Most Stag weekends that I have heard of, or been on, usually involve travelling to a place, staying there and enjoying the hospitality of a local hostelry and other evening economy activities that the location provides.
Mr Sullivan however and his Best Man Jim had other ideas. I know, they must have said one drunken night, why don't we get together Tim's cycling buddies, and plan a Stag tour that starts in Banbury and finishes on Wirral, with an over night stay in Bridgnorth. When I accepted the invitation to join Tim, Jim, Paul, Phil, Simon, Oscar, Darcy, Matt and Simon M (support van driver recently returned from Australia with some great new words like Smallened!) I wasn't sure what to expect. I have never ridden in the Midlands, and the thought of a day riding north made me a little nervous! It is all up hill isn't it?
Tim Paul Phil and I met at the Twelfth Man, an homage to our Palefish CC roots, at 6.30 on Friday morning, and rode over to the Mersey Ferry terminal at Seacombe. It was the first time I have used the ferry to transport my bike, and I was surprised to see that the £2.20 fare included a cup of Coffee!! Excellent value for money.
|Tim Paul and Phil enjoying the view|
|Staggers ready to ride!|
The journey didnt take too long, Phil and I had to change at Birmingham, and we were at Banbury by 11.30
The storage on the Virgin train to Banbury was great, very safe and secure.
Tim and Paul were waiting for us at cafe on the station, and we joined them for a coffee. Simon and Oscar were on their way from Manchester and the others were en route from Hitchin.
By 12.30 we were all assembled and ready to go, but seeing as the sun was well and truly over the yard arm, we decided to find a cafe for some lunch. As we rode up the pedestrianised high street, sorry shoppers of Banbury, we spotted a cafe and rode towards it, before we could say coffee and cake, there were tables pushed together and offers of coffee and menus from the staff. The service was great, and the food good value and tasty too.
However, after a good feed, and a chance to chat and get to know each other, it was time to hit the road, quite a bit later than expected!
We had 80 miles ahead of us, on unknown roads, and a deadline of a meal booked at the Old Castle pub in Bridgnorth at 8pm! That gave us 7.5 hours to get to the hotel, get ready and get to the pub!
The Route that Jim planned for us was fantastic, rolling through the countryside, with a couple of testing climbs thrown in just to mix things up!
We were also treated to a long off road section through farmland between Dorsington and Bidford-on-Avon, just like a weekend Palefish CC ride,to the first stop of the ride.
|Just under 2 miles of farm track was fantastic.|
Simon and Jim were the Support team for the day. Matt had kindly let us use his converted VW Transporter as a support vehicle and Simon had given up the chance to join in with the cycling, to drive the van!
When we arrived in Bidford-on-Avon, waiting for us in a car park was Tea, Coffee biscuits and water bottle top ups, as well as encouraging words from the support crew, like, you took your time!
It was a welcome break and a great addition to the Stag tour.
We probably took too much advantage of the stop, and pushed on with 50 miles left on the route, and not long to do it!
|Support crew was a welcome sight|
|Great Views of the River Avon|
|Even Better View!|
After a little miss navigation from Paul's Garmin (not mine for a change) We were out of the Town and into the lanes again heading for Droitwich, where we once again had a Garmin moment, and got split up. Matt, Paul Phil and Myself found our way through the Town and on to meet Jim and Simon in Doverdale, where Tim and the others joined us shortly after they had circumnavigated the town the other way! On the way to the meeting point, A small blue tit decided to land on my thigh, just for a second then fly off! That was a cycling first!!
The last section of the ride was the toughest for me, Time was running out, Jim had pushed the booking back a bit, but we had to get to Bridgnorth as quick as possible. The last 23 miles were full of hills, in fact neary half the days climbing came in the last 10 miles!
But we made it to the Croft Hotel, with half an hour to get the bikes stored, and get a shower and ready to go to the pub!
David at the Croft couldn't have been more helpful. It is a really bike friendly hotel. We stored our bikes in his office, he washed out our water bottles for us, and even put on a wash for all our cycling gear!
The Meal and warm welcome at The Old Castle was fantastic, The Landlord and his team were very patient with 8 weary cyclists. I had decided that even though I was on a Stag Tour, I wouldn't go too mad with the demon drink, as Saturday's ride profile looked a bit challenging at the start, and I would need all the strength I could muster to handle the climbing, especially as I had struggled towards the end of the ride with the hills today.
|Great Cycling food! And apparently Guinness is also good as a recovery drink!|
We were treated to a great Breakfast, and were all up and ready to roll by 10.30.
|Tim Paul and Phil ready for Day 2|
|Le Grand Depart|
Day 2 didn't start too well, First Oscar's bike was stuck in the small ring, which for hills is great, but for any kind of speed it is useless! After a quick fettle, it was decided that he should take it to a local bike shop, just round the corner. While he was gone, we found a new bike for Tim to ride today's stage on!
|All the gear and no idea!|
We suffered the only bad weather of the trip not long into day 2. A storm of Biblical proportions blew over the hills, and hit us sideways at the top of a hill. The rain was being driven by such strong winds, it felt like we were being shot! Not the best start to a long ride! As soon as it had started though, it stopped.
We dropped down to Ironbridge, and then the proper climbing began. In the reverse of the previous day the serious climbing was all at the start of the ride. The climb out of Ironbridge was quite brutal, but I am pleased with my effort, as I managed to stay on the bike and make it to the top of all the climbs, all weekend.
|On the Iron Bridge at Ironbridge!|
The second mechanical of the ride, and only one to force a retirement happened on the way to this stop. One of Darcy's spokes broke, weakening the whole wheel, and he wasn't confident in it holding out to the next big town and a bike shop. So it was with a sad face that he strapped the bike into the carrier on the support vehicle.
We agreed to meet up in another 30 miles and set off, one man down.
The next section of the route took us meandering north, through forests and across open hill tops. Only one Garmin misdirect, or was it human error Tim? The only problem was that I had to climb back up a hill I had only seconds before enjoyed descending!!
We missed the agreed meeting spot and rearranged to meet up in Tattenhal. It was strange being back in familiar territory, after so many miles on unknown roads.
|Disturbing the peace in Tattenhall|
Knowing the roads better, we rode faster, and at a more constant pace. it wasn't long until we were in Chester, where I suffered the third mechanical of the day, a puncture caused by a big pot hole! This put us back a bit more,especially as I managed to pinch the new tube putting it in and had to change that one too!
Paul, Phil and I split from the others in Willaston, and then the pace rose again! I don't know where I got the energy from, but we didn't hang around and got home with time to have a quick bath and get ready for the meal!
|A welcome Curry and a couple of beers to celebrate our achievement.|
As stag weekends go, I don't think anything could top this! Obviously you have to be into cycling, and want to suffer a bit! But the camaraderie and fun we had along the way, and the beer and food, all made it into an experience I will always remember as " A great ride"
Thanks go to Jim for organising the whole thing, great hotel and pub choices, and a fantastic route. Also thanks to Simon for driving the van, when all he wanted to do was go out for a run!
In total over the two days I rode 184 miles and climbed 9383ft. Check out the route via the Strava link at the top of the page.