Three of us hit the trails on the Friday afternoon after horrendous journeys travelling North. Slightly later than planned we ventured off for a short recce to see what our main Saturday ride would take in. The weather was fantastic with great views over the Shropshire rolling hills and beyond from the top of the main ridge. After ample photo opportunities and some recce riding we took in one of the most famous local descents, Minton Batch, a firm favourite for photo shoots with locally based mountain bike magazines. This was my firm favourite trail from the weekend - fast, very fast; tight, technical, loose rock, gullies, some natural jumps and drops... a singletrack dream, none of this modern trail centre man made rubbish. Once Lester had managed to climb out of the hole he dug talking about his adventures taking his wife round the back of Ladybower (don't ask... but apparently all she did was moan...) we finished our ride and headed back to base for dinner.
After a fairly short Friday loop to stretch the legs and work out the state of play for Saturday we retired to the Station Inn pub, onsite at the outdoor centre, for the first post-ride pint of the trip, what a lovely cottage. The Outdoor Centre setup here is great, it offers cafe, bike shop, bike hire, camping pods and related facitlies and a great pub all all in once place. After a couple of medicinal pints more and more members of our seven strong group appeared after suffering long drives in rush hour after work. Friday dinners was a good as it gets and was basically steak night at the pub, some phenomenally large chunks of meat hit the plate, but wow what great steaks. After Lester managed to squeeze down dessert we retired back to the bar for a night cap.
Morning, and back ache. As nice as the little camping pods are, we were all feeling the pain of sleeping on the floor for the night (...beers might not have helped either) - only Lester who had managed to turn his entire camping pod into a knock off of a Grand Marriott hotel room slept well. After breakfast we kitted up to head out for the main Saturday morning ride.
The first climb of the day was the main westerly route up, numbered one on the route guide. This was a long and laborious climb but with mixed gradients, views and some ascent through the woods it was the easier climb up the ridge. Descent number one of the day was once again Minton Batch to show the rest of the group what they had missed on the Friday. After a few more snaps and some huge smiles and chats about line choice we headed back round for another climb up the summit to take in descent number eight. This ended up the majority favourite trail of the weekend, talk about fast. It was a mix of grass and rock descents, meandering down the valley wall with some technical sections and some unbelievable flat out speed. The whole way down all you could smell was burning brake pads as the leaders of the pack were trying to keep their speed down. Marvelously right at the bottom of the trail is a gate, with brake fade a major problem it was lucky most of us managed to stop at all!
Two climbs and two descents later we ran into Church Stretton for a well deserved lunch. After raiding all the local cash points and causing some chaos on a mini roundabout or two we found a nice looking pub with a sunny beer garden that wouldn't mind a muddy rabble of riders. We didn't realise at the time but this was an aptly named pub, The Bucks Head. A pub lunch, a great idea or still a bone of contention? What a great lunch it was but my goodness the following post-lunch climb was not a good one, particularly not after the half a tonne of cheese on each of our plougmans plates!
The next climb, this time attacking from the eastern side of the ridge was a tough one, at least 1550ft of ascent without respite, and even though a smooth tarmac road climb (the off-road routes involve some unrideable sections) we all were starting to regret the previous sit down and large lunch! Every looming brow seemed like the top, but it never was... on and on the climb went, into an ever increasing headwind, and after what seemed forever and a day we hit the summit, where we were stunned into silence (doesn't happen very often...) with the breathtaking views. Anyone would have thought it was a summers day.
After regrouping at the top and after a breather, some fig rolls, and a bit of arguing over where the hell the trail started from we descended down track ten. This was fast, very fast. Long flowing grass singletrack descents meant you picked up speed like nobodies business, the breath was taken out of you again as you swooped into a steep, tight and twisty gully descent winding down into the bottom of the valley. After a couple of water splash crossings, a crash and some banter we carried on down the valley for another big water splash (thanks Mike for soaking me as I took the photo...) before hitting the road again back into Church Stretton for a quick cake stop at Van Doesburg's. This is a must have visit for any cake addict (I would recommend the Dutch apple tart), and they have some cracking scotch eggs on display too. After upsetting all the locals by taking over the whole shop front, pavement and a parking spot and once Lester had eaten half the shop we set off for our final short road ride back to our base camp.
Once back and clean and showered we headed back into the Station Inn for another beer and another superbly hearty meal, certainly pub grub at its best. Amazingly Lester still managed three courses, even after his double cake hit only a few hour earlier! A machine.
Sunday morning quite a few of the team were feeling even worse for wear after Saturdays long ride and some more flat-floor snoozing and the after effects of a beer, or two... Only four of us stayed behind for a short loop in the ever worsening weather, overcast, showers and strong winds forecast it didn't stop us heading out again, although our average speed up the hills might have dwindled slightly from the day before! After one up, and one down, this time number 9 which unfortunately wasn't the best descent of the weekend, flat out fast wide grass trail, but with a fun 500 yard finish with some natural jumps, risers and berms.
All in all a fantastic trip, some great riding, amazing riding, superb food and some great local ales to boot! A big thank you to all the guys and girls at Blazing Bikes and the Station Inn for keeping us well fed and 'watered' over the weekend, and a big thank you to all the club members who made the trip and were great company throughout. I know we will definitely be back again next year, if not before, and I suspect this is going to prove a very popular annual club trip.
Our next club trip is back up North again to the Yorkshire Dales in May.