It was a pleasant surprise to have a good turnout at this time of year, Covid and all. Clive was back from his faraway rural idyll; Dave Matthews, Neil, Trevor, Ray, Jim and myself made up The Magnificent Seven. Ray was doing his own thing, and Jim had injured his back through practising Tantric sex, or bringing the coal up from the cellar (he wasn't sure). I learnt later that Peter tried to join us but had left home late. Perhaps an electric motor for his bike is no longer enough, and he now requires one to get his backside into gear. Rose Farm had duly provided a table each which enabled safe distancing.
I had sounded out The Bhurtpore in advance, in order to see if we could lunch, warm and dry, inside. So it was, that five of us headed out via Tarporley and picturesque Tilstone Bank (where Dave Matthews had once lived). Ray appeared from behind a hedge a few miles south of Bunbury, and joined us for a while before heading for No Mans Heath. On reaching Brindley, we had time to add on a loop taking in Ravensmoor and Sound. This would have necessitated me swopping from OS map 117 to 118, and just checking the mini maze of lanes for a minute to ensure that I had it right in my head. My new customised map is in the post, so I won't have the map changing hassle in this area again. In this instance, Dave 'The Knowledge' Matthews saved me the trouble, as he could take us to Sound blindfolded. There was still a chance to play safe at Sound and cut off for Aston, but I calculated that we could get a few more miles in, on what had become a lovely sunny morning. We crossed the main Whitchurch to Nantwich road and headed past the moated Hall o'Coole, before joining the familiar back route south towards Audlem, and then cutting back north-west at Brickwall Farm. We arrived at the Bhurtpore bang on my booked time of 12.30. True as their word they gave us a table each, indeed the whole back room was exclusively ours.
Talk at lunch included riding through floods, and Clive recalled Runcorn Roy riding through calf high water to see if they could all get through. Clive's daughter had sent a picture to his phone of a rider nearly up to his crossbar, which given Clive's previous penchant for off-piste cycling environments we assumed was him. My glass of local cider was very moreish, and the food was good. They were a bit slow taking our food order, which meant enough time had passed for us to miss some very heavy rain before our return.
The troops wanted to return by way of Wrenbury and Cholmondeley, and then some would carry on over Harthill, and I would follow Dave Matthews along his 'secret lane' in the direction of Peckforton. Eventually, there was an informal decision for riders to crack on as required, as I was the only one riding back to Rose Farm, and it was better to be safely home before dusk on a short winter's day. Neil had waited, and I had eased off in order to keep the group together as much as possible. I had a hairy moment, trapped on the inside of a passing artic, as I sped down the main road by The Bickerton Poacher. Another juggernaught came around the corner ahead, and fortunately braked, so avoiding a head-on crash, or me becoming sausage meat in the gutter. I returned solo via Beeston Castle, Wharton's Lock and Birch Heath. Just Rose Farm there and back was about 38 miles. Another enjoyable day in good company, somewhat against the odds.