The Lleyn Peninsula

Ty Mawr, meaning Big House in Welsh, is a small family run hotel, bar and restaurant close to the sea but convenient for exploring Snowdonia.

The rooms were all full and despite only booking a single room I was given the twin; probably no difference in bed but possibly a slightly larger room. I arrived sore and weary and was greeted by Steve who told me to chain the bike to the fire escape around the back and come and have a drink and some food when I was ready. The shower was excellent and perked me up enormously. In these Covid times hotels seem to adopt different policies and both here and in Aberystwyth the usual shampoo and conditioner were not provided. Fortunately I had some soap.

I came down to find the bar busy with football being shown on the big screen and lots of small groups of people drinking at separate tables both inside and out. I elected to sit outside and ate a meal of duck liver pate followed by a chicken curry. The pate was good but the curry a bit disappointing. There were three ales on tap and I went, appropriately for these times, for Hancock’s which is now owned and brewed by Brains. I enjoyed a couple of pints before leaving the increasingly rowdy local drinkers to go up and write the blog. There had been a local football kick about and several of the players came over for a pint or three and were still at it at high volume until midnight.

Once the crowds had gone I slept well in a comfortable bed and breakfasted on cereal and yoghurt followed by scrambled egg and sausage. The egg was a bit dry but perfectly acceptable and I packed up and left at about 0920.

First stop en route was Harlech, involving a moderate climb up from Llanbedr on back roads. The castle sits high above the coastal plain and is the first Edward I castle that I have seen, having stupidly missing Aberystwyth. When built in the 13th century the sea came up to the base of the castle rock but is now more than a mile away with a golf course on the plain below. It featured in every major conflict from Welsh rebellion, The Wars of the Roses and the Civil war and is rightly considered one of the finest examples of military architecture in Europe. I’m sorry not to have explored it but my day was full.

On a clear day from the opposite side you can see Mount Snowdon but today has been misty and overcast and far from ideal for photography.

The long hill down from Harlech, through the trees, to the plain was a nice change from peddling and I made my way north crossing the Afon Dwyryd befire joining the main road for a short while before branching off to Portmeirion.

As a teenager of the 60s I remember The Prisoner and Patrick McGoohan’s attempts to escape and subvert the system in “The Village”, so the architecture is quite familiar. Portmeirion was designed and built by Welsh architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 in Italianate style, to “show how a beautiful site could be developed without spoiling it”. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, arguably the natural state was superior to the development but it is an extraordinary place, worthy of much more time than I spent there. The grounds extend to about 70 acres and contain many specimen trees and shrubs

I had to stand in a queue for about half and hour before buying a ticket. As an oldie I got £2 off the full entrance fee of £13. The village is run by a Charitable Trust and the entrance fees go to the upkeep. It was evident that quite a lot of external painting had been neglected with peeling paintwork on walls and windows. By the time I left the queue had lengthened considerably and those at the back would have been waiting for well over an hour to get in. Incidentally Portmeirion pottery, though sold in a shop on site, has never been made there. It was the invention of Susan Williams-Ellis, the pottery designer daughter of Sir Clough and is made in Stoke-on-Trent.

I moved on to Porthmadog home to three Heritage railways and, having crossed the long causeway was able to see one of the Blaenau-Ffestiniog trains backing into the station.

The town was busy but I still had 48 miles to travel and had no more time to explore. I was heading out on the Lleyn Peninsula that looks like a giant salamander jutting about 30 miles out into the Irish Sea and home to the Lleyn sheep, of which I saw plenty. The first five miles to Criccieth had a rudimentary cycle way so I was able to stay off the carriageway but in places overhanging bushes pushed me into the road. Criccieth has a castle, remodelled by Edward I, built on a volcanic rock jutting out into the sea. I took a poor picture in the mist.

Criccieth Castle

I was now on fairly flat ground with little climbing but the terrain was uninteresting, not helped by the dank weather. Sand dunes prevented a sight of the sea but there was a much better cycle lane all the way to Pwllheli about 8 miles distant. The wind had now strengthened considerably and was blowing in my face which was tiring and my saddle sore was uncomfortable. I stopped in the town at Lidl and bought some lunch which I ate in the carpark. My only knowledge of Pwllheli was that it had a Butlins Holiday Camp and I was expecting to see a funfair but apparently all the fairground attractions have been demolished and the land is now used as static caravan accommodation, ubiquitous along the whole of the west Welsh coast.

Next stop was Abersoch which I remember was a favourite holiday destination for the wealthy middle classes of Lancashire: a sort of equivalent to Rock in Cornwall for Londoners.

Abersoch creek

It is a centre for dinghy sailing and has several upmarket shops in a busy High Street. Even on a grey day there were plenty of punters. I left the main roads and went out into the countryside, winding my way up and down, past lots of caravan parks, occasionally getting lost and having to retrace my steps, heading for the tip of the Lleyn peninsula. About 44 miles into the journey I knew that I had a fearsome climb to get me from sea level to the hamlet of Rhiw. I stopped and took a picture of the ground ahead, the buildings at top right being Rhiw,

and it proved every bit as bad as expected. I was soon off the bike pushing up slopes of 15% and more for the best part of a mile. The descent was a bit of a roller coaster until I came down to sea level at Aberdaron and the last major climb of the day, fortunately only about 100 metres of pushing.

There was still about 15 miles to travel, mainly about 200 feet above the sea but dropping down gradually to my destination at Edern at about 85 feet.

The weather has been disappointing. With sunshine it would have been much more pleasant. I’ve worn a wind jacket most of the day and there were occasional spits of rain. Tomorrow looks better after rain tonight but the following day on Anglesey strong winds will probably mean that I truncate my journey that day, heading more directly from Holyhead to Bangor than planned. I’ve got a hard climb to start the day tomorrow, but after that it should be fairly easy.

Day 8 – Half way there

I estimate I’ve travelled 513 miles so far and about the same to go. It’s certainly been exhausting but I hope I’ll make it before we go into complete lockdown again.

Aberystwyth sunset

The Glengower Hotel is on the north promenade of the University town of Aberystwyth. It describes itself as a seaside pub with rooms, of which it has 16 spread over three floors. I’m pleased to say that I was on the first floor as there is no lift and my panniers are heavy and the stairs are narrow. When I booked I was told that, being Sunday, I would only get pizza and it was only served until 6pm so I booked a table for 5.30. In the event I arrived at about 4pm to find the bar and restaurant very busy but as a bonus they were serving a full menu. Having done my washing, which I hung up in front of the portable fan (dry by the time I got back from supper) I went down and enjoyed chicken goujons with a dipping sauce, 5 bean chilli, 2 pints of Butty Bach ale and chocolate fudge cake. All nicely cooked and presented and served by smiling waitresses. Unfortunately the bed was not as comfortable as it should have been and I slept badly even though it was nice and quiet. Full Welsh breakfast this morning was very good and, I suppose, £90 for everything was not bad for the time of year in a holiday resort.

There was a touch of la passeggiata on the prom after supper, with hundreds of people walking up and down, generally observing social distancing and watching the world go by. There were still people on the beach, one group having lit a fire to watch the sun go down in a crystal clear sky.

I set off this morning knowing that the most testing part of the day would be the first 7 miles which involved some very stiff climbing up to 400 feet, down to sea level again and up another 350 feet before hitting the coast again at Borth. I was thankful not to be doing it in the opposite direction with 25% signs going down into Borth. In the event I pushed some of the way up the main road in Aberystwyth but thereafter peddled all day. Although the sun shone all day it was quite hazy so photographs are not great

Borth beach

The journey could have been reduced by a good 15 miles if there had been a way across the mouth of the Dyfi River but there is no bridge or ferry so the only way is to go upstream to Machynletth and then back down the other bank of the estuary.

Machynletth is a market town that was the seat of Owain Glendwr’s Parliament in the early fifteenth century. He was the last welsh born Prince of Wales and fought fiercely for Welsh Independence against Henry IV and his son Henry V who was, perhaps ironically, welsh born himself in Monmouth Castle. Nowadays the town is perhaps best known for the Centre of Alternative Technology (CAT) which is dedicated to teaching and demonstrating sustainable development. I have toyed with the idea of booking a course there in the past but it has come to nothing. Unfortunately with Covid in the air it isn’t possible to drop in and look around so I crossed the Dyfi bridge, stone built and narrow with no traffic controls, although quite short and turned left down the Dyfi Estuary. Apparently the bridge is to be replaced further upstream due to the amount of traffic it takes and the damage it has sustained because of poor sightlines.

I immediately found myself climbing through thick woodland, up and down until I reached Cwrt which deserves to be the top line of a welsh typewriter but which, I’m sure, is pronounced court. The road now dropped to sea level and the Dyfi estuary opened before me.

Dyfi estuary

The railway, which I had been following off and on since the start of the journey, snaked along the side of the estuary below me and on the far side I could hear geese honking in the RSPB reserve. I was soon in Aberdyfi town (literally the estuary of the Dyfi), a pretty little village bustling with people enjoying lunch in the many pubs. I stopped and took a picture and ate the remains of the Jaffa Cakes I had bought in the Co-op in Machynletth, not being particularly hungry.

Aberdovey

I kept going on fairly flat roads to Tywyn, western terminus of the Talyllyn Railway, a narrow guage heritage railway that was built to carry slate from the quarries seven miles inland to the junction with the main railway which still runs along the coast. There was an engine in the station as I crossed the road bridge, ready to take passengers up to Nant Gwernol.

Talyllyn

The Railway series of books, film and TV about Thomas the Tank Engine and friends by Rev Wilbert Awdry drew some inspiration from Talyllyn of which the author was a supporter.

From Tywyn there is a two mile cycle path, alongside the main railway, that crosses the Afon Dysynni by way of a footbridge before joining up with backroads that switchback their way to the main A493. I passed a group of people sprawled on the ground in the sunshine, waiting for a train at Tonfanau station and took a picture of a large solar farm in the foothills.

Now climbing again, steeply in places up over 200 feet above sea level and looking down on the railway below and at Barmouth in the distance. If only they had thought to put a cycle track alongside the railway it would have saved me a great deal of energy.

At Barmouth the railtrack crosses the Mawddach river by way of a timber viaduct, at 699 metres the longest of its kind in Wales. There is a timber roadway which is now part of the National Cycle network and can be used by foot passengers.

As I was crossing a train came in the opposite direction making the bridge shake. There were plenty of walkers which slowed my progress and at the Barmouth end, where the track rises steeply to the road I nearly mowed down a pedestrian who stood in the middle of the exit talking and not concentrating. Once I had committed to the slope there was no stopping and I was fortunate not to hit him.

Barmouth was busy with tourists and the food stalls were doing good business. The cycle track takes to the promenade for a mile or so before crossing the railway and joining the A496 by a very steep track where I had to GOAP.

I was now about 6 miles from my destination at Llanbedr. The main road had a cycle track most of the way but it occasionally ran out and I had to take to the not very busy road. On the seaward side were several caravan and trailer parks. I was quite amused to see that they were painted green as if they would melt into the surroundings: no doubt a planning regulation that has achieved very little

I arrived at my hotel at about 4pm in plenty of time to get everything washed before dinner. Apart from the initial climbs out of Aberystwyth it has been relatively benign but I am feeling uncomfortable due to a large saddle sore which makes it less enjoyable. Plenty of chamois cream and Ibuprofen is the only respite.

Day 7 Along the coast to Aberystwyth

I had originally intended to stay in Goodwick but the mileages became somewhat uneven so I looked for somewhere around Newport. There were no hotels but the Cnapan B&B, in the centre of the village, looked interesting, if slightly more than my price bracket. However they had a room and I booked it. I arrived last night feeling very sore and exhausted and was met with a cheery smile (well I think it was cheery, because it was behind a mask but the eyes told the tale) by Judi who found a home for the bike in the garage and took me up to my room on the first floor and then made me a cup of tea which I drank in their large garden. The bed was enormous and comfortable and the shower washed away the dirt and aches. I washed my clothes and Judi hung them up to dry and delivered them to my door this morning.

Judi and Mike, from Liverpool, acquired Ivy Lodge some years ago but decided the name needed changing. Cnapan was a Tudor game played between parishes, attempting to get a small hard ball across country to designated goals. The gentry used horses, whilst the plebs got stuck in on foot. By the sound of it it was brutal and people were killed which is why it dropped out of favour but it was a name that was unusual and not easily forgotten so they chose it for the B&B.

Cnapan B&B

I had to go in search of food which, on a Saturday night still in the summer season, could have proved difficult although Newport has 3 pubs and a couple of takeaways. There were a lot of people at the Golden Lion when I turned up at about 7.30pm but I was welcomed and found a place at a table in the bar. Lots of Covid precautions including perspex screens between tables and track and trace details and many people chose to wear masks except when eating. I dined on a very good leek and potato soup with home baked bread and a butternut squash risotto with pesto and well cooked veg on the side. Both were delicious as was the chocolate pudding with ice cream. Bill of over £30 but worth it.

This morning I woke after a very good night’s sleep which I put down to a comfortable bed and quiet. Everywhere I have stayed so far has been close to a road and traffic noise has kept me awake but my room at Cnapan faced over the garden and I was undisturbed. For breakfast I again went veggie with glamorgan sausage and scrambled eggs. Sign of the times was a vegan option though a standard fry up was also available

I set off knowing that I had a substantial climb early in the journey which would tell me whether or not I had recovered some energy. As its name suggests Newport has a harbour and sandy beaches but my route did not take me there and I set off along the main A487 road to Aberystwyth. Two miles in I turned off and started climbing up some steep gradients but fortunately in shortish pitches allowing me to recover in between. Amazingly my legs felt good and I had no wish to GOAP during the four mile climb. The road was almost traffic free until I ,once again, joined the main road and swept down a long hill to Cardigan. Again I by-passed the town so can’t tell you of its attractions but took a picture from the bridge as I crossed the Afon Teifi, nearly knocking over a dog walker as I took off without looking behind me.

Ceredigion

What comes down must go up and I had about 12 miles of mainly uphill but not extreme slopes. I passed the West Wales airport at Aberporth, for light aircraft but with a Licence to take larger aircraft. My original plan had been to cycle down to the coast at Aberporth but it would have added about 800 feet of climbing to my journey so I re-routed last night. I then went through this wonderfully named village

before turning off the main road towards the sea at New Quay. I stayed well above the village realising that I would have a steep climb out again but from a distance it looks charming, clinging to the side of the cliffs

New Quay

However further along the coast it deteriorates into a succession of caravan and trailer parks which seem to proliferate.

I suppose they pay better than farming but don’t do much for the look of the coast. Another steep climb back up to the main road and down to Aberaeron where I had planned to have lunch. I duly partook of a very nice foccacia with a couple of bottles of Fentimans Lemonade in a marquee that had been erected over the pavement.

I went on down to the port which is reckoned to be one of the best places to live in the UK. Pastel coloured Georgian houses and lots of small craft

I now had to stick on the A487 for most of the rest of the journey. It was not particularly pleasant. Lots of climbing on a road that is barely wide enough for the traffic it takes even on a Sunday. I had a couple of inconsiderate drivers who came close enough to make me shake a fist at them and an artic that came close to brushing my pannier. The climb was about 5 miles long with slopes up to 8% so I was glad to crest the hill and look down on Aberystwyth, my goal for the night. There was a steep swoop down to join a cycleway that must have followed an old railway line and took me almost to the centre.

Cycle track Aberystwyth

I followed the signs but they took me to a pedestrian bridge that was closed so had to retrace my steps before hitting the promenade

which I followed to Glengower Hotel, almost at the northern end, arriving at about 4pm. The bike was stowed in a store room and I washed and changed and went down to the restaurant for food which I had pre-booked for 5.30 as last food orders were at 6pm on a Sunday.

It’s not been that interesting visually or historically but I’m pleased to have travelled the road. It’s been a relatively easy day: a shortish distance which has put me under no time pressure and I have felt much better in myself all day. Hopefully I will strengthen as I make my way north.

Day 6 Steep hills and a Cathedral

Just as Buckingham isn’t the county town of Buckinghamshire so neither is Pembroke the County Town of Pembrokeshire. That honour belongs to Haverfordwest which is where I spent last night at the appropriately named County Hotel. Sian the receptionist had phoned me en route to say that she was closing up at 10 pm and if I hadn’t arrived by then I’d be on the street. I assured her that I’d be there by 6pm and just made it after a longer than expected reroute. She put my bike in the Dining Room and explained the form for breakfast and re-iterated that the front door would close by 10pm but I had a key to get in after the witching hour. I cleaned myself and my kit and went in search of food as there was none to be had at the County Hotel.

The upper reaches of the Cleddau river, which I had already crossed earlier in the day, at Pembroke Dock flows right through the centre of Haverfordwest and I crossed it and headed for The William Owen one of J D Wetherspoon’s best. Now say what you like about Wetherspoons (some say full of fat families and alcoholics), for a man that needs to be fed quickly and cheaply they provide a great service. Having eaten with them previously I have the app on my phone and, after signing in for Covid purposes with a cheerful and helpful member of staff I was directed to table 15 where I put in my order on the phone. As it was Friday JDW offer fish and chips + a pint of beer for about £8. With a couple of slices of bread and butter the bill came to £9.14 and the Doom Bar arrived immediately followed very quickly by the fish and chips. I ordered a further pint for £1.79 and Apple Crumble with ice cream for £3.85 (both with the app). All was served well cooked, quickly and efficiently by smiling staff for under £15 – what’s not to like?

The room was a bit dated but the bed was comfortable and the bathroom ok. Bed and breakfast was £57.30 which was reasonable value. There were about 10 people in the dining room for breakfast whilst I was there and we helped ourselves to cereals, toast, pain au chocolat, croissants, cheese, ham and boil your own eggs: you could eat as much as you wanted and I did myself well knowing I was in for a hard day on the bike.

I got packed up and was on my way by 0915, straight into a climb out of the town. For the last few days I have been plagued by a squeaking noise when I pedal sitting down but it goes away when I stand up. I’ve been meaning to tighten the bolts that hold the SPD clips into my shoes and stopped after a mile or so to do so; it made no difference and I still can’t work out the problem. Later in the day I tried tightening the bolt on the saddle but no change. It’s annoying rather than critical so I shall just have to live with it. At least it means I don’t have to use the bell as walkers can hear me coming!

For the first four miles out of town there was a dedicated cycleway in good condition but I was not feeling good. I lacked energy and the slightest hill was taxing me. About 8 miles in I swooped down the hill to Nolton Haven, a small bay like several others along this coast.

Nolton Haven

There were a few people on the beach but it was early in the day. I climbed excruciatingly slowly up the inevitable hill and then down to Newgale beach which was busy with surfers and walkers with a coffee shop that seemed to be doing good business.

Newgale Beach

The hill out of Newgale was the first of many today that defeated me and I pushed the bike up the steep incline for half a mile. I remounted and had about 8 miles of up and down, occasionally pushing, before I reached St David’s, the smallest City, by population, in the UK. Here I stopped to look around the Cathedral which has a tenuous family connection in that the current Bishop of St David’s, Joanna Penberthy was previously Rector of Cucklington where she christened my three grand-daughters who still live in the Parish. She is the first lady Bishop in the Church of Wales but sadly wasn’t there today.

It is a lovely Church, nicely intimate and interestingly decorated and sits alongside the ruined Bishop’s Palace, which can be seen in the background, once part of the monastery that has been on the site since the sixth century.

The current Cathedral dates back to 1181 but has been substantially modified even during the early 20th century. There were lots of visitors enjoying the sun outside and the building inside. I stopped and stared for a while before moving on to Whitesands Bay, St Davids-by-sea. It was heaving with people, the car park full by lunchtime and more people coming down the narrow hill

Whitesands

There was a cafe serving veggie food and I had a baked spud with beans and cheese and a cup of tea to keep me going.

Another climb up from the beach and then a slow and steady climb along the cliffs before the road descended sharply to Trefin, necessitating another GOAP. Same thing again a couple of miles further on at Abercastle, this time marked as 20% so no shame there even if I’d been on top form

Abercastle

The roads were a roller coaster, diving down into wooded valleys and emerging on top of cliffs so going was slow. I was making for Strumble Head lighthouse but had managed to put a footpath into the navigation so gave up the idea before I plunged back down to sea level from 600 feet, knowing that I would have to climb all the way back again.

Strumble Head

I carried on to Goodwick which is where the so called Fishguard- Rosslare ferries dock. Fishguard is just around the corner up yet another step hill which was, at least on a well made cycle path. I looked out across the mud flats

Fishguard Bay

before carrying onto the port of Fishguard

Now only about 8 miles to go I vainly hoped for a flat road but the hill out of Fishguard was too much for me and the last few miles were very hard work.

I’ve slightly altered tomorrow’s route to reduce the climbing but will miss out some of the coast as a result. I’m not sure I can take too many more days like today: I’m hoping I feel better tomorrow.

Day 5 – Hills and bays

I didn’t know quite what to expect from my hotel choice last night. As usual I booked through Booking.com as being the easiest way of getting a bed for the night at a keen price and to have the ability to cancel up to 48 hours in advance. This stood me in great stead when I had to cancel my trip in August due to the weather. Anyway the OYO Lamphey House hotel is the former village rectory and has been tastefully converted to a hotel. OYO are an Indian hotel chain and when I asked for somewhere to store my bike overnight I received a fairly irrelevant reply insisting that the hotel would do everything to look after me.

I pitched up at about 6pm after a hard day and was booked in by a charming girl who helped me with my luggage and told me where to stow the bike. The room was small but perfectly adequate, the shower was good and the bed was comfortable. I did the usual offices and came downstairs to find the place was heaving with diners and I couldn’t get a table until 8pm but I ordered a pint of Brains and sat in the Conservatory trying to download the pictures of the day until I was seated. The calamari with garlic mayonnaise was excellent and the burger was ok without being great. This morning I ordered scrambled eggs on toast with a sausage and both were delicious. So, having had reservations about the hotel I can find little to dislike apart from the WiFi which was very poor. I had to go downstairs to publish the blog and even then had problems. So a nice surprise.

I set off at about 9.15 and immediately went wrong, ending up on a different road to the one I had planned but it took me to Freshwater East,

Freshwater East

down a long steep hill, so I knew to expect something similar the other side and, sadly, I wasn’t surprised to get into a punchy climb for about a mile . The sun was shining but there was a distinctly chilly wind blowing from the east. It was a great sailing breeze but not ideal for cycling for the half day that I spent going east. I was a bit surprised to look at Gary Garmin to find that I had only travelled 4 miles and already climbed over 500 feet so it was clearly going to be a taxing day. I headed towards the south coast at Bosherston but gibbed out and turned back north up a grass track which finally hit a metalled road before taking me back onto the road I had left 3 miles before

I was now in the middle of the Castlemartin MOD ranges, about 6000 acres of artillery training ground. Red flags were flying but I was able to cycle through without problem looking across at some spectacular scenery on the south coast

Looking north I saw the incongruous sight of chimneys sticking up behind the hills, The Valero refinery, mostly hidden by the contours but which I would see in greater detail when I turned back towards Pembroke.

I was making for Angle, the most westerly point on its eponymous peninsula but on the way I swooped down the hill to Freshwater West, an

area of large sand dunes with a sandy beach that had attracted several people. The road was, in places, covered with drifting sand which made it difficult to cycle but I was soon through it and up another steep climb. I stopped just short of the summit at a war memorial overlooking the beach

Freshwater West

Onwards to Angle which has a beach on the West side which was busy and a harbour on the East that is also the RNLI station. The tide was right out in the bay, looking across Milford Haven to the Gas plant in the distance.

Angle Bay

Yet another hill out of Angle and back on the road I had come in on, now into the teeth of a significant breeze. I made the mistake of turning off the B road and down some lesser lanes only to find a couple of hard climbs. I passed a group of about 15 walkers in the middle of the road who made way for me when I dinged my bell. At the second climb I had to GOAP, something I did several times today with hills reminiscent of Cornwall.

There is a long hill down into Pembroke Town with the magnificent castle at the bottom. I was able to cycle all the way round it before picking up the main road to Pembroke Dock which was busy but had a dedicated cycle track beside it.

Yet another climb out of Pembroke and down to Pembroke Dock. I spotted an Aldi at the bottom and went in to buy lunch. A couple of scotch eggs, a tub of chocolate brownies, 5 plums and a litre of fizzy flavoured water set me back the princely sum of £2.39, less than half the price of the M&S meal deal in Clevedon. I ate most of it in the car park and was then surprised by a significant hill up to the Cleddau bridge that crosses its eponymous river.

View from Cleddau bridge

The bridge has an excellent cycleway which continues on over the bridge over Westfield Pill. At that point I foolishly decided to go down to sea level in Neyland, which then involved further climbing up to the Dragon LNG plant at Waterston. This was the pattern of the day, up and down like a fiddler’s elbow, extremely tiring and not helping the saddle sore that has appeared.

I got a little lost in the middle of Milford Haven town but eventually found a cycleway up through the trees that cloaked the side of the Hubberston Pill valley. The gates at either end were barely wide enough for my handlebars but I squeezed through only to find another climb which had me off the bike and pushing. Down to sea level again at Herbrandston and finally up to a more or less level road through Marloes and to Wooltack point. The road finishes at a NT carpark and the adventurers can walk up the hill for what must be a spectacular view of Milford Haven. I’m afraid I didn’t join them.

It was getting quite late as I set off east, once again into the breeze. I had intended to go down to Broadhaven bay and back to my hotel in Haverfordwest but my energy deserted me and I took a slightly shorter and straighter route which was, nonetheless, undulating and extremely tiring before I arrived at about 6pm. You can see from the elevation graph below just how hilly it has been.

I’ve got a slightly shorter journey tomorrow but plenty of hills.

Day 4 – Under Milk Wood

I stayed last night at Sessile Oak, a Marston’s inn. I’ve no idea why they’ve chosen the name but it is a typical Marston’s hotel and restaurant: however there appear to be differences between different links in the chain. In Chepstow on Monday I booked dinner and breakfast to my room and settled up when I left, although they had taken payment for the room in advance. In Llanelli I paid for the room when I arrived and then charged the evening meal to my room but had to pay for breakfast on the nail when I had it in the morning. The strange and fortuitous thing for me was that the evening meal of tomato soup (very good) and beef lasagne (ok but not great) and a chocolate pudding (unctuous) had disappeared into the ether and when I tried to pay for it at breakfast time there was no record, so I got myself a free meal and a couple of pints of Pedigree to boot!

I set off at about 9.15 and immediately lost my way so spent about 20 minutes going round in circles before I decided to make for Carmarthen on the main road. After a couple of miles I saw a sign to National Cycle Route 4 and followed it onto the front. The weather was gloriously sunny and I had taken the precaution of wearing long sleeves against sunburn. The well paved and wide route follows the estuary to Burry Port, about 7 miles into the journey, and is part of the Millennium coast path. I followed a girl on a skateboard at one point and she lost control on a bend and skilfully stepped off and ran, returning to pick up the board without falling over – impressive.

At Burry Port I skirted round the harbour and picked up good old NCR 4 which followed the line of the old Burry Port and Gwendraeth railway to Kidwelly. There were a few walkers and cyclists on the route but it was easy cycling. At Kidwelly the route followed back roads across the marsh towards Ferryside where I faced the first big climb of the day, two miles of up to 10% which had me blowing before I reached the summit and looked down on Carmarthen town

after a couple of wrong turns I joined the main A40 for about 9 miles. The traffic wasn’t heavy but with only a small hard shoulder it was unpleasant with large lorries passing at speed and I was glad to get off at St Clears and turn down towards Laugharne, my main objective for the day.

Laugharne is probably best known as the home of Dylan Thomas for the last four years of his life. The Boathouse, where he lived has been preserved as a museum, sadly closed due to Covid and the writing shed that sits on a narrow pathway high above the River Taf estuary is closed but has a glass window through which I was able to take a picture

The centre of the town was a busy mass of pubs and restaurants which still seemed to be doing good trade in the late summer sunshine and I bought myself a ham roll and a bottle of Tango to keep me going.

….the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea.

Unfortunately the tide was out but my mind’s eye brought Thomas’s words to life for me and I sat in the sun for a while drinking in the surroundings before continuing up the steepish hill over to Pendine famous for its 7 mile long sandy beach that was used by Malcolm Campbell and J.G Parry-Thomas to successively break the land speed record in the 1920s. Sadly the latter died attempting to raise Campbell’s record of 174.22 miles per hour and no further attempts were made at Pendine. It was quiet but there were several people lunching.

Pendine Sands

The hill out of Pendine is steep and with my heavy load I only got about half way before GOAPing, making my way about 400 feet above the sea to Amroth with families enjoying the sandy beach, at the end of which I was faced with a puzzle as my navigators showed there was a path to Wiseman’s Bridge which did not seem to exist. However part way up another very steep hill I spotted the NCR4 sign and followed it up a rough track before it emerged on top of the cliff for a bumpy ride along and down to Wiseman’s Bridge. Between Wisman’s Bridge at Saundersfoot is a well paved and flat path that has been cut into the side of the cliff and goes through a couple of tunnels before emerging in the busy town of Saundersfoot.

My final objective was Tenby where I had thought about spending the night but decided I should get a bit further. The town was busy and I had to slow down to walking pace to get through the crowds and take a couple of pictures of the harbour

I now had about 10 miles to go to Lamphey with a few ups and downs and I arrived at the hotel about 6pm after another gruelling day which has been exhausting but satisfying. More of the same tomorrow.

Day 3. Gyrating round the Gower

I’d had a bit of trouble finding a suitable hotel near Bridgend and eventually plumped for the Greenacres Motel in North Cornelly. Frankly it was a mistake: lacking Miss Diane and Benny it was a soulless experience. The room had obviously once housed a smoker and the fish, inside quite good batter, was watery and textureless, though the chips were OK. The strawberry shortcake just about made up for it but all in all not a good experience at a cost only marginally less than in Chepstow

I’d been looking forward to today, leaving the motel and making my way through Port Talbot and Swansea to the Gower peninsula. I have vague memories of a childhood excursion to Wales in my parents’ camper van in the early 1960s. This was a preparatory journey before they took my sister and I across to Europe, tackling the St Gotthard Pass before introducing us to a bit of Italian culture: incredibly brave in a vehicle that was about 1600cc and boiled up, necessitating frequent stops in the Alps.

Unfortunately the day dawned with a thick fog that hung around most of the day. The sun occasionally showed a watery face but all the lovely views of Swansea Bay and the Gower eluded me. I left at about 915 and made my way to Margam where I crossed over the motorway before passing the huge Tata steelworks.

Port Talbot steelworks

and making for the centre of Swansea. Much of this journey was on the National Cycle Network route 4 which I had followed, on and off, since Chepstow and which I continued to follow for much of this day. It varies between excellent surface, totally off road, to a hard shoulder to busy roads but is certainly a great asset to cycling. At Briton Ferry I crossed the river Neath on a bridge high over the water with a good cycle lane.

I took a picture, in the murk, of the bridge carrying the Motorway, before heading south to the centre of Swansea. Like most cities in the UK Swansea has undergone major redevelopment and gentrification and I recrossed the river by way of the elegant Sail Bridge in somewhat improved weather.

Sail Bridge, Swansea

It did not last and seaward views during my journey to Mumbles, along Swansea Bay were non-existent. I passed St Helen’s cricket and Rugby ground where I played for Bedford against Swansea in my youth and where Sir Gary Sobers hit the first televised six sixes in an over 52 years ago. When you see how short the boundaries are you can quite see how he did it in an era when sixes were unusual, unlike today.

St Helen’s

I stopped just short of Mumbles for a cup of tea and a chocolate brownie in the hope that the sun would break through but no such luck. There were lots of walkers, runners and cyclists making use of the promenade between Swansea and Mumbles Head. The iconic Lifeboat launching ramp on Mumbles Head was so shrouded in mist that I didn’t bother with a picture. To get back on route I had to climb a slope so extreme that I had to get off and push for about 50 metres. I made my way round Mumbles Head with a fierce climb from Caswell Bay which I managed. The fog continued, clearing occasionally as I climbed above the sea but never disappearing. My navigators gave me a bum steer around Bishopston and I had to consult the map to get me back on course.

At Pennard the road deteriorated into the appropriately named Sandy Lane, ending in a very steep descent on unmade road to Parkmill where I picked up the main South Gower road which roller coasted its way to Rhossili. The village was busy, the National Trust carpark about half full and plenty of people with ice creams in hand wandering along the clifftop. I joined them with an ice cream but did not venture further than the carpark despite a good hard road that takes you to Worm’s Head. I was, once again, tired and saddle sore so kept cycling to a minimum.

Rhossili Sands

The murky view of Rhossili sands gives an idea of how far below the village one has to walk to reach the sea. The pristine sands extend north for about three miles and the difficult access means they are seldom crowded. The journey back to Scurlage was harder for knowing the ups and downs I’d experienced on the way to Rhossili and I stopped at the village store for some water to keep me going.

My maternal Grandmother came from an army family, her Grandfather General Benson commanded the 17th Lancers in the Crimea and her father, Richard, was sadly killed in the First World War. Great Grandfather Starling Benson, Mayor of Swansea bought Fairyhill house near Reynoldstown which the family held until just after the Second World War when the last of the maiden aunts moved out. The house has a well developed ornamental park and is now an exclusive Wedding Venue. I could not miss the opportunity of passing by, though it was slightly out of my way and involved quite a bit of climbing

Fairyhill House

I was now getting very weary and decided against visiting Llanmadoc, the most northerly settlement on the peninsula turning east at Cheriton above which was a spectacular view of the Loughor river and its surrounding marshes.

The climbing was over for the day but I still had 15 miles to travel to Llanelli and it was a hard slog across the marsh road, common land with sheep and horses grazing and, I’m sure, a lot of wildfowl though not much evidence on my journey. The pretty village of Crofty rises above the marsh far enough to avoid inundation

Crofty

and at Pen-Clawdd I met the evening traffic before getting onto a cycle path that took me most of the way to the bridge crossing the River Loughor, with the tide now in full flood, racing up the river.

River Loughor

I joined the main A484, knowing that it would take me directly to my destination alongside the Parc y Scarlets, home of one of the four professional Welsh Rugby Union teams. As at Swansea I played for Bedford against Llanelli, the basis the Scarlets team, when their home was Stradey Park, now a housing estate, but the ground is commemorated on a roundabout on the A484 by a set of rugby posts topped with scarlet “sosbans” as at Stradey.

Sosban Fach

I arrived at Marston’s Sessile Oak hotel and restaurant at about 6pm after another gruelling day.

Day 2 South coast

The Two Rivers Inn in Chepstow is a Marston’s house and, as such serves perfectly good beer and food. I dined on Halloumi fries and steak and ale pie, both of which were fine and not expensive, indeed the whole bill for dinner, bed and breakfast including a couple of pints of Pedigree was a very reasonable £67. There were few diners and the service was good. Full English breakfast this morning was well prepared and fresh and couldn’t be faulted. The main change in these Covid times is that there is no self service but my order was quickly prepared and despatched so that I was able to leave just after 0900 for what I knew would be a difficult day as I was cycling 80 miles.

I fairly soon took a wrong turn but it was unimportant as the A48, on which I found myself was not busy and I was able to buzz along to Caldicott by a more direct route than the one I had planned. At Caldicott I took to a cycle path across the park and bagged myself my first Castle of the trip

Caldicott Castle

Caldicott Castle is not one of Edward 1sts fortifications being built in about 1170 and passing through various hands including Royalty from 14th to 17th centuries but it was allowed to fall into disrepair until the 19th century when it was partly restored by the Cobb family before being sold to the local authority in the mid 1960s. I cycled all the way around the outside before leaving the park and heading on towards Magor.

For much of the morning I was within a couple of miles of the Bristol Channel but saw no sign of the sea until I reached Cardiff. I made my way slightly inland in order to cross over the River Usk at Newport, passing the Transporter bridge, one of only two still working in the UK, although it is currently closed due to Covid.

I looked back from the other bank at the City Bridge that I took across the river: built in 2004 it takes the main A48 road away from the City Centre and there is a good cycle lane across it.

I continued on across the littoral plain, flat and uninteresting but easy cycling. There was much evidence of wind turbines and solar parks: it looks as though a massive solar park is in the process of construction between Newport and Cardiff.

I made my way towards Cardiff Bay. The area has been gentrified and massively developed with offices and a cycleway snakes its way around the waterfront before crossing the bay by way of the Cardiff barrage built amidst much controversy in the 1990s. It provides a shortcut to Penarth which gave me my first major hill climb of the day but I managed it fairly easily and the view from the top mad it worthwhile.

I was now about half way into the journey but well behind schedule due to photo stops. Next stop was Barry where I took the opportunity to cycle to Barry Island, the Coney Island of Wales. There were people about but the fairground attractions were static.

I took the opportunity to dive into Asda for a sandwich and drink, about half the price of yesterday’s M&S lunch stop. I had another major climb from the waterfront and then swooped down the other side through Porthkerry Park, with Mrs Marcos Cafe doing brisk business. Shortly after that the road becomes a cycle path beneath Porthkerry Viaduct, built in the late 19th Century to carry coal to Barry Docks. It still carries the main passenger line between Cardiff and Bridgend, stopping at the airport which was my next sighting. There appeared to be nothing happening at Rhoose airport although it is, according the website, open.

Past the airport the road continues, gently undulating along the coast. This made for hard cycling. Straight roads that go up and down are enervating and I still had 35 miles to travel. Through Llantwit Major as the school disgorged, St Donats, Marcross and Monknash until, at St Bride’s Major I was faced with a decision. I had planned to go down to Ogmore-by-Sea but could see that I could cut a bit off the journey by staying on the main road. However this is a journey around Wales sticking as close to the coast as possible and I decided I could manage the extra miles, though I was flagging badly.

There were plenty of cars in the carpark as the River Ogmore discharges into the Bristol Channel and because the road starts quite high above the river, I had the strange experience of cycling largely downhill up the river valley until I got back to the main road at Ewenny. There were skeins of Geese flying down the river, honking madly as I made good time back to the main road. A narrow road with heavy traffic made its way from Ewenny to the A48 south of Bridgend, crossing the stone Dipping Bridge with dozens of children splashing in the water with no apparent heed of distancing.

I now skirted south of Bridgend on the A48 before taking the main road to Porthcawl, mercifully largely downhill, because, by now I was very tired. Porthcawl was busy with several surfers taking advantage of the rollers,

in the, by now, weak sunshine, though I missed the forecast showers. I cycled all the way along the promenade and out towards Royal Porthcawl golf club. On the way I stopped to consult my phone as I thought I had made a wrong turn, put my foot down on what I thought was a grass bank, only to find that it was a shallow ditch and over I went. Unfortunately I couldn’t get out from under the bike and couldn’t get myself up. Equally fortunately a passing cyclist pulled the bike from on top of me and I very sheepishly got back on my feet without harm to anything but my pride.

Only about 5 miles to go to my destination it was hard work as I passed Pyle and Kenfig Golf Club before I landed at Greenacres Motel in North Cornelly after 80 miles in the saddle.

Day 1 across the Moors and Levels

I left home at a few minutes after 9, seen off by Annie and Jim. About 100 yards up the road I met Rob so stopped and chatted. I think they’re all glad to see the back of the old man for a couple of weeks but praying I don’t bring back Covid. Given that the Welsh hotspots are Caerphilly and the Valleys, which I shall avoid, I certainly hope I won’t be affected.

Today’s journey covered roads and tracks with which I am, mostly, familiar. Certainly the early route to Glastonbury is a road often travelled and on a lovely sunny day was most enjoyable. Silage making was happening on Kennard Moor, south of Glastonbury. It seemed a trifle extravagant in that they were wrapping small bales which must involve an excessive amount of plastic wrap but I suppose they were considering the waste that might happen if feeding small amounts to stock over the winter. I arrived at about 11am just as the hippies who occupy caravans and motor homes in various stages of dilapidation, all the way along the drove, were waking up and taking the air.  I’m a bit surprised that they weren’t made to move on with the Covid situation but they’ve been there for several decades now and I don’t suppose they’ll move anytime soon.

I cycled through the middle of town and out on the road to Godney which has a most eccentric pub/restaurant, the Sheppey Inn that has been described as a bit bonkers and sits alongside the river after which it is named, in the middle of nowhere.  It has a reputation for craft beer, cider and jazz and folk music and produces some very good food.  The day we were there we ate delicious roasted goat.  In August it was up for sale for just shy of £1 million but whether or not is has sold I can’t say.  Anyway I hope that new owners don’t try to change it too much.

Onwards across the well-named moors and levels, looking dry and parched in places, with no sign of the floods that cut off villages and hamlets during the winter. I hit the road from Wells to Cheddar at Pantborough and on through the pretty village of Wedmore with its extraordinary pharmacy built originally as a private residence in the Italianate style.  The road goes up and down and, with the warm weather, I was puffing a bit at the top of the small hills but soon reached the outskirts of Cheddar which I by-passed as I hit the Strawberry Lines cycle track which follows the route of the now defunct Cheddar Valley and Yatton railway.  It was known as the Strawberry Line because of the volume of locally grown strawberries that it carried and the name has now stuck with a route that allows for mainly off road cycling from the north Somerset coast to the Dorset coast in the south.  There were a lot of cyclists enjoying the sunshine and light winds on my way through the Shute Shelve tunnel which avoids a significant climb over the hills just short of Winscombe.  It is extraordinary how cold such tunnels are, even on a day when the temperature hit 26 degrees but I was soon through it and at Yatton which marks the end of the cycle route. 

At one point a massive factory had been built by Thatcher’s cider and the cycleway was diverted, ending up for a short stretch on a road

I had intended to have lunch in Yatton but the Strawberry Lines Café was most unwelcoming and the Railway Inn difficult to leave my bike so, as I wasn’t especially hungry, I carried on to Clevedon where I stopped at the M & S garage for a meal deal of a wrap, Tango and a Snickers which at £4.95, didn’t seem much of a deal, but filled a hole.  There were several other cyclists with the same idea.

When you motor along the M5 past Clevedon there is a steepish climb but I was able to avoid this by sticking to some back roads that make their way along the vale behind Conygar quarry.  This took me all the way to Easton in Gordano where, after a few wrong turns, I joined up with the cycleway across the Avonmouth Bridge. It’s quite a steep climb up onto the bridge but the track is wide and well surfaced and I stopped in the middle of the bridge to take a picture looking up river towards Bristol.

I now had about 6 miles of well surfaced National Cycle Rout 41 which ducked and dived through Lawrence Weston at one point taking me to a track closure which I was, fortunately able to avoid by taking to the road

just as St Bede’s College was turning out for the day which caused me some delay avoiding buses and children.  The track now headed back towards the Severn Estuary past some vast sheds housing, amongst others, Amazon, before joining up with main roads at Chittening. However there was a good cycleway alongside the road, keeping me away from traffic until I passed

over the M4 on its way to the new Severn Bridge.  I needed to keep going north to the old Severn crossing, a much prettier structure, although I was unable to get a picture today, which has a good cycleway unlike its new sister.  Unfortunately this involved cycling along a busy section of road, which I was pleased to leave just past Aust, and take to a permissive path that leads to the bridge.  Now 70 or so miles into the journey on a warm day I was beginning to feel a bit tired and stopped several times, including in the middle of the bridge to try to take a picture of the new crossing: however at 4.30 the sun was directly in my face and the result, though arguably artistic, doesn’t do it justice!

The last three miles were uncomfortable.  I managed to get myself off a perfectly good cycleway and onto a busy road so I was pleased to arrive at The Two Rivers Hotel which is run by Marstons and afforded me cheap accommodation and pub grub. 

Tomorrow I take to the south Welsh coast.

I’m off

The weather for the next two weeks looks good. I’m not going through Caerphilly and the west coast of Wales looks Covid free so I’ll be setting off at about 9am tomorrow (14th September) and, if all goes according to plan will be over the Severn crossing and at my first destination in Chepstow by 5pm. I’ll be blogging as I go so, if you’re interested, keep checking back.