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As part of our new venture - British Long Distance Riders (bldr) we have started putting together a series of County Challenge Rides (see the bldr website for latest list of completed ridebooks). Having put together a roadbook for Shropshire I thought it best to test ride it before publishing the final version. So on Saturday 29th August 2015 I set out to do this, accompanied by my friend Mark.
We set off together from my house around 9.30 on the Saturday morning; Mark on his BMW R1100GS, me on my Honda CB500X as we had taken my GS over to Mikeyboy in Melton Mowbray a few days earlier to have all its gremlins sorted. The aim for the day was to follow the Shropshire County roadbook I had put together the previous week. This listed 25 landmarks across the county which we had to visit and photograph. Putting together a route using Autoroute had a journey of around 270 miles, and us getting back about 7.30pm. Some of that would depend upon the accuracy of my research - not always to be depended upon!
The day was bright and within 15 minutes we had arrived at our first landmark. I remember the story of Charles II hiding in the oak tree while escaping from the Roundheads, but had not realised until recently the tree was so close, in the grounds of Boscobel House. From there we headed down the lanes to Cosford and the RAF Museum. Second photograph was taken outside the entrance to the museum. Heading away from Cosford we jumped onto the M54 for one junction, our only stretch of motorway all day - indeed most of the roads for the rest of the day were at best B class roads, and often unclasssified ones. Going around Telford we came to Blists Hill Victorian Town. Our modus operandi for the day was to pull up at a good vantage point for a photograph in front of the landmark, grab a couple of pictures and then move away. Sometimes this means stopping in strange places. This time we were accosted by an official - but only so he could ask about my lights and tell us about his Kawasaki!
We headed down the Ironbridge gorge, corrected ourselves when we found the GPS location had taken us to the north side of the bridge when you need to be on the south bank for a decent photo - first of several notes for changes in the roadbook.
I knew exactly where the next landmark was. Most of the images for the roadbook came from the Geograph website and I had added this one myself when I was researching the Olympics Ride for Grim Riders back in 2012. We nipped into the park, took the photos and got back into town for our worst traffic jam of the day - it must have taken over 5 minutes for the ten cars in front of us to clear the junction onto the main road to Shrewsbury. As we headed north the clouds darkened and before we had gone a few miles we were in the middle of a downpour; but as quickly as it arrived it was gone before we reached the site of the Roman city of Virconium. We both confessed that although living close by, neither of us had ever been here before (although I visited many Roman sites when studying Archaeology and this was by no means the most impressive!).
A quick tour of Shrewsbury followed. I had chosen the Market Hall as the landmark but although we got to it, this involved a few probably illegal moves - we then tried stopping at the Old Market Hall I had used on the English Counties Ride, before deciding that photographing the Quantum Leap was the preferable option - easier to stop at and different, while having a connection to Shrewsbury's most famous son, Charles Darwin. We then had a break and a welcome cup of tea at Eagle Motorcycles, run by a friend of Mark's, and one of the few motorcycle shops still left in the county.
The next landmark was just north of Shrewsbury and we had a couple of possible sites relating to the Battle of Shrewsbury to investigate - we decided that photographing the memorial at the Battle Heritage Site was best. despite the council thoguhtfully sticking a big rubbish bin right in front of it. There is a better memorial up the hill but I really wanted to take photographs with the bike in view to show exactly where you need to get to.
Our stomachs were starting to rumble so after stopping at the Buttercross in Market Drayton we decided to head across to the Raven Cafe at Prees Heath for a full English at this popular biker's meeting place. It was half way to the next landmark that I looked down at the notes on my roadbook for the cafe - 'Lunch; don't forget to take a photo!' - what had we forgotten! Fortunately we had to head back past the Raven after visiting Combermere - a landmark we decided to drop as you can only get to the front gates; the road to the Abbey itself is marked as Private and no access. So a quick stop back at the cafe, to the bemusement of the riders sat outside.
Our next stop needed some searching for. I had been looking for a landmark in this area and found reference to the village of Loppington having the only remaining Bull Ring in Shropshire, but could not find an image of it, just a circular sign on a wall saying 'Bull Ring'. After a ride around the village we found Bullring Cottage, but no sign of a bull ring, until we asked someone who told us it was at the crossroads by the Dickins Arms We rode back and stopped by the pub but could see no sign of anyhing which looked like a Bull Ring when an old chap came out of the pub and explained that we were actually stood right next to it. We were looking for at least a large circle of earth - what we found was a metal ring set in the ground in the middle of the junction. It seems (so we were told) this is where the bulls were tied up before the dogs were set on them; all because the meat that came from the animal was then more tender. Food for thought... (sorry for the pun!). Looking round we saw we our powers of observation were particuarly poor - we had also parked right underneath the sign for the Bull ring on the wall of the pub.
Some more great lanes took us through Wem and out to Ellesmere where we stopped for a photograph of The Mere - I had not heard of Shropshire's Lake District before researching this ride but we did pass several lakes with people messing about in sailing boats and canoes.
Different transport in Oswestry where we had to find the Cambrian Railway Museum which we did before heading south and into another rainstorm which drenched us. It was now around 3pm, we were slightly behind our schedule and we still had eleven landmarks to visit. But did it matter? What was great about this ride was the lack of pressure - there were no time constraints, we could stop whenever we wanted to and just enjoy the great roads and the ride.
To get to our next landmark we had to go through part of Wales since Pentreheyling is virtually an enclave, and we could not find it (I later found the Blue Bell Inn is marked in two different places on Google maps!), but before we did find it we came across a vineyard on the site of a Roman fort and decided that would be better anyway. The weather had cleared up again and we had a good run through Clun to photograph the packhorse bridge, stopped for petrol in Bishops Castle (where Mark reckoned his GS had been doing around 50mpg, while the Honda was around 80mpg - but twice as many gearchanges I reckon!).
Our next stop, Hopton Castle (another one where Google maps was slightly out) had an interesting history which is told on a series of panels in the car park of the restored hunting lodge. In the Civil War 31 the Cavalier defenders held out against over 500 Roundhead, killing around 150 of them although losing only one casualty themselves. They only surrendered when the attackers brought up cannon. Their leader was imprisoned and all the rest of the garrison were beaten to death - leading to the term 'Hopton quarter', meaning no mercy given. Very grim, and difficult to picture in such a lovely, peaceful setting.
A quick blast up the A49 brought us to Church Stretton and a ride up The Burway and over the hills to Ratlinghope to photograph a Yew tree planted for the Millenium - I had used this on a ride before and visited it a couple of times and it was interesting to see how little it had grown in 15 years. For the first time we had to retrace our steps but the road through the heather was well worth repeating, especially as there was little traffic. One of the great things about the day was how many roads we did have to ourselves, with very few cars on them (as often evidenced by the amount of grass, mud, cowshit etc. on them!).
Back to the A49 and down to Acton Scott for the Farm Museum, then over to Wenlock Edge to photograph Wilderhope Manor- now owned by the National Trust but used as a youth hostel by the YHA. It is a long time since I have stayed in a youth hostel but it was evident from the car park that the old days when you were expected to arrive under your own steam have long gone. From there we rode over the Clee hills, via the ford at Clee St Margarets, where I paddled about to photogrph the bikes in the water and found my goretex boots really are not that waterproof anymore, and down to Ludlow for a view of the castle. It was now gone 6pm but we only had three more landmarks and we decided to scotch our previous idea of stopping here for coffee and aim for a pint at the end instead - thus encouraged we carried on.
I had changed my initial plan to include The Kremlin pub (so called becasue they used to get Radio Moscow through the jukebox and the telephone because of the transmitters on Clee Hill), because it had just closed down and had substituted the church at Nash. This was fine but we decided the next landmark, the gates of Mawley Hall would have to be replaced - they were not very interesting and on rather a fast road. We took photographs anyway and set off on our penultimate leg north to Bridgnorth. We got there about 7.30, took a photograph of the entrance to the Cliff Railway (it was still running but we decided we had had enough excitement for one day!), and headed back to Wolverhampton for a well earned pint at The Mermaid.
All together we covered around 280 miles and must have been on just about every type of road imaginable, from motorway to stony mountain track. I had a great day; thanks to Mark for the company and helping to sort the ride out - looking forward to riding a few more county rides; it will be interesting to see how they reflect the character of the different counties.
The Shropshire County Ride will now be published on the bldr website - it will look slightly different from our ride as I have had to look for alternatives to Combermere and Mawley; which is brilliant because it means I will have to do it again to make sure it is still as good - wonder how far the AJS will get.... :)
Grim, August 2015