This story is not atypical: on a club ride in the Ludlow Cycling Club colours and sitting at a café in the Marches, a woman approached and asked if we knew Danny Mason. There followed an affectionate account of Danny and his wife Jean, when they were Ludlow’s Youth Hostel wardens, introducing the woman to all sorts of outdoor activities: canoeing (including ‘shooting’ the weirs when flooded!), camping, walking and of course cycling.
Danny served with honour in WW2 and he and Jean were married in 1949. They came to Ludlow from Bridges Youth Hostel, (where Danny met several members of the ‘Wolverhampton Wheelers’ cycling club, which the Mason family joined) to manage the now-closed Ludlow Youth Hostel on Ludford Bridge. Later he and Jean started and ran a much-loved Do it Youself Stores, in the Bull Ring, Ludlow, where Danny still lives. They retired from the shop in 1992.
In July 1992, Danny (a club and racing cyclist all his life – he is now 94!) organised the first Shropshire Highland Challenge bike ride, as he wanted to share his experience of riding the lovely, untouched and quiet Shropshire Lanes. It was 70 miles long with 6,000 feet of climbing and had 112 participants. Although much has changed over the years in how the Challenge is organised, some key principles remain:
- A new route each year in the Shropshire Hills and adjacent counties
- Approximately 65 hilly miles, many of them on remote lanes
- No on-route signposting, timing or support wagons
- Open to all who are fit enough and have a roadworthy bike: young and old, fast and slow, all genders
- Famously friendly food stops
Thirty years later the event is still going strong. Danny’s last Challenge as Organiser was in 2016 and attracted over 700 participants. Isla Rowntree of Islabikes and then Pete Ding of Ludlow Cycling Club took on the running of the Challenge, which is now organised by Ludlow Cycling Club and in particular its two Committee members Charles Edwards and Gwyneth Bowyer. For Covid-related reasons, the 2021 ride is capped at 400 participants.
Danny and Jean had five sons, some of whom still regularly ride the Highland Challenge. Jean died in 2011. You can still see Danny walking regularly and stoutly in and around Ludlow. This year, Danny hopes one of his sons will take him round some of the route and feed stops on the day. If you see him say hello, and thank you, to this outdoor legend.