CYCLING THE SHROPSHIRE CYCLEWAY: THE EAST SIDE
At 185 miles, with a fair selection of south Shropshire finest hills mixed with the gentler north, the Shropshire Cycleway keeps as close as it can to the county’s boundary. Almost entirely on road through quiet countryside and fabulous small towns stuffed with history and cafés: what could make a better long weekend? Steve Dyster has been taking in the fresh country air, and got back to map-reading. Here's the first part; Whitchurch to Ludlow.
For a fundamentally rural county, Shropshire is not badly served by railway lines. As a circular route, the Shropshire Cycleway can be stated or begun anywhere. I chose to set off from Whitchurch, in the north of the county and finish a long first day at Ludlow, in the south. Ideally, I’d have taken three days. Yes, I don’t mind putting in the miles, but Shropshire has so much to see and enjoy. Maybe, I should have planned for a leisurely four.
Whitchurch is a bustling little town, just a short distance from Shropshire’s border with Wales, which juts suddenly east at this point. Once famous for clock-making, it is now surrounded by a busy ring-road. Escape this - easy enough - and you are straight into peaceful, gentle, bucolic north Shropshire. Make the most of it: the countryside will become even more delightful, but you’ll pay in legwork.
Fans of imperialism, or just history, may like to take a quick look in the brick Church in the heart of pretty Moreton Say. Robert Clive - of India - is buried there. A sign announces so.
A few gently undulating miles, including a busy … ish stretch of main road, brings one onto Market Drayton. There’s a pesky one way system, but the heart of the town is pleasant, with cafés and Joules Brewery with brewery tap by the gate. Joules pride themselves on the fact that their water is filtered through the local red sandstone, producing a fresh pale ale.
You will have picked up NCR 552 in Market Drayton and you’ll follow it out toward Cheswardine and Newport. You’ll pass under a spectacularly chunky aqueduct where the Shropshire Union Canal is carried high above the road and river. Cheswardine has a decent pub, and is pretty typical of the pleasant villages hereabouts, set in prime farming country. Roll along admiring the crops and livestock all the way into Newport.
Another bustling little town, with a selection of cafés with particularly good value to be had in the old indoor market, on market days. Fans of old pubs might detour to the Swan. Follow NCR 55 toward Telford. The Shropshire Cycleway is not signed, but sections coincide with elements off the National Cycle Network. Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security and miss the point where they diverge.
New towns may not be everyone’s favourite cycling venue, but much of the cycling infrastructure through Telford is pretty good. Needless to say, not all. NCR55 passes through the Town Park and ons the Silkin Way, which takes you all the way down into the Severn Gorge, at Coalport.
The Gorge is most famous for Ironbridge, but the whole caboodle of industrial sites and museums can take days to explore. Just off NCR55 is Coalport YHA - decent accommodation and café.
More to the cycling point, Coalport is home to Bicycles by Design, where craftsmen Peter Bird and Rob Wade, along with their team, build bespoke bikes. They’ll also sort out your day to day requirements. Well-worth a visit, even if just for a browse and a chat.
Transports of Delight
NCR55 crosses the Severn and joins NCR45 which provides a choice of a long traffic-free section, along the valley on a mixture surfaces (none too bad), and a road route commencing with a robust climb. I prefer the former. Whichever way one goes, the picturesque town of Bridgnorth is the destination. The High Town stands mightily over the river, linked to the Low Town by a funicular. The castle ruins are limited, but the path along the cliff top gives great views. Bridgnorth is the northern terminus of the Severn Valley Railway. Keep an eye out for steam locomotives.
It was here that I met a guy form Wolverhampton who used to cycle out to Ludlow frequently, a few years back. “You’ve a lumpy old ride,” he told me.” He was right.
NCR 45 diverges from the Cycleway as it leaves Bridgnorth. The Cycleway rolls over valley side spurs along a sporadically busy B road. There’ll be climbs either way. Sadly, I did not get to see a single steam-hauled train on the journey to Highley, where one takes to the quiet countryside on the way toward Cleobury Mortimer.
You’ll earn the pleasure with some tough legwork on narrow, steep roads. I rewarded myself with a spell by the ford near Neen Savage. Lovely countryside, but pretty remote. The theme of healthy, vigorous exercise continued, until, with a degree of relief, the River Teme appeared. I made the short detour across the river into Tenbury Wells (Worcestershire) to buy sweeties.
Tenbury Wells to Ludlow is not a long way, but with a good few miles in my legs it felt a bit more strenuous than it should have. The good news is that Ludlow is packed with cafés and pubs. Just remember that it is a tourist centre - great castle, timber-framed town centre and something of a foodie paradise. It stages festivals, too, so be prepared for things to be busy. Even so, there should be a bed to spare somewhere.
Take look round, eat and drink well; tomorrow the going will get even more interesting. But that is to come in Part Two of the Shropshire Cycleway: Ludlow to Whitchurch, the West Side.
The Shropshire Cycleway is an unsigned cycle route, mainly on road, but with traffic-free sections. Details can be downloaded at:
There are railway stations en route at Whitchurch, Telford, Ludlow, Hoptonheath and Bucknell http://www.nationalrail.co.uk
Services on the Severn Valley Railway may also be of use.
Bicycle by Design, Next door to Coalport YHA. https://www.bicycles-by-design.co.uk
PUBLISHED MARCH 2018