Our Qatar flight from Perth left as scheduled at 22.40pm. We had two hours in Doha and then the second leg to Heathrow. Both flights went well; slight hiccup as we were not seated together on the second but we sorted this out in Doha. The customs official at Heathrow asked a few extra questions like "...and you've got 6 months off work then, hmmm?" but we were not detained for long. The cold weather hit us hard as we put the bikes together outside! We then caught the Heathrow Express train to Paddington and booked our bikes and bag into storage; then the tube to our hotel: Ibis Blackfriars. We arrived at about 5pm. Phew; good to finally arrive! We went out to have something to eat which ended up being at a Nando's restuarant over the road, and then early to bed.
We were awake at 4am due to jet-lag, but enjoyed being in bed until about 6am. We headed out at 7am walking to all "the sights": Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, St James Park, St Pauls Cathedral and Trafalgar Square. It was excellent being out so early as there were not many people about and we were fortunate with the weather - i.e. no rain, but very cold! We were at the National Gallery at opening time and were treated to a performance of bagpipe music by a Scots (presume) busker. The Gallery was a real treat. How amazing to see all those paintings! Afterwards we walked through the City of London returning to our hotel room for a nap via the Globe Theater and the Tate Modern. We went out again in the afternoon but were too tired and it was also raining so went home to bed. The weather really came in overnight and it stormed. Glad to not be in a tent!
We purchased a day ticket for the train and headed off early to the Tower Bridge. We ended up getting off a station too far which was good as we had a look at the Brunel Museum (the guy who designed the train line we were to take that night). We walked along the Thames Path and over the Tower Bridge to the Tower of London. Mike was disappointed not to see any public executions. We then went onward to Greenwich which was wonderful and exciting for Mike to see the Zero Meridian. We travelled back to the hotel for a late checkout at 2pm and then went to do battle in the British Museum. Soooooo many people. Amazing to see all those huge and impressive objects in one place. It is certainly true that you could spend days there. We then went to Hyde Park which was lovely and walked passed Kensington Palace before heading to Paddington. We waited on the platform for a few hours before going into to the First Class lounge prior to boarding the First Great Western Riviera to Penzance.
It was interesting to watch the trains being called and people running along the platform to catch them. We got quite cold waiting but it was nice in the lounge. We got our bikes and bag out of storage at about 10.20pm and could board the train at 10.30pm. We were excited about sleeping in our TINY cabin! It was a great experience going to sleep as the train pulled out. We were looking forward to the slower pace of the islands.
We were served brekky in our cabin and disembarked at about 8am to walk down to the ferry with bikes now laden. The crossing was quite bumpy and many people needed their puke bags but we were okay; Keep your eyes shut and listen to music and it is only a rollercoster ride. We disembarked at the island of St Mary's which will be home for a week to allow Mike's wrist to recover a little more since breaking it 8 weeks ago. Our campsite at the Garrison is at the top of a STEEP hill and we can't wait to look around.
The Garrison Farm campsite takes its name from the fortifications and battlements surrounding it. Although they date from the 1600's to 1945 they are in very good condition and well preserved. There is even the original powder magazine and sally ports. It is very interesting spending time here. The campsite is huge but we were one of only two campers on arrival. The ferry to St Mary's is foot and bicycle only so although very popular as a summer holiday destination, no car based camping and you can have your luggage transported from ferry to campsite.
On our first full day we walked around the southern part of the island. It is a beautiful place, the sea always in view. It was overcast on this first day and cold but no rain. There are some interesting sites such as ancient burial chambers (4000 BC) and an old cemetry. Traditionally the island made its money from growing flowers and there is still much of this; fields of daffodils are seas of yellow. Cute stone farmhouses around every corner. Purchase free range eggs on honesty system by the roadside.
Hugh Town is the main settlement with an excellent Co-operative Supermarket which charged normal city prices and other stores like hardware, clothing, etc. All very quaint and authentic. We were impressed by the cost of everything from cornish pasties to milk. Usually when staying on an island you pay a premium but not on Scilly.
On our second day we took a boat trip to nearby St Martin's Island. It was a cold morning and we put on full wet weather gear when we saw the boat we would be going on; totally open and low to the water. About 15 people went on board including baby in a push chair, a couple of dogs and the skippers tiny grandson who spent the voyage trying to man the wheel. The trip took about an hour and we were frozen by the time we arrived; water spraying us over the deck. The skipper had to slow down in parts to "keep us dry". We arrived at about 11:15 and were to be collected at 15:45. It is pretty remote with only one tiny settlement and beautiful walking and coastline. The wind was bitterly cold but we had a great time and the views were spectacular. For us, this was the furtherest west we had been and as always the west coast does not disappoint when it comes to wildness! We were quite pleased to get back to St Mary's though.
The next day we thawed out. Still cold.
Easter Sunday: We explored the northerley part of the island. A perfect day: warmer and no wind. Sea perfectly calm and turquoise blue. There were more burial mounds and the remains of an ancient village to see. We moved to a campsite closer to the sea view and watched the sunrise and moonset in the morning.
Easter Monday was another sunny day; we had hit the jackpot with the weather and we had no rain at all on the island. We had an easy day. Mike woke with a migraine which unfortunately developed into a cold. We went into Hugh Town where there was a craft market being held in the town hall, and then relaxed and read. The following day, our second last day on the island, we took the boat to St Agnes which was the closest island to us and clearly visable from the campsite. It is joined to Gugh which is a smaller island and can be access by a sand-bar at low tide. St Agnes was really pretty and not as remote as St Martin's. It was cold but sunny (and windy). The boat trip was full and bouncy and most of the passengers laughed in joy as the boat swung wildly form left to right but I was pleased when it was over, unlike Mike who likes the bumpy voyages. We had found many caches whilst on the Isles of Scilly but I found the multi-cache on St Agnes the most rewarding. We visited a beautiful church with two stunning, modern stained glass windows. When we opened the door the scent of vases filled with daffodils and primroses was so strong! The island was small but every view was beautiful.
The trip back was much less bumpy and the night grew cold very quickly. The Garrison Campsite was lovely but the showers could have been warmer. At a pound a pop they were 5 minutes long but we would have taken half the time and twice the warmth! It was however our only criticism, well that and the lack of regular cleaning of the amenity building.
Wednesday was a bit of a lie-in and then getting organised to leave. One advantage to camping for a long time in one place at the start, was that we got into the routine of camping and cooking, etc. without the exertion of riding. So we had time to organise the panniers and pack well. Our hiking boots/cycling shoes had performed really well with all the walking we had done on the islands and now it was time to fit the cleats for riding time. We took the bikes for a "spin" around the tent site and felt that was enough of a practice! We packed and rolled down the STEEP hill to the town and Mike's wrist passed it's first test: Yahoo! We had a couple of hours to spare at the waterfront so bought steak pasty for lunch and wrote and posted a postcard. There was a bit of excitement as a large (well it looked large for St Mary's) Cruise Liner - Marco Polo was anchored in the bay. I asked the Postmaster about it and he said that it was sailing from Dublin to Guernsey stopping here en route. 750 people would be ferried either to St Mary's or Tresco to spend the day.
We went to catch our ferry at 3.00pm and were able to book our bikes on loaded which saves time. The ferry departed for Penzance at 4:15pm and we would arrive at 7:15pm. It was only a couple of km's ride up to YHA Penzance but it was a steepish climb. What a pretty place! A beautiful old house set in lovely gardens - a crop of daffodils for picking right next door. The reception was very warm and we felt so welcome. There were only two other tenters but we could use the indoor facilities which were excellent - fully equipped kitchen, dining area and HOT showers. What bliss after taking a deep breath before showering for a week at the Garrison! It was dark by the time we were in bed.
We only woke up at 8am! It was cold but clear. We can't have been luckier with the weather but that didn't mean that we were jumping to get out of our warm sleeping bags. We only got going at 10:00am after the usual faffing around that is the start of a cycle tour. We would follow Cycle Route 3 along the coast to Mousehole and then move inland. The coastal section was beautiful and very like the drive through False Bay to Simon's Town in Cape Town. This area is Mike's ancestral roots as his great-grandfather and family hailed from Penzance. Imagine his delight that the castle on an island in the bay at Penzanze is called St Micheals Mount.
After some steep climbs we left the coast behind for the moment and followed the narrow hedged lanes towards St Buryan where we stopped for brunch. It was only 5km from here to the Minack Theatre in Porthcurno. The theatre was closed as there was a performance that night so we could not go in but it is a fabulous open air theatre cut into the rock with the backdrop being the majestic ocean. The coastline was spectacular and we looked down on Porthcurno Beach which was certainly popular on this sunny day.
We had a tail wind here and there which was good and now it was only 5km to Land's End which was quite exciting. Of course it was interesting to be at Land's End but as we had actually been further south and west at the Isles of Scilly we knew that for example, the post box that was advertised as the most southerly in England actually is not. I cannot describe the surpise when we came to the famous sign post which says John O'Groats so many miles, New York so many miles, etc. as you can have your photo taken under it if you pay GBP9.95!! There was a kiosk there which explains all of this and also that while the sign was put up previously it is now sort of privately managed. I ask you - it's a sign! You can still take a photo of it without standing under it. There is a little tourist village with prices not too bad but a tourist trap all the same. We didn't spend much time there other than to have a look at the exhibition of "Through Journeys" which told stories of people who had walked, cycled, drove the Land's End to John O'Groats.
We turned on to the very start of the National Cycle Route 3 for the next few km to our camp site. The area around Land's End is beautiful and very picturesque and the definitely is something of the frontier feel about it. The campsite we had picked is part of the Camping and Caravanning Club and it was perfect; small and clean with hot showers and rolling lawns. It was also very reasonably priced (as was the YHA the night before). It is understandable that we paid a premium at the Garrison for the area that you can access and the natural beauty but these smaller sites are more our style. There was not a shop nearby but we bought a few tins of soup at the reception shop which made a great meal.
Mike's runny nose turned into a bit of a cough and we decided to spend the day at Sennen Cove rather than risk any further illness. It was a day of heavy cloud and cold wind and Mike rested in the tent. I rode down to St Just 5km's away to buy needed supplies; we had raided the camp reception kitchen the night before and had a tasty meal of tinned soup and veggies, however a famous Warren's Cornish Pasty would surely beat that? I popped along and was back within the hour with a full pannier of meals: bacon and eggs, pasty, fresh rolls, yum! I also hung around the tent and read and we just relaxed really. The campsite overlooked the Land's End Airport so we were kept entertained by the arrival and departure of many tiny skybus planes that ferry holiday makers to Scilly amongst other places. We booked in for another night. The campsite was a pleasure; two couples ran it and it was spick and span. I chatted to one of the couples who had been travelling Europe in a campervan in summer and living in their spanish villa in the winter months. They were now doing so month stints over the summer at various clubs in the organisation and were able to stay and work in fantastic places.
That night the cloud turned to a night of very strong wind and rain! But it had all cleared by 8am and we were on the bike at 8:30 with Mike deciding that he felt well enough. We had decided to ride through St Just and continue up the coast road as far as Porthmeor. This was not the cycle route but we were keen to see this stretch of coast. It was spectacular, tiny villages and remote hilltops and all the time the view of the sea. It was a clear day, blue skies but very cold. We wore winter gloves and jackets, beanies, etc. We stopped for breakfast at a ruined tin mine. The are many old chimneys dotting the landscape from tin mining days and this area is a World Heritage site for this reason. Climbing up the moors we then dropped down into Penzance and continued along the coast cycle path and then cut inland passing many cyclists out on their Saturday morning rides and they were super friendly. The riding was enjoyable with some steep bits. We rode as far north as Hayle which is on an estuary south of St Ives where we had lunch. The section from here to our end point at St Day was marked by steep climbs, all over 10% which made for slow progress. The cycle route is well designed though and makes use of tiny narrow roads which provide limited access into these areas.
We arrived at our chosen campsite at 3pm and the sign on the door indicated that the mangers would be back in 30min. We waited til 3:30pm deciding to travel out of our way another 5 km to a different place when the site managers arrived. They were so friendly and apologetic, they had had to purchase a last minute birthday present. The site was small and very reasonably priced and they gave us 2 pounds off! Although the distance covered was not long we were so tired and as it was cold once again, it would be early to bed.
So if there is one thing that Cornwall will prove to a cycle tourist it is that 70 km is not to be sniffed at! We set off under steely grey skies (they would not change throughout the day) at 8am. It was about 14 km to Truro via the Mining Route which is part of the National Cycle Route 3. It is a great little off road trail that takes you though an area rich in mining history. We seemed to spend most of the day going uphill and downdale through teenee villages and farming areas. It was all very woodland and pretty. Also quite steep ups and downs as you going down to cross a stream and then climb up the other side. By the end of the day the total ascent (taking all the up's and adding them) equalled 1185m - anything over 700m ascent would have been telling, that is, more than 10%, so a difficult day legwise!
We needed to do some shopping in Truro which added 8km to the day's route. As we had done before we were running our GPS's off our front hub dynamo's via the B&M USB-Werk battery system. Mike's was not working very well and we had planned to buy a replacement at SJS Cycles in about 5 days time. However our back up was our rechargable eneloop batteries and the charger did not work last night. We charge the batteries via a 12 volt connection to our Goal Zero solar battery. We got to Truro at 9:10am and as it was Sunday, the shop where we could buy a new charger would only open at 10:30am. We had not had brekky and also needed fuel for our stove. We had purchased benzine, which is our fuel of choice, at a hiking store in London, but could not find it anywhere else and we had also looked for kerosene which we could not find. So we had to get petrol which is fine but a bit dirtier on the stove and pot. We went to a petrol station to fill it up, and the manager came out to check on the bottle as he did not believe that is was legal to carry petrol in it. We assured him that it was. He checked it out and then seemed suprised and commented that he had not see one before. The MSR stove we use will even burn aviation fuel!
We then headed to a supermarket across the road, Sainsbury's. The sign said it opened at 10am but judging by the people waiting outside it seemed that is would open earlier. I asked a lady what time it opened and she said in one minute. It was almost 9:30am. So I went in and picked up a few things and then headed to the check out where I was told that you could only buy something at 10am! How weird... so I put the stuff back on the shelves and we ate at McDonalds on the way to the electrical store. We bought a new charger and were on our way, phew!
We stopped at a small village at 1pm for chocolate milk and passed near Newquay and the hills continued. We stopped about 12 km short of St Merryn for a meal for evening (soup) and after this I had to stop after the next hill for an emergency banana. We then a flatish riding along the top of the hill until we reached our very low-key campsite. It was perfect, run be friendly farmers, with hot hot showers and sheep as neighbours.
The day dawned warmer than usual and blue skies. We had 6 km into Padstow then we hit the Camel Trail which was a real treat compared with the previous two days riding! It is an old rail line converted into a cycleway, and starts at Padstow taking you all along the estuary into forest and the outskirts of Bodmin. It is 27 km long and such great little ride. Flat of course as rail trails are which adds to the pleasure! The surface was good, some bitumen, some gravel. There is a steam train that runs from Boscarne to Bodmin but the rail trail goes to Bodmin or Wedford. We stopped at a bench overlooking the Padstow estuary for brekky and then again at Wedford for lunch. Of course, directly after this, we had to haul ouselves up a couple of STEEP hills to climb up to Bodmin Moor. It was good though to get up there a bit to the views and beautiful rolling moorland. The road was very narrow but quiet and we were entertained by the sheep with baby lambs and even cows with tiny calves. Although there were still some ups and downs they were reasonable and we kept up high overall.
We passed Crowdy Reservoir then had a strange little ride through what seems to be a military airfield taken over by horses. The horses were all over, on the landing strip, in the surrounding forests and so on. After this we dropped down to Halworthy where we thought we would be able to shop but all there was was a long closed tea room and a strange little mechanic store that sold free range eggs! We were happy to buy half a dozen and were then on our way to our planned campsite. Unfortunately when we arrived it was to a lovely green field full of hens and no sign of the Certified Site that should have been there. Certified Sites are sites which take up to 5 pitches/vans per night and are usually part of a farm. We had not used one yet. They are not sign posted, you get the co-ords from the Caravan and Camping Club which we had joined for the trip. What to do? It was still early: 2:15pm but we were longing for an early finish. We asked some passes by who did not think that it had opened yet for the season. We then went down to the closest farm house but the lady I spoke to there didn't know about it. So, we would press on about 5 km off the route to a Club Site which was a sure thing, or so we thought. On arrival it was all shut up. Nothing worse. Mike then located another carvan site on the GPS which was about 2 km further on. Off we went and it turned out to be a great site, Edmore Tourist Park. A friendly arrival, lovely green lawns and HOT showers. Happy campers. Also The Old Wainhouse Inn around the corner served us up great pub grub so we could forgo the egg dinner.
The day dawned mistily and we used our bike lights for the start of the day's ride. We would leave Cornwall behind after not too long at all and the first part of the day provided great views of the rolling Devon countryside, newborn lambs and moss-covered trees that had not woken to spring as yet. The road was undulating but not too steep. After about 20 km we startd to look around for somewhere to buy food for lunch and came apon a small community volunteer shop in Marhamchurch where we picked up some rolls and cream cheese for lunch. We hit the Ruby Trail at Holsworthy where we stopped to eat an early lunch on a lovely bench with great views. Even an elderley couple passing by commented on how they liked the bench!
From the looks of things we would not have much choice in shopping today so took a bit of an alternate route to Black Torrington, which consisted of ridiculous steep descents followed by equally bad climbs. The final climb was 17% and had us both off the bikes and pushing. Short but steep! Beautiful scenery abounded however. To add insult to almost injury, Black Torrington had one store in the post office, and it was CLOSED. So we were then onward to Sheepwash where there was another volunteer store where we got some tins of soup and a bottle of Coke. The weather had been gradually fining up with the mist lifting and we were by this time in only cycle shorts and t-shirts. Who would have thought it? We sat on a bench in the town sqaure for a bit and then set off. With about 10 km to go we hit the Tarka Trail which follows a disused rail trail for some distance. What a treat for the end of the day! Level; no hills. We turned off to our camp site which of course entailed a steep climb. It was a lovely spot and we camped inside a walled garden. The campsite is large but in the grounds of an old manor house. Excellent facilities and cycle friendly prices. The day was still wonderfully sunny however at about 5:30 pm you could just start to see a mist gathering in the distance and it grew suddenly very cold. By 7:00pm the mist was very thick indeed. Into the tent!
The mist grew very thick during the night but by morning we were suprised to see clear blue skies when we poked our heads out of the tent. We could see the mist down in the valley which is where we were headed. We followed the last part of the Tarka Trail to Barnstaple, stopping to shop at Bideford on the way. The trail is fantastic, flat and well surfaced and we cannot recommend it highly enough as part of a route. The mist was so thick on the trail that we could not see the view at all but as we neared the estuary that Bideford sits on, we could appreciate that it is highly tidal and much of the place was damp mudflats with ghostly rusted old ships lurking in the misty doom. We had brekky en route, just after Bideford, as we had made an 8am start. Mike had said "Buy all the food we need for the day" but was still suprised when I emerged with a quiche and a blueberry cheesecake (which both survived the long day ahead).
Barnstaple is a large place and shortly thereafter, the day's climbing began. It was certainly a treat to have 30 km on the flat Tarka but when the climbing began it did so with a vengeance. We were to climb 500 m up to the Exmoor National Park and were hoping that the views warranted the climb! It was a bit upsetting to lose a lot of the height we had gained, at one point hurtling down into a valley only to climb up again, so it was all in all quite tiring and demanding. The National Park was moorland and the views from up top impressive. We were fortunate to see a herd of deer at the top. We were to drop down to Dulverston to our campsite and it was a great ride from there all in all. The weather once again faultless. Many super cute lambs to admire. The drop to Dulverston was at 20% gradient but when we arrived at our planned campsite we were advised that no tents were permitted; caravans only (what a snooty bunch!). Very upsetting. The lady at reception directed us to a different site that would take tenters but checking the GPS it was out of our way and there was another site 5km on. Same story however. So we then decided to make our way the extra 15 km to the suggested site (the day would have been over 100 km by then) but on the way passed a lovey riverside field which would be perfect to camp in. So there we stayed. Dip in river was freezing but quiche and cheesecake were delicious. The area was close-ish to the road so we only put the tent up at sun-down. There were signs in the area that deer were present and there were deer foot prints in the mud at the water's edge so we pitched the tent to try to stay out of the way of any lumbering horned creature. Now time to fall asleep to the sounds of the river running by.
So, no night time visitors and a reasonably good night's sleep on semi-slopy ground. We were tired from our previous day's exertions but were on the bikes at 8am. The cycle route as we now expected immediately threw us in to a series of crazy descents and painful climbs and we decided that we had had enough of that (10-12% ups and twisty downs). It is always the way with cycle routes; they are planned to take you down every twisting, turning road when by staying on a more main road the gradient is always better and you can still enjoy the ride. At the 20 km mark we cut across at Clayhang onto a more major road (still single lane though, but roomy). This took us comfortably on towards Taunton where we had lunch.
The ride from Taunton to Bridgwater was a nice suprise as it ran along a canal route so that was easy riding and picturesque with swans, houseboats and locks on the canal. At Bridgwater we had a bit of a suprise when the cycle route disappeared and we couldn't figure out how to get our bikes over a rail bridge until we realised we were supposed to use the steep staircase. So we managed each bike together, taking some gear off and hauling them up and down the other side. At the same time we saw about 10 commuters doing the same thing. Bit ridiculous for an international cycle route!
We checked out a Caravan and Camping site in Bridgwater but it seemed unattended and was in an industrial area so we pressed on. We made a stop at SJS Cycles which is a store we often make online purchases from as Mike wanted to pick up a new e-Werk dynamo power converter. From what we saw of Bridgwater there was not much to recommend it. We then had only 5 or so km to go before we arrived at a lovely campsite for the night.
So, day seven today and a break was looking good! We decided though that we would still ride but just halve the distance and instead of riding 80 km to Bath we would ride about 40 km and have an early finish and then do the second half tomorrow.
The ride from our campsite to Glastonbury was great with the last few kilometers once again along a canal path. We arrived there having ridden about 20 km. It was chilly but not as cold as other days and although cloudy with a few drops of rain, this cleared. This was actually the first day's riding when the villages we passed through seemed quite upbeat and well cared for. Previously it all seemed a bit grim. Glastonbury itself is a wonderful place. You just can't believe that it is Bridgwater's neighbour; both in appearance and inhabitants. Of course we knew about the music festival but every person seemed interesting, either in what they wore, or in the length of their hair, or in the way they played the guitar on the main street at 10am for no particular reason. We had a delicious cappucino opposite the Abbey and then walked our bikes up the main street, stopping at the bakery and supermarket.
A man riding his bike up the street stopped to chat and it was so interesting to speak with him. He was interested in our bikes as he too had a Rohloff hub on another bike and knew about bikes and cycling. He asked about our trip and commented that if we had survived riding through Cornwall and Devon we could do anything, which gave us hope. When he heard we were going to the Orkneys he said that he was moving there, to an island off Orkney and was going to hitchhike there. All of a sudden the country seemed smaller! It was an encouraging chat as he really seemed to "get" what we were doing.
The ride continued pleasantly through Wells (another fabulous cathedral to see) and even Wookey Hole until WHAM a stiff climb up Ebbor Gorge eventually had us both off and pushing; third day in a row with a 17-19% ascent, not ridable with packed bikes. The view from the top however was brilliant! A couple more kilometers and we were in Priddy. This is a beautiful little place with an interesting central grassy field. The sheep market was moved here in the 1300's from Wells due to the plague. The original pens remained until 2003 when they burnt down and so there is a replica pile of pens.
We then came to our very picturesque campsite with lovely views of cows grazing the hills. We had time enough to do all our washing and have a bit of a relax!
We had a night of high wind and a night of a tent making flapping noises. We woke to freezing cold but with less than 40 km to Bath we were happy to rug up and jump on. At least it was clear skies. Although it was 2 degress when we woke up and we had a steep descent we were snug. We stopped at Chew Magna for brekky and then with less that 20 km to go set off again. Unfortunately Bath has only 2 campsites and one does not take tents so we headed for the other which of course entailed a steep climb on a busy-ish road and then a steep descent and when we arrived the sign said it was closed for refurbishment. Grrrrrr.....What to do? Luckily Mike found a Caravan and Camping Certified site between Bath and Bristol on a rail trail (yay) and we were soon there. It was in the village of Bitton just at the start of the Avon Railway. We had a very friendly reception from the hosts and went up to the station to have a meal. Yum!
Well, our entry into Wales provided us with the most brilliant day yet this trip! After being glad to have split the day to Bath into two, especially with the closed campsite issue, we enjoyed the longer day even though it did take all day. It was another cold morning, and quite cloudy but fined up later. We remained on the Avon Cycleway for the first part of the day, with our start along the rail trail towards Bristol. We turned off before Bristol though. We stopped for breakfast and boiled water for coffee and then crossed the Severn Bridge into Wales after about 30km. The bridge crossing was brilliant - a very wide, tidal river. Excellent cycleway throughout into Wales.
Through the village of Caerwent we went and stopped to admire some Roman defences and the site of a Norman fort. The day passed uneventfully, miles of flat riding and quiet roads and the pretty Welsh countryside.
We arrived at Newport where we had our first experience of a transporter bridge which was something new! About 6km further on we reached our second Caravan and Camping Certified Site which reminded us exactly of mini-camping in the Netherlands. It was even better than the site we had used last night. The back field was full of sheep and lambs and the facilities very good. We could look forward to our riding in Wales!
Another clear sunny day. Cold morning! The roads were a bit busy with morning commutors and we had a bit of climbing up and down. Pretty countryside with rolling hills. After 20 km we arrived at Caerphilly Castle and it was amazing. We spent over an hour there, exploring the turrets, moats and ramparts. It is the largest castle in Wales and the second largest in England. It was built in just 3 years in the 1200's and we were amazed by the achievement.
Afterwards we hit the Taff Trail, yet another rail trail and everything went swimmingly. Beautiful forested area. At about the 36 km mark we arrived in Pontypridd where we stopped for lunch. We had planned to get as far as Neath today however reading the cycle info board it seemed that the route required amendment. The way we had planned to cycle would push us up to the 600m mark and was an off road route more suited to mountain bikes! So on reassessment we planned to stick to the National Cycle Route 4 which would be presumably favour the low country. We had lunch along the river and then off we went. Well, so much for the low country! We were straight into a steep climb and then continued climbing up to the highest sheep pastures. It was lovely having the views but not so nice having the climbs! We then dropped down into a small town and climbed out again. After this we had a great gradual descent through lovely country, clear rivers and grassland to forest. From Bridgend we did not have long to go and the end of the ride was through a nature reserve. So far we were impressed with the cycle routes in Wales, except for the crazy barriers. Seems that keeping things out of cycleways is very important here!
A fabulous day's riding! The morning was warmer than it had been and we set off along flat roads, planning to stop for brekky at a picnic site near Margam Stones. This entailed a couple of kilometres climb up to a gate which was clearly signposted as route 4 - International Cycle Network, but the gate was impassable. It was a lovely metal gate, quite ornate, and one of those made in two parts and designed so that you have to open one gate and then sort of slip through and close it back on yourself. No slipping through though when packed touring bikes are concerned. So we unpacked one bike but it was still too long to fit through and could not be angled round the corner. So here we had something faintly ridiculous, a gate on a cycle touring route that was impossible to get a bicycle through. Mmmm - IDIOTS! We turned back and then approached the picnic spot from the other way.
We then went round the corner to the Abbey which is an historical point of interest and the door was open. As I approached, a man popped his head out, said "Good morning" and closed the door in front of me. When we left we noted that it was 10am and time for Eucharist.
We continued towards Swansea and the cycle route made a turn to the coast at Port Talbot which is a highly industrialised area and we passed through areas of industry for quite a few kilometres. The coast was quite picturesque. Swansea was also a pretty town and the cycle way could not be faulted here. After following along the beach route until just before Mumbles, we then entered a beautiful nature reserve along a great track which saw us steadily climbing but at a very gentle gradient for about 10km. All the coastal areas were very interesting to us as the tide variance is GREAT and the beach stretches for ages out until the sea begins.
We then followed the Millenium Cycle Route for 22km. This is world class and the entire area has been designed considering recreational cycling. The path was wonderfully wide and with sweeping curves. We continued on along the road, off the cycle way (missing out the last foreested stretch) to our wonderful campsite in Kidwelly. About 1km from the site we were surpised by the sudden looming of Kidwelly Castle down a side street in suburbia. Amazing! Wales is a brilliant place with so much to see! Must say that the campsite has the most luxurious shower block I've seen; hotel standard!
Although we had planned to continue riding today, on waking we decided to take the day off in beautiful Kidwelly. It ticked all the boxes. We were staying at a fabulous campsite with friendly hosts and great facilities, within walking distance of a supermarket and with interesting things to see. The weather was, yes you guessed it, perfect. We did some washing and then walked into town to get brekky. We went to Kidwelly Castle which was really interesting, as enjoyable as Caerphilly. We love that the castles are not "prettied up" or furnished or decorated. It allows free rein of your imagination. The windy spiral staircases within the turrets were really impressive. It was interesting to see how the town fitted in with the castle.
We spent the afternoon relaxing and eating. We had lots of chats with the owner of the site and his brother who were very interesting to talk to. We can't rate the site highly enough!
The first part of the day went quite quickly, cycling along the coastal path for a bit and then more inland past St Ishfael and Ferryside, stopping at Carmathen for brekky at about 25km. After this we had ups and downs and ups and downs, and some more ups and downs, in the end culminating in total ascent for the day of 1195m (most of which was at 10% grade at least!) which was a little tiring. Most of this middle chunk was through farmland. We then had a longish uphill through pretty forested areas with babbling brooks and so on. Very steep though. At around 57km we were ready to pull in to the camping site that we sat outside for lunch! But we pressed on. There were many options for camping coming up. We had planned an 80 km day but it was looking a bit optimistic. The route made a steep descent into Amroth where we had sweeping sea views and all was very picturesque. Of course after the dizzying descent came, you guessed it, the uphill! Very pretty coastline though and the cycle route hugged it. The route dropped again into Saundersfoot and we climbed out of it soon after. Stopped here for chocolate milk. You could see that this whole stretch of coast would be absolutrly packed during summer. It is stunning!
After climbing out of Saundersfoot we would drop down to Tenby but suddenly came apon a camping sign and thought we would have a look. The campsite was at the end of a road with sweeping coastal views and walks. It is a beautiful spot! You could clearly see Tenby and all the coastal spots as far as the eye could see. Once again the trip was proving that flexibility was important. It is no good just pushing yourself to the point when you cease enjoying it all! Distance here does not mean very much. A 70km ride today was what we could manage, no further!
As we had been warned by many well-meaning Welsh folk all week, the weather would turn by the end of the week. True enough, we woke to quite thick cloud and drizzle. The previous night we had chatted with the only other camper there who was so friendly and interested in our trip. She had told us the rain would arrive after lunch. We set off towards the main street, about 1km, and when we got there we stopped to put on long gloves. For the first time we were in full wet weather gear, not bad after a month! As we got back on our bikes Mike said "Puncture!". Of course it was his back wheel, so bike had to be unpacked and tools located for the procedure. At first we thought it was a faulty valve but then it became clear it was a puncture. Eventually we found the source of the problem, a 6mm long nail that had totally embedded itself in the tyre. Anyway, all repaired and we were on our way; 30 minutes later! We stopped to buy brekky and then arrived in the little village on Tenby where we sat down to eat. Tenby is really pretty and campsites abound.
We had decided after yesterday that we would take the main roads where we could and where it was practical, taking into account not missing out anything we wanted to see. This was put into action today. We remained on the slightly busier road however we still passed through lovely places, with more reasonable gradients. One always feels happier when one sees another cyclist out on their daily training ride. You certainly don't see these people on Route 4!
We arrived in Pembroke, with its imposing castle, after 25 km and made our way back along the cycle route around West Haverford which followed a rail line. We spent some time there as I had broken my GPS mount and needed a new one. It still holds the GPS in place but this may not continue. We tried a couple of bike stores and an outdoor shop, but no luck. We decided to camp in the early afternoon as if you can save yourself getting wet this is preferable and the drizzle had started up again. We aimed for a Caravan and Camping Certified Site in Roch but couldn't find it when we got there so continued down to the coast at Newgale. Wow, what a place! Seems very desolate at the bottom of the hill, a long beach seperated from the road by a pebble bank. The campsite was a windswept field of grass with little shelter and one other caravan. The office was unmanned and showers required tokens so we called the manager. She said "Sure, pitch up and someone will be along in an hour or so" to which I responded "Yeah, we're cyclists and would love a shower!". She was so kind, she popped along in a few minutes with tokens in her hand and said that someone would check us in later! It actually only rained when we were putting up the tent and as soon as it was up it stopped! We had some food, a snooze and later braved the winds on the top of the pebble bank to check out the beach.
We woke the grey skies and an immediate steep climb out of Newgale. No rain today though which was fortunate. We had decided on a combo of cycle route to main road riding now and would make decisions regarding the route as we went along, instead of just following the cycle route. As it was Saturday we had two days when we could expect quieter traffic along primary roads.
We had decided to miss out St Davids and St Non's Chapel mainly due to the weather being cloudy and cold. From the time we woke up we had been seeing cars pass with road bikes strapped to the top so thought there was an organised ride somewhere close by. We stoppped in Fishguard for brekky and from just before Fishguard for many miles after it we were in the midst of what seemed quite a big cycle race. There were varying length routes, from 50 to 100 miles in length. Sometimes it was fun to be with the riders but mainly it was not as the road was not closed and they rode at higher speeds and often in groups. Also, after the first 20 "Good mornings!" as you were passed, thrown in with 10 "Gee, that's a lot of gear!" and the final 10 "So where to today?", it was harder to sound interesting/interested! Still, you can't fault the Welsh for friendliness.
We had a choice of high route (47) or low route (82) so took low route which was a pretty one but we had to be vigilant as it turned out that the 100 milers first finishers were coming towards us along this very narrow farm road which was mainly downhill for them! We then joined the main road for a bit but opted for the cycle route 82 again, again through some very pretty forested areas. Spring flowers abounding, woods full of bluebells. On this route we saw the smallest lambs EVER, they did not even have any wool yet, they were all pink and huddled against their mothers. They couldn't even bleat, they just sort of bubbled. Super cute.
We bypassed Cardigan and almost at our end point passed a beautiful pull off which was a salmon fishing spot. This was lovely and at the little store I bought my first souvenir, a scarf with sheep on it! Not too much further and we reached our campsite. It had been quite cold but we achieved that illusive prize so far on this trip, a 2:30 pm finish! We also clocked 1000 km. It seems that we have been on the road forever and have seen a lot.
Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, a day of brilliant riding! We had seen much of pretty Welsh countryside and today she served up SPECTACULAR. We had an early start at 7:15 am and began our cocktail of some cycle way and some major road. We had a great ride this way to Lampeter and then up to Treganon, where we took the cycle route 820. It was the right decision, an absolutely beautiful ride. Good gradients and two biggish climbs followed by a big descent. It was a sunny, but cold day and the air was very clear. The views up into the heath-covered hills were beautiful. We then continued on a roughish track for a couple of kilometers which changed into gravel road at very pleasant gradients. Beautiful river valley. We were aiming for a campsite at around 80 km which we had only found reference to on the GPS. The area had turned to heath-covered hills and the rocky remains of the old mines of Elan. It was an amazing lanscape and unexpected. We suddenly came apon our campsite at Tyllwyd Farm. We couldn't believe how beautiful it was. Will feature in our top 5 campsites of all time! Situated on a bend in the river, grassy sites with benches, and sheep and lambs covering surrounding hills and meadows. Usually you pass such a perfect spot at midday when you've still got 40 km to go, so for it to be our end point was unexpected. Oh, and we were the only patrons!
Somehow the distance travelled doesn't do the day justice. We left our campsite at 8am and arrived at the next campstie at 4pm. The effort seemed to amount to far more than 56km! But let me start with the previous night. It was very, very cold in the tent. We wore very warm clothing and still the cold crept in. I unfortunately unzipped my sleeping bag to visit the bathroom, catching Mike's bag in my zip as I did so. This resulted in a tear to his bag so I was reparing that by the light of my head torch at 9pm or something. We woke to the sound of sheep baa-ing as opposed to birdsong. The sun was out but when we opened the tent it was covered in ice, as was the ground and bikes and bench. Also, most of the water in the 1.25L bottles left on our bikes had frozen solid! So it WAS cold!
We set off up a small track that wasn't rideable; Very very steep! The first 5km were really very steep and the views of the surrounding valleys superb. We then descended (of course) into Llangurig where we bought brekky at the post office/village store and arranged a delivery of a new GPS bike mount to our campsite in Holyhead. This entailed booking into the campsite as well. It had been very cold on the descent and we were freezing. We decided not to follow the cycle route to Llanidloes but to follow a secondary road instead until we met up with the cycle route. This was a very difficult ride with very steep climbs and steep descents. After the punishment of pushing the bikes earlier, it took it's toll. One climb from a dam wall crept up to 14% and went on forever, which had me walking AGAIN, but Mike rode it. After that, things settled down. It continued cold but blue skies. We had the choice of continuing on the road to Machynlleth or going back to the cycle route and chose the cycle route. It seemed the right choice. It was called a mountain road and took you up to the high country once again but the climb was only 5km long and very beautiful. The bone chilling (literally) descent was 12km and rain set in as we entered Machynlleth. We took refuge in a coffee shop which had a fire burning in the grate and Welsh folk singing as the background music. It was lovely. We came out to blue skies but still cold and the thought that we had about another 30km riding time and it was 3pm!
Shortly after rejoining the cycle route we stopped to eat as we had not had lunch yet. We realised that there was a campsite in a couple of km from where we were sitting. It was the planned end to this day when it was a longer day. We decided to stop riding there as it had been a long day and was already 4pm. It was a good decision as rain came in shortly afterwards. The site manager said that snow is forecast on the highlands for tomorrow! Brrrr.
In summary: Climbed 2 hills, froze coming down, easy riding, DIVERSION grrrr...., another climb, a castle!
We needed to cover distance today as we had booked into a campsite in Holyhead from Wednesday for two nights and were having an online order delivered. So, no slacking today! We were up with the rooster by 6am and on the road with no rain at 6:45am. The first 13 km featured two climbs but they were well graded on the main road and the views were lovely. As you do, we got hot on the climb but were still dressed quite warmly as it was a very cold day. We rugged up further for the descent into Dolgellau where we located a coffee shop and had a cooked breakfast to try to defrost. It helped a little. From there we set off along a great cycle track to Barmouth. We had a strong southwesterly wind which we hoped would work in our favour later. The track was flat and through very pretty estuarine landscape. Barmouth seems to the start of a long stretch of coastal holiday towns featuring mainly summer holiday accomodation. Campsites abound. Barmouth itself is a very attractive town, with buildings of dark grey stone typical of the area. The ride up the coast was enjoyable and the scenery was lovely. We crossed into Snowdonia National Park and the hills in the distance were moody and covered with white sprinkles. So the snow had come overnight on the highlands! We were warming up a little by now and grateful that the skies were still blue-ish. We had again chosen to be on the main road and not the cycle route but the roads are so quiet anyway and very picturesque. There is not much need to take the cycle route which is often up hill and down dale. Of course a mixture is best!
After Harlech (World Heritage Town, imposing castle directly over the town) the route turned inland but was still flat and we even had a tailwind. We stopped for lunch just before the turn off for the bridge to Porthmadog. At the turn off came the sign "Bridge Closed, Diversions in Place" with instruction for cyclists also on route 8. We ended up having to ride an additional 12 km, east along the river, using the bridge at a village further along to cross and then cycling back the other way, into the headwind to Porthmadog. Grrrrr, but what can one do? That's touring for you. Of course now our 102 km day became 114 km.
After Porthmadog we had a bit of a climb before dropping down to Caernarfon. We turned onto a cycle route here for the final 14 km into town which was a great choice as it was pleasantly downhill following a railway line and lovely to be on road exclusively for cyclists again! Gold start to Caernarfon for such a cycling friendly entry! We arrived at 4.30 pm and as we reached to turnoff to our campsite, the castle in all it's glory came into view. It is so close to the campsite! As we have a shorter day tomorrow we will go have a look in the morning. It was a good day!
Wow - wet and windy night last night which made a solid night's sleep tricky! The annex tent to the caravan next door collapsed. Luckily the weather was cleared by morning! We had a relaxed start as it was a short day. We left the campsite at 9:00 am and it was a few hundred meters only to Caernarfen Castle which is very impressive. We did not go in but it is a commanding presence and the castle walls surround much of the town. We stopped for breakfast (cooked again with filter coffee on tap) and then hit the road. The first 13 km or so to Bangor were along a great cycleway, mainly flat. We crossed the World Heritage listed Menai Suspension Bridge and crossed to the Isle of Anglesey. We had a strong headwind which kept us cold.
The highlight of the day was seeing the railway station with the longest name in the world: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Abbreviated to Llanfairpwll or Llanfair PG. Thanks! We understand that the name was invented for promotional purposes in the 1860s. It has 58 characters and is the longest place name in Europe and the second longest official one-word place name in the world. The English translation is "Parish of St Mary Llanfair in the Hollow of the White Hazel near the rapid whirlpool and the parish church of St. Tysilio Llantysilio with a red cave". The promotion idea was a winner as there were three busloads of tourists there and a large James Pringle Weavers Department store on site which stocked most types of souveniers you can surely hope to find in Wales and anywhere else in the UK for that matter. We were excited to see a section on Harris Tweed as we will see where it is made on the Outer Hebrides. I added to the profits by buying what has to be the longest sticker showing the longest railway station name in the world and it is now stuck to my bike's top tube, running the entire length of the tube. I love it!
We followed a direct route to Holyhead on the main road (once again perfect for cycling) and had the added excitement of passing two RAF bases and seeing fighter jets practicing manouvres low to the ground. I have been remiss in writing about the various military aspects of the trip through Wales actually! It started in Bath were we were treated to many fly overs by Chinook helicopters transporting various loads, mainly landrovers in nets to some base somewhere. The farmer had counted 16. Since then, in Kidwelly, we had an aerial display in the afternoon by a number of fighter jets zooming around close overhead, like our own personal air show. Later in the high country we had other types of helicopters complete with massive weaponry flying just over the tree tops, over our tent. Clearly Wales is important from a military training perspective, or there's a war on and we just don't know it.
Looking back to Snowdonia there is quite a bit of snow on the high hills and mountains which explained the cold wind! We arrived in Holyhead and at first glance it seems a lot smaller than we expected, but we have a rest day here and will probably find plenty to look at tomorrow. There are lots of Roman and ancient archeological sites here. Our campsite is on a farm out of town and has lovely views of the coast. It feels pretty remote. As we arrived it poured with rain but not for long. It is a great spot! Two loads of much needed washing completed the day!
Typically on a rest day, we woke up early due to the excitement of having a day off! We did however laze about in bed until about 9:30 am. We had lovely weather with the wind from the day before having died down. We put out the washing again as we had taken it in the night before for fear it might blow away (and rain may have come in)! We headed into town on our bikes at about 10:30 am. I needed to buy new sunglasses as one of the arms of my glasses had snapped off yesterday. We had seen a store selling Ray Bans, etc. in the main shopping area and went in there. Luckily I was able to find a pair quite easily. We had a look around the town a bit; there is a beautiful church built within the walls of an old Roman Fort which was impressive to see. Interestingly, all the grave stones around the church were set flat into the ground. Other than this and the fabulous Castle Bakery where we bought pies yesterday and today, there was not much to see in town. Later in the day we rode out to South Stack, a lighthouse a few kilometres from the campsite. There were fabulous views from there; it was a beautiful day. We did not go right down to the lighthouse as there is a fee (GBP5.50 each!)but you could appreciate the large seabird colonies from the cliff edge. It was a cold, but dry night.