Gentleman Cyclist

July 1, 2018

Pembrokeshire – Take Two-and-a-bit

Filed under: beach,Wales — admin @ 9:11 pm

Posted on 30 June 2018

The sun continues to shine and we keep doing holiday stuff. We brought the electric tandem with us but it looks as though it is going to stay in the car. I have swum twice at Caerfai, twice at Newgale and once at Abereiddy, but we also took a couple of boat trips, firstly around Ramsey Island, where, amongst other things, we saw Manx shearwaters flying in, ready to visit their burrows on Skomer Island.

It’s worth spending a bit of time mentioning Manx shearwaters. Apparently 360000 breeding pairs, something like 90% of the world’s population, return to Skomer every spring where each pair raises a solitary chick. The adults spend all day, once the chick is hatched, flying out over the Atlantic to gather food and each bird covers about 200 miles per day. They return under the cover of darkness in order to avoid the predators, feed the chick, and before first light, off they go again.The RSPB ring a lot of the young, and it seems that the oldest Manx shearwater recorded was 58 years old. The warden reckoned that bird flew over 5,000,000 miles in its lifetime.

Once the chicks are sufficiently developed, the adults just abandon them, leave them in their burrows and fly to the South Atlantic. The chicks flap their wings a bit for a few days and once they feel up to it their first flight is a non-stop trip, also to the south Atlantic. An amazing species.

Apart from boats, nature and swimming (Jan hasn’t swum. She prefers to remain fully dressed whilst either painting a picture or doing things with wool) we have done a few more holidayish things. We visited a woollen mill on the river Solfach, spent an hour or two in St. David’s Cathedral and eaten some very fine food.

Today I had three swims, two at Nolton Haven and one at Druidston. Given what a marvellous beach it is, I rather regret never having been to the Druidston beach before. The cliffs are superb, with a variety of rock types, the sand is fine and golden, there are plenty of rock pools and there is no nearby car park, so there are few people who use it. We were told by a young couple who had been there all day that there was some drama during the morning as there had been a fairly significant rock fall and another couple were that close that they were fortunate not to be injured. So it seems like quite a good idea not to sit immediately under the cliffs.

This impressive phenomenon is the tidal surge between Ramsey Island and the mainland at a reef of rocks known as The Bitches, possibly so named because they have presented such a danger to shipping over the years. They act as a barrage, creating a very impressive tidal weir, which of course changes direction at every slack water. The water drops about a metre at peak tidal flow.

The “Blue Lagoon”, Porthgain

June 28, 2018

Pembrokeshire – Take Two

Filed under: beach,Wales — admin @ 9:05 pm

Posted on 28 June 2018

My calf muscle continued to give me twinges for a few days so returning to continue my walk was out of the question – for the time being at least. However, I kept an eye on the weather forecast and when it looked as though there was a week of fine weather coming up, Jan and I used Pensioners’ Privilege and decided to try to find a B & B from Monday to Sunday. The Duke of Edinburgh in Newgale had one to offer, so I booked it, albeit at a higher price than I expected.

The journey wasn’t a great advert for the Nissan Leaf or the charging infrastructure. Repeated rapid charges raise the battery’s temperature and when the air temperature is getting close to 30°C the battery gets close to its operating limits. Add to that the fact that one of the charging points was out of action and it was a trying day. However, we arrived eventually and we plugged the car into a caravan hookup, the first time we have tried this. It worked beautifully and the following morning we had a fully charged, cool battery once again.

What I hadn’t spotted until I had committed the money to this venture was that we weren’t at a B &B, but just a B, there being no breakfast included in the price. For that privilege we had to walk along the road to the Sands café and buy our own and a week’s worth of bought breakfasts adds about another £100 to the total, which I felt was not good value for money. However, we were just across the road from a beautiful sandy Atlantic storm beach slap bang in some of the finest coastline that the UK has to offer, so there was plenty of compensation.

So far we have visited Caerfai, Newgale and Abereiddy beaches and I have swum at each. I don’t recall the water ever being so cold in Pembrokeshire and today’s swim at Abereiddy was quite painful to the feet as they became numb. However, the water was beautifully clear and at one point I could see an impressively large spider crab, whose carapace must have been as wide as my hand’s span. I was wallowing about chest deep at the time. Shortly afterwards I had to get out of the water because it was just too cold, and then, when I walked on the dark brown sand, it was too hot for comfort. Presumably a few more of these hot days will warm the water up a bit.

June 19, 2018

Dale Circular

Filed under: Wales,Walking — admin @ 11:20 pm

The weather really closed in this morning with an amalgam of rain so fine it was fog. I had already decided to have a day off and visit Haverfordwest so I hung around in the Taberna awaiting the 10.48 bus. It was a bit late, but delivered me to Haverfordwest at about 11.30.

A quarter of my genes come from Pembrokeshire. My paternal grandmother was born in Manorbier in 1882. Her father, John James was, so my father told me, a freeman of Haverfordwest and his father, William, owned a shoe makers in Dark Street. I wanted to visit the records office to see if I could find any documentation relating to either of these gentlemen.

My first port of call was an estate agent named Lucas. According to the internet, so it must be true, the proprietors were leading lights in the Haverfordwest Gild of Freemen. But they weren’t there and the woman in charge gave me the very strong impression that the records they held were in a chaotic state and she wouldn’t know where to start looking. Then there was the Pembrokeshire Records Office which was some way out of the town centre. I phoned them and was told that they weren’t open to the public on a Tuesday but the woman who answered the phone took my email address and agreed to pass on anything she had. These two transactions didn’t take much time so, since the weather had improved a fair bit, I decided to return to Herbrandston, collect my boots, sticks and pack and get the bus to Dale. From there I would walk around the peninsula via St. Ann’s Head and then back to Herbrandston, taking advantage of the receding tide to shorten the walk by at least 6 miles, but still a healthy total of at least 11 miles.

I had a very good value lunch of plaice and chips at the Dale café and set off at about 2.30. The fog was still so thick that it was quite difficult from the clifftops to see the breakers whose ever-present roar was evidence enough that I was still on the coastal path. Despite the very poor visibility, there were quite a few people on the path. There were a few ravines to traverse so there was a fair bit of effort, but also quite a bit of easy flat walking. I saw a number of choughs and noticed from their silhouettes how slender are their beaks, more like a wading bird’s that the other corvids.

A short while after leaving St. Ann’s Head I noticed some discomfort in my right calf. I’m a bit paranoid about calf pain, having cut short a cycle tour and a lot of 2014 when I tore my left gastrocnemius. That was a sudden occurrence, but meant that I was laid up for 3 months whilst it healed. As I progressed along the east side of the headland so my calf became tighter and tighter, and a party I had passed earlier on when they dallied on a misty beach had no difficult overtaking me – prior to that I was just about keeping pace with them. Ascents and descents became tortuous and even on the flat I was suffering with each pace. I felt pretty sure my walk was over and limped back into Dale for a visit to the Griffin for some anaesthetic before the bus arrived at 6.25. The low tide sections, consisting of at least another 4 miles, would have to wait.

The bus stopped right outside the B & B so I ordered some anaesthetic in the form of a pint of Cwrw Teifi and told Peter the Landlord that I would be leaving the following day. Brenda the Landlady prepared me an excellent meal of rump steak etc. and Peter and I nattered away for the rest of the evening about life, the universe and choral singing.

June 18, 2018

Freshwater West to West Angle Bay

Filed under: Wales,Walking — admin @ 11:05 pm

The day started in the normal way: up soon after 7, pack up gear, cooked breakfast. Mavis the Landlady gave the two other guests and me a lift to our starting points, in my case Freshwater West, in theirs, Angle. We were, initially, walking the same bit of coast but in opposite directions, so we would meet at some stage. I struggled across the beach, which I recall visiting in 1965 and was the place I learned to swim. The only other people about today were a couple of dog walkers.

There was a pretty stiff breeze and quite a bit of spray in the air from the Atlantic rollers that came roaring up the beach, although it wasn’t cold and I didn’t need a fleece or a waterproof. After labouring my way through the dunes I began to climb, and the cliff path became rather wild. Clearly far fewer people walked this section and bits of it were narrow. Not overgrown, but my walking poles were occasionally being impeded by the vegetation on either side.

This section was almost 6 miles and I had something more than 4 hours before my bus to Pembroke left Angle. There was a good deal of up and down, and at times the path ventured quite close to the cliff edge, with views down some ravine or other where the waves were crashing onto the black rocks. At last, now that there was no-one else around to disturb them, I had some excellent sightings of choughs and at one point counted 12 of them together on one rock.

I felt the the other two guests from last night were very likely to walk considerably faster than I was, so i wanted to ensure that I had at least two miles under my belt by the time I met them. Thinking about them (I had noticed from the guest book that she was called Jane Davis!) brought my mind wandering back to more mundane issues. Had I paid for last night’s accommodation? The logistics of this trip had become quite convoluted, particularly after I had changed my mind about camping. I had the rail tickets first and then set about trying to fit in the B & Bs. Some I arranged through, others directly after internet searches, but last night’s was by word of mouth when the Hibernia Inn was full. I was sure I hadn’t paid and the landlady hadn’t prepared an invoice or reminded me.

As soon as I had a signal I phoned her and she couldn’t remember whether I had paid when I booked, thinking I had booked at an agency. It was agreed that I would leave the money at the Hibernia, which was where I was to catch the bus.

Shortly after this I climbed yet another steep slope to see two figures clad in identical garish red waterproofs: it was the Davises! I “Ahoyed” them and we had a chat about our respective progress. I had been told by another walker a day or two previously that the walk to Angle gets flatter as you go, so I was delighted to inspect the Garmin to find that I had covered 3.3 miles in little more than 90 minutes, well over half way. Even better was the news that there was an excellent café at West Angle Bay and I should be there in plenty of time for lunch.

Shortly the silhouette of Sheep Island came into view and my path turned north. Another mile or two of relatively flat walking saw me into the café and a very welcome lunch of brie and bacon baguette with couscous salad. After this I wandered to the Hibernia, explained about the mix-up and left £45, which I thought was pretty reasonable for a very comfort room with lifts to and from. The rest of the day was spent travelling on 3 buses to Herbrandston. I had decided not to bother to walk the oil refineries and urban stretches of Pembroke, Pembroke Dock, Neyland and Milford Haven. I had a rather enjoyable 2 hour break in Pembroke, sitting in a café overlooking the castle during which I took a fairly lengthy call from my daughter, who had a few toothsome morsels of school politics to impart.

June 17, 2018

Castlemartin West

Filed under: Wales,Walking — admin @ 10:19 pm

Posted on 17 June 2018

I set my alarm for 7 this morning. Breakfast was at 8 and I had a bus to catch to the Merrion camp to meet the walk guide. I managed to pack all my gear up, including the Greasy Gull Garment from Thursday evening. The “Pleasant View” guest house in Kilgetty was adequate but basic, and the array of lavagerie available to the malodorous hiker was limited to one paltry disc of soap. At St. Govan’s Inn, Bosherston, the toiletries tray boasted no less a concoction than sea kelp shampoo and body lotion and who could possibly doubt the efficacy of such a high-class cosmetic? It worked a treat on chip fat, I can tell you, and the water left in the wash basin was reminiscent of something produced by the Torrey Canyon. I wore that shirt again today and no one can possibly have noticed that there had once been a greasy patch there.

This of course was largely because it pissed down all morning and part of the afternoon with a quality of rain that I have only ever encountered in Wales. Almost microscopic droplets driven by a biting wind, this stuff makes everything in its path very wet very quickly and because of that my shirt was covered by a fleece and my waterproof.

Whilst at breakfast it became apparent that two other walkers had had the same idea as I had but they were blissfully unaware, until I told them, that there was a convenient Bus service which would deliver us at the appointed time. They had booked a taxi and they offered me a place in it. £25 it knocked them back, for a journey of no more than 3 miles. That would probably be about £1.50 on the bus. I gave the driver a tip of £2.

More than a dozen of us turned up for the walk and the formalities of our names being cross-checked against lists of known terrorists took a while, as did the form we each had to sign absolving the military of any responsibility should some bit of ordnance garbage that they had left lying around explode and kill us.

We returned to Stack Rocks again and the first item on the agenda was the Green Bridge of Wales. Impressive as this natural arch seems when you first clap eyes on it, it pales into insignificance when compared to some of the arches in the western ranges. This of course is because the MoD commandeered this land from farmers in the 1930s and hardly anyone gets to see them, so they can scarcely be touted as a tourist attraction. I hope my photos have done them justice.

After about 7 miles of plodding through the rain looking at the geology, archaeology, flora and fauna, I will mention a couple of the highlights. It was quite possible to see where erstwhile sea arches, or other stacks, had come crashing down. Our guide pointed out an especially rare plant, a rock sea lavender, which he said was unique to Pembrokeshire; quite a lot of what I am pretty sure were choughs but they always seemed to make sure they were just too far away for a positive identification – those that were quite clearly jackdaws seemed much less wary of our presence. There was a dead fox cub and almost simultaneously we saw a similar sized live one, quite probably its sibling. More guillemots and fulmars and plenty of gulls, but the most impressive stuff was undoubtedly the rock strata. We observed a blow hole from afar – not in action sadly. The walk used to involve getting quite close and looking in, until it occurred to someone that since all the ground around the hole was severely undercut, and the metre or so of soil and rubble which constituted their vantage point was actually supported by nothing more substantial than 60 metres or so of finest Pembrokeshire sea air.

After the walk another participant, local, gave me a lift to one of the pubs in Angle, the Hibernia. It was shut. Luckily there was another, a ramshackle affair called the Old Point House, overlooking the mud of Angle Bay and the oil refinery beyond. They only sold one ale, a Cornish brew named Atlantic or some such. Quite pleasant, but the best feature of that pub was the swallow’s nest on the light fitting in the gent’s bog. The bird stayed on her eggs (I didn’t see or hear any sign of babies) just inches away from the wash basin.

Eventually the time had come to return to the Hibernia for dinner and my lift back to the B & B. Two other walkers were also staying there so Mavis, our landlady, crammed the three of us and our luggage into her not very big car. It seems that most people who are doing this walk are having the bulk of their luggage sent on. It’s only I who is doing my laundry every night. Tonight, I had the luxury of the biggest bath towel I have ever seen. Wonderful!

June 16, 2018

Castlemartin East

Filed under: Wales,Walking — admin @ 10:54 pm

The last time I came to this part of Pembrokeshire, some four years ago, we tried to walk along the Castlemartin ranges and found that they were closed as they are monopolised by the sodding military. I didn’t anticipate being able to walk them this time, so had mentally written them off. However, some late research indicated that the eastern part of the range is open to the public at weekends. I went on to discover that the western part, which is normally closed, is open on a limited number of days per year and that this Sunday is one such day. One has to join an official guided walk, with a ranger from the Welsh Wildlife Trust or some such, and as soon as I realised that I could take part, I booked a place. Given that each walk us about 7 miles, I decided not to commit myself to doing any more walking on either day.

I left the Swanlake Guest House (aka West Moor Farm) towards the main road to catch a bus to Pembroke. Thereafter I caught another bus to Stack Rocks, which is on the border between the east and west ranges. The first bus was a standard single decker and there was nothing remarkable about it other than its capacity to receive fares by Apple Pay. The second was scarcely more than a minibus and this was definitely cash only. However, we three passengers (a young couple and myself, all intent on walking to Bosherston) were treated to an unscheduled stop when the driver opened the door and pointed out a particularly attractive patch of orchids in flower. That never happened on the old 34C which used to take me to and from school. I once took a dead badger home on the bus. That, however, is another story.

A fine Welsh drizzle had set in so initially I wore my waterproof. However, the sky was clearly beginning to brighten so I was hopeful that I wouldn’t be wearing it for long, and so it turned out.

The cliff scenery along this stretch was absolutely breathtaking. The cliffs were cut through with deep ravines, there were Sea stacks covered in guillemots but the walking itself was mostly very easy. You could tell why the military liked this but rather than the stretch I walked yesterday. Yesterday’s walk was punctuated with very steep gradients and today’s wasn’t. It was generally very flat, therefore ideal for vehicles to whizz around doing whatever military vehicles do.

Every so often there were people rock climbing. This is an activity in which you definitely need to have total faith and trust in your companions. My one solitary attempt when I was at college was on some anonymous precipice in North Lancashire. The single event which persuaded me that I wouldn’t bother again was when I was about three-quarters of the way up an 80′ rock face. I had reached a convenient ledge and decided to have a breather when one of my companions shouted down ” Are you holding on tight, Pete?” When I replied in the affirmative the voice said ” Well stay put for a moment. Your rope isn’t attached correctly!” So, Mike Garlick and Duncan Bennett, in the unlikely event that you are reading this, I still think you are worthless morons some 45 years later.

However, back to Pembrokeshire. I watched one young chap scale what seemed to be an impossible cliff with great facility. When he pulled himself up onto a tiny ledge and stood there without hanging onto anything at all I actually felt slightly nauseous on his behalf.

I again failed to spot anything which I could definitely say was a chough, quite simply because they were too far away for me to make out the colour of their beaks and legs, but on a balance of probabilities I feel pretty sure that some of them must have been, despite the preponderance of jackdaws.

Meanwhile, the clouds had completely cleared and I made my way to St. Govan’s Inn, via St. Govan’s chapel. I settled into my room but around 6.30 I fancied a stroll around the Bosherston lily ponds. Walking in light shoes and with no pack on my back was a lovely relief and that pushed my total for the day up to about 15 kilometres, or a little over 9 of your Welsh miles.

June 15, 2018

Tenby to Swanlake Bay

Filed under: Wales,Walking — admin @ 10:06 pm

I didn’t sleep very well at the Pleasant View Guest House, and when I wandered down to breakfast to my amazement there were 24 places laid. How many people could this small bungalow accommodate?

As it happened there were only three other guest who had arrived for 8.30 and I quickly identified the chap who finished the walk the previous day. I picked his brains about the hardest bits, the most scenic, and so in, and it immediately became apparent that he was way out of my league. He went north to south and covered the first 40 miles in 2 days. He had a day to spare and was planning to spend it in Pembroke. He got on the same train as I did, but I alighted in Tenby.

I had a little shopping to do (sudocreme, savlon – insurance against chafing) and then decided to take the day very easy indeed. I found a café on the beach, ordered coffee and spent twenty minutes or so people watching. I noticed a woman with three teenage boys, all with rucksacks and walking poles, setting off across the beach at a fair old lick. “I won’t see them again!” I thought, and a short while later I started strolling gently along the beach. The tide was receding and it was much easier walking on the firm sand below high water mark than in the loose dry stuff. At the end of the beach I had my first climb of the day, with plenty more to come.

I had it fixed in my mind that Manorbier, the birthplace of my paternal grandmother, was around half-way. I recall when I plotted the route that it appeared that I had about 9 miles to walk, but my experience is that the reality is at least 10% further than the computer projection. When I rounded a headland and saw a welcoming looking bay appear, I was fully expecting it to be Manorbier and lunch, but it turned out to be Lydstep, whose existence I had totally forgotten in my excitement. I stopped for a cereal bar and some orange juice and then plodded up the hill back to the coastal path.

A little while later, near some military installation, I caught up with the woman I had seen earlier, but she seemed only to have one teenage boy left. Before my speculation concerning how she had disposed of the other two became too wild and far-flung, she engaged me in conversation. It turned out that the other two, who were somewhat older and more adventurous, had descended to some sandy cove or other and they all kept track of one another using some google maps facility. I also found out that her name was Abigail and she came from Wisconsin. She too is planning to walk as much of the coastal path as she can.

We parted company and a little while later I found a very nice café that served beer, bacon baguettes, ice cream and tea, amongst other things, but they were no concern of mine. While I was eating Abigail arrived, this time with a full complement of teenage boys, and the all settled down to eat.

My Lydstep miscalculation had another aspect: Manorbier was only a couple of miles from my B & B so I set off for more Up and Down, arriving at about 6.30, seeing virtually no-one else on the coastal path in the hour or so it took me. Mein Host very kindly gave me a lift to the pub in Jameston, where the rib eye steak etc. were very good. I washed this down with a pint of Hoppy Wan Kanobi followed by a Rev. James. I do like my beer to be associated with Men of the Cloth.

Something like 12 miles for the day, including my walk to Kilgetty station, my amble around Tenby, and the diversion into Manorbier village. That is pretty close to my limit.

June 14, 2018

Amroth to Tenby

Filed under: Wales,Walking — admin @ 9:38 pm

In which it is demonstrated that seagulls don’t like water.

My journey from Prittlewell to Kilgetty could scarcely have gone better. All the trains were on time, I arrived in Paddington just in time to observe a minute’s silence for the victims of Grenfell, I had the luxury of a window seat and a table to myself all the way from London to Swansea as whoever had reserved the other three seats didn’t turn up, and the further west I travelled the more the sun shone.

I arrived at the B & B, had a natter to the landlady, who failed to understand why I would want to call a taxi to take me to the start of a walk, I paid £12 to the taxi driver, who complimented me on my local knowledge (I had spent a lot of time planning this trip) and set off from the New Inn, Amroth, the start of the coastal path, and Got On With It. I had decided to travel light, leaving my rucksack and poles behind, just taking my phone, wallet, camera, Garmin and a bottle of water. My omission became immediately apparent when the Garmin complained that its batteries were low, and it conked out. I had left the spares at the B & B. I started the gps app on my phone and that was ok.

Some cunning beach sculptor had been busy

There was quite a lot of Up an a corresponding amount of Down. I don’t mind ascending and descending as a rule, but when steps which are just too high to be managed comfortably have been cut into the soil, it becomes a bit of a chore, especially without poles.

I arrived in Saundersfoot after about an hour and had already ascertained that the top rated food pub was The Chemist (I had visions of someone in the cellar mixing up the magic mushrooms) but when I arrived I asked the barperson how long was the wait for food, and when she responded that it was quite long because they were busy, I plumped for fish and chips from the chippy. I bought them and sat in the sun on a seat surveying the silvery sea (silvery sea) and it wasn’t long before I had company in the form of a baleful stare with a large herring gull attached to it. It had evil designs on my dinner, so I instinctively hugged my polystyrene tray close to my chest, thereby making a large greasy stain on the front of my shirt. It seemed that this herring gull knew a thing or two, and merely continued its baleful stare despite being told to bugger off, and having a large Altberg-shod right foot waved at it. It was then that I played my trump card. I lifted the water bottle to my mouth, extended the nipple with my teeth (sorry, ladies) and squirted water at the gull.

It was clearly quite unaccustomed to such underhand tactics and beat a retreat to a sufficiently safe distance that I could continue noshing unmolested. I had dropped a few crumbs of fish, so the gull was rewarded for its patience, so honours were probably even in that encounter.

I carried on with more Up and Down, Tenby getting ever closer, and when I arrived at the station my train was waiting for me at the platform. £2.30’s worth later, thanks to the OBRC, I was walking back up the hill to the B & B.

12 kilometres in 3 hours 30 minutes, including my 30ish minute stop for food. Quite happy with that.

May 7, 2012

Hereford to Llandovery – day 5

Filed under: camping,Cycling,Wales — admin @ 9:10 pm

I was aware that the weather forecast was for lots more rain, and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to a long train journey in wet cycling gear, so I resolved to set off pretty early. As it happened, I broke all personal bests as I was awake with the dawn chorus, out of bed for 5.30 and on the road at 6.27. The tent was dry, its footprint needs airing, but all in all I was quite pleased with myself. I had mile upon mile of empty road as well – not that a great deal ever uses these remote Welsh B roads.

It was quite cold, although none of the nights delivered the sort of temperature that was rumoured. I hadn’t brought any warm gloves with me, and on the spur of the moment I had bought a pair of neoprene gardening gloves in a pound shop in Llandovery, just in case I did have to cycle in the cold and wet. My fingers were painful with cold this morning, so I put them on and slowly recovered as I went along. The wind was still north-easterly, so I had a headwind to contend with, but there was not a great deal of height loss to this journey: about 400′ above sea level in Aberedw, about 160′ above in Hereford some 38 miles away.

The clouds and early morning sun were providing quite a spectacle, and Lord Hereford’s Knob was covered in white.

I passed through this village on Friday and I promised it that I would.

and I had to read this road sign two or three times before I realised that it didn’t say what at first I thought it said.

The Wye, at Glasbury, was much clearer than the turbid torrent it had been three days previously.

I arrived in Hay more quickly than I expected. I had it in my mind that it was 20 miles to Hay and a further 20 to Hereford, but in fact I pulled up outside the Isis tea rooms after only 16 miles, at 8.25 in the morning, intending to take advantage of their all-day breakfast, but they were closed. I suppose an all-day breakfast is one you can’t buy at breakfast time. Fortunately a baker’s shop was open an they were selling filled rolls. I bought a couple, eating one straight away and saving the other for the train.

Once I left Hay I was in England and, after a short while, it started to rain. I stopped near Moccas to put my waterproofs on and from that point I couldn’t really read the Garmin. The route was simplicity itself, though: I arrived in Madley and after that kept to the B road until it joined the A465 and some fairly heavy bank holiday traffic. I crossed the Wye for the last time

and then went in search of the station, which was annoyingly quite some distance from the city centre. My train was at the platform and left 5 minutes later, but I found that there was no convenient connection and decided that the Great Malvern tea room was the best place to spend an hour or so. Eventually, a huge old 125 arrived and I thankfully put my bike in the last space in the bike lock-up, although I found afterwards that there were more bikes in the guard’s van proper.

The ride to Fenchurch Street was unusually pleasant: the mile or so through Hyde Park was followed by traffic free Constitution Hill and The Mall. I arrived home about 12½ hours after I’d set off, feeling generally pretty pleased that I hadn’t abandoned on the first morning.

May 6, 2012

Hereford to Llandovery – day 4

Filed under: camping,Cycling,Wales — admin @ 8:56 pm

In spite of the constant “thump thump” of some dreadful computer-generated “music” from a group of adjacent tents, I drifted off quite quickly. But I had a disturbing dream in which my sis-in-law, who is a wonderful and revered person, was giving me a piece of her mind about something undefined, but which was probably associated with my generally wayward behaviour.

I awoke with a jolt, very aware that the thump-thump-thump was still coming from the adjacent tents. I looked at my bike computer: 1.54. What the bloody hell were these idiots doing disturbing the entire camp site at that time? I lay silently fuming, but also aware that my bladder needed emptying.

I struggled out of my sleeping bag, carefully leaving all of my silk liner in the tent, put my shoes on and had a wee amongst the trees. I then stomped off to the noisy group intent upon giving them a piece of my mind.

I found a largish group – possible as many as 20 – grouped around a camp fire with some electronic device pumping out the noise.

My opening gambit was “Don’t you people ever get any sleep?” which gained the attention of about one-third of the assembled company.

“It’s two o’clock in the bloody morning!” I bellowed.

A partial silence fell over the group, like a class whose teacher is missing but who have just been unexpectedly visited by the Senior Master. A decidedly ageing hippy whom I had seen the previous afternoon ferrying firewood and wielding a chain saw rose as spokesperson.

“I’m really sorry, man!” said he in a strong Welsh accent which for some unaccountable reason I didn’t expect. “We didn’t think we were disturbing anyone.”

“Well you are. The entire camp site.”

It occurred to me that the entire camp site bar one could well have been assembled around the camp fire.

“I’m really sorry,” repeated the spokeperson. “What’s disturbing you, the music or our voices?”

“Both!” I replied.

“OK, we’ll tone it down.”

And he was as good as his word and I didn’t hear another thing until I became aware of birdsong at around 7 a.m.

I breakfasted and my packing up was interrupted by a pleasant chat to a young Bristolian lady in a camper van. I was eventually away around 10.30 and shortly after leaving the camp site I heard a cuckoo not far away and attempted to entice it over but either I’m losing my touch or I can’t cwcw in Welsh.

I arrived at a viewing point below the dam where a couple armed with very expensive looking Nikon cameras with large lenses attached were taking photos. They came and engaged me in conversation and it didn’t take me long to notice that under her leather jacket the lady wore nothing but a string vest. I’m fairly sure that there must be some sort of risk to personal safety, not to say comfort, in sporting such attire on a cold day and, connoisseur of haute couture that I am, I’m equally sure that it isn’t the latest Vivienne Westwood. The only conclusion I could reach was that the scenery was not the only subject matter they were interested in photographing.

Soon I climbed above the level of the water and the really spectacular stuff began. Every turn in the road revealed a wonderful view.

It’s the road that has everything – hairpin bends, huge majestic sweeps, views across the reservoir hundreds of feet below, red kites, buzzards, glorious sunshine and plenty of other cyclists.

The first group I met were doing the loop in the opposite direction, fast boys and girls on frames as lithe as themselves. Down they swooped, led by a lass with a huge smile and a pony tail, who must have been travelling at nearly 50 mph when she flew past me.

Although there were plenty of climbs, there was none that defeated me – yet. I was caught by a chap on a red Specialized who commented that I liked doing things the hard way.

Eventually I left the lake behind and the Tywi reappeared as a river, much smaller than it had been the last time I’d seen it.

Another cuckoo, another attempt at conversation and this time, success! Not one, but two appeared, quite some distance away but there was nowhere for me to attempt concealment in the dereliction of that patch of felled conifer forest. It didn’t take them long to ascertain that I wasn’t the real McCoy and they disappeared back into the trees.

Much sooner than I expected, the junction for Tregaron appeared. I turned right, up the steepest section. I could see the road going up and up

and although the sign at the bottom of the hill said 25%, which I’m pretty sure was right, Ordnance Survey had awarded the hills only one chevron at a time. I was off the bike and pushing, 30 paces at a time, with a short rest at the end of each.

Quite some time later I reached  a point where I could ride again and not long after, at 1577′ above sea level, I reached the watershed between the Tywi, which becomes tidal at Carmarthen, and the Wye, which emerges under the Severn bridge near Chepstow. Now came the helter-skelter descent, nicknamed “The Devil’s Staircase” apparently, one of several, I’m sure. I had expected to walk this, so vicious did it appear on the map, but in the end I rode, trusting my safety to two slender strands of brake cable.

I emerged into the Irfon valley and what a superb sight it was!

Flat-bottomed initially, the road and river were almost plaited together, low, barrierless bridges allowing one to cross the other. Now, of course I had the gradient with me although I was still over 1000′ up. There was an occasional climb but mostly it was exhilarating descent. I reached Abergwesyn and realised immediately that there would be no pub here, so very soon, when I came across a picnic site named Pwll Bo, I took advantage and knocked up a quick cous-cous, courtesy of Ainsley Harriott, and washed it down with a nice cup of tea.

Lunch over, I completed the journey into Llanwrtyd, where there was a cash machine and a loo, and I then headed back to join the same road that I’d cycled up the previous morning. Just before I did so I was overhauled by a couple on good tourers: his was a Dawes Galaxy, hers an Argos. We rode together briefly, and I picked up two vital pieces of information: the first was that in the winter months the Swansea to Shrewsbury line is free to over-60s and the second was that there was an alternative route to the one I’d planned, with two fords in quick succession. I chose it, and thought what an ideal road it would be for Andrij and Rower40 to exchange stories about watery non-events.

The remainder of the ride was the reverse of the previous morning’s, with the exception that this time I stopped for a couple of minutes to watch a treecreeper living up to its name, to take a photograph of the bridge at Builth and to wonder how anyone can own a river – and if they do, are they liable when it floods someone else’s house?.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress