I somehow managed to cram my bike and all my camping gear into my mum's sports car - as well as her stuff and the dog - so it was about a 6 hour drive up to Conwy in North Wales. I had a couple of days there before I'd start the journey back home on the bike.
20 miles or so before reaching Conwy, my mum and I stopped-off at Betws-y-Coed, a nice little village on a river for a short walk and to let the dog stretch his legs. It was the first sign of the great synergy much of the UK seems to have between man-made buildings and their surroundings. Unlike many places in the world I have been, the buildings here complement their surroundings and add to the scenery; they don't stick out like a sore thumb and spoil the view. It was also the first opportunity to butcher a place name, much like I did all over New Zealand. Amazingly, I managed to be even worse at pronouncing Welsh towns and villages than I did those in New Zealand.
|I would definitely do more running if this kind of view was a few kilometres down the road.|
Later on that day I joined my mum and her friend, plus a good friend from my time in Korea, Peter, for a short hike. The next day, we would do a harder hike around the nearby mountains. I had originally planned to hike up Wale's highest mountain, Mount Snowden, but I was advised by Anne - who we were staying with - that this hike would be busy with tourists and not especially enthralling. She suggested we do a longer, more technical scramble of a hike, first up Mount Trfan and then along a ridge-line after it, horse-shoeing back to our bikes.
Firstly, though, I had to meet my friend at the start of the hike and this required about 40Km of cycling from Conwy to get there. Pete would meet me there, as he was riding a motorbike. The plan was to leave the bike at the base of the trail and cycle a little more afterwards about 6 hours or so later. The cycle to the start of the walk started immediately with a 300-400 metre climb up to the Sychnant Pass just outside of Conwy, which was a bit of an early shock to the system. It then continued along some country roads, avoiding the main road, which was extremely busy and not suitable for bikes.
One country road in particular rose so sharply that I had to get off the bike and walk, and even that was difficult. This is not something I had to do for the rest of the trip, but it was clear very early on that this trip wasn't going to be an easy one, and that the country roads were going to be a little unpredictable in terms of gradients. Once I got on the main A road towards the mountains, however, the gradient became more manageable, rising more gradually.
Anne was right about the choice of hike, it was fantastic, great views and quite a challenging scramble. It was just like old times hiking in Korea, although I think Wales has slightly more appealing scenery, even if the mountains are actually lower.
After a little rest, I said goodbye to Pete and headed-off on my own to see how far I could get through Snowdonia before calling it a day.
It was superb cycling, not really that challenging, as the ascents were gradual and the descents long, without too many twisting corners to slow me down. This didn't take away from the lovely scenery through the Welsh valleys.
By the end of the day I had done about 80Km on the bike, much more than I expected, especially with a 6 hour hike in the middle. I'd made it past Porthmadog and settled-in at a campsite a little further down the road. Just beforehand I had stopped to get some cash in a small town called Tremadog. I cycled through a very modest street party outside a couple of pubs on the main street. It was quite a quaint look at Wales. "Show me the way to Amarillo", was pumping out over loudspeakers with a big Welsh flag in the background. This song was to be in my head for the rest of the trip.
|Day 1 route and profile.|
As I made my way South the hills felt like they were getting more pronounced. I often dropped into small towns, which gave me good chances for breaks, but also posed an extra challenge of making sure I knew where I was going. As the trip went on, I got better and better and finding my way around.
It was nice to pass through small towns and villages, many with old castles and buildings and red post boxes. It was all very traditional, very British, and made for such a different atmosphere while riding from my trips in Australasia.
|Coastline of Aberystwyth.|
I made a few pit stops throughout the day, one in a place called Dogellau for a cooked breakfast and some cake, and then again in Aberystwth, a town I once considered studying in. Aberystwyth had a very pretty waterfront, with nice buildings and a rocky coastline. I remember when I considered studying there that the bay at Aberystwyth was home to some dolphins, so I thought I would look out on the water for a while to see if I could spot them, and sure enough, after a few minutes I could see two porpoising close to shore.
Not having many pictures of me and the bike, I looked for someone to take my picture on the shorefront at Aberystwyth. I found an old couple; the lady said her husband better take the picture as he was better at taking photos. He kindly took some, but afterwards I looked at the pictures and he managed to take 8 pictures of the floor and 4 of me but with his thumb over the lens. I then asked a young couple to do it instead once they had disappeared off into the distance.
It was difficult to know where to stop after Aberystwyth, but at around 7pm I couldn't ride any longer, and because of the lack of tree cover in this part of Wales and many farms, I saw a sign for camping and thought I might as well pay again, even though I really dislike paying for camping. As I rode down the track, I couldn't see any signs of a campsite, just two fairly large houses with no one around. Eventually a man came out and I asked if this was where the campsite was. He said yes, and that another cyclist had camped there the day before. There were no facilities though, and so he just said I didn't need to pay and to just camp in the field out back near a couple of old caravans. Perfect.
|Day 2 route and profile.|
After another rainy early morning, I managed to dry-off in one of those caravans as the door was open. This was very handy as it was still raining outside. I got myself all sorted in the dry inside and thought that I could have just stayed in the caravan for the night, but I guess that would have been a bit cheeky.
Half of Wales done, I had to cycle quite a bit more down the coast through Pembrokeshire National Park and then across to the Brecon Beacons, which did bring up some challenges, both in terrain and with the weather. All about that in the next post.