CYCLING THE KERRY RIDGEWAY
An ancient track across the Marches, the Kerry Ridgeway takes a bit of effort but is a fabulous rough-stuff route. Steve Dyster took his tourer from Bishop’s Castle, in Shropshire, over the hills to Cider House Farm, in Powys, before resorting to the lower road home.
The high road was, once upon a time, generally the best road. Away from the marshy valleys the effort of gaining height was rewarded with solid ground and safer progress. Things have changed a little. Today the Kerry Ridgeway, is not the main drag from Mid-Wales to Shropshire, and the reward is not speed. Your leg work gains quiet countryside and stunning views.
Whether there’d be anything to see at all was a matter of speculation as I headed out of silent Bishop’s Castle - in my opinion one of England’s jewels - with a cloudy sky and, after a few metres of climbing, mist filling the valley to the south. Optimism prevailed. Clouds shifted by a gusty breeze revealed glimpses of fields, woods and pastures as rapidly as they drew a veil across others.
Undulating a little, but generally upward, a low gear spun along deserted roads. Signs offered pretty decent guidance, but having a map (in my case the OS 1:50000 sheets) or gpx file is advantageous. Though the cloud was sporadic, there was one point where I went distinctly astray. Mind you, that wasn’t until I hit the rough stuff.
Much of the asphalt road between Bishop’s Castle and Pentreglas marks the border between Engand and Wales. the fiveway junction at Bishop’s Moat could cause a little confusion, but way-finding should be no problem.
Note, that up on the ridge you’d be pretty exposed in bad weather. No other shelter than nature provides is available, and no refreshment stops.
The rough-stuff begins shortly after Pentreglas. Along easy farm tracks, the hedges disappear revealing bigger panoramas. Even when the clouds rolled ove the ridge, that feeling of cycling on top of the world remained.
Although there are signs, they are not always obvious. Often situaterd with walkers rather than cyclists in mind, they can be missed at a moderate pace. That’s not my excuse, but I took a wrong turn hereabouts. Fundamentally, the main Kerry Ridgeway route becomes a boggy, rutted walkers track - ok for an MTB but not for my tourer. Added to that, the cloud thickened into fog and I sped along the gravel road and into the distance.
Call me an old-fashioned guy, but carrying a map has its uses. Back on track, the forest road through Ceri Forest had recently been repaired by covering it in large stones. no doubt, these will eventually form a kind of surface, but it was with great relief when ashpalt returned.
Kerry Pole is an isolated cottage at a T-junction. The Ridgeway turns neither left or right. A gate offers access to a bridleway - unmarked on the ground - straight-ahead (keeping the fence on the right). Whilst taking care to avoid the sheep who, seemingly happy with cyclists, wandered across my path, I rumbled gently on.
The end of the grass brings a farm track that descends a little to the B4638. Then it was over Kerry Hill itself. Climbing, eventually, to 506 metres. Truly magnificent views, bring a suitable climax to the ride. Where the ancient Cross Dyke and Two Tumps are reached, Cider House Farm is visible below, and the Kerry Ridgeway terminates. Even so, spend a few minutes at the viewpoint.
Not the longest ride, but worth many a mile longer.
The big decision was how to get home. Not one for there and back routes, if possible, the most attractive option looked like a rapid run down to Kerry, with a section of the A489 to Sarn, follwed by minor roads to return to Bishop’s Castle on the B4385.
The minor roads from Dolfor to Kerry brought huge views over the Severn Valley and Newtown. almost as impressive as the Ridgeway itself.
Kerry, or Ceri, rests in the lovely valley of the River Mule. Delightful though the surroundings are, I was, initially, more interested in the village shop (attention may have been elsewhere had the pubs been open).
Like many rural A roads, the A489 can carry little bursts of traffic, whcih form little convoys around the bends and on the slight ascents. Avoiding it requires a good old diversion into the hills. Picturesque enough, but brain needs to be fully engaged with the drivers wanting to get on with whatever happens to be urgent.
Even so, getting back onto country lanes at Sarn made life pleasanter. These bucolic backways rambled about, until a final descent came down to the B4385 Montgomery-Bishop’s Castle super-highway. a little beyond Offa’s Dyke and Mellington Hall.
Back in Bishop’s Castle, I rewarded myself with vital rehydration and refuelling at the famous Three Tuns. One of two home-brew pubs in the town, it has slaked thirst earned along the Kerry Ridgeway and in the surrounding fields since 1642. Ah, the joy of cycling!
Parts of the Kerry Ridgeway are very rough and not obvious on the ground. I rode a touring bike with 700x32 tyres. fine in dry weather, after a prolonged dry spell.Some might prefer a gravel bike or an MTB. However, when the ground is wet care should be taken to avoid dmaging the pastures that are crossed. Grass is a crop - an important one for livestock farmers. Better to push, or avoid the route altogether if the going is likely to damage it.
PUBLISHED AUGUST 2018