Day 16. This is the end

Travelodge are in independent Hotel chain not attached to any pubco and they, I’m sure, will say, that that allows them to focus upon providing good cheap accommodation. I will not argue: the room in their hotel at Cribbs Causeway, north Bristol, was large enough to take me and the bike with room to spare, the in bath shower worked well and the bed was very comfortable. You can order a breakfast at extra cost but I didn’t knowing that there were plenty of opportnities in the area. You have to pay £3 extra for 24 hours access to Wifi but it was blisteringly fast and well worth the cost.

I walked five minutes in a light drizzle to Redwood Farm, a Greene King restaurant. Plenty of choice and an ordering App a la Wetherspoon, the only problem being that it did not recognise my table: however they weren’t busy and ordering from a human being wasn’t difficult. I opted for tomato soup and chilli with rice and chips and some garlic bread – all very good. Having had an energetic day without a proper lunch I followed up with a huge portion of jam sponge with ice cream which was excellent. Adding a couple of pints of Greene King IPA gave me a bill of about £25 which was perfectly acceptable.

The downside of most hotels of this type is that they are next to major roads and if you want the window open you will have to put up with the noise. As a result I slept fitfully and didn’t feel fully rested in the morning but for £35 including the Wifi it was good value for money.

Today was always going to be an anti-climax. I’d completed my circumnavigation of Wales but I still needed to get back home to South Somerset. I thought about ringing one of my sons to come and fetch me but I thought that would be unsatisfactory. I’d left home on my bike 15 days ago and I should return on it, but my enthusiasm was low and that translated into difficulty in getting going. I set off at about 0930 and made for Morrisons to buy some Ibuprofen to cope with the saddle sore and a breakfast sandwich. My route took me past Filton airfield which played a huge role in the development of Concorde, indeed the first flight took place from Filton. Airbus use part of the site but the airfield is now closed. For some unknown reason the route I had planned took me out of my way and I found myself on major roads bypassing the city. I took stock, knowing that I wanted to end up on the old railway path to Bath and plotted a new route that cut the corner. Eventually I found the railway path which is the first cycle path in the country, developed by Sustrans between 1979 and 1986 and which I have used several times. It’s well surfaced and easy cycling. There were plenty of users, both on foot and bikes, in the sunshine. The wind was light but it was quite chilly in the shade.

I was making for the twin tunnels cycle route which burrows deep under Combe Down in Bath. The two tunnels were built in 1874 to extend the Somerset and Dorset Joint railway into the centre of Bath: unfortunately the cost effectively bankrupted the Company which was sold to the Midland Railway Company. The subsequently nationalised railway was closed in 1966 as part of the Beeching cuts and the tunnels remained closed until Sustrans formulated a plan to use them as part of the national cycle network. Combe Down tunnel at 1672 metres, is the longest cycle tunnel in the UK and was opened, together with the shorter Devonshire tunnel for public use in 2013.

Combe Down tunnel

It’s a quirky experience with low level lighting throughout and music playing at certain points.

The track emerges at Midford where it crosses a viaduct and the cycle route continues to Wellow where it finishes in the middle of a farmyard and joins the public highway. Unfortunately for cyclists, like me, who want to continue south the road dips down sharply to the Wellow brook before climbing steeply into the village. If Sustrans had been able to secure the route over the Wellow viaduct it would have saved me a great deal of energy.

Wellow Viaduct

I was now crossing the Mendip Hills with lots of steep ups and downs, some of which had me off the bike pushing but I was making progress, albeit slowly. With the weight I was carrying I knew that Gare Hill would be a challenge and I had to GOAP for about 100 yards but was pleased to be able to manage the top section in the saddle.

Next point of interest was Stourhead, former home of the Hoare banking family but now owned by the National Trust. It is famous for its 18th century pleasure gardens which, curiously, can’t be seen from the house.

Stourhead gardens

The cycle route runs straight past the front of the Palladian mansion house and then up a public road before turning right across the old airfield at Zeals which was operational for Spitfires and Hurricanes from 1942 to 1946 when it was returned to farmland. The main evidence is the old control tower that has been turned into a house.

I was now only about ten miles from home but feeling sore and tired. I gritted my teeth and continued past my grandchildren’s school in Bourton and up one more hill until I swooped down into the Blackmore Vale and the last five miles to Home farm, arriving very weary at about 4pm.

It’s been quite an odyssey. I’ve travelled 997 miles but age has caught up with me and 16 days (during which, extraordinarily, I was only caught in one rain shower) without a break is too much. Maybe I should consider an electric bike to help me up the more extreme slopes. There’s lots to think about as I recover from this trip and I won’t be back on a bike for several days but hopefully I’ll think of a suitable project for the future.

Thanks for reading. I hope some of it has been entertaining and educational. Wales is a lovely country and well worth exploring.

Chris

Day 15. Last day in Wales

The England and Wales border wanders around a lot but the Harp Inn at Glasbury is firmly in Wales. Andy and Sally, from Gloucestershire, have only been in place for about 18 months but have made their mark in the locality, evidenced by a lively cheese tasting evening that is a regular event on Sunday nights. As far as I could understand it each person (last night there were 13) supplies a cheese which is tasted by everyone who gives marks out of ten. The marks are totalled and an overall winner is announced. There was no prize but considerable enjoyment for the participants. Unfortunately, being Sunday, only pizza was available for me and the 12″ rustic that I ate was fine, going well with a couple of pints of Butty Bach bitter from the Wye Vallet brewery in Herefordshire.

This morning the weather was a bit dull as I ate my good full breakfast, top marks especially for the sausage. There were only three staying and the other couple did not appear until I was finished and packed. I set off at about 0915 and had about four miles on the flat to Talgarth, passing through the hamlet of Three Cocks on the way. Andy had warned me that the A497 road beyond Talgarth had been closed for some months because of a land slide but my route took me on a very narrow country lane avoiding the roadworks on the A479 and I had a brisk climb for a couple of miles that took me up to 1100 feet before I rejoined the A479.

The joy of the road closure was that I now had the road to myself for the 8 mile descent to join the A40 just west of Crickhowell and most of the climbing was out of the way. I stopped and took a picture showing the low cloud on the hill tops that I would have been following with my original plan.

As I had abandoned my plan of following the border as closely as possible I gave myself a new challenge which was to visit the castles on my route and the first was at Abergavenny. English antiquary William Camden states that the castle “has been oftner stain’d with the infamy of treachery, than any other castle in Wales.” and was the scene of a massacre of Welsh noblemen in 1175. Little remains of the castle which is managed by a charitable Trust but a hunting lodge built on the site of the motte by a latterday Earl of Abergavenny has been turned into a museum which sits rather indecorously next to the ruins.

I was able to avoid the busy A40 by taking a B road that runs almost parallell with it for the next 7 miles and although it had the usual ups and downs it was easy cycling. However I had to join the A40 in order to see my next castle, Raglan which can only be approached from that road. Unfortunately Cadw don’t open the castle to visitors on a Monday so I could only take a picture over a large hedge

Raglan Castle

It’s a rather fine looking edifice from the outside, built mainly in the 15th century, and was the seat of the Dukes of Somerset and Beaufort but was put out of military use or slighted after the English Civil War. It was abandoned as a dwelling and bits of it were nicked to repair or rebuild other structures, turning it into a romantic ruin that has been a tourist attraction since the 18th century.

Raglan lies about 8 miles from Monmouth, my next stop. The original Monmouth castle is even more dilapidated than Abergavenny and sits next to the solid looking red sandstone 17th century Great Castle House, built by one of the Somersets, that now houses a museum and is the HQ of the Royal Monmouthshire Militia.

Great Castle House, Monmouth

The original castle is most famous for being the birthplace of the future Henry V of Agincourt fame and his name and accomplishments are seen in place names throughout the town.

Monmouth Castle

Henry was not a Welshman: his father Henry Bolingbroke was the English son of John of Gaunt who became Henry IV and his mother Mary was a daughter of an Earl of Hereford. The only true Welsh born King of England was Henry Tudor, Henry VII who snatched the throne from Richard III at Bosworth Field 100 years later.

I did a tour of Monmouth, passing the school and on my way out following the Wye Valley spotted Lidl opposite the school playing fields so called in for a late lunch. Three miles down the heavily wooded valley the river is crossed by the Penallt viaduct, an old railway bridge of the Wye Valley Railway at Redbrook.The tracks are long gone but there is a pedestrian walkway which I traversed with the bike and joined the track of the railway which is now a hard cinder path for about three miles before becoming a tarmac road which avoids about 6 miles of the A466.

Another bit of luck for me was that there are significant roadworks to the A466 which means it is closed to vehicles and I was able to sail down it without any traffic, passing the road surfacing works as they ceased for the day, completely unhindered, to Tintern, a further 6 miles on.

Tintern is best known for the ruined abbey built mainly in the 13th century and dissolved by Henry VIII. Those pesky Somersets laid claim to the building, stripped the lead off the roof and it fell into the ruin one sees today.

After Tintern I hit an unexpectedly hard bit of climbing for about three miles that was exhausting. One of the problems was that it was steeper than it looked which was demoralising and it took all my will not to GOAP having already done about 55 miles in the saddle. By now the saddle sore was very uncomfortable, whether going up or down hill and I stopped and took a couple of Ibuprofen to dull the pain.

The final castle of the day was Chepstow where I had spent the first night of my journey two weeks ago. Unfortunately for me the Castle sits right down the bottom of the valley so there was a significant climb back up after I took the picture.

Chepstow Castle

The Castle is the oldest in Britain, founded by William I in 1067 but with many additions over the centuries. Once again, the Somersets in the shape of the Duke of Beaufort had much to do with its state from the 17th century when it was stripped of most of its interior and parts used as a farmyard and glass factory. It became a picturesque ruin that attracted steamship trips from Bristol in the 19th century and is now managed by Cadw.

On the steep climb out of the town I passed the Two Rivers Hotel where I spent my first night in Wales, so I suppose that was really the end of my circumnavigation. However I still have to get home so I carried on back across the Severn Bridge, this time on the upstream side, and made my way to Cribbs Causeway where I am staying the night at the Travelodge before my final ride home tomorrow. To finish the day on a low the last half mile or so up to the hotel was steep enough to make me GOAP but on the way I passed this rather ironic sign

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the trip. It has been the hardest I have done yet, mainly because of the saddle sore but also because it involved a lot of climbing.

Day 14. Views and Vistas

The Dragon Hotel sits high above the town square of Montgomery. Built in the 17th century as a coaching Inn, its black and white half timbered exterior is striking,

The reception area shows the marks of the coach wheels though now behind doors. It has 20 bedrooms, a large bar and a bistro which is certainly one up on the average pub restaurant. Having missed lunch I was hungry so chose a main course of excellently prepared spaghetti carbonara with mushrooms as my primi and followed it with the intriguingly entitled Sicilian Mackerel;. The proved to be two fillets of mackerel, preserved rather than fresh, served with a cauliflower puree, roasted new potatoes. pea shoots and lemon. It sort of worked but would have been much nicer with fresh mackerel and I’m not sure what qualified it to be Sicilian. I was sort of expecting sarde a beccafico using mackerel but this was totally different than the “stuffed sardinians” that I have eaten in Sicily. Anyway it was ok. The pudding, raspberry cheesecake with peanut butter ice-cream was extremely toothsome and all in all it was a good meal and sent me off to the blog in a good mood.

The bed was ok, not the most comfortable I’ve slept in, but perfectly acceptable and a working radiator dried my clothes overnight. Breakfast at 8am had been ordered the night before to best comply with Covid regulations. I chose alpen (no yoghurt available), orange juice, tea and a full breakfast. All perfectly fine but I do miss the help yourself breakfast buffet, banter with the waiting staff and ability to talk with fellow guests at a communal table.

My original plan had been to follow the English-Welsh border as closely as possible but when I looked at the topography this was unrealistic, so I chose a route that roughly followed the line but kept climbing down to reasonable levels. I left the hotel about ten past nine and the first four miles was downhill or on the level. I turned off the B4385 and the climbing started. I was well aware that it was going to be punchy, up to 13% pitches for a couple of miles, and I accepted that when necessary I would GOAP which is what duly happened. I pushed for about 200 yards and then remounted until I reached almost the peak of the climb at about 1100 feet. I pulled in to catch my breath and was rewarded with a spectacular view, hard to reproduce with a photo, but here it is anyway

What goes up must come down and I had about 7 miles of largely downhill run before I reached the town of Clun which is in Shropshire and has given its name to a medium sized dark faced sheep that was popular in the 50s and 60s but has declined in Britain in favour of the continental breeds, although interest has grown in North America.

I crossed the river over a narrow stone bridge

with something of a traffic jam as an oil tanker had a standoff with a Land Rover, but it was all sorted out and I was into a climb for about a mile, nothing like the first of the day, just a steady grind up slopes of about 4-5% and rather enjoyable, especially rewarded, as I was, with some more spectacular vistas on the way down to Knighton.

It was about midday when I reached Knighton and spotted a very unassuming Co-op behind a filling station so thought I would stop for supplies: what an extraordinary experience. The entrance was full of displays of confectionary and as you went on and threaded your way through passageways the whole place opened up into a large warehouse, much bigger than most Co-op stores. I bought some super ripe plums, a packet of Jaffa cakes and a rather revolting energy drink to keep me going until supper.

Straight into another climb, again not too strenuous but my saddle sore doesn’t appreciate climbing and I have to stand up regularly to keep the discomfort at bay. Over the top at the highest point of the day at over 1200 feet, and dropping down through tree clad valleys to Presteigne, never quite sure which country I was in, though the Araf signs definitely showed when I was in Wales.

I was about half way and the main climbing was over though there were still plenty of ups and downs. Once more I turned off the main road and crossed a pretty stream so thought I’d take a picture.

By this point I was in Herefordshire and there were plenty of orchards, both apple and pear to demonstrate the fact.

At Whitney-on Wye, still in England, I crossed the river by way of a toll bridge, free to cycles. It was stone built but with a worn timber carriageway and only open to one vehicle at a time. For a punster it was hard to resist the picture.

Bridge on the River Wye

The water meadows for the next half a mile or so had been mown for a late silage crop. There must have been at least 60 acres of good looking grass being rowed up. It wasn’t until I looked at my photograph later that I noticed the effective vapour trails.

At Hay-on-Wye, famous for its book festival and full of bookshops, I passed back into Wales and stayed there until I reached my destination at Glasbury about five miles later. I shall be in Wales for most of tomorrow until I cross the Severn by the same bridge that I left England by 15 days and about 1000 miles ago.

Having kept ahead of the locked down Covid hotspots in Wales by a matter of days I shall be passing perilously close to Blaenau Gwent at Abergavenny, but unless they change the rules overnight I should be OK.

It’s been a good day, lovely autumnal weather and scenery and not as taxing as I thought it might be.

Day 13 – Heading south through Shropshire

The Premier Inn at Gresford, near Wrexham is typical of its kind. A large enough room to take the bike, a good bathroom with powerful shower and infinite hot water and an extremely comfortable bed. Across the car park from the accommodation is The Beeches restaurant which serves good wholesome Whitbread food and drink. I had the broccoli based soup and a Steak and ale pie with mash and veg. Both were well prepared and hot and so filling I didn’t need a pudding. A couple of pints of Doombar washed it all down. The deal was bed, an evening meal and breakfast for £69.99 which is very good value for money. The breakfast this morning was cereal, toast and a full cooked breakfast with orange juice and tea which set me up for the day.

I cleared the room and wheeled the bike out by 0900 and suddenly realised that I didn’t have my helmet. I was sure that I had taken everything from the room but went back and checked to be certain – no helmet. I went back to reception and reported to the lady behind the perspex screen – “Oh is it the one on the table over there?” says she and sure enough I had left it there overnight. Anyway fully clothed I got away at 0915.

There had been heavy rain during the night but the morning was bright and clear, although cold, and I was wearing three layers and my thick gloves. The first 10 miles were either downhill or flat to Bangor-on-Dee where I had stayed the night at Buck House Hotel when I was doing my tour of the County Towns of England in 2016 – slightly ironic in that it is in Wales and not a county town, but it was convenient. You enter the town by means of a lovely old stone bridge with a cobbled surface.

Bangor-on-Dee

I then climbed out of the valley past the racecourse up quite a testing slope before it levelled out for a short while and then a steady slope as I entered England for the first time in 13 days. I was soon on very small back roads and at one point was faced with an impossible climb out of the valley of a small stream, so first GOAP of the day, though only about 50 yards.

I crossed the A5 at a roundabout just north of Henlle Park Golf Club, owned by a friend with whom I had stayed on my Lands End to John O’Groats trip in 2014 and then the climbing started getting serious. I managed to pedal to within about 200 yards of the village of Sellatyn but gravity won and caused the second GOAP of the day. Once through the village the road kept rising for another couple of miles, though it was manageable and I then had a long descent, with occasional climbs to keep me honest, through some lovely countryside.

England/Wales border country

I had gone back into Wales during the descent. It’s remarkable how keen the Welsh are on ARAF/SLOW signs in the road. The English don’t seem quite so bothered.

I was trying to follow the border but I now had a dilemma. The climbing I had already done had been wearing and, looking at what was to come, I suspected that I would struggle badly later in the day when I was due to climb up to 1250 feet, by a long way the highest I have been on this trip. My mind was made up by a bad piece of planning. The navigators wanted me to take a road that didn’t seem to exist and the alternatives were to continue on a road that would take me much further west than I wanted or to double back and join the A493 from Wrexham to Welshpool which would eventually join up with my original route. Although it is a main road it’s reasonably wide and the traffic was not heavy on a Saturday. The major bonus was that it was downhill or flat for about ten miles. There was one idiot in a truck who passed way too close but otherwise it was trouble-free.

I turned off just short of Welshpool and had some ups and downs before I linked up with my original route for the last four miles. Montgomery, or Trefaldwyn in Welsh, is, as its name implies, the former County Town of Montgomeryshire which no longer exists as a local authority. It lies part way up a steep hill that tested me for the last mile or so. The Dragon Hotel, a black and white half timbered building which is where I am staying, is in a town square with an impressive looking Georgian former town hall, which can be hired for functions (though not at present), complete with clocktower.

Montgomery

Because of my short cuts I arrived before 4pm so was able to unwind a bit more than usual before supper. I’m going to adopt a similar approach tomorrow. My original route is much too strenuous and, although I won’t be following the border as closely as I could, I think it’ll be good enough and I should arrive in a reasonable state.

Day 12 – Along the North Coast

Bangor University open their spare rooms to paying guests. £70 for a decent sized room with a good bathroom and more electric sockets than you could ever need and a full breakfast in the morning. Middling value for money but better than anything else I could find in the area. They have a restaurant where I dined on good tomato and basil soup, a chicken and ham pie and a chocolate gateau washed down with a couple of bottles of ale whose name escapes me but was Welsh and very drinkable. Dining in these Covid times is a dismal experience. Everyone wears masks and the food and drink are left gingerly on the edge of the table or on a tray. The food may be terrific but without any sort of service it is hard to fully appreciate what you are eating. We are all being treated as suspicious and not to be trusted despite the incredibly small numbers of positive cases nationwide. It’s all rather depressing. Breakfast this morning saw a similar lack of service though one of the girls was friendlier. The full breakfast was fine but not tremendous and I left at 0915 with a full stomach.

The north coast of Wales is generally flat so I set myself the task of cycling 80 miles to a Premier Inn just outside Wrexham. However this included cycling round the Great Orme, the limestone peninsula that sticks out into the Irish Sea north west of Llandudno.

Great Orme

This was about 8 miles of cycling that I could do without, especially as there are slopes of up to 9% to contend with so I skipped it and cut across to Colwyn Bay, but I’m geting ahead of myself……

The Management Centre of Bangor Uni sits part way up a hill and I made may way down to sea level before climbing back up again to join the main A55 North Wales Expressway. I hadn’t really meant to do so as there is an alternative but, finding myself on it I was able to bat along quite well on the wide hard shoulder until I found the turning off onto the cycleway. In many ways I should have continued on the A55, in that the cycle way wound itself up some quite steep slopes with little benefit apart from being away from heavy traffic. This first 8 miles saw the heavy climbing out of the way apart from odd very steep but short pitches later in the day. After this I was on dedicated cycle tracks for the next 10 miles to Conwy. At one point the cycleway was taken up an overpass to the mainroad which then disappeared into a tunnel while the poor bloody cyclist had to cope with some of the steep pitches I have referred to. The forecast had been for sunny weather but there was not much sun to be seen. There was, however the forecast wind which was blowing a good Force 4/5, fortunately from the North west which was in my favour.

Choppy seas

I pressed on to Conwy with its magnificent Castle, probably the most impressive I have seen. The sun had come out and there were lots of people taking pictures and wandering around

Conwy castle

I now had to thread myself through roadworks and back roads via Llandudno Junction to Colwyn Bay where I joined the promenade cycle way that went all the way to Prestatyn 16 miles east. It’s generally very well surfaced and wide and would have been a joy to ride along in the absence of the howling gale: at least it wasn’t in my face but there were occasions when I felt as if I was being sandblasted. I passed a forlorn travelling funfair that had been mothballed among the sand dunes near Abergele: I don’t suppose they will be operating for a long time to come.

The most extraordinary thing that I have seen today is the enormous windfarm that sits about 10 miles offshore and stetches from Colwyn Bay to Rhyl. Gwynt y Mor consists of 160 turbines and there are plans for more. There has been considerable opposition to the building of them but I find them strangely attractive and today they must have been supplying significant ammounts to the Grid. It is hard to get a photograph that does them justice and this is the best of several that I took

Gwynt y Mor

At Rhyl I was forced off the promenade by building works. Balfour Beatty had closed the cycleway and I found my way onto the coast road which was not busy. This was a blessing in disguise because I was largely sheltered from the wind by the houses along the road. I found a Co-op and bought lunch which I ate in the sunshine and out of the wind before carrying on on the coast road through Prestatyn. I was now turning south east down the Dee estuary and the cycle ways ran out. I either had to stay on the carriageway or take to some very narrow pavements, neither of which was great but I had to put up with it for the best part of 15 miles.

At Flint I took a look at another ruined Edwardian castle. Most of it has disappeared but according to the signage it took 1800 men to build it over a period of 11 years. It was the first of Edward’s Iron Ring of Castles, built to control the rebellious Welsh and played its part in all the major conflicts since.

Flint Castle

I continued on the main road through Connahs Quay and at Shotton crossed the canalised River Dee on a wooden track on a railway bridge.

This brought me onto a superb cycle track with the wind plumb behind me and I made very good time for about four miles before I had to leave it, and went through Saltney taking, most inadvisedly a narrow path between houses, with several kissing gates which were a pig to get the bike through. However I managed and kept going towards my destination at Wrexham. The last three miles of the journey were substantially uphill which was a bad way to end what had been a relatively easy day’s cycling but I landed at about 5.30pm. Tomorrow I make my way down the first section of the English border.

Day 11. Ynys Mon

Last night I considered my options for ending up in Bangor on the opposite side of the Menai Strait from Anglesey. I was staying centrally in Holyhead at the Stanley Arms, a nice boozer with rooms, run by Ivor Thomas who has been in the pub trade all over England and Wales for 37 years, the last seven at the Stanley Arms in his home town. Ivor finished serving food at 6pm and, as I arrived at about 5.40 I wasn’t going to get fed at the pub unless I sat down in my smelly cycling kit. I fancied a proper curry anyway and Ivor rang Nuha in the High Street who said that they could sit me down at about 7pm. The alternative was a takeaway which I didn’t fancy. Having done the usual offices I went down for a pint and a chat with Ivor who was interested in my journey. He has a scooter and has been off travelling in Europe for the last few years with a couple of mates. Next year they are planning to go to a scooter riders rally in central Portugal and he was interested in my RidewithGPS navigation system for their trip. He seemed quite relaxed about the new Covid regulations although they are bound to have an effect on his business. At 7 I wandered down to Nuha and had a very good Chicken Chat, a prettly good Lamb Biryani and a not very good onion bahji but it satisfied my curry yearning and was not expensive. However it was a strange dining experience: I was the only diner and the waiter tentatively pushed the plates across the table at me as if I was going to infect him. There was a very overweight man who came in to collect a takeaway and sat huffing and puffing until it was ready and there were a few orders going out through the door. Ambience zero.

Ivor doesn’t do breakfast, providing cheap but good accommodation. The enormous bed was comfortable and the shower worked well. I was able to rig a line up to dry my clothes which were ready in the morning. At £38.30 for the night it was good value.

As I said, I spent a bit of time last night looking at different routes to Bangor. My original plan was to go around the north coast of the island but 65 miles of hard riding didn’t appeal in my current state. The most direct route, about 25 miles, was on the main road but I wanted to see a bit more of Anglesey so ended up with a journey of about 45 miles.

I set off at about 9.30 without any breakfast apart from a couple of plums that I had left over from my Lidl lunch and a cup of tea. First port of call was South Stack on the opposite side of Holy Island from Holyhead. It involved a bracing climb in a strengthening wind which was to stay with me all day. The forecast was for sunny periods and showers but as I rode up to South Stack the sun peeped through though by the time I took the paicture of the lighthouse below me it had disappeared behind the clouds.

There were some walkers about and bird watchers with binoculars at the ready.  I turned round and continued south with some easy riding to Trearddur Bay, by which time the sun had re-appeared and there were some happily noisy dogs on the beach.

There are two bridges linking Holy Island to Anglesey island and I had arrived yesterday on the main A55 causeway so, for a change, I went over the other at Four Mile Bridge before heading north, crossing yesterday’s path at Valley, heading for Llyn Alaw, Anglesey’s main reservoir that was created out of marshy ground in the 1960s. It’s about two and a half miles long and the catchment is mainly winter rainfall, though it looked fairly full today. It is an SSSI due to the large numbers of over-wintering birds and is an active fishery with good stocks of brown and rainbow trout. My route took me high above the reservoir with sunlight reflecting off the water. The countryside was full with sheep and cattle and there are several wind tubines which were working hard today

Rain on the way?

The wind was trying and I had three layers of clothes and was not feeling hot despite some brisk climbing at times. Eventually the inevitable rain came, not heavy but cold and I stopped behind a hedge and put on my waterproof jacket. The storm only lasted a few minutes and by this stage I had done about 30 miles so I pressed on to join the main road to Pentraeth. Here I stopped at the large Spar shop attached to a filling station and bought some lunch: having had no breakfast I scoffed a cheese and ham baguette, a sausage roll and a couple of egg mayonnaise sandwiches as well as buying some Jaffa cakes to keep me going later. Revitalised I slogged uphill on the cycleway by the road, through some traffic lights controlling a tree felling operation and then very steeply down into Beaumaris with its Edwardian castle. Unfortunately Cadw the Welsh equivalent of English Heritage who manage the castle don’t open it on Thursday and Friday so I could only stand and stare. It has been described as Britain’s “most perfect example of symmetrical concentric planning”, as can be seen from the picture below. As I don’t have either wings or a drone I have nicked this picture from Wikipedia.

Aerial view Beaumaris Castle (CD34) Anglesey North Castles Historic Sites

The castle was built to tame the inhabitants of Anglesey who had rebelled against the king. The Natives were expelled, and an English town grew around the castle which was never completed but changed hands several times over the centuries. As the castle commands the Menai Strait it became an important fort against invasion from Scotland and vast sums of money were spent on it.

Beaumaris Castle

It is now a glorious ruin which I was sorry not to be able to explore more fully, especially as I had a bit of time to do so.

I now had about seven miles to travel along the Strait and over the Menai Bridge. This suspension bridge was designed and built by Thomas Telford using wrought iron chains suspending a wooden platform and completed in 1826. All but the original stone towers has been replaced over the years to allow for the increase in weight of traffic. It is a fine Grade I listed structure and when you stop in the middle of the cycleway to take pictures, as I did, there is an appreciable bounce up and down as traffic passes.

Britannia Bridge from Menai Bridge
Menai Bridge from the mainland

I am staying the night at Bangor University and arrived at about 3.30 pm giving me a good rest before tomorrow’s 80 mile journey to Wrexham.

Day 10. Over the Hill to Anglesey

Woodlands Hall Hotel is a 13 bedroom hotel that sits on the edge of the village of Edern in the middle of the Lleyn peninsula. It has vast rooms downstairs for functions and events which, when the place is mostly empty, are a bit soulless. My bike was put in an unused bar and I had a decent shower and came down for something to eat. There is a surprisingly large choice although soup was not available, so I opted for tacos with guacamole and cheese and, as I was quite hungry, ordered garlic focaccio on the side with fish and chips to follow. What arrived was a huge pile of tacos and 4 large slices of focaccio, really too much but, being me, I finished it all. The fish and chips were again very generous and I left most of the chips and left the table feeling over-full. It was all well cooked and served but I think they could cut back on portion sizes without complaint.

During the night there was a heavy rain storm at about midnight and an over-flowing gutter outside my window made a lot of noise as the water hit a flat roof so my night was a bit disturbed. However the bed was comfortable, the electric heater dried my clothes and I felt rested by morning. For breakfast I decided to cut back and went for poached eggs on toast which were well cooked.

There is a substantial range of hills between Edern and the coast road to Caernarfon and my route showed some alarming gradients. I had another look and found that by increasing the distance I could reduce the climbing so this is what I did and had a pleasant ride along the wide A499 which is the main road between Pwllheli and the north coast. Once on the coast there was a dedicated cycle track the full 15 miles to Carnarfon which made life very easy, though I turned off and went across country to the coast as the main road turned inland, which meant that I approached Caernarfon Castle from the south.

Unfortunately the pedestrian/cycle bridge that you can see to the right of the castle was, unbeknownst to me, closed for maintanance meaning that I had to take a two mile detour upstream. This was very annoying because I had considered staying on the main road for the full journey and would have avoided the inconvenience and extra distance although it did allow me the opportunity for my Welsh word of the day.

On the way back down into the town I was able to take a more spectacular picture of the magnificent castle, one of the main Edwardian castles in North Wales and the site of the Investiture of the last two Princes of Wales, Edward, later Duke of Windsor, at the instigation of Constable of the Castle and later Prime Minister, David Lloyd George in 1911 and Charles in 1969.

There is a cycle lane of varying goodness between Caernarfon and the Menai Bridge which is where I was heading. However the Britannia bridge, a tubular iron structure originally built by Robert Stephenson to carry rail traffic in 1850, and now double decked to carry both rail and road, is closer. There is, however, no cycle lane so it was a somewhat nervous cyclist that joined the North Wales Expressway, the main A55 road from Chester to Holyhead.

In the event there was no problem and I even stopped in the middle to take a picture of the Menai Bridge and will probably return the compliment tomorrow when I cross the Menai Bridge on my way to Bangor: traffic was relatively light and the carriageway is wide so I was soon turning off to Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. It would have been unthinkable not to stop and take a picture of the railway station that, with 58 letters, has the longest single place name in Europe. The name has also been adopted by the adjacent shopping centre.

I bought my lunch next door at the Co-op that was undergoing refurbishment and stopped and ate it outside in the sun, exciting the interest of a man of about my age, a retired geography teacher, who was intrigued by my journey. He said that about 60 years ago his father gave him a bike, without gears which he rode from Walton-on Thames to Anglesey in three days – a remarkable feat. He wished me well and we went our separate ways.

I now debated what to do. I had intended to follow the coast of Anglesey as closely as sensible but I am pretty saddle sore and did not relish the 75 mile journey entailed. I looked at the map and reckoned I could shave about 10 miles off and not really miss much, so that is what I have done, arriving in Holyhead feeling much better than I have for the last couple of days, chiefly because I have done little energetic climbing. The forecast tomorrow is for strong winds and rain so I shall cut out most of the north coast of Ynys Mon on my way back to Bangor. The only “must” is Beaumaris Castle and I have three optional routes to get there. I shall decide in the morning.

Day 9. 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.