03 July 2013
I woke up to quiet, this was significant, it wasn’t raining! I’d been dreading having to pack up in the rain when my kit was already wet. It also makes everything that little bit heavier, meaning more effort is required in the pedalling department. Most of my clothes had dried overnight, within the compact and cosy confines of my tent, however my shoes were still on the soggy side.
The view this morning had significantly improved, mainly because I could see more that 10 metres in front of me. From the campsite I could look down over Llanelli and the River Loughor estuary, to the Gower Peninsula beyond.
After changing out my broken spoke followed by a bit of wheel straightening, I had quiche for breakfast. A tad on the unconventional side but I’d forgotten I’d bought it yesterday, and figured it was a bit like a breakfast omelette. I got ready to go whilst chatting to a caravaner about cycling. He used to cycle a lot but not so much these days, having let it gradually fall by the wayside. I hope he feels motivated to get back on two wheels now.
Whilst it wasn’t sunny it was nice to be cycling without any rain or spray. I left the campsite and rolled down the hill back to Llanelli, before crossing over the river to Gowerton. I thought about nipping into Llanelli to buy more spare spokes, but couldn’t find any promising bike shops on the Internet, so decided to restock in Cardiff instead.
I cycled around some of the Gower Peninsula but didn’t go right to the end, it being a dead end and thus acceptable to skip under my own rules. The countryside is pretty, as is the coastline, and there are several nature reserves to explore. The whole peninsula has been designated an Area if Outstanding Natural Beauty.
From Bishopston I pedalled down the coast and past Swansea Airport, which is even smaller than Norwich airport, before tackling a couple of largish hills to reach Caswell Bay.
There was a lot of activity in Caswell, with surfers, kayakers, and general beach goers out enjoying the better weather. I always admire the enthusiasm of the British holidaymaker when it comes to braving our beaches, whatever the weather, and generally dressed as if it’s ten degrees warmer. Good on ’em.
I contemplated buying a snack from the purveyor of finest hot dogs set up next to the beach, but managed to resist and had an apple instead, whilst watching a group head out for a surfing lesson. They were having enough trouble carrying their boards down to the sea so I wasn’t confident they’d cope too well when on the water. Maybe they’d be like seals, all clumsy and flopping along on land, but graceful and speedy in the sea. There wasn’t much in the way of surf today so they’d probably just end up floating about a bit.
There’s a big hill going east out of Caswell, which I was encouraged up by two elderly ladies who seemed to be making an easier job of walking up it than me on my bike. I was rewarded by a long downhill stretch to Swansea Bay and the Mumbles, the latter sounding like a place name Neil Gaiman should use in one of his books, with some kind of twist.
A long cycle track runs along the promenade past Swansea, and down through the docks and harbour, nicely avoiding the main road. I think it’s all part of the route 4 CTC cycle-way and there were certainly lots of cyclists using it, one of whom I ended up having a bit of an inadvertent race with. This wasn’t the fairest of competitions considering he didn’t have any panniers, but it was still fun, and we exchanged greetings before cycling our separate ways.
I crossed over the River Tawe, after which it all got a bit busy and industrial. For the most part I was able to stick to the cycle path which runs parallel to the M4, however I took a wrong turning somewhere along the line, around Port Talbot, causing a slight detour.
With a favourable wind and mostly flat terrain I was making good time, and joined the A48 down to Pyle and Bridgend. I turned off the main road just before Bridgend, to Merthyr Mawr, and then on to Candleston. Candelston Castle is a dead end, but is somewhere I wanted to stop at having visited several times over the years for various events. It’s a lovely place, and fairly unique for the UK with forest and sand dunes.
The castle is actually classed as a fortified manor house, but looks like a castle to me, even if it’s mostly in ruins now. It was originally built in the 14th century, and has survived the encroaching sand dunes which have swallowed up other structures in the area.
The sand dunes near Merthyr Mawr are some of the biggest and tallest in Europe, which I can attest to having had to slog over them a few times in the past, once dressed as an Arabian explorer/CIA agent, and another time as an Orc, but those are stories for another day.
There was a pack of about of 12 dogs that turned up whilst I was eating another apple and a chocolate bar to recoup some energy. They all appeared from one van, that of a professional dog walker, and looked to be having an enormous amount of fun gallivanting around woods and dunes. However I wouldn’t have liked to have been the one to clean up after all those canines, that would be a lot of poop to scoop, if he even bothered. And what would you do if they all just decided they didn’t want to get back in the van?
After a lovely break in Candleston I backtracked to Merthyr Mawr and continued at-a-pace on B-roads round to St. Brides. In my second race of the day I took on a horse and trap, narrowly beating them thanks to a hill and a tailwind. Again it was an inadvertent race, and they started it, but it was good fun and I waved them goodbye as I sped off downhill.
Upon reaching Llantwit Major I suddenly felt very hungry, and realised I hadn’t really eaten anything substantial since my most excellent quiche breakfast. I found a Greggs bakery in town and had a sandwich, then visited a health food shop next door to see if they had a good alternative to Snickers Bars. I ended up buying a couple of pricey protein/carb ‘Bounce’ bars to try. They’re 100% ‘natural’, whatever that means. Aren’t most things natural really? I decided I’d give them a try anyway but didn’t think the Snickers or Ginger Nut market was in danger of collapse, given the price difference.
Continuing on the B4265 I cycled past the MOD base at St. Athan, and then on to Barry joining the A4266. The road grew steadily busier as I approached Cardiff, but the traffic wasn’t moving much faster than I was so was manageable. The sun even came out for a bit.
I passed Penarth and entered Cardiff via the docks, getting slightly turned around on the roads but making it to the city centre thanks to well signposted cycle paths.
Cardiff is a great looking city, being compact like Norwich, with all the necessary shops and some good looking places to go out and eat/drink. Being on the coast it also has at least a couple of marinas for you yachting types. I paused at the Millennium Centre to check my route to Ian and Rachel’s, where I was staying the night.
I believe the inscription says ‘In these Stones Horizons Sing’, which was a song composed by Karl Jenkins for the opening of the Centre.
I rode past Cardiff Castle, at the very heart of the city, before making my way out to Whitchurch where Rachel and Ian live. I was a bit early due a quicker than anticipated day, so stopped for a pint at a local pub, before going round to meet up once they were back from work. Ah, that work thing, can’t say I’d been particularly missing it, but I only had one more month off.
After a conversation with a couple of tourists on their way back to Cornwall, about Bulldogs and how they can easily overheat – I sometimes have some bizarre conversations with random people – I met up with my hosts for the evening.
I hadn’t seen Rachel or Ian in a few years, and it was great to catch up, not to mention to get some washing done and dry out a few things. We went out for a nice bite to eat, and had a good froth about various things. They were also able to recommend a good local bike shop where I could pick up some new spokes, and perhaps a new rear tyre which was really starting to look bald now.
Still tired from the last few days, and having covered a rapid 80 miles today, I slept very well. With any luck I’d be back in England again tomorrow.