It was a fine day and warm enough to sit outside Cleopatra's at Holt. I was in the position of planning to lead, but realising that the fit bunch in front of me would normally ride faster than myself.
Dave Matthews was out for coffee, but not riding, and Nick was going to do his own brisk route.
Peter, Steve Hu, Clive, Alan and Andy B were happy to join me on a quiet lane meander into lush Shropshire. The Red Lion was updated on numbers for lunch, and we set off via Farndon to Tilston. I am not keen on the busier, rough and hilly roads in and out of Malpas, so I prefer to give it a miss. Instead we threaded our way south via Horton Green, Cuddington Heath and Oldcastle Heath (where excellent "Renaultsport" tuners are based in Peacock Farm).
From Bishop Bennet Way we swooped down to Lower Wych, climbed out, and then turned left to pass Strift House and head for Whitewell. I intended to show people the lovely little church here, but we lost Steve and Peter, and Peter again in a very small area! We crossed the A525 and the A495 not far west of Whitchurch, thankfully as a complete group. We were now into favourite cruising territory, sweeping down on largely smooth surfaces in the sun to Whixhall, and then west to Northwood.
The lanes became narrower and the profile more hummocky, as we cut across to Lee via Lyneal, Colemere and Spunhill. The thatched cottage at the end of sun-sparkled White Mere has become the place I would most like to live! We passed the marina on the back road into Ellesmere, and the outstanding Beech House where Thomas Telford had an office next to the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union Canal c.1806. We wound our way through through the town centre in order to reach The Red Lion. Thanks to Clive's help, and the groups forebearance, the intricate route had been, I think, worth the trouble.
The welcome was friendly at The Red Lion, and we were able to space out over three tables outside at the back, with a choice of sun or shade. The food was fine, but soon we needed to get going. The planned route back was more straightforward .
We took the quiet route out at the north-west end of The Mere, past the cemetery, and then left over the former railway line. We rode close to Spout Wood before heading directly for Penley via the steep bank. Through Penley we turned right opposite the interesting little Madras School, and headed directly north to Holly Bush. Clive favoured the Mulsford loop to Worthenbury.
Somewhere around Glandeg Farm I noticed four riders had spurted ahead, as part of a tradition to start winding the pace up for a fast few miles to Farndon. I had missed the break! Like Egan Bernal my back wasn't great, but I think he had a better excuse than just being stiff from a couple of hours of work on the summerhouse. Unfortunately, Peter is not an elite domestique, so although I enjoyed an energised flog, my efforts didn't really qualify as a realistic chase. (By the way, I've just worked out that I am 82lb. heavier than Egan Bernal !)
We just made Cleopatra's, and I had coffee and cake with Andy before he started his return ride to Mold. Alan popped up having picked up a puncture, not for the first time recently, I understand. It is pleasing that he has now officially joined the club. I really enjoyed the day, and I hope the quicker guys didn't find things too pedestrian, at least the seven mile sprint at the end should have stretched them.
Nearly 48 mile of sunny cycle surfing in scenic countryside with friendly company. Great!