Saturday 14 April 2012

LEJOG (End to End) Day 4 - Homeward Bound

Leg 4 - Ladywood (Birmingham, West Midlands) to Walton le Dale (Preston)

There were mixed feelings on this leg.  It had been a good night on Friday and we were sad to be leaving Birmingham and Dave’s hospitality, but we were looking forward to having a night back at base.  As previously mentioned, it wasn’t always the norm that riders doing the End to End would have the chance of passing their home town on the route, let alone stay a night at home in the middle.  We were going to be mainly following two of England’s historical A roads passing through Whitchurch.  We were going to be taking the A41 out of Birmingham and up to Whitchurch and then the A49 into Lancashire and home.  The road up to historical Shropshire town was new territory for us, and should at least be interesting, whereas the A49 was well travelled by us and was not going to give any surprises.

Saying Farewell to Birmingham - Dave and Paul

Prepared for the Homeward Leg - Dave and Ash
We departed form Dave’s well fed and head out of the city up towards Wolverhampton.  Fortunately the roads were reasonable quiet, as we were relatively early for a Saturday morning.  We soon stopped to get supplies for the day at a local shop on the outskirts.  Paul required another dozen Mars bars for the trip to the North West.  I was on bike watch initially, before going to obtain my fruit and flapjacks.  Whilst waiting I befriended a pretty large Great Dane left outside by another customer of the shop.  I was just a bit concerned about it’s interest in us with all our days supplies on show.  I’d had a slight altercation with a jogger just before, when he’d decided to stumble across the road inches in front of me when there was hardly any traffic and he could have crossed the road at any point to avoid the possible collision.  So in meeting the huge dog, it was nice to be dealing with a local that was more approachable.

Paul with Our Newly Found Friend the Great Dane - Watch Your Chocolate

We continued North up the A41 away from the Midland’s built up areas and into Shropshire.  Being on main roads we managed to find the County border signs again so continued with our new found tradition of capturing the moment and relaying the evidence back home via the Internet.  We didn’t feel a visit to the ELYSIUM Health and fitness club would be necessary, as we were doing more than our fair share of exercise during this ten day cycling stint.

Oops! Paul Caught Mid Comfort Break at the Border Check-In
Paul at the Shropshire Border
Ash Arrives at Shropshire - Our Gym is 1000 Miles Long & Outdoors
As we progressed along the A41 we passed another religious architecture photo opportunity on the outskirts of Tong, so I stopped to take it.  We got near to the Collegiate Church of Saint Bartholomew in Tong so graphical evidence was taken despite Paul’s quips.  The day was OK, but it was a bit grey, felt cooler than the day before and we seemed to be pushing into a slight headwind.  However, we couldn’t complain, as we were still dry and hadn’t yet needed our rain jackets.  That’s no mean feat when your venturing over three hundred miles through more than seven English counties in the spring (well any time of year, come to think of it).  The next stop was going to be for lunch in Whitchurch and we’d pass out of Shropshire and back into Staffordshire only to return to each county again.
The Collegiate Church of Saint Bartholomew in Tong
The Collegiate Church of Saint Bartholomew - Tong, Shropshire

Another Day and Another County - Paul at the Check-In

Ash at the Staffordshire County Border - We Passed In and Out Several Times
It was nice to stop in Whitchrch though, I’d passed this historical place a number of times previously, but had never before ventured into the town.  It just seemed to take a long time to get there.  In some respects the day was quite monotonous, as we were generally thinking about the night in our own beds rather than the days journey.  We stopped at Juan’s Café - Restaurant - Bar, for some refreshments.  Another hearty meal was consumed to help fuel the pedalling efforts, but at this point the novelty of photographing it was wearing a little thin.  We were certainly consuming enough calories, but I was sometimes concerned about the fruit and vegetable intake when I was travelling with a lachanophobic that that that potatoes qualified.  Paul genuinely though that if he had chip, crisps, mash, roast and boiled potatoes than he’d satisfied his ’five a day’ dietary needs.

Paul Approaches the Outskirts of Whitchurch

We were approached by a local, as we’d been before in many of the stops along the way, who was curious (seeing the luggage on our bikes) about where we were travelling to and from.  We made him aware that we were doing the End to End and he turned out to be a fellow cyclist who was reasonably knowledgeable on the subject.  He informed us that Whitchurch was host to many cyclists making the great journey, particularly in the summer months.  It seemed to be that whilst some, like ourselves would deviate slightly from a standard or preferred route, it was most common for people on the journey to pass through, stop or even stay in the town.  Either way, it was good to meet people who were genuinely interested in our endeavour and were keen to wish well along our way.

Saint Alkmunds Church in Whitchurch, Shropshire

After finishing our food and drink at Juan’s, we decide to hit the road again.  I suggested to Paul that he could get on the move again and I would shortly catch him up after photographing a few of the local landmarks.  This was something that we’d done quite often along the way already.  Paul set of and I followed him slowly down the High Street taking in views of the Black Bear pub and the Church of Saint Alkmunds.  I eventually packed up my camera and headed out of the town and towards the A49 to catch up with Paul.  As stated before this was going to be a fairly boring stretch as we’d ‘see it all before’.  I seemed to be pedalling at a fairly reasonable rate, but Paul had left some time before.  However, my catch up was taking much longer than it normally had.  I upped my speed a little and continued to chase down Paul.  After a good number of miles along the A49 I just hadn’t had a sight of him in the distance, let alone caught him up.  However, he’d left Whit church a reasonable time before me, so he therefore must still be ahead of me up the road.

A Typical Whitchurch Building - The Black Bear Public House
I continued to ride frantically Northward’s and was amazed at Paul’s new found power.  I was sure he’d need to stop for a natural break or to drop another couple of Mars bars at some point, at which time I should catch him up.  I stuck faithfully to the A49 and passed near or through Tarporley.  I’d been going for over an hour alone now and was starting to worry, but I found it strange that he would have deviated from the route.  It was pretty straight forward and we both already knew it fairly well.  I hadn’t had any emergency phone calls, or so I thought, so I pushed on.  I got to point where I was very nearly at Warrington had had travel almost thirty miles, it just didn’t seem right that we hadn’t met up yet.  I pulled over to call Paul on the mobile phone.  What I had missed is that he’d already called me several times and left voicemails.  This was somewhat easier for him to do than me as he’d been sensible enough to set-up a hands free way of using his iPhone to call people without stopping and getting off the bike.  I hadn’t!  I called him back.  During the conversation it became apparent that he’d taken a different (Southward) route out of Whitchurch and actually picked up the A49 after me even though I’d set off after him.  No wonder I never got to him, I was riding harder and harder and faster and faster to catch up with somebody that was actually behind me on the road.  I, by this time, was twenty to thirty minutes ahead of Paul.  I eased off, and we made plans to meet up in Warrington, before finishing the leg together.  It was a little bit cool hanging about near the bridge over the River Mersey in Warrington, but it wasn’t too long before Paul arrived and I spent a bit of time speaking to my girlfriend on the phone.

Back together now, the last stretch was mind numbing.  I had psychologically set myself up to arrive back at home by tea-time (about 6 pm), but it was nearly this time and we were still in Warrington.  At this point we’d have had roughly thirty more miles to travel and at our normal LEJOG pace, this was going to take about two hours.  We passed through the centre of Wigan and I guided Paul through some of the pedestrianised streets, past Mesnes Park and up towards ‘The Cherry Gardens’ (public house).  Apparently, he felt he was lost on previous visits to the town and was always under the impression that he was travelling the ’long way round’.  Hopefully, with my superior local knowledge (I’m long time Wigan Rugby League fan and used to visit Central Park often) we passed through the town a little bit quicker than he normally would have.

I just wanted to be home now.  There were no County border check-ins now, Lancashire was nothing new for us and other than seeing loved ones there, was nothing to get exited about.  Stopping would just delay that happening.  We got to the outskirts of Euxton and I needed a natural break, whilst only about ten miles from home, it was a bit cooler now and I couldn’t wait.  There was realistically another forty minutes of riding from hear.  This was very frustrating, as without the luggage, it would be about thirty.  We decided that it didn’t make any sense Paul waiting around for me, as we were ultimately heading for different destinations and Paul had three or four miles to cover compared to me (I’d have to make those up the following morning).  The end of the A49 seemed to take forever on my own again.  I final got to the edge of Bamber Bridge (the village next time mine).  This was a very welcome sight and I was very soon back at home.

All in all, this was my least favourite day of the entire journey, but there were some good bits and it was good to be briefly back at home.

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