Today was one of those idyllic Indian summer days, so perfect and precious for cycling. Warm sunshine, a hint of autumn in the air and one of the last Sky Rides of the year to enjoy.
This was a 17-mile ride named after Izaak Walton. My hometown hasn't produced very many famous people. Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy grew up here. Fran Healy, the lead singer of Travis was born in Stafford. I wonder if he thinks of us when he sings Why Does It Always Rain On Me? It's something that I ask myself often enough.
David Cameron fought and lost an election here (possibly our proudest moment) and Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned nearby. Go back as far as the restoration and you'll find playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan living in grand style in the town centre. When he turned to politics he paid the voters of Stafford five guineas each in 'thanks' for their support. If David Cameron had read his history books he might have been more successful in Stafford.
"But this is a cycling blog, why are you befuddling us with Stafford's tenuous association with celebrity?"
Ah, well, that's because Izaak Walton is a bona fide, locally-grown success story. Born in 1594, Walton spent his childhood in the Swan Inn, in Stafford and spent some years living at Halfhead Farm, in the village of Shallowford. Like my dad, he devoted much of his life to fishing. In 1653, Walton published the first edition of the famous The Compleat Angler. More than four centuries later, a well-thumbed copy of this book would be at my father's bedside.
Today, with the sun on our backs and a breeze in our faces we set off to explore ountry lanes and villages that would have been familiar to the angler-author on the Sky Ride Izaak Walton Route. Admittedly, the start of the route would probably have come as a surprise to him. But you can certainly find trout in Sainsbury's.
Our route today took us through the postcard-pretty villages of Chebsey and Ellenhall, their country churchyards unchanged for centuries. We pedalled through traffic-free lanes bounded by high hedges heavy with sloes and cobnuts and passed a field full of sunflowers, their heads nodding towards the warmth. It came as a surprise to see that we were at the halfway point in our ride - time to stop at a garden centre for tea and cake.
I thought a lot about my dad as I rode, today. He was a cyclist and would have loved this adventure. We even went to the ford, at Seighford. He used to take me walking there as a child. We'd park by the ford and go to pick mushrooms for breakfast. Once we were lucky enough to meet a family of fox cubs in a nearby wood, fearless and full of curiosity.
Someone else was pretty fearless at Seighford today. One of our ride leaders sought to encourage us to try riding through the ford. With everyone else looking dubiously at the depth indicator he pedalled at full speed and to our surprise, made it to the other side. We used the bridge and then followed a trail of drips from his soaking feet.
|A view from the bridge|
Too soon the Sky Ride was back in Stafford, leaving the country lanes and turning back towards the town centre.
A good-sized bunch of Sky Riders took part in this ride, perhaps fifteen of us snaked along the lanes in our high-viz bibs. As ever, there was a companionable atmosphere with plenty of laughter and conversation.
This was the first year that Sky Rides were offered in this area and until confirmation comes from the local council, we won't know for sure whether they will resume in the spring. I certainly hope that we take to the trails again next year. The Sky Rides have encouraged people to get bikes out of the shed and onto the road. New rides, new friends and a new confidence in traffic have been just a few of the benefits of taking part.
|The end of the road today - let's hope the Sky Rides pedal back onto the local calendar next year.|