We awoke this morning to bright sunshine which gladdened our hearts for the journey ahead. We knew it was going to be a long day as we were extending the already 45 mile let by another 6 miles to reach our accommodation for the night. Our host Clive ensured we had a hearty breakfast and made sure we were set for the day, before heading off for his morning run – Clive is a bit of a marathon man, and in his day was also a competitive cyclist, including tandem.
We set off towards Worcester central, following the Sustrans route, which Mr V had been able to cleverly overlay on the trusty ViewRanger (for those just joining us – this app has saved our bacon on numerous occasions). Now, as the Stoker, I have on all our previous tours been the very capable (as acknowledged by Mr V) navigator. However, when fitting out Twolula, he purchased a swanky new phone cover which has a coupling fitted to the handlebars, his handlebars; meaning that he was not only Captain, but assuming the responsibilities of navigator also. It soon became clear that in unridden territory, he was rather over-stretching himself, as although I was able to track where we were going with my phone and the Ranger, I did not have the benefit of the JOG route overlay. Needless to say, we had a rather frustrating wrong turn navigating our way around Worcester which has led to me now having a shiny new coupling on my handlebar.
Back on route, we made our way along the riverbank through Worcester, gaining a new perspective on some of the landmarks that were familiar to me as a driver whilst working in the City. By the time we had reached the somewhat sodden racecourse, it felt that the City was receding and the pace a little calmer. Pressing on to Droitwich (Spa post-nominal seems optional) we had a couple of tricky navigational situations, but now I had the power of the coupling, instant pinpointing was at my command, so I was able to sort us out.
As we left Droitwich and entered the less used countryside byways, a gloom started to form and sure enough the few spots of rain turned into a shower and we had to don waterproofs and steel ourselves for a cold wet stint. By this time it was mid morning. Coffee time. We were though literally in the middle of nowhere without a cosy cafe or even a place to shelter to crack open our flask – so onward we peddled, on the lookout for somewhere, anywhere, to stop. The rain started to ease off, and blue sky appeared and then on a small rise was a church. Where there is a church, there is a churchyard; and where there is a churchyard there is always a bench in a tranquil spot. So thanks to St Michael’s at Elmley Lovett, and the Oliver family, we were able to enjoy some much needed sustenance (of the coffee and granola bar rather than spiritual kind).
We headed on towards Bewdley, which would be the half-way point for the day. Our route took us on quiet roads and now disused railways as well as canal-sides. We were encumbered today by contraptions that have become our nemesis; in fact I am not even sure what they are for, but we have encountered these ‘cycle calming’ things on our home turf – some are wide enough to get through, but a couple, that we tend to avoid, are too narrow for the handlebars without lifting them over the top. This is awkward enough when out for the day, but when negotiating these with a fully laden touring bike or tandem, they have become the bane of our day today. Luckily, we have been assisted on a number of occasions by some very kind people, who have helped us to lift and manoeuvre Twolula through the barriers, or direct us to a less troublesome route. Sustrans though, what are you thinking by not considering the standard width of a touring handlebar before installing these things?!
We stopped for lunch in Bewdley, and sat in the now warm sun by the very fast flowing river, entertained by a standoff for territorial supremacy between a flock of very noisy geese and quietly plotting mute swans.
Our route out of Bewdley was a long and quite steep climb on our way to traverse the Wyre Forest. This started out as a pleasant ride through dappled sunlight, but before long the road started to gradually rise before us, and went on, and on rising. Just as we thought we had reached the peak, there was more. After about 20 minutes of hard climbing, we stopped for a drink and breather where it had briefly plateaued, and it was then that Mr V realised that the parking brake was still partially on – having poo-pooed me all the way up when I had said I was sure something was rubbing, he did look suitably sheepish.
We crossed the river at Upper Arley, and almost immediately encountered a steep climb. This was portentous of things to come. We knew there would be hills, we knew that they would be hard work, but we also knew that slow and steady wins the day. One peddle turn at a time. What we were not prepared for was the off-road, overgrown too steep to peddle hills. These nearly did us in today, and we really had to dig deep to overcome them, but when the only option is onward, you do what you have to do. We were though regretting blithely thinking that the extra 6 miles beyond Bridgnorth to our accommodation would be nothing but bringing our daily mileage up to what we are used to. Fools!
I took us a little off-route to navigate a quicker, shorter route to Bridgnorth foregoing our usual aversion to the busier roads as Mr V runs lean, being a little more disciplined than me, he has not benefited as I have, of working the last 5 months with colleagues who regularly produce excellent baked goods, or treats. We reached Bridgnorth (Low NOT High town) and found a quiet bench next to the river where he practically inhaled the second double Bounty bar of the day (one of his weaknesses, and multipack that was a parting gift from his colleagues).
Gurding our loins we saddled back up for the 6 remaining miles before we could rest for the night, not knowing what those miles will hold. We were assisted once again along the road by a nice lady walking her dogs, advising us of a more direct way than the wooded footpath, and we cut across a playing field to pick up the route to Coalport – to our relief it travelled almost the entire length along a disused railway. A flat, well surfaced disused railway. Though we were tired, we were buoyed by the fact that we were able to lick along at a decent speed and so eat up the miles at a healthy 15-20 mph.
So we made it to our destination in the 45 minutes that google maps said it would, settled Twolula in the bike store, dumped our bags in our room – we have the whole floor of the youth hostel to ourselves, and then ordered the specials off the menu, which were scoffed down with a cool cider that did not even touch the sides.
Tired and with aching legs, we shall sleep well tonight.