Retired, work part-time or shifts, enjoy being out in the countryside? Then cycle the lanes and byways of Cheshire and surrounding areas with Chester Easy Riders: you won't get left behind.
Chester Easy Riders is an independent cycling club affiliated to Cycling UK. We cycle every Thursday throughout the year with moderate and brisk day rides of 40 to 80 miles.

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Thursday 30 August 2012

26th August 2012: Wild Wales Challenge

What a great ride which took place in ideal sunny and dry weather conditions, providing a brief, dry interlude during one of the wettest summers on record.  As I sit here recovering from yesterday’s efforts the rain is bucketing down once again: but who cares after such a fulfilling day out in the glorious Welsh mountains.
This year’s challenge repeats a route of some 10 years ago riding out over the Hirnant Pass from Bala to Lake Vyrnwy and on to the first control at Llanerfyl village hall.  The route then turns east to follow some very lumpy roads to Machynlleth where there is no control but an opportunity to grab some much needed lunch.  After this brief respite the route turns north to follow a small back road to Corris and then the mountain road west to Aberangell and Dinas Mawddwy.  The Bwlch y Groes looms above this control and provides a challenging route back to the finish in Bala after a total of 83 miles and 7,000ft of climbing.
There were 6 of us Chester Easy Riders at the 08:15 start in Bala - the Geneva-Nice team (Martin Donaldson, David Matthews, Dave Pipe & Ray Stigter) putting all that alpine fitness to good use, along with Lowri Evans and Dave Hill who employed locally gained Welsh mountain fitness to get the two of them round the demanding course.
The following account relies mostly on my own experiences as we rode at our own pace and only coincided on the road as circumstances and pace allowed.  The mountain goat team of Martin and Ray disappeared into the distance beyond Lake Vyrnwy never to be seen again.  I believe they finished 2 hours ahead of the rest of us in the speedy time of 8 hours.
Since riding this course some 10 years ago a couple of handy books have been written by Simon Warren which document and grade 200 climbs in Britain’s hills.  Three climbs from the books are included in this ride, which gives some idea of the overall challenge.  The hills between the listed climbs often seemed just as severe as we linked up the well known, “big ticket” ascents.
First up was the Hirnant (grade 7/10), which provided an ideal warm up.  Not too steep at first, but rising to a 15% gradient for a brief section near the top.  The descent was fairly tricky as the road through the trees was damp in places.  There was also a fair amount of gravel that caused at least one rider to crash out.
On the Hirnant

Photographs by David Matthews

Once down at Lake Vyrnwy, whilst I was still in touch with Ray, we had a real blast riding with bunches of cyclists along the level, lakeside road to Llanwddyn.  Beyond this point I left my comfort zone of well-known roads to climb through a series of steep narrow lanes to eventually emerge onto the A458 at Llangadfan.  A short distance after this the first control at Llanerfyl village hall was reached.  There were long queues of cyclists here that caused a wait of 15 minutes or so to get through to the electronic control check and subsequently grab a snack.  Whilst waiting in the queue I met up with fellow Seamons CC rider Stuart Kay, last met on the Costa Blanca in April, so the queue time passed quickly for us as we caught up with the club news.
Leaving the control southwards the route follows one of my favourite roads in Wales along the peaceful and remote Nant y Eira valley, protected by its multitude of cattle grids.  On this occasion the road had recently been covered in liberal quantities of gravel which slowed things down a bit but the wheel crunching noise did give warning of a small convoy of 1930’s touring cars creeping along behind us.
After this relatively gentle interlude, there were yet more steep, twisty, narrow lanes that eventually led out to “big city” Machynlleth.  It seemed that most of the 500+ riders had arrived here simultaneously as every cafe and shop was filled to bursting with hungry & thirsty cyclists.  After standing in a cafe queue for 10 minutes and getting nowhere, I gave up and raided the local Spar shop for water, Eccles cakes and a banana.  Not the best meal---but packed full of energy!
The next section turned north for Corris and the Dyfi Forest climb (grade 7/10) with its 17% and 20% gradients over to Aberangell.  I wasn’t looking forward to this climb as I had traversed it with Ray some 12 days previously when checking the route sheet for the new 208k (130 mile) Audax “The Barmouth Boulevard”.  The three big lifts through the forest seemed really exhausting a couple of weeks ago after riding a challenging 80 miles prior to the ascent; on this occasion the climb coming after 60 miles of hilly roads seemed more reasonable to both of us.
Commemorative slate
Beyond Aberangell, a narrow riverside road leads to Dinas Mawddwy where the village hall control point is overshadowed by the looming presence of Bwlch y Groes. After a quick snack, I nervously rode out along the 4 mile approach road up the Afon Dyfi valley to the foot of the pass (the highest tarmacked pass in Wales; grade 10/10) and the start of the real climbing just beyond Llanymawddwy.  The road immediately rises up at 25% and maintains a similar gradient for the next 3 miles to the summit.  Most riders (self included) walked a few sections of the pass to relieve the strain, so congratulations to Ray and Dave Pipe who rode the whole way.
Once on top of the Bwlch y Groes there is an exhilarating descent to Bala Lake followed by a quick blast round the east side to Bala, the final control, a brew and a well earned commemorative slate.  A great day out and it’s all on again for next year.  
Many thanks to Organiser Denis Holder for coming out of retirement and once again providing such a consistently great event.

Saturday 25 August 2012

23rd August 2012: Mersey Estuary

Liverpool skyline
All aboard
Ray, Trevor, Dave B, Mike M, Clive, Liz D and Brian were all raring to go from Ness Gardens by 10:25.  Brian had asked for a smart, sharp departure before 10:30; Ray was so quick getting away, that he forgot to pay.  A quick ride diagonally across to Woodside saw us catching a ferry, much preferred to the electric train.  All on board safely, a picture taken of us seven, showed Dave decidedly sea sick and Mike cropped out completely.

Photographs by Brian MacDonald

Is Dave sea sick? What's happened to Mike?
After the Albert Dock, an easy ride took us downstream on the Lancs side past Otterspool, through Grassington Park, old Garston village and out at the old Speke Airfield.  A path is marked on the A-Z atlas running between the airport and the estuary.  It may be worth checking out before the next ride to see if it’s passable.  Good time was made to The Wellington Pub in Hale, a Marston’s roadhouse similar to The Eastham Ferry.  A wide menu choice was on offer with the bonus of Lime and S only costing £1 and beer at £2.50.  Result.  Worth a return visit, as this area was devoid of pubs and cafes.  
Widnes staircase

After lunch, the ride saw us on parkland along the river bank and across The Bridge to that other desert, Runcorn.  The place has always been a minefield to cycle through, as it’s devoid of signs & what there are only point to places in the middle of the town.  Dave H had come to the rescue with a map running south to north, which I used on the recee.  Returning south, we saw a sign for a place we recognised called Acton Bridge & followed Sustrans route 562 past bingo halls, parks and motorways, before being ejected out onto the A56.  
Over the bridge
A ride along the main road through Frodsham, took us to the B road across to the Windsurfing Centre, where coffee and cake was consumed.  Suitably refreshed, and with Mike having departed earlier, we set off on the final leg through the Mickles to Mollington, where Clive left us.  Liz, Trevor & Brian arrived back at Ness after 7 hours and with 59 easy miles under our belts.  This ride could be done quicker in winter, provided you did not catch the ferry, which is both more expensive & slower than the frequent trains from Hamilton Square.
See route map and/or gpx file download.

Friday 17 August 2012

16th August 2012: Audlem (mod)

With a glorious sunny day in prospect a good turnout at Hildegard’s was to be expected.  Brian Mac just returned from his work at the Olympics was engrossed in a newspaper while demolishing his breakfast when I arrived.  He had apparently been up since five and had already done his ride!  Martin & Liz D, Jim, David M, Dave H, Andy, Trevor, Ray and I made up the remaining nine plus Mike Roberts from the Wrexham Reivers/Café Hoppers joining us for the day on his trike.
Jim had a route in mind to the Shroppie Fly in Audlem via Tilston and Wrenbury that sounded just right.  It was soon apparent that out of the 11 present only eight of us were riding, leaving Brian Mac, David M and Trevor to indulge further.  After a little cajoling we set off with Jim in the lead clutching a scrap of paper that doubled up as his GPS and satnav.  We made good progress through Tilston, then bypassing Malpas to No Mans Heath where we crossed the A41.  Mike Roberts decided to turn off just after Bickley Town as we reached the A49.  From here it was a lovely relaxing ride across to Wrenbury where we arrived with perfect timing just as the canal bridge was being lowered: no waiting today then.  Conversation continued as we made our way on the final stretch through Aston and Brown’s Bank to Audlem.
The Shroppie Fly was already busy when we arrived but we got two outside tables to soak up the sun while our orders were prepared.  The selection of ales was good ranging from Timothy Taylor Landlord to Bays Winning Gold (brewed for the 2012 Olympics) but the lime and soda drinkers found the price excessive.  That aside, it’s a lovely quiet spot here on the bank of the canal: a perfect place to relax and forget about the troubles of the world.  
The route back saw us retracing our steps to Wrenbury but then heading north to Cholmondeley before turning off to Hampton Post and Hampton Heath for the return leg back through Tilston.  Arriving back in Holt by 15:30 we had plenty of time for tea/coffee and a choice of Hildegard’s cakes before it was time to split up and make for home.
A lovely relaxing 43 miles with friends: a perfect day.

14th August 2012: Barmouth Boulevard

The Barmouth Boulevard is a brand new audax 208km event heading out from Corwen round Lake Bala, over the Trawsfynydd mountain road and on to Harlech and Barmouth.  The return is through the Bird Rock road to Abergynolwyn, Corris, the mountain road to Mallwyd, Cross Foxes and Bala town.  It is scheduled as a calendar event for October 20, but can be ridden anytime as a "permanent". 
The purpose of today’s ride, apart from having a great day out, was to get Ray to check out the route sheet as initially prepared by DM.  It is quite remarkable how many first time errors appear in route sheets (as well as subsequent changes put in by road makers) and the best way to counter this is to get a second person to ride the route and see it through their eyes.
After several false starts caused by rubbish weather, we eventually left Corwen at 07:30 on Tuesday 14 August and headed out to Bala on a day that threatened just a few showers.  We turned off the main Bala road to ride alongside the E side of the lake, which road was covered in rather dangerous new gravel in several places, to the first control at the Eagle Inn in Llanuwchllyn.  After a good fill of coffee and doorstep toast, we set off for Trawsfynydd over the narrow mountain road.  The gravel spreaders had been at work here also and made the first 10k dangerous as well as strenuous up the steep hills.  The gravel rather spoiled the spectacular mountain views, as all our senses were required to stay on the bike.
Fortunately the gravel ended abruptly just before the last hill, so we could then enjoy the ride and views over to Trawsfynydd and the subsequent main road route to Harlech.  After a deli stop in Harlech, we then continued down the main road to Barmouth, followed by a ride over the Causeway to the Towyn road.  This section of road is really beautiful as it climbs above the sea before finally turning inland near Llanegryn, leading to the fantastic mountain views along the Bird Rock road to Abergynolwyn.
The official control here is at the local library/cafe/post office which we now know is open 6 days per week - closed Tuesdays.  Fortunately we spotted a nice pub down the road where we got our cards stamped and filled up selves and bottles with liquid refreshment.  The route now leads northeast past several lakes and a big climb to Corris.  After Corris, we turned off along another mountain road through Aberllefenni that has been recently resurfaced.  This nice surface helps just a bit on the 17% and 20% ascents over to Mallwyd and civilisation.
The next part of the ride was one of the hardest in our fairly tired state, as we had to climb 10k from Mallwyd up to Cross Foxes on the main road.  No chance of falling asleep here as white van men and tourists whizzed close by on the road and Tornado jets screamed overhead on low level exercises.  Once recovered in Cross Foxes, we headed off through Brithdir and then the main road to Bala followed by the Pale route to Corwen.
Overall a hard but very fulfilling day out of 132 miles (212K) and 12,000ft (3500m) ascent in 13.5 hours.  Thanks to Ray for his company, improvements to the route sheet and for waiting for me at the summit of the hills.
David M

Sunday 12 August 2012

9th August 2012: Dunham Massey (brisk)

Arrived at Rose Farm cafe, Utkinton at 10:00 to find Ivan sat on the benches outside in glorious sunshine. 
No one else had turned up by 10:30 so we set off for the Red Barn at Dunham Massey via Antrobus and all sorts of obscure lanes.  A few miles beyond Antrobus, we alighted on an old aircraft runway where Ivan pulled out his DNA test kit to confirm that the bloodstains on the runway had in fact been left by Trevor a couple of weeks ago.
To Ivan's dismay we could not find the pub at Dunham Massey, so settled for soft drinks, sandwiches and supercharged German almond cake (DM only on this one) at the Red Barn farm.
Still in glorious weather, we returned through Hale (excellent for ornithology according to Ivan who fell off my back wheel at this stage) along DM's old Seamons CC tracks and onward through Tatton Park to Knutsford.  From here we followed the now traditional route past The Bells of Peover to Davenham and the secret road to Whitegate and the Shire Horse Cafe for a well-earned brew.
Finally we rode along the secret lake road to Utkinton and Oscroft where Ivan continued onward to Chester.  70 miles round trip for DM and 80 miles for Ivan; at a pace somewhat above brisk.

Saturday 11 August 2012

9th August 2012: Tracks & Trails of the High Peak

The cast of thousands - well 14 of us - assembled at the car park at the start of the Monsal Trail at 10:00 and set off at 13 mph: true Easy Riders pace! for coffee.  Martin, Liz, Trevor, Jim, Andy, George, Dave Hill, Bryan, Tony, Dave & Liz P and Dave H with special guest Collette.

Photographs by Dave Hill

The route followed the trail and tunnels for the first 9 miles avoiding the unlit walkers and ghostly cyclists appearing out of the gloom. We soon reached Bakewell Station and shot off down the unusually named Station Road to the town centre.  A bit of dicing with the locals and we were heading uphill on Yeld Road towards Youlgreave (why is it that downhills are always shorter that uphills? I bet there is a mathematical formula for that).  On reaching Youlgreave we realised that 5 of the group were missing. We had stopped to look at the medieval village at Conksbury, which we didn't find; perhaps they were still there? A phone call sorted out the problem and we agreed to meet at the pub at lunchtime. Onwards and upwards, through Middleton by Youlgreave and Elton, past the two faced stone and finally to the pub at Winster.  We seemed to have been going continually uphill for the last hour - Clive would have been proud of us!

After a leisurely lunch in the beer garden at The Miners Standard. We all set off north towards the High Peak Trail.  After a toilet stop by the junction with the Tissington Trail at Parsley Hay, the route continued north to the end of the trail.  A short dogleg across the A515 and we were following the Midshires Way north back towards Taddington. The track became steadily rougher culminating in a true off-road downhill descent to Blackwell Hall. Then a quick thrash down the B road (max 37mph) to Millers Dale followed by a short and final uphill to the car park and the coffee wagon. Then 3 miles back along the trail to our starting point. Nearly 40 miles, tough in places and easy in others, but with brilliant weather all the way.  A spectacular day was had by all.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

2nd August 2012: Llanasa

The team assembled at Spiros in Hawarden at 10:00 am like the cast from the Usual Suspects:
Martin & Liz, Mike M, Ray, Tony, Clive, George, Dave H and Jim.
There was a general atmosphere of disinterest for a long ride so I proposed a shortish trot to Llanasa for lunch and back (about 40 miles) leaving us back in time to catch the cycling at the Pleasuredrome.  All were in favour so we set off at a steady pace for Northop, Halkyn, Whitford and Llanasa.
Service was a bit slow but we didn't mind as it was heaving it down outside and I'd left my helmet on my handlebars!  Dim move, but we all make mistakes! The route back was up that interminable hill towards Trelawnyd, over the A55 and up towards Babell and Windmill. The group split at that point with those eager to see Victoria Pendleton in her lycra leading the way with myself, Dave, George and Mike following at a more sedate pace.  A slight detour from Halkyn Hill allowed us to miss the little narrow lane, at present full of mud so George assured us, and back to Northop, then Hawarden.
40 miles, with 60 for those from Chester, and we still got home for 4 pm.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

26th July 2012: Moore

The sun was out at Manley Mere and a cyclist's dozen were out to day - 12 bikes but 13 riders.  No one had a route; so the one I had prepared last November would do. I'd been out with Harry last November but didn't fancy his extended route from Grappenhall, so found my way home via Runcorn's canals. To mix it up a bit, the obvious way to Kingsley was ignored as we exited Helsby and ground up the chevroned road to Alvanley; then up onto the top via Commonside and Newton. Somewhere here the message came that Jim and Mike M were going to do their own thing, so we pressed on via Kingsley to Acton Bridge.  Aren't English lane names fascinating; there was Cliff Lane without a cliff, and Roddy Lane with a rod, and thankfully no offal in sight in Offal Pit Lane! Somewhere near Frandley, Martin and Liz decided to make their own ride, so the rest of us (Ray, Ivan, George, Trevor, Roy, Paul, Tandem Duo and myself) found ourselves zigzagging down the lanes towards Appleton Thorn via the old airfield. Here Trevor involuntarily left some of his DNA on the road as he skidded trying to avoid water-filled pots. He was OK, as was his bike, but attention was cleverly diverted to George's mudguards. Once all fixed, we skirt the Young Offenders Institution and savour the downhill run into Grappenhall. Out towards Stockton Heath, George's mudguards feature again as we ride up to Appleton Reservoir. Soon we run down into Moore and at 28 miles, are ready for lunch. The Red Lion needs a bit of TLC but the food is good. In fact, Trevor liked so much that he is due to return to collect his saddlebag sometime soon! The novelty part now starts as we "admire" the outer Runcorn estate housing architecture, and access the Runcorn branch of the Bridgewater Canal at Norton. We ride the canal towpath all the way to near the station thus bypassing most of Runcorn's architecture. Here Roy is on home territory and helps us out and up to Weston to admire the Mersey view and the Castner Kellner plant.  In Frodsham, we enjoy lattes in the air conditioned Costa Coffee before tackling the long hill out and up towards Riley's Bank and the downhill back to Manley Mere. The route was a leisurely 44 miles, but around 65 for those of us Chester bound.