Days 1-12
 

Tuesday 17th June

Day one.

 

Long goodbyes and longer hills. Fine weather, if you excuse the wind. At least, being a tail-wind, it worked in my favour. Said hello to cows, stopped at Geevor mine for a pee (see how he laughs in the face of millenium project funding!) and cruised through St. Ives, spotting the first of 6 VW busses. Sandsifter café at Gwithian for lunch; beautiful cappuccino and friendly staff, would go back. Dipping into Portreath, Porthtpwan and Perranporth made me late - and a bit lost - into Newquay, but in time to collect hot roast chicken and cold beers from Morrison's; mmm, food! Sloping pitch, remember to pitch facing uphill...

 

Day Two.

 

Shower, cold rice pud from the can, bundle up and leave, ground still wet from last night's rain. Coves come and go, the hills are getting longer... 

Nearly get run over by Jamie Oliver's trainees, but live on, ready for a bit of pasty-munching in Padstow, watching the cyclists go by - slowly- and the trendy mums lingering in the windows of just-so seaside nick-nackeries. Ferry to Rock (we salute you) three quid one way, and not so much as a paper shop when I get there. Eventually succumb to torrential (or so it seemed) rain, making my eVent waterproofs my instant best friends. 

Give some coves a miss (what's in a seaside town in the rain?) and dive through Bude to my disappointment of a campsite in a one phone hamlet. Pub beckons, and I oblige, and there I meet Craig, childhood buddy if Jack's colleague Dave Edwards, see Andy Mac's ex on tv and chat to Megan the friendly barmaid.

Megan, if you're reading this, I didn't cheat and I took the coast road all the way to my mum's house...


Day Three.

 

Left camp without paying, and headed to Sandymouth (it isn't, but it's worth a visit) and deep into a combe, (if woodland is the lungs of the county, this combe was one of the alveoli) and to the tiny beach at Duckpool. No ducks, but the pool was real enough. Gooseham contained no geese, so I headed to the A39 and over to Hartland peninsula to retrace holiday footsteps. Slipped into Bideford by the back road, some of the steepest roads ever built, and - resisting the urge to pasty - crossed the Torridge via the old bridge.

Tarka-trailing along the estuary in sunshine, under holiday skies and the familiar tailwind, past yachts moored on clotted cream sands, I was soon at Fremington Quay, home of the best café in north Devon. I lost my salad to the wind, but kept the bread, pate and beer for myself. I'll be back! Lastly, a 5 mile grind into the wind into Braunton to my mum's house - a hot bath, hot food, and proper bed - a home from home.

 

Day four....

 

and it rained.
A 'light' rain but, this being the day I crossed Exmoor, 'light' was a relative term.
There are two things that Exmoor does exceptionally well, and rain is one of them. The other is steep hills.
I'm sure I never thought I'd say it, but I was glad to see hills signed as 20% gradient - 1 in 5 - because they weren't the really steep ones I'd lost my sense of humour, and often my traction, on.
I'd have taken photos today, but with all the weather and my average speed being somewhere around the 8mph mark, I had no inclination to stop for anything other than my sore legs and drinking water.
10 hours in the saddle is a very long time, so I was very pleased to finally drag my quivering carcass into the low-key port of Watchet, home of Angelo's fish & chip shop. The food was lovely, by the way!
Other of the day's highlights included the descent of the old toll road into Porlock Weir (new brake pads, please!) and a quite-by-chance view of the sunset over the Bristol Channel from Daw's Castle. Well worth the hours of misery, I think.

 

Day five.

 

Windy, cool and dry, but much less hilly, I managed to re-acquaint  myself with parts of the Quantocks - a mecca for mountainbikers in the know and one of my fave riding spots - only entirely from the road.  The Somerset levels followed, and as the wind was behind me across the flatlands I made fine progress towards Burnham on sea and Weston not-very-Super-Mare.
Oh dear: Weston has long since seen better days, and is now rather tired and forlorn. Pigeons nest in the shelters on the sea front once the exclusive haunt of perambulating gentlefolk, and the stigmatic Victorian ironwork  is overlayed with yet another coat of soon-to-be-peeling paint.
Granted that, strictly, June is not 'season', and that the heavy plant machinery massed on the beach -  rebuilding the sea defences - doesn't add much of a holiday feel, but even so, it's never going to trouble Brighton for the title of seaside 'top dog'.
Burnham, however, makes it seem like Shangri La: my rule of thumb (not long established, but still unbroken) is that, if a town's single most interesting feature is the tide guage - a sort of ten meter stick held upright by chains at the end of the slipway (no pier here) - then it's a pretty rum place. It also has mud, tired looking donkey rides and a view of Hinkley point power station. Don't all rush at once.
Just round the corner from Weston is a tiny village called kewstoke, home to the Pippin Harris vegbox shop. Just a shop, really, but with an A-board outside, advertising tea and cake for £2.49. Very nice cuppa it was too. The best part was the guy running the shop, a 19 year old lad called Lee, who was very interested in what I was doing and why I was doing it and wanted to wish me luck on my journey. Lee also had a particularly focussed and workmanlike attitude, far in advance of his years.
"You're gonna achieve a lot, good for you. It's nice to meet people who want to make a difference, do something they believe in and get off their arse" he said. He also gave me cakes to take with me, which makes him a thoroughly top bloke. Lee, they were delicious, and they didn't last long. Thanks mate!
My pitch under the cider apple trees of Congresbury was all the sweeter for the free cake. 

 

Day six

 

Greyer to start, and how windy?
My trip to Clevedon was a bit like taking a bit-part in a re-enactment of one of those winter news stories from the coast, where they show boats in the harbour (or, rather, NOT in the harbour anymore) and waves knocking over pedestrians who've taken the day off school especially to take turns in getting soaked on the sea front. This is June, remember. The sea here, still mostly mud and salt by the look of it, looked from a distance more like a BMX park than a seaway, all peaks and crests and ten-foot drops, but was very definitely liquid by the time it came ashore.
Portishead - the town not the glum band - has a Waitrose, ideal loo and breakfast stop with added politeness thrown in. It also has a town farm with geese assembled at the gate, ready to relieve any passers-by of their spare  bread. I shared with them a corner of my sandwich before heading off again into the mass of cyclists... and I do mean MASS.
Yes, today was Bristol Bikefest day, and the world and her kids were out in force on (mostly) two wheels, which made navigation easy (ask a route marshall for directions or follow the horde) and crossing the Avonmouth bridge almost impossible.
sanity regained around the docks, I headed off up the river Severn, and stopped off in a very nice pub called The Ship in Oldbury-on-Severn. It was only supposed to be a cheeky loo stop, but the staff and customers were so friendly that I ended up staying for three halves and talking. Mike and Shirley, regulars and locals whose cottage was no more than a tangled stumble from the pub's front door (should it ever come to that) were keen balloonists, and I learned much from talking to them. They also made a contribution to my collection, which was very generous. In fact, the whole atmosphere of the place (village and pub) was relaxed and inviting, and I'm sure I'll be back again to say hello.
However, all this ale and chat made me a bit late for my campsite, scarcely 20 miles away.
I was expecting to meet Martin Clarke, Jack's boss and mentor, there, as he'd offered to buy me dinner and a beer at the pub next door, but was pleasantly surprised to discover my mate Simon from Oxford had come down on his scary-fast motorbike to see me. Thankfully, his extra pair of hands enabled me to put my tent up in the high wind in record time, so we were able to get into the pub and get drinking underway. 

 

Day Seven

 

 A long meander up to Gloucester and down the 'other' side of the Severn today. Off and on, weather-wise. Muggy, sunny patches and a cool breeze. I had also forgotten just how hilly that part of Gloucestershire can be but, don't worry, I soon remembered...
I'd been heading for a campsite at (or so I thought) Brockweir, a tiny village on the English bank of the Wye. so, that's a long haul up some very steep lanes or a long detour on the A48, a trunk road with no bike path and plenty of industrial traffic. Oh, and plenty of hills... I chose the former, and relied on my inadequate-for-fine-planning map, intuition and comedy signposting to get me there. Imagine the euphoria of finding the sign "Brockweir, 2 miles" and realising that all of it was now downhill.
Bliss.
Stop in shop, ask for directions to campsite.... (you just KNOW what's coming).
Yep, the campsite is back UP the 2 mile long, steep, hill. Bugger.
So, the kind ladies of the Brockweir Shop and Eco Centre directed me to the Old Station, Tintern: downhill all the way to a tiny unofficial campsite by a picnic spot. £3 per night, and no facilities. What's the fuss? Well, I got an unmowed Wye valley flower meadow all to myself for the night, and was front of the queue when the cafe opened for their delicious breakfast. Two of everything, al fresco and a cuppa for £5...

Day Eight

I've eaten breakfast in many places, but the combination of good food, great company and exquisite scenery means it'll be a hard morning to beat.
I also met John and Norman there, two cyclists out for the day. They stopped and chatted and made a contribution. Thank you guys, I hope you had a lovely ride today. I made it to Cardiff in easy time and, apart from Newport (a little slice of the third world) the journey was very pleasant.
Arrived at Esther's house filled with the expectation of a bath, laundry, a lasagne, a real bed and an old mate to talk to, and all promises were fulfilled.
I'd like to reserve a special "Thanks, mate!" for the twat in a Ford Transit pick-up whose overtaking maneuver on a long straight road forced me into the verge as a matter of life and death (if I'd been looking the other way, I'd be dead or in hospital now) but I'm still here, so he'll have to try harder next time...

Day Nine


Following the long-awaited bath (and a good old catch-up with Esther, who I haven’t seen in years) I repacked my bags with fresh, clean clothes and settled down to sleep (in a bed; fantastic!), my belly full of beautiful home-made lasagna. I have scarcely been more grateful for the basics of hospitality, and was given to pondering what I had truly missed on my journey so far. Electricity? Friends? The internet? Yes, and more, but mainly it was being able to sit in comfort and talk to someone else. You can’t do that in a one-man tent, and the double luxury of comfortable seating and people to talk to was going to prove very hard to leave behind.

Esther accompanied me to the top of the road and directed me towards town and the bike path west. In theory.

Cardiff isn’t a bad place, but it has a bit of a problem with poor signposting for cyclists not going to the University or on the National Bike Trail north, across country.

After an hour of going in circles, I crossed the Taff – one last time – and headed for the Vale of Glamorgan, where monster headwinds and hills awaited.

If I’d thought Cardiff was bad, I at least had to concede that it wasn’t that hilly. Barry had all that Cardiff had got wrong, but was very hilly too. Not so painful if you’re in a car and miss a turning, but on a bike, with headwinds and a heavy load, it was almost spirit crushing to see – or rather NOT see – any route signs. So, after an hour of swearing in Barry I finally left (yes, into the headwind) and ground and grunted my way into the west…

…And ground, and grunted, and swore, and grumbled, and stopped to ease my legs. I was making almost no headway at all, and my average speed was under 7mph.

By the time I’d got to Bridgend, I’d had enough, so I left the ever-so-scenic coast path (at least the sun was shining) and headed for the railway station. I felt like a total failure, but I knew that if I had a lift to Swansea, I’d be able to pitch my tent on the Gower before it got dark, and I might avoid injury from overdoing it.

At Swansea, I still had nearly 20 miles to ride (yes, into the wind), and although the sun was doing it’s best to paint the land in a favourable light, I was less that happy to still be out and about. I wanted my bed, and fast. I cared not for the surf schools, the white breakers and the green headlands swooping majestically into azure waters. Bed was the only thing I could think of. This was the longest day.


Family

 

I’ve had a hard time explaining my journey to some people. Maybe it’s because I’m not too clever at explaining things, which is why I’ve set up this website. Maybe it’s because people not and then switch off when they hear Land’s End to John O’Groats, and don’t hear the bit where I tell them where I’m going and wiggle my finger in a round-the-coast sort of motion. Perhaps it’s just way outside some people’s idea of possible, desirable or reasonable, so they have no frame of reference.

The two asian lads at the Costcutter in Congresbury could scarcely comprehend camping (paying someone to sleep in a field? Why?) let alone why anyone would do that for 2 months, or how anyone could find their way around without satnav.

But it occurred to me that maybe it wasn’t simply other people who had no idea what I was doing, but that I had no clear idea of what I was doing either.

I could tell them HOW I was spending 2 months: where, what I would eat, how many miles and malt loaves I would consume, but not what it was FOR.

I thought I had it straight. I was doing it for charity, right? But what was I doing?

Maybe coincidences shouldn’t guide our judgment on such matters, but I had the Welsh word Teulu (pronounced ‘Tiley’, I think) in my head on my approach to Cardiff. I’d seen it on a teeshirt depicting skinny warrior men – the bodyguard of the old Kings of Wales – and it had stuck.

As I listened to Esther’s stories of places she’d visited and art she’d seen, she told me of an artist whose sculptures – whole trees carved into skinny, troubled-looking people – represented his links with his ancestors and his Polish past. Her mother had referred to them, the sculptures, as his family, and it had apparently touched him greatly.

The picture was complete as that last piece was slotted into place: skinny figures, Teulu, family, Wales, my father’s homeland. Maybe this trip for me isn’t about going from one end of the country to the other, or seeing every inch of the coast, perhaps it’s about finding my family?

After all, I’d started off with Jack, visited my mum, met with friends, with friends of friends (completely by accident) and seen old colleagues at pre-arranged points. I was now listening to the voices that I’d not heard since childhood, Welsh valleys accents and I could smell the smells that lingered in my memory from visits to my grandparents’ house…

Maybe I’m tying together my family, past present and future?

Teulu.


Day Ten


The forecast for lighter winds and sunny skies was a lie.

The sunshine lasted til half nine, when the wind picked up and stayed up. Fortunately, as I was now traveling slightly north and north west-ish, and the wind was more southerly, it wasn’t entirely a headwind, but by the time I’d got to the beach at Llanelli, the weather was in a vicious frame of mind, and the kitesurfers were getting BIG AIR for seconds on end. I was getting sand in my eyes.

I pushed on past Burry Port’s land art and through the Millennium Coastal Park, through Pembrey forest where –as was becoming the fashion – the Sustrans route markers disappeared, and northwards, sped along by the winds, past Kidwelly and Ferryside, and up some unexpectedly vicious hills to Carmarthen.

Then it happened:

It had been a long day, and my destination, Pant Farm (I’ll do the jokes, ok?) was in sight, just a couple of miles to the east.

It was raining, but not too hard, and I had my waterproofs to keep me dry.

Arriving at the farm, the wind stiffened, and in came the rain.

I tried pitching before it got too dark, but my tent became waterlogged before I could get the flysheet on (actually, the inner was soaked before I could peg it or thread the poles into the sleeves) which then blew away.

Luckily, it was stopped by a tree. Unluckily, it got ripped as I tried to rescue it.

Bugger.

I pitched as best I could, and got back on the bike and headed for anywhere that would sell me gaffer tape to make an emergency repair, snack food and a newspaper to dry the tent.

An hour later, gaffer tape not sticking and newspaper defeated, I gave up and rang mission control.

Jack found me a nearby B+B so repacked (still in a gale) and left for the B+B, where my tent would be hung in a barn to dry and I could get a good night’s sleep.

This was the longest day. I was broken and I felt a failure for the second time in as many days, but it wasn’t about to get any easier…


Day Eleven


Train to Fishguard.

I’d decided that I couldn’t face another day of wind and rain, and I needed a rest day. I also knew that, if I headed to my next scheduled stop, Pembroke, I’d have a couple of very long days to follow if I took a rest day there, so I made a pragmatic decision to get on the train and cut out a corner of Wales.

(Anyone who thinks I’ve cheated can have their money back: a penny for every mile I’ve missed. It’ll be worth it.)

It was still wet flannels when I arrived, and everywhere the wind was in the wrong direction, especially uphill, but I slid wearily down into the Lower Town, and was welcomed at Ael Y Bryn by Dave and Anne, who helped me further dry my tent (Still wet) and directed me to likely tent repair shops (annoyingly, the first shop I saw on leaving the train station was Goodwick Marine Supplies, where I eventually found sail repair tape – my new best friend), restaurants and pubs.

That night I dined on curry and Kingfisher Lager, and slept like a baby, but I still felt more than a little fraudulent, although I really didn’t care as long as I could just sleep…


Day Twelve

 

Another rest day.

I spent the day walking around (bum not on the saddle, very happy) taking pictures of the Lower Town harbour, a junior dinghy regatta and sea kayakers in fine sunshine. I ate fancy ice cream, I drank tea, and I rested. Tomorrow was to be only a short hop to Cardigan and a return to my schedule, but I needed to be rested and avoid injury or illness, and I could feel a cold approaching…