Friday 15th June – Day Four

A glorious day cycling today – it was a very long stage and I think the mileage is starting to bite on some of the team. However it was a fantastic route with some lovely sights to see on the way.

We left as early as we could, a 7.30 start allowed James and I to get going and not worry too much about the time we took to ride the route. After a short time we reached the Severn Bridge, crossing it by bike never gets old!

The Severn Road Crossing was built in 1966 and took three-and-a-half years to construct at a cost of £8 million. Before this there used to be a ferry.  It’s almost a mile long (1.6KM) and is 445ft high.  Its longest span is 3,240ft or 988m.  It was inspected in 2006 and now heavy loads have to be restricted.  I’d sent the others on first, I’ve been hitting the pies pretty hard…Its Grade 1 listed believe it or not…

Ode on the Severn Bridge:

Two lands at last connected

Across the waters wide,

And all the tolls collected

On the English side.

(Harri Webb)

Originally it cost 12.5p to cross the bridge, its now £5.60 however as cyclists we don’t have to pay.

We pushed on past Chepstow, we didn’t hang about as we had a long way to go. Chepstow is the home of The Widders Border Morris Men, so called because the members, some of whom were Bikers, claimed they looked like the ‘Black Widows’, the biker gang from Clint Eastwood’s masterwork ‘Every Which Way but Loose’ (where our Clint was upstaged by an Orangutan).  The team’s foreman Mick Widder has described the group:

“We’re from the dark side of Morris dancing. We’re the punk rockers of the Morris world. We are drinkers with a dance problem”.

Chepstow’s chief claim to fame is that it was the centre of production for artificial ski slope material – who knew!

Chepstow has been a centre for tourism since the late 18th Century when the Wye Tour became popular (the Grand Tour was unfeasible at this time because the Napoleonic Wars meant continental travel was impossible). Visitors took boats from Ross on Wye and Monmouth down the river visiting and sketching the ‘picturesque’ views on the way.  This was of course before they discovered the internet.

The Wye Tour usually comprised Ross on Wye, Goodrich Castle, the Iron Works at New Weir (again no internet), Symonds Yat (in 1983 James and I once got spectacularly drunk on Scrumpy Jack at a ‘backwoods’ scout camp, oh the japes we had) and onto Monmouth.

The next day the pinnacle of the tour would be reached in the form of Tintern Abbey (of which more later).  After the Abbey the tourists sailed further down the Wye noting the cliff ‘Lovers Leap’, the ‘picturesque’ plains of Piecefield before rocking up at Chepstow.  They used the word ‘Picturesque’ a lot…

Sounds pretty good, reckon we could do that next year…

We joined the Wye Valley and soon came across Tintern Abbey – it looked glorious in the early morning and is truly stunning.

The original Wye Tourists would be awestruck by Tintern Abbey, marvelling at the bare columns and walls of what was once a massive structure, overrun with vegetation and decay. It was considered to be an impressive, although ‘imperfectly Picturesque’, ruin.

During the 18th century, the Abbey was purchased by the Duke of Beaufort who had immediately attempted to “restore” the Abbey. The Duke’s restorative efforts, which included hammering bronze letters into the brick floor, introducing plants that compromised the structural integrity of arches and hallways, and other such harmful practices, ultimately did more damage than good to the ruins.  Bloody vandals everywhere…

Big Billy Wordsworth wrote a poem about Tintern Abbey called Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey.  I’d reproduce them here but its very long so just follow this link.

My friend Chris who studied English at Oxford tells me most poetry is rubbish, so we will move on.

We had a gorgeous ride down the Wye Valley, it was truly stunning, the road had been recently resurfaced and the gradient was forgiving, a real ride to remember and Monmouth arrived all too soon.

We crossed over into Wales and tarried in Monmouth…It’s all rivers around here, Monmouth is situated where the River Monnow meets the River Wyre. There is a really cool medieval stone gated bridge which is the only one of its type left in Britain.  Sadly our route didn’t take us over it…

like I would pass a medieval bridge and not see it! It was even better in the flesh and James H filmed himself quoting poetry in Welsh in front of it (it sounded melodic, but was all about poo….check out his Facebook page for the footage!)

Monmouth was where they sentenced the last man to be hung drawn and quartered (1840)…best not to commit treason while we are here! Russell Grant is from Monmouth so it seems treason is still popular here (if being an astrologer isn’t treason then his taste in fashion must be).

We pushed on….we had a long way to go and arrived in due course at the water stop. Discover Adventure really look after us and we recharged on peanuts, jelly babies and raisins with tracker bars and bananas to fill in the gaps.

Shortly after this we got a great photo opportunity, the road is on a well trod LEJoG route and a local post office had set up a sign post with the various mileage’s!

In due course we rolled into Hereford…James H overshot the sign, he was focussed on getting up the hill…not many county signs in this part of the country!

Hereford has a stunning Cathedral and a superb statue of Sir Edward Elgar…we mimicked the pose and, looking at the Cathedral I felt strangely emotional. The church looked amazing, the weather was fine, it was perfect.

We pushed on, my satnav strangely misbehaving…I blame the MoD jamming the signal.

Hereford is home to the SAS…Apparently some days you can hear them shooting on their practice range.

Frank Oz, puppeteer for the Muppets (Fozzie Bear – Wocka Wocka Wocka!)  and Star Wars (Yoda – Hmmm cycle you do?) was born in Hereford and lived here for first five years of his life.

We had lunch at a lovely little Cafe north of Hereford, we’d ridden about 60 miles and felt great. We had a lovely bowl of soup and some pasta before heading on…

The mileage was starting to bite now a for many of the team this was the longest distance they had ever ridden.

DA had very jollily moved the water stop to the exact point where the overall mileage reached three hundred miles – a great milestone!

At this point we were very tired and the only categorised climb of the day went vertically up from the water stop! It was brutal – very redolent of the last time I cycled to Bishops Castle… which James pointed out was because we were on the same route!

The last time I was at Bishops Castle I was sinking pints of coke trying to get enough energy into me to complete the leg to Shrewsbury. It’s got the steepest street in Christendom. Turns out the town also has the oldest brewery in the UK – The Three Tuns.  Sadly, our route did not take us past it…we were now in no condition to drink beer, the miles hung heavy on our legs and James H had stopped talking….a very bad sign!

No one famous comes from Bishops Castle!

A fabulous surprise was to roll across Marion and Malcolm. This stalwart pair of troupers had driven Maurice and I down to Cornwall and now waited patiently at the roadside to cheer us on.

Maurice was too fast for them but I saw them and was so good to see them, say thanks and take a picture. Marion is connected to Fresh Start – new beginnings, the charity Maurice and I are supporting. The fundraising link is at the bottom of the page if you fancy donating.

After some difficult final climbs we topped out to fantastic views over Wales and Shropshire – we were so lucky with the weather it’s been glorious.

Finally we fooled into Shrewsbury just as my satnav died! We were so pleased to get there…

Brother Cadfael lives in Shrewsbury…now that was quality entertainment! Shrewsbury’s name evolved from Sloppesberie which came from Scobbs Fort. Shrewsbury’s big charm is its unspoilt medieval street plan…it’s got over 660 listed buildings.

Henry IV and Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy fought the battle of Shrewsbury just north of the town – immortalised in Bill Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 – a top piece of drama I once saw at Stratford upon Avon, was really good!

“[Thou] mad mustachio purple-hued maltworms!”

William Shakespeare, Henry IV: Part 1

The first skyscraper in the world, The Ditherington Flax Mill, is in Shrewsbury (I’m not making this up so pay attention). This was the first iron-framed building in the world and was Grade 1 listed in 1950, its importance to the world recognised.  The town is also home to Lord Hill’s Column, the largest free standing Doric Column in the world. Sadly our route does not take us past it…

Shrewsbury is of course where John Peel went to school.  He hated the place.  The 1980’s band T’Pau was formed in Shrewsbury too.

Shrewsbury is famous for its bridges, immortalised in another piece of dodgy poetry:

High the vanes of Shrewsbury gleam

Islanded in Severn stream;

The bridges from the steepled crest,

Cross the water east and west. 

(AE Housman)

Shrewsbury is famous for Shrewsbury cakes, immortalised by William Congreve in his play The Way of the World:

” Why, brother Wilfull of Salop, you may be as short as a Shrewsbury cake, if you please. But I tell you ’tis not modish to know relations in town”

No I don’t get it either but it had them rolling in the aisles in those days…

No doubt you know Shrewsbury is twinned with Zupthen in the Netherlands – a twinning inspired by the fact that Sir Philip Sidney, an alumnus of Shrewsbury School was shot and killed there in 1586.  Go figure!

Great days cycling and some fabulous things to see. Really good day (I worry we have broken James!)

Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).


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