You can usually tell what kind of ride it’s going to be in the first couple of miles.
Less than 5 mins after setting out I’m gasping away in my lowest gear, facing a 20% ramp of road that looks more like a wall. Hmmm, it’s definitely going to be an ‘interesting’ day out.
It turns out I’m receiving my first experience of The Burway, a delightful and very ancient road that rises like a mini mountain from the foot of Church Stretton to the plateau of Long Mynd. Car drivers are advised extreme caution (or to avoid completely) as this steep single track of rough black-top rises nearly 1000 feet in just over 2 miles.
Overall it’s an average gradient of around 9% but rising to over 20% in places, all bordered by a steep drop and cars attempting to navigate in both directions in just one lane. To find out it’s Shropshire’s highest public road comes as no surprise.
In the autumn of last year, following an easing of covid-related travel restrictions around the England, M and I took the opportunity for a few days away in the Shropshire hills, an area in which neither of us had mountain biked but both of us had heard good things. Armed with no local knowledge but a gpx file confidently downloaded from the internet we set out from Church Stretton and rode right on to the Burway. Ouch!
Ok, we knew it was going to be hilly – the clue was in the name but as you drive around the area the contours of land dip and soar all around you. Also, it’s just much less noticeable in a car!
First hill of the day completed and now thoroughly warmed our route turns off road and joins one of many hiking and cycling trails above the Carding Mill Valley. It’s a relief to be on relatively flat ground and the views are spectacular, even on this cloudy day. After a mile or so of riding my appreciation for the height we have gained is cemented as we begin the first of the day’s descents back down to Carding Mill itself. The path is wet, loose rock, mud and gravel, steep and punctuated with large stones and off camber water culverts and it’s a fairly tricky technical descent in these damp conditions. The steady stream of walkers going in both directions adds an extra element of surprise for all concerned. Even on a damp weekday it’s busy and we end up walking some sections to better navigate the contra-flow. With a clear run this would be a great descent but as a shared path it’s not ideal for anyone.
Further down the valley we remount and a lovely flowy bit of single track delivers us to the bustling Carding Mill car park and the chance for a quick snack before we tackle climb 2. In contrast this climb is all off road on a variety of tracks from gravel and grass to deep mud. It winds its way ponderously up the side of Nover’s Hill, around the opposite side of the Valley we just descended, eventually spitting us back out at the top of Long Mynd and the Burway. It’s tough going in places but on the whole a much more enjoyable climb given the variety of terrain and swapping out some of that earlier gradient for distance makes it less lung -busting. For a good chunk of the climb we’re also playing leapfrog with some trail runners – catching them on the flat but then getting shamefully overtaken as they scramble up the steep hillsides at far more acute angles. We finally meet them on a plateau when we stop for oxygen and they kindly share some sweets with us. Ignoring all childhood warnings from my mum I find I’m very happy to be accepting candy from strangers!
Whilst lockdown restrictions may have eased enough to allow travel, the remoteness of the route and lack of ‘open’ shops/sites meant we were carrying and rapidly consuming our whole day’s food and water. Re-crossing the Burway there follows a beautiful grassy, downhill blast on wide trails towards Ratlinghope before the inevitable climb back to my friend the Burway.One cheese sandwich later and we head off again for the 4th out of today’s 5 descents/climbs.
With hindsight, this one I would definitely scrub from my list if I visited again. With over 3000 feet of climbing already in today’s legs, what came next was a bone shaking descent down a long rocky trail before an equally arduous steep, soggy climb back up on a track punctuated by gates and midges. With the sun finally putting in an appearance the ground was steaming and the insect life were out in force taking the opportunity to snack on very slow moving bikers. After deciding I’d move quicker just pushing the bike the pièce de résistance of ‘the pointless loop’ as I’ve renamed it was slipping over in a pile of sheep poo and falling heavily into a puddle.
If someone had offered me an ‘out’ option here I may happily have taken it but in doing so I would have missed out on what I consider the best part of the day. Re-joining a The Port Way (a road linking to Burway) we spot the sign for Minton Batch, a National Trust Marker in what appears to be the middle of nowhere, the only other thing of note, a small airfield. Just as I’m questioning the GPS directions a group of mountain bikers tear past us and disappear down a small dirt track, then another group appear….and another. I think something good may lie ahead.
It does! A fantastic piece of single track over a mile long with rocky obstacles, streams, berms and just pure fun. We swoop down into the wooded valley below faces plastered in mud and smiles. It’s always over too soon sadly as we’re left to face the final big climb of the day up through Churchmoor Forest to the little airfield and back to Minton Batch. Part of me wants to do the descent again but my tired body says otherwise. Likewise, the climb through the forest gave glimpses of some interesting looking downhill bike trails, all of which may need to be explored at a later date, with fresher legs!From Minton Batch the Port Way delivers us to another roller coaster track which swoops down the hillside via Cross Dyke, leaving us smiling and exhausted at Small Batch on the outskirts of Church Stretton. A short, final pedal and of course a final little hill bring us back to the start, weary but entirely satisfied in that way only a full-on day in the saddle can achieve.
The numbers show that we covered nearly 28 miles with a respectable 5000 foot of climbing, mostly off road. With numerous other trails in the area to explore, plus some to revisit, it’s definitely worth a second trip but, for now, there’s a very welcome airbnb close at hand and a hot tub with my name on it.
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It’s the story of a forty-something woman with no clue in life and no cycle touring experience. What she does have is a sense of adventure, a second hand bicycle and a skirt and the idea of riding across Canada….the wrong way.
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