Saturday, 13th June 2009 was a blistering, glorious summer day. I’d decided a couple of days before that I was going to get another long ride in – the weather looked like it was going to be terrific, and not being one to miss an opportunity, I prepared the bike for a long dayride. Setting out at 8:30AM, the roads were fairly quiet as I headed up my traditional route along the A515 to Sudbury. From there, I headed across country through Marston Montgomery to Ellastone, before skirting the eastern side of the Weaver Hills past Ramshorn and Cauldon Lowe up on to Ipstones Edge.
Dipping off Ipstones Edge down through Bottomhouse and on up to Morridge, the day heated up beautifully. The meadows were full of buttercups, and there was little wind to speak of. I climbed on up past Thorncliffe, past the Mermaid Pub, crossing the A53 at Royal Cottage. The Roaches looked as daunting and dark as ever; I’m always captivated by the fact that the countryside on their eastern flank is so barren, whilst that on the western side is so wooded and green.
I stopped for essential refuelling at the excellent private-house-cum-teashop, Tisha’s Teas, and had wonderful slice of Victoria Sponge and a welcome pot of earl grey. This is one of the best cake stops I know – in the middle of a barren moor just to the north-east of the Roaches, it’s a welcome stop for any weary explorer. The proprietors are friendly and attentive, and full of conversation, and there’s an interesting stream of fellow wanderers to chat to whilst taking in the excellent view. In the absence of a link to the cafe, Leek Cyclists Club have this to say on their useful cafe-stop guide:
‘Located in a picturesque spot at the back of The Roaches and Ramshaw Rocks on the road towards Goldsitch Moss and Gradbach this new tea room is open Saturday and Sunday 10:00am – 5:30pm during the winter months. Telephone 01538 300460 for details and bookings.’
Refreshed, I headed northwards to Flash, which is, by a whisker, the highest village in Britain. The climb was quite arduous, but dramatic, and the scenery was magical.
There was a village festival in progress, which gave the hard, weathered hamlet a party feel, with people sat outside, chatting and having a beer outside the pub. It was a lovely experience. I’d actually been higher on the journey – 484m at Oxbatch on Morridge as opposed to 472m at Flash – but the village felt remote and elevated. It was a fantastic place.
Leaving Flash and heading toward the comically named Wincle, the countryside softens and becomes more undulating. The greenery is startling, as are some of the inclines and drops. The countryside southwards through Danebridge was as stunning as ever it was; secluded valleys watered by pretty streams combined with picturesque cottages, mills and pubs. The church and schoolhouse at Wincle are a beautiful example of just why the Staffordshire Moorlands are so beloved of so many people. Quite why they are so little known remains a mystery to me.
Nearing Redshaw, I made an error of judgement. Previously, I’d taken the route past Titterworth Reservoir and into Leek, but feeling great, I decided to head toward Rushton Spencer, through Rushtonhall, and up towards Biddulph Moor, before heading south eastward to Rudyard and Longsdon. I’m a fair climber and can handle hills well, but the heat and unrelenting grind of winching myself up the hill toward Biddulph was, to put it mildly, hell on wheels. The views and countryside were excellent, but I was glad of my large supplies of fluid and energy snacks. The hills continued to erode my reserves for some time afterward. This is tough country, and I was riding quite a hilly route through it. 70 miles in to a ride of 120 is probably not the best point to find the hardest climbs…
Just outside of Longsdon, at Horse Bridge, I spotted the canal heading south east through Cheddleton. Glad of a break on the flat, I hopped on the towpath – the canal was just gorgeous. Winding it’s way through the Churnet Valley, the Caldon Canal is a hidden gem – the Flint Mill is particularly captivating. There’s a museum here which I intend to return to at some point.. Hopping off at Cheddleton Station on the preserved Churnet Valley Railway, I climbed up to Basford Green and the wonderful little village of Ipstones. Whilst in Ipstones, I visited the local ROC bunker, which sits in the lee of a hill down a farm track, and considered the cold war. It seemed a very long way from this hot, hazy, English summer evening.
Travelling south, the Churnet Valley was still challenging. Climbing out of Froghall to Kingsley Holt, I decided that it was time to head home. I was originally planning to head across country to Oakamoor, then into Alton along the river, but my energy reserves were seriously dipping, and time was marching on. Instead, I took a direct route south east, through Hollington, Stramshall and Uttoxeter. There were still plenty of hills, and climbing up to Willslock from Uttoxeter was unusually challenging. I fear I might be getting old…
Returning via Blithfield Reservoir and Rugeley, I was glad to get home, but it had been an excellent ride on one of the hottest days of the year. At about 120 miles, it wasn’t the longest I’d done in a day, but it was certainly the hardest dayride I’d ever experienced. The GPS registered over 2500 meters of climbing.
Next day was time for a recovery ride, and feeling better than expected, I spun out for tea & cake at Middleton Hall, before hitting the canal at Bodymoor Heath and heading to Alvecote through Tamworth. On the way, I found a bridle path through the quarry yard at the back of Middleton hall, while removed the need to hit the dual carriageway to get to Bodymoor. Riding on the loose gravel was challenging, but fun…
Leaving the canal at Amington, I spun up through Alvecote and Shuttington to Seckington. I’d never got round to exploring Seckington, so I took advantage of the loveley summer afternoon to have a look around. It’s actually a picturesque hamlet with a lovely church, and some really unusual houses.
Travelling around the north east of Tamworth into Clifton Campville and Harlaston, I noticed this fairytale cottage on the edge of the estate at Thorpe Constantine…
Sadly, last weekend, the weather was again rubbish. Saturday was wet and miserable, and Sunday not much better, but I did get out and about. On Saturday, I took a ride into Walsall along the canal from Highbridges to the New Art Gallery, looped through Walsall town centre and up into Chuckery.
In Chuckery, I passed the green-space that there had been so much fuss over, and noted that true to the campaigner’s claims, it was in heavy use as a cricket pitch. The match in progress wasn’t life and death, however, it was evidently far more important than that. Heading down the Broadway, I hopped back on the canal on the Sutton Road, and cycled back through Aldridge – not a bad ride at all.
On Sunday, the afternoon brightened up a little, so I took a spin out over Chasewater, down through Longdon into Rugeley and back through Blithbury to Armitage, returning via Farewell. I took a slightly different route, in order to check out Maple Grange pumping station, another wonderful example of South Staffordshire Waterworks Co. and their dedication to municipal design. This one seems rather cubist…
I also paid a call at the Rugeley ROC post, after visiting the Ipstones bunker the previous day. Located on the track to Cawarden Brick Reclamation, I also got a decent shot of the power station from an unusual angle. I don’t know why, but the whole structure fascinates me.
Winding back into Armitage, I passed the Ridware Theatre, formerly a church. I’d seen signs for the place before, and never worked out where it was; I’d been passing it for ages and never realised! I wondered what it was like inside…
Heading back through Handsacre and Tuppenhurst, I studied the old bridge on the B5014; now bypassed by a new one, it’s reduced in status to a curious roadside ornament, but it’s a lovely construction. I hope it’s being looked after, it would be a shame to see it decay.
In Tuppenhurst, a field of poppies caught my eye… such a simple thing can bring such joy to the heart. Can there be a more wonderful representation of the English countryside?