Sunday, 18 May 2014

Llangurig to Breacon

The sun was in full force for the next few days of riding. We set off from Llangurig heading southwards following the course of the River Wye as it traversed many smaller valleys. This made for stunning cycling with the view changing completely every few miles. Although we were following the river, the roads rose and fell along the sides of the valleys which was a challenging start after the previous day's massive climbs. But with a crystal clear blue sky & an early start we were both relishing the rollercoaster roads.

At Rhayader we joined the traffic free old railway route that took us into the always beautiful Elan Valley. It's easy to understand why so many cyclists mention this area as their favourite part of Wales.
Due to the long distance of this day's riding, sadly we didn't follow the River Elan upstream to the reservoir, instead continuing along the Wye.

A Sustrans sign warned us of muddiness and treachery ahead as we reached Ty'n-y-fon Wood. It advised that we could follow the A-road instead, but the track leading up looked fine for anyone in the RSF, so we merrily continued up the rough stones enjoying the view from this elevated position where we could see the A-road below, surely it didn't have quite such resplendent views.

The track became more challenging as we continued. It seems that this route is being 'sanitised' and two workmen, a digger & a huge heap of stones had been laying the foundation of a more modern surface. As the work is in early stages, the small stones made for very slow progress - a bit like pedalling through treacle. Every stroke of the pedal being some real effort your pushing through the cranks. And with the heat of the mid-day sun, we were eagerly anticipating the lunch stop at Newbridge-on-wye. Back on tarmac, we flew knowing the little town wasn't far ahead.
However when we arrived, there wasn't much choice and all we could find was a small snack to tie us over. It did give our legs that boost to push on to Builth Wells. It felt like forever snaking around the hills without much sign of civilisation anywhere, but then all of a sudden we were heading into a town and a view which seemed identical to a homely view of Pendle Hill & the River Ribble!
A quick circuit of the town to decide where to eat and we settled on CC's, which was perfect! Lovely salad & quiche and a cake and the couple (I think they were a couple) who ran it were so struck with out cycle tour, we got free brews out of it. A sandwich bar I highly recommend if you're ever in the town!!

We continued the course of the Wye on the opposite side of the river from the A-road. This section was fast going - that wonderful feeling on a tour when you really feel you're actually making headway. We hit the main road, but there's a shared use footway, we carried on a bit further than the signed route for a garden centre brew & cake stop before the last pull of the day. We took a quiet lane where a very small elderly lady was sitting on her garden wall with her slippers on, smiling. We stopped to say 'hello' and she was so delightful- still full of wonder at the world and where she lived, clearly loving watching cyclists go past her house. She praised how well we'd climbed the lane, but warned us that there was much worse to come!

As we climbed, we saw a radio mast on a hilltop. Well that climb wasn't so bad after all. We turned a corner at Talgarth and it kept climbing, ok it was steeper, but we could make it. Two ladies in a car descending the hill gave us a big Thumbs Up as we reached a junction. A good feeling. Then we turned another corner and wow, yep, there was the hill. And it was a Good Un!! I slowly chugged up the hill that stretched out ahead. Stephen decided to be sensible and get off rather than strain his old-man-football-worn knee that had begun to bother him. I was happy to still be pedalling my fully loaded steed as a mamil passed me on his descent of he hill on some feather light make believe bike ;-) (and happily for Stephen, for that last stretch, he had decided to get back on).
It was one of the harder climbs of the tour, but probably my favourite. The lengthening shadows & warm evening breeze were lovely.

There was a good chunk of downhill from here as we approached the town of Breacon. Again it felt miles from civilisation, but then we started to pass houses and people out walking & running. But the cycle route seemed to take an excessive detour to reach the town. We popped into the supermarket for provisions for the night at the YHA. We still had a few miles left to cover as we followed the canal out of town in golden light.


The area was charming, but we had a good hour left on the road. I was very sorry that the setting sun meant we pressed on quickly here and took the main road as much as we could rather than follow all the little roads of the Taff Trail.
The route took us right up to the hostel and we arrived in semi-darkness, with clear starry skies. The hostel duty manager was very excited to hear about our trip and she had just got married a few weeks earlier. We grabbed some supper and chatted in the lounge for a while before turning in.
We did discover that YHA Danywellant does NOT have self-catering facilities. I didn't even know there were any hostels that don't provide a kitchen for guests to use! I will remember to make a note of that for the future; it would have been very useful to have known before carting tins of beans & a box of eggs all that way. And only discovering that fact after the reception had closed so we had not ordered breakfast for the next morning...

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Wedding cycling tour Dolgellau to Llangurig

The morning after the wedding we went down to breakfast & Nick & Sharon brought a bottle of bubbley to the table. I was feeling a little on the rough-side, so after a small glass, we put the remainder into the flask.
We knew it was going to be a big day ahead - not massive mileage, but massive amounts of climbing. We said our goodbyes to our families (thanks for taking our clothes home) & hosts and were on our way & instantly climbing. Instant climbing when you're rough is not much fun! We stopped for a few breathers as we climbed up from Dolgellau.


And we climbed some more. And some more. Eventually we crossed the main road as the bus carrying Sarah passed us - I waved maniacally hoping she would see us. The quiet lane carried on climbing for what felt like forever, and finally we reached the top. The view was amazing, as was the feeling that we were going to have so many more climbs to follow as valley after valley stretched out as far as we could see.


A fun descent took us past fields of lambs, verges of daffodils and villages en route to Machynlleth which was delightful after the morning slog.
We stopped at a corner shop for butties, but they'd sold out, so we grabbed some bits & sat in the sunshine on a bench eating jam slices & having a swig of bubbley (which opened with the most satisfyingly massive pop after being churned around on the bicycle frame) before carrying on to find a proper lunch at the leisure centre in Machynlleth (very cheap & good food). The lunch both gave us a much needed boost for the next section of climbing through the desolate hills where there's just nothing other than amazing views, one or two farms & sheep galore. We opted for the off road option, which was stunning, but Stephen's pannier rack was suffering from the rough terrain (he needs to invest in a proper one that is fully supported), so he walked most of the climb, we reached an unrideable section and both had to push up the last mile, which is a slog when you have a loaded bike!

When we got back on the road, it still wasn't the top!
But we were rewarded by a blissfully traffic free, smooth as butter gradual descent. The last big climb of the day complete, we were enjoying taking it easy all the way to Staylittle....

but I hadn't accounted for the subsequent smaller blips on the elevation profile and although we only had a dozen miles left to complete, the last section felt very tough. The roads rollercoasted around the smaller hills, gradually working their way up to the highest village in Wales, but repeatedly dropping you down and such a twisty road meant you didn't know what was round the next bend. Then a straight road downhill & behold, a blue building. It had to be the Bluebell Inn where we were booked in. We were both delighted to freewheel straight into the carpark rather than have the chore of arriving at a town, only to have the next task of funding the accommodation.
A basic room & an unassuming place, but after a shower, we went down to the bar & ordered our tea. And that was good! We had left beautiful, Welsh speaking North Wales behind and now in mid-Wales hearing any Welsh was also behind us.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Wedding Cycling Tour Days 2 & 3



We had a rest day before the Big Day, stopping two nights in picturesque Barmouth.






We pootled about town in the morning looking for things to make a bouquet with and only managed to get some ribbon, then in the afternoon embarked on a few hours of hiking from the Panorama walk onto the hill tops & back into the town behind the lovely old fishing cottages that are propped against the hillside in San Francsican fashion. All the little stairway alleyways were an idyll for me - allowing me to snoop on people's gardens and wonder at the cuteness of the place.





We returned to the b&b to find a card & a bottle of champagne outside our door that Jupp & John had kindly left us, so we hauled up for the evening with face masks, hair masks and generally chilled out.






The morning of The Big Day arrived. Alas the previous day's amazing sunshine was nowhere to be seen & the sky threatened rain for our ride along the Mawddach Trail.


A light breakfast for the mere ten flat miles saw us arrive in Dolgellau in good time (without getting rained on) & we even had a leisurely pot of tea at Ty Seren where we would be stopping for the evening.

Then the rush around. A fast shower & a frenzied attack with curling tongues and hairspray followed by a battle with the birdcage veil. Sarah & I then rushed off to find a florist toot-sweet. The lady there was lovely, but spoke better Thai than English & despite me wearing a wedding dress, she didn't seem to understand what the flowers were for. I thought an explanation would confuse things further, so I took my vase display back & asked Sharon & Nick for some scissors. There ensued a flower massacre in the shower as I cut the stems to a sensible size and tied my bouquet. Ta-daaa, ready! With time to spare.


Stephen's pretty bobbins with directions, so I was surprised when he had made it to the registry office before me!

Official business in the back and some laughs with Rhian & Rhian, the two registrars. They misheard my address thinking I had moved to the village of Lame Bottom, which when you're on a cycling tour gets some pretty good mileage! They were lovely & very welcoming. The tiny office is tucked away in the back of the council building and seats up to 20. Ideal for a quieter wedding ceremony & perfect for ours.
Everything had gone to plan and the music began to some giggles (readings below for those into that kinda thing).


We headed off to The Ship Inn for a wedding lunch then up to Gwesty Gwernan where Stephen's family were staying. We propped up the bar for a couple of hours.
We returned to find our room at Ty Seren was decorated with a wedding balloon & confetti everywhere you could think of! A really lovely touch.


Moors and clouds, Hills and sky
Stretching out forever infront of us
A lifetime of adventures ahead.

Headwinds, inclines, flats- unavoidable
We’ve already had our fair share
Keeping the ride diverse.
 
The challenges of our journey
Shape and strengthen our union
As we grow to understand each other more.

The climbs are easier
And the care-free-wheeling, a joy
Now we share our path.

The momentum gathered will carry us.
Our wheels propelling happiness
Onward, forever affirmed.
 ________________

They say the tandem shows the sum of a couple
They also say, ‘She’s not pedalling!’ a lot!
Communication, compromise & humour required,
Then a flying machine is what you’ve got!
Complete trust in the pilot’s essential for enjoyment
For a ride ride full of laughter and smiles.
Team work is the last ingredient needed
To make a lifetime of happy miles.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Wedding Cycling Tour Days 1&2

Months in the planning, 400 miles, not a drop of rain, no punctures either. A very memorable way to get hitched!

Lon Las Cymru is a route that has been calling to me for a few years - right through the heartland of Wales. It happens that there's a registry office en route in Dolgellau, so it seemed a fitting way to get married. We stuck a chunk of NCN5 on to the start from Chester and added an extra stretch into Somerset onto the end to beef it out a bit finishing at Blue Anchor near Minehead.

Day 1 had big mileage, but not much climbing, however there was a heck of a big headwind that ground things to a slow crawl along the banks of the Dee and all the way along the seafront past Rhyl into Llandudno towards the peaks of Snowdonia's hill tops that seemed to remain on the horizon forever as we slogged away. We enjoyed a nice bit of climbing after Flint which was lovely on pretty lanes up to Hoylake golf club for our first pint of the trip, which broke up the flat slog nicely.

 

As the holiday season hadn't got underway, most places were closed so finding a place to eat was no simple task. A lovely village before Llandudno came to our rescue with a fancypants pub meal. Semi-defeated we decided to get the train to Bangor to make up the time - that stretch is mostly along the A-road, so we werent missing much & we'd already visited lovely Conwy so had been on that stretch before.  We were also stopping at an Airbnb find & I was worried about arriving late, not knowing if our host had an early start for work the next day.

The night-time ride to the train then on to Penisa'r waun was delightful; bats flying alongside us, quiet narrow roads and the shadows of the mountains against the dark sky were breathtaking. Roller coaster roads came one after another.

We arrived at 10.30, our host, Luke who is a fellow cycle tourer was very understanding & lovely company - he had cycled Lon Las Cymru a number of times.



The great thing about arriving somewhere in the dark, is that when morning arrives, you're awarded with a beautiful view. The area here was stunning and I'm sure I could while away many cycling and walking hours just here. I aim to return there for a proper explore. 


Day 2 we set off towards Caernarfon where the start of NCN8 is beside the old mountain railway near the castle. Brilliant sunshine from the start, but cold headwinds again.
After leaving the beautiful lanes, we were on the converted railway track which offered mountain views to the west and more distant views of the coast to the east as it worked it's way in land to cut across the peninsular. 
The flat track was long forgotten as the route snaked it's way up steep hills and around farms, beautiful, but our legs were already tired from the previous long day in the saddle and getting reaccustomed to hauling two weeks worth of gear in the panniers. Eventually we were rewarded with a fast descent into the pretty seaside town at Criccieth where we enjoyed a picnic overlooking the bay, beneath the castle in a warm sheltered spot.


We plumped for a little bit of rough-stuff along the bridleway coastal path here, although it turned out there was a style we had to lug the heavy bikes over.

As we approached Black Rock Sands, we were greeted by a gentleman on an oldschool ten speed mountain bike & his good lady on a 3 speed, 20 inch wheeled bike with a basket containing crisps and pop. She  was taking the rough climb in her stride & apparently kept leaving him far behind as she managed every climb unphased; both joked (with grand Huddersfield accents) about his heart-attacks and the vein surgery he was about to receive. Half an hour later & we were pedalling towards Porthmadog again.


We made a quick stop for provisions before quickly carrying on to the stiff climb we knew was approaching.

We knew that the storms that had battered Wales the other month had left plenty of infrastructure problems in this area, but the miles of A-road diversion was less fun than we anticipated as we powered on with fast traffic on a very narrow road with drivers who must be sorely irritated by not only this huge detour, but the road works & traffic lights along this stretch that they've had to endure since before Christmas. The railway & pedestrian bridge is also out, adding to the volume of traffic on the stretch that cyclists are also being diverted on.

Finally we were through the diversion and we stopped at a roadside b&b which also has a cafe for a brew, a cake & a chill out! Right above us was a very high, steep hill. This is where route 8 goes. But we decided that we would make up for lost time by  going on the b-road which runs part way up the hill - offering lovely views, but with less effort. It was a good decision, although I'm sure the off road track is worth checking out another time.

It was a straight run into Barmouth from here and we did make excellent time, better than we'd anticipated, so it was a shame to miss the off road hill, but equally nice to enjoy our luxury room at the b&b, beside the window enjoying a glass of wine & the view of the Mawwdach Estury.



Thursday, 3 April 2014

A different perspective

I've lived in my home town for 31 years. Over the last few weeks, I've migrated to a different area of it and discovered that even after 31 years of general exploration of the place, there are still enclaves to be discovered.

And my new commute is flipping EPIC! 

It's upped from 18 miles to somewhere in the region of 30 miles per day depending which route I take, but so far I am loving it - the new bits are mostly off road or on quieter roads before I join my usual route.  And now I have someone to share the ride with, it feels less like a commute and more like a leisure ride.


I'm building up to it, not doing it every day just yet, but getting my legs used to that kind of distance more often. I'd been doing the 18 miles almost every day for a while now in all that blustery / galey weather we had the other month, so it shouldn't be too much time before I'm into the swing of those extra miles every day. 








And I'm looking forward to having another new perspective on distances. Since I started riding for utility as much as leisure, my concept of 'far' has changed dramatically. A 30+ mile round trip to meet my friends for a pub tea fits into the same bracket as going to work & nipping to town feels such a short trip that I can't get my head round why cycling round your own town is such a rarity - it really is so quick and easy & fun. And free!


The past year has been a real shift in how I experience the area where I live. Travelling to another town regularly to stop at Stephen's has made the county shrink & now I dont think twice at pedalling across the county for anything. As your learn new sections, the distance seems shorter as you break each bit of a route down into manageable chunks.
But now we're finally in our new house & we'll be getting into more of a journey routine rather than trying to figure out new & improved ways. Although there are a lot of new bridleways to explore up at this end of town heading over into Yorkshire. I'm looking forward to it immensely, although I will miss some of the routes I no longer need to frequent.






Saturday, 15 March 2014

RSF Grinton trip Day3: Fremmington Edge & Healaugh

By Sunday our numbers were down. A couple of guys went off to do their own rides leaving seven of us to do this short loop. I'd originally planned that this day's ride would be shorter, but as these things go when you havent had chance to try a ride out... this turned out to be a full day's worth of cycling.

Heading out of Grinton, we rounded a corner at what looked like a back street to be confronted by a vertical wall of a lane. There was a tiny reprise before another steep section emerged that kept rising and turned from a smooth track, to a bumpy one, to a fully lumpy one. We stopped a couple of times to 'admire the view' and nodded hellos to mountain bikers who were also climbing up Fremmington Edge.

Nick pushing his bike is a rare sight
Amanda & Ged almost at the top

Ian showing off with his sensible gear ratio, suspension & tyres


Atop Marrick Moor the wind was still fierce as we climbed further albeit a more gradual incline. We met some land rovers who were off up the tops for motoring fun and also some scrambling motor cycles. But we carried on beyond the tracks and towards a grassy descent where it took a little while to figure out just where the bridleway was. Soon we were enjoying some smooth descent, but this soon turned in to a technical rocky downhill section. We all lined up awaiting our turn.
The cold winds had frozen my hands and I interspersed riding with pushing since my raynauldsy fingers made effective braking impossible. But everyone else fully enjoyed that descent.


Passing some beautiful landscape, we were soon at Langthwaite & the pub.

Those who ride with Simeon were well prepared with packed lunches. Alas the Red Lion was lacking much food choice, so a couple of us cycled up to CB Inn heading up towards the Tan Hill Rd. The view up Arkengarthdale was amazing and the sun was trying to break through.



We enjoyed a really nice lunch & this place lives up to it's reputation.  Amanda left the ride here to spend the afternoon with her husband and the rest of us enjoyed some more climbing up the other side of the valley along the side of the wonderfully named Cringley Hill.

This was a really fun bit of moorland followed by a fast descent to Nova Scotia, so fast that we managed to miss our intended turn off, but instead found a steep bit of tarmac to enjoy that brought us to Healaugh where we took the road and then the greenway along the riverside to find a perfect afternoon tea stop in the form of a beautiful view whilst flasks and rations were pulled from saddle bags.


The last section brought us back to river level & we negotiated tree roots on a very narrow path. We were back in Grinton in no time.
Ian, Nick, Eileen, Stephen & I went to the pub for halves and brews and it was mild enough to sit outside.  Ged headed back up to the hostel for his lift home with Dave. A lovely way to end a brilliant weekend of cycling.

The map for the route can be seen here.

I had thought I'd take the monday morning commute by car to rest my legs after three challenging days in the saddle, but I was greeted by such glorious weather that I couldnt resist a cycle commute and I havent had any days off the bike yet. And my legs are telling me about it!

It was lovely to meet up with riders that I see so rarely, but the usual suspects turning up was as always greatly appreciated - you know who you are ;-)  Thanks for your company & making the trip brilliant!
Special thanks to Gerald (in his mid-70s) who was the only person to complete the full three days with me & was great company. On Sunday morning at breakfast, he'd asked if I was feeling fit this morning, to which I replied 'of course', his reply 'I was worried about that'.

Planning and leading rides for a group of well seasoned cyclists can be a little bit of an intimidating experience. Our club certainly has some massive personalities and some very strong views are held & I think that the history of past rides & leaders can sometimes get in the way of new people trying out those shoes with confidence.   Since I didn't know this area at all where others did, I had been filled with trepidation at the start of each day, but by the end of each day I was buzzing with the success of the routes and the enjoyment that everyone seemed to have had.