Monday, August 12, 2013

To the Heart of the Industrial Revolution: Worcester to Ironbridge.

Tuesday 11 June, 2013
That's more like it – Big and little roads in Britain – Roundabouts – Dropping into Ironbridge – A home-sick Aussie on the iron bridge – Down the valley to Bridgnorth

That's more like it

Breadfastst in bed this morning: a tastily salty toasted ham sandwich, delivered, wrapped in silver foil,  by the hotel manager after I told him I would be leaving early before breakfast.

I lay in bed, munching, heard the swish swish of tyres over the wet A 38 outside the window where a dirty white sky  indicated a dismal day. Funny thing, but reactions to the hot, bright weather of the past week had commonly been:  incredulous gratitude (but this won't last, mark my words), and even amazement as if five pound notes were fluttering from the clouds.  I knowingly said to myself: "There'll be sighs of relief as normal conditions return, mark my words."

The hotel rules. We obeyed them all, including, sadly,
the one about  no slap and tickle of the wenches.
At 7.30, having fare-welled David and Neil, I stopped in the doorway to talk to two hard men dragging on fags, sheltering from the wet in the porch of the hotel. They told me they were from Birmingham, specialist metal workers who travelled the UK to work. Four months ago, they worked in minus 14 in the Shetlands. Coldest place ever, they said, bare and windy, miles from anywhere.

" But, ya know, many of the locals loved the place." They shook their heads in disbelief.

Big and little roads in Britain

What route to IronBridge should I choose today? Lonely Planet said: go up the Severn Gorge on B roads. The fastest route in this dampness is for me, I decided, so I took the advice of friends who had chosen the A road on their trip last year. A quick note about the UK roads.

M - motorway – routes forbid bikes or pedestrians. They are multi-lane with a car speed limit of 70 mph (113 kph) though many go much faster. Stand in a lay-by and I know you will be at least impressed, probably scared by the power, the snarling roar of 30 ton trucks hurtling past.

A roads range from peaceful two-way country lanes( limit 60 mph) to dual carriage way motorways ( 70 mph) by another name. OK at best. Nasty, often.

B roads are two or one lane, usually quiet, scenic but often steep. Better for cyclists, even if you have to do more miles to get there.


I was back to countryside riding after eight kms of city riding through Worcester . Don't mind city riding at all. It's the only time I get to pass cars, get to sneak through little gaps between stopped traffic and get to be first in the queue.

The riding once out of town was over gently rolling, 6/10 scenic countryside, rain dripping. I didn't care. I had a tail wind, a gentle hand in the small of my back, pushing me on; my speed was 18 – 25 with little effort, my mind was flooded with positive thoughts. I sang a song my Aunty used to sing to me when I was 5 ( so, it's quite an old song) to make the miles roll along

Sing a right good cheery song
It will carry you along
Thought the sky is low and grey today
Soon the clouds will roll away.”

I am happy to supply a dvd of me singing these words to all interested. Discounts available.

I rode through Droitwich and Kidderminster. Sounds easy but in those two places I went through a total of 10 large roundabouts. I have always thought that riding into a busy roundabout on a bike is like sticking your head into a giant mincing machine, or your hand into an electric fan with specially sharpened blades. So I don't ride through them ( unless I'm taking the first exit and there's no traffic) . Mostly, I walk and push my bike, crossing each lane until I get to my exit. I know. I'm a pathetic ninny. But I would rather be a live pathetic ninny than a dead squashed teddy.
A very nasty roundabout.
I would definitely be pushing my bike across this one.

Dropping into Ironbridge

I began to regret my choice of route on the A 442 between Kidderminster and Ironbridge. Now the going was hilly and narrow and the traffic snarling and impatient. I promise you that I did my best to pull off the road if I saw anything bigger than a kid's tricycle behind me but sometimes, despite my left arm brushing the hedgerows, despite riding onto the slender gravel verge, sometimes there was just  nowhere to hide. I got tooted at once, though I am not sure if it was in anger or thanks ( for my swerving off the road into the waiting nettles), by the last in a line-up of six cars and two trucks which had tailed me for a mile.

I did get a little pay-back near Ironbridge when I found the Severn Cycle Way, not mentioned in Lonely Planet, which gave me a gently downhill track through woodlands, and a steep descent into Ironbridge, a town built round the Severn River at the bottom of a steep-sided gorge.

A home-sick Aussie on the Iron Bridge.

Please visit Ironbridge if you haven't already. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, scenic, historic and touted as the 'heart of the Industrial Revolution”, because Abraham Derby perfected here the technique of smelting iron with coke and so devised a cheaper method of producing iron. Old workers' cottages and Georgian boss's houses peer from the trees on the steep slopes, but most visitors come to see the iron bridge, completed in 1781 to advertise the new iron production methods and the iron-masters. It brought admirers from all over the world, still does today, and I rode my bike over it !

On the far end of the bridge, I heard:

“ Hey, a bloody Kiwi. What's a Kiwi doing so far from home?” And I met Gavin, a train driver from Melbourne, in Europe for 14 weeks. He loved to talk.
“ Just been to the D day celebrations in Normandy but I really came to see anything old to do with engineering. Planes, trains, cars. I just love this place and the museums. Can't get enough of it. Couldn't get my wife to come with me, she gets bored with engines and stuff.....”

A bit later I heard him telling a group of seniors:
“ See that guy there. He's from New Zealand. Know where that is? It's a little island off the coast of Australia. Ha ha ha.” The oldies smiled uncertainly and asked him if he would please take their photo.

I felt a bit sorry for this noisy colonial who clearly missed his wife and  I felt very sorry for all those polite English folk who he would continue to terrorise for the next eleven weeks.

The famous iron bridge, completed in 1781 as an advertisement
 for the iron-smelting skills of the local iron-masters. Three minutes after I took this photo,
 I was accosted by the home-sick Aussie.

Down the valley to Bridgnorth

David couldn't find beds for us in Ironbridge so I turned back down the valley and rode 15 kms to Bridgnorth. The guidebook, understandably, had warnings about the steep climb out of Ironbridge ( “ a 5 mile climb up the side of the Wrekin gaining 180 m directly out of Ironbridge”) but the weirdest thing was that, once I had climbed out of the gorge, and despite going downstream, the road seemed to drop very little. No matter, Bridgnorth was a delight, worth a bit of tedious travelling.

A smiling, helpful lady in the Bridgnorth Library put me on course for the Severn Arms Hotel, and by the time I clomped in the front door, I had already decided that I could spend a long time in Bridgenorth.
Here are five reasons why.;
  1. The town is full of well-cared for old building – a town gate, a market place, cottages.... is built on two levels, joined by a funicular railway that looks like something out of a Mickey Mouse comic.
  2. We had dinner at a pub, two main courses of Steak and Kidney Pie for 6 pounds.
  3. Bridgnorth holds many festivals and concerts, especially in the summer months.: Burns Night, pantomimes, literary and music festivals, art exhibitions...
  4. Our hotel was haunted by the ghost of a little blond haired girl. No, I didn't actually see her, but I did see the 16th century distillery in a cellar carved into the hill in the hotel yard.
  5. Lower Bridgnorth is on the banks of the Severn River, and in the hotel there were many historic photos and engravings of the river traffic which used the river as a highway between the 12th and 18th centuries. Best of all, a funicular railway, with a little cabin like something from a cartoon, joined the upper and lower parts of the town.

    David in front of the little railway car in Upper Bridgnorth.

Overcast, rain falling for 15 minutes at a time several times. A glorious tail wind. Up till Ironbridge, my average was over 18 kph but the trip downriver (into the wind and uphill)  lowered it.

Distance today Average Speed Max. Speed Riding Time Odometer - Trip
84.5 16.1 59.2 5 h 12 m 596.7

The railway incline, looking down to
 Lower Bridgnorth and the Severn River.

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