Well, that’s all over then. Back home and back to the normal routine. But the Wales cycling trip was fantastically good fun. It helped me work out a whole bunch of things about my cycling experiences, and gives me yet more incentive to do more of the same. There were practically no lowlights to the entire trip, apart maybe for Sustrans sense of humour when it came to gradient or surface quality. Looking on their website they did flag those places where I took issue, so its only my own fault for not doing better research. But then, I actually enjoyed the challenge it all presented, so no big deal.
What I did find interesting is that the two parts of the route that will always stand out for me, for shear beauty and an excellent riding experience, were detours I chose to make off of the NCR8 route. Granted that I won’t know what I missed by skipping sections for those detours, but I doubt they could have exceeded the experience I did get. Firstly, the trip through the Elan Valley, leaving NCR8 at Rhayader was just peachy perfect. The terrain was very manageable and the scenery fantastic. I made the mistake of not planning the route correctly and ended up having to go to Aberystwyth when I wanted to go to Llanidloes, but that was my fault. For anyone else, basically, you’ll be ending up in Aberystwyth. But that means you just get to enjoy a bit of coast and pick up the route again in Machynlleth. And the second highlight for me was the detour through Snowdonia, instead of following the 8 along the coast. People who I spoke to along the way said the coast was spectacular, but for me, being in the hills makes all the difference, and even though you are on A-Roads most of the time, if you pick your time well they are not especially busy roads and well graded.
Sustrans does seem to have this maniacal pursuit of routes that are away from cars, and I agree – car free is preferable to with cars, but some of the diversions are just not worth it. I’d prefer the network maps to be better in that respect, offering alternate routes with different classifications, and really only making a point of avoiding the really hazardous or unpleasant routes. The rest of the route was extremely pleasant and I won’t knock any of it – the National Cycle Network is definitely a great way to explore by bicycle.
The decision to take a tent was a good one – I haven’t camped out since I was a kid (and don’t remember enjoying it then) but I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. Next time I’ll make a point of taking my own food and cooking equipment, if only to keep the cost down – eating out all the time takes its toll on the wallet. And I will also look to do more of the Warmshowers/CouchSurfing type experience as that also worked out very well, pretty much as I expected. I’ve already had an enquiry to host in September, so will look to honour that if at all possible.
Of course the dilemma now is that I’m itching to go again!