An excursion to World's End

View from World's End road

The World's End Audax is one of John Perrin's 200 km Audaxes starting from Macclesfield. The name of the ride takes it's name from the gorge in Denbighshire enclosed by cliffs and with only a single track road passing through it. The 2015 calendar event will be held on Sunday 24 May. In this article from the Spring 2013 issue of Arrivee, Peter Bond recounts his ride with John Perrin.

John and World's End

This is the permanent version of John Perrin’s World’s End 200, from Broken Cross near Macclesfield. The calendar event always coincides with my family holiday so I decided on the permanent ride, so that I could complete the set of John’s Broken Cross audax 200s, the others being The Three Loops, Knockerdown and Venetian Nights. On receiving my entry, John offered to ride with me. I accepted this readily; not only is he great company but he would know the way!

I arrived at his house a little later than planned having forged through the early rush-hour on the Manchester ring-road and, after we’d had toast and tea, it was nine o-clock as
we rolled onto the Pexhill road and immediately into the country lanes of east Cheshire. We’d chosen the day because it looked as if it would be the last before the weather turned cold, wet and windy and, indeed, I felt the frost nipping at my fingers for the first hour or so, as we ambled out towards Goostrey. We chatted away, enjoying the spectacular autumn colour and speculating on uses for the redundant radio telescope dish at Jodrell Bank (jacuzzi, hanging basket, etc.), until John suggested that we got a move on, otherwise it would be midnight before we finished. He is a good judge.

John in Vale Royal woods

At Davenham, near (or mercifully far enough) from Northwich, we stopped for our first control. We bought coffee and comestibles at The Terrace sandwich shop and enjoyed them at a bench outside the Bull’s Head, a fine coaching- type hostelry that was probably a hive of activity before the by-pass took the traffic away. The courtyard was illuminated by a firework of a beech tree across the way.

After lingering longer than we ought, we pulled out onto the next leg to Waverton, on the outskirts of Chester. Within minutes, John had us leaving the road and onto one of the by-ways that make his rides so fascinating. This time, we were rolling down a leaf-strewn bridleway through Vale Royal Woods. As we both stopped frequently to take photographs, it was clear that we were going to break no records on this ride, a realisation that was emphasised every time I stopped to sort out a squeak from my rear wheel. However, if we were going to be out a long time, we had certainly picked the day for it and if the sky wasn’t as bright as it might have been the colour in the trees more than made up for it.

The Groves, Chester

Having got proof of passage in Waverton, we took a diversion along the Shropshire Union Canal to Chester. The tow-path was in deep shadow, accentuating the colour in the bushes on the other side and the pellucid water. John snapped a couple of swans as they grazed the bank at our feet. Leaving the canal at Chester, we wove between fine old warehouses to cross the main road before slipping down a side street to The Groves, where we had decided to have a bite to eat at The Blue Moon. This is a fascinating place. It is dedicated to the juke-box era and has framed sheet music on the walls, featuring artists like Alma Cogan, Billy Fury and Ronnie Carroll. There is a small screen showing grainy black and white music programmes from the era and the pièce de resistance is a garish neon jukebox in working order. The place is justifiably busy and we ate our food outside at a table on the pavement, overlooking the beautiful blue Dee. This promenade brings back many memories for me as my wife’s aunt lived in a house on it for several years.

I could easily have called it quits here and spent the afternoon exploring, but we tore ourselves away and mosied along the prom, weaving through the people and past the warm red sandstone of which much of old Chester is built. We passed a wonderful old omnibus with an outside staircase, as it took its passengers on a sight-seeing tour, before climbing out of the city and south towards Wales. Soon we were climbing steadily though rolling countryside that reminded me of the moors above Halifax, with pubs at the cross-roads – and sheep.

Retracing to yet another crossroads pub, The Five Crosses, we turned left onto the road that gives the calendar ride its name: World’s End. I was pretty excited by now because the name is so evocative and I’d never been here before and knew nothing about what to expect. The first mile or so has a pretty stiff gradient and is (to me) reminiscent of riding in the North Yorkshire Moors. The country falls away rapidly to the right and there are fine views of pine plantations in the distance. After the initial effort, we were soon having an easier crossing of the moorland and although John pointed out our route, which was distinctly ‘up’, it was pretty easy going and I was able to enjoy taking in the evidence of the area’s history, with peat diggings and spoil-tips from the lead-mining era.


The Blue Moon

We were in Wales now, which truly is The Land Of My Fathers and we passed the sign for Buckley, from where my great-grandfather emigrated to County Durham at the age of 13, with his father, who was a miner. After controlling in Mold there was more rolling country as we made for our next checkpoint at the petrol station in Coedpoeth. Here I was as impressed, as I always am, by a little child of four or so prattling away fluently in Welsh; well, I have to assume so, as I couldn’t understand a word. I keep meaning to honour my ancestors by learning Welsh but every time I open the book I can actually feel the blood draining from my face.

The Juke Box at the Blue Moon

Retracing to yet another crossroads pub, The Five Crosses, we turned left onto the road that gives the calendar ride its name: World’s End. I was pretty excited by now because the name is so evocative and I’d never been here before and knew nothing about what to expect. The first mile or so has a pretty stiff gradient and is (to me) reminiscent of riding in the North Yorkshire Moors. The country falls away rapidly to the right and there are fine views of pine plantations in the distance. After the initial effort, we were soon having an easier crossing of the moorland and although John pointed out our route, which was distinctly ‘up’, it was pretty easy going and I was able to enjoy taking in the evidence of the area’s history, with peat diggings and spoil-tips from the lead-mining era.

Innocent looking ford

Suddenly, World’s End itself came into view and I stopped for the first of several pictures taken during the compelling passage through the gorge to Llangollen. Audax riding has afforded me several heart-stopping moments (landscape-related!) and this was one of them. As I reached the top of the domed plateau, the mighty crag hove into view ahead and actually slightly below us. For this we ride bikes. And it just got better, though you have to divide your attention carefully between the beautiful surroundings and the demanding descent. John puts a dire and perfectly justified warning on the routesheet about the drop to the valley floor. The road is narrow, poorly surfaced and at this time of year covered in beautiful but treacherous leaf-chutney. Then, half- way down and on a sharp bend, is an innocent-looking ford, where the stream drops off the mountain and claims right of way. When we got there it was only an inch or so deep but so slimy that great care was needed just wheeling the bikes through it.

Ford near World's End

The gorge itself, a magnet for past luminaries such as Wordsworth, is walled by a series of crags every bit as impressive as his native Lake District. They are of limestone but greyer than those in the Yorkshire Dales. They do look forbidding and have great grandeur. It is no wonder that the Offa’s Dyke long-distance path comes this way. As we climbed out of the gorge along a newly re-surfaced lane, the predominant features were farm vehicles and 4 x 4s, which were all negotiated in civilised fashion, against a backdrop of birch trees, whose tear-drop foliage shimmered like gold-leaf against the smoky silver of the trunks.

When we dropped off the mountains into Llangollen, it was clear that they were either expecting us or there had been an ‘incident’. The traffic on the A5 was backed-up in both directions and was being directed by the heddlu. There were at least three fire engines, inflatables lay next to the parapet and crowds were rubber-necking on both sides of the narrow bridge across the Dee. As we wheeled our bikes through the crowds and up into the town, I ascertained that two children had got stranded in the middle of the river but were safe and being rescued. It did occur to me to wonder why it needed three traffic cars, and three fire-engines in such a confined space but I suppose one would bring the ropes, another a canoe and the third would have the sandwiches. Whatever, the main thing was that the children were rescued without further mishap. Actually, a mainer thing was that a café closed its doors as John was actually trying to get through them. I told him he should have had a shave.


World's End Crags

Local railway enthusiasts

On our way back across the bridge, I heard a familiar hoot and looked down to see a black five and a tank engine masquerading as Thomas below me. The local railway enthusiasts have got an eight-mile route going from Llangollen and it looked very evocative in the failing light. In fact the bridge we were on is one that was built to replace the original 14th century one so that the then-new railway could pass beneath. So, no hot drink but an excellent fillip, nevertheless!

Steam railway at Llangollen

John had mentioned casually, in a message before the ride, that there was a ‘bit of a climb’ out of Llangollen, which doesn’t appear on the calendar ride. Actually the word he used wasn’t ‘bit’, though it did start with ‘b’. Do you know, he was right. I looked it up on the map the day before to discover that there was a double chevron on offer. It would be a good challenge. Earlier in the year I had put a huge 34t sprocket on the back to enable me to tackle a ride that included Buttertubs and Fleet Moss, both from the hard side. It had worked and I’d just left it on. However, I had become increasingly irritated by the jump of 26 to 34 for the lowest two gears and was also anxious not to become dependent on the big sprocket until it was absolutely necessary. So I’d changed it back to a cassette that went to 30 in measured steps. But the map had me wondering whether I’d been a little previous to change over just at this time.

I needn’t have worried; I can’t pretend the climb was easy, but I managed it without too much difficulty, staying in the saddle for the whole ascent. It would have been more efficient to stand on
the pedals from time to time but with so much greasy leaf-litter about I was nervous about spinning the back wheel and having to dab a foot down. It’s a shame that it’s not on the calendar ride because there are beautiful views down to the right, over the Dee valley, and I caught an almost perfect romantic scene of a white house with blue smoke curling from the chimney, halfway down the slope and framed by the russet trees. John also made the climb in good style and we coasted with some satisfaction down to Penycae, where we had a brief good-natured banter with some kids on the scooters that are all the rage at the moment.

Lighting up time

A couple of miles later, we pulled into Johnstown, with, for me, the realisation that the scenery was over for the day. Not only had we set off late but our easy riding meant that we would be doing the last 50 miles in the dark. So Johnstown marked lighting-up time when we controlled at the Co-op. We were again unlucky in the matter of hot drinks but were well-served for reduced-price sandwiches and savouries. We didn’t hang about too long and were soon rolling again. With the exception of the alp in Malpas it would be flatland all the way across to the Welsh border and the Cheshire Plain to the finish.

As the night closed in, we approached Bangor-is-y-coed, also known as Bangor-on-Dee, where we crossed the c-o-b-b- l-e-d bridge into the village, having first committed a bit of cyclocross, lifting our bikes over the safety barriers that separate the main road from the old road onto the bridge. The pub and church in the village were both atmospherically lit. It’s the first time I’ve been through in the dark and it was nice to get a different picture. As John wound it up a little, I stayed at the back most of the time. Firstly, he knew the way (I had the routesheet but hadn’t relied on it at all) but mostly I was anxious not to drive him crazy with the noise from my back-wheel, which was slight but shrill. (I never did find out what it was; next day it simply disappeared.)

After stopping in Malpas for a quick bite from our supplies, we pressed on. I came up alongside while we discussed the possible origins of the name No-Mans-Heath. We wondered whether it might be the result of some ancient dispute over grazing rights. It occurs to me as I write that it might be a corruption of Norman’s Heath, so I’ll have to research it one dark winter evening. Certainly it’s very flat!

The sky cleared from time to time as we wound our secret way around Nantwich and Sandbach and I was able to ascertain that we were indeed travelling in a generally northern direction by observing the pole star. Another big clue was the false sunset glow of Manchester, or Wen Borealis. True to form, John had a number of nifty short-cuts via cyclepaths to get us round some awkward junctions and I was again impressed by the work that goes into planning a safe and successful ride. However, the system was stymied at one point when a complete road closure meant that John had to draw on his considerable local knowledge to get us back on the route. After a few moments’ deliberation, a lot of it in Anglo-Saxon, we were back on route towards Holmes Chapel and a last, deliberate, off-road section.

John climbing

A bridleway of sandy gravel drops down to cross the River Dane before climbing to the village of Swettenham, which looked idyllic in the dark. After a couple more miles of back lanes we were back on the Pexhill road, which we had started on all those hours ago. A final climb brought us out of the dark to the bright lights of Broken Cross and the finish. We had been out for over 14 hours but this is not indicative of a struggle; we had taken it very easy, enjoying the route and each other’s company. Hard riders could expect to do this ride in 11 hours or less and it deserves to attract a big field on the calendar ride. It’s an almost perfect combination of a flat start, a scenic middle section and a flat finish. I was very grateful to John’s wife Elaine for feeding me at the end, which was not expected. She must have been wondering where John had got to as it was after eleven when we arrived.

Thanks to John for the company and the navigation, Elaine for the victuals and Wales for its weirdness and waviness.

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