Its been a while since my last blog about 6 weeks ago announcing this ride. Originally it was going to be a group ride again in the same vein as The Ton around Brum I did with some work mates at the end of June but for various reasons it didn’t happen and I ended up doing it solo.
I’d kept an eye on the weather all week with the final forecast predicting a wind from the west, cloudy with the possibilty of the odd shower and warming up in the afternoon. I was happy to take that and opted for just arm warmers first thing, no gillet though.
My girlfriend was on nights and gets home at 7am so my plan was to get up and go when she got home but she got in at 6am and I slept in. No bother, I got up just after 8am, spanked some coffee and breakfast down me, loaded up and left the house around 8.45am. A quick visit to the ATM up the road and I was off down through Catshill. You have to love a downhill start. The first half of the ride was (pretty much) the same route as Day 1 of my cycle tour back in May so it was nice to do the route again but without a 40lb bike & kit!
The first thing I noticed was the wind. I was facing 3hrs+ of it before I turned for home so I had to be conservative with my effort. I picked up some other cyclists as I left Catshill. Caught and dropped them. I felt ok. Effort dialled in I ploughed on. It was only when I turned to face the West the full force of the wind slapped me in the face as if reminding me to not get too cocky or I’d pay for it later on.
The lanes to Stourport, I’ve done to death and the ride, for me, only starts when you leave it via Areley Kings. The last time I went over Hartlebury Common in May the town was gridlocked with a queue of cars from here right into the Town Centre. Nothing today, in fact I’d hardly seen a car on the way. The roads were very quiet.
I crossed the River Severn and then a right past Areley Kings church and onto the first stiff climb of the day up Jennings Wood Lane. Its a steep and unrelenting beast that you ride up a very gentle slope too, turn right and bang your on it and can’t get off it for a kilometre or so. The gradient tops out at about 18-20% and despite being on my lightweight Cube, a 36×25 bottom gear was a bit overgeared for the steepest sections and I didn’t want to go busting my nuts too early either so I did my best to get up without going into the red. Over the top and as I was high now and the wind really was factor. It was pretty tough at times blowing across from the left. Onto Bliss Gate now, I crossed the A456 and a very steep descent, climb, steeper descent, climb, a super steep, twisty descent before a turn left onto another long drag of a climb. That kilometre set the tone for the rest of the day. Up and down. All day! I popped into my 36 inner again and got out of the saddle and as I passed a house I heard a dog bark, then through the trees I saw this dog sprinting towards me. A quick scan of the house perimiter I realised there was no fence and the little shit came out into the road snapping at my ankles. I couldn’t go any faster, I was in 2nd gear. Then, I shit you not , just as I pass the house and the end of the drive his little brother comes hurtling down said drive and joins him both barking and snapping at my ankles. I have one either side of me now. ‘Fuck off’ didn’t cut it so I shouted ‘Oi’ and like I’m the dog whisperer or something they just stop dead, shut up, turn round and walked back home. Mental.
In the olden days we carried big pumps on our bikes we could use to fend off dogs, but now we have CO2 inflators tucked away in our saddlebags so we’re easy prey!
I cracked on and rejoined the A456 briefly at Mamble. The one thing I’d noted so far was how shit the road surfaces were. Ok on my 28mm tyres back in May. Bumpy as hell on my 23mm’s.
Down the big, fast descent into Neen Sollars and obviously the dogs had radioed ahead to their squirrel colleagues to get me as they had failed. We’ve all had the odd squirrel run across the road in front of us but I was doing over 35mph, downhill and the little shit decided to play chicken about a foot in front of me. It was that quick I actually braked after I had gone past it. And after that adrenaline rush I cracked on with Clee Hill overlooking proceedings from my right. Its quite an imposing hill when you’re under it, close and looking up.
As I began to think of the descent I remembered which takes me off the lower slopes of Clee I suddenly remembered my route error in May. The mapping tool allowed me to plot a route down a lane which turned out to be some random farm track. I couldn’t remember where it was or if it was even on the first day but low and behold as I neared it, a glance on my Garmin confimed I’d done it again! It was just too rough for my best bike. If you have tried to zoom in and out and move the map on a Garmin to try and find an alternative route, don’t bother, its shit. Really shit. I decided just to carry on and find Caynham which wasn’t far. In hindsight I should have just used my phone and Google maps but other than a small climb, I quickly found the B road that passes through Caynham, it was all downhill and I was back on track again heading into Ludlow. I crossed the A49 (first HGV spot of the day!) and a left and a descent down to the River where I felt quite cold.
No Ludlow stop today so straight out of town and up through Mortimer Forest which was the second and arguably the biggest climb of the day. As I started the climb the sun came out! Gillet not need then. The climb is pretty steady but its nearly 2 miles long and just goes on and on. I topped that and made the most of the descent although it was a bit tempered by the blustery wind. I took a right and I knew now it was about 10 miles to my lunch stop which I needed as I was feeling quite peckish. For a back lane the road surface here was pretty good which was in stark contrast to the road into Leintwardine a bit later which was littered with holes like it had been used a bombing run by the RAF. Just awful! I turned northward(ish) now on B roads. I was in the Clun Valley now where the views are stunning and the roads are quiet. Very quiet. In 8km I think I saw 2 cars. In fact I saw more cars parked at the Tea Room where I stopped for lunch!
As I reached Purslow. My headwind woes were finally over. It wasn’t a bad headwind, just constant, blustery and unrelenting which ground me down for the 3hrs+ I’d spent pedalling into it. I turned right for the last km and I just glided up to the Tea Room at 25mph with minimal effort.
Parked up, I was hungry. I didn’t want to stay long so I quickly ordered some beans on toast and a coffee. I woofed it down and I was done and off, destination Craven Arms.
I was on new roads now and I was being assisted by a nice tailwind. I blasted into and out of town and then more of the same for the next few miles before a turn right at Duddlesbury. Our friends the yappy dogs and mr squirrel had obviously taken some time to consider their next move as I hadn’t had an issue for quite some time. They’d obviously thought the element of surprise was key as a pigeon took off in front of me out of a hedge so close I could have poked it up its arse with my finger. I had to duck. Bloody thing scared me but what could I do? This lane was a good find. Nice and fast, pretty straight and although up and down nothing too steep. I could see Brown Clee rearing up ahead so I knew the next big climb was round the corner.
Dogs, squirrels and pigeons. They’d all failed so as a final throw of the dice they went kamikaze on my ass. I was bounding along enjoying the new roads and the views when boom! something went into my mouth and nearly choked me. As I coughed it back up and spat it out a pain like someone had stabbed me with needles in my mouth took hold. I’d been stung by a wasp in my throat and on the back of my tongue. Although the fucker never got out alive he’d delivered his payload and it frickin’ hurt. No point in stopping but for one sec I did think ‘Oh shit’ what if I have a reaction but that never happened. It was just like a real bad sore throat and as I write this it still is! They got me!
The route I’d plotted round the back of Brown Clee towards Wyre Forest was excellent. Quite, wide and fast. Check it out. Highly recommended if you ride out that way.
Into the Wyre Forest now and a left in Button Oak to descend and cross the River Severn again. I nearly got wiped out by some div driving too fast round a blind corner but just before the river I stopped at Arley station to get a pic and I heard the whistle of the train and luckily it was just round the corner so I got a pic of it before I crossed and stopped at Arley Tearooms for a break and get a cake and coke.
A carrot cake and coke later it was the grind up from the river now to get upto and cross the Kidderminster-Bridgnorth road. Straight over towards Kinver Edge. As I hit the top another mapping error saw me plot a right which was about 100yds long before asking me to do a U-turn! Grrrrr and then I tried to send myself the wrong way up a one-way road, so another U-turn and I had to climb up to the Farm Shop which was the first time my legs were devoid of any real power. It was too early for the cake and coke to kick in but I was glad I’d had it otherwise it could have been a nasty last 10 miles.
More lumpy roads to Churchill and upto Hagley and Clent. Only when I got to Belbroughton did the sugar kick in just before Broom Hill which I badly needed. Just the climb upto Bournheath and the drag back up through Catshill and I was done. 178km in the bag and an eventful day of sorts. Not bad though on a diet of 12.5 mile commutes and the odd Zwift race.
It was perfect prep for the upcoming Mad Summer Hare which unfortunately I can’t do this year as I’m away
My next planned ride is Saturday 29 September which probably won’t be a 100 miler but may be slightly further than 100km. Stay tuned for that announcement shortly
Thanks for reading