Monthly Archives: September 2013

Leg 65 – to Ilfracombe

A great birthday, with fab weather and some lovely countryside.

05 July 2013

I had a few strange dreams overnight, no doubt due to the cabaret performances I’d born witness to at the Beachcomber Inn. Still, it had been a thoroughly enjoyable evening, if not always for the right reasons, and I’d got a tenner from Pauline for the Big C so all good.

I only just remembered it was my birthday, 38 today, so I had a lie in until 08.30 to celebrate. For some reason I’m more of a fan of odd numbers than even numbers, don’t know why, so I wasn’t particularly excited about being 38, I’m pretty much stuck at being 33 anyway.

Warren Farm Holiday Park - a lovely sunny day

Warren Farm Holiday Park – a lovely sunny day

I spent 30 minutes checking my bike over breakfast, then had a shower and packed up. I had to take advantage of that plush toilet block one more time. Somewhere in between finishing my bike checks and getting back from the shower another spoke had managed to go ping. It was the non-drive side again so I thought I had spares, however upon trying to fit a new one I discovered I’d been given the wrong length spokes; maybe that bike shop in Cardiff wasn’t so good after all. This was pretty annoying as the shop had measured them up, but I should have checked myself rather than just trust that they’d got it right.

Instead of fitting a replacement spoke I had to tighten those adjacent to the break to get rid of the slight buckle, and hope they held out until I could reach another bike shop.

As I loaded up my bike more punters were arriving for the weekend in an almost constant stream of cars, caravans and motor-homes. The good weather must have been encouraging more people to get out in the fresh air. Due to bike fixing I didn’t get away until 11.00, with someone else immediately taking my vacated pitch. It was a bit like a full car park with people driving around waiting for someone to leave, and made me realise I was going to have book sites in advance if I wanted to guarantee a space now.

From Brean I rode along to Burnham-on-Sea and stopped at a small bike/car accessories shop, but they didn’t sell spokes and claimed I was unlikely to be able to buy them individually. To be honest I’m not sure he was the world’s foremost expert on bicycles, however he was able to recommend a good shop in Bridgwater where they build their own bikes, so were bound to have spokes for sale.

Burnham-on-Sea - seagull

Burnham-on-Sea – seagull

I rode down the seafront in Burnham before heading off towards Bridgwater, which was en-route anyway. I needed to swing inland slightly to find a crossing over the River Parrett.

Burnham Pier

Burnham Pier

Burnham seafront

Burnham seafront

I passed through Highbridge and pedalled on to Bridgwater, which has a slightly confusing one way system. I eventually found the bicycle shop, SJS Cycles, on St. John’s Road. They’re also the home of Thorn Cycles, who manufacture touring and tandem bikes. Each bike is assembled specifically to an individual’s requirements, and they carry a massive stock of frames, brakes, gears etc. and more importantly spare spokes. I had a chat with one of their engineers who noticed the majority of the spokes on my rear wheel, aside from those I’d replaced, were pretty poor quality meaning they’d probably break as well. I need DT spokes apparently, which are much less likely to break down at the elbow as the angle is better, and they’re just stronger. I bought half a dozen new spokes, all of the correct length, for a few quid, and replaced the broken one in the shop.

After straightening my wheel I was ready to set off, having learned more about wheel maintenance again. I stopped briefly for a lunchtime snack and then rode west from Bridgwater, fighting through the busy traffic and confusing roads to the A39. There followed a long stretch back down to the coast and Watchet, through pleasant Somerset countryside, and then along to Blue Anchor, followed by Minehead. I think there’s supposed to be a cycle track from Blue Anchor to Minehead but I couldn’t find it, so had to rejoin the A39. It was great to be cycling in good weather for a change, and I felt my morale rise accordingly after the hard slog through Wales.

I entered the Exmoor National Park after Minehead, and things got hilly. I was pretty certain the easy cycling since the Severn Bridge was now coming to and end, with the steep gradients of Devon and Cornwall in front of me. I’d been pondering these hills for a while now, surely they couldn’t be any worse than those I’d tackled along the west coast of Wales…surely…

Pausing in Porlock, a picturesque village in the heart of the national park, I refuelled on bananas and crisps in preparation for the Porlock hill climb. There are two ways you can tackle the hill out of Porlock, which is somewhat renowned amongst cycling circles. You can either take the A39 which has a really steep start to it (25%), followed by a long climb that isn’t for the feint hearted, or you can take the toll road which is longer but less steep. The main road was absolutely jammed with traffic so I opted for the toll road.

Porlock Toll Road 1

Porlock Toll Road 1

I really enjoyed the toll road, which although a very long hill climb was kind of cuddly, never being too steep, and passing through some gorgeous woodland with great views down to the coast. Consequently I seem to have taken a lot of photos.

Porlock Toll Road 2

Porlock Toll Road 2

Porlock Toll Road 3

Porlock Toll Road 3

The advantage of this road is the lack of traffic, compared to the A39, and I revelled in the quiet countryside, free of car fumes, and with birds singing all around me.

Porlock Toll Road 4

Porlock Toll Road 4

The toll road rises just over 4 miles before rejoining the A39, and overlooks Porlock Bay which you can often glimpse through the trees.

Porlock Toll Road 5

Porlock Toll Road 5

I loved the way the sunshine was coming through the trees, showing off the forest at its best, with lots of different shades of green.

Porlock Toll Road 6 - Porlock Bay

Porlock Toll Road 6 – Porlock Bay

The toll house is about half way up, and cost me a  quid for my bike – good value. I had a nice chat with the toll collector, feeling very relaxed. Shortly afterwards I passed a cyclist going the other way, travelling downhill at a rapid pace. I hoped his brakes were good as there are a few hairpins you have to contend with.

Porlock Toll Road 7

Porlock Toll Road 7

The gradient on the toll road never goes above about 1 in 14, which is mild compared with the main road.

Porlock Toll Road 8

Porlock Toll Road 8

I finally made it out of the trees and was afforded with some fantastic views down to the sea, and across the moor.

Porlock Toll Road 9

Porlock Toll Road 9

I paused for a few minutes at the top, just to take it all in, before carrying on across Exmoor. I later learnt I’d cycled up the toll road at about the same time my parents had been driving down the main road. They said I’d made the right choice, the main road being very busy. Drivers can be little impatient when they get stuck behind a cyclist on a steep hill for ages.

Porlock Toll Road 10 - panorama

Porlock Toll Road 10 – panorama

After Porlock I rode across the top of the moor, on a fairly flat section through more great scenery.

Exmoor National Park 1

Exmoor National Park 1

There were a few sheep hiding on the moor though, so not everything was quite as tranquil as it might appear. They can ambush you at any time so I had to keep on my toes, or on my pedals as it were.

Exmoor National Park 2

Exmoor National Park 2

Exmoor National Park 3

Exmoor National Park 3 – the A39 wasn’t as quiet as the toll road had been

After a few miles I rode down Countisbury Hill into Lynmouth,  where the road travels right next to the coastline, affording more lovely views.

Coast at Countisbury Hill

Coast at Countisbury Hill

There was a slight haze in the air, which the sheep were using for cover to hide their movements.

Descent down to Lynmouth 1

Descent down to Lynmouth – bit hazy

Lynmouth is another pretty village, having had to be rebuilt after the huge flood in 1952 which destroyed over 100 buildings, most of the bridges, washed cars out to sea, and killed 34 people. The river has been diverted around the village now to avoid a repetition.

Lynmouth Village

Lynmouth Village

The river has a huge catchment area so it’s not surprising there’s a flood risk. In 1952 the flood waters backed up behind a natural damn of river debris, including lots of trees washed into the swelling waters. When this eventually broke it sent a huge wave of water and debris down the valley, straight through the village.

Lynmouth Village - East Lynn River looking calm today

Lynmouth Village – Lyn River looking calm today

The hill out of Lynmouth was a leg killer, being 25% in several places and going on for at least a couple of miles. I chose to take Lynbridge Road (B3234), the more direct route alongside West Lyn River, rather than go the long way round on the A39. With the benefit of hindsight I should have gone for the longer and less steep route, however I missed the turning. I had to stop and rest 3 times up the climb, which was probably the hardest I’d had to tackle gradient wise to date, and I admit I did have to push for 10 metres or so just because it was so steep I couldn’t get going again without sliding backwards. I needed to get to a flatter bit just to start pedalling again.

I finally made it to the top and continued on the A39, which I’d rejoined, through more of Exmoor and then down a lovely long descent on the A399 towards Ilfracombe.

Exmoor post Lymouth

Exmoor post Lymouth

Exmoor - getting towards evening

Exmoor – evening drawing on

It was a great ride down to the coast as the light started to fade, past various good looking pubs which I was sorely tempted to stop at, and a nice little harbour at Combe Martin. My parents had already arrived at their B&B in Hele, where my campsite for the night was also located, so I needed to get a move on. It had been slow going today with all the hills, and a few stops for bike repairs.

I passed the castle at Watermouth, then pedalled slowly up the last hill before Hele and free-wheeling down to the campsite.

Watermouth Castle

Watermouth Castle

Top of the last hill before Hele Bay - gorgeous view

Top of the last hill before Hele Bay – gorgeous view

After having a nice chat with Sandra who was on warden duty at Hele Valley Holiday Park, I pitched my tent at about 20.30. Sandra and all the staff at the holiday park were really welcoming, and interested in my cycle ride. I’d recommend the campsite for anyone passing through.

I called my parents to let them know I’d arrived, and they promptly turned up to collect me so we could go forth and feast; although they did omit to bring me a beer, but I’d forgive them despite it having been a very thirst inducing day.

We went for dinner at the Hele Billy Pub/Restuarant, just managing to get in and order before the kitchen closed thanks to an understanding chef. It was great to see my parents and catch up, and even better as they were paying. I duly consumed a huge mixed grill, as well as most of my mother’s potatoes, and the cheesecake for dessert before I finally felt full. Unfortunately my Dad didn’t leave any morsel unfinished on his plate, but I probably couldn’t have eaten anything else after all that, as well as a few pints of very welcome Devonshire cider.

Hele Billy mixed grill - a must for the serious cycle tourer

Hele Billy mixed grill – a must for the serious cycle tourer

All in all it was a great birthday celebration, in a cool pub, and lovely to spend it with my parents. Thinking about it I probably hadn’t spent my birthday with Mum and Dad for a number of years.

Dad tucking in to duck if I recall correctly

Dad tucking in to duck if I recall correctly – look at the concentration

Mum consuming food at a more leisurely pace - I'd already finished

Mum consuming food at a more leisurely pace – of course I’d already finished

After a great day, during which I’d covered about 77 miles and some serious hills, I slept very well after being dropped back at the campsite. I was slightly worried about my rear wheel still, but had spare spokes, things couldn’t go that wrong could they?!

Leg 64 – to Brean via the Severn Bridge

A good days ride covering approximately 85 miles, and getting back into England.

04 July 2013

All too quickly it was time to get up after a very comfy night in a proper bed again; nice not to have to pack up my tent though, and nice to have another set of clean clothes post my washing drying.

Rachel had to leave for work fairly early, so I bid her goodbye, however handily Ian works from home as a Games developer so I had time to ease into the day. After having a leisurely breakfast and a chat with Ian I packed up and was ready to hit the road. Thanks for the stopover guys!

The weather looked acceptable if a little overcast as I pedalled off. Ian and Rachel had recommended a bike shop just down the road in Whitchurch, Damian Harris Cycles, so I made that my first stop. Unfortunately it started drizzling on my way there, but I had faith conditions were going to improve.

Damian Harris Cycles is another great bike shop, with a friendly and helpful bunch of guys who were good to chat to. I bought a new rear tyre, another Schwalbe Marathon Plus, which they fitted for me. It was gratifying to see I’m not the only one who struggles to get these tyres over the wheel rim, they’re very tough but hard to fit as a result. I also picked up a few more spokes, non drive side, as I’d run out of spares. I compared notes with one of the lads in the shop on the west coast of Wales and its hills. He agreed they can be pretty tough, with steep gradients. I reckoned they were as tough as anything else I’d tackled to date, just because of their frequency and steepness.

With my bike all rejuvenated I set off through Cardiff, targeting the Severn Bridge to get back into England. I rode past the castle, and stopped at a Greggs in the main shopping area to load up with bakery goods to keep me going, plus a second breakfast of a pizza slice. Cardiff’s another nice city I need to go back and visit properly another time.

Cardiff in the rain

Cardiff in the rain

There followed a slightly convoluted route to get out of Cardiff, via Splott, a cool name for a suburb. I eventually made it on to the coast road, after a couple of wrong turns, and pedalled up the Welsh coast alongside the Severn Estuary. The road was being turned into a dual carriageway, with large sections coned off. It was great to cycle on, being light on traffic and lovely and flat, with new tarmac. A rare tailwind helped be along, through various industrial areas to begin with, then some nice countryside all the way to Newport.

The rain stopped as I rode over the bridge into Newport, but then got a bit turned around in a maze of roads and confusing signposts. I stopped at a greengrocers to buy a few bananas and apples, and checked my map with the store owner to make sure I was on track. Thankfully I was still going roughly the right way and was soon on the road to Magor, then on to Caldicot via Undy. All the towns had their names in Welsh on the entry signs as usual, but I still didn’t have a chance of pronouncing them correctly most of the time.

I’d been following route 4 (CTC) on and off all day, and pedalled to Pwllmeyric just before Chepstow, having to tackle a steep hill before turning south to cross the River Severn. I was going to cross using the old Severn Bridge over which the M48 passes, as it’s open to bikes. Using the cycle path over the bridge saved me a long track inland to Gloucester, and back down again. I passed a moped going the other way, so they obviously don’t mind small motorbikes using it either.

There was a team painting the bridge as I crossed, which must be a pretty much permanent task. The bridge was vibrating from all the traffic zooming over it, just yards from the cycle path, a weird sensation.

Severn Bridge cycle path

Severn Bridge cycle path

I stopped for a quick break on the bridge, looking back towards Wales and then south to England. The clouds were breaking up and the sun coming out. After having to endure bad weather for much of my time in Wales it was apt timing that conditions were improving just as I was leaving.

Break on the bridge

Break on the bridge in the sunshine

Back in England

Back in England

After the bridge and village of Aust I tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to stick to the small roads and tracks next to the estuary – several were looking quite promising with helpful signposts. I passed through Severn Beach, but then ended up at a dead end and had to push my bike through a bit of a bush to get back to the road. This resulted in a few nettle stings but at least I was back on track, albeit with a few bits of vegetation sticking out from panniers. Either I’d missed a signpost or they’d done their usual trick of not being there when I really needed one. I blame Gremlins.

Promising track - resulted in a dead end

Promising track – resulted in a dead end

Severn Estuary - looking back to the bridge

Severn Estuary – looking back to the bridge

Severn Estuary and Bridge again

Severn Estuary and Bridge again – takes a while to cycle across

The A403 and a couple of quieter side roads and cycle tracks took me down to Avonmouth. The riding wasn’t a lot of fun, with a lot of heavy traffic, factories, fumes and impatient drivers. The impatient folk weren’t the lorry drivers incidentally, more the car drivers, especially the smaller cars – small angry man syndrome most of the time. I definitely needed a wide load sign on the back of my bike.

Severn Estuary in the sunshine

Severn Estuary in the sunshine

I stopped in Avonmouth for a break and phoned Will, my brother, who was stuck up in Edinburgh waiting for a plane to be fixed. I sat in the sunshine chatting, eating a couple of bananas and a chocolate bar to replenish energy reserves, whilst watching a large number of heavily tattooed men and women go in and out of a shop. There isn’t a lot in Avonmouth, but body art seems to feature in a big way with the locals. A lot of it was pretty cool and got me wondering about a tattoo again, something I’ve been mulling over for a while. I’d quite like a small one of a similar design to the New Zealand green-stone necklace I wear, but think I’ll have to get a design done and put it up on my wall for 6 months to see if I get bored of it before making a final decision.

I had to ride towards and into the outskirts of Bristol next, to find a bridge over the River Avon. Thankfully most of the route was via cycle paths as the roads were very busy again.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge

I pedalled up the A4 alongside the river, with cliffs on my left hand side at some points, and passed under the Clifton Suspension Bridge before crossing the Avon. The queues of traffic were pretty horrendous, but being on a bike I was able to keep to the cycle tracks and bypass them all for the most part.

Crossing the Avon

Crossing the Avon

I took the B3128 back towards the coast and Clevedon, trying to avoid the busier roads, but encountering a big hill climb instead. It was lovely riding in the sunshine, which had stayed out since getting back into England. I could look back over the Severn Estuary into Wales and see a pall of clouds still hanging over the coastline there – that country does seem like a magnet for bad weather.

I quickly came to the conclusion that all the roads were going to be busy, so just got my head down and pedalled, yearning for the quieter trails of Scotland. There were quite a few other cyclists out to wave to, including a few tourers going the other way who had the tailwind at this stage.

After getting irritated by a succession of drivers coming too close to me in their haste to pass, I turned off the the B3128 and rode across to the A370, which although equally as busy was wider, and took me direct to Weston-super-Mare.

It took a long time to get into Weston-super-Mare from its outskirts, having crossed the town boundary several miles before I reached the town centre itself. The road just seemed to go on for ages but I eventually made it to the seafront, where a big biker rally was going on. They had a DJ playing some really classic tunes, including music from Therapy, The Cure, and even a bit of Type O Negative which I hadn’t listened to in ages.

Weston-Super-Mare - biker rally

Weston-super-Mare – biker rally

There were a lot of bikes and it looked like a lot of fun; I considered trying to sneak in with the Ridgeback but I’m not sure it would have measured up versus a Harley Davidson hog. Instead I paused on the promenade and had a cold can of fizzy pop from a stall that was just closing up for the evening, listening to the music and gazing out across the sands.

Weston-Super-Mare pier

Weston-super-Mare pier

Weston-Super-Mare beach

Weston-Super-Mare beach

Refreshed and buoyed by the music I pedalled along the promenade with the sun gradually getting lower in the clouds, watching a few kite surfers out for an evening session.

Weston-super-Mare - Kite Surfers 1

Weston-super-Mare – Kite Surfers 1

There was a stiff breeze so some of them were travelling along at quite a pace. I’m still not sure how they don’t decapitate one another with the lines to their kites. There were a few windsurfers out too, which seems like a safer option.

Weston-super-Mare - Kite Surfers 2

Weston-super-Mare – Kite Surfers 2

The on-shore wind they were enjoying was unfortunately whipping up a fair bit of sand and blowing it into my face and eyes, which stung a bit despite wearing sunglasses and pulling my buff up around my mouth.

Evening drawing on in Weston-super-Mare

Evening drawing on in Weston-super-Mare

I think that’s Steep Holm Island in the photo above, out in the Bristol Channel, although it might be Flat Holm Island.

Weston-super-Mare - Kite Surfers 3

Weston-super-Mare – Kite Surfers 3

Some rather wiggly roads came next as I made my way around to Brean and found a campsite, which turned out to be more of a holiday park, but only cost me £11. This was fine given it was now July and camping prices were going up.

I quickly pitched my tent which blew about a bit, due to the increasing westerly wind and exposed coastline, until I got it pegged down. Handily the Hilleburg Akto is easy to erect, having only one pole you need to slide in. I’d had lots of practice by now so it was up in five minutes, and I adjourned to the rather plush toilet block for a shower.

Plushest toilets of the tour!

Plushest toilets of the tour!

Now I’m not in the habit of taking pictures in toilets, but the facilities at the Warren Farm Holiday Park were pretty impressive. I almost felt like I needed to have a wash before using them.

Me looking a but weather beaten in Brean

Me looking a but weather beaten in Brean

The Beachcomber Inn is just next door to the campsite, and part of the complex, doubling as the entertainment centre for the holiday park. With some trepidation I made my way there, deciding I’d eat out rather than cook something in the wind, but somewhat nervous about exactly what sort of entertainment they had lined up.

They were just finishing the bingo when I turned up. I ordered a surf and turf dinner, as a treat, to celebrate the good weather (despite the wind) and getting back into England. Then I settled down to write my journal and watch a few of the acts. An ex X -Factor singer there on holiday was called upon to do a couple of numbers, he wasn’t half a bad singer but I prefer real music with real musicians; pity he didn’t do a few of the songs being played down the road at the biker rally.

The highlight of the evening were a couple of comedians, one the straight guy, Tim, and the other the funny guy, Tony.  Tony was impersonating an Albanian working at the holiday camp, ‘standing in’ for Tony who was ‘late’. They were really good and I genuinely laughed throughout the show, which also contained a few sing-alongs,  and a bit of audience participation.

Tim and Tony Strange at the Warren Farm Holiday Park

Tim and Tony Strange at the Warren Farm Holiday Park

All in all it was a great evening, and made me realise not all holiday camp cabaret experiences are awful. I also chatted to a few of the holiday makers there, including Pauline who kindly donated £10 to the Big C, thanks Pauline. She’d been coming to the holiday park since 1975 and told me a few tales, and got me a ‘shout out’ from the compère for my tour which was nice.

Post a rendition of ‘Oh Mandy’ and ‘That’s Amore’, and the Albanian worker upstaging Tony, the show was over and it was time to retreat back to my tent. It was my birthday tomorrow, so I had my fingers crossed for good weather, and was looking forward to meeting up with my parents who were travelling down from East Sussex to visit – fingers crossed for some free food!

I’ll leave you with a bit of Tim and Tony Strange via Youtube if you fancy a laugh, classic comedy:

Edited with BlogPad Pro

Leg 63 – to Cardiff

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.

Caemawr Farm - weather significantly improved

Caemawr Farm – weather significantly improved

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.

View back to Llanelli from near Three Crosses

View back to Llanelli from near Three Crosses

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.

Swansea 'Airport'

Swansea ‘Airport’

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.

Caswell Bay panorama

Caswell Bay panorama

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.

Swansea Bay

Swansea Bay

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.

Cormorants preening in Swansea

Cormorants preening in Swansea

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.

Swansea Marina

Swansea Marina

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.

Candleston Castle 1

Candleston Castle 1

Candleston Castle 2

Candleston Castle 2

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.

Candleston Castle 3 - view from upstairs

Candleston Castle 3 – view from upstairs

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.

Sand dunes of Candleston

Sand dunes of Candleston

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.

Giant metal ball reflection

Giant metal ball reflection

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.

Millenium Centre

Millenium Centre

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.

Leg 62 – to Llanelli

02 July 2013

I think today may have been wetter than the Campbeltown leg, and that’s saying something. The visibility was definitely worse, with low cloud hanging about for much of the day.

My tent was shaking when I woke up. The wind had changed direction in the night and was blasting the side, accompanied by the persistent drumming of rain. ‘Great,’ I thought, so much for the good weather of yesterday.

A grey morning at the Sandy Haven campsite

A grey morning at the Sandy Haven campsite

Determined to get a good leg in I breakfasted in my tent, then made a dash to the toilet block and showers. Thankfully the rain stopped whilst I packed up and I was on the road by 10.00. In hindsight I’m not really sure why I bothered with a shower.

From Herbranston I made my way to the town of Milford Haven, dodging through the traffic to join the B4325 to Honeyborough, where I knew there was a bike shop. There were some pretty big ships out on the water, Milford Haven having been used as a port since the Middle Ages.

Milford Haven

Milford Haven

I stopped at Enterprise Cycles, a Ridgeback stockist, and bought some new brake pads (Aztecs). The shop staff were very helpful and obliging – they let me bring my bike in and change the pads in the shop, so I spent 10 minutes adjusting them to make sure they didn’t rub etc.

Enterprise Cycles, Honeyborough

Enterprise Cycles, Honeyborough

I was doubly grateful when it started to throw it down outside, and prolonged my visit to have a good chat about my tour and cycling in general. The rain however didn’t look like it was going to stop, so I eventually bid Enterprise Cycles goodbye and pedalled off to the bridge over the Milford Haven.

Bridge over the Milford Haven

Bridge over the Milford Haven – Pembroke Dock

The busy bridge crosses at Neyland over to Pembroke Dock, and thankfully there’s a cycle path that runs over it. There were a lot of heavy trucks out on the road and kicking up a lot of spray, something of a feature for the day, so I didn’t take that many photos.

Another view from the bridge - a very rainy day

Another view from the bridge – a very rainy day

Once over the bridge I stopped for lunch in Pembroke, next to the castle, wolfing down a coronation chicken baguette. Pembroke Castle is another that’s seen a lot of action, most recently in the English Civil War when Cromwell laid siege to it. Henry VII was also born there.

Pembroke Castle

Pembroke Castle

Post lunch and a chat to my Dad to check on the weather forecast, which didn’t sound hopeful, I got under-way again. I’d intended to ride from Pembroke to Castlemartin, then back east, however due to a combination of poor visibility and bad map reading I took a more direct route to Stackpole. I wasn’t overly upset as I couldn’t see a great deal anyway, and the weather was deteriorating further as the day went on.

A succession of feisty hills, including a few 16%’ers, left my legs aching after yesterday’s efforts, however at least the roads were much quieter as I pedalled along the coast towards Tenby. It’s an interesting town, built on a hill, so I stopped for a quick look around.

Tenby Five Arches Gate

Tenby Five Arches Gate

Tenby, which in Welsh means something like little fortress of the fish, is a walled town, the walls having been built to keep out a succession of Welsh attackers. It was originally a hill fort, which the Norman’s converted into a stone castle, with extensive town walls built in later centuries. The strong defensive position meant a busy seaport sprang up, and Henry Tudor had a brief stay there before sailing into exile in France, during the Wars of the Roses.

It was an impressive town despite the weather, with the harbour down below, and a nice old-town.

Tenby Harbour

Tenby Harbour

I stopped for a coffee (decaf as usual, although I was sorely tempted with some caffeine today) at the Vista Cafe, which has great views across Camarthen Bay. Chatting to one of the guys serving I learnt he’d kayaked across Scotland, which is no mean feat given you have to do quite a bit of portaging. He did however manage to break his kayak in doing so, which was on loan from Uni, oops; now he absolutely has to finish writing up his experience as payback. I wonder if he’s finished yet. It’s amazing who you randomly meet, and how many people have had some pretty awesome adventures.

Tenby Beach, not many people sunbathing today

Tenby Beach, not many people sunbathing today

Post coffee I walked my bike around the last bit of Tenby in the rain, and heard a child say, ‘Look Mum it’s snowing.’ I almost wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been snowing given all the other weather Wales had been experiencing, but it was just lights from a car reflecting in the raindrops that made it look a bit like snow.

Next up was a long and pretty unremarkable stretch up to Carmarthen, via St. Clears to get over the River Taf, during which I benefited from a tailwind. I couldn’t see a lot and wanted to press on, so stuck to the main roads for a bit. With low visibility and lots of traffic I was getting a bit concerned about a lorry not seeing me, so I attached just about every light I had to the back of my bike, lighting it up like a Christmas Tree.

Grim riding on the A477

Grim riding on the A477

One high point was a lovely long descent from Red Roses that seemed to go on for miles. Despite my waterproof I was pretty drenched by this stage, from the rain, mist and spray, so was quite enjoying splashing through all the puddles at high speed; I couldn’t get any wetter! I love Ortlieb Panniers incidentally, they don’t leak.

Rather wet on the A477, with a wonky helmet

Rather wet on the A477, with a wonky helmet

Ridgeback holding up in the wet

Ridgeback holding up in the wet

I managed to avoid most of the busy A40 by taking a minor road that ran almost parallel to it, and made it to Carmarthen where I stopped for a burger to refuel, before crossing the River Towy. I shared a moment or two with a motorcyclist at the services. We were both equally drenched, and got further drenched when water suddenly ran off roof onto our heads whilst we were parking our bikes up. It was just funny by this stage.

Crossing the River Towy, Carmarthen

Crossing the River Towy, Carmarthen

Riding through low cloud and unrelenting rain I pedalled onwards down the A484, stopping to phone a campsite in Llanelli to let them know I was coming. I was doubtful they’d be filling up with enthusiastic campers but you never know, and didn’t want to have to find somewhere else.

I’ve been told the countryside and coastline is wonderful around this part of Wales, but I really couldn’t tell you if it was or not; there were certainly a few good hills and nice descents, but I couldn’t see a lot.

I passed by Kidwelly, and noticed a sign to ‘Pinged’. I don’t know if it was the village name that made me glance down at my rear wheel, or if I herd a ‘Ping’ at the same time, but in any case my back wheel had developed a buckle as another spoke had gone. It wasn’t too bad so I decided to leave off replacing it until I got to the campsite. It made me laugh though, and a strange coincidence – I might have been going a bit strange by this point in the day.

I pedalled on through Pembrey, and round to Burry Port, before arriving in Llanelli in a dry patch. I stopped to buy some biscuits, ginger nuts of course, as well as a few beers, dripping water on to the floor of the convenience store as I waited to pay. It was one of those moments when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, but no-one else is. The person in front of me, who was slightly inebriated and irritating the shopkeeper, spent a good 5 minutes chatting and getting his change out to pay, whilst a puddle slowly formed around me. I tried to help and we got there eventually, the man staggering off with his trusty bottle of dubious cider (White Lightning I think) and a half dozen eggs; a good balanced diet.

Supplies successfully purchased, and with the convenience store’s floor inadvertently washed, I climbed out of Llanelli to Furnace, and to the Caemawr Farm Camping and Caravanning site. The farm dog, a springer spaniel, came out to great me enthusiastically and the owner showed me up through the mist to the camping field. It’s a nice site, I think, I couldn’t really tell, but the owner was very nice. There were a few other indistinct shapes in the mist which were either herds of vengeful sheep out to get me, or other campers, I hoped the latter.

I got my tent up quick, which was fortunate considering it hammered down with rain about 20 minutes later. It was only 21.00, but I retreated inside for the rest of the evening, the rain not showing any signs of stopping. Handily, and for the first time in ages, I could pick up a 3G signal so had entertainment for the evening thanks to my iPad, which I can hotspot to the Internet via my mobile phone.

Caemawr Campsite

Caemawr Campsite

Caemawr Campsite - you can just about see my tent

Caemawr Campsite – you can just about see my tent

One issue of being in a small tent is that it’s quite tricky to dry stuff. Body heat is effective but uncomfortable, and I knew I’d be putting on wet stuff tomorrow. Still, the weather forecast looked like it was going to be a better day tomorrow, and I was aiming for Cardiff where I’d be staying with friends, so could dry stuff there.

I’d covered around 75 miles today, a respectable distance considering the conditions – I was still on schedule.

Leg 61 – to Herbrandston, via Cardigan & St. David’s

I originally wrote this, in it’s non-electronic format, from inside my tent at a small campsite near Herbrandston, overlooking the Milford Haven waterway. There was only one other camper on site, with an equally small tent, and I think they were already a asleep by the time I pitched up. During the course of writing up the day’s events I managed to consume a whole packet of ginger nuts. I think I was becoming addicted to these simple yet scrumptious biscuits. Scrumptious is another word that should be used more often.

01 July 2013

Two months into the tour and 3,951 miles done to date, with at least another 1,000 left to go before I was back to Norwich, although I reckoned it would be more like 1,500 by the time I was all done. If I averaged around 70 miles a day I’d make it to Latitude fine, but that depended on the weather, the hills, and whether anything went awry during the final month of Bike around Britain.

Morning at Treddafydd Campsite

Morning at Treddafydd Campsite

Today was a much better day than the two or three previous. For a start the sun came out properly, and I also finally got to turn east, albeit only for a little while.

I woke up a bit later than normal due to my late finish the previous evening, and got the normal morning routine done and dusted quickly, keen to get back on the road. The owner and his son came over for a quick chat, interested in where I was heading today. I told them Milford Haven. They just laughed, perhaps they knew something I didn’t. I imagine their knowledge probably involved hills. I also said hello to the friendly farm dog, a golden retriever. I wouldn’t say golden retrievers are the top of the pile when it comes to intelligence, but they’re very friendly, and I was suitably slobbered on.

Treddafydd campsite - still quite cloudy at this stage

Treddafydd campsite – still quite cloudy at this stage

I was packed up and on the road by 10.15, although I still wasn’t entirely sure where I was. I cycled south west and discovered Penbryn village about half a mile away, good stuff, I was in roughly the right place, or roughly where I thought I was anyway. Knowing roughly where I was didn’t particularly help when it came to navigating my way through the mass of small country roads to Cardigan. There were definitely more than were on my map, which had lost its accuracy since entering this part of Wales. I eventually hit the A487 and stayed on it to Cardigan, passing a cycle tourer going the other way complete with flowing beard. He looked like he’d been on the road for some time, having that weather stained and slightly mad look about him that I was beginning to recognise in myself; waves and smiles were duly exchanged.

I stopped for a break in Cardigan and decided it was second breakfast time, finding a promising looking cafe. Full English, or Welsh, consumed, the day was definitely off to a better start, and it was only a fiver for that and a decaf coffee. Breakfast done I rode over the Afon Teifi and turned on to the B4546 towards Poppit Sands following the river back to the coast.

Riding towards Poppit Sands from Cardigan

Riding towards Poppit Sands from Cardigan

From St Dogmaels it started to get seriously hilly again, however the sun came out and stayed out, which gave me a much needed boost up some of the climbs.

Poppit Sands

Poppit Sands – beautiful sunshine

On my way to Moylgrove I stopped for 20 minutes at a picnic table above the village, and lay down in the sunshine. It was lovely just to stop and relax, taking some time out from pedalling up and down hills, not to mention the south westerly wind which couldn’t get at me in this sheltered spot. I could have very easily dozed off for an hour or two in the grass, with bees buzzing around me and a real sense that summer was definitely here.

The hills above Moylgrove

The hills above Moylgrove

There’s a spot near Moylgrove called the Liar’s Circle, where traditionally folk apparently gathered to tell tales. There’s also the Witches Cauldron, a famous natural rock bowl on the coast fed by the tide rushing through an underground passage, and lots of Iron Age forts, so plenty to see. Good fishing around here too, and there used to be quite a bit of smuggling which no doubt supplemented incomes.

Moylgrove

Moylgrove

Before I completely nodded off I got back on my bike, and set off to Newport, tackling plenty more hills. The trouble with sticking to the coast road is that it goes up and down to every cove, whilst the main road a few miles inland is a lot flatter. It was however good practice for Devon and Cornwall, both of which I’d been slightly dreading due to their renowned and unforgiving gradients. The scenery was also fantastic thanks to the sunshine.

Pedalling over Welsh hills to Newport

Pedalling over Welsh hills to Newport – few clouds on the horizon but sunny at present

Some of the towns and villages around this part of Wales have Irish rather than Welsh names, a testament to a chequered history with groups from Ireland settling in the area.

I made it to Newport and stopped for a pint of Thwaite’s Wainwright Ale, a very pleasant beverage. I raised a toast to the sunshine, which was warming me up both physically and mentally. With all this stopping for breaks today was going to be a long one, but it was just so nice to have better weather.

Next up the road took me over the hills to and through Fishguard, where I didn’t stop figuring I should get some miles done. Saying that one of the hills up out of Fishguard nearly forced me to stop and push it was so steep, but I made it up having to stand on the pedals for the last bit.

Fishguard

Fishguard

I took the main road for a bit, before turning off at Mathry and heading to Abercastle through more lovely countryside. I was back closer to the coast, but as a result the hills were getting more frequent again, and the road insisted on exploring each nook and cranny.

Abercastle

Abercastle

Me in Abercastle

Me in Abercastle – spiky hair

Undeterred I pedalled on to St. David’s, Britain’s smallest city, arriving on aching legs at about 17.00 after a long stretch during which I passed several tourers going the other way. I also spotted a couple of Red Kites, my first of the tour, and easy to identify because of their forked tales.

Welsh coastline on way to St David's

Welsh coastline on way to St. David’s, beautiful

I had a look around St. David’s Cathedral, with the ruined Bishop’s Palace just next door. It’s a really peaceful cathedral, and interesting to look around, there having been a Christian site here since around 500AD. The treasure room in the cathedral has a few interesting artefacts, including several ornate and golden ends to bishop’s staffs – the shepherd’s crook shape, and beautiful chalices used for serving communion.

S David's Cathedral 1

St. David’s Cathedral 1

After walking around the quiet cathedral, in a contemplative state, I left a donation and lit one of their votive candles to remember Lu by. I’m not particularly religious, and neither was Lu, but it just seemed like the right thing to do.

The ruined Bishop's Palace

The ruined Bishop’s Palace

St David's Cathedral 2

St. David’s Cathedral 2

St David's Cathedral 3

St. David’s Cathedral 3

St David's town wall

St David’s town wall

I stopped at the Bishop’s Inn on the way out of St. David’s, for some physical sustenance post spiritual nourishment. It was about 18.00 so the excellent fish pie was well timed. It really was a good fish pie too, with salmon, white fish, mussels, prawns and clams. The chips and a pint of ale weren’t bad either.

The Bishop's Inn, St David's

The Bishop’s Inn, St. David’s

At this point I turned East and South East, so the wind was finally mostly behind me, a big relief after it having been in my face for several days. I passed through more lovely countryside as afternoon turned into evening, and paused at a few beaches to admire the view.

A487 along the coast from St David's

A487 along the coast from St. David’s

Hills above Newgale

Hills above Newgale

Newgale beach was especially nice, and there were several kite surfers out enjoying the conditions.

Newgale Beach looking west

Newgale Beach looking west

Newgale Beach looking east

Newgale Beach looking east

Newgale Beach panorama

Newgale Beach panorama

From Newgale I took the minor road around St. Brides Bay, passing through Norton Haven, Broad Haven and Little Haven. This proved to take quite a while as again the road dipped and twisted down into every cove, and there were a lot of coves. I reckoned my legs must be getting really fit by now, they really ached to prove it.

Via a roundabout route I rode down to Marloes, where apparently I used to eat sand as a toddler. I used to drop my half eaten and rather soggy biscuit into the sand, then eat it. I reckon it made them more crunchy.

One of the Havens

One of the Havens

I can’t actually remember where the above photo was taken, I think it was one of the Haven’s, but can’t recall which one. Anyone know?

Something stingy flew into my cycling helmet near St. Ishmael’s, and either stung or bit my forehead. It was a bit of a shock and I swerved around the road, desperately trying to get my helmet off in a hurry to extricate the wee beastie. It could have been nasty had there been traffic on the road, but luckily it was a quiet evening. By the time I’d stopped and whipped off my helmet it had made its escape, so I never found out what it was, but I rode helmet-less for a bit after that.

Post more ups and downs I made it across to Herbrandston, and the campsite I was aiming for at Sandy Haven, right on the shores of the Milford Haven waterway. The owners weren’t there but had delegated control to a couple who have a permanent caravan on site, spending more time there than at home by the sounds of it. They were very pleasant, inviting me in for a cup of tea and supplying a key to the shower block.

I hadn’t arrived until about 21.00, so another long day with the hills making it slow going, although I had taken a lot of breaks. I’d covered about 72 miles, which was fine considering the longer legs I’d been putting in, and I felt a lot better than I had done yesterday.

Herbrandston campsite - only one other camper, and they were already abed

Herbrandston campsite – only one other camper, and they were already abed

After a phone call to my parents, and a wash, I retreated to my tent as it got dark, with the wind starting to make it quite chilly now the sun was gone. I was going to try for an early start tomorrow, and needed to visit a bike shop to get some new front brake pads, my current ones having just about worn out. I’m happy to report my PowerMonkey device was charging well in the sunshine; I was really hoping the good weather would stick around for a bit, but suspected a storm might be brewing.

I nodded off with the wind blowing my tent about, and my legs aching not insignificantly despite trying to stretch them off. Roll on tomorrow. Was that rain I heard?!

Ships lights on the Milford Haven waterway

Ships lights on the Milford Haven waterway