doorstep. That was almost a necessity, of course, when travel by car for purely leisure purposes was not allowed.
In fact, the majority of the research for The Kemble Round was done in a series of long rides from home, and in the uncertain times of those first lockdowns it was great to have a project like this to work on, even though it wasn’t clear whether a really satisfying, viable route would ever present itself. Working out the most distant northern section of the route did have to wait until the lockdown eased a bit, but it helped that I’d ridden the Hell of the North Cotswolds on and off since the 1990s and already had a smattering of local knowledge there.
All around the route dozens of miles of bridleway and byway were tried, and many rejected on grounds of being too hard, steep, technical, muddy or boring. But it was great to start building up almost a county-wide overview, and thrilling to discover great new sections along the way.
The fundraising focus with the Great Western Air Ambulance seemed apt for a big off-road Cotswolds cycling route. I sincerely hope that if The Kemble Round can build up a bit of a following it’ll continue to generate some income for the charity in the longer term.