Where shall we head for today? “I haven’t prepared a ride”, says Bryan as we sat outside of Bellis café in the near sunshine (post a small recent rain shower). Everybody else i.e. Graham and Jane, Dave and Liz P, Ivan and newcomer Kate (welcome!) are in sheep mode, so I suggest a gentle ride to Whitchurch, cognizant that last week’s special ride was a 113 miler. Bryan asks me to keep the pace down so as to ensure a sparkling pace does not intimidate Kate. I don’t think we needed to – was it for you Bryan? Off we go via the back lanes on the Welsh side of the Dee in the direction of Bangor. Ivan and I cannot resist the Bangor straight and we hit 30mph before slowing down for the cobbled stone bridge into Bangor. Up and out up the hill to Worthenbury darting down Mulsford lane towards Tallarn Green. Nothing special to report except quiet lanes and improving weather. Down “The Lane”, I decide against Lower Wych and head for Higher Wych but take the wrong turn out towards Agden rather than a right to Iscoyd Park. Never mind, there is a rough track to cut back to the correct road but we all take a look and decide we can live with the diversion into Whitchurch via Grindley Brook. Bryan leads us to a pub he knows in Whitchurch – the White Bear– we lock up the bikes in the courtyard and start ordering drinks only to find out that there is no food until tomorrow. Apparently the new landlord has just taken over the pub. What to do but to sit in the sun nursing our pints whilst Liz and I research the High Street. Ivan has suggested the Old Town Vaults and we are in luck. So having paid the “parking fee” at the White Bear, we leave the bikes there and walk the 50 yards across the road. There are seven draft beers on offer, a £6.95 senior citizens two-course menu, and a very decent youngsters menu as well. We sit in the “garden” at the back, out of the sun and the food comes up promptly. Glasses are refilled as we start to talk about a way back. A smile from the landlady would have topped off a very pleasant lunch stop. A route via Marbury, No Man’s Heath, and Tilston is plotted as we set off in the sunshine through some delightful English countryside. At the Wetreins Lane turn, Ivan and I decide to go back via Carden, Tattenhall and Waveton to Chester, while the rest set off downhill back to Bellis’s. Kate is still smiling and will have notched up 38+ miles round trip on her new Trek 1.2. With the 26 miles round trip from Bellis to Chester, a respectable 64 enjoyable miles of English and Welsh countryside have passed us by. See route map and/or gpx file download.
With the longest day almost on us what could be more appropriate than a 100 plus mile ride to make maximum use of the daylight. Today’s special ride would do just that: meet at Chester Station at 08.00 hours for an 08.30 depart and as it turned out return at 21.00 hours with the sun sinking after an absolutely perfect cycling day.
Photographs by Bryan Wade and Mike Morley
I left home with the route in the SatMap and four OS maps in the rack pack for backup. At the Station I was joined by Graham and Jane Turner until, with five minutes to go, Ray H and Dave P arrived. At 08.30 exactly we left the Station heading east before turning off the main road to pass the Law College, through Christleton to Waverton canal bridge where Dave Hill and Dave Heath were waiting to join us. “Where’s Mike?” I asked. “With you” came the reply, and sure enough he had somehow joined the back of the group without me realising. With all eight of us together there was just enough time for a photograph before starting the first leg to Market Drayton.
On home territory there was no need to check the SatMap, other to ensure it was recording properly, and with the wind behind us we made good progress through Tattenhall, over Harthill to Bickerton where a major cycling event appeared to be starting with a police motorcycle escort. All to soon we had to leave the other cyclists, with their police escort, to shouts of “You’re going the wrong way” from bystanders.
Our plan was to do a steady 14 mph, 30 minutes elevenses at Market Drayton, 60 minutes for lunch and 30minutes at Ellesmere for afternoon tea. Even with what seemed to be an interminable wait at the level crossing in Wrenbury we were well on target as we progressed south to Market Drayton arriving at 11.00 with some 30 plus miles on the clock. Ray had arranged for elevenses to be taken at the Pheasant Grill so we were somewhat surprised to find a notice in the window “Closed due to family funeral”. No matter: the alternative Buttercross Tea Room round the corner proved more than capable with delightful service and help at hand as locals popped into the kitchen to help. “Is this a community café?” asked Dave Heath. Fair enough, but with eight cyclists to serve, service lacked a certain urgency and it was 12 noon before we left! Out of the Buttercross we take a right and just as we turn into a very narrow lane there’s a shout from the back that we’re missing Dave P and Dave Heath. With no sign of them after a few minutes a phone call revealed they had turned left at the Buttercross! Once reunited we are again on the back lanes passing through Hodnet and Stanton upon Heath before making a brief ‘cultural’ stop for photos at Moreton Corbet Castle. By this time I had already decided that out of the three potential lunch stops the nearest at Cross Houses was the only possible one. South through Upton Magna, over the River Severn at Atcham and on to Cross Houses where we arrive at The Bell at a little after 2.00pm with 60 miles clocked. Here we take a relaxed lunch with a choice of excellent food (although the liver and bacon casserole did seem to be missing the bacon) and Bombardier.
It was 4.00pm when we left, so no chance of making Ellesmere for afternoon tea but we enjoyed the ride through the lanes south of Shrewsbury before turning north for Ford, where we hit rush-hour traffic, and Montford Bridge to cross the Severn. By this time Dave Hill was feeling peckish so in search of a shop we went through the centre of Baschurch rather than the scenic route by the church but without any success. The route from there to Ellesmere took us on delightful lanes through Lower Hordley and into Ellesmere by the marina. It was now just after 6.00pm and with 90 miles done we were ready for a break. The Black Lion did us proud with apple crumble, jam rolly-poly, coffee and lime and soda.
“Which way back Bryan?” “Penley, Threapwood and Farndon” I replied. “Not up those hills!” was the almost universal response in a tone of almost abject disbelief. Now I never thought I would hear Dave Hill complain about the hills but there is a first for everything and sensing revolt I quickly asked for alternatives. A variety of routes taking in Overton, Bangor on Dee, Wrexham Industrial Estate and Holly Bush were all mentioned before a compromise route of Penley, Holly Bush, Worthenbury and Farndon was agreed. Fully refreshed we left the Black Lion at 7.00pm to start the final leg back to Chester. By Farndon the group had started to fragment with Ray, Mike and Dave Heath some way ahead while Dave Hill, Jane and Graham turned off for Pulford leaving Dave Pipe and I to take the B road through Aldford back to Chester where we arrived just before 9.00pm having clocked 113 miles for the day. See route map and/or gpx file download.
Just like Caergwrle, a start from Hawarden usually means a lot of hills in prospect and today’s ride was not a disappointment. Although Jim and Bryan were at the Gallery Café, it was Dave & Liz P, Mike and Dave H and myself who set off for Denbigh. Bryan had a genuine reason not to ride, but Jim’s sounded a little suspect! Out via Buckley, New Brighton and Sychdyn, we skirted north of Mold heading for Gwernaffield. This road from Mold to Gwernaffield is a bit like the Minera Steps, but eventually the top was crested near to Mold golf club. The single chevroned twisting road down to the small bridge was quickly followed by a double chevroned ascent. Dave H on his Marin, fully employed the ultra low gearing specified on his new bike, as we all puffed our way up and out, soon turning right northwards thus bypassing Cilcain itself. All the Moels (Famau, Llys-y-coed, Arthur) were resplendent against the greyish and windy skyline. The narrow lane rapidly opened up into a highway used by trucks from the nearby quarry. On reaching the A541, we were accosted by a Volvo driver asking if we knew anyone who wanted a tandem; Mike offered to facilitate a potential sale via the CTC website. Quickly turning left off the main road, we headed ever upwards to the Moel Arthur pass at 1130ft. It was a charming gradual climb through a wooded valley crowned by a magnificent view of the Vale of Clwyd. We pushed on downhill for once across the Clwyd river valley and into Denbigh, passing on the outskirts a very charming light stone church. The town centre was reached by yet another steady climb. We scouted out a few pubs but none appeared to serve food, but a local advised us to go to the Forum tea shop/restaurant (opposite Boots) and an excellent recommendation it was. Good food at reasonable prices served promptly; and you could buy a pint as well! All agreed it was a lunch stop for the list. Leaving on the back lane towards Trefnant, the sun highlighted the edge of the escarpment across the valley that we knew we had to climb a few miles later on. On reaching Tremeirchion, the tandem duo wisely decided to find a flatter way back and headed off towards Rhuallt. We three monocyclists struggled uphill for what seemed miles (1.3 actually but 500ft of ascent) until a right turn found us riding essentially on the level through some beautiful countryside. Turning towards Babell, we made the slow ascent to Pentre Halkyn against a strengthening wind. Pausing at the top for views over to Liverpool, we made the usual fast return via Northop and Ewloe back to Hawarden. The lanes from the top down to Northop are fast but a very close brush with a van reinforced how dangerous they can be! The Hawarden round trip was 48.5 miles with 3600ft of ascents, adding in the 16 miles out and back, another very enjoyable ride into the quiet Clwydian countryside. See route map and/or gpx file download.
It was a good turnout at the windsurfing centre with 7 solos and one tandem. The centre was fraught with activity with a long line of huge cars disgorging single children for a watersports event.
Sat in the sun: it was almost difficult to get on the bikes and I agreed to try and deliver a route to Brian's chosen destination of Tatton Park.
The outward leg, almost immediately precipitating a peel off from Ray H, took us to Hatchmere, Norley and Acton Bridge and I admit, I didn't really know where I was at some points. We followed the CCW signs, then to Great Budworth. My first new route took us through the manicured parkland of Arley Hall where of course we all walked the short stretch of tarmac that was a path rather than bridleway.
Failing to find a pub at the right time, we eventually found the Swan at Bucklow Hill where good value 2 course meals at two for £12 were demolished. The lime and soda ranged between 51p and free! That's a new one on me.
The afternoon started with a splendid ride through the summery Tatton Park to Knutsford, then into the series of lanes to Lach Dennis and Moulton where the group unintentionally split with the back markers seeking out the track under the railway to cross the Weaver. Those off the front reappeared just after Whitegate.
The dawdlers opted for an ice cream at the Cotebrook Shire Horse Centre just minutes before they shut up for the day, with departures to parked cars or riding home from there. Jim and I were impressed however to find a previously unnoticed lake by Lime Tree Farm on our way back to Utkinton.
A successful day in grand summer warmth was pleasing all round and thanks go to all those who followed my erratic leadership. See route map and/or gpx file download.