Team JLT Condor rider, Luke Mellor, guides us through a maze of single-track road climbs over the Long Mynd to the adjacent ridge of Stiperstones, crowned by a line of spooky-looking crags where Satan is said to have held court. Welcome to Shropshire.
Words by Claire Beaumont
Photography by Angus Sung
When I was a child we had all sorts of Enid Blyton type tales piled up on a bookcase. I used to make my mum read the Lone Pine Adventures to me, it featured tales of derring-do by a secret society of children in wartime Shropshire, set among the moorlands of Wenlock Edge and the Long Mynd. The landscape was as dramatic as the plot lines, thrilling to a kid like me, exposed to only the urban sprawl and benign climbs of Crystal Palace in South London.
Nicknamed Little Switzerland, the Shropshire hills and its Long Mynd climb won't exactly give the Matterhorn an insecurity complex, but there is a touch of the incongruously wild and Gothic about the area.
Over half the county of Shropshire has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and its heather-covered hills and valleys make for excellent riding terrain. We turned to team rider and local, Luke Grivell-Mellor, to guide us through the gorgeous county.
Luke, graduate of the 2012 Rapha Condor Sharp development team, is long in the leg and the tallest member of the squad, standing a lofty six foot five.
Mellor, from a cycling family, has worked tirelessly for the past three years in support of the team leaders at key stage races. On two occasions he helped the team win the Yellow Jersey at the Tour of Korea, the Polka Dot Jersey at the Tour of Japan, and to his name he has a team time trial win at the Manzi Tour of South Africa. This year he rode the inaugural Tour of Yorkshire and took a brilliant solo victory on a rain soaked stage of the Irish Suir Valley 3 day.
We met Luke on a chilly morning on the outskirts of the county's capital, Shrewsbury. He made us a short Aeropress coffee using a Workshop Coffee blend that we quickly guzzled before heading out into the winter sunshine.
It was not long before we hit the first ascent, climbing up onto the Stiperstones ridge. "Come late summer these hilltops are a sea of purple", explains Luke, "and not to be missed."
The descent off the top is fast and fun, bringing us out into Church Stretton, a cute town chock full of delis and coffee stops, decked out in black and white half-timers. Only twenty miles into his loop, we passed Berry's Coffee House, which is "renowned for award-winning cheap eats. All the food is locally sourced or Fairtrade and everything is home-made."
We turn right in the town and immediately started climbing The Burway, a two mile ascent with a weighty 9% average gradient. At the summit Luke continues on, but the photographer and I are forced to stop and gawp at the sheer natural beauty that is Luke's homeland. Reaching out into the distance is Wenlock Edge, and in the opposite direction the rugged outline of Stiperstones ridge.
A sharp descent off the top, we continue south, then begin to loop back and climb again, this time a two mile incline towards a place called 'The Bog'. The bulk of climbing and riding done, Luke motors off down the descent and heads back towards Shrewsbury, just as the cycle computer hits the fifty mile mark.
The coffee stop is one of Luke's favourite haunts, Ginger & Co. Coffee. "If you are out in the sticks you could visit Montgomery Castle Kitchen", explains Luke after the ride.
The loop is one of his regular training rides. "I usually ride a variation of this route two or three times a week. I tack on a bit on Long Mountain to make it a longer."
"I would usually ride through a couple of smaller lanes but the winter weather and farmer's tractors have forced mud onto the road. There are four different ascents of the Long Mynd. Go up Asterton Bank if want a real challenge."
Despite that, the maze of small tarmac tracks Luke led us over were perfectly quiet, occupied by a hardened walker or two. The roads offered dramatic soaring views over the surrounding countryside.
In just a few hours Luke has confirmed that, if Shropshire isn't top of your list of regions to ride, you need to reassess your life choices.
Visiting Shropshire and Shrewsbury and need good quality service and support? Visit Dave Mellor Cycles, owned and run by Luke's father.
David Mellor Cycles
9 New Street