Sian Ellis of the Cotswolds Conservation Board on having fun while getting fit
No pain, no gain? Walking, cycling and horse riding make getting fit a lot more enjoyable than that
There is a sneaking temptation, as days grow shorter, to curl up indoors and hibernate. Yet September into autumn can be a truly glorious time to do the opposite: whether exploring the Cotswolds’ famous broadleaf woodlands full of earthy smells and colour, or clearing your head stomping over the commons, or puff-inducing hills at Brailes.
The health benefits of exercise are well known, particularly when combined with nature, daylight and fresh air. Stress and blood pressure fall, and you can literally walk your way to reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and numerous other conditions.
Let good times stroll
Bathscape Walking Festival takes place September 15-23 (bathscapewalkingfestival. co.uk), while Dursley hosts its seventh walking festival, October 4-7, featuring over 30 walks (dursleywalkfest.btck.co.uk).
Dursley is also home to one of the Cotswolds’ ‘Walking4health’ initiatives (strollinginstrouddistrict.org ). Some people, perhaps recovering from an operation or illness, are referred to Walking4health by their GP, or you can simply turn up, says Rob Boulton, one of the walks leaders. Each week the programme (catchy slogan ‘Let the Good Times Stroll’) offers different routes around Dursley, Cam and Uley for different levels of fitness and ability (valevision. org.uk).
“They are all very sociable
walks and walking regularly together helps to keep up the motivation, it has certainly made me fitter,” says Rob, who joined in 2010. “The autumn colour in the woods around here is really uplifting. Walking is about mental as well as physical health.”
Rhythmic pedalling on a cycle ride is wonderfully therapeutic too. Local lanes – some originally designed for sheep droving – can offer largely traffic-free escapes, and the Cotswolds has an exceptional abundance of byways and bridleways suitable for offroad adventures.
Enjoy a gentle jaunt along the Kennet & Avon Cycle Route following the towpath from Bath to Bradford-on-avon, or hit some big hills around Broadway and Weston-sub-edge – the Cotswolds’ varied landscapes let you set the pace (plenty more route ideas at www. cotswoldsaonb.org.uk).
Whatever your ability, you will find a welcome at groups like family-friendly North Cotswold Cycling Club (NCCC), based in Moreton-in-marsh, where activities include ‘Go Ride’ sessions to help youngsters to improve their skills and regular weekend group rides ranging from 20 to 40 miles.
“With iconic Cotswold villages to pass through (Broadway, Lower Slaughter, Bourton-on-the Water), iconic climbs to master (Snowshill, Dover’s Hill, Sudeley Hill) and beautiful vistas once you have made it to the top, it’s hard to imagine a nicer place to ride,” says Jeremy Griffiths, chair of NCCC (northcotswoldcc.org. uk).
Swapping wheels for hooves, you can get inspiration for riding routes from the ‘Cotswolds on Horseback’ series on the British Horse Society access website (bhsaccess.org.uk). If you are a novice or want to improve your riding skills, book some sessions at one of the Cotswolds many equestrian centres.
“Horse riding benefits posture and core strength,” says Cheryl Bodenham, office manager at Barton End Equestrian Centre, Nailsworth. Riders of all abilities and ranging in age from four to 75 years old come to Barton End, whether to learn to ride, try show jumping, or prepare for competition. ‘Take back the reins’ sessions cater for those who used to ride and want to get back in the saddle.
“We also have happy hackers; we’ve around 20 different routes in the beautiful local countryside,” Cheryl says.
Horse riding can provide fun exercise and therapeutic benefits to children and adults with physical disabilities or learning difficulties: the warmth and movement of the horse relaxing the rider, helping with balance, posture, strength, coordination, confidence and many other aspects of wellbeing. See Riding for the Disabled to find local centres (including Barton End) that offer sessions (rda.org.uk).
Pick up poo
Cotswold Riding for the Disabled based at Cheltenham Racecourse is currently fully booked but does operate a waiting list for new riders. In the meantime, it is on the lookout for more volunteers to help at the centre, says general manager Claire Jenkins. “Grooming, sweeping the yard, tack cleaning, mucking out stables, gardening in the sensory walk, weeding and clearing in the field” are all among activities – so you keep fit as well as help out.
“We have 16 ponies and each produces ten tonnes of manure a year,” Claire adds. “Picking up poo is a great upper body exercise!” If you would like to volunteer – or want some manure for your garden – do get in touch (tel. 01242 584420 or visit the website cotswoldrda.org.uk).
Rhythmic pedalling on a cycle ride is wonderfully therapeutic
ABOVE: Horse riders along the River Eye, Lower Slaughter, Gloucestershire
ABOVE: Walking in Broadway, Worcestershire
For further information on the Cotswolds AONB and the Cotswolds Conservation Board Cotswolds Conservation BoardCotswolds Discovery Centre, Fosse Way, Northleach, Gloucestershire, GL54 3JHTel: 01451 862000 www.cotswoldsaonb.org.uk