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Cardinal Spins

Cardinal Spins – Day 1: SW from Hathersage to Ironbridge

Today was a brilliant start to my new adventure. I’m in Ironbridge, the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, by the River Severn, in Shropshire. As per the intended format of these trips, Jenni has joined me for a couple nights and a look around, before I push on.

A cloudy start

I left home on a cool and cloudy day for June, with the odd moment of sunshine and the odd patch of drizzle; but the views were dramatic and ever changing as I cycled South West away from Hathersage for the first of sixteen such trips to the different compass points. There are no real straight lines to follow, of course, especially in these hills. I passed a van with the timely words “Not all who wander are lost” painted on the side, and hoped they might apply to me. Over the course of the day I managed to keep pretty well to my SW compass bearing and all of it was great cycling.

Start of my journey this morning

In typical fashion I was away later than planned due to protracted faffing around. Lunch, therefore, was in Hartington, 24 hilly miles away and just shy of the Staffordshire border. These quiet lanes and villages are my go to area for local rides, and they never disappoint. This part was all familiar – and rather wonderful – cycling territory and I had it mostly to myself. For the first few miles I was averaging about one car per mile. We are without doubt very fortunate to have it on our doorstep. There were as many bicycles as cars on these lanes, and a couple of the younger and more expensive types overtook me uphill in the first mile, commenting on the freshness of the June weather. I let them go. It is a marathon, not a sprint.

Dry limestone valley near Hartington

I intersected with a west-east line from my 2022 OS maps ride at Monsal Head, looking down from the lofty viewpoint at the viaduct below that I crossed before disappearing into the old railway tunnel that ran underneath me this morning. Then I broke my rule from 2022 and cycled past at least 4 open cafes this morning, knowing that I was safe to do so. After stopping in lovely Hartington at the fifth cafe (close to my second duck pond), refreshment options began to thin out for the rest of the day.

Monsal Head

The long, steep, green hills continued as I followed my wiggly straight line SW, well beyond the end of the national park and out into country with which I was unfamiliar. I was now in the Staffordshire Moorlands, from which I descended steeply to the Churnet Valley, with its steam railway, and then the small town of Cheadle. This is an unassuming little place, but it contains a gothic Catholic Church that I needed to see, as it is considered a masterpiece of its type.

John Talbot, 14th Earl of Shrewsbury (and lord of the manor of nearby Alton Towers) commissioned the wonderfully named architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin in 1840 to create a Catholic Church without rival. Pugin is more famously responsible for much of the Victorian detail of the interior of the Houses of Parliament, and Talbot placed unlimited means at Pugin’s disposal. The catholic church of St Giles, with its soaring spire, was the result. It was opened in 1846 and remains one the world’s finest examples of Gothic Revival church architecture. Its interior is described as “an astounding riot of fine textures and rich colours” and I will go along with that. It’s really worth seeing, as well as adding extra meaning to my “cardinal” journey. Sorry.

Pugin’s Gem interior

Then it was quiet rolling lanes to the canal town of Stone, on the infant River Trent, and my last chance for coffee and cake today. The last 30 miles from there took me along even smaller but less hilly lanes without traffic towards Shifnal. I passed through just a few small villages, most notably Church Eaton, where I leaned my bike against the church gates to look at the map. A lady in a car parked close by asked me if I wanted to look inside, as she had just locked up. We got chatting and she pointed me the right way. You’re really heading into the sticks, she said, and she was right. The lanes got even smaller and grass appeared down the middle. I saw no one. Then I crossed though a shallow ford, which is always exciting.

Shallow ford crossing

Shifnal was my last town of the day, and was about as pleasant yet largely unmemorable as the first two. The centre was an odd mixture of old, half timbered and ugly sixties buildings, and the high street was intersected by a huge railway bridge, more reminiscent of a London suburb than a rural Shropshire town. From there, it was more quiet lanes until I plunged suddenly down into the Severn Gorge, and along past the Coalport China factory to the world famous Ironbridge itself.

The world’s first iron bridge over the River Severn

Altogether today I rode 80 miles into a stiff breeze and climbed over 6,000 feet of ascent. An excellent start. Time for a day off!

Pugin’s Gem in Cheadle

4 replies on “Cardinal Spins – Day 1: SW from Hathersage to Ironbridge”

Ride well and travel safely amigo. Do you have an end destination in mind for each of your cardinal, inter cardinal and secondary inter cardinal spokes? 🙂

Great start to the adventure. Sorry I couldn’t join you on this leg! Nice to see pics with blue sky. Enjoy 😊

I visited Ironbridge many years ago with my Dad, when his job involved sizing up charities to which the trust he worked for might give. I think the Ironbridge museum passed the test! Enjoy your trip Mark and Jenni 🙂

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