Days 14 -27
 

Day 13.

 

Fishguard to Cardigan is no distance at all, so I decided that unless the weather was foul, I'd make as much progress as I could. The next day looked like it would be VERY long if I didn't capitalise on the rest I'd just had.

As it happens, I'd already had the waterproofs out before I'd got to Cardigan - it crapped with rain as I photographed the sea kayakers I'd seen the day before in Fishguard - but as I sat drinking tea at the café at Poppit Sands, chatting with Ian and his wife from Worcestershire (he was a seasoned end-to-ender, but motor rallying, not cycling) the sun dried my waterproofs and I knew I had plenty more miles in me.

More hills, more huffing and puffing, but also a tiny secret bay, hidden and totally unspoilt.

Mwnt. It's not on my map, I found it by chance and i'm very glad I did, as I met a couple there who pointed me in the direction of Llangrannog, another tiny bay, but this time with two pubs, Richard the optimistic surfer (he actually lived in the tiny village - jammy git!) and some beautiful geology.

What a find, and what a day: lovely people, gorgeous scenery, favourable weather, good beer and plenty of photos taken. It was meant to be like this...

 

Day 14

 

Llangrannog-ish to Machynlleth-ish…

It was to be downhill all the way, or so it seemed from my map. Actually, as I already knew the stretch from Aberystwyth to Mach, it didn’t seem daunting. It was, however going to be a 60+ mile day, so I was very glad to have put the extra in yesterday, or I’d have been doing over 80 miles today.

The coastal options along this stretch of coast are limited: an A road, and that’s it, more or less, so it was going to be a ‘heads down and get on with it’ sort of day, at least as far as Aberystwyth, where I stopped for a decent coffee, sandwich and a visit to the bike shop.

Long distance cyclist, 2 weeks into an end-to-end, walks into a bike shop. What does he buy? A new pair of shoes? New shorts? New gloves? Tyres? Nope. A bloody bike lock. Yes, the stupid cyclist has left his back at his last campsite. Durr…

Next stop, Machynlleth, home of alternative technology, knitted biomass coffee substitute, organic hemp biscuits and the site of my first injury of the ride, a result of an altercation with a wasp which flew into my helmet and didn’t leave voluntarily.

First stop was not, therefore, the recycled barley cup and freely-traded buckwheat flapjack shop, but the chemist, for some anti histamine cream. Coffee and cake soon followed, before I left town and headed to the campsite.

Gwerniago farm is lovely: beautiful views, lovely owners, peaceful and not too many facilities and, best of all, they let you have camp fires!

It was also home, for the night for Toby the engineer and mountainbiker from Scotland, (with whom I shred breakfast and biking route tips) James and family from Mayo (who gave me beer. Thank you!) and Peter and Pamela, two bikers from Kent (who also gave me beer and kept me chatting well past my bed time). If you’re reading this, I never did find fatty…

Alas, I didn’t manage to get my firewood lit, as I was talking to P+P late into the night, but I didn’t mind. I think I met and made friends with some lovely people that night.

 

Day 15

 

Early away from Gwerniago, and second puncture of the journey by the time I’d got to Aberdovey. Sat on the sea wall and mended the puncture as a passer-by walking his dogs cheerfully reminded me that a storm was coming and I should make the most of it.

The storm hadn’t arrived by the time I crossed the bridge to Barmouth, spotting a Grass Snake along the way. It hadn’t materialised when I stopped for lunch in Barmouth, the sun now beating down on me and the other shirtless fools soaking up the rare rays in the dunes.

Still later, as I bumped into a friendly cyclist, Lorraine (who shoed me a shortcut to Porthmadog via the toll bridge) the storm was still nowhere in sight, but there was something at my back pursuing me. Something angry, pink and very sore. Yes, I’d given myself too many hours in the sun, and some nasty sunburn to boot… Not clever, but at the time cycling without a shirt on felt uncommonly good.

By the time I’d got to Pwllheli though, still several miles short of my destination, the storm had finally caught up with me… and it rained.

…And rained.

I’d cycled 60 miles, I was dehydrated, sore, tired and now wet through, so I skipped the camping bit and opted for a B+B, the first one I saw.

It was cheap, friendly, and run by a nice Welsh lady (who enquired directly after the state of my backside) and her German husband and populated by their curly, blonde and permanently cheerful young son.

They also had a bathroom, with a bath, my first of the trip… Bliss!

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Day 16

 

Rain, hills and wildlife on the Lleyn peninsula.

I'm sure it's a fab place for a holiday really - when the weather's fine and you have a car - but I was clearly leaning towards the leisurely today, and was sub-delighted to see the muscular headwinds dragging black banks of heavy rain in from the Irish Sea like sacks of coal, dumping them on Hell's Mouth beach (and me) and in the process making Wakestock festival look all to similar to Glastonbury... Once I'd crossed to the north coast, wind behind me and downhill all the way, I cared not about the rain, Harlech castle (sorry, can't do 'history' with full panniers) or the state of my clothes, as I knew I had an easy run over to Anglesey and yet another b+b. I have taken to booking into them whenever the alternative looks like pitching a tent in a gale. As it happened, it was a fine evening, but I'd have probably paid double for my bed. I think I was far from over my heat exhaustion of the previous day.

 

Day 17.

 

Go to Rhosneigr. Do it. Despite an unpromising sounding name and location, it's a secret surf spot, a beautiful beach and has it's own lake with wading cattle, wading birds and a truly wilderness feel... But with a great café. On second thoughts, forget I mentioned it, eh... ;-)

While we're on the subject of fab-and-tiny places to visit, you should also drive straight past Aberffraw. It's a one-pub place with an ancient - bypassed - bridge, but the tidal creek it sits on is flanked by sedges, dunes an one of the villages main streets. Marry that to the fast-forward moody skies on the island and just a brief visit could transport you to so many different emotions. Amazingly, I was one of only two visitors there on the day, and the other left by canoe...

 

Shortly before arriving in Aberffraw, and presumably as something of a herald, I was treated to a Kestrel flypast by three birds I'd startled on my way into town. They flew alongside me for a few hundred meters as I raced downhill off the moor, seemingly unable to outrun me and unwilling to deviate from their emergency flightplan. Yes, it's that sort of quiet on south Anglesey, but it's not exactly bustling with activity anywhere else on the island, except maybe Holyhead (which I avoided; I'm averse to ferry terminals.)

In fact, if you factor in the other sea kayaking venue at (shhh, it's a secret spot on the A4080) flyovers, flypasts and other close sightings with Buzzards, Merlins, Curlews and Pink foot geese, listed (and very unusual) and ancient churches, I'd have to say that it's a pretty top place for birdwatchers, architects, historians and watersport enthusiasts...

The reason I was there though, was to see my friends Lawrence and Hilarie, whose hospitality and kindness far exceeded my expectations (and whose local pub serves huge shoulders of lamb both delicious and dangerously filling).

 

Day 18

 

Leave the island along the north side. This is where they keep the hills then... Not big, or long, but big enough and long enough with a heavy load.

Stopped off at Red Wharf Bay, as per Lawrence's recommendation; it was a very high tide, and at least one road was submerged. One of those Anglesey places again. Bumped into a nice couple from Hoylake who did lots of outdoorsy stuff, and we chatted and they wished me well. Bumped into them again in Beaumaris, where the seagulls are bigger and bolder than almost anywhere else, so I ate my packed lunch very quickly and headed for Bangor back on the mainland.

Once there, the Sustrans cycle route signage was up to its usual tricks again, but this was to be only the start of my troubles... I'd heard a bang as I was riding along, but thought nothing of it as all seemed to be well with the bike and in my world. On closer inspection though, two of the bolts holding my rack to the frame of my bike had sheared off, leaving my rack swinging about with my luggage swaying and clattering at every opportunity.

Bugger.

Luckily, a helpful copper helped me with my luggage and directed me to the local bike shop, Revolution, who bodged a fix, sold me peanut butter Cliff Bars (my favourite!) and completely saved the day.

Now all I had to worry about was Sustrans's hard to follow trail... Ringing them up after i'd got myself thoroughly lost (half five, still less than half way to my campsite...) was not much use either, as I was 'assisted' in my request for route advice by someone who was either a temp, a bit special or on medication for a nervous disposition, and was completely unable to give me directions back onto national route 5, even though it was his job. Hmmm...

I did eventually find it with help from a local, but it was actually being dug up, so I had to dodge plant machinery, trenches and 'road closed' signs to get along it.

I finally pitched tent at half eight in Rhos on Sea, and wound down with a hearty chinese and a very large beer!

 

Day 19

 

Early start, thanks to the Polish families in the adjacent tents getting up at half five to drink vodka, chat, cheer, laugh and sing. I'd have cursed them, but as it happened I was grateful for the early start, as the wind was up to it's usual tricks, persistent, strong and in my face from Colwyn Bay to... Well, all the way to England. Oh, and it rained. Now all of that would have been enough to dampen my spirits normally, but I was saving my suicide pill for Rhyl (town motto: God Forgot) where the Irish Sea meets the 3rd world. Grozny, with ice cream. It was also shut, being only 8am and out of season.

What a pleasant surprise then was the Crofter's Pantry, Prestatyn.

It was open, served tea and bacon rolls (which I needed after 3 hours on the bike before breakfast) and was run by very nice people. My thanks go to Jeff, who took pity on me and gave me sandwiches for my journey.

Thank you, they were delightful.

Over the hills to Flint, best avoided, and Connah's Quay (likewise), across the Dee and the last 5 miles of Wales.

Lose the trail again, until I asked a local...

Paul just happened to be the Sustrans volunteer ranger for the Wirral, and he gave me a guided tour of the local paths, loads of background info and route directions for the last few miles of my journey and for the following day. What a top bloke! I'll thank him on Bikemagic when I get home.

Sadly, the same can't be said of the staff of The Acorn pub in Bebbington, who took 1 hour and 20 minutes to bring me lasagne and garlic bread. It's a good job the locals were friendly.

 

Day 20.

 

Leave Bebbington by train (no ferry 'cross the Mersey today, and you can't cycle in the tunnels) and ride up the estuary and out of the city. Was delighted to see the Anthony Gormley installation on Crosby beach, so spent an age photographing it in very favourable light: warm sun, moody and stormy clouds. Clichéd, but who cares?

Stopped to admire the streamlined prom in Southport, and witnessed tornadoes playing with the town's roofs. Very spooky!

But, where there's a tornado, there's sure to be rain, and rain it did, the kind that leaves puddles frothy and defeats Victorian drainage.

Pressed on through Preston, and completed my 1000th mile at the windmill on Lytham shore, before turning back and heading for my campsite, laundry, food and bed. I'm now exactly one third of my way through the ride, and although my bum, my thighs and my knees hurt, they've stopped getting worse.

For now...

 

 

Day 21

 

Word cloud. Pick any of the words from the list below and construct your own version of my morning's ride along the delightful Fylde coast:

Head winds

Biblical meteorology

Punctured rear tyre (again)

Civilised cappuccino and pain au chocolat

Win £10K on a lottery scratchcard

 

The red herring is the lottery win; everything else, from the entirely predictable to the startlingly unexpected actually happened.

Actually, speaking of the unexpected, Blackpool's seafront is having a major facelift. South Shore, always a bit sorry and forgotten, is much smarter than I remember it being, and presumably when it's finished, the central area prom will be actually worth seeing in it's own right (no-one goes to Blackpool for the sea itself). The businesses along the prom still show few signs of leaving the mid 20th century though, but perhaps that will change soon? It's happened in Cleveleys, just a few miles north, which used to be a very poor looking place. Architectural concrete walling (the pretty variety) swooping light fittings, satin-smooth cast concrete shelters and seamless sea defences have given the town's seafront a - wait for it - continental air, and small cafes and bars with (gulp!) bike racks have appeared. It's on the national cycle route and it is actually worth cycling through... And, remarkably, stopping at!

At Fleetwood took the Knott End ferry to old-world café charm, and rested indoors with a proper cuppa and a giant bacon barm at old-world prices, before setting off again - perfect timing - in yet more lashing rain.

Picked up the cycle path again at Conder Green, by The Crane pub, and got my head down for Lancaster, where I ran out of steam and so did the rain. Signs in the city tell of it's status as a cycling city - and proud of it - and the cycle routes hereabouts are comprehensive and well signed, and easily the best I've come across.

The trail from Lancaster leads right to the seafront in Morecambe; convenient for me, but merely an opportunity for target practice and/or being surly and obstructive for the locals. What Lancaster is, Morecambe certainly isn't. I stayed long enough to sample the undisguised dilapidation and snap the statue of Eric, and headed north, close now to my destination and to exhaustion.

After stocking up on supplies at Carnforth Tesco, arriving in Silverdale was a revelation: I was unaware of it's ANOB status, but I should have guessed. I'm so glad I chose this village - and Gibraltar Farm - as my rest day stop. If I'd stopped a day's travel either side I'd have seriously short-changed myself.

 

 

Day 22 was a rest day, and I spent it arranging stones on the beach, sitting in a cave, pretending to be a hermit and climbing the easy-peasy limestone cliffs. But, most of all, the day was spent birdwatching at Leighton Moss reserve. I watched Marsh Harriers playing 'catch' in flight, swapping food between themselves; watched a Spoonbill... Well, it didn't do much, but I was lucky to see it. Twice. Once doing not a lot and later, as it flew over. It really is quite a sight. I also met a man called Don and his partner, who was somewhat inspirational for me. Don was retired, or so he said, but he managed to fit in canoeing, cycling, birding and a sideline business as a life coach... Not at all what a 'pensioner's' lifestyle should look like. Oh, and fairly recently he'd lost a leg, and that didn't seem to have stopped him. Don, if you're reading this, I salute you. He and his partner were some of the most interesting - and interested - people I've met so far. After all that excitement, I was quite ready to hand in my hired binoculars, retrieve my charging phone and head to the café for a sarnie and cake!


Day 23

 

The bellowing of cattle being milked woke me at 4am and, as I couldn't get back to sleep, I decided on an early breakfast and was on the road by 6am. The morning veil of fog was yet to be lifted by the faint pink sunlight, and low cloud dragged its heels in the valleys as I crested the hill and slipped into Arnside, and watched two fishermen reeling plaice from the ebbing tide.

As the morning drew on, the humidity became oppressive and the mist turned to warm, thick drizzle and byways and B-roads into thundering dual carriageways. I hurried to leave the main road and regain the tranquility of the cycle routes all the way to Grange-Over-Sands.

I suspect that Grange Over Mud would have been a less attractive name to potential visitors, but it is, nevertheless, far more accurate. It also has a rail station with a very clean toilet, if you're ever in need!

Through the knot of minor roads to Ulverston, where I lost sight of the trail, and was assisted in my journey by some friendly local bikers who knew how to avoid dual carriageways.

Silverdale to Walney is not a great distance as the crow flies. If I'd been able to follow the railway line, I'd have been there in a couple of hours, but I'd have been there way too soon. My hotel overlooked the submarine sheds of BAE Systems, the only landmark in the area. Walney is Chernobyl on sea; a place predicated on nuclear war (and dying on it's feet for the lack of it), where adipose, shirtless men sit in curtainless front rooms, bathed in the permanent blue-grey glow of forty-two inches of plasma screened Sky Sports, beer in hand, suspiciously eyeing the soaking, sodium-lit streets outside. There are more places to eat in Chernobyl though.

 

Days 22 and 24

 

Day 22 was a rest day, and I spent it arranging stones on the beach, sitting in a cave, pretending to be a hermit and climbing the easy-peasy limestone cliffs. But, most of all, the day was spent birdwatching at Leighton Moss reserve. I watched Marsh Harriers playing 'catch' in flight, swapping food between themselves; watched a Spoonbill... Well, it didn't do much, but I was lucky to see it. Twice. Once doing not a lot and later, as it flew over. It really is quite a sight. I also met a man called Don and his partner, who was somewhat inspirational for me. Don was retired, or so he said, but he managed to fit in canoeing, cycling, birding and a sideline business as a life coach... Not at all what a 'pensioner's' lifestyle should look like. Oh, and fairly recently he'd lost a leg, and that didn't seem to have stopped him. Don, if you're reading this, I salute you. He and his partner were some of the most interesting - and interested - people I've met so far. After all that excitement, I was quite ready to hand in my hired binoculars, retrieve my charging phone and head to the café for a sarnie and cake!

 

Day 24 and I bade a fond farewell to Walney. Well, fond-ish; I don't think I'll be going back, but it was at least - in retrospect - a pleasant stay in a comfortable guest house. Barrow has lots of cycle tracks, but not all of them lead anywhere useful; and leads to a dual carriageway, and that was the one going in my direction. Oh dear. After several miles of busy A road, I was glad to find some lanes to tootle in. At least the wind was with me. I also discovered a wayside OS map which showed all the detail my map left out, including a handy shortcut on bridleways. Result! Turning southwards again towards Millom the wind fought back, and ii remembered those grim days in south Wales. Stopped to rest and buy masses of snacks in the town before enjoying the tailwinds and enduring the main road to Bootle where I picked up the cycle trail again, which would eventually take me all the way to St. Bees. Highlights? No, not really. Sellafield is big and scary looking. Seascale should have been called Windscale, as the tide was out but the wind was in.

Arrival at St. Bees was easily the highlight of the day, as I knew I had three nights of comfortable accommodation ahead of me, and two full days off in which to eat, relax, do some vital bike maintenance and take stock of my travels so far...

 

Days off.

 

Much tent buying in Keswick, accompanied by leisure-feeding therapy (eating and drinking just for fun. I can recommend it!), country walks and mooching in quaint towns. Just like a holiday.

Bought new back tyre from Adam at 4play cycles in Cockermouth (no sniggering, please); puncture-proof, apparently. Oh really?

I go my 5th flat of the journey after only 20 minutes with the tyre on, although the problem later emerged as a thorn in my old tyre which had pierced the tube.

 

Day 27

 

Consternation now as it emerged that, on a Sunday of all days, I'd need to replace my completely worn out cassette (cogs on the back wheel). Halfords, Carlisle proved to be the only answer.

However, after barely a few pedal turns, it became apparent that my front chainrings would also need replacing, so I made plans to visit Dumfries tomorrow, and thus deviate from my intended coastal route. The bike will need a workshop visit, so who knows how long it will be out of action? We'll find out tomorrow...