Oxford: Pub Pit Stop
Michelle McGagh enjoys a welcome stopover at Blewbury’s cycle-friendly Red Lion
The Red Lion markets itself as friendly to cyclists, with an envious position on the South Oxfordshire hills that makes it a great staging ground for a pedal-powered mini-break or a brief stopover on the way to somewhere else.
With a seven-hour ride to the Festival of Women & Bicycles in Oxford to break up, we opted for the second option and were only too glad to discover a warm and welcoming haven from the cold and dark, with ample space to dry our soggy kit and plenty on the menu to satisfy our grumbling bellies.
It was almost pitch black when we rolled up the gravel track to the Red Lion, we were soaked and had managed to take a 20 mile ‘long cut’ travelling from London to Blewbury, Oxfordshire.
Cold and wet, you can imagine how relieved we were to see a roaring fire welcoming us into this quaint pub-restaurant-B&B. Ditching our bikes by the shed in the beer garden we scrambled inside to dry off.
It was tempting to just plonk down in front of the fire and order a beer, but we dragged ourselves up the steep, narrow staircase to our comfy little room.
The first thing we noticed was there were plenty of radiators for drying our gear – a must as we were going out and about on our bikes the following day.
Two comfy beds, a powerful shower and a TV; what more can you ask for? Oh, maybe for our very kind hosts to put our bikes away in the shed for us, which they did.
En route to Blewbury my riding buddy had introduced me to the wonders of the cinnamon buns at the Cinnamon Café in Windsor. Cinnamon is a super-popular pit stop spot among cyclists, and not just because of its tight buns. Most days of the week you can find hungry riders here refuelling before heading home – many of them making the 40-50km trip out from central London for a few short lungfuls of clean, country air.
Hours later, with the deliciously restorative mid-ride bun a distant memory, the food at the Red Lion had a great deal to live up to. Thankfully, it didn’t disappoint. Despite the typical pub name, the food served at the Red Lion is anything but bog-standard pub grub.
We started with a well-deserved pint of Shipyard IPA followed by a fab bottle of pinot noir (you should always order the pinot noir, according to my mate), and munched our way through an appetiser and three courses.
The cauliflower and tapenade bruschetta sounded odd, but it was amazingly salty – exactly what’s needed after sweating it out in a seven-hour ride.
My goat cheese bon bons with pickled veg were a delight and my friend described her rustic pate with quince marmalade as ‘juicy and zingy’ (she’d had a couple of drinks and thought she was Lloyd Grossman).
As a veggie I didn’t have a lot of options for food – my only criticism of the Red Lion’s menu – and had to settle for the vegetable and chickpea stroganoff, which was a decent portion and filling. The desserts were great too, although I was so stuffed I couldn’t finish my cheese board. We can hardly hold that against the owners though.
Out and about
The pub is nestled in a village just 20-ish miles from Oxford, which is handy if you’re travelling into the historic city – although some of the route is a bit traffic-heavy.
The pub’s real draw, though, is its location at the foot of the Berkshire Downs. Riding out from the Red Lion you can take in spectacular scenery in the Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve or venture into the Chiltern Hills. It’s a good idea to bring your climbing legs around this area, but the effort is always rewarded with glorious views.
This pub may have been a tad difficult to find thanks to a dodgy GPS and a lack of streetlights, but once we were over the threshold it more than made up for it. Hearty breakfasts to set you up for a day of riding, friendly staff who are more than happy to accommodate bikes and smelly cyclists, and incredible cycle routes make this a must for those desperate to get out of the city and into the fresh air.