Mercian Way Tour - Part 1 Posted on 16 Jun 18:34 , 0 comments

I have long had a desire to cycle the down the Severn Valley, wending my way through Shropshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire down to the mouth of the mighty river. A few years ago I learned of the Mercian Way - part of the National Cycle Network, which goes from Chester down to Salisbury, which is just a day ride from Poole where I live. So in the depths of winter I hatched a plan with my mate Steve, who is now retired, so has less time on his hands apparently, for a spring tour along this route, starting in Bath, near where Steve's daughter lives and ending up in Chester, where trains are available to take us and our bikes back home.

Unfortunately, Steve's daughter moved to London and blew his logistics apart so he reluctantly had to pull out. However, the tour was already planned, so I decided to proceed anyway. My son Will was up for a long weekend, so we decided to alter the plan slightly to  start at Shrewsbury and end up at Bristol Parkway station where I could leave my car and Will could get a train back to London.

The weather forecast was far from encouraging, but lodgings were booked and train tickets bought, so we had to pack waterproofs and go anyway. Logistics started a couple of days before, meeting Will at Southampton Parkway rail station to deliver his bike for him to take back to London. I had spent a week or two building Will's touring bike, as previous tours we had done had seen Will turning up on various highly unsuitable machines, ranging from a single speed through to a full carbon road bike. Velo Orange had one Polyvalent frame left and it was in the right size so at last he could have a proper tourer, except that he wanted a Campagnolo Record/Super Record gear set and carbon fibre mudguards, but that can be forgiven.

We met at Shrewsbury station with fully loaded bikes and were on the road by midday. Within 5 miles a suitable pub stop for lunch was encountered and that is where the above photo was taken. the sharp shadows show that the weather forecast had fortunately been incorrect - at least for day 1.

A word about planning. Will hadn't done more than a few miles at a time since our Thames valley tour last year and the awful "spring" weather so far had meant I hadn't done much cycling recently, so we decided a leisurely schedule of about 35 miles per day was planned leaving time for refreshment stops and sightseeing. Unfortunately Day 1 we broke the golden rule of cycle touring of "take it easy on the first day". It was horrendously hilly and we only had a half a day. 

Day 1 started with a few traffic free miles along the river and some quiet flattish lanes, which reminded me of my early cycling days along the deserted lanes of rural South Staffordshre - then the long ascent to Little Wenlock (750ft). The signboard for the village said "Just under the Wrekin". Wellington Wrekin is a huge hill that can be seen for many miles. Fortunately there is a pub at the entrance to the village to slake one's thirst after the long climb.

Then the welcome long descent bake down to the River Severn at Ironbridge, where still stands the first iron bridge ever built, back in 1779.

Our scheduled overnight stop was a few miles down river at the pretty riverside town of Bridgnorth, beloved of West Midland day trippers. We couldn't find a hotel in the town so, we found a very hospitable pub 4 miles the other side of town (but still on our planned route), which provided another brutal hill to end our day.

The perennial problem of where to store our bikes overnight was easily solved at the Bull's Head: it is a fisherman's haunt being near the river and they had a secure outbuilding for fishing tackle where we could leave our bikes, as the season had not yet started. They even gave us the key! Food was great but the weather forecast for Day 2 wasn't!