Sadly, all our Welsh contingent were confined to their own council areas due to Covid restrictions. Nevertheless, it was a very reasonable turnout at Meadow Lea, our chosen alternative to Chirk. It was great to see Steve Futcher again, and he and Erik chose to ride with the Fast Lads. Clive had been delayed by a puncture, but Ivan and John appeared around 10.30 to collect Steve and Erik and rejoin Clive for their ride.
Mike Dodds was making a welcome return to the group after living in Germany for a while, and then quarantining. The moderate group consisted of Steve Tan, Trevor, Neil, Mike and myself. Dave Matthews rang to say that he had been delayed by a puncture, but he intended to join us, so we arranged to meet at Waverton. I had planned to have lunch at The Farmer's Arms at Ravensmoor, an old favourite of Mike Morley's. I discovered that although the bar was open, the kitchen was still closed, so, instead, I had pre-booked The Bhurtpore, a bit further on. There were a couple of groans about a so, so familiar destination, but Neil had never been, and it is a reliable venue in uncertain times.
My intended route had some quirks. Firstly, we went out past Ivan's house to Vicars Cross, and then crossed the canal and A41 to Rowton before reaching Waverton by Moor Lane, which surprised Dave Matthews, who then met us at the primary school. We made good progress alongside the Shropshire Union Canal, before heading for Beeston via Huxley and Brassey Green. Dave Matthews had his second puncture of the day before we reached the A49, and as he had his car to pick up later, decided to sort it out and return home. Our route was then familiar, riding south-west of Bunbury. But we took an unusual excursion to Haughton Hall, and south of Brindley headed east before crossing the Llangollen Canal and turning right for Ravensmoor and Sound. We had clocked up a good few wind-assisted miles by this stage, so headed for Wrenbury and Aston, instead of trying to do the Hall o'Coole loop. Neil was interested in taking a left straight to the pub as we approached Woodcotthill Lane. I explained that you needed paddy-field waders and a big shovel to cross the River Weaver half way down. Clive enjoyed it in his Brown Period, but the last time I used it as a “short-cut” I was ten minutes behind the others at the end, and my machete was blunt.
We were a little late for our booked reservation at the Bhurtpore. Not that it mattered, as we were given the usual friendly reception, and the choice of where to sit. We chose two tables in the deserted back room. The food was fine, and the conversation ranged from the pub's connection with the British Empire in India, to the importance of circadian rhythms (Mike), and conjecture about who could possibly have managed the coronavirus epidemic worse than Boris? The young staff were very pleasant, but seemed inexperienced: I think something was nearly thrown over Neil, and we had to work out our own bills from the till slip. I finished up paying for two “1/2 Squashes” with my curry, and I don't think any of us ordered a Squash! Anyway, I did have a drink, and nobody appeared to feel “ripped-off”.
Our return ride threatened to be mostly into a headwind. Mike had a sniper's shot puncture near Chorley, and too many cooks managed to sort it, but with some difficulty, and not enough distancing. Short of the beautifully bricked Old School House, we deviated left down the tiny lanes near Spurstow Lower Hall, and approached a deep flood. We all managed to plough through it and shortly after were applauded by two ladies. Not that Neil was too impressed with my sock soaking choice of route. At Spurstow, Mike's tyre made a loud noise again, and was instantaneously flat. I found a large hole in the cover, and on proper examination the tyre had the strength of ancient papyrus. Steve magicked up two tyre patches, which were doubled up. Neil has nine discarded tyres on his garage floor, so he has had plenty of practice changing tyres, and gave a You Tube demonstration of how to do so, slickly. He just needed persuading, that perhaps less air pressure than normal may help avoid another high-pressure explosion. Mike was very apologetic, but most of us have been there, sadly, sometimes more than once, in overlooking a tyre that was too worn. Sure, sometimes it's old git meaness to get our moneysworth, but often it's just that bike tyres haven't been one of life's priorities recently. The remainder of the route went well via Peckforton, Beeston, Newton, Greenlooms, Waverton and Stamford Heath. Neil peeled off for home along the way. 56 miles covered, more for most. Quite a stretch for a moderate ride at this time of year, but it will have done us good.