We were due to fly out 01:10 on Thursday morning, however , on Wednesday night we noted the the flight from Singapore to Perth left over an hour late. We were in two minds whether to leave home later, but decided to stick to the original plan and got a taxi at 21:00. On the way to the airport we got the text from Singapore Air to say the revised departure time was 02:30 due to the plane leaving Singapore 2 hours late. Singapore Air has always been our airline of choice, so we were disappointed. Luckily we had a 3 hour transit in Singapore so it was too soon to panic. By the time we checked our luggage in and cleared customs, we had 4 hours to kill. So we curled up in the funny little barrel chairs that provide no neck support and slept for a couple of hours.
We had booked seats in the rear of the plane which was a worry as we would be last off and trying to make our next flight, but in the end it was fine. There were people on board who missed their connectors and were given hotel vouchers and meal vouchers. We took the skytrain to the next terminal and arrived with about 30 minutes to spare. For this flight we had exit row seats so plenty of leg room. We also had a family with three children under the age of about 4 years. Two of the kids sat behind us and one charming little girl spent the next 14 hours intermittently kicking my kidneys through my chair. As the flight wore on the kids got more fractious, as did their parents. This kind of thing should be banned, or there should be a little cupboard to lock kids in on long haul flights. There were heaps of kids on this flight, all in various degrees of smelly misery. When we weren't being treated to temper tantrums and tears, we had aged visitors to our little area who stood in front of us wriggling to prevent deadly blood clots I suppose. Swinging their hips and poking their bums out as they gyrated around to keep their circulation going. I felt like saying "Can you just do that somewhere else?". We eventually arrived at Heathrow and happily got off the plane as soon as possible after one cute little rascal vomited during landing.
We had booked into the Premier Inn at Terminal 4 and it took a while to clear customs. Custom official: "Ok, so you've put on your arrival card that you are here on holiday?". Us: "Yes". Customs official: "But you are here for 2 and a half months?" Yip - we holiday properly! Our luggage was waiting for us, including the bikes. We were a bit worried about everything making it due to the tight timeframe in Singapore. We then got the train to Terminal 4. This entailed a long walk also with the bike boxes on one trolley and bags on the other and catching quite a few lifts up an down with everyone else pushing ahead of us until we mowed a few down with our trolleys. By this stage all bets were off. We had been cooped up for too long with people we would not have chosen to spend the night with! The airport hotels at Heathrow are reached by suspended walkways from the terminal; they are basically extensions of the airport and you can take your trolleys along to your hotel. As you walk along the walkway, passages branch off to each hotel. It's very clever. We were pleased to reach ours and after a hot shower and meal downstairs we were asleep by 20:00. Good night!
Brilliant night's sleep, very quiet! We woke early and went down for breakfast around 07:00. Full English here we come, complete with black pudding. Many cups of coffee. We took the bus from outside our hotel to Richmond. Walking out the front door was a refreshing experence! It was about 3 degrees at 09:00. Kew Gardens is only a short walk from Richmond. We stopped to get a SIM for data and entered Kew through Lion Gate. It was a worthwhile visit. Kew is renowned for collecting and propogating plants from all over the world. For us, this could not have been more obvious than in the Temperate House, a large glass house which is home to plants from Western Australia and the Western Cape. It was a bit weird, like an exhibition of plants from our real lives! Sadly they all looked a little ropey. Many had bags of dessicant tied to them. As Mike said in the part dedicated to Western Australian plants, "They just need to crank up the temperature by about 30 degrees"
An exhibition of coloured glass by sculptor Chihuly was due to start on 13 April at Kew, but all the sculptures were already in position. They were beautiful and placed to compliment the gardens. Some were huge! The weather was wonderful and we spent a few happy hours wandering around Kew enjoying the attractions. There is a long tree top walk and amongst other things. We saw our first robin and some very fat geese. We would recommend a visit. It was lovely being in the outdooors again.
We took the bus back to our hotel and were exhausted after all the fresh air. We will spend the day in the city tomorrow.
We were awake early again, 04:00. Still adjusting to the time zone change. After another full English and a few cups of coffee, we left the hotel for Terminal 2 and the Heathrow Express. This is a useful train service as it gets you to Paddington in 15 min. It is very expensive, but if you can pre-order your tickets 90 days ahead of time it costs a fraction of the usual cost. We had mapped out a good wallking route through London. It was cold again and a novelty for us that you can walk for hours all rugged up and not sweat at all! Clearly we are not in Perth anymore!
We started off walking from Paddington Station to Kensington Palace and went by the Queen Victoria statue and the Prince Albert memorial. The gardens are very pretty and everything looked crispy green in the morning mistiness. We walked through Mayfair with it's beautiful buildings and streets filled solely by Aston Martins and Jaguars, and we also popped into the Bremont store. We walked on from there to Marble Arch and then popped out at the Mall and Buckingham Palace by surprise, which was mayhem with what looked like thousands of tourists. Up 'til now we were enjoying London on a Saturday without the work traffic. Anyway, we traipsed up to Trafalgar Square as our first stop was the National Gallery. We kept walking when we saw the queue out the doors into the square. Around the corner we popped into the National Portrait Gallery to see the Tudor portraits and looked at many more besides.
We made our way to the British Museum and there was also a queue there to have bags searched. We went to see the Rosetta Stone (again) and also the Lindow Man (a 2000 year old perserved man found in a peat bog) and the Sutton Hoo Ship burial finds. I also bought the prerequisite tiny notebook that you always need on tour, at the shop there . The cover is printed like the Rosetta Stone - Last of the big spenders. We needed to make use of the "facilities" and Mike was able to breeze in and out quickly, whilst of course there was a queue for the ladies about 50 deep. Bring on gender free toilets I say! I decided not to go; not worth the wait. When we left the British Museum it rained quite a bit. We ended up walking back to Paddington so can say that we walked 18km today which means at least that our new cycling boots are worn in, as are our feet! We were quite happy to get the Heathrow Express back to our hotel. We sorted out our packing for tomorrow and were pleased to remember where everything goes. Tomorrow we will leave the hotel and start cycling!
So good to wake up to clear skies. For us though, freezing cold. I think it was actually freezing. First task was to put the bikes together, up 'til now they had been laguishing in their bike boxes in the hotel luggage room. Lazy so and so's. We picked a spot in the hotel carpark which was in the sun and all went well until the sun went away and it grew very, very cold. I had made the mistake of not wearing gloves and as my function is mainly morale support during bike mechanic events, my hands froze off. We had a few new pieces of gear including a new charger to convert power from our dynamo, mainly to power our smartphone GPS system called an Igaro. We are hoping it will out perform our usual Busch & Muller e-werk which as a charger is inconsistent. There was a carpark attendant who was intrigued by what we were doing and oberved us a lot of the time. The process took longer than normal as one of our tyre valves kept detaching from the tube until we had to remove the back wheel (always the back wheel!) and use a new tube. So of two spares one has been used before we even left the carpark!
We returned the bikes to the luggage storage and went for brunch and then back to our room to sort ourselves out. We then put all our panniers etc. on an airport trolley and went back down, collected our bikes and went back to the carpark to get ready for departure. The friendly attendant there again keenly oberved us and asked questions. Eventually ready to set off, we jumped on the bikes and waved goodbye, he wished us a safe journey and waved us on our way. I had forgotten about the cycle tour wobble. This an embarressing condtion that occurs when you get on a fully ladden touring bike, complete with heavy handlebar bag, when you are not used to the weight, you wobble and lurch about uncontrollably. It looks crazy-stupid and wears off by the end of day one. It dooesn't happen on every tour and no amount of preperation can determine whether you will have it or not. Anyway, after thanks and farewell to our friend, I felt like a right idiot having to get off my bike 100m later to push it up the little carpark ramp.
Our route was short but included the usual: cycle routes which were unexpectedly closed, crossing back and forwards at pedestrian lights, squeezing along pavement cycelways passed busy busstops. The joys of navigating your way out of a city like London. We stopped at the first petrol station we came to to buy fuel for the stove. We stopped at a Tesco Superstore to buy fuel for our bodies. We spent most of the day along a canal path which was pretty and narrow and bumpy. Many people live in riverboats and barges and we passed quite a few locks. There were lots of people on Sunday afternoon walks. We then veered away from the river and spent a little while on a bridle path which ended up as a grassy slope before turning off into something more pathlike. All this through the pretty English woodland. We had the last 6km back on bitument making our way through a few little villages to our campsite. It is a pleasant farming area. By the time we got there we were ready to fall off our bikes. So much body stress over the first few days while you beat yourself into touring shape and we're still suffering from jet lag. You can't condition your body for it before. Everything hurts, including your hands. It is relearning how to "be" on a bike heavily laden. The campsite is good with a big tent field. We eagerly pitched the tent and skuttled off for a shower which of course cost 50p. Would be such a helpful thing if the receptionist had told us this! Luckily we had one 50p piece and on the way back to reception to make change I popped into another ablution block where the sohwers were 20p and I had a 20p piece. So when people ask how long you ride per day and you can sort of see them wondering what you do with the rest of your time, these are the sorts of things which keep you occupied! We ate dinner in bed and had a long nap! We had spent 4 hours getting here including detours, Tesco Superstore, etc. Still clear skies. Longer day tomorrow.
We had a chilly night and wore a few layers (well, I did). I kept thinking I should put something else on but it seemed too much trouble. You can't go to sleep until you are the right temperature so I had a disrupted night's sleep. We were pretty organised for our first proper day out and left at 08:00. The wind was cold but the sun was out. The day was spent mainly on National Cycle Route 57 - the Chiltern Way Cycle Route. It was good route with a combination of narrow bitumen roads and rough track through woodland. The first 20km were tough with some short 10 and 11% climbs. There were also steep descents. The legs have remembered how this goes. Even though it was difficult, the scenery was great and it was lovely going off the beaten track though woodland. We passed through many tiny villages, all with the perfect English country cottages from postcards and calendars.
I was starving and needed to eat, so after 20km covered and 2 hours riding time, we came across a little village Great Missenden which must be the birthplace of Roald Dahl or something as it had a museum and many attractions relating to his books. I shopped for some food and we ate at a bench, growing steadily colder in the breeze. We set off again with beanies and gloves on. We then had a few steep climbs (again only short but steep) and then hit a beautiful rail trail in open farmland for about 10km. Got to love a rail trail and this one had a good surface. Overall the second half of the day was much easier than the first. After this there was a bit more climbing and then a very steep climb before dropping down to this certified site. This is a Caravan and Camping Certified site which means it only takes a few campers at a time. We love these sites as they are small and everything you need is close by. The site is on a farm with great views of the hills around.
We arrived at 14:30 which is not bad considering the first half of the day was very slow. Tomorrow morning we will leave early again to spend some time in Oxford. You can take the bus from the front of this campsite to Oxford which was an option we considered when planning the trip, but once we got off the bikes our bodies felt too sore to do anything other than lie down. From experience this adjustment phase takes about a week Everything hurts and this is not helped by the constant jolting from various road surfaces. Got to toughen up!
Last night was definitely warmer than the previous nights and we had a good rest. We were back on the bikes at 08:00, albeit a little apprehensive that the day would unfold as yesterdays had, or rather our legs were apprehensive! First stop, Oxford about 10km down the road. Home to famous university and famous detective...if I say "Bee-beep-be-beep-beee" can you guess who? We spent some time admiring the Radcliffe Camera and we went into the Church of St Mary and were impressed by the many corpses apparently lying underfoot. It is a very pretty and impressive town with lovely caramel coloured stone buildings. Looks a bit smaller than you would think. It was probably the one place best visited during school holidays! After that we were on a canal path for a while before arriving at Blenheim Palace (birth place of Sir Winston Churchill).
After about 30km we stopped for tea and lunch and then continued. The weather was good all day, cold and misty or high cloud, and the second half of the day was drizzely. The views were of beuatiful English countryside complete with baby lambs and lazy ewes, bulls, cows, horses and fields of daffodils at every village. It was all very picturesque with well cared for farms and villages. We had many good cycle paths to follow (mainly Route 5) and when we were on road they were also quiet and narrow. There were a few climbs, mostly towards the end of the day and all of the "rush screaming downhill towards a village on a stream and then haul yourself up the otherside with complaining legs" variety. But all in all easier than yesterday; I think we're acclimatising.
We stopped at a Co-op a few kilometers from the campsite to shop and were pleased to arrive at the Certified Campsite shortly afterwards at 16:00, so a long day but we enjoyed it. We are the only campers on a glorious grassy field. The farmer's wife came to meet us and it was very cheap to camp. There wasn't a shower which was a bit surprising but we were happy to hang our shower bag in a tree and having a freezing cold sprinkle. There are about 12 chickens here, very curious and they pecked around us all the way through cooking and eating dinner. The rain started and we went to bed and so did the chickens.
We had a great ride today. It was a cold morning although overnight it was warmer than it has been. We had a misty start and it took ages for the mist to lift, but the cycling was really enjoyable. No more crazy hills, just a few steady climbs. The little villages that we passed through were beautiful. We skirted the top of the Cotswolds and would highly recommend this area. We followed mainly National Cycle Route 442 and 41 and it took us on good roads, bridle paths and also even across fields of sheep at one point!
We stopped in Beckford with it's beautiful church for pies for lunch (delicious) and ate them sitting on a bench. We also stopped for supplies for dinner later. We had a bit of a climb up to the campsite. This was another Certified Site and on a lovely farm. We spent quite a bit of time walking around with the farmer and it was so interesting listening to all he had to say about lambing, and piglets. He had recently had a ram for 66 sheep and 33 had become pregnant. They have been lambing every night more or less for the last while. Last night there were 6 babies born and 4 were outside with their mothers and 2 still inside in pens (one of these lambs was in his words "not quite right" but was still feeding from the mother on it's own. You start to learn how intensive this farming business is, especially lambing. His wife is up until 02:00 each morning and he gets up at 04:00. Sometimes it doesn't work out and I bottle fed a little lamb who was a twin, but his mother did not have enough milk for both, so now the farmer is trying to pair him up with a ewe who lost her baby. She strongly resists this which is the norm with sheep.
There was also a sow who had had piglets this morning. There were many - even the farmer does not know how many as it is not safe to get into her pen. She may react and once she latches on she will not let go. The piglets were adorable. Black and white spotted and trying to latch on to her teats for all their worth, their lives actually do depend on it! There were also some bantam hens and one had had chicks, very cute with their feathered feet even as chicks. So we had a lovely afternoon in the sun in a beautiful setting, sheep all around us!
Last night was dead quiet, once the sheep went to sleep. Funny thing when you go to sleep before the sheep. They wandered in baa'ing like crazy. First thing this morning we went to check on the pig and her piglets. She was standing up, snorting wiith her huge floppy ears down over her eyes and the babies were just one great spotty, wriggling mass in the straw. Farmer Mike (our host, not our Mike) was out there too and I guess he was relieved that they had all survived the night without being trampled or squashed to death by huge mother pig. We asked if any lambing had happened last night and he said that one ewe lambed and he had woken at 04:30 to help his wife with the ewe as it was a bit difficult, but baby was fine. We had never realised that farmers work so hard like this for most of the year. He has sheep lambing all the time. It's like being a midwife!
We set off at our usual time of 08:15 and it seemed a bit warmer but we were still warmly dressed. There was a lot of climbing today, but the distance was short. The cycle route took us over tiny roads which were mainly all vehicle free and very narrow. Things are changing now as we move into the border country (England/Wales) and there are no more postcard perfect thatched cottages and little English Inns. We had crossed the Severn River yesterday and are headed for the River Wye. It is still very pretty country though, lambs and calves abound. We were much higher up than yesterday and the views were great, still misty.
We stopped for morning coffee at a beautiful church in Eastnor and then passed through Ledbury without shopping for lunch which was a mistake as we did not come across any stores later on. We went slightly off route to a small convenience store for cheese, salami and rolls which we had a few kms further on on a bench in a small village. We had some very steep climbs (up to 13%) so our legs knew all about it today, but we enjoyed the ride. It makes such a difference when you are able to ride side by sude on quiet country roads.
Our certified site was just 3km before Leominster, but we didn't feel like riding in to shop for dinner. A quick internet search found a place that did cooked meals like burgers etc. just across the road from where we were camping. We walked areound there and it was a great spot, tables under umbrellas and a good menu. The hosts were friendly and told us we could even have camped there. We came back to our site and the lady whose property is it was there and we paid her. It was very reasonable considering the hot shower etc. and she was very friendly. Tommorow the Easter Weekend starts and we have another day of climbing. The weather is glorious and sunny (and warming up).
We were woken quite early by what we think was a cow or bull making loud, desperate lowing sounds. I thought about putting in earplugs, but it seemed not worth the effort to find them. Very warm day today so we set off with less clothes on than usual. We were a little surprised to see that the day's route was short but had A LOT of climbing. We stopped at Leominster to shop for lunch. We had 30km from Leominster to Ludlow and managed to shave a few km off by leaving out a pointless bend. Although it is Good Friday, shopping hours are unaffected. Somehow I had lost my toothbrush. It must have been all the excitement of the piggies the day before yesterday. I went in to Aldi for the shopping and couldn't find the toothbrushes. I asked someone and he said that they did not sell toothbrushes (??). Anyway, I got a toothbrush somewhere else. The roads were quiet and narrow and very, very hilly. Some stiff climbs. Some very stiff climbs. Seemed to take a long time. The weather was absolutely perfect. We stopped for an early lunch in a Forestry Commission area just before Ludlow.
Ludlow is very beautiful with its big castle and quaint buildings. It is right on a river and the town still has some of the original defensive walls and one of the original 7 gateways. Border country, hey? Everyone else in the immediate areas obviously agreed a day out to Ludlow on this balmy Good Friday was a good idea too as there were many people there. It was a lovely place to visit. We picked up some food for dinner. After this we were into the Shropshire Hills and what hills they were, especially on our tiny dedicated lanes. Steep climbs which were long, and made more interesting by the cars that would inevitably come across you and need to pass on a narrow single lane road.
The route was also very beautiful. We are into proper hills now with forests of trees, not just farmland. We saw lots of cows and curious sheep. We would just have enjoyed it more if we were not hanging onto our bikes to get up the steep inclines and then hanging on to them again on very steep descents. We had about 10km to go and passed a very attractive looking farmers field with wonderful panoramic views of the hills. We were tempted to find out if we could camp there but in the end moved on. Instead of taking on another montrous hill, we stayed on a proper road and that is how we came across this cute campsite attached to a pub. Small with only 11 sites and lovely views, we paid at the pub for the night (very good rate). We had a lovely few hours relaxing and taking a walk to nearby lakes. The people here were very nice and we are pleased we stopped about 5km short of our planned end.
Peaceful camping last night, even though the pub was busy the patrons were quiet. First stop this morning was the small village of Bishop's Castle a few kilometers down the road, with its quaint main street which was VERY steep as it climbed up to its church overlooking from the high point. We went to a butcher's for Welsh mature cheddar cheese, salami and homemade marmalade, and also the Coop Supermarket for bread. We like to have lunch supplies as we never know when we will want to have it! We had some climbing after this, very steep hills like yesterday on quiet siingle lane roads. Amazing views from up high of the Shropshire hills. After this came the irritating and impossible downhill runs to streams and then biting steep climbs. I was very upset to have to DISMOUNT and PUSH but to be fair, the gradient shunted up to 14% and I can't ride that. It's only when you actually have to push the bike that you realise how amazing it is that your legs can propel the loaaded bike up these inclines. The cute thing was that there were still many sheep around and the baby lambs would stare at you through the hedge as you passed at snails pace. Late on we were on a downhill stretch and came across two naughty lambs that had escaped their field between the rungs of the gate. The ewes and other babies were staring at them through the gate. The escapees were gazing longingly down the road and luckily as we came along, they dashed back to the gate. We were worried they would have taken flight as they may have been lost forever. Although all babies are spray painted on the side with the same number as their mother so I suppose that helps.
Early on in the day we noticed that the road signs suddenly were in Welsh as well as Engilsh and when we looked at the map we noticed that we passed through a tiny corner of Wales. Later on the Welsh names disappeared again. About 20km before Shrewesbury we were happy to hit a bigger road and the painful climbs were behind us. We went through a few villages and then arrived in Shrewesbury on a cycle path and did some shopping and sat in a park to have a late lunch. The campsite we picked for tonighit is the only one on the entire trip that we have booked into. We sent an e-mail to the address on the website before leaving Perth as we were unsure if it was open. We had a response just before leaving for London to say it was, and we were asked to book in (which we did) . The Easter weekend makes us a little nervous as all long weekends do. You can get campsites totally packed as many people who don't usually camp will do so on long weekends. Also we are due a rest after a week's riding and we hoped that this would be a good place. So we did quite a big shop at Coop Shrewesbury to be sure we had enough to eat the next day. We know from experience that we eat a lot on rest days!
After Shrewesbury the route was wonderfully flat and easy to ride. We passed "Badger Death Zone" where we saw three dead badgers in the road in quick succession. We stopped at a very ruined castle, Shwarmadine which was interesting. Parliament had accused the inhabitants of cowardice in the 1500's and burnt the place to the ground! We passed the busy pub about 3km from rhe campsite (a good plan B if we run out of food tomorrow). We arrived at The Church Campsite and met our host Paul who has exactly the same outlook as us! He told us he did not even take bookings this Easter as one is never sure about the weather and if it rains alot of people get bogged. Also it's too much trouble with the demanding campers you get on long weekends and he also wants to relax! He has a number of permenant vans which park up here and the people come for weekends whenever. So I guess that's how he makes his money. It turned out that our reservation "request" was the one and only accepted as we were on bikes, which is great as we are the only tent; it's so peaceful. We will have the day here tomorrow too. We are camping on the river and it is a beautiful spot. Wales is just across the river. There is also a beautiful church on site which we will have a look at. The weather was lovely this afternoon. Sunny and warm.
Beautiful sunset last night and misty morning today. The sun was just burning off the mist by the time we left at 08:00, Paul came out to see us off. Best campsite of the trip so far, in fact it will be hard to top. First up was a large combined 300m climb over the hills and then a steep downhill into Welshpool, "The Gateway to Wales". It is a very pretty town and we ate a delicious early lunch on the Canal Path. As it turned out, the Canal Path started before Welshpool and went all the way to Newtown, which was an unexpected bonus. It is sublime, a beautiful route on a good surface, being gently nudged uphill at each lock. Another bonus was that as we stopped for a geocache which we couldn't find, we met a couple on bikes heading home from a local market. Jane and Brian said hi as they passed and immediately invited us for lunch or coffee as they lived just off the path up ahead. Serendipity! We spent about an hour with them in their garden and had lovely coffee and biscuits and discussed our respective travels. They were a lovely couple to meet. They made some suggestions about our route from Newtown which we followed.
We stayed off the cycle route 81 from Newton to Caerwys and had about 11km to go from there. This meant we skipped out a big climb but then we were unsure whether to stay on the road or finish on the cycle route 81. The climbing seemed more or less the same. We opted for the cycle route which had a few climbs, one which was super steep at 15%. I only stayed on my bike as to get off would have been harder. The views were great all day though. As it turned out we got to our campsite after 16:00 so a long day for us. The campsite is big and all I can say is thank goodness the long weekend is over as it looks like it would have been packed.
It was one of those days when you get to the end of it and can't actually remember how it began... we did have a BIG climb out of the valley we slept in last night and dropped down on the other side to the Wye River valley which we followed for the rest of the day. The River Wye is in the same category as the Severn River as an important Welsh River. It is a beautiful river meandering along the valley. Many pebbled beaches along the way. We were now on Sustrans National Cycle Route 8 and it had its ups and downs. All along the valley the surrounding hills merge to farmland and then to the River Wye. We had many farm gates to open and shut behind us. So many sheep to meet along the way. Some very vocal, some cute, some scared, some cheeky. We stopped to buy lunch in Rhayader and shortly after that I fell off my bike when I came to a standstill in front of a farm gate. Unfortunately, I fell with my left arm into a clump of nettles. That certainly left me with plenty of zing for the rest of the day. I am still tingling now. Lesson is to stay on your bike at all times.
We soon realised that the day was going to be another 16:00 finish and took our time on the little ups and downs. This included when we passed through a farm gate onto a lumpy, rock-strewn uncyclable path. Well, some of it was cyclable. We stopped at Builth Wells to buy dinner and got stuck in a "traffic jam" over the little bridge due to a group of women and a swan. We rode up on the footpath and came across 5 women who had made a protective ring around this swan. As an aside we had seen many white swans in Wales and even some on gigantic nests. Seeing a white swan glide over the water, wings gently bent upwards to a heartshape when viewed from the front, these birds sure have style. Anyway, this particular swan had clearly decided to sit on top of the bridge on the footpath and the women had decided this was a decision regretted by the swan. They informed us that they had called the police to come and see to the swan as he was becoming difficult to manage. We thought that maybe if they just left him alone things would sort themselves out. As it was two of the women were standing in the road causing the traffic jam. At face value this would be a difficult thing to achieve in a town like Builth Wells. The women instructed us to ride in the road due to the swan's unpredictable moods. The swan looked absolutely calm! So on the advice of the swan keepers we lept off the sidewalk into the traffic. Pleased to be out of there.
We still had some ups and downs to go. We passed a beautiful field of bluebells which lifted the spirits. When we arrived at our campsite the owner was not in, but another camper couple made us a cup of tea! Too kind. We are in bed early tonight. The weather is turning.
The certified site we stayed at last night was perfect. The garden was beautiful and the lady, Anne, who ran the place clearly had a lot of pride in it. We woke expecting rain, but the skies looked the same, overcast but not very dark. It was a bit of an effort getting up, one of those mornings where you would just doze off again very quickly. We were on the road at 08:00 as usual and at the first intersection with a yellow road (an "A" road) we had a look at the map and saw that if we stayed on this busy-ish road for a few kms we could save ourselves the pain of a massive climb up the hill and over the top. The road had a lot of truck traffic but as we turned on to it we had a cycle/footpath all the way until we rejoined the route. After a while we were to turn off and go up another massive climb. However, just before making the turn, we saw the tell-tale large brick columns on either side of the road which used to support a railway and thought we would follow this road parallel to the river. It was a good choice, we still had sheep, or dafad (Welsh) for company and still good views but no punishing climbs. It ended on a canal path again which brought us to Brecon which was quite a milestone for us, obviously the gateway to the Brecon Beacons. Makes you wonder about Sustrans planners when all of this was not part of the national cycle route.
After Brecon the climbing began in earnest and a little while later so did the rain. We seized the opportunity to use our new MSR bothy. It worked really well, we even prepared and ate our lunch under it. After that we donned our full rain gear. The rain carried on, as did the hills. Eventually we came to the top, the foothills of the Brecon's and Carmarthenshire. The area is wild and open. Beautiful. Cold! Even the sheep looked cold. We had a couple of kms to our campsite and when we arrived found it unattended and only static vans. This made us a little nervous. We went to the building which we assume was the camp manager's house. The dogs inside barked but no one came to the door. It wasn't clear that we could camp. Then we found toilets and showers, but they were locked and needed a code. We were wet and freezing. We found the camping field and decided to go and pitch our tent. We tried to call the camp phone number and couldn't reach anyone. We pitched the tent and got into some warm clothes and had dinner. I went back to the manager cottage and there was someone there. I rang the bell and the dogs came barking again. Then a man came to the door and opened it a crack to peer out and closed it again. I walked around to the front windows and could see him in there! He saw me and came back to the door and apologised for not seeing me. Anyway, I was able to pay and we could have a HOT shower at last. It was the best shower of the trip so far. Hot and high water pressure. Yippee! Our campsite has magnificent views! We hope the rain clears up but don't like our chances.
We woke up at 23:30 to see the dark night sky and hopefully the Lyrids Meteor shower which was scheduled to occur. We looked for a while and saw a few flashes of light and a number of meteors, but not as many as we had hoped. The sky was not as dark as we had hoped as it was just after Easter (full moon). It started raining again in the early hours and there was a lot of wind. We had aimed for an early start and did get away at 07:40, it always takes so much longer in the wet. First up was a large steep climb and then wonderful panaromic views of the Welsh hills and countryside. We love being up high, but what goes up... and there was a long descent to follow. After this we stuck to a busier road which was easier riding. Showers came and went and so we had to keep putting on our rain jackets and stopping to take them off.
Towards the end of the day there was another big climb on national cycle route 47. Typically a single lane road we had a few stop starts meeting big tractors coming down with tanks of manure. This meant us stopping and pulling over if we could, into a hedge or something to let the vehicle pass. On some of these hills with 15% gradients it is really difficult to get going again after stopping. As we drew near the top I could hear a car sitting behind me waiting to pass. Mike had already pulled off up ahead. As the car drew level it waited and the driver said "I am the ranger for national route 47". Cool. We were gracious about the climbs. He called it the Highland Route, and of course he was right. We stopped after this to admire the amazing 360 degree views and then sat down to lunch. We were due to catch the ferry to Ireland from Fishguard tomorrow but have decided to delay this by one day just to have a bit of breathing space. We called the ferry company to changed the booking which was all good. Then the hail came down. Jackets on again. Freezing! The hills continued, just when you thought it must be over, the hill ramped up around the next bend. We turned down the road to our certified site and it was made of chunky rock and gravel so we couldn't even freewheel down that!
Luckily we arrived dry but cold which was an improvement on yesterday.
It rained heavily all night and the ground was very squelchy underfoot in the morning. We woke feeling sore and tired, but it was a short day and this spurred us on. We had the option of a Certified Site at 44 km, just before Fishguard, or a campsite in Fishguard. We would see what the day brought. We were on our bikes at 08:00 tackling the rutted farm track up to the road which was also broken up by little rivers of rainwater. There were a few feautures today which reduced the comfort of the ride; a headwind, the cold, the rain which came and went all day in showers and the rain again! It was a cold day. We amended the route a bit to get off the ridiculous route 47 (now called the Celtic Trail) where we could. At one point we rejoined it and that very minute were sent up a 15% climb for our troubles!
We stopped for a big cooked breakfast at Crymych with the locals which got us out of the rain for a bit. We spent some of the day high up on the moors again. Even the sheep looked upset by the rain. We reached our Certified Site and decided to press on the extra 6 km to the town proper to camp at the main site. We pulled in there to be told they did not take tents but they directed us to Tregroes which is a wonderful site and we are the only campers. Everything is perfect here, hot water to wash up and shower, and detergent is provided. Bathrooms have hotel quality handwash and lotions. All the extras, very luxurious. They have done a great job! Our site even has firewood provided with fire lighters. Pity the wood is soaked through from sitting in the rain or we would have had a fire! Anyway, we did some housekeeping on the bikes this afternoon and have a lazy morning tomorrow as we only have to make the ferry to Ireland by lunchtime.