Rob and Sarah have been off exploring themselves for much of this month, so here's our news!
22nd October - Stonehenge
In a dramatic expansion of Mid Wales, Rob took Oregon-based Byron to Stonehenge today. Adding in Woodhenge and Avebury to our journey, we had a fine exploration of these enigmatic remants of neolithic culture. Rob is available for longer bespoke tours beyond his stamping-ground of Mid Wales!
12th October - 16th October Lon Las Cymru ~ The Green Lane of Wales
250 miles, Wales end-to-end. Rob, on the spur of the moment decided to catch a train to Holyhead and to follow Lon Las Cymru, National Cycle Route 8 from the Anglesey port back home to Boughrood. So enthused was he, he kept going to reach Cardiff on Monday evening.
Day 1 Holyhead - Caernarfon 39 miles, 1,300' ascent
A lovely train journey that included the scenic Heart of Wales line and the spectacular north Wales coast mainline ended at the Irish sea port of Holyhead. Under cloudless skies I found my first red number 8 and I was off east across firstly Holy Island and then the main Isle of Anglesey. Generally flat, by Welsh standards, Anglesey has a beautiful and varied coastline followed by the recently opened 128 mile coast path. Route 8 follows an inland course, tracking quiet, hedge-enclosed lanes to reach mthe Menai Bridge. Built by Thomas Telford in 1818, this graceful suspension bridge links Anglesey ~ Ynys Mon with Gwynedd on the mainland.
Having crossed the water, I wove through early evening traffic to find Lon Las Menai a cycle path that follows the former Caernarfon branch along the southern shores of the Menai strait. This stretch of water is famous for its double high tides, once was the scene of huge slaughter as the invading Romans sought to supress the cult of druids that were based on the island. It is said that the strait red with blood on that day!
Rather more peaceably I arrived in the walled town of Caernarfon and the fine independent hostel of Totters.
Day 2 Caernarfon - Barmouth 52 miles, 4,300' ascent
Caernarfon Castle was hosting the Weeping Window display of poppies to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the battle of the Somme. I left the town too early to see what is a very moving tribute to the fallen. I took Lon Eifion a 12 mile traffic free cycle path that follows the ex-LNWR line across the Llyn peninsula. Initially running alongside the narrow gauge Welsh Highland railway line to Porthmadog, Lon Eifion is a wonderful way to gain height and to leave the district of Arfon for the rockier and more rugged environs of the Llyn peninsula. Following little lanes I lost height to Llanystundwy the birth-place and burial place of Britain's only Welsh prime minister, David Lloyd George.
Next came Criccieth, dominated by its Norman castle. The sun was shining brightly and I can heartedly recommend Cadwalladers as a fine place for a coffee, cake or ice cream!
More lanes and more hills followed as I made my way to Porthmadog, a thriving little port that once exported slates all over the world. Now most famous for three narrow gauge steam railways that emanate from the town, Porthmadog was a settlement planned by william Maddocks, a visionary engineer who built The Cob and drained the adjacent salt marshes. Having cycled 30 miles before lunch I now had to gird my loins as I tacked the hardest part of the whole ride - Lon Ardudwy. This particular lane followed aseries of back roads in the form of three loops from the main coastal road down to Barmouth. However though these lanes see hardly any traffic they are precipitous in the extreme! Gradients of 20% + were encountered but the views across the shore to the llyn peninsula were nearly comensation for the pain of riding and pushing up these hills. Inland of me were the Rhinogydd - a mysterious and rugged mountain range that enclose the green strath of Ardudwy.
I did find the Wenallt Deli & Tearooms in Llanbedr to really hit the spot with their latte and chcolate cake! at around half 3 I got into Barmouth, did soem shopping and embarked on the cruelest climb of the day - 500 foot of push up to the Bunkorama bunkhouse. Yes, the views were stunning, the bunkhouse clean and welcoming but that was a hard way to end the second day!
Day 3 Barmouth - Llangurig 54 miles 5,400' ascent
My earliest start at 7.45am in the half light of dawn, I quickly dropped back down to Barmouth and shot straight out onto Barmouth Bridge, following in the wake of the train. Joining the Mawddach Trail, I began what could be argued to be the most beautiful cycle path in Britain. Following the former Cambrian Railways branch line, the trail skirts the "sublime Mawddach" estuary, according to Wordsworth. The tide was in and though the light poor, I had a glimpse of the myriad birdlife that inhabits this tidal reach. All too soon I was out the stone-built town of Dolgellau, nestling under the frowning cliffs of Cader Idris.
One bacon butty later and it was time to tackle the first of the day's big climbs - over the mountains to the Dyfi river basin. Sustrans have done a fantastic job to find a tarmac, traffic-free route up over the side of Cader and down into the gloomy depths of the Dyfi Forest. This was great cycling and I quickly reached Corris hostel, my planned overnight stop, at 10.45am! The warden there made me very welcome, with a nice cup of tea, despite me cancelling my booking. It looks a super place to stay - very relaxed and "other-worldly". I'll be back!
Past the Centre for Alternative Technology and on down to the Montgomeryshire market town of Machynlleth for supplies. The site of Glyndwr's Welsh parliament, Mach is a great base from which to explore the hills and coast of Mid Wales. I had to face the wall of hills that barred my way to the Severn valley and my new destination, Llanidloes. Gruelling, testing and challenging are three adjectives that might be employed to describe Route 8's climb out of Machynlleth and over the hills to Staylittle and the Hafren Forest. It was cold, windy and enervating too! Eventually the undulating road through the silence of Hafren was reached and I came across the start of the Wye Valley and Severn Way, tucked away deep in the trees. On down the Severn I was tired but pleased to reach LLanidloes with its market hall sat astride the central cross-roads. Sadly there was "no room at the inn", or not at affordable prices, so it was back in the saddle for a further 5 uphill miles to reach the village of Llangurig in the Wye valley. The Blue Bell Inn offered a welcome at the end of this, my hardest day's ride ever.
Day 4 Llangurig - Boughrood 40 miles, 2,800' ascent
Though the clouds were low and light poor, the Wye valley never fails to impress and on this relatively easy and short day it was a pleasure to cycle homewards. The "back road" from Llangurig to Rhayader is a delightful ride - scenic and virtually free of traffic. The next section to Llanwrthwl is through bucolic lanes and then the Old Coach Road gives a short section of off-road cycling but nothing a hybrid couldn't cope with. Annoying climbs when you should be descending the valley eventually deposit you on The Groe, Builth's parkland that fringes the Wye.
The final section is on a surprisingly busy B road that runs down the east, Radnorshire side of the river past Aberedw, Erwood Station craft centre and eventually to my home village of Boughrood.
Day 5 Llanfilo - Boughrood 10 miles, 300' ascent
An easy hour's ride down off the top of Allt Llanfilo, through Talgarth and Felindre to cross the Wye at Glasbury. A further three miles back to Boughrood and time to fuel up on a Sunday lunch!
Day 6 Llanfilo - Cardiff Bay 61 miles 2,600' ascent
Starting back up at the top of the Allt Llanfilo, Route 8 took me towards Brecon but via a twisting and undulating series of lanes before I emerged at this charming market town. Too early to stop so it was off along the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal towpath eastwards. You can follow the towpath all the way to Talybont but Route 8 / Lon Las Cymru / Taff Trail returns to the lanes to run down the Usk valley and up to talybont reservoir. Then follows the notorious Seven Mile Bank which steam engines used to toil over en route from Brecon to Merthyr. It actually makes for excellent cycling at an acceptable gradient and soon I emerged at Torpantau on the watershed betwixt Usk and Taff. Then followed a series of turns as I followed the Taf fechan valley (the little Taff) down towards Merthyr Tydfil.
There is a great ex-railway section crossing two viaducts as you sweep into Merthyr, the scene of much of the early iron industry. The nature of the cycle ride very much changes at Merthyr. Now we cycle through the post-industrial heritage that the iron and coal industries left behind. Former railways, canals, slag heaps and collieries jostle for position with rows upon rows of terraced housing on the valley floor and sides. Route 8 runs down the Taff Vale ~ Cwm Taf, 30 miles down to Cardiff. A few miles down, I came to Aberfan, the scene of the 1966 tragedy when 144 people, 116 of them children, died underneath the slurry of a coal tip carelesslessly placed upon a spring and stream. Fifty years on, this place still reeks of tragedy and lost lives.
Further down the valley I joined the Celtic Trail, Route 4, on its way from Fishguard to London, as I passed Ynysangharad Park in Pontypridd where the creators of "Mae Hen Wlad", the Welsh National Anthem lived. As light faded and joined by Sarah from Radyr I cycled alongside the Taff against a constant flow of cyclists, runners and walkers all coming out of the city. Through verdant Bute Park, past Cardiff Castle and the Millennium Stadium, built for the 1999 Rugby World Cup, we pedalled on towards Cardiff Bay. Once a rundown dockland area, the Bay is now a fashionably chic part of the city. Round the St David's Hotel and then along Mermaid Quay, we reached the Coal Exchange, Roald Dahl Plass and the end of the Lon Las Cymru!
I'd crossed Wales in 6 days, only four of them full days out and seen my country from a new perspective. Bendigedig! Wonderful!
If I can help anyone else enjoy the many pleasures of seeing Wales by bike, or on foot, please do get in touch.
11th October - Beacons Way Part 7 The Great Forest (east)
We resumed our year-long tackling of the beautifula and varied Beacons Way. Using bikes to link with the car, this 100 mile route is taking us much longer than would be the case if we were wakling direct from the holy mountain (Skirrid) to Bethlehem (near Llandeilo).
Today we left our car close to the enigmatic Maen Llia, a megalith that overlooks the ancient track way known as Sarn Helen and cycled on the footsteps of the Romans north. Unpleasantly stony for cycling the route is arduous but benefits from wide-ranging views across the lonely hills of Mid Wales. Less lonely was Storey Arms, on the main A470, where we dumped our bikes and headed up into the Fforest Fawr (Great Forest). While only a little lower than the central Brecon Beacons, the hills of the FForest are rarely walked and offer tranquility and serenity which one rarely finds on the main tracks up Pen y Fan.
The Beacons Way is gradually establishing a path on the ground as it rounds the National Nature Reserve of Cwm Cerrig-Gleisiad, a corrie well known for its rare flora and glacial remnants. Easy walking over Fan Llia, with fine views south over the Valleys and the "Severn Sea" beyond led us down to the NRW (Natural Resources Wales) car park at Blaen Llia. Beyond the remote limestone country of the western Fforest lay waiting for our next sojourn this way.
3rd - 7th October - Messing about in boats
Rob and Sarah took the first week of October to explore the canal system of England by hiring a narrow boat from Worcester Marina. We used visited the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, the Droitwich Canals, the River Severn and the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal to have five lovely days. They were strenuous (forty-odd locks) but great fun. We'd recommend a boating holiday whole-heartedly but you do need at least two, preferably three fit crew!