Life, Travel

There And Back Again – Shrewsbury

Day 1

Gary asked me if I wanted to ride with him to the Harp Inn, or get Anne to drop me off. That would have taken eight miles off the route. It was very tempting. But after conquering the Ponderosa ride (kind of) last week, and seeing that the weather was looking okay, I felt that my stamina would hold out and we rode off from my house at half eight on Thursday morning.

There were streaks of grey in the clouds but there was plenty of blue sky and sun as we reached the Harp and the rest of the gang started to convene. Not everyone was going to Shrewsbury. Ian had sent out a variety of permutations for anybody wanting to just dip their toes in to the journey. Our first stop, for a mid-morning coffee, was twenty miles away, and that was enough for some.

Although the prospect of a sixty odd mile bike ride does seem daunting for people like me, chopping it up into stops for tea and food is a good way of making it more achievable, and if you waft cake in front of my nose every twenty miles or so, then you have me. The large slab of Brownie I sat down to in Cleopatra’s, tasted like heaven. Coming into Holt, I had been starting to tire a bit, and getting anxious about the many miles that we still had to go, but it is surprising how you can replenish your energy with a little break, and cake.

Having survived the 30mph gusts of last week’s ride, it was a pleasant feeling to not have to lean into the wind in order to keep the bike upright, and the next leg to Ellesmere (absolutely nowhere near Ellesmere Port I found out) seemed a little more comfortable. The roads on this 17-mile leg were mainly quiet, with smooth tarmac and the birds twittered away in the hedgerows. We occasionally caught sight of a bit of roadkill. One crow reluctantly left off its pecking of the flat remains of a fox, to let us pass.

The final section, just under twenty miles, became a little dramatic with the skies putting on a thunder and lightning display for us in a particularly dark cloud that we travelled below for a while. It wasn’t vast, we could see lighter skies along its fringes but, we got a little wet as the clouds crashed above us. By this time, there were just three of us as the faster riders were out of sight. I was the youngest of the group by a few years, so it shows that age has nothing to do with fitness levels, as I was virtually always at the back. It doesn’t bother me, so long as there is someone with me who knows the way and how to fix a bike if it goes wrong as I’m not a confident cyclist on my own. Both Gary and Mary stuck with me. As ride leader, Gary had backed up his Garmin with an old school pen and paper direction list, which was useful as his gizmo was playing up.

We got into Shrewsbury almost suddenly. After all the winding country lanes, the town emerged without much warning. We had the river to our right, and the castle, built during William the Conqueror’s time, to our left on the hill, and finally, the most pleasing sight of all, the Premier Inn where we were staying the night. We got there just after four in the afternoon. So after my obligatory wallow in the bath (I had brought along a bath bomb in my pannier), I had a little walk around the town before dinner.

This small place has a lot of rich history. Soon to be Henry V defeated Harry Hotspur here, according to Shakespeare, and it is the birthplace of Charles Darwin. It’s a very pretty town with quite a lot of independent shops and cafes, a lovely theatre and grand library. The evening walk was short (because I was fairly bushed) but a pleasant way to stretch my back out.

I vowed to have only half a beer with dinner because I knew we were cycling back the next day but George was looking for a drinking companion for his wine and I do like a nice glass of red with  dinner so I joined him for a few.

Day 2

I have done a cycle tour before. Once. This was back in the summer of 2021, with two of my brothers-in-law. It was to raise money for the Doddy Weir Foundation, and I had bought myself a cycling top from the charity. I’ve still got it, but it’s a very snug fit now, so I couldn’t use it this time. That trip didn’t require me to carry any panniers so my bike was lighter, and evidently, so was I. That was about forty miles a day, over four days, and I’d felt super chuffed to have accomplished it. This was sixty miles daily, over two days, with more weight, both inside and out.

Gary had included a lot of extra little undulations into the route back which, along with my tiredness made for a slightly slower trek. It was a dry day though and mainly warm, and although it was tempting to peel off with the few riders who were doing a train assist from Shrewsbury or Chirk, I gamely peddled on.

When I got on my bike for the first time that morning as we set off at half nine, it was excruciating. Having felt no stinging in the bath the night before, I knew it was just bruising, but still. Ouch. Luckily though, after a minute or two, the pain subsided, and it was only my quads and shoulders that were really showing the after affects from yesterday’s ride. It is surprising how you can carry on the following day, having done a full day’s ride the day before, and, albeit at a slightly slower pace, I did.

We went through a lot of farmland again, with high hedges, that often felt like a long wall of green with the occasional tree hanging over. The vibrant rapeseed fields, of which there were quite a few, were beginning to lose their lustre, and the lambs and calves didn’t look new-born any more. I know it’s still May, but it definitely felt like a summer’s day, apart from a slightly cooler wind. It was a nice relaxing ride apart from a moment when Mary’s back mudguard had an altercation with a stick on the ground and half came off. Gary managed to unscrew the rest of it and I carried it on the back of my pannier rack.

Surprisingly at Honey’s, in Caergwrle, our last stop before the Harp, we met three of the other riders, who had taken a slight wrong turn, and therefore reached this afternoon lunch stop at the same time as us. So during the last twenty miles, through Lower Kinnerton, along the river Dee and through Burton Marshes, we all cycled together. It helped that the first part of it was downhill but I was getting seriously tired by now and all set to call Anne to pick me up at the Harp. A final glass of full-fat tonic and a packet of salted peanuts there though, revived me enough to make the final few miles back to my door with Gary’s encouragement and piloting.

Yes, I’m still aching from the ride, but I feel so pleased with myself for having accomplished it. It sounds great to be able to say I rode to Shrewsbury. And back. A really terrific couple of days, that was specced out and organised by Gary, who needed to pre-book all the stops and guesstimate how many people would be there and when, which is no mean feat with riders of different abilities and intentions. He also made sure I didn’t get lost or give up, which I have a tendency to do, so a huge thank you to him.

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