Tom starts his annual holidays this weekend, (August Bank Holiday Weekend) so I promised to ‘start’ by accompanying him for the first day. We had to meet at Lostock Gralam near Northwich, 9.30am. I was on the road at 7.15, traversing exactly the same route as yesterday to Gt. Budworth, where, at the ‘Running Pump’, I abandoned this road, and turned to Northwich. I had a little lunch by the wayside, then quickly reached our meeting place where Tom was waiting. After showing me his new camera, we restarted. The awkward streets of Northwich passed, we walked Castle Hill to Hartford. It soon became obvious that this main road would not do for us, for it was already badly motorised, and the great, lumbering holiday chara’s had put in an appearance, so just beyond Sandiway, we turned along the Tarporley road, which was also petrolised.
At Cotebrooke, we became interested in the soft, musical tinkling of a little church bell, then turned into the quieter bylanes leading to Eaton, which was ablaze with pretty garden flowers, then the main road again past Beeston Brook, and the bylanes once more, towards the gates of Beeston Castle. We did not approach the Castle however, turning for the village. As usual, the old fortress looked wonderful, and Peckforton’s castellated turrets showing above the trees, coupled with the ancient ‘black and white’ thatched cottages and flowery gardens gave it a rare touch of medievalism. “So this is England!” we echoed. Riding round the foot of Peckforton Hills, we came to the rural village of that name, and after that everything was new to us. The scenery was gorgeous, rapturous, and the miles rolled by only too quickly. Bickerton, then an undulating byway, and we crossed the main Chester – Whitchurch road, and came to Malpas, an old world market town with an ancient church and a complicated market cross. The road to Worthenbury was now taken, downhill, with a wooded plain before us, and the near Welsh mountains upon which storm clouds gathered. Near Broughton Hall, we passed a ‘Frontier House’ now entering that curious ‘part of Flint’ surrounded by Cheshire, a kind of Wales beyond Wales, then a short run brought us to Bangor-is-y-coed, or Bangor on Dee.
We soon found a lunch place, and during the meal a rainstorm broke with great fury. It was still pouring down when we left an hour later. We inspected the ancient bridge over the Dee, then running by the church, we plunged into the rain-washed byways for Overton on Dee, with capes on and facing a stiff breeze. For some miles our road wound about, and rose and fell, until we entered Overton, a neat, simple little village. We now joined the main Ellesmere – Whitchurch road, but got fed up with it inside five minutes, and rejoined our old loves, the byways. We did not care whither we went, having no destination in mind, only one object, and that was to get ‘right away’ from the usual routes. The rain, which had not eased off any, had effectively cleared the motors off the roads. Now came a hilly ride through moderate scenery via Street Dinas (that sounds Welsh), Ifton Heath and St Martins to Gobowen, where we crossed the Holyhead road and soon reached that squalid, industrial blot, Oswestry. Sheltering for a moment, we had a pow-wow over the map about our next objective, and we decided to head for Welshpool.
We soon left Oswestry behind, and joined the deserted road of our choice. Skirting the foothills of the border, we caught the full face of the wind and rain, but the scenery was grand, so what else matters? Through Llynelly to Llanymynech, (where the fine colouring of some ancient, massive, worked out quarries, toned with age, interested us) we wandered, then over the young river Vyrnwy to Llandysillo. Here we got a fine, awe-inspiring view of what seemed a mighty mountain, rocky and scarred, with the upper half entirely choked in white rain mists, rising sheer from the comparatively level land. Later, a nearer view revealed steep wooded slopes, and a sharp summit was seen during a rift in the clouds. It shows how deceptive a mist is! Then, at intervals, two peaks were visible, and farther along we saw more hidden by the first two.
The map showed us the name of the more prominent, which was Breidden Hill, a famous beauty spot and viewpoint. The song, ‘Summer time on Breidden’ leapt to my mind when I saw the title. The second, Moel-y-Golfa, is the higher, but not so well known. From Ardlin, we ran into the Severn valley, with graceful wooded slopes on our right, and the clean-cut bare ridge of Long Mountain across the far side of the valley. But the road now ran straight, and dead level for miles, and the wind swept right down it, considerably hampering our progress.
After Pool Quay, we began to yearn for tea, and for many miles this yearning grew worse, until with me it became an obsession, until at last we climbed over a railway bridge, and dropped into Welshpool, where the Temperance Hotel in Church Street (one of Wayfarer’s places) gave us a right royal welcome, and after a wash, (which, in our washed-out state, was hardly necessary), tea was ready. We had, as companions at the table, a tandem couple from Leicester, on tour, and a motorcycling family who constantly reviled the weather. The cyclists were CTC-ites and active members of the Leicester DA, and, as most cyclists, proved very congenial company, and we were loth to leave them. Between the four of us, we smashed all the motorcycling theories and fads that the family put forward, and, as usual, the old argument came forward – rear lights [or the lack of them. In 1924 rear lights were not yet a legal requirement, the subject of much debate! – Ed]. We were just going to continue our journey at 7.15pm when the rain ceased, and in a moment of supreme optimism, we packed our capes away. The action was justified, for we never again that night saw rain, but the roads were in a terrible puddle, and moreover, my chain, which was getting worn, was waterlogged and rattled fearfully. I tried changing it round, but after a mile or so, it went as bad as ever.
Running by the Powis Castle estate, we crossed the baby Severn by a narrow bridge, and the railway by a still narrower bridge, which was under repair. Our road bucked up now to the village of Forden, and with glorious views of the distant hill beneath a stormy sky, we commenced a switchback by Rhyd-y-Groes, and across the Camlad valley to Chirbury, near where we crossed the border between Montgomery and into Shropshire. The district which we have been in from lunchtime, is the famous Border Marches, where, in the old days of Welsh Independence, was in constant strife. It was a kind of ‘No Man’s Land’, and even today can be seen the ruins of most of the ancient castles. They ran down the border in two lines, starting from Chester and extending down to the Bristol Channel. On the English side are the castles of Chester, Beeston, Holt, the sites at Aldford and Malpas, Shocklach, in Cheshire, and Whittington, Oswestry, Knockin, Ryton, Shrewsbury, Bishops Castle – and a host of others in Shropshire, whilst the Welsh strongholds of Ewloe, Hawarden, Dinas Bran, Chirk, Welshpool, Glendower and Montgomery, to mention a few, faced them. ’No Man’s Land’ lies between, and was often the scene of carnage and waste. Then followed a hilly but very pretty ride, with fine sky effects to Church Stoke, with a four mile distant view of Montgomery.
These villages on the Shropshire side are glorious pictures in ‘black and white’ work. From Snead, we again crossed the river Camlad, walked uphill for a mile in the gathering dusk, then dropped suddenly into the wonderful little town of Bishop’s Castle. We negotiated the steep, irregular streets to the church, deciding to spend the night here – if we could get in! for I had no lamp, and it was already 9.15pm. The church clock stood at 8.15, obviously they had not heard of daylight saving! Only one place was mentioned in the CTC Handbook, Owen, Church Street, and we struck lucky. Otherwise we should have had another eight miles over the mountains to Clun. The joys of cycle touring! We did not know where we were staying until we entered Bishop’s Castle. By 9.30 we were enjoying supper with a Manchester CTC-ite, then after a chat with an Ordnance Survey man, we retired to bed, satisfied with the day’s run. 115 miles