Over the last couple of years I have organised a charity bike ride for the Wooden Spoon (www.woodenspoon.com), a sports based children's charity. The ride has always been open to friends and family to come along and this year I was joined by my father and a close friend. The route has always been flexible covering over 100 miles through scenic countryside. This year we decided upon a 172 mile ride over two days from Bath to Bridgnorth in Shropshire, via the old Severn crossing, through Mid Wales and finally the rolling Salopian hills. We cycled 104 miles on the first day, staying overnight with friends in Llandrindod Wells leaving a challenging and extremely hilly 68 miles for Day 2.
Day 1 started with a roll out from Bath, through the country lanes north of Bristol to the old Severn crossing. Once at Chepstow we followed Sustrans Route 42 through the hills and valleys to Usk. Climbing above the low-lying cloud, we descended into the Usk valley into mist and rain.
My bike for the ride was the Marin Blackline Pro, a UK limited edition mountain bike. Complete with super lightweight components, my trusted Charge spoon saddle and swapped out Continental slick tyres, the bike was perfect for the terrain. The MTB gearing would come into its own in the Black Mountains to come. I chose a mountain bike because my co-riders were riding 26" wheelers also and I wanted to be sociable riding with them at a nice touring pace.
From Usk we followed the river valley towards Abergavenny where we stopped for an all day breakfast at a local pub. Fuelled up we started to climb towards the Black Mountains and the Gospel Pass, 16 miles of gradual climbing from the town to the top of the Col, and what a gorgeous climb, truly epic scenery.
At the top of the climb, mid Wales (our route), Herefordshire and Shropshire span out before us. We descended into the rolling valley picking up Route 25 along the Hay towards Builth Wells and Llandrindod Wells. We kept eating and drinking (little and often) and pushed on towards our evening meal and soft bed.
Day 2 started with cereal, full English (or Welsh!). Loading up the calories we hit the mountain pass above Llandrindod Wells. Over two mountains we followed the mountain railway towards Knighton on the border. In heavy rain the first 20 miles were very tough with difficult climbs and perilous descents, avoiding sheep dogs, guinea fowl and tractors on the wet roads. Low cloud only allowed glimpses of the scenery on this exhilarating road. I felt cold, wet and very hungry 3 miles short of Knighton where thankfully we stopped for sandwiches, local beer and an enormous chocolate eclair (life saver).
From Knighton we picked up B roads towards Bucknell and Aston on Clun (home of the wedding tree and the birthplace of my grandmother - recently featured in Britain by Bike with Clare Balding). From there, we traversed around the Longmynd to Minton near Church Stretton, where the Longmynd Adventure Camp is based. This is a centre which offers outdoor activities for disadvantaged children and is the charity we had chosen to ride for in association with Wooden Spoon.
The money raised has gone towards building disabled access and facilities at the centre and our ride had been planned to coincide with their official opening . We were met by a welcoming party laden with food and drink and after a great tour of the centre we had to push on for the last 20 miles.
With only one significant climb remaining, up Wenlock Edge, we pedalled away in the knowledge that the end was near. We were now on roads we knew very well, the familiar roads of our childhood where we cut our cycling teeth. The pace quickened and we virtually sprinted the last five miles as if we were the peloton catching a breakaway.
Like most great rides there is always a sense of disappointment when it ends, a sort of hollowness after you have celebrated the achievement.
One puncture, 172 miles, average speed 10.5mph, 6 major Welsh mountains, 2 sheep dog chases, 2 full fry ups, calories lots, epic views, no mechanicals and great company.
What to do next....?
Many thanks to Glyn and Wooden Spoon, Kim and the Longmynd Adventure Centre, Helen and Ted for their wonderful Welsh hospitality, and Dad and Paul for keeping me going. Many thanks to all those who sponsored me, the money really has gone to a great cause.