Tuesday 17th June
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...
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...
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.
and it rained.
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.
Greyer to start, and how
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...
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.
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.
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?
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.
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…
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…
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…