Ivan's nostalgic railway reflexes had him steaming from Crewe in a double-header with John Wilkie. So it was just five moderate riders who chugged up at Chirk, that's if you can call Neil a moderate, although he was prepared to take it easy. Steve Hughes was missing a bottle when he arrived, Keith left his in the car, and I was missing some teeth, and didn't really have a route. It didn't feel too much like a focused Quick Step pre-stage meeting. At least Alan, our ace cameraman, hadn't forgotten his mobile, or to change out of his slippers before leaving home.
After watching the second half of the Liverpool v. Newcastle game the night before, I had looked up a few possible pub destinations, and checked that they were open for lunch and had decent reviews. On my own, I would have sorted out a route to The Dickin Arms at Loppington, but I didn't want this to become my Shropshire Bhurtpore, and be perceived as repeatedly taking people to my same personal preferences for lunch.
As it was, we set out for The Burlton Inn, which is still a regular stop of ours.
The priority was for quiet lanes, with a few unusual route twists for a change. In order to largely miss the busy road to St. Martin's, we turned south-west for Hindford at the first chance, and then worked north-east to Old Marton before crossing the dismantled railway for a second time at Crickett. We passed the Hardwick Estate on our left before dog-legging across the busy A495 down to the canal and on to Tetchill.
It was decidedly cool without the sun of recent days. From Lee, close to scenic White Mere, we headed south to Lower Hordley and Bagley, eventually turned up to English Frankton via Cockshutt for an extra few miles, before directly pedalling to lunch at The Burlton Inn. Our past friendly hosts had departed, but the guy who had taken over was very welcoming and the food was good, with plenty of chips. Evidently light bites, like a choice of sandwiches, are likely to be added to the menu in the future. Some of the lunch discussion was very informative about a variety of media offerings, internet scams, and what to watch out for.
After lunch, it became obviously that it was going to stay the only sunless day of the week, and as Chirk is nearly forty miles from home for some of us, I cut the intended return route to save a bit of time. At Stanwardine in the Fields , I had intended to head for Rednal and Welsh Frankton via the climb and dive- down around Stanwardine Park and across the River Perry. The quicker route to Welsh Frankton kept us east of the River Perry, but did use a short section of the outward- bound route from Bagley to Lower Hordley. You would recognise the large factory building near Lower Hordley, slightly sinister with its lack of signage. Steve was telling me that it was a very large abattoir owned by ABP, a huge multinational food processor, who surprisingly, perhaps, own Primark. I thought that, originally, the Weston family of past Wagon Wheel fame owned Primark, which was also true. If you are interested in how this mega business developed look up ABP, Garfield Weston, or Wittington Investments on t'internet. Over seven hundred people were working in the Lower Hordley factory in 2015. Burton's Food was sold off in 2000, and they still produce Wagon Wheels. You will not be shocked to know that the Weston's Wagon Wheel of your schooldays is now smaller and lighter. From Welsh Frankton we cut up to New Marton and St.Martin's. What Alan later called “the sting in the tail” was about to come. We descended, steeply at times, into the narrow wooded valley leading to cow shit covered Pont y blew, then followed two challenging climbs back to our parked cars.
Quite an effort to avoid the busy main roads around Chirk. The lads lost time waiting for me, as I missed seeing a long, discarded cable as I changed my glasses whilst riding up the first climb. My new glasses were hurting my head. I'd told them at Specsavers that I had a big head, but they thought I was joking! The cable wrapped around my chainwheels, and jammed between my front mudguard and wheel. Fortunately, no lasting damage to man or machine, just a lot of dirty disentangling. About 40 miles covered. Thanks to Steve for his route support, and thanks for the patience of everyone as I worked out directions on the hoof. I enjoyed all the quiet lanes and the company. Let's hope we have the sun back for next Thursday.