Saturday 16th June – Day Five

Legs were very tired this morning after the distance and the Shropshire hills yesterday. James H was looking very grim this morning before we set off, however once we started he cheered up a bit.

It was drizzling as we set off and after an hour I was cursing not leaving my overshoes and full finger gloves inaccessible on the van. James called a stop and, with the rain seeping into my shoes and my fingers chilling in the cool rain, watched him struggle into his shoes and carefully slip on his warm gloves.

The rain was not that cold, by the time we got to Whitchurch it had stopped and the day warmed up!

Whitchurch is the oldest continuously inhabited town in Shropshire. Last time James and I were here it was a very wet cycling experience. There’s over 100 listed buildings in Whitchurch – another lovely town on our route.

Whitchurch is home to Powell’s Pork Pie Shop which won the Great British Pork Pie Bronze Award.  Definitely a place to look out for…sadly our route did not take us past it…

Henry Hotspur Percy is buried in Whitchurch…after he lost the battle of Shrewsbury they dug him up and chopped him into four…Also from Whitchurch is Joseph Bromfield (died 1824) a notable English plasterer (loads of money!)

It was a shame that our route took us up the A49, the main road showed none of the Cheshire lanes and villages I knew and loved as a child.

Day what you like about the A49 though, it was quick, we ate up the miles and passed through Tarporley quickly.

Tarporley is home to the oldest surviving hunt club in England, notable residents include Steve and Alex Davies – Hi Steve and Alex!  Sadly our timetable did not allow us to call in on Steve and Alex and blag a cup of tea.

Steve and Alex live near Peckforton Castle, most famous for having an owl that attacked the best man at a wedding held there (the owl was employed to fly the rings to the groom!)

We rolled on to Weaverham. Weaverham is notable as home of one of the other comprehensives in Cheshire I used to play rugby against as a callow schoolboy…a right rough and dodgy bunch they were too who regularly spanked us 64-0 with my position as wing or flanker (depending on how many men we were short that week) probably contributing to our defeat.  I seem to remember finding half a pair of scissors embedded in the Weaverham school field.  Bit hardcore in Weaverham…

We made good time into Warrington, not far from James H’s home in Lymm. We got an opportunity to stop and meet a friend of James’s called Tim and admired the Manchester Ship Canal – really cool. It’s an impressive waterway!

I always used to consider Warrington as a rather run down area close to the Mersey when I was growing up nearby.  It was however redeemed by the incredible sophistication of having the only roller skating rink in Cheshire.

That said Warrington was a fulcrum in the English Civil War – who knew! Ollie Cromwell used to crash at the Cottage restaurant on Church Street when his warts were playing up. The dents in the parish church walls are the result of Cannon damage and not, as is true in other places nearby, by the vandalism of local scallies.

We did not manage to see the church but there was a unique statue of Ollie which we admired.

Warrington was a big deal in WWII as it had the largest USAF base outside of the United States.  Humphrey Bogart and Bob Hope used to visit Warrington all the time…Frankly if you’ve ever seen the Golden Gates of Warrington Town Hall you can see why those guys flew all the way from Hollywood to see them. Sadly, our route does not take us past them…

What? You think I’d ride all the way to Warrington and not see the town hall gates? No way Jose!

That’s me gasping in amazement, they are a sight to see!

It’s this sort of exciting history that obviously made Warrington the location of choice of Ingvar Kamprad for the first IKEA to open in the UK.  It’s plainly a crime they were overlooked for the City of Culture in 2021.

We also went and viewed the memorial to the two little boys killed by the IRA when they bombed Warrington, very well done and very touching.

Notable residents of Warrington included John Harrison (inventor of the marine chronometer that established Longitude), George Formby (who is buried in Warrington cemetery), Burt Kwok (Cato in the Pink Panther) was born in Warrington, Martin Roberts (from Homes under the Hammer) and James Hurrell (reluctant LeJoG cyclist).

We stopped at Newton Le Willows for lunch, another triumph by the team! James’s parents, his wife Fay and his two boys along with my Mum turned up to cheer us on! Great to see them all! We drank wine…

Bidding them all farewell we pressed on. The weather had improved so James H carefully stowed his booties and full finger gloves before moving on.

Fergie had joined us at lunch and it was great to have most of the old team together. Fergie is a very strong rider – I was concerned as we had four hard days under our belt. The boy did good tho, Sheparded us northward like a trouper.

Before long we made Wigan, the A48 was a very dispiriting ride, very busy and horrible to ride. The road surface was dreadful too.

Wigan is home to Wigan Pier…made famous in George Orwell’s book ‘On the road to Wigan Pier’ and by a running joke that regularly formed part of George Formby Senior’s act.  It was actually a coal loading stage on the Leeds Liverpool canal.  Sadly our route does not take us past it…

Ha! No way am I going to Wigan and not seeing the Pier! I recall it had been extensively refurbished in the 1980s so was excited to see the vibrant waterside destination that was created. It was however tragic, bankrupt, shuttered and weeds growing out of the cobbles. All for sale – I could see the opportunity….

There are 216 listed buildings in Wigan – you don’t immediately think of it as being an attractive or particularly historic place – so was interesting to see what it was like as we passed through great development potential!)

Wigan is of course the home of the famous Northern Soul all-nighters which originated in the ballroom of Wigan Casino between 1973 and 1981.  Other notable bands from Wigan include the Verve and Kajagoogoo.  I guess they had to originate from somewhere however I always associated Limahl from somewhere less hard…

On a less cerebral note Wigan is the home of the annual World Pie Eating Championship…thank goodness for that, I was thinking it was going to buck the northern stereotype for a moment!  Mind you a vegetarian option was added in 2006, obviously a sop to all those softy southerners wanting to have a go…

Shortly after the heavens opened! James was swearing repeatedly and colourfully! No booties! No gloves! The rain hammered down, we got drenched!

The riding was horrible, cars drenched us repeatedly, we were miserable. The water stop 10 miles from the finish was at a bike shop which took the prize for being unhelpful! One lady was advised she had brought the wrong group set as a bit of advice (not helpful considering she was in possession of it and needed adjustment!)

Finally we arrived in Preston. Preston surprisingly dates back to Roman times; its name derives from the old English of Priest’s Settlement.  It really came into its own during the Industrial revolution and Richard Arkwright who invented the spinning Jenny was born here.  When it was assessed for taxes as part of the Doomsday book in 1218-19 it was the wealthiest town in the whole country (fancy that).

Preston is exactly halfway between Glasgow and London so was it very popular to have battles here (Battle of Preston in the English Civil War and the Battle of Preston as part of the Jacobite uprising).

Preston was the first place outside London to be lit by gas, the Preston Gas Company was established in 1815 by, amongst others, a Catholic priest called Rev. Joseph “Daddy” Dunn of the Society of Jesus.  Not sure I’d be happy to hang out with a Catholic Priest who wanted to be called Daddy, but those were different times…

One of the many notable landmarks is the Grade II listed Preston bus station built in the popular 1970’s brutalist style (designed by BDP, engineers were the legendary Ove ARUP and Partners)…sadly our route does not take us past it.

Yeah right! Like I’m going to ride all the way to Preston and not admire the brutalist masterpiece that is the bus garage? No way Jose! It’s currently being refurbished and will be well spiffy once complete. Highlight of my day!

Nick Park, animator of Wallace and Gromit was born in Preston, they’re going to bung a statue up of Wallace and Gromit as soon as they’ve raised the £100,000 it will cost.

Finally dry in the hotel we realised we had missed the 400 mile celebration…better late than necessary I guess!

Later that night the glasses of awesomeness went to Brian and Mike for getting a full light Police escort through Warrington (they charmed a very nice female constable!)

Outil D’Or went to Sean for trying to get into his room with the key from the Lion Hotel in Shrewsbury!

Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).


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