You can come again!” has been heard more than once as we cross the River Teme out of the old market town of Ludlow.
The sun is beating down on our backs and is most welcome after the dreadful winter and not much better spring; the Ludlow CC members are out in force today to make the most of the turn in the weather.
We’re set for a scenic ride out into the neighbouring county of Herefordshire today, rolling and not too testing by Ludlow CC’s standards as it is rather hilly out this way to say the least.
Spirits are high thanks to the sunshine but the chat is muted as the early miles have the majority of the stiffer climbs.
In between the efforts we find ourselves riding next to someone who is evidently not a local lad from his accent. Milan Sulek moved to Herefordshire from his native Slovakia.
“I moved to the UK five years ago and wanting to continue my cycling, I joined Ludlow CC to learn the local roads and make some new friends. It is beautiful here, very different from back home but don’t make me choose!” he says.
The narrow road we are on proves quite spectacular once away from the urban areas, with nature on display wherever you look. We crest a climb and descend into a lush valley that takes my breath away. Shropshire and Herefordshire have no end of great cycling routes and today is no exception. Stephen Bent, our ride leader today, knows these roads inside out and fills us in on the points of interest as we go, and there are plenty.
The route eventually flattens out somewhat so the pace rises and the banter is in full flow — always a sign of a friendly bunch. The easy riding never lasts too long though as we find lower gears again and climb upwards towards our cafe stop for the day at a small-breed animal farm.
Walking through a tunnel of keen-eyed owls is certainly an unusual way to get to a cafe and a unique distraction as we take a look at the various birds. Away from the owls we eat and drink outside surrounded by an array of animals and visitors here to see them. It’s a popular place.
Over a much-needed cold drink we talk to the oldest rider here, Bob Woodley. Originally from Surrey, he moved to Ludlow 30 years ago.
Woodley tells us: “I’ve been cycling all my life and it’s surely what’s kept me fit and healthy. I raced competitively in my younger days, winning the Perfs Pedal race in 1974, which is still going strong today. I don’t road race any more but do keep active with our 10-mile TTs every now and then.”
At the opposite end of the scale we also catch up with Hannah Lancaster, one of Ludlow CC’s bright young hopes.
With an impressive string of results already she has a full calendar of races for the year: “I’ve only been with the club a year but the advice and guidance have been great. The club runs are improving my endurance and pace, which helps with longer races.” Lancaster is aiming for the Junior Worlds, a name to look out for in the future.
Tearing ourselves away from an extended stay in the afternoon sun is a struggle but the road beckons, a flatter route back through the sleepy old-world villages with odd-sounding names and lazy, inviting rivers. Riders split off for home over the remaining miles and as we roll back into Ludlow in the shadow of the castle, it’s agreed we’ve had a fine day out on the bike in good company.
Ludlow Cycling Club was formed in 1986, to begin with as a youth work initiative which quickly expanded to welcome cyclists of all ages. The focus moved from mountain to road biking in the mid 90s and soon after many of the club members became interested in local time trials.
The club started a time trial league which has continued and expanded over the years to include a variety of competitions, attracting riders from a wide range of clubs.
Despite this, the club’s ethos is not purely competition focused, with a strong emphasis placed on the social side of cycling as well.
The club has also organised sportives, held as part of the Ludlow Cycling Festival (mid-September), for the last five years; more recently the long-established Danny Mason Highlands Challenge. Other events include a reliability ride early in the new year and co-organising of the Ludlow Sprint Triathlon.
The club competes in the Shropshire Cycling Clubs Association time trial leagues, and members have in the past won the veterans’ competition and runner-up spot in the SCCA Hawk Plant League, and have also won team pursuit gold in the LVRC Track Championships and the veterans’ team category in the Brompton World Championships in 2012.
The club has nurtured and supported members who have gone on to ride at a higher level of competition, including: Ewan MacDonald of the Irish national junior squad who has raced professionally in Belgium; Jack Stanton-Warren, who races at elite level and is currently with Wheelbase-Castelli-MGD; and Catherine Coley, who was Welsh road race champion in 2016.
The Shropshire Highlands Challenge (now Danny Mason Highlands Challenge) has been running from Ludlow for over 25 years and is one of Shropshire’s most iconic and loved events.
Starting in Ludlow at the Rugby Club at the foot of the medieval castle, the route changes every year to explore some of the best views and climbs in the county. Keep an eye out for the 2019 edition — enter early as it always sells out.
Dover Disney, chairman
CW: You started cycling seriously quite late in life, didn’t you?
DD: Yes, I had ridden on and off in my youth but started in earnest at the age of 42. I joined Ludlow CC after my first year of time trialling and was chairman a year later and still am to this day, so I must be doing a good job. The club has changed quite a bit over the years to be fully inclusive and promote a more active social side, casting off the old-school cliques and restrictions of the past. We’re still big on TTs, though, and run many races throughout the season.
CW: What is it that attracts you to time trialling?
DD: Being just you and the clock; I love the challenge of pushing yourself to better that personal best and the ever-changing mini rivalries against my peer groups and friends. There is also the variety of racing: I’ve competed in events all over the UK on track, road, solo and in teams, as well as in the Duo Normand team time trial in Normandy. I’ve even raced in the World Brompton Team Vets Championships!
CW: Any plans for the future?
DD: To continually grow the club within the local area and promote cycling for all ages in our beautiful part of Shropshire, along with our portfolio of events that are getting more and more popular — and maybe ride a TT or two.
Ride Highlights: Ludlow CC
1 The Goggin
You aren’t far into the ride but already deep into the countryside. The tiny lane snakes up before the hairpin, ramping
up the gradient to the double peak, and the spectacular valley beyond.
The village is like something from a film set, as quintessentially Olde England as you will find in these modern times, almost lost in time.
Nearing the end of the ride we follow the line of the old medieval walls. Be sure to take the time to head up to the top of the hill to see the castle and explore the near 500 listed buildings and an abundance of award winning restaurants for a post-ride treat.
The Small Breeds Farm Park and Owl Centre near Kington is a club favourite. Tucked away in the countryside, this cafe has a varied selection of cakes and other food plus the usual hot and cold drinks options; the ice cream went down a treat in the sunshine. Small Breeds Farm Park and Owl Centre, Kingswood Rd, Kington, Herefordshire, HR5 3HF. www.owlcentre.com