Life, Travel

Cycling to Malpas – and Back

Note to self: do more pelvic floor exercises, or ‘kegels’ as the Americans call it. That final section, back on the tow path to The Cheshire Cat, was bumpier than it had felt on the way out. But it was also nearly the end, and that was something I was ready for.

I didn’t have enough charge in my phone to take stats properly, but this is a close gestimate of the route.

Given that I had done around 38 miles on the bike and that I managed to keep up with the main group, after a year of no cycling, was a pretty good feeling. It was around this time last year, that I did the four day trip from Lincoln to Liverpool, and since then I had big intentions to keep the cycling going but ended up doing a whole sweet nothing.

Thinking back, I’m not sure how I managed to get in the saddle at all on day two of that trip. This time around, knowing that I had finally committed to a ride with PROBs, I pumped up the tyres the day before and cycled to the River Park where I volunteer. That was only two miles each way, but it was enough to give me some bruises in the undercarriage.

I didn’t realise until the following day when I clambered on my metal steed, to do the short mile to Port Sunlight station, that I was sore. I nearly gave up then, especially as it had started to rain, but I womaned up, and set off.

A few days prior, I’d put a post on the Facebook page for the group, that I was catching the 09:31 to Chester, mainly to let them know I was going, and also to see if anybody would be on the train too, but no-one had replied to the affirmative. Then, as I got into Chester station, the one person I’d spotted in a carriage further down, had nimbly lifted his bike up and down the steps of the footbridge and pedalled off ahead. I decided to still cycle to The Cheshire Cat, the official starting point, and figured I could at least have a cup of tea if no-one was there.

The towpath is really close to Chester Station but I managed to overshoot the entry and had to double back to find it. This section of the Shropshire Union Canal was built in the 1770s, joining the Dee estuary to Nantwich. Back in the day it must have been a busy thoroughfare carrying various goods from the port, inland on the barges, but today it’s a sleepy backdrop. There were a few, moored boats, and one or two put-putting along lazily, but there was more action on the towpath, as I weaved past dog walkers and a couple of buggies, and skilfully managed not to fall into the canal.

Rolling into the grounds of the pub, I needn’t have worried about being billy-no-mates, as there were about twenty bikes leaning on the garden furniture. A few guys were milling outside but the rest of the crew were inside having teas and coffees. I even spotted the guy on the train. He hadn’t seen my post and didn’t realise I was part of the group.

Lots of cyclists outside the back of The Cheshire Cat
The women aren’t visible here as they’re inside drinking coffees (or being late – Sue)

I think I’ve mentioned this in another blog but PROBs stands for Pensby Runners On Bikes. This offshoot group has been going quite a while and a few of them don’t run at all now but they meet most Thursdays for a day’s cycle ride, and for occasional longer excursions. They’re a varied bunch, made up of retirees or people who can work flexibly. And their cycling abilities range from very good to amazing.

From the pub, the official route was a circular 35 miles to Malpas and back, but some of the group had cycled from home. The ride leader, Mark, a retired Paediatrician, had cycled all the way from Wallasey (I think?) which would have added another 20+ miles on each way! And another guy who introduced himself, Ali, did a whopping 94 in total. That would have been seriously intimidating but luckily a lot of the group had put their bikes in the car and driven over. My route along the tow path added another 3 to the base total, so that was a little extra.

There is something wonderful about cycling in a group when you’re not a confident road cyclist. It feels so much safer, given how impatient English drivers tend to be, and I knew that if I had a puncture or anything, I wouldn’t be alone to fix it. It was all the more lovely yesterday, as the rain, after that first fall, held off, and the roads we went along were nearly empty. I was at the rear at the beginning where Janine gave me company, but as I warmed up, I was pleased that I wasn’t holding the rest back, and I was getting up some of those hills a lot better than I would have done a year or two ago.

Beeston Castle entrance. Two round towers connected by a walkway and a door beneath.
Entrance to Beeston Castle

Not long after passing Beeston Castle, we stopped for lunch at The Bickerton Poacher. I was peckish so only ordered a starter of garlic mushrooms and a chunk of posh bread and was heading to sit outside with Janine and Sue, when we saw Seta sitting on the floor being given some Coke to drink. Apparently she had fainted some moments before which was worrying. But within our party we had a retired doctor and a nurse, and by the end of the hour she was feeling well enough to carry on.

I was hoping that we had passed halfway by lunch time but as you can see from the map it wasn’t quite. It had been an hour and a half’s good riding to that point and I was feeling bushed already. But after lunch we had another two hours to get back, and our highest hilly bits as we headed into Malpas.

Malpas is a small and very pretty market village, existing before the Domesday book records of 1086. It has some lovely buildings and a mediaeval church, and once upon a time contained a castle to ward off those marauding Welsh. The first castles along the border were constructed quickly by the Norman conquerors of England, out of wood, and only some were converted to stone later. Malpas was not one of them.

We were travelling in one largish group of about ten and a couple of smaller, speedier groups. Run leader Mark was doing a brilliant job of whizzing off ahead to wait at the next junction so we didn’t get lost. Occasionally he would pootle along with some of us at the back. He seems a serious fellow, not one for idle nattering, but kind and attentive. I was explaining about my Creative Writing course to him and foolishly offered to send him my first chapter of a piece I’ll be developing in my second year. I’m not sure he’d like it, as it isn’t written in a serious vein, but I’ll give it to him anyway.

I had felt really sluggish when I had got on my bike after lunch but had gained a second wind for most of the journey back. However, by the time we passed through the village of Saighton (how is this pronounced?) I was seriously flagging. When I recognised the final section, and knew we were close to The Cheshire Cat I was relieved although I was in desperate need for another wee.

Sue, en route, had very kindly offered to give me a lift back home, and although I could have carried on the extra three miles to the station, once she’d asked I was psychologically done for the day. As the last few of us finished the occasion off with another round of teas and coffees, Seta looked very well I’m pleased to say, and everyone around the table had that nice post-exertion glow.

I really hope I get my act together to jump on to more of these Thursday rides as it was a terrific day. I was exhausted, but in a nice way, and although my buttocks are still very bruised, I just need to remember how quickly you forget the pain once you get going.