I was pleased to see Ray in the Car Park at Chirk. We poked our heads around the front door at Castle Bistro just before 10a.m., and had the place to ourselves. We had just started our coffees when Dave Matthews made a welcome entrance, as promised. He had arrived by train, having rode in from Chester, and intended to ride back to Oscroft. Dave is a bit wary at the moment of pushing himself too hard in a group, as he has to be careful to safely manage his condition. And so it was: Ray and me, Little and Large. It was like comparing a light and lithe Lotus Evora, with an older, well upholstered Jaguar XJ6.
Fortunately for me, Ray was prepared to “bimble” and enjoy it. We reached the dodgy A5 roundabout at the right moment, and managed to nip across quickly, before heading for Hindford. Last time we were down here a left turn was missed, which left us with a few miles of main roads in and out of Whittington in order to get back on track. So began a regular trace and check process, to ensure that there were no unplanned excursions. I traced the route I had highlighted on my map the day before, and Ray checked that his Garmin supported my choices of direction. We drifted down on these quiet lanes before a small climb to Welsh Frankton, then crossed the main road to Ellesmere, and continued surfing down to the Llangollen Canal. The steepness of the little humpback bridge here is remarkable, and if you can attain enough speed on the approach you could probably emulate Eddie the Eagle at the top. The stretch into the wind to Rednal had me dropping back from my fitter companion. I failed to convince myself that it was just down to my bigger frontal area. Around the exposed old airfield we noted the decommissioned yellow naval helicopter on the right. At Haughton, we turned right in a Clivesque exploratory diversion in order to take a dekko at the estate of Tedsmore Hall. On we went to pretty Wykey, followed by a sharp wooded drop to the River Perry and a slog up the other side past Boreatton Park. Ray was enjoying the leisurely change from his normal pace, and being able to look around at some of the beautiful villages and features, and smell the flowers. He said that it reminded him of what had attracted him to cycling in the first place. With the wind now behind us for the first time, we swept beyond Weston Lullingfields at a fair lick, with little effort. This was the essence of Chester easy riding: little lanes, few vehicles, lush scenery, relaxed progress and good company. Enjoying living in the moment. Just past Petton Hall we reached the A528 and were soon turning into the Burlton Inn, bang on the booked timeof 12.45 p.m.
The welcome was warm and the food is very good at the Burlton Inn, although the absence of light bites on the menu was, surprise, surprise, more problematic for Ray than myself. Then! Out of the Blue! Who turned up? It was Peter, who is virtually self-isolating for family reasons, but had covered well over forty miles already from Chester on his own route, with the hope of making a distanced greeting to our group at lunch. Obviously, our group was just us two. We were outside and it was sunny with a breeze, so Peter joined us two metres away for a pleasant chat and even enjoyed a pint of beer. It was great to see him.
We headed back via Loppington, and Lyneal mainly on well surfaced, quiet, narrow lanes, although before Loppington we could hear a very loud horn somewhere behind us, and it turned out to be an outsize, lumbering lorry which had to sound its horn before every bend. Eventually, it thankfully passed us. At Colemere there was a surprising amount of activity, with people driving out, often to walk their dogs. We crossed the main road before Ellesmere at Spunhill, and mused about how lovely it would be to live in one of the attractive cottages where you wake up every morning with White Mere at the bottom of your garden. The remainder of the route was by way of Tetchill, Perthy, New Marton and St.Martins. The route wasn't too wet and dirty, but from before Colemere all the way back to Chirk there were plenty of ups and downs. Approaching Chirk from the south-west the obvious options for the last two or three miles are not great. As a more stimulating alternative, for the first time, some years ago I led a group down to Ponty-y-blew, deep in the valley, knowing it would be a steep climb out to Chirk, but picturesque and out of the traffic. I think most of you have experienced this route now, but it had been a while since I had been down there. For once I followed my instinct rather than check the map. That was a mistake! Like a City or United defender playing in Europe, my lack of discipline and focus near the end blew it. Ray used his Garmin to bail us out, and we eventually crossed the river and conquered the two stiff little climbs to enter Chirk by the back door. Ray had no problems, but was patient enough to wait for me as I chugged uphill in a very low gear. It was just after four o'clock, and we had covered about Forty- two miles. I really enjoyed riding with Ray, and Peter evidently enjoyed his trip, and arrived home safely.