Sunday, June 25, 2017

Bristol, England to Galway, Ireland: Wales, Tractors, Boats, and Trains

When we last left off, I was in Bristol, about to head into Wales. I was well recharged from my stay with Hattie and Will, who let me stay through midday to update my blog and fed me copious amounts of food, for which I was most grateful. Bristol was nice; despite being large, it was cycle-friendly, with lots of bike lanes, quiet side roads, and not too many hills (not compared to Cornwall, anyways). In any case, at some point I had to leave the security of my gracious hosts and venture out into the world.

Well... I got to Wales, and it looked like this:

Okay, it was a bit more dramatic than that., the app I use to route plan, told me there was a footpath shortcut to the bridge to Wales, which I gladly went towards. I got there only to discover cement poles blocking the path, about a foot between them and five feet high, intended, obviously, to prevent bikes from getting through.

Without said shortcut, I would have to go ten miles out of my way, so... I just lifted my fully loaded touring bike over my head. Twice – once on either side of the path. After biking uphill out of Bristol in 80 F weather, lifting a 60 lb touring bike over my head was very, very, hard. But it saved me an hour of pedaling.

Then I went to Wales, across the Severn Bridge, which is about 2 miles long with a pedestrian/bike path on either side. Once across, I was at sea level, which of course meant there was only one way to go... up.

Around 6 or 7, I started looking for a place to stay. Feeling bold from my success two nights ago at asking to sleep in someone's field, I decided to try again. The first person I asked said... “We've got horses, try our neighbors.” I tried their neighbors... and met Paul!

Paul was happy to help – they had sheep, but only in one of their two fields. After checking with his wife, he, his rusty scythe, and his beagle Gus walked me out back to show me a nice spot under an ash tree. I could tell Paul was friendly, but if he had managed to fool me and was planning on killing me and taking my stuff, he would have gotten style points for using a rusty scythe. But no – the scythe was for clearing a path to the river, which I was told was clean, so I promptly went swimming in it. After a day of lifting my bike over cement poles and biking up hills in heat, diving into the cool, clean water of a random river in rural Wales was heaven. I did it again and again. Shortly after my return, Paul appeared with a plate of food – “My wife thinks you look a little skinny” – and a beer – “You're not a Mormon or anything, are you?” I would have loved to join them on their porch and entertain them with my uke, but my sense was (in bringing the food out to me instead of inviting me in) they wanted privacy. All the same, they were very kind, and it was a good night.

I didn't see anyone in the morning so I left a thank-you note on the door and went on my way. Wales is quite mountainous and the roads, houses, and industry have mostly developed in the valleys – including some very good cycle routes. Going off the advice from my hosts in England, I chose not to take the most southerly route, putting me through a valley about 80 miles north of the coast. That day was mostly uphill...

...and I met two other cyclists doing the same route, Ian and Ann:

Ian and Ann were very kind and humble (upon seeing me approach, Ian exclaimed, “A proper cyclist!”) and invited me to stay with them near Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales, even suggesting a route to get there (and also suggesting that I might have a “meal, bed, shower, and laundry” if I were to make it to them). I hadn't yet booked my ferry to Ireland so this seemed like a definite possibility – I told them I would look into it (I generally try and accept every invite I can, since doing so usually leads to making new friends, but the logistics sometimes just don't work out). Wales was mentally challenging: very hilly, limited route selection, and lots of highway noise (all because of the aforementioned mountainous landscape), so a stay with a kind host would have been an especially welcome reward upon reaching the coast.

That night I made camp in the woods of a park near a town called Glynneath. It was, unfortunately, just across a river from the highway – such things happen when everything needs to be crowded into a valley – but the river was beautiful to watch the sun set over.

I left the next morning to discover the bike path went along... a towpath!

If you're just joining me, towpaths are a theme of the trip so far – I've hit at least one in every country. I also passed by some abbey ruins; sadly, they were closed to visitors at the time, but they were still pretty from a distance:

The rest of the day was pretty long, and I didn't make much progress. By noon, I had only biked 18 miles – having gotten up around 6 that day, I wasn't really sure where the time had gone. I was tired from the hills of the past two days, the weather was overcast and chilly, and there was a headwind and occasional rain. So I guess you could say morale was low. But I pedaled on, knowing there was almost certainly a bed and a shower in my future.

I saw a lot that day, and I'll let the pictures do the talking:

Memorial for the disaster at Gleision Colliery, 9/15/11.

Graffiti under a bridge, Pontardawe, Wales.

Two horns wasn't enough.

I decided to take the side road. There was a hill. This was my reward.

Fish and chips.

House sign I liked.

"Viennese Finger."

Another abbey.

I reached abbey #2 around 6 and wanted to call Ian and Ann to confirm my arrival the next day. I asked a few people walking around the abbey, but nobody had service – one of the double-edged swords of cycle touring is you see things in the middle of nowhere... but you're in the middle of nowhere. I was about to give up and use the local payphone when I decided to try one last person, a fellow across the road from the payphone who was digging a trench out from his house. That was Lloyd, and after communicating that it was a local call (“It's a pound to call the US from the phone or a pound to call the US from my house...”), he invited me in for tea and let me use his phone. Ann and Ian confirmed I could stay with them the next night. Awesome.

Lloyd and I ended up talking for another hour or so. He was a treat to talk to because he considered himself a laborer, but was very humble about it (“the time came to go to college and learn how to use computers – this was back when they took the space of an entire house – and my friends and I decided we'd rather learn how to build houses and install pipes. Now we feel like we missed out, and all our jobs are being outsourced, which is frustrating. But I'm proud of the work I do, and I wouldn't have it any other way. When we're gone, you can have your way with the world”).

Eventually we looked up the distance to Aberystwyth – just 39 miles! I could make camp anywhere. I asked Lloyd if he knew anywhere a tent would go unnoticed, and he did – the neighbors just across the way had a pasture where some sheep were grazing, but it was a large pasture and there was likely to be a spot where I could pitch a tent without disturbing them too much.

The next day, I pedaled through wind, mist, and rain, over dirt tracks, and past fallen trees, 39 hard miles to Abersytwyth. Ian and Ann were waiting at the train station with a cup of hot chocolate, which was just about the best thing I could have had at the time. We drove the few miles to their house outside of town – a beautiful drive – and my one night stay quickly became a two night stay as we compiled a list of things to do (me: “Is there anything I can do for you?” Ian: “You can drive my 1965 Massey Ferguson... I mean, mow for us.” Ann: “Next he'll ask you if you've ever done beekeeping”).

Sampling of the weather on my ride in.

Part of the route to Abersytwyth.

Me on a 1965 Massey Ferguson.

I didn't take many pictures during my stay, mostly because I wanted to relax. I'd been feeling mentally exhausted lately and a day off – completely off, no picture-taking or blogging or story-telling or anything – was much needed. Ian and Ann were very generous with their hospitality, for which I am most grateful.

Recall that during my stay in Calstock, England, just outside Plymouth, I decided I was going to go from Ireland to France instead of Scotland. The ferries to France were mostly booked up for the next month or so, so I picked one of the few dates left that I thought would fit with my schedule and pulled the trigger. This means I didn't have as much time as I would have liked before needing to be in the southeast corner of Ireland. To give me more time, Ian and Ann kindly offered to drive me to the ferry; once arriving in Ireland, I planned to take the train to the west side so I could bike back east in time for the ferry to France.

Of course, the whole time we were driving to the ferry, they kept saying, “Ooooh, there's a great cycle track here...” and “this bit is just beautiful to cycle...” and “We have friend all along the way you could stay with....” I felt a little ambiguous about having accepted a ride, but that's just the way the timing works sometimes (it was also raining – though it's always raining in Ireland). It seems I've added yet another place to my “come back to” list – the ride from Abersytwyth, where Ian and Ann live, to Holyhead, where the ferry to Ireland was.

Then... I was on a ferry.

(it was pretty cool, they let me ride my bike on and off instead of taking it through security)

Then... I was on a train.

(I didn't take a picture, you'll just have to trust me)

Then... well I assume I'll be in Galway shortly.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like you had some hard rides. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers - Paul and his wife, Lloyd, Ian and Ann. Wonderful people. Swimming in a fiver in Wales - wonderful after a long, sweaty ride. Ian and Ann waiting in the train station with hot cocoa would have been enough to bring tears to my eyes. I look forward to the photos. Remember every minute of every day how much I love you. Ride on!