Wednesday, 30 December 2020
Monday, 28 December 2020
We couldn't meet at Cleopatra's, as Wales was subject to the latest strict set of lockdown rules. My telephone enquiry earlier in the week to Alison's in Tattenhall was met with a warm and welcoming response. Alison was happy to accommodate us in relative safety. There was a heater on the covered patio if we preferred to have our coffee al fresco. It was a cold but brilliantly sunny start to Christmas Eve. I wasn't sure if anyone would turn up, with Covid cases rising, family demands and last minute domestic preparations being made. I thought Neil would make it, as he is a consistent lobbyist for Alison's. In fact, it is said that when he's not cycling or playing golf, he can sometimes be seen walking along the pavement in Tattenhall wearing an Alison's sandwich board around his neck. I wonder though, if his advocacy for this admittedly admirable establishment may have something to do with the fact that he has only to fall out of bed and he's there? He, no doubt, would have had an enjoyable, clean(!) route to suggest, with the excellent local knowledge that he has now acquired. Also, I had forgotten that Dave Matthews had let me know that he would be attending, but not riding if there was any chance of icy roads. Neil did send me an email later to say that he couldn't be with us, as he was riding with his son, which seems a smashing thing to do at Christmas.
It was good to see Nick, who had cycled out to deliver season's greetings, but generally had been doing little riding. He said that his local lanes were in a potentially dangerous state for cycling, and this wasn't helped by large tractors speeding around them. He felt that concentrating on trying to stay safe was preventing him from relaxing and enjoying his riding as normal. Jim had made the effort, but only in civvies as he had afternoon commitments. John, Ivan and Clive had ridden out from Chester, and as far as I understood, had no ambitious ride plans, as they were intending to return home handily. As far as a moderate ride goes, I had conjured up a route to The Horse and Jockey at Grindley Brook, and provisionally booked for lunch for four. However, a solo ride was now my only option, and having decided that eating alone for lunch didn't appeal, it seemed easier to drive home and ride locally, without having to think about novel routes, or falling off alone down some rarely used lane. Dave Matthews intended to do the same, as he felt that there was less chance of icy patches by the beginning of the afternoon. One thing I have reflected on this year is that we all have our own reasons, thresholds and judgements when it comes to assessing risk. I remember Ray Hardman, who used to be a key lead rider when I joined the club, cycling something like 13,000 miles well before the year was up, but he would never risk riding if there was ice about. For what it's worth, as long as you stayed alert, I didn't feel that the conditions were very risky on Thursday, although there was plenty of ice about on Christmas Day. I have given up looking for photographs of us cycling in the snow, but I do recall many wintry excursions on club rides. If you scroll back on the website to December 29th, 2016 to Daresbury; January 5th 2017 to Rhuddlan (-4C); December 28th 2017 to Overton, and March 1st 2018, all provide interesting evidence of our past willingness to take on challenging winter conditions, thankfully without any serious incidents. Reckless or resilient?
Whilst sifting through the archives I came across a report written by Macca which supports my aversion to cycling to Malpas, as he informs us that “mal” is Norman for “poor” and “pas” for roads! I can recommend “The Rough-Stuff Fellowship Archive” by Isola Press for brilliant, evocative photographs of cycling in all conditions and environments on ordinary road and touring bikes. Dave Pipe would enjoy this book; it even features some of his favourite oilskin capes.
Anyway, to get back to the reason I started to write up the ride that didn't happen, was to acknowledge the camaraderie of friends making the effort to enjoy a coffee and a chat at Alison's despite Covid and it being Christmas Eve. This is why it is such a pleasure to be a member of this club.
Friday, 18 December 2020
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.
Tuesday, 15 December 2020
The Three Muskateers turned up again, but this time joined by a Celtic raider, and all four arrived on two wheels and keen for action. Spiros and his partner were glad to see us at The Gallery Tea Rooms. They had been very enterprising in offering a successful Greek cuisine takeaway service in order to survive strict Welsh Covid restrictions. It is rumoured that before Christmas Mark Drakeford is likely to rule out drinking Baileys after 1p.m., and sleeping with a girl from the next village at any time. So it was, that Mike Gilbert, Jim, Dave Matthews and myself had wound ourselves up to Hawarden for tea and toast. Dave and Spiros traded some consultant- level insights into managing heart conditions. One piece of advice must have been “never rush your tea and toast, and remember, that it’s good to talk”, because it was a quarter to eleven before we set off.
The proposed route had been discussed on the 'phone by me and Jim in the week. I had volunteered to write the ride report if Jim was prepared to lead. In the end we were happy deferring to 'no maps' Matthew's nearly eighty years’ experience of selecting dirty little lanes in Chester and outlying districts, to seek a route to Holt. Dave felt that it would be safer passing the usual steep and rough track alongside Bilberry Wood, and continuing our ascent on the smooth, meandering main road tarmac to the A55 roundabout. We then cut back left before crossing the footbridge on our regular route, higher than Higher Kinnerton. It is always pleasant bowling along this flattish stretch with pleasing views across the Dee valley. There was some discussion about mudguard safety, and Mike pointed out his gobbets of Evo Stik ensuring that his stay nuts could not be rattled loose. Dave and I prefer a drop of locktite threadlock to do the same job neatly. Each to their own, “What wurks” as Labour used to say. We were soon heading down by Golly(!) and crossing over the A483, skirting the back of Rossett, and passing “the pub I've never been in” at Trevalyn. A bit of a slog into a bit of a headwind, ameliorated by some drafting, took us to the junction for Holt. We weren't sure of the situation at Cleopatra's, or Lewis' at Farndon, and we were too lazy to dismount and find out if they would allow us to be served spaced out inside. Dave Matthews had highly recommended Lily's village shop and cafe at Aldford, so we thought we would explore this potential new coffee or lunch venue. We tried to ignore the likelihood that any drink or snack would have to be taken in the outside courtyard. The shop and cafe were very attractive, the staff welcoming and my toastie was delicious, Unfortunately, for the first time it was feeling properly cold, and our hoped for table in a sheltered corner didn't exist, with the wind blowing in from the open end of the square. Dave Matthews was taking his leave at this stage, as we contemplated moving the Christmas trees for sale to form a screen from the cold draught. Mike had brought his own Welsh buttie, probably lamb and leek. He was getting in a bit of a mess, perhaps trying to smuggle his imported food behind his Welsh flag decorated Covid mask? Anyway, he bore a close resemblance to Father Jack Hackett from 'Father Ted' trying to eat a takeaway with his hands whilst drunk. Mike tells me that he has now lived in Wales for longer than anywhere else in his life. I think he's gone native: he'll be burning down English holiday homes next (if Mr. Drakeford allows anyone out to buy 'non-essential' firelighters). This village store and cafe with its special cakes, and fine foods would make a lovely summer stop on a drive through the Cheshire countryside, with your partner in your Morgan with the hood down. Nevertheless, after a strong coffee, you may still have to be prepared to pee behind a hedge on the way home, as we had to, because there were no toilet facilities!
We tried to warm up again on a very familiar route for Jim to his home in Guilden Sutton, where I had also parked my car in order to ride to Hawarden with him earlier. Having duly made a comfort stop two younger guys cruised past me. I belatedly gave chase, as Mike and Jim were now out of my sight after the pit stops. I began to enjoy reeling the two strangers in, although I regretted leaving my aspirin back home on the kitchen top, as I felt that a heart attack was a distinct possibility. I finally caught them up (and Jim) on the short sharp climb at Saighton. It was hardly a John Wilkie paced attack by me, but it gave some hope that my fitness could return to my previously modest levels before lockdowns, gym closures and suspension of club rides. The three of us then drifted in through Waverton, Christleton and Vicars Cross. Mike had to get back to Shotton where, I believe, he had parked. I had to get back to take my daughter's dog out, and Jim could save a few bob by having Lady Di putting the kettle on, jamming a scone and providing a leg massage for him at home, so we passed on a final coffee at Meadow Lea. About 36 miles covered, and a very enjoyable day out with friends, despite our cold refreshment stop. It is good to see Mike back in good shape, and I appreciate his effort to join us all the way from Rhos.