Day Seven – Trefin to West Hook

For the first time I woke to what promised to be a warm and sunny day. I had a leisurely start and chatted to some other campers, including a chap named Tony Pember, who is part of the audax community.

The cycling was marvellous, with perfect views of one of the finest stretches of coastline in Britain.Somewhere in North Pembrokeshire

I headed for St. David’s, had a strollSaint David's around the cathedral and found a café.

I continued along the coast road. Typically, the riding takes you about 250′ to 300′ above sea level but, where small streams have cut valleys on the sandstone, there are sharp descents down 1 in 6 hills and up the other side again. I passed through Solva, Newgale and at Nolton Haven I spied the Mariner pub and went in for lunch and beer. There was a stuffed albatross on the wall and, in order to fit it into a glass case, its wings had been subjected to some intricate origami. There were quite a few people on the beach enjoying the warm weather.

Nolton Haven

I stopped in Broad Haven for an ice cream and then carried on through Marloes village to West Hook farm where I pitched my tent before having a mediocre meal at the Lobster Pot pub in Marloes village. After I had eaten I strolled to Wooltack point and watched the sun set in the sea.Sunset over Skomer

 

Why I’m not singing for the Olympics

On 6th July one of the Olympic torches finds its way into Southend. A massed choir of about 2000 people will be assembled on Southend Sea Front in order to sing to the torch when it arrives.

There has been plenty of publicity about the torches, the fact that a lot of them have gone out and been re-lit by the flame of the sacred fag-lighter of Olympia; that they are travelling around the place in vehicles; and that Olympic torches have been fetching huge sums on Ebay. None of this seems to be particularly in the Olympic spirit.

Neither are the games themselves. They are a massive commercial venture – a monstrous shopping centre with a stadium tagged onto it. There will be huge inconvenience for the residents of East London and the vast sums spent on this could well have been spent on something which would benefit the people of the area – some decent housing, for example, rather than shove people who have lived in London all their lives to Walsall or Wolverhampton just because the government wants to save money for their friends the bankers.

Although they are quite good reasons not to take part in an event which is being held in anything but the Olympic spirit, they are not the reasons that I am not going to do so. More often than not, as a member of Southend Bach Choir, I sing stuff I don’t necessarily believe in. In March, I took part in a terrific Messiah concert, without in any way considering myself a Christian. Last week, I took part in a Jubilee Concert: although some of the words I sung went very much against the grain of a lifelong anti-royallist, it’s the music I go for and mostly it was very good indeed.

There’s a specially commissioned Olympic Anthem, composed by a chap called Tolga Kashif. A quick google tells me that he’s got pretty good musical credentials and the piece is tolerably musical, although really aimed at youngsters and not the veterans of the Southend Bach Choir – I’m one of the youngest members and I’m 58.

No, the reason I will not sing in this event is that we were told this evening that we were expected to sing the anthem twice. That’s not terribly arduous, as it probably takes about 15 minutes to sing from start to finish. The reason I’m not going to sing is that the two performances are due around the time the torch appears, at 11.32 precisely, and again when it disappears off to its next destination.

What, I hear you ask, is the problem with that? It’s the fact that “Security” insists that all singers are in their seats by 8 a.m. and they will not be allowed to leave until 2 p.m. It seems that some poor kids are being bussed in at 7 a.m. (whether everyone taking part will be on coaches I don’t know, but something tells me that if I were to turn up on my bike in order to take part in this event I would be turned away).

There comes a point when “security” becomes so overbearing that it simply is not worth bothering with the event being made secure. I would assess the risk to the people of Southend from having an olympic torch turn up in the town to be probably no more risky than the annual carnival, much less risky than the annual air show, and probably on the par with the average home game for Southend United. On the other hand, having 2000 people corralled onto some temporary staging on Southend sea front for six hours on a July morning is asking for trouble. Early July is likely to provide one of two types of weather – either swelteringly hot or a deluge. Neither is suitable for sitting around for 6 hours, whether you are a teenager or an octogenarian, and the risk from so doing will be far far greater than any risk from a terrorist attack.

One assumes that there will be toilet facilities for the choir – it will be pretty insanitary if there aren’t – and what about food? It has been documented elsewhere that anyone attending the olympics will not be allowed to bring in their own food and drink. Will the sponsors, those well-known champions of healthy living Coca Cola and MacDonalds, also have a monopoly at the torch events?

All of this is as far from the olympic spirit as it’s possible to be and I’ll have none of it, thank you very much.

Berlin to London

My good friend Helen, known as Auntie Helen to her on-line friends, has just completed an epic 700-mile solo ride from Berlin to London. Helen’s blog can be read here.

Yesterday was her final leg, from her home in Little Bromley, north of Colchester, via the new Personnel Recovery Unit at Colchester Barracks (Helen was raising money for the Help for Heroes charity) to Trafalgar Square. A number of other cyclists joined her for all, or some, of this route. We were not helped by the perennial uselessness of our rail companies, who were not offering a service to Colchester yesterday. I met another friend, Jane, at Shenfield station and together we rode out towards Helen. We shortly met Del, another of our cycling friends, who had a similar intention, and three of us headed north-east to an 11ses stop at Hanningfield Reservoir before a rendez-vous with Helen and two others in East Hanningfield. At this point Del peeled off whereas the five of us (Helen’s friends Mark and Martin were the other two) made for Ingatestone Garden Centre for lunch, where yet another of our friends, Jurek, was waiting for us.

From Ingatestone we six, led by Jurek, who was familiar with the route, rode into London via the not-especailly-attractive route of Shenfield, Brentwood, Harold Wood, Romford, Ilford, Stratford, Tower Hill and the Embankment, arriving in Trafalgar Square just before 6 p.m. Some members of Helen’s family were there, and a representative form Help for Heroes presented Helen with a certificate and medal.

I left them to it at around 6.15 and arrived in Lpoo St in time for the 6.45 train, alighting at Rochford so that the ride home should push my daily total above 63 miles, ensuring a “metric century” for the day.

Some successful bike fettling

Last night, when Jan and I went to our tai chi class, we noticed that her bike had developed a click, once per pedal revolution. When we got home I tried a few experiments and discovered that I could feel the click if I gripped either crank and rocked the bike back and forth whilst applying gentle forward pressure on the crank. This should not happen to a bike that is not yet 6 months old.

I telephoned Thorn Cycles to ask advice and spoke to Steve, one of their mechanics. He wanted to be 100% sure that it was the bottom bracket and not a pedal, so he asked me to take the pedals off, grease the threads and replace them and also check that all five crank-arm bolts were done up tightly. They were, and the click was still there.

In the event I took the cranks off, for which I had to find my crank-pulling tool which I have not used for at least 25 years, and I discovered that I had a tool for tightening bottom brackets, which was in a kit I bought a few years ago and had never used. I managed to tighten the BB, reassembled the bike, and the click seems to have gone.

Later, I succeeded in removing the sprocket form the tandem’s Rohloff hub, something which has never been done before in over 11000 miles of cycling. This made me especially pleased, since I damaged the Rohloff of my solo machine when I attempted the same job a few weeks ago, and I had to send it back to Thorn to get it repaired.

Next I took the chain rings off and cleaned them – another job which I should have done before. They really need replacing so I’ve ordered some new ones. I also went to Richardsons’ and bought a new chain.

Removing a seatpost

My old Carradice saddlebag has seen better days so I have invested in a Carradice Super-C saddlebag and an SQR quick-release device. The trouble is that I don’t think it’s a good idea to fit such things to a carbon seatpost. Carradice thought it would be OK but Thorn deprecated the idea.

I bought a new seatpost at Richardson’s Bike Shop but removing the old seatpost was, as ever, a real fight. It took two of us, one holding the bike and the other wielding two hefty screwdrivers which had been clamped where the saddle rails normally go, about 10 minutes’ sweating and grunting to shift the thing.

I have put plenty of lithium grease down the seat tube, but the consensus seems to be that, although this is a good idea, it’s necessary to remove the seatpost, ot at least, move it around, every few months to avoid it seizing. It really is a difficult job, even for two. Single-handed, it would be a nightmare.

 

 

Hereford to Llandovery – the route

Hereford to Llandovery – day 5

I was aware that the weather forecast was for lots more rain, and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to a long train journey in wet cycling gear, so I resolved to set off pretty early. As it happened, I broke all personal bests as I was awake with the dawn chorus, out of bed for 5.30 and on the road at 6.27. The tent was dry, its footprint needs airing, but all in all I was quite pleased with myself. I had mile upon mile of empty road as well – not that a great deal ever uses these remote Welsh B roads.

It was quite cold, although none of the nights delivered the sort of temperature that was rumoured. I hadn’t brought any warm gloves with me, and on the spur of the moment I had bought a pair of neoprene gardening gloves in a pound shop in Llandovery, just in case I did have to cycle in the cold and wet. My fingers were painful with cold this morning, so I put them on and slowly recovered as I went along. The wind was still north-easterly, so I had a headwind to contend with, but there was not a great deal of height loss to this journey: about 400′ above sea level in Aberedw, about 160′ above in Hereford some 38 miles away.

The clouds and early morning sun were providing quite a spectacle, and Lord Hereford’s Knob was covered in white.

I passed through this village on Friday and I promised it that I would

and I had to read this road sign two or three times before I realised that it didn’t say what at first I thought it said.

The Wye, at Glasbury, was much clearer than the turbid torrent it had been three days previously.

I arrived in Hay more quickly than I expected. I had it in my mind that it was 20 miles to Hay and a further 20 to Hereford, but in fact I pulled up outside the Isis tea rooms after only 16 miles, at 8.25 in the morning, intending to take advantage of their all-day breakfast, but they were closed. I suppose an all-day breakfast is one you can’t buy at breakfast time. Fortunately a baker’s shop was open an they were selling filled rolls. I bought a couple, eating one straight away and saving the other for the train.

Once I left Hay I was in England and, after a short while, it started to rain. I stopped near Moccas to put my waterproofs on and from that point I couldn’t really read the Garmin. The route was simplicity itself, though: I arrived in Madley and after that kept to the B road until it joined the A465 and some fairly heavy bank holiday traffic. I crossed the Wye for the last time

and then went in search of the station, which was annoyingly quite some distance from the city centre. My train was at the platform and left 5 minutes later, but I found that there was no convenient connection and decided that the Great Malvern tea room was the best place to spend an hour or so. Eventually, a huge old 125 arrived and I thankfully put my bike in the last space in the bike lock-up, although I found afterwards that there were more bikes in the guard’s van proper.

The ride to Fenchurch Street was unusually pleasant: the mile or so through Hyde Park was followed by traffic free Constitution Hill and The Mall. I arrived home about 12½ hours after I’d set off, feeling generally pretty pleased that I hadn’t abandoned on the first morning.

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Hereford to Llandovery – day 4

In spite of the constant “thump thump” of some dreadful computer-generated “music” from a group of adjacent tents, I drifted off quite quickly. But I had a disturbing dream in which my sis-in-law, who is a wonderful and revered person, was giving me a piece of her mind about something undefined, but which was probably associated with my generally wayward behaviour.

I awoke with a jolt, very aware that the thump-thump-thump was still coming from the adjacent tents. I looked at my bike computer: 1.54. What the bloody hell were these idiots doing disturbing the entire camp site at that time? I lay silently fuming, but also aware that my bladder needed emptying.

I struggled out of my sleeping bag, carefully leaving all of my silk liner in the tent, put my shoes on and had a wee amoungst the trees. I then stomped off to the noisy group intent upon giving them a piece of my mind.

I found a largish group – possible as many as 20 – grouped around a camp fire with some electronic device pumping out the noise.

My opening gambit was “Don’t you people ever get any sleep?” which gained the attention of about one-third of the assembled company.

“It’s two o’clock in the bloody morning!” I bellowed.

A partail silence fell over the group, like a class whose teacher is missing but who have just been unexpectedly visited by the Senior Master. A decidedly ageing hippy whom I had seen the previous afternoon ferrying firewood and wielding a chain saw rose as spokesperson.

“I’m really sorry, man!” said he in a strong Welsh accent which for some unaccountable reason I didn’t expect. “We didn’t think we were disturbing anyone.”

“Well you are. The entire camp site.”

It occurred to me that the entire camp site bar one could well have been assembled around the camp fire.

“I’m really sorry,” repeated the spokeperson. “What’s disturbing you, the music or our voices?”

“Both!” I replied.

“OK, we’ll tone it down.”

And he was as good as his word and I didn’t hear another thing until I became aware of birdsong at around 7 a.m.

I breakfasted and my packing up was interrupted by a pleasant chat to a young Bristolian lady in a camper van. I was eventually away around 10.30 and shortly after leaving the camp site I heard a cuckoo not far away and attempted to entice it over but either I’m losing my touch or I can’t cwcw in Welsh.

I arrived at a viewing point below the dam where a couple armed with very expensive looking Nikon cameras with large lenses attached were taking photos. They came and engaged me in conversation and it didn’t take me long to notice that under her leather jacket the lady wore nothing but a string vest. I’m fairly sure that there must be some sort of risk to personal safety, not to say comfort, in sporting such attire on a cold day and, connoisseur of haute couture that I am, I’m equally sure that it isn’t the latest Vivienne Westwood. The only conclusion I could reach was that the scenery was not the only subject matter they were interested in photographing.

Soon I climbed above the level of the water and the really spectacular stuff began. Every turn in the road revealed a wonderful view.

It’s the road that has everything – hairpin bends, huge majestic sweeps, views across the reservoir hundreds of feet below, red kites, buzzards, glorious sunshine and plenty of other cyclists.

The first group I met were doing the loop in the opposite direction, fast boys and girls on frames as lithe as themselves. Down they swooped, led by a lass with a huge smile and a pony tail, who must have been travelling at nearly 50 mph when she flew past me.

Although there were plenty of climbs, there was none that defeated me – yet. I was caught by a chap on a red Specialized who commented that I liked doing things the hard way.

Eventually I left the lake behind and the Tywi reappeared as a river, much smaller than it had been the last time I’d seen it.

Another cuckoo, another attempt at conversation and this time, success! Not one, but two appeared, quite some distance away but there was nowhere for me to attempt concealment in the dereliction of that patch of felled conifer forest. It didn’t take them long to ascertain that I wasn’t the real McCoy and they disappeared back into the trees.

Much sooner than I expected, the junction for Tregaron appeared. I turned right, up the steepest section. I could see the road going up and up

and although the sign at the bottom of the hill said 25%, which I’m pretty sure was right, Ordnance Survey had awarded the hills only one chevron at a time. I was off the bike and pushing, 30 paces at a time, with a short rest at the end of each.

Quite some time later I reached  a point where I could ride again and not long after, at 1577′ above sea level, I reached the watershed between the Tywi, which becomes tidal at Carmarthen, and the Wye, which emerges under the Severn bridge near Chepstow. Now came the helter-skelter descent, nicknamed “The Devil’s Staircase” apparently, one of several, I’m sure. I had expected to walk this, so vicious did it appear on the map, but in the end I rode, trusting my safety to two slender strands of brake cable.

I emerged into the Irfon valley and what a superb sight it was!

Flat-bottomed initially, the road and river were almost plaited together, low, barrierless bridges allowing one to cross the other. Now, of course I had the gradient with me although I was still over 1000′ up. There was an occasional climb but mostly it was exhilarating descent. I reached Abergwesyn and realised immediately that there would be no pub here, so very soon, when I came across a picnic site named Pwll Bo, I took advantage and knocked up a quick cous-cous, courtesy of Ainsley Harriott, and washed it down with a nice cup of tea.

Lunch over, I completed the journey into Llanwrtyd, where there was a cash machine and a loo, and I then headed back to join the same road that I’d cycled up the previous morning. Just before I did so I was overhauled by a couple on good tourers: his was a Dawes Galaxy, hers an Argos. We rode together briefly, and I picked up two vital pieces of information: the first was that in the winter months the Swansea to Shrewsbury line is free to over-60s and the second was that there was an alternative route to the one I’d planned, with two fords in quick succession. I chose it, and thought what an ideal road it would be for Andrij and Rower40 to exchange stories about watery non-events.

The remainder of the ride was the reverse of the previous morning’s, with the exception that this time I stopped for a couple of minutes to watch a treecreeper living up to its name, to take a photograph of the bridge at Builth and to wonder how anyone can own a river.

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Hereford to Llandovery – day 3

I must have been in bed around 9 p.m. and the next thing I knew it was light and time for a wee. I looked at my phone and was amazed: 5.40. What’s more, I was warm: I felt wonderfully cosy under my new fleece blanket, which had condensation on the outside. It must have worked.

I got up to irrigate a laurel bush and then went back to bed and snoozed fitfully until 7.30. I got dressed and started packing  when my host arrived and invited me indoors for breakfast. I was treated to muesli with stewed plums (home grown), a boiled egg with toast and blackcurrant jam, all washed down with tea. We continued to chat about the politial situation, and the sad fact that Boris Johnson had sneaked a win in London. I handed the landlady £10 – for two nights: I’m coming back here after my trip to the Tywi valley and Llyn Brianne. This has to be the best £5 I’ve ever spent on a camp site.

It was around 10.20 that I eventually set off and I hadn’t been going long when I was overtaken by a small group of cyclists on steeds fully equipped with mudguards and Carradice Barley saddlebags. Of course! Tewdric had mentioned that the Brevet Cymru would be passing through Builth Wells some time during the day. The last chap to overtake me was riding a Van Nicholas whose rear mudguard rattled so much that, had it been my bike, I would have ripped the damned thing off and chucked it in the Wye.

I used NCN 43 to approach Builth Wells, which gave much better views of the Wye than did the road.

There was some sort of event involving horses and horse boxes going on at the show ground. It was far too soon to stop for 11ses and the town was very crowded so I carried on, again taking NCN 43, which involved climbing. I was soon too warm, but when a long descent arrived I was too cold again so I elected to get just a bit too warm on the ascents and remain comfortable whilst descending. There were some spectacular views.

I reached Llangammarch very quickly and hunted around for somewhere or 11ses. The Cammarch hotel was to hand, and I bought tea with a small slice of McVitie’s Jamaica Ginger Cake which cost me £3, a terrible rip-off. I carried on and was soon joined by a young chap who had recently returned to his home town of Abergavenny from a stint working in Leicester. He was out doing a local loop. “It’s like being on holiday all the time!” he remarked.

I must have been riding well as I was not aware of an especially large amount of climbing but when I checked the Garmin I had reached well over 1000′, including chevrons, and it was now time to descend. This was a wonderful exhilarating descent over several miles until I reached the A483, but I didn’t stop there and found myself hurtling along at 18 or 19 mph for long periods. Eventually I found the West End Café in Llandovery where I met Polepole, who was taking part in the Brevet Cymru, which was a very pleasant surprise.

She recommended the fish and chips, so I had some of those, and after than I visited the general store for milk and calories. I knew that where I was going for the next 24 hours or so would be devoid of places to buy supplies.

The road out of Llandovery was quiet and very gently climbing towards the camp site beyond Rhandirmwyn.

The Tywi Bridge Inn seemed to be trading well when I came past and I decided that I would retrace the mile or so from the camp site rather than cook for myself. I pitched the tent above the Tywi river and made straight for the pub where Evan Evans “May Fly” was on, as well as a very good Chinese-style beef with ginger followed by sticky toffee pudding. There was a distinct chill in the air as I was sitting outside the pub so I retired to the side room to eat my meal, after which I returned to my tent and snuggled under my blanket.

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Hereford to Llandovery – day 2

That was a very annoying night. Firstly, it rained a lot and that was noisy. Secondly, a lamb had found its way under the fence into the camping field and couldn’t find its way out again. It spend a good deal of the night bleating for its mother, who in her turn spent a good deal of the night bleating back at it. Thirdly, despite having invested very many pounds in a Vango Venom 300 sleeping bag, which is supposed to be a 3 to 4 season bag, and 4 season when used with a silk liner, I was not as warm as I should have been. Fourthly, when I came to pack up I discovered that my Exped Downmat is trying its best to be a mere Exped Mat as, at deflation time, it started to disgorge several pieces of goose into the tent. None of those pieces of goose was edible, and what is more they blocked the venting hole which made the packing process a good deal longer. Fifthly, when it came to breakfast time, my trusty old flint lighter was damp and refused to produce a spark. As luck would have it I still had an empty piezo-crystal type which, once I had removed the long-redundant flame protector, lit the gas first time, so I could have tea.

I was away around 9 and I discovered that the road along which I had cycled the previous evening in order to get to the camp was now an extension of the village pond.

Since my shoes were already very wet and I had dispensed with socks, this didn’t matter all that much and, if anything, served to clean some of the light brown fondant icing, a mixture of soil and sheep shit, from many of the surfaces to which it clung. I met the farmer, who had come to collect his £4. My verdict on that camp site is that, under normal circumstances, it would be wonderful: peaceful, next to one of the finest of British rivers, the portaloos were well maintained, having pumped water for washing and pumped chemicals for flushing, but having to wander through a shitty swamp to get there took the gilt off the gingerbread rather. I was informed by my host that it has been more than two years since the soil was last as waterlogged as it currently is. For the whole of 2011, which was the driest year for very many in the Welsh borders, it would have been perfect.

Whilst lying in my sleeping bag in the fairly early hours, I had resolved to abandon this trip and return to Hereford, for all the reasons given in my first paragraph. However, the light of day brings a new perspective and my journey towards Hay was gentle and pleasant. Very occasionally the sun tried to break through, but the clouds surrounded and smothered him. There was no wind it wasn’t raining and everything was softened by the damp air – not mist exactly, but an impressionist’s landscape to be sure.

I found a camping shop in Hay and bought a fleece blanket to help stave off the cold nights ahead (frost was forecast – I knew I should have brought my Stormlite) and then indulged in tea an fudge cake in the Isis tea room next door, where I also charged my phone. Not long after my late 11ses I found a pub named the Hollybush. It looked fairly spartan on the outside and there was some construction work going on on the inside which restricted the variety of culinary delights on offer, but a steak sandwich and a pint of Butty Bach later and I left happy. Shortly I crossed the Wye again, in Glasbury, whose canoe hire business was doing none at all, thanks to the high water.

As I left the village I saw the sorry sight of someone’s home surrounded by sandbags as they carried their soggy belongings out onto the pavement.

My route continued with the Wye on my left. As I cycled upstream the water became increasingly “white” and every so often I caught a glimpes of rapids through the trees.

The road was straight and the gradient was gentle, and it wasn’t until I crossed a bridge over another road that I realised I had been cycling along an old railway. This was confirmed when I reached the old Erwood station which had been converted to a tea room. I did my nepotal duty and bought and wrote a post card to Aunt Phyllis.

I was very close to my destination for the night when I saw a flock of sheep behaving rather oddly. I then noticed a dog behind them and the farmer who was shouting and whistling instructions to the dog. It was a wonderful sight as the dog patrolled left and right, or stopped and lay down, all the time driving 100 or so sheep and lambs towards the gate where the farmer was waiting.

A few minutes later I arrived at the Boatside camp site. I wandered around until I spied a man trying to bully a hymn out of an out-of-tune piano. I knocked on the window to gain his attention, he called his wife and I was offered a cup of tea, which I accepted, over which we discussed the political situation à propos of the local election results. I was then shown to the flat, well-tended, sheep-free, dry spot where I could pitch my tent right next to the shower-cum-toilet block and asked if I would like breakfast in the morning

I pitched the tent, enjoyed a beautiful hot shower, put some clean clothes on and then disappeared to the Seven Stars in Aberedw, about a mile back along the road, where I demolished duck, veg and chips washed down with two pints of Felinfoel Double Dragon. Ominously, there was an individual at the bar warning of forecasts of -5°C for Saturday or Sunday night.