Cycling across Wales…Pt. 1

And now for something completely different!…

Having completed the fitting out of the new shop (as well as leaving the old one in the immaculate condition the lease required us to!) and had the family half-term holiday go just about as wrong as it can (don’t ask, all I’ll say is that you just don’t want your whole family apart from you going down with a sickness bug after all that!) I really needed some ‘me’ time! Well, Lu willingly said I could go away for a weekend so I got planning. I LOVE cycling and so really wanted to undertake some sort of relatively ‘gentle’ 2-day cycle tour somewhere…

I had all sorts of ideas as to how to ‘max-out’ the time available over the course of a weekend; ranging from a Friday evening sleeper train up to Fort William or overnight ferry to Belfast (as I have no passport at the moment!) I decided the last thing I needed though was a complicated journey so opted for the sub-2 hour train to Aberystwyth! It meant I could leave after the kids bedtime. Only complication was, I really wanted to go somewhere where I could start the next day with a relaxing swim. A quick online search revealed that there’s a serious gap in the market for a hotel with a swimming pool in Aberystwyth so I had to look slightly further afield. Eventually I found a golf club about 9 miles South of Aber which looked like it had nice ‘spa’ facilities and a good rate so I opted for that. This meant leaving my bike overnight at the station, getting a bus and walking about a mile to it. This all went, surprisingly, without a hitch and already generated a safe sense of ‘adventure’!

I was pleased to arrive to a massive comfortable room (and, for all I knew, possibly the entire hotel!) all to myself. Breakfast was lovely and the spa facilities great, until a family of noisy kids turned up, but it was more than time to get going anyway. Another nice surprise was that the bus back to Aber was FREE as it was a ‘Saturday’! Who knew? Makes one yearn to be ‘Welsh’! Well, my bike was still there so off I set, having pre-bought a ‘Sustrans’ map of the route I intended to follow to the nearest place directly East that I could find any accommodation; Rhayader, a formidable ‘trek’ even directly as ‘the crow flies’. Well, could I navigate my way out of Aber? Could I…!!???…. Eventually (by mid-day) I’d battled through the new housing estates they’d neglected to reinstate signing through, found my starting point and off I set! The route started out as a lovely tarmac traffic-free trail and I was flying along on my road bike (I’m usually a mountain biker but aware that the route had about 20 miles of road in it and carrying luggage I’d adapted my ‘racer’ as a tourer).

Within the first half hour I was recruited by a dog-walker to get an escaped sheep (with half the hedge it had blundered its way through attached) back into a field. I enthusiastically raced past said Ovine to scare it back towards the (now dogless) walker who was standing with the gate open. As soon as it went round the bend and sighted her, however, it bolted back. I attempted to hold my bike sideways on as a barrier but these Welsh breeds are stubborn creatures and it was not convinced we were entirely altruistic in our aims and leapt over the wheel. Well, with a mutual ‘sod-it’ we both gave up on the walking hedge and carried on with our day.

The initially promising (European-Funded) tarmac surface of the Ystwyth Trail soon yielded to a much more ‘basic’ surface. I have, as yet, failed to mention that the weather was very typically Welsh from the outset of said day and ground conditions were (in a way fortunately) beyond ‘muddy’ in that the mud had become so diluted as to be just water; hard to discern from the river it was following (basically). I wasn’t really thinking much of it as I was just glad feeling ‘free’ and on my bike. However, the few people I encountered increasingly encouraged me to question this as the path relentlessly pursued its journey into an ever-expanding ‘wilderness’. A horse rider exclaiming ‘gosh you’re brave’ (I’d stripped down to just cycling shorts on my legs by this point as anyone that cycles knows there’s nothing worse than sodden clothing clinging to your legs!) but it was relatively mild and I was moving so wasn’t cold. Soon after, a very elderly man walked up onto the trail from a roadside car parking spot with an enormous dog. He shall only be known as the ‘prophet of doom’ as he warned of almost certain ‘perishing’ amongst the ‘bogs’ of mid-Wales; “wouldn’t you be better going to Tregaron? There’s a Michelin-star Inn there you know? Very reasonable!” Well, I explained, I’m already booked in at Rhayader and can’t cancel as it was a cheaper rate booking so I’m committed. “Oh well, that’s very nice too…IF you get there!”

I persevered. And so did the trail; in its increasing distance from my expected definition of ‘traffic-free’, to being more like my accepted definition of ‘off-road’ (for which I would usually use a very different bike to what I was on!) Nevermind, there was a certain ‘joy’ in being under-equipped but using my ‘skill’ and ‘judgement’ to ‘persevere’ nonetheless, just like most of the (failed) great English Explorers! Passing an attractive looking couple…with shotguns, and emerging out of the woods unscathed…past somewhere that looked like it was straight out of ‘Deliverance’, I eventually found the first area of habitation for quite some time; ‘Pont-Rhyd-Y-Groes’.
I realised here exactly how desperate I was for food and warmth by this stage (2 hours of non-stop, off-road, cycling of around 16 miles in the rain), as I staggered into the first place I came to that could possibly offer these things. I was not disappointed; not especially ‘promising’ from the outside (a tearoom next to a ‘garage’) but then where is in the rain? ‘Cwtch’ did exactly what it says on its Welsh language ‘tin’! (It means ‘hug’!) Warming me up with its cosy surroundings, fresh homemade pizza slice, Welsh Brew Tea (the best!) and the warm feeling of somewhere that was so much more than just a local ‘business’, but a vital ‘hub’ for a remote, rural, community!

Unlike the ‘prophets of doom’ I’d met so far, the owner was fairly optimistic of my chances of making it to Rhayader alive, if not before dark even! But then he seemed far too ‘zen’ to indulge in anything as silly as long-distance cycling and kept me chatting till about 3pm so…

DID I make it?…(Well, obviously yes, existentially, but…) Part II coming SOON!


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