The decision to cycle to Stoke was pretty much a ‘slow burner’. My ultimate goal is to complete the Lands End to John O’Groats route but before that a few miles would have to be clocked up to ensure it is possible. The famous Beardy Jeff was to be my wingman and that boy is up for anything of a physical nature!
He seems to have garnered a reputation over the years as a psychopathic, tattoo covered caveman, but let me tell you: it’s mostly true. He loves a challenge does Beardy! So we discussed how we could set about a few cycle trips. I’d done London to Brighton a few times and Beardy had cycled from Maidenhead to Worthing ‘for fun’, so we discussed how we could include a cycle trip to a Bees game.
When the balls got pulled out of the hat for the first game, and the Bees were drawn away to Port Vale, I wondered whether a cycle to Stoke would be viable. ‘Stop being a pussy Youngman!’ was Beardy’s response, and so the cycle to Stoke was born. The scene was set: I’d meet Beardy in Maidenhead and we’d set off, over three days, to get to beautiful Burslem in time for the match.
One of the most difficult parts of the trip was getting my bike from Worthing to Windsor (and then meeting Beardy in Maidenhead). I’d forgotten that bicycles on trains were about as popular with commuters as a ginger headed step-son. When I eventually got to Maidenhead Beardy was well and truly ready.
We set off at a brisk pace for our first B&B in Souldern just north of Bicester. Beardy showed me the sights of Berkshire, which included a dogging area just off a golf course, that he had ‘read about in a newspaper’. Funnily enough Beardy seemed to know all the secluded bike routes and overgrown footpaths, so it was plain sailing until we hit Stokenchurch, only about 15 miles into our 150 mile trek. The Chilterns hit me hard with long, winding uphill stints and I began to regret ever considering such a painful task. All I could see were Beardy’s glistening calves pumping away ahead of me.
As he cycled beyond view I was left struggling for breathe until I finally reached the summit. Beardy didn’t say anything as he stood next to his bike at the top of the hill, but I knew what the dreaded shake of the head meant: pull yourself together. And so I struggled on, and thankfully, there were fewer and fewer hills.
The liquid gels seemed to have no effect whatsoever but after roughly four hours we reached our destination for the night. After a swift half it was time for bed. Tomorrow: 70 miles to Lichfield.
After a great fry-up it was time for the business end of the cycle. Pretty much a full day’s cycle to Lichfield which would leave us just a 30-mile Saturday morning cycle into Stoke. Despite my apprehension and thoughts of yesterday’s debacle, this part of the ride was easier than I had feared. We made good headway and were soon passing through Banbury and Kenilworth – having stopped for a cuppa in Gaydon of course.
Beardy’s navigational skills were put into full effect as we sauntered through Coventry and then it was full steam ahead to Tamworth. We were now only six miles away from our destination of Lichfield, but Beardy insisted on taking us through a canal tow path. The bumps and reverberations weren’t a great anecdote to my already chaffed undergarments, but you don’t argue with Beardy!
We eventually got to Lichfield and a wonderful B&B called St John’s Inn. The owner showed us to our chic room containing… a double bed. Again, Beardy didn’t need to say anything because his expression told the tale. We were quickly shown to a different room! A good night out in Lichfield, with decent ales and a Chinese, followed by a ‘MILF boozer’, then it was time for one last sleep before The Vale.
It was a heavy heart that we left St John’s Inn. Certainly one to keep in the memory bank for future midlands games perhaps? Only 30 miles for us today and it was a pleasant ride until we had to negotiate some busy dual carriage ways in our last mile. Finally, directions to the station crept into view and we knew we had made it.
No sooner had we arrived and congratulated each other when we heard the familiar call of ‘Aaaah, Bees, loyal’ as BillytheBee bowled out of the London to Stoke train to greet us. It had taken us three days and 150 miles to get here, but would only take us an hour and twenty minutes on the train back! On the (delayed) train, thoughts wandered to whether this could become a Bees tradition, namely cycling to the first Bees away game of the season perhaps… Loyal.
If you fancy teaming up to cycle to an away game – tweet @beesotted and we’ll pass your name onto Rob