It’s been a while since I was out on the bike at the weekend. Probably before September. So this weekend was one of those rare occasions when I have time to myself. No Dan, Sally at work. Yesterday was a washout which was a blessing really as I was too tired after a week of commutes so a rest day it was and today was the one.
I had a quick think and decided I wanted to do 100km, 3-4 hrs then the Mad March Hare route popped in my head. Sadly, I’ve missed both MMH rides this year due to family and holidays so I thought sod it, lets try the new route. See it here
I was up around 8am, breakfast and a bucket of coffee done. The weather looked shit though. Raining and low level cloud but there was time and the forecast said it was due to stop. I briefly considered a mammoth Zwift session instead but as the rain stopped I decided to just go and stop being ponce about it.
Although it was a recce I wasn’t doing every mile of the route. I decided to join the route in Rubery and cut it when I’d had enough. Just missing out the first and last couple of miles of urban roads necessary to get in and out of Longbridge. I wasn’t missing much.
I was out the door and off at 10am and straight onto the climb up and over Beacon Hill and into the gloomy clouds. The descent was a bit dicey with wet leaves strewn all over the bends. I cut across to Rubery town centre and saw a colleague from work walking her dog. I was impressed she recognised me to be honest. Out of the town centre and up Cock Hill. I was blowing out my arse but I hadn’t warmed up properly yet. Across the M5 and the down Dayhouse Bank. Its steep with a T-Junction right at the fastest bit so braking early is a must. Right turn and a grovel over Romsley. Left tuen i the vilage and I was finally into the quieter lanes but the road was flooded and closed. I estimated about 8-10 inches deep. A car was right behind me when I turned round so I told her not to bother. She listened. I had to round and up and over Walton Hill before joining the course at the top of St Kenelms Pass. It’s a fast downhill but I was being slowed by some diesel fume chugging 4×4 which was annoying. He’d speed up then slow right down and it was at the bottom that distraction put me off and I took the wrong turn. I went right when I should have carried on to Clent. No big deal, I just went under the dual carriageway and picked up the lane to Broom. Back on course and the lanes were wet. Loads of standing water and my nice, freshly cleaned bike was filthy. It would be like that for the rest of the ride too. I crossed the A456 and cut across to Caunsall. I stopped briefly to turn the route on as I needed the right road to Kinver. So far it was a grippy route. No flat whatsoever. None. More draggy climbs before the steep drop into Kinver then comes the toughest part of the route.
Kinver to Stourport is just hard work the whole way.
Out of Kinver and you go straight up past the famous Rock Houses. Keep your powder dry because you’ll need some gas later on. Over the top and you drop briefly before a left a long a lane thats always quite sandy. It was just wet sand today with little streams runig along it. Here a I passed a clay pigeon shoot and they were shooting very close to the road. As I bore right and hit another steep, long climb I realised I’d turned into the path where they were shooting. Now I’m not saying I was in danger but its a bit unnerving when you can hear and see bits of clay rain down through the trees and hedge next to you. Now this climb just goes on and on. Initially quite steep it eases off then it just drags on and on up to the top.
The descent is quite technical. Lots of blind bends and high hedges. Make sure your brakes are good and you pay attention and listen. At Shatterford I finally got the first bit of respite as the road dipped down and continued down to the River Severn. I spotted a field of Alpacas all looking interested as I wooshed by. I came upon a couple of horse riders and rang my bell (Yes! I have a very discrete bell). They were very grateful for the polite warning.
The Road just before Upper Arley is a steep 10% and the bridge is right on the corner so its hard on the brakes. I decided to take a couple of pics on the bridge. The River was high but I don’t think it was as high as had been recently.
Over the bridge and its a very steep climb but I stopped at the Severn Valley station for a quick pic. There was a train in but it looked like a diesel or electric diesel or something. Anyone now?
Onwards and more upward trudgery. Still steep I caught a young lad on a VooDoo Bantu mountain bike. I told him it was a cool bike (it is!). I think he liked that. He looked about 12 or 13. Had a camelbak on so out for ride on his own. What a dude! The steep bit done, there is no let up. The road just drags onto Buttonoak where right and more climbing again now into the Wyre Forest. Up to now, the route is pretty unrelenting and continues so. Into Button Bridge and left. New Road Alert! I’d never ridden this road before. It has a nice false flat then drops a long way into the forest. It was quite eery with such low cloud and fog. The road drops off a cliff at the bottom with a 20% downhill into a left hand hairpin. It’ll be fine on drier roads. Dicey again today. Back on familier roads I was right in the forest and it looked awesome until I went round the corner and saw one and then another and then another sign saying ‘Private Woodland’ which took the shine off it a bit.
More climbing to Far Forest which is a shallow drag but drag it does. In Far Forest, over the main road to Cleobury and you drop sharply before the next steep one but left is signposted Buckridge. I recommend that road if you fancy some elevation. Its a b*****d. Today though was straight ahead and up and up. I did this road for the first time in 2016 when I did my first day ride of my Wales Tour to Clun. I was full laden with panniers etc that day so no excuse today. The fog was really thick now and I was reliant on my Garmin to tell me where the roads were going as I couldn’t see more than 100m up the road.
The climb (yes, another one!) to Clows Top was one I have ridden but couldn’t remember. As i chugged away at my gear I was trying to remember when I last rode that section of road. It was the Divisional Champs in the mid-90s I think. A beast of a course it dropped off Clows Top to Bewdley, turned left to Far Forest towards Cleobury then left and climbed all the way to Clows top again god knows how many times. It was foggy.
Off Clows Top and I could barely see 50m now. A left down a non-descript lane before another steep climb to Rock (where I think the feed station is). Look out for the race horses galloping in the field to the right here. I could here them but not see them but I could make out the all-weather training track. I rode past the very inviting pub in Rock and dropped again to the climb steeply to Bliss Gate. Right here and I was on top riding the ridge but it still heavy going until I got to Hurtle Hill and the windy descent to Dunley. Make it this far and the worse bit is done.
A pleasant ride down to Stourport gives way to the climb over Hartlebury Common. My legs were beginning to complain now and the climbing was making my back ache too. Back into the lanes in Hartlebury to Cutnall Green and you could tell I was nearing Bromsgrove as a Range Rover impatiently forced his way past me rather than just wait a little longer for the road to widen round the corner. The lane to Elmbridge was awash with debris and was running like a stream. My winter boots were holding their own though. Dry, toasty feet so far. Then this.
Over the A38 and my Garmin went into battery-save mode. Time to get home then. In Astwood Lane I hit another flood but no verge to walk on. There was a curb stone I could compare with for depth so I estimated 3-4 inches so I gave it go. I slowly rode in and luckily I was right. No drama. I turned onto the Hanbury Woods road and got immediately close-passed close enough for me to touch the back end of his pick up. I don’t think he liked been shouted at as he brake checked me. Prick. I didn’t have my camera on today. Tut.
The drags (look at the profile for the back end of the route!) were now telling and why you need to keep something in the tank. Up Astwood Lane, up Coalash Lane, up Copyholt Lane then up Holyoakes Lane to Tardebigge. They’re nothing on they’re own but on this route they’re potentially soul destroyers.
Blackwell Road was signposted closed but I chanced it and there wasn’t anything. More climbs to the top of the Lickeys now up St Catherines Rd, Linthurst Rd and Twatling Rd. I was back in thick fog. I’d done just over 4hrs so I decided to call it a day and drop back down to home for a very long, hot bath.
The route is unlike any MMH rides I ever organised. Its pretty ruthless throughout. If you’re a fat lad at the back it’ll hurt, if you’re a pepe le pew climber it’ll blow your legs off too. I just wish I was the 60kg I used to be.
Looking forward to March now. I’ll have my best bike then. I think it’ll be just as hard but just a bit quicker