Chepstow to Wigmore (74 miles)
It is wettish outside but is not raining and there is a reasonable prospect offered by the weather forecast for avoiding too much rain at least until later in the afternoon. We extract the Tandem from the conservatory and manage to bring it back to the road side of the house. It is a short run into town, where, beside the town arch, we take a short pause for a photo outside the CAB office and deliver an End to End “Mileage to your CAB” certificate through the letterbox. Today, being a working day, is going to be our busiest for CAB stops as we have five bureaux to visit counting Chepstow as the first one and have arrangements to meet up with the staff at the next three.
We run down through the town and across the bridge over the River Wye, spotting the border road sign and making an impromptu stop on the bend as a result. We walk back to pose with the tandem for a “Welcome to England” (i.e. goodbye Wales) and Gloucestershire County combination of signs at the end of the bridge. There is no corresponding “Croesor Cymru” facing the other way. From river level here there is only one way to go and that is up, so it is time to turn the tandem back around engage low gear and begin to climb. Gloucestershire turns out to be an interesting but decidedly lumpy landscape. This part, although some distance away from it, has a not dissimilar feel to much of the western, also Gloucestershire, end of the Cotswolds. Although running up and down we are cycling northwards on a relatively narrow stretch of high land up above the Wye and Severn valleys to our west and east. At a couple of points we come close to great loops of the River Wye way down below us and for a short spell we have a super view of the River Severn shining bright silver and grey in the morning light. We will rejoin the River Severn tomorrow well upstream at Ironbridge. Throughout the morning the weather remains cloudy with occasional very slight touches of drizzle, but also some moments of bright steely sun through cloud such as now. As we leave both the rivers (although only temporarily losing contact with the Wye), we head on through St Briavels and into the Forest of Dean. The landscape has affinities to, but is clearly quite distinct from, the New Forest. Together with the ancient trees there are reminders of a coal mining history; and in place of ponies there are sheep to dodge on the roads.
Quite soon, and earlier than the CAB staff expect us, we arrive in Coleford and locate the Bureau in its small but smart new building shared with the Town Council. While waiting for signs of life we park the tandem against their wall and I nip across the car park to visit the supermarket on a quest for a replacement toothbrush. We meet Sarah and some of the team at the CAB, tour their office and take a group + tandem etc. photo. They had hoped to have the press along but we are a couple of hours ahead of the time they had expected we would be here starting from Chepstow. Equally importantly, I am provided with my first cup of tea of the day (not counting those drunk first thing in bed and then at breakfast!).
We drag ourselves away and continue through the Forest of Dean through English Bicknor, which is so small that I do not notice it go by. We do however use the name as a direction landmark shortly after leaving Coleford when consulting a local on the route: “Does this road go to English Bicknor?” The problem we have is one that we encounter quite often on the trip. The photocopy strips of maps that I have taken from the public library set of OS maps (which are the edition previous to the current one) are surprisingly often out of date, particularly when trying to find a road out of town. As in Coleford, we often find that new housing estates have been built on the edge of a town, including the consequent reorganisation of roads, routes and road junctions. In fact at this rate of change it is a wonder that there is so much real countryside left. I am also amazed as we go along at how often road numbers have been changed. In parts of this stretch of the trip the OS map has one number, the motoring atlas another, and the actual road signs a third. In this case the signs have obvious newish added patches, some of which have detached themselves again.
We rejoin the River Wye to sweep with it around a long meander before heading away again and then coming back together as we enter Ross-on-Wye. On the way we spot but ignore some “Road closed for floods” signs but do not end up trapped as a result. I point out to Sheila that there are vehicles passing us each way and as they are not the same ones they can’t all be turning back at some unsurpassable deluge. This part of the day alongside the River Wye is particularly fascinating as it completes our full mouth to source cycle ride of the Wye, having followed the upper lengths of the river last year on our way through Wales. For much of the way the river is brown and fast flowing with plenty of signs of floodwater across nearby fields. We stop for a photo of the river at the County of Hereford road sign
In Ross-on-Wye we locate the street with the CAB and push the tandem along trying to find the bureau. Eventually we spot it. The office has just about he largest sign we are to see anywhere. We dive into the bureau together with the tandem, which occupies much of their waiting room space and meet Steve and CAB volunteers. Sheila does the chat and the tour while we await the local press photographer whom they have summoned. I have another cup of tea and then talk about the tandem to two small children who are in the waiting room with their mum. They ask intelligent questions about the bike, which intrigues them, but when we talk about the journey I struggle to find anywhere they have heard about at all. Lands End or Scotland (forget John O’Groats) could just as well be Vancouver and Iceland. The man from the press arrives and we all troop out for the CAB + tandem + (you know the rest) photos, and Sheila supplies the interview ingredients including names, distances and such stuff.
On again steadily northwards. We pass through Brampton Abbotts and then run close beside the river. This is a charming stretch, on a public lane, but through a private estate. The lane is of variable quality (i.e. plenty of holes) but it is a super stretch and we can imagine the grassy banks being overflowing with picnic parties on sunny summer weekends. Luckily today there is little traffic, because passing places are conspicuously absent. Further on the river sweeps to and from us in dramatic great bends and we manage to polish off a couple stretches of road with arrows on the map (no sweat to the likes of us Devonshire cycling veterans) as we pass through How Caple and Fownhope. On the B4224 through Mordiford we stick to the river and the floodplain, avoiding having to climb up the decidedly steep terrain beside our right elbows. And then finally we bid the River Wye farewell as we turn away across the River Lugg (a tributary) and on to Withington.
We are both feeling quite lunchtime-ish by now and following a check of the map note that Withington Marsh in about one mile offers a PH. Well so it does. The bad news is that the pub is shut and has a sign the gist of which is that it is only open on occasional evenings. It has a rather run down feel, not to say incipient air of dilapidation. The good news is that although it is a bit grey and cold it is not actually raining, there is a picnic bench, and thanks to some judicious earlier shopping we are self sufficient in the food supplies department. Not one of life’s all time great picnics, but OK to keep body and soul (and cycling legs) together. And Sheila discovers that although apparently uninhabited the loos are open and fully functional.
Sufficiently replete we depart for Leominster, taking in Stoke Prior en route. We do a spot of shopping in the town centre and as I notice a cycle shop I dive in to buy some replacement tyre levers. Must be disappointing when someone strolls in wearing full cycling kit and then ignores all the £2k multi-suspension mountain bikes and asks for tyre levers. I try, “have you got round ended plastic ones please?” and the shop assistant looks at me as though I am a complete zombie, implying, ”We do tyre levers. We Do not do a choice of size, colour or shape in tyre levers”. Needless to say, having bought them I toss them in with the tools and forget their existence until I re-discover them still unwrapped some two weeks after we return from Scotland.
At the CAB office we are once again given a warm welcome, this time by Carol and advisors. I am given my third CAB mug of tea of the day while Sheila talks about the office and such things. At some point everyone is rounded up for the group photo with tandem + banner. By now we have this process well rehearsed and slick. Various shoppers who are passing by pause to see what is going on and/or to read the sign on the back of the bike.
As we prepare to leave and are wheeling the bike to the road a young man leaves the teashop opposite and comes to speak to us. He has read the “Lands End to John O’Groats + Orkney” sign on the bike and has been pushed out by his wife to ask where we are headed for tonight. It turns out that they are cyclists and also run a cycle-friendly B&B in Ludlow. We thank him but explain that although our route destination for the day is indeed likely to be Ludlow we already have accommodation arranged for us at Wigmore. In fact Wigmore is about ten miles out of our way to the west. We have a provisional detour route on the map from just north of Leominster, but decide that in view of the time and tomorrow’s intended mileage we would be better to press on to Ludlow today and then finish the day by doubling back to Wigmore. This will mean that we can use car-power tomorrow morning to return us to our finish point in Ludlow.
Leaving Leominster we continue northwards through Luston and Richards Castle, pausing at the Shropshire County boundary before Richards Castle for a photo of the road sign welcoming us to Shropshire. As we travel on towards Ludlow we note the rather large lump of hills to our west that lie between Wigmore and us. There will be no escaping an evening climb.
We arrive in Ludlow over the River Teme and cycle up the hill through the town arch and Broad Street to the Market Place. We have some difficulty locating the CAB, but manage to get some confident if complicated directions after a couple of attempts with passers by. The town looks very historic and has some very impressive half-timbered buildings. It turns out that the CAB is in a new venue at Marston’s Mill, which is out of the town centre. We get there by a slightly tortuous route via a supermarket car park and pedestrian pathway. The office is in a smart new community building in a part of town that is a major redevelopment scheme. This includes new retailing and so in due course the office will not seem to be located in quite so out of the way place. We take a photo outside the posh glass doors of the “dot.com” building, and then wend our way back through the town centre, part cycling and part walking through roads, pedestrianised sections and against some one-way arrangements. I have a banana for sustenance on the way. Back on the edge of town, as we hop off the bike, I get a sudden spasm of cramp that abates with a bit of leg straightening. We walk across the River Teme bridge looking at the river, which is well up the bridge’s arches, and is boiling furiously along in spate. A couple of elderly locals leaning on the parapet watching the world go by engage us in conversation, “What you need for cramp is bananas”. I tell him I have just eaten one! He then describes his tandem riding experiences of years ago. The essence of his cycling seems to have been as “the stoker from hell”, claiming to have capsized within a few yards any tandem whose owner rashly let him aboard.
We make our leave and set off for Wigmore via Mortimer Forest and a big hill. In fact the gradient is manageable and we decide to take it slowly. The view over Ludlow town and its castle gets better and better as we climb higher, and on the way there is a viewing spot. Various people are loading mountain bikes onto cars. The hilly forest trails are presumably ideal for mountain bike downhilling. We continue on upwards looking at the marker signs for a geological trail that is laid out beside the road at one point. Sheila asks a passing cyclist coming down how far it is to the top. Bad form I think – better to smile and look as though climbing hills at the end of the day is our idea of a perfect finish. Over the top we enjoy some fast stretches of downhilling, and we drop through Elton and the “High Cullis”. At one point our high speed gravity assisted run comes to an abrupt stop when we round a corner to see the road ahead flooded from verge to verge. In fact it is not at all deep, but we only reassure ourselves of this after jamming the brakes full on before taking the plunge. Arriving at Wigmore we turn right and head out of town looking for our B&B. This turns out to be a fine part 15th and part 17th centuries farm building. We are being put up by Edith who is an advisor at the Ludlow CAB, although she does also run the house as a B&B.
After tea and cake (yes another one – what a great day) and a chat, I return to the tandem in the barn to do a bit of basic maintenance and to fit new front brake blocks.
In the evening we head for a nearby village and have dinner at the Riverside Inn. The river is quite a torrent sweeping along beside the pub car park and I hope that it is not still rising or we might have a rather unpleasant and wet end to the evening. This place is by far the poshest spot we have visited for an evening meal so far. The food is not bad either.
Ludlow to Church Minshull
To Lands End
Prologue - Lands End to Ludgvan
Day 2 Ludgvan to Trelill
Day 3 Trelill to Great Torrington
Day 4 Great Torrington to Bridgwater
Day 5 Bridgwater to Chepstow
Day 6 Chepstow to Ludlow
Day 7 Ludlow to Church Minshull
Day 8 Church Minshull to Slaidburn
Day 9 Slaidburn to Penrith
Day 10 Penrith to Eskdalemuir
Day 11 Eskdalemuir to South Queensferry
Day 12 South Queensferry to Blairgowrie
Day 13 Blairgowrie to Tomintoul
Day 14 Tomitoul to Alness
Day 15 Alness to Bettyhill
Day 16A Bettyhill to John O'Groats
Day 16B John O'Groats to Kirkwall
Orkney and Home