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.