Narrow lanes and freshly cut hedges

CTC Birthday Rides August 2012

Canal tow-path approaching Chester

Early morning mass starts were carefully avoided. The lanes were far too narrow and potholed. Some surfaces were decoratively adorned with the fresh cuttings of hawthorn hedges, thorns lying in wait for the unsuspecting wheeler whose tyres would gather them up and, in return, send the imprisoned air of the inner tube back into the earth’s oxygen bank. I heard that this happened to one group of riders midst one of those furious cloudbursts that sent an inch of rain down in less than 30 minutes. I wonder what expletives honoured the name of that local farmer?

You may think that 500 cyclists could get lost in a sea of rural tranquillity, but whatever route you chose (and there were at least 20 to choose from) you were sure to chance by several, join up with some, leave others behind in your dust (or be left behind in someone else’s dust), but generally sit down with some in a far-flung café and share the stories of the road. I was in thrall of the longer routes that would

From within, looking out….

take me 70-80 miles in several directions. Five days and five rides later, I had scaled the heights above Lake Vyrnwy (a reservoir built to supply Liverpool) and done its entire circumference, shrouded by woods and well protected from the winds; I then followed a northerly route to the historic city of Chester, followed the canal tow path to the heart of the city, and got completely drowned by the torrential downpour on the way back; the Shropshire Hills beckoned another day, planting a massive climb

Dam at Lake Vyrnwy

of 20% on my way to the Stiperstones, where I learnt all about the history of lead mining at the Bog Visitor Centre, and sampled the honest delights of home baking in the café; then the infamous World’s End with its treacherous narrow descent to a river ford that will catch the unwary with its slippery under-surface; and the final day promised a steady climb to the recondite Pistyll Waterfall, in full flow after the recent rains, followed by the most stunning climbs through the Berwyn Hills, offering panoramic views that must be unequalled anywhere in Wales.

But, as ever, accompanying any utopian description of riding a bike several hundred miles, you sometimes have to take the ‘rough with the rough’. Serious rain (the sort that would keep sane individuals firmly indoors) dampened our bikes and clothes, but not our spirits, on two days, and on the final day I checked out an aberration on my front brake, only to discover that the rim of my 20 year old front wheel was beginning to disintegrate (hardly surprising I suppose). A careful ride into Oswestry and the immediate attention of Stuart Berkley Cycles saw a new wheel installed in less than 15 minutes. My trusty Raleigh Apex has now done about 40,000 miles, and most of the original kit has now been replaced…………only the rider now remains!

In the purist tradition of a bygone age, I decided to cycle to and from the rally at Ellesmere College in north Shropshire, carrying my own camping gear. A four day return journey, it added 300 miles to my grand total of 622 miles (1000 kms)for the week. Preparing for that journey made me rise to the challenge of pairing down my luggage so that all would fit into a

…with laden bike

single saddlebag and small bar-bag. One lady at the rally saw my laden bike (carrying less than 10 kilos of luggage) and simply exclaimed “Impressive!”!

Impressive or not, I was simply determined to carry as little a possible. In this age of competitive cycling, the buzz-phrases we hear are “power-to-weight ratios” and “marginal gains”. To the humble long-distance rider with camping gear, that simply means carry less weight to go faster and further. Still there were several things that I had no occasion to use, which means that things can be trimmed even further on future ventures.

…and I thought it was in the Holy Land!

Shropshire hills

Super fast descent!


About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on August 24, 2012, in Aspects of Britain, Cycling UK and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Rim failure due to wear on the braking surface is a serious issue. To prevent it you need to check if the thickness is 1mm or less. The Deuxieme gauge from Proops Bros costs does the job for £4 at

    • You’re absolutely right Peter. I should be more diligent about checking such things. However, having said that, it’s the first time it’s happened in a lifetime of cycling. But that’s no excuse………….

  2. Gorgeous photos – looks like a great ride!

  3. Great narative and pix, Frank. I heartily recomend the SEMAINE FEDRALE ( FFCT equivilent of the CTC Birthday rides, usually first week in August ) attracting 10x as many cyclists with brilliant ( can’t get lost ) organisation and ,usually better weather.
    I would welcome a copy of your on-board gear list to assist me in the minimalist cargo stakes.
    Phil Lewis, Chippenham Wheelers.

    • Yes, Phil, I have frequently considered the SF as an alternative, but the sheer size of the event has deterred till now. 500 at the BRs seemed more than enough. However, I may bite the bullet one of these days……………
      Will happily send you a copy of my gear list, but it’s always a ‘work in progress’. I learn from every trip what to include and exclude.

  4. That next to last picture is awesome! It sure looks fun to me….

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