Yesterday turned into a bit of a war of attrition. A combination of a few too many miles over challenging ground. The hills were one thing. Sustrans who oversee the national cycle routes in the UK suddenly seem to have decided that nicely graded routes are boring, and that going out of your way to find a hill or challenging surface are the order of he day. When I’d planned this trip, I’d looked at the routes and was sure that some of the odd deviations were to go around less cycle friendly obstacles like steep hills or heavily trafficked roads. It turns out that they take my approach – if there is a view to be had, go up a hill to get it.
So the afternoon seemed to be hill after hill, and granted, view after view. I was starting to run out of beans by 5pm before I was led onto a track which soon deteriorated into forest trail that really was the province of mountain bikes only, and not for a cyclist towing a Pickfords van sized load. I took it carefully and got through the mile or so of rutted, boulder strewn morass without putting a foot down, and was only caught out by the final stock gate which put me off balance as I struggled through and I lost control of the bike. I was stationary and stayed upright, but the bike not. No damage done though.
Shortly after I had a major energy crash and started wobbling about. I realised in negotiating the hills and terrain I’d not been keeping up with the fuel, and so quickly stuffed down some fruit, snacks and water. I wondered if I had the 5 miles in me to get to Rhayader and started looking at the fields for a potential camp site. I did find one, lovely view of distant hills, but decided in the end it was downhill to the town and a shower and hot food was needed more than rest. I made it, and tried a couple of pubs but they were full, and was then directed to a campsite. They had space, and all I needed to do was find a pitch amongst the local convention of Hells Angels and off road fanatics. I was expecting revving engines till dawn, but they turned out to be a nice bunch.
I went to the Eagles Inn for food. The chap behind the bar looked like he could take care of himself and when a bunch of locals turned up I wondered what sort of place this was. Then the owner turned up who looked like a cross between a Rottweiler and a Black Bear so definitely not to be messed with. They all turned out to be nice though, and the meal was cheap, good and so was the beer (Gamekeeper or some such but didn’t get the brewery name).
Sleep was pretty good though and with a low battery on the phone, no distractions. The site owner kindly charged the external battery overnight so I had juice in the morning.
Up and away at 9am, settling for fruit and fish for breakfast. I was tempted by the full English on offer at the Eagles but opted to make progress. I decided that the Elan Valley was a must see, if a slight deviation from the route. It was an excellent choice, stunning scenery passing by the reservoirs that supply Birmingham with it’s water – some 75 million litres per day according to the info boards along the way. Quite a lot of the route was on forest trails that were at least cycle friendly. The sun wouldn’t quite come out and there was occasional mizzle in the air but the thermometer on the cycle computer said it was 75 degrees and it felt like it!
The route then switched to winding roads through the valley which were fairly traffic free except for a steady stream of road cyclists out for the day who kept me company from time to time, and the Lotus Elise owners club who seemed to be trying to put in the fastest lap time, but didn’t cause me any trouble.
I stopped at one point to help a stranded motorist who had a flat and was waiting for the AA. He couldn’t find his locking nut key despite emptying he car of it’s contents of camping gear (tables, chairs, kitchen sink). Nothing I could do to help there unfortunately so we bid each other good day.
Next came a slight planning error on my part. I’d planned the Elan Valley as a side trip that would rejoin the main route but I’d obviously misread the maps at some point and the planned turn back North didn’t materialise and on closer inspection I realised I’d traced over a bridleway rather than a road. I could either back track and take a road that returned to Rhayader (where I’d started the day) or follow the valley into Aberystwyth. It actually didn’t make much difference to the distance, or the days target of Machynlleth, so the seaside won.
Actually it all worked out quite well. They valley route was pretty damn lovely, descending down through the woodland and forestry trails. I stopped for lunch in a pub in a place with a completely unpronounceable name. You can’t beat £6 for a huge roast with all the trimmings and £2 for a pint. The brewery of the pint was local and the name again difficult to repeat, but one of the tastiest beers I’ve had for a long while. Interestingly they also had Hancocks Brewery HB, which I think owes it’s name to the Hancocks that are responsible for putting Wiveliscombe on the brewing map that still persists today with Cotleigh and Exmoor Ales. Small world eh? The barmaid was kind enough to charge up the phone whilst I was scoffing and watching the motor racing, so I’m now back at 100%.
Sustrans managed to sell me a pup again in the afternoon when it directed me up a track only a wheel width wide and about a one in five. No way this could be right despite what the signs said. I had no phone signal to get better maps and seemed to be heading in the wrong direction so decided to back track and get on the road. Much more agreeable.
This allowed me another chance to do my Good Samaritan act. Mike was pushing his bike down the road ahead of me, seemingly picking things up from the road. I thought he’d dropped something, but it turned out he had a flat tyre and was just collecting useful items as he walked back home!
He was on a mountain bike with Schrader valves, but my pump does double duty so I was able to get some air in to help him on his way. 5 miles from home, anything is better than nothing. He didn’t feel it necessary to attempt a repair and the tyre seemed to be holding air. We had a nice chat and then he turned off for home. I stopped for a pitstop myself and on studying the map decided that the turn Mike had taken was likely to be a flatter run into Aberystwyth. Low and behold after a couple of miles I caught up with Mike again having run out of air. I offered a refill but he’d managed to call his wife for a lift so was waiting for her. He was very appreciative though and offered a roof for the night which I would have loved to accept, but felt the days events had left me a bit short on mileage. I wanted to make sure I could get to Machynlleth early enough to spend a little time at the Centre for Alternative Technology. But Mike did help out by pointing me onto the cycle trail that ran the rest of the way into Aberystwyth avoiding the roads, which was great, a lovely route partly on an old railway line. I really enjoy the chance meetings you have with people, they can add great colour to the day – even when a day like today is already filled with special memories. Mike – If your ever in Wiveliscombe, I’ll buy you a pint!
So Aberystwyth is quite a nice seaside town. There are some impressive looking buildings and a small pier on the front, and the remains of a castle. I poodled around for a while including cycling amongst the castle ruins and then decided it was time to tackle the massive hill out of the town. A right cranker of a hill. I then turned towards Borth to follow the coast road towards Machynlleth which I’m sure on the map looked to be flat but was hill after hill. Not really what I wanted at the end of the day. I crested what turned out to be the last hill of the day, and was presented with a great view across Cardigan Bay, and the mountains beyond that will be the treat for tomorrow.
The other side of the hill was even worse than what I’d just come over, the signs proclaiming a 1 in 4 descent. I really would have thrown my toys out of the pram if that had been an ascent! I could see at least 3 campsites ahead of me from this vantage point, so plenty to choose from. Half way down the hill was a large site, mostly vans and statics but a few tents. It looked too far from the town and no way I was cycling into town for the evening and then having to ride back up the hill again! I was ready to discount it, but as I passed the entrance it looked more of a holiday camp with it’s own bar and restaurant, so I gave it a look. Indeed it did have those facilities and all very modern. A bit pricey but it had good views over the bay, so here I stay, filling up with pretty good food (although to a formula) and a pint of Hobgoblin, which I’m sure is not local, but everything else on offer is lager.
Welsh phrase of the day – ‘Pont Wan’ means ‘weak bridge’. Funny how pont os the same word in French, and wan is one of those words that seems to imply something that is not quite right. Or just an abbreviation of something that rhymes with tank. Either way, you get the idea that the bridge isn’t all it’s meant to be.
Pictures will be in the next post.