Before I moved to England I lived in Los Angeles for ten years. Despite my residence in the capital city of celebrity, I rarely encountered one. In fact, I can think of only three times when I did, and one of those happened before I even lived there. I was thirteen and visiting my grandmother, which always involved a lunch outing to Canter’s Deli on Fairfax Avenue. On this occasion our elderly and insistent waitress pointed out Whoopi Goldberg at the deli counter and ushered me over to ask for her autograph, which Ms. Goldberg obligingly provided. Later, when I actually lived in L.A., I worked at Capitol Records for a few years. One day Bonnie Raitt was wandering around our floor with her hair in rollers before a video shoot. I didn’t see her though; I was out to lunch at the time of her reported appearance. My penchant for going out to lunch was rewarded when I later saw Quentin Tarantino in a booth at Birds, a chicken restaurant near the Capitol Tower.
Five years ago I moved to London from Los Angeles and then, three years later, to the Cotswolds. I went rural for the same reason I imagine many people in their thirties and forties leave London: that intangible oft described as quality of life. The last thing I expected to find amongst the honey-colored stone and rolling hills was a profusion of celebrity, but in the past two years I’ve had more star sightings than during my decade in Hollywood. I chalk this up to two factors. One is the pervasive car culture in L.A. Given the proportion of time most people spend in their cars there, it’s amazing you ever meet anyone in the flesh. The other is that neither my budget nor social stature in California supported frequenting the haunts where celebrities like to spend their time when they are not in their cars, Quentin Tarantino’s taste for budget chicken restaurants aside.
In the Cotswolds there is a distinct absence of establishments with velvet ropes and twenty dollar cocktails. No bouncer in a headset is going to ask you if you are “on the list,” although I do know somebody who managed to get banned from our local wine bar due to non-payment of his tab and the general indiscretion of being, in the words of the proprietor, an ass. The point is that the celebrities here have to mingle with the regular folk because pubs and inns and the odd wine bar are the only places to go if you want to have a drink out.
The other notable change in my lifestyle in the Cotswolds versus Los Angeles is that my preferred method of transportation is, weather allowing, my bicycle. There are endless country roads where you are more likely to come across a tractor than a car, and travelling them by bike puts you in touch with the landscape — the patterns of the hills and valleys, the flora and fauna — in an up close, visceral way inaccessible by car. It also happens that most of my Cotswold celebrity encounters have happened on cycling outings. And so in the spirit of the Hollywood star map I offer up the Hollywold map, two intermediate, all-day (thirty to forty mile) cycling routes with celebrity spotting potential. Even if you don’t bump into someone famous, you’re sure to encounter the real stars of this place: chocolate box cottages and stately manor homes, all in quintessential Cotswold stone; a cast list of snowdrops, daffodils, rapeseed, May blossom, elderflower, and blackberries in roughly seasonal order of appearance; and of course the sheep, cows, odd pheasant, race horse farms, and, if you’re lucky, a Gloucester Old Spot pig or two.
Northleach – Daylesford loop
Both rides start in Northleach, a market town near the center of the Cotswolds whose local inn has fed and watered several music superstars. Recently spotted: a member of the Rolling Stones.
1. Head out of Northleach on Farmington Road, just northeast of the market square. The ride starts with two climbs in rapid succession before you freewheel through Farmington and into Sherborne.
2. Past the Sherborne Social Club, take a left following the sign for the National Trust Water Meadows parking lot. It’s up another hill before you hit a stretch of semi- desolate plateau with sweeping views of the valleys to either side. On the left you can look down over some of the most famous Cotswold villages, Bourton-on-the-Water, and farther west, the Slaughters.
3. Take the first road on your right (if you get to Clapton, you’ve gone too far). Head down the steep hill, taking care along this weather damaged stretch of road. Follow the road into Great Rissington, then up past the Lamb Inn. At the next junction go left, past the airfield into Upper Rissington.
4. Church Westcote, reportedly Kate Winslet’s neck of the woods, is just to the east, but avoid the busy A road and, at the top of Upper Rissington, jog left then right towards Icomb. Follow the signs to Bledington then Kingham where you can make a pit stop at the Kingham Plough. You may not bump into Blur bassist Alex James here, but you can do the next best thing and eat his goat’s cheese. Better yet, take the left fork out of Kingham and in a short while you’ll be at the Daylesford Organic retail complex.
5. Daylesford has outposts around London, including Notting Hill, Pimlico and Harvey Nichols, but this is the mother ship, boasting a spa, yoga studio, garden and kitchen boutiques, butcher and food store/cafe. It’s no wonder celebs feel at home here; even the vegetable displays look set designed. During my last few lunches in the cafe I spotted a member of resurgent British boy (now middle aged man) band, Take That, on an outing with his kids and a British actor best known, according to Wikipedia, for playing “assertive bureaucrats or villains.” Should you wish for more bucolic company, pick up some goodies from the deli and enjoy a picnic on the estate.
6. Leave Daylesford and retrace your route through Kingham. Instead of heading right to Bledington, head left for Foscot, where you will fork left for Milton under Wychwood. Fork left again off the High Street then take your second right, crossing the A424 and heading into Taynton, then Great Barrington and right into Windrush. Follow the road into Sherborne where you’ll recognize your turn off from the morning by the National Trust Water Meadows sign post. Continue straight, taking the second left where this time you’ll see National Trust signs for Ewe Pen parking. It’s uphill to the A40 where you should take care crossing.
7. Once over the A40 you’ll cycle past another National Trust property, Lodge Park, which was used for deer coursing, gambling, and drinking in the 17th century. In other words it was a rural version of Vegas which the celebrities of the day may have enjoyed. Take your first right towards Eastington, which leads you back into Northleach.
Northleach – Eastleach – Barnsley loop (a.k.a. The Supermodel Circuit)
1. As with the first route, leave Northleach via the Farmington Road and continue through Farmington into Sherborne. Instead of turning left at the sign for the Water Meadows parking lot, continue on into Windrush then little Barrington, all the way into Burford, about ten miles in total. There are many options for refreshment on and around the handsome Burford high street, but you may wish to wait for the more secluded pub in Eastington, seven miles away.
2. After you’ve had your fill of Burford, head out the same way you came in, on Sheep Street, and take your first left on to Tanner’s Lane. Head up the hill to the A40, where you jog right along a pavement before crossing with care at the next left.
3. Follow the road through Westwell all the way to Eastleach where, just to the left as you enter the village, the Victoria Inn is perched on a hill. The star offering on the menu is pork from the nearby Eastleach Downs farm, but the first time I went to this pub I had a star sighting of another type: Kate Moss made an appearance, wearing wellies and a mud splotched cardigan. As she drove off in her vintage Roller, she tooted the horn and gave a wave to the bemused patrons sitting at the picnic tables on the front lawn.
4. Leave Eastleach the way you came in, then head left briefly before turning right for Hatherop and then on to Coln St. Aldwyns. From here you could go right into Bibury, site of Bibury Court, a fine Jacobean mansion converted into a hotel, as well as the oft photographed series of cottages known as Arlington Row. Alternatively go left out of Coln St. Aldwyns towards Quenington, taking the first right onto the Welsh Way before you hit the center of Quenington. This takes you all the way into Barnsley along a less busy road than the B4425, which you’ll have to brave if you choose to get to Barnsley via Bibury.
5. Barnsley’s most famous resident is yet another supermodel/actress, Liz Hurley. I’ve never seen her there, but I have enjoyed the fine gardens at Barnsley House, which are open to the public for a small admission charge. Barnsley House also owns the Village Pub across the street, a good place to stop for refreshment before the last leg of the journey back to Northleach.
6. Leaving Barnsley House or the Village Pub, take the second right off the B4425 and follow it all the way back, through Coln Rogers, Coln St Dennis, and into Northleach.
The Wheatsheaf Inn
Gloucestershire GL5 3EZ
Oxfordshire OX7 6YD01608 658 327
Gloucestershire GL56 OYG
01608 731 700
Gloucestershire GL54 3PP
01451 844130 (Lodge Park)
01451 844257 (Estate office)
The Victoria Inn
Gloucestershire GL7 3NQ
Gloucestershire GL7 5NT