Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Tour de Wales - Day 1 (the non-Wales day)

Relieved to have made it home after a week from hell at work (not seeing daylight for 3 straight days after working in basement conference room in Dublin being a particular highlight), Selene and I proceeded to stuff the car full of as many things as we could think of before hitting the road in the early hours of Saturday morning. In something of a tradition for the UK, the roads seemed to be full of angry drivers gnawing on their steering wheels (one might have thought that the prospect of a four-day public holiday would go some way to ameliorating the natural-born ire of the Great British white-van-man – clearly not). Either way, we pitched up to the ‘Olympic’ town of Much Wenlock (after which the delightful mascot has been named) to glorious sunshine and a country fair gearing up for action. As much as my legs were feeling heavy after a week of almost complete inaction, I still had 50 miles to ride and two hills to climb before I could tuck into any country-loveliness.

Fortunately, the excitement of the ride hit straight after parking up and looking for somewhere to get changed, when we came across the most futuristic public toilet setup I have ever seen (yes, that’s right, this blog is talking about public toilets in rural Shropshire). After paying the princely sum of 20p, the shiny metal door to the cubicle slid slowly to one side, emitting a subtle beeping akin to a very politely reversing lorry. On entering the perfectly clean receptacle (complete with menacing 15 minute countdown timer until the user was both locked in and then showered with bleach), a soothing female voice then proceeded to talk you through all of the features of the cubicle, including instructions on how to use the hand-dryer, the options for baby-change, and other such niceties. To be honest, it’s probably good that the timer was limited to 15 minutes as if there had been any more time spent on the psychiatrist’s couch then this robot lady would probably have started laying bare her feelings. Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures of this wonderful contraption due to the small crowd that had gathered around the door by the time I had gotten changed – it felt weird enough emerging in full lycra without subsequently turning around and taking a picture of the loo I had just left…

Rolling out through the Shropshire countryside, complete with gardens covered from head to toe in Union Flags for Her Maj’s upcoming Diamond tea party, it seemed like the epitome of Blake’s “Green and pleasant land”

To much time on their hands?
The first climb on the list for both me and Selene was Jiggers Bank. As we crossed the large (steel) bridge in the (incongruously named) Ironbridge, there was clear evidence of glacial erosion (didn’t get an A* in GCSE Geography for nothing) with a steep sided gorge wall on the far side of the river. This being the 100 best climbs in Britain, I assumed that the road ahead would therefore no doubt be something fiendishly steep, requiring a snails pace and some weaving up the road. But no, I can say with comfort that Jiggers Bank is something of an imposter in the Good Book. The ascending road kept a continual curve around to the right so that I couldn’t see the summit, but as it ramped up in single-digit gradients, I kept expecting to see a huge kick coming round the corner and I pedalled on thinking “when does the hill ‘proper’ start?”. Sadly, I then reached a roundabout which signalled the end of the climb and I was left mystified with why exactly the hill had been included. I had previously talked Selene through the route, and told her that after 8 miles she’s have clocked up the first categorised climb – I think the fact that after 10 miles she was still saving her legs to ride up the hill (without realising she’d already done it) speaks volumes…

Jiggers 'Bank'

After some more thoroughly pleasant riding through the tiny and almost entirely car-free Shropshire lanes, I came to the town of Church Stretton. Here, yet another Jubilee country fair was being held, and a less-than-brilliant covers band were playing a metal version of the Buzzcock’s Ever Fallen In Love With Somone (You Shouldn’t’ve) - such a great song that it was then stuck in my head for days afterwards, despite the bad rendition. From here, the road pointed upwards on a climb called ‘the Burway’ in the book – but known as the Long Mynd by pretty much everyone else.

The start of the legend
Having worked on the 2011 Deloitte Ride Across Britain, the Long Mynd is a fairly mythical climb – what I had heard is that there were so many complaints (and so few riders who managed to get up without walking) in the 2010 edition of the event that the hill was deliberately avoided for the 2011 route. Clearly, riding up a long climb after 5 days of solid riding is a tough proposition, but I would have thought that all but the hardest of hills (the Rosedales and Hardknotts of this world) would be achievable. So with that in mind, it’s fair to say that I approached the lower slopes with trepidation – not wanting to burn out in case of something horrific around the corner. The road up clings to the side of the hill, with a steep drop and amazing views over the valley below. Unfortunately the cloud was very low, so that after only a few minutes I was in almost complete white-out and just following the pink line ahead on my Garmin. Overall, it was a tough climb but really fun to ride up with rewarding views and a challenging, if not impossible, gradient. I do hope that RAB 2012 is geared up to include this as the riders are missing out by not going up it.

There’s something quite spooky about being on the top of a remote hillside when you have only metres of visibility and can only hear the squawking of crows in the background. That said, I did spend a bit of time at the top ‘framing’ some Instagram photos of the view

'Framing' the picture - geddit?

Poncy Instagram picture #2

Not sure why this one won't rotate...

What would have been a lovely descent was spoilt slightly by not being able to see my line ahead on the road and so taking it pretty cautiously. After that it was a case of rolling through the last 20 miles back to the car and then pigging out on some good old fashioned country-fair food to make the day complete. Roll on Day 2!


  1. Hi Nathan - Mark from the site here. Congrats on the hills done so far - enjoying reading your pages! I rode the 2010 RAB and literally only about 20 of the riders on the whole thing got up the Long Mynd. We did it from the other side though (Asterton Bank) and it was horrible. Cracknell snapped his chain on it (and was thankful for doing so), but I think people probably struggled so much on it because it came 6 days (or so) in. For example we also did Kirkstone Pass and people were fine on that. My vote would be to keep it in though. I think it is a lovely climb!

  2. Hi Mark, good to hear from you :)

    I didn't realise you were a RAB-er as well as a 100-climb-er! I know what you mean about the accumulated fatigue, and I guess to be fair the other side of the hill did look pretty bad (although presumably it's not as hard as that's not the way that's in the book?). I do think big climbs should be in RAB though - no matter how hard they are, it's supposed to be a challenge, and after all, when you start out cycling, it's almost a right-of-passage to push your bike up a hill you can't climb! The ones who make it up also get all the bragging rights...

    But I do know it wasn't popular, and perhaps my advice isn't the best as I appear to enjoy riding up steep hills for some reason