CHESHIRE CYCLEWAY - THE FULL ONE.
Throughout 2006 I had been asking Phil for some longer Club runs and he and the good weather had duly obliged. We'd been to Langsett, Bakewell, Elton, Audlem and Malpas; some of us had done the late June 110, 170 or 204 km Cheshire Cycleway, the Macc Wheelers weekend to Bishops Castle and of course Wild Wales.
However the best was kept for the 23/24 September. This should at least suit David and me as, in a group of four, we had only the previous week returned from France top to bottom - Calais to Montpellier - so at least we would have a thousand miles under our belt.
Because I alone insisted in doing the hilly first section via Kerridge, Wilboarclough and Fools Nook, I had an early start in order to make the rendezvous at David's in Church Lawton for 11 am. Phil, Pam and Fred all coming from Marple joined the circuit around Henbury while David laid on tea and buns.
Although Artists Lane was a hard start, all was forgiven by the time I crested the Buxton Old Road and started the descent to Bottom of Oven just as the sun rose over the Cat. It was a truly beautiful morning - a warming sun and little wind with time to daydream in the Clough before the all too sudden shock of climbing up alongside Shuttingsloe, which always feels higher than the Cat even though it is n't.
Soon it was hurtling down to Sutton with that County symbol Jodrell just ahead and Fidlers Ferry in the distance on the County boundary.
Twenty years or more of riding the Cycleway can be a disadvantage as it is easy to go onto auto pilot but fortunately I remembered that the 2004 revision dropped Acumlow and Rhode Heath pool in favour of the Blue Bell through to Hassall. This meant a minor detour off route to Church Lawton, which was previously on it.
After several mugs of tea and cakes and a few mobile calls the Marple party arrived and well refreshed we retraced back on route. We passed through Barthomley and Wybunbury and made the Priests Hole at Audlem where we received the usual warm welcome. Almost better than the lunch was that Fred and Phil stocked up on Uncle Joe's Mint Balls which sustained us for the remainder of the trip!
Before too log we reached Malpas passing through Aston and Wrenbury - surely enough good pubs here for a Clubrun in 07 - Marbury and No Man's Heath where a missing or was it obscured waymark sign caused the group to split. Soon all five riders attacked the Old Fire Station (café) where after more tea, cakes and mint balls we were fit for the road again.
Although a perfect day, warm and sunny, we were aware that time was marching on and we had several miles to do. A mobile call to our B&B host confirmed she would be in until seven pm, so we decided against the optional short detour to Stretton Mill and ploughed on through Tilston, Bickerton, Burwardsley and Beeston. Here the Cycleway seems to go on for ever but it was worth it to get the view and group photo under the 12th century castle.
Before long we were at Huxley and then on to Waverton our overnight stop. Greenwalls was ideally situated for us, a large Victorian B&B with a warm welcome and three comfortable bedrooms together with the use of lounges etc - all barely 250 yards off the route.
I don't know who was the more relieved - us to see Mrs. Mitchell at the end of our 102 mile day or the Mitchells so they could leave us for their Saturday night out! We too had our Saturday night out but at the local pub where we eat and drank heartily and put the world to rights.
After a good nights sleep and a generous breakfast particularly for those that can stomach a cooked breakfast it was time for the off. The weather was overcast but it would surely brighten up after such a great day yesterday? Waverton, Christleton and correctly on to the tow path of the Shropshire Union canal - a new route through Chester for me with occasional glimpses of the familiar - walls, Cathedral etc.
The challenge was were to get off the canal and back onto roads as the waymarking seem sparse to say the least; but it was fun watching the amateurs from the 'professionals' when it came to manoeuvring their long boats. Eventually we got onto a disused railway line and possibly the best way through Blacon when there was a rumble of thunder and an all out sprint for the next road over bridge. An hour later, sustained only by Uncle Joe's, we crept out of having witnessed one of the closest and most dramatic thunderstorms passing right overhead.
With a gentle lean on the tiller - yes water and more was coming up through the drains of Saughall - found us back on route and into the ever welcome Two Mills where the clever ones had been sheltering for the past hour and it was heaving. Two Mills supplied us with drinks, cakes and best of all large scale plans of how to negotiate Chester - ah well next time!
First left after Two Mills - and spare a thought for the recent BNE victims - takes you into a different world of posh Wirral. Through the attractive villages of Puddington, Burton, Ness, Neston and Parkgate. The Cycleway affords great views of the Dee Estuary over to Flintshire and the Clwydian Mountains.
Unfortunately, though probably realistically, Parkgate is now on the Cheshire / Merseyside boundary and a sharp right found us on the Wirral Way, another disused railway. This makes a great cut across the Wirral towards the Mersey coastline.
By now the sun was out and who would have ever known there had been a thunderstorm! Again we were running late what with an hours sheltering and then a puncture - the only one if I recall correctly. We struggled through Ellesmere Port housing estates where one road looked very like the next before reaching the Mersey Estuary.
By now where to lunch was uppermost in our minds and the Boat Museum seemed the obvious choice. Somehow we missed the left turn but continued right via Stoak and Picton to Mickle Trafford where at least there were two pubs or so I thought.
One pub was closed for refurbishment and the other had gone so far up market as to require a second mortgage. Once again Fred saved the day, not being a saddle bag man I've always wondered what you put in them - now I know, sweets, cakes and more cakes and still he doesn't put any weight on!
Doubt was creeping in as to whether we would ever get lunch but again I knew somewhere just up the road - the benefit of twenty plus years of the Cheshire Cycleway. Soon we were munching away at the Windsurfing Centre at Manley and all was forgiven.
Now we were very much on home ground and autopilot through Mouldsworth, Delamere, Hatchmere, Onston, Acton Bridge, Comberbach and who could pass through Great Budworth without a visit to the Parish Hall for more tea and cakes and their last Sunday of the season too!
I love the Cycleway and understand the desire to take it to all corners of the County but at the end of the day the 2004 revised route to High Leigh and beyond before coming back through Tatton Park to Ollerton can be tedious. Eventually we got to the foot of Artists Lane where fortunately I was able to turn left for Wilmslow with a further 80 miles satisfying miles.
Thanks to Phil & Pam, Fred and David for the company and organisation - a memorable two days and apart from an hour or so we were blessed with 2006 record breaking good weather. Thanks too to the late Bob Clift who had the vision to create the Cheshire Cycleway back in the eighties and Mrs Clift who turns out each year on that longest Sunday in June to see so many enjoy her husband's hard work.
How about another county late in September - Lancashire (North or South) or Shropshire - any takers?