Friday, 30 December 2011

It's tough after Christmas....

With the last of the turkey diced and ready for adding to a New Years curry, the burgeoning pile of empty bottles confined to the recycling bin and my belt opened by at least two notches it was deemed a suitable time to get out for a post-Christmas, pre-New Year ride. Gary and I were accompanied by Barry the Bell, a regular Wednesday night beer-ride rider and a bellringer.

We met at the bus stop at the end of Snarestone village - when I arrived Gary and Barry were already there waiting. Gary said a group of cyclists had just gone past, one of them shouted to him - "It's okay pal - the bus will be along at midday" That gave us a giggle. We set off heading for Twycross, it was a dark, leaden sky and the anticipation was for a downpour. We made our way upwards to Twycross and then on through Sheepy Magna heading towards Atherstone. It seemed to be ever uphill to me, I was thankful we were travelling at quite a sedentary pace. We climbed a couple of lung-bursting hills around the outskirts of Atherstone. Gary knew these lanes quite well - he had worked down the pit here some years ago and he pointed out various places where his car had broken down whilst travelling to work.

The Griffin
After a couple of hours of hard graft we arrived at our destination - The Griffin Inn at Shustoke. Here is a pub that has firmly eschewed any idea of a gastropub transformation. You'll find no chrome or glass topped tables here - rather a place full of character with a cosy unspoilt atmosphere. The tables are made from converted sewing machines and the walls are adorned with scrumpy jugs. The low, beamed ceilings are decorated with antique beermats, the place has a terrific atmosphere and an extraordinary collection of cask ales on offer - there were 10 on the blackboard. We had been hallucinating about a pint for the past half-hour and The Griffin didn't disappoint. We enjoyed a well kept and refreshing light pale ale - I think it was called Hopscotch?? followed by another similar brew called Pitchfork. Our old friend John Grant joined us too - not by bike I might add, John is a man who prefers the comfort of his Audi to the trials of an Audax. We sampled the organic bacon, sausage and bacon and black pudding sandwiches from the menu. Served between tranches of fresh farmhouse bread - these are surely as good as any in the country.

We also met up with an erstwhile work colleague of mine - Jools Storer. He and I frequented The Griffin many times in years past so it was good to meet up here again and have the chance of a bit of a 'catch-up' - cheers Jools, and have a great New Year.

The Griffin prides itself on selling good bar snacks and food to take home – including local honey, pork pies and eggs. They also serve local country wines, such as Sloe or Elderberry, alongside real ciders, and it is no surprise that they have featured in countless copies of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.

Soon it was time to set off for home. I felt pretty good after an hour and a half in the Griffin - we made reasonable progress for about half an hour, the wind was behind us and although there was a fair amount of climbing it didn't feel quite so hard as the outbound journey. But then I started to feel tired. The bike felt heavy. I checked that the wheels weren't binding on something such was my inability to get the thing to move. Wearily we pushed on, by now darkness was approaching and our lights were on. We split up at Twycross and I headed home via Bilstone and Congerstone - the last 3 or 4 miles were more or less at walking pace. It started hailing and the wind was howling - I checked my back wheel again - it was turning freely. When I finally made it home and after a revitalising hot shower I realised it has been quite a while since we've ridden so far - it's amazing how quickly stamina and fitness is lost - and with the added over indulgence of the festive season I suppose today's struggle wasn't really that much of a surprise. One thing though, the route today was a great one - lots of testing rises, a great pub in the middle and another test on the way back - pity we didn't find it earlier it would have been good leading up to LeJog last summer.

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