Blog for August 2017 with Photographs, Travel Notes and Local History
Friday August 4th 2017
I thought I would undertake a little Shropshire pub tour today. That lying git Tomasz Schafernaker said there was a risk of the odd shower this afternoon so I wheeled out the Spring Touring Bike with mudguards. It turned out that I could have upgraded to a bike I do not normally risk getting wet. Anyway, I had a lovely 120km ride around Shropshire, taking in a circuit of Claverley, Worfield, Coalport, Ironbridge, over The Wrekin, Wroxeter, Buildwas, Jackfield and Beckbury. It was nice and hilly but very beautiful. This area never fails to deliver in the picturesque department.
Duran Duran alert. On my route towards Ironbridge, I cycled through Draycott and stumbled on this chocolate-box cottage. A local couple told me that the cottage's claim to fame was that it was once the home of the keyboard player in Duran Duran. They said that the current occupiers told them how one of the rooms has a zillion power sockets once required for all the musical equipment. In fact, it was guitarist Andy Taylor who lived here after moving from nearby Beckbury. He used to drink in the Seven Stars in Beckbury. By the way, just in case you are thinking it ... I was not into Duran Duran, though I do remember the rather sleazy Rum Rummer with some affection. The Hyatt Hotel now stands on the infamous nightclub where members of Duran Duran kicked off doing odd-jobs. In an odd twist of fate their records were played retrospectively across the road in a place called Flares, a venue that has gone further back in time to 1970s-era Top of the Pops and re-branded itself as 'Popworld'. I had to smile when somebody called Tribune posted on the Birmingham Mail : "I can remember Broad Street as a fine upstanding place, where my fellow drinkers were not to be found spewing up and lying down and urinating in the street. That fortunately was when people had respect for themselves and all others around them. What have the council or property owners here created. Must be great to go for a beer there spend umpteen pounds for the pleasure, come outside and deposit half your stomach contents on the pavement. Pity there are no churches as such on Broad Street, because I bet there are plenty of cries of "Oh God don't let me die" after a skinful."
There is a road between Coalport and Jackfield that is jam-packed with historical interest. You could spend hours just on this section of road. The Brewery Inn makes a good refreshment stop as you look at the old bridge at Coalport and visit the China Museum. Or you could call into the Shakespeare Inn after looking at the adjacent Hay Inclined Plane. Today, however, I was heading to other places so I rolled through and enjoyed views of the River Severn before passing the always-intriguing old furnaces and Lloyd Cottage. Lloyds Coppice to the rear was mined on a small scale from the 14th century but upgraded in the mid-18th century with the help of a pumping engine, the remains of which are still visible today. A lot of work has been undertaken here in order to stabilise a landslide that would have caused a serious blockage to the river. Demolished in the 1920s, the site of Madeley Wood Hall, former home of the Anstice family, is at the eastern end of Lloyd's Coppice.
From Lloyd's Coppice I had to resist the temptation to head up to the All Nations on Blists Hill - one to save for another day. It is only a short distance to an area with a few excellent pubs dotted around. The Robin Hood Inn almost looks out across Jackfield Bridge, a structure opened in 1994 that replaced the Haynes Memorial Bridge of 1909. Actually, the new span replaced a bailey bridge which was in use for around eight years during the interim. Holden's Brewery acquired the Robin Hood Inn around the turn of the Millennium and is a good port-of-call for some Woodsetton ale.
Just a few yards towards Ironbridge is the Bird in Hand which boasts a commanding view over the River Severn. The 18th century inn has been run by the Poulton family for a generation and well worth your patronage. Check out the above image to note the narrow lane leading up into the trees. The road signs show that the lane is closed to traffic [except for access] and this generally means it is irresistible to the cyclist. In fact, this slope is a nice little leg-cruncher that takes you up to the Golden Ball Inn where I normally find an interesting beer on sale.
The bike I was riding today was not equipped with gears that I would normally use for this type of steep ascent but I could not resist the temptation. It must be approaching 30 per cent in a couple of places. With no easy sprockets, I had to get out of the saddle but suffered from wheelspin on the rough tarmac and gravel. There is even moss to thwart your traction. And when I sat down I lifted my front wheel off the ground during my effort. This makes the climb all the more challenging and rewarding when you roll up to the Golden Ball Inn for a well-earned glass of ale.
I stopped for a nosebag upstream and sat a few yards from the world's first iron bridge erected in 1779 and one of Britain's best-known industrial monuments. Loaded with scrambled eggs, I headed towards the railway viaduct at Coalbrookdale. This once formed part of the Wellington to Craven Arms Railway, a line that must have been quite beautiful for passengers looking out of the windows. As you can see [above], today the railway structure and surrounding nature forms a lovely scene with bulrushes and reeds amid the watercourse. This, for me, is a moment of tranquillity before the long, and often steep, climb up Darby Road to The Huntsman at Little Wenlock. You can just see the start of this lovely hill climb through the arches. By the way, I had wanted to have a beer in the Coalbrookdale Inn but it doesn't open 'til 4pm. It is at times like this that I preferred to old school opening hours - you knew where you stood back in the day. Oh well, another time.
After cycling over The Wrekin, I pedalled over to Wroxeter where a cyclist can get a free view of the Roman site - and if you have got a decent camera you can even read most of the information boards. No, I did not do this and abuse their free hospitality. However, I did stop for a quick look at the place.
From Wroxeter I normally pedal up to Much Wenlock, home of the Olympic Games. Today, however, I rode back towards Buildwas. Not long after the Kynnersley Arms you get one of the best views of the River Severn from the B4380. You can even wait to see an oxbow lake if you are prepared to stick around for a few hundred years. And then it was on towards a Shropshire pub that has to rely on a generator to power its beer engine. Fed up with inconstant supply during the depression, the Meadow Inn at Ironbridge decided to construct their own power supply in the beer garden in 1932 [see above photograph]. It is OK, I am making it all up. However, less removed from the truth is that the power station at Buildwas was owned by a German company - the English being unable to do anything these days. I am glad I took this photograph of the Meadow Inn because the cooling towers, along with the rest of the site, is to be demolished in the autumn of 2017, two years after the power station had been decommissioned. The alternative spectacle from the rear of the pub is to watch some heave-ho on the river as the rowing club is nearby. The Meadow Inn combines hearty meals with real ale - though the latter is limited to one beer at times. From here I meandered back home through more familiar Shropshire villages and back to the Black Country. A most excellent cycle journey.
Sunday August 6th 2017
This sunny Sunday was spent pedalling to Malvern via a circuitous route through quiet villages such as Elmbridge, Crowle and Defford. I called into the Brewers' Arms at West Malvern, a pub that has a chalkboard claiming the garden has the best pub view in Britain. Unlike the Carlsberg adverts, they do not even drop in the 'probably' caveat - no, they are confident that they have the best panoramic view in the whole of the UK. And because I love looking out over Herefordshire and the Welsh mountains I am not going to argue with them. I was heading back towards Worcester when I caught up with Owen Simpson with whom I cycled for about 20 miles. I first asked where he was heading with all that kit on his bike. It turned out that he was riding from Land's End to John O'Groats to raise funds for The Dan McAllister Foundation - SToRMS who are doing great work to help people experiencing mental health problems and preventing suicide. Owen is studying at Bristol to become a mental health nurse - he's coming up to his final year. He is using the summer break to complete this ride to the north of Scotland. Since departing from Land's End he had ridden alone so I was glad to have provided some companionship, albeit for a brief part of his journey.