Shropshire Lads (and a Lass)

A short tour of Shropshire

28/29 September 2002

Lads

K1, K2, Dave, JR, FR, Evan, Brian, Mike

Lass

Sheila

A Good Call

Plans were drawn up for a camping renaissance on the cliffs near Bridport, Dorset, or was it West Bay where we staggered along the beach or possibly stay in B and B, or possibly the Cotswolds or maybe this weekend or last weekend or maybe remembrance Sunday again …no, a better suggestion!  A tour of Shropshire promising some excellent rural cycling with some serious stonking gradients and early enough to allow reasonable weather.  Good call – Shropshire it is, staying at Church Stretton, which is full so it’s….

…Return to Ludlow

Leave your home behind, lad,

    And reach your friends your hand,

And go, and luck go with you

    While Ludlow tower shall stand.

Why the ‘return’ to Ludlow?   Well many years ago (1987 actually) a subgroup of paddlers started a canoe trip from Ludlow.  The accommodation was duly located although there were some early map-reading problems in cycling from one B+B to the other.

The Long Mynd

It’s not le Mont Ventoux or l’Alpe d’Huez or even Mount Leinster, but you know it’s lurking there and from the map it’s pretty damn steep.  A very pleasant Saturday cycle with nothing much happening (was this when Brian had that stationary tumble while searching for Victor Sylvester? – SPD pedals you know!) until the Long Mynd is reached.  This was basically too steep to cycle, independent of gears, cogs, bike weight etc. – hats off to John for doing it!  When you’re weaving backwards and forwards across the road at  2 mph and the front wheel keeps lifting off the ground it’s time to admit defeat, dismount and leg it – frankly even this wasn’t easy.  25% it said on the sign and could have been steeper in places.  Impressive scenery methinks (thanks to Mike for carrying the geology book who told us all about it at lunchtime) but again the descent was really too steep to let rip.  What you need for hills like this is an engine (preferably two-stroke).

Church Stretton

Descent into the preferred overnight stay that just happened to be full up with punters.  First pub looked promising but was mysteriously rejected in order to search for the best pub in the world (see the Majorcan restaurant search) – hats off to Mike who rebels, rejects this nonsense and heads into the first pub – it was the best pub in Church Stretton anyway.  Lunch was followed by Mike’s geology lecture, infinitely preferable to the conversational nightmare that occurred during the evening meal.

Wenlock Edge

On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;

    His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;

The gale it plies the saplings double

    And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

Fortunately, it wasn’t windy but did anyone actually see Wenlock Edge?  This famous unmissable landmark of the English countryside.  I was expecting a serious climb and some super panorama but I must’ve done this one with my eyes closed.  Maybe we went through a pass or a tunnel?  Over to you chaps.

Dining on Wild Bore

What was it about Ludlow?  A pleasant historical town with a castle and many interesting buildings – a good choice of pubs and a restaurant – so what was the genesis of this long-running conversation about the workings of a two-stroke engine?  I suppose it’s no worse, and makes a change from, such perennial favourites as gears, lights, football and sailing.  However, the conversation demonstrates the engineer’s need to communicate graphically – it ain’t easy to explain verbally how to construct a space shuttle.  KA has usefully linked us to the ‘how things work’ website and printed the relevant pages – as the fuel enters the cylinder the piston…blah, blah!  The author’s theory on the genesis of the conversation – the Long Mynd was so bloody steep there was no point in discussing gear ratios – leg transplants or motorised assistance are the only saviours.  We all dined happily on politically incorrect rustled wild boar (appropriate for two-stroke anoraks) which was pretty damn fine – wonder if they do it in the Ajanta – ‘Wild Boar Jalfrezi’ anyone?

Great Britons

An aside on this recently concluded television event – its laudable and partially achieved aim was to provide drinkers with an alternative to their traditional conversations. Who was the Great Briton best able to describe and construct a two-stroke engine?  Your man Isambard Kingdom of course, although Newton would have given it a go and Lennon could have sung a song about one.

The Horse and Jockey

After dinner you’re looking for action to prevent the onset of sleepiness – pool, darts, table football, that sort of thing.  So you head off out of the tourist area to the mean streets where only the locals dare to tread and you soon discover the oasis, the Horse and Jockey, a pub with much promise but actually so dead it was already buried.  It had darts and table football and liquids imitating beer; there certainly was no crush at the bar.  The company comprised a surly and mildly threatening bunch of locals.  Brian and Sheila spotted the potential trouble and left us to it.  All’s quiet until the gauntlet is thrown up – think of Robert de Niro/Taxi Driver “You looking at me?” or Clint “Are you feeling lucky, punk?”.  Challenge offered to Dave “That’s a Barcelona T-shirt, that’s foreign, why don’t you wear an England shirt?”  Dave’s post-six-pint smart retort “I do, when they’re playing.”  Award the Nobel Peace Prize for trouble avoided.  A more appropriate response such as “Why don’t you mind your own business, spotty?”  would have provoked immediate retribution or, more likely, an ambush by the wild bunch, on skateboards and BMXs, spotted earlier hanging out in the market place.  The general consensus was that the Horse and Jockey was 5 to 1 against surviving till our next Ludlow visit.  Ladbrokes are offering 2 to 1 Asda and 4 to 7 on yuppie developments – ‘The Tatersalls, Piggott  Close, etc.’  Not a sad loss!

Countryside March Sponsored Tea Rooms

The morning cycle was fairly uneventful; brief participation in a triathlon competition, some poor map-reading and a puncture for Sheila (poor maintenance again!).  The lowlight has to be the thwarting of an attempt to purchase morning coffee.  Your author is often accused (unfairly) of harbouring an urban bias – well who did support that bunch (was it the Countryside Alliance?) wandering around London demanding rights for sadists and greater subsidies for producers of toxic nosh?  But to be fair, we have supported the rural community of England on many trips including a patriotic trip to Coleford at the height of the foot-in-mouth crisis.  So can you believe this – a “Tea Rooms” in the middle of nowhere that will only sell you a coffee if you have booked ahead.  It’s true – and they wonder why punters go abroad.  Didn’t want a coffee anyway!

A Light Lunch

Following the failure to purchase morning coffee it was essential that Sunday lunch was a resounding success.  An early beer stop proved useful, particularly for Dave who had slow-punctured out of a fast-moving peloton and needed time to rendezvous.  Beer was enjoyed but food was vetoed; a useful move as the uneaten food preceded a steep and testing climb.  The real lunch stop had everything going for it – the pub even had a long-forgotten foody name - the ‘Barrel of Lard’?  Of course, the pub was really a restaurant that served the occasional beer as a hobby.  Nice garden, excellent sunny weather, tasty beer (when they found time to serve it) but no great prospects of food unless you were prepared to pay a fortune and wait for hours.  No problem – Sunday lunch comprised a healthy mixture of nuts and crisps washed down by a couple of bevvies – cannot remember Lance Armstrong recommending this diet but it seemed to work.

Return to Ludlow Again

The post-prandial return to Ludlow proved pleasant but not particularly memorable.  Brian, having attacked off the front looking for the stage win, experienced an unwitnessed slow speed crash involving two old ladies in a car and those dodgy SPD pedals again.  The descent into Ludlow was certainly speedy and exciting.  We passed the scene of the canoeing trip organised by the paddling sub-committee of the MPGS – in those days (1987) we majored on  golf, and cycling was merely a spin-off pursuit.  The paddlers comprised JR and KS plus Alan and Tony (remember them?) and the River Teme through Ludlow was selected for its challenging technical caneoing.  This assessment proved accurate as about 50 metres after the paddle-off the river became rather wide and shallow (about 2 inches I reckon) and the paddle became an unnecessary accessory.  To be fair, the Teme did get better as we moved downstream.

Memories are Made of This….

..or in this case they probably aren’t!  Maybe it’s too many birthdays, too many beers or the over-consumption of unhealthy meat products, but your author is definitely suffering from some kind of sporadic (now, what’s the word?) amnesia.  Some of the events described above may have occurred, some may actually have occurred on the Shropshire trip, possibly in the order listed; however, unlike the previous highly accurate reports, I’m afraid the author cannot this time guarantee the veracity of the report.  I know it should have been completed earlier – perhaps the sack beckons!

Oh, often have I washed and dressed

  And what’s to show for all my pain?

Let me lie abed and rest;

Ten thousand times I’ve done my best

 And all’s to do again.

(apologies to A.E. Housman – Shropshire Lad for extracts)

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