Graham's End to End - Part 7


Since North Britain I had been on my own, but from Chester southwards I had the company of Hazel, my younger daughter, who had been doing some secret training from her home in Germany. She was not a novice cyclist as she had been a member of the North Road and we had ridden a few two ups at Brickendon many years ago. After sorting out bikes and luggage we set off into the lanes of Cheshire. Annabel agreed to carry the luggage to Whitchurch so it was easy riding and it was dry for the first five miles. Heavy rain soon returned with a dry and warm Annabel following in the car. Groups of cyclists in a charity event heading north looked despondent. Hazel was receiving a baptism into the English summer as we splashed through the villages of Aldford, Churton, Farndon, Shocklach to Oldcastle Heath where Annabel went ahead to wait at an agreed point near Whitchurch. The rain ceased, the sun appeared and all appeared beautiful and it was downhill! At Lower Wych a wrong turning was taken and when the road signs and markings started to appear in English and in the language of the Land of Our Fathers we realised that we had strayed into Wales and were off the edge of my map. We found a main road leading to Whitchurch to meet Annabel patiently waiting for us with the news that there was a Little Chef along the road.

We felt better after a halt, but we were not cheered by the return of heavy rain and the prospect of carrying saddlebags and panniers once again. Back on our mapped course we reached Wem where we found dry weather and sunshine, but we decided that we could not face any more lanes so headed straight for Shrewsbury where a friendly lady directed us to the road with bed and breakfasts. We chose the first in sight – this was a good choice as we were showered, refreshed by tea and dry clothes and soon walking into the city centre for the evening meal. Shrewsbury was the birth place of Charles Darwin in 1809, is encircled by the River Severn and has much to offer the visitor, but once again as in Chester we had to miss the local attractions.

In the morning our hosts pointed us in the direction of a proper lightweight cycle shop to replace the broken spoke in my rear wheel, and after a promenade along by the Severn we entered the traffic to take the road south. We chose the wrong road uphill through Bayston where we turned eastwards to find the marked lane route to Longville in the Dale in the lee of Wenlock Edge. Here we found a welcoming inn with excellent beer and food which we much needed after a morning  of sunshine and showers. Two things had struck me on this jaunt. Firstly how wooded is much of our countryside which is especially beautiful in May with young leaves on the trees and an abundance of flowers and grasses on the road verges. Secondly, that it is quite feasible to eat well and find good beer even though at times it looked as if we would not find a good place. Happily we always struck lucky.

In the afternoon we climbed over Wenlock Edge to Corve Dale in dry conditions to call a halt in Ludlow for tea and cakes. Ludlow was in the throes of traffic gridlock due to an accident on the bypass, but we soon had the roads to ourselves as we escaped south to Leominster, where we stayed at the Youth Hostel in a private room. Dinner was taken in the Italiano Milano after which we repaired to the Grape Vault for a pint of the local beer.

The hostel was the overnight stop for a group engaged in the End to End ride with full back up, but it still took the riders hours to get ready to set out as we were well down the road before them.

Thirteen miles of lanes brought two very wet cyclists to Hereford, where we found a bargain breakfast as we had set out on a small breakfast of tea, biscuits and bananas, not being equipped for self catering.  Once again we had to ignore the sights of the city as we rode along the valley of the River Wye to Mordiford to escape down a minor road which was beset with some monster hills – the camera tells lies when recording the gradients, but the legs felt the pain and agony. River valleys sport two routes – the main road which takes the easy flat side and the minor road which takes the hilly and quiet side.

At Hoarwithy we entered the New Harp Inn – excellent beer and cheese, pickles and doorstep wedges of fresh bread – after which we meandered off to Ross on Wye which was busy with tourists – not us as we were just passing through!

We continued along the Wye Valley keeping to the east of Symonds Yat to reach the Forest of Dean, where we found hills, sheep wandering on the roads and bluebells in the woods. Our target was the youth hostel at St. Briavels, but first we had to surmount the long drag up through Bream. Hazel was becoming stronger on the hills, but Dad was reduced to frequent walking, and it did not become any easier towards St. Briavels. Two school coaches outside the hostel here quickly decided us that the George Inn was a much better option – peace and quiet with hot showers, comfortable beds, satisfying menus and a good bar to refresh two tired and hungry wayfarers.

We were passing by sights and through towns and cities which promised much for the visitor, but I consoled myself that I had passed this way previously. In August 1951 my school friend and I undertook our first cycle tour visiting and stopping overnight at such places as Lichfield, Evesham, Hereford, Chepstow and Builth Wells. I can recall visiting Symonds Yat, Tintern Abbey, the Wye and Usk Valleys and crossing the Severn on the ferry from Beachley to Aust for a day in the Thornbury area where we enjoyed a memorable lunch, probably costing five shillings which was a small fortune for two schoolboys! The ferry slipways are still visible from the cycle way on the first Severn suspension bridge.

Graham Thompson

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