We set off from the Ice Cream Farm, with Dave Matthews joining us for a few miles on his road to recovery. Brown Knoll was followed by a fiddle around Duckington before crossing the A41 and skirting Edge Hall, hitting the Roman road near Kidnal, then climbing towards Malpas. We swept down through the village, passing the cross and following the B5395, before taking the quiet lanes off to Higher Wyche and Iscoyd Park. The estate buildings here go back to the 17th. Century, and the impressive Georgian Hall is used for wedding receptions. We turn right down a narrow lane through a green glade. Then, pass a track at Whitewell which leads to St. Mary's: a little white church by a brook. We are soon heading south, crossing two main roads without fuss, and making good progress on the largely flat roads between Fenn's Old Hall and Waterloo. Here I try some delightful unknown lanes around Paddol Green, before heading down the B5476 into the centre of Wem. Left at the church, and right before the railway bridge brings us, hungrily, to Tilley. As we swing right we see the attractive Tilley Raven pub, with people sitting outside in the sun. Perfect! It was my first time here, and it was friendly with really good food. Clive had approved my lunchtime venue choice, so it should be on Stephen's list.
Particularly on these longer rides, the lunchtime stop is not necessarily the furthest point from home, so a second planned stop well before four o'clock is desirable, otherwise the return journey can be a bit of a long cafe-closed slog. It can feel particularly unremitting if you find yourself having to make polite small talk with Andy for over forty miles. Stage two then was to end with coffee and cake on the side of the Mere at Ellesmere. Our route took a sweep west along quiet, easy lanes, threading through lots of little villages including Loppington, Cockshutt, Bagley and Hordley. Somewhere on the way, a lasting image was of a smiling woman approaching us on a magnificent grey horse, controlled as in a dressage event. We then headed north to Ellesmere via Tetchill. Passing the college, with young people sporting in the sun on the cropped green turf, made me wish that I was fifteen again. Sitting on the side of The Mere with a drink and a thick slice of bara brith was just smashin'! Stage three was about twenty six miles, beginning with a climb past Sandyhill and on to Penley, Holly Bush, Worthenbury and Shocklach. Leaving Ellesmere late reminded me of a traditional mid-summer long ride led by Bryan a few years back. After slow service at a late lunch stop we were somewhere the wrong side of Shrewsbury, and it was late afternoon with many miles to go. A break at the Black Lion in Ellesmere led to a discussion as to a choice of routes back. I remember being assertive with Ray Hardman in ascertaining the shortest route home, and arguing that this was the only sensible option! We duly returned via Penley and Holly Bush, arriving back around Chester late enough for your mum to have the police out looking for you. These days I am more used to enjoying the last leg of a longish ride, rather than just feeling trepidation. Mind you there is nothing wrong with 40-45 easy miles, and I feel that the need to contest the last few miles home at a very fast pace is also becoming a bit of a tiresome normal expectation. You can make a moderate rider go faster and longer, but you can't stop some of us wanting to be very happily, very moderate at times.
At Crewe-by-Farndon, we turned right for Stretton, Barton, Coddington and Chowley before reaching Tattenhall with 66 miles on the clock. Steve Tan had had to ride home to Runcorn, as when I rang him from Ellesmere he had already finished his ride with the fast group! Andy still had to get back to Upton, so probably clocked up around 80 miles. It was a great group to be out with, and those smoothly surfaced, quiet, little Shropshire lanes were an absolute treat.