Mike had got in touch via the Bearbones bikepacking forum after seeing my Bikepacking Shropshire video. He mentioned that he was based in Bromsgrove and had been trying to put together a route from the Midlands that went to Knighton to join up with the Trans Cambrian Way. I already had a route that sounded very much like this and suggested we go ride the Barnt Green to Knighton and back section of it.
Saturday morning I left the house at 7am heading up to Barnt Green. I met with Mike and we got on our way. The weather was already a bit warmer than we had been expecting but the clear skies were welcome as rain had been predicted for later in the day so the longer the sun lasted the better… or so we thought. The weeks leading up to this trip had seen some of the best weeks of summer weather we have had in the UK for what seems like years. I had been slightly nervous about attempting the 186mile round trip in those conditions but after seeing the weather predictions being for a mild wet-ish weekend decided that actually the goal of 93 miles each way was doable.
A mild day with rain later; turned out to be an average temperature of 23degrees which made the going very hot and difficult; I drank something like 6 liters of water. Much of the route was very open affording us little or no shade for long sections. The sun beat down relentlessly for hours while we struggled through over grown bridle way that clearly has very little use. There were several field crossings through waist deep crops that made for very slow and tiring progress. Not only that but I started to have some real bad luck with punctures having to stop 4 times to do repairs and near the end trying to out run a slow puncture. All this added up to us having to re-evaluate our goals for the day, deciding that this was a ride to be enjoyed not just endured.
We still weren’t sure what our new goal was yet but we were pretty sure we weren’t getting to Knighton. We pushed on to Much Wenlock and stopped for a breather. The weather was still really hot and it was nice to sit in the shade with a cold drink and just enjoy a summer’s day like normal people. We stopped off at the The Old Smoothie, a bike friendly cafe in the main square. Mike tucked into a smoothie of epic proportions while I finished of my last sandwich and rolled an ice cold can of coke around my face. They were very welcoming people here filling up our water bottles and generally making us feeling welcome despite being covered in a sweaty layer of dust and sun cream.
We pressed on along Wenlock’s Edge which offered us the first real long stretch of tree cover and a chance to get out of the sun. Our timing had clearly been impeccable though as after about 15 mins in the woods the clouds came over… and the rain came. This was the final straw and the loose plan we had had about just getting to The Long Mynd was finalised. We pushed along in the rain and got into All Stretton.
After stashing our bikes out the back we headed into The Yew Tree for some dinner. It’s certainly what you might term a spit and saw dust type of place and the food was well, crap if honest, but after 11 hours on the bike you’ll eat anything. However if it’s character you like in a pub then this place has bags of it. From Paul the sweary landlord walking about in a sarong to the cats laying on the bar and the friendly chatty locals this place had a great feel to it. So much so that after returning from the toilet Mike had secured us a spot in the beer garden to pitch up our tarps! I think the land lady must have been drinking and he must have flashed some thigh at her. Whatever he had resorted to this was a great move as the rain was bucketing down by now and it was at least 45mins to the spot that we had in mind on the Mynd. Not only that but it’s a 20% road climb to get up to the top and with a belly full of chicken Kiev and chips I wasn’t really looking forward to that.
Being the first time I had used the tarp in a real situation I was slightly apprehensive about how it was going to go. The rain was still relentless at this point but strangely I think this probably helped me out a little. It meant I could very easily see where it was starting to puddle so I could properly place the guy lines pulling the relevant bits tight. If it had been dry and started raining later on then it’s quite possible it would have pooled in places and eventually leaked through. As it was I was dry all night and was feeling pretty pleased with myself to have had such a successful first pitch in such poor conditions.
We awoke to Paul the land lord sitting across the other side of the car park drinking a coffee and taking in the morning sun. He then added to his legend by getting in his land rover and reversing it into his other 4×4 before shooting off down the road like a man possessed.
After a very light breakfast of sorts we headed back towards Wenlocks Edge. We really didn’t the fancy the slog up the bridle way to get back on to the ridge. I have “ridden” (see walked) this before and it’s no fun. We took the road climb instead which although a bit of a grind was far quicker and got the ascent done in a sensible time. We rejoined the previous days route just before the YHA and cruised for a while. Instead of taking the YHA route though we decided to try out some of the EWE route instead which headed along a bridle way that ran parallel to the double track we had been on the day before. In all honesty I’m not sure why you would bother to go this way, as about 90% of it was a grassy edge of field slog that felt like a pointless effort. We headed along the ridge eventually getting back to Much Wenlock again where we stopped for a late breakfast/early lunch. I partook of the smoothie myself this time and boy was it a corker. Ice cream, milk, a banana, peanut butter and Nutella blended into a creamy lump of unworldy goodness that was certainly what I needed to set me up for another 6 hours in the saddle.
Mike was starting to hurt at this point, with the lack of sleep he had had on Friday catching up with him. Just west of Bridge North there is a pretty significant road climb that tops out at 25% at the steepest point which finally finished him off and he called for an evacuation. We rolled much of the way on roads avoiding the sloggy bits of bridle way from the day before until we got the River Severn crossing at Alverley. There is another decent hill to climb up to the town where Mike’s dad was picking him up, so we said our good byes at the foot bridge and I headed off to make my way home.
I rode most of the previous days route in reverse but avoided a couple of sections that I thought would be mostly water after the downpour. I was very happy to have avoided one section just before Kinver. Looking back down the route there was still water flowing down what I would have had to have come up if I hadn’t had used the road instead. I had been dreading the climb at Kinvers edge but actually was pleasantly surprised that I managed to clear it without to much trouble. I even took a celebratory photo when I got up onto the ridge. I skirted round the bottom of the Clent Hills and took a short cut through Rubery to avoid the long grass hike-a-bike at Chapmans Hill, so on the whole it was pretty easy going all the way back to Kings Heath.
I have got so used to riding on my own these days but it was great to meet Mike and ride with someone else. I’m certainly going to try to take part in a few more Bearbones rides and get some of the social aspect back to long days riding.
I learnt quite a few things this trip which is always good.
- How to put the Wild Cat handle bar harness on properly, thanks Mike.
- I need lots more small dry bags. It would be really handy to be able to separate off every thing in the saddle pack into its own bag. Nothing got wet but it would have been convenient to be able to get more stuff out the bag without worrying about where you were putting it down.
- My tarp setup works well in heavy rain, so lets hope that it would be just as good in a strong wind.
- I need to add some loops on to the rigging points on my tarp to make it even easier to use.
- I would like to reduce the dry bag in the harness from a 13liter to an 8 liter. I’m not sure this is going to happen until I get a proper frame bag though so I can redistribute some of the weight.
- I now know that I can do a lot of hours in the saddle, have the broken sleep you get under a tarp and then get up and do it all again.