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Saturday 13 March 2021

Cycle to Wales: Sheep Up Trees, Faerie Mountains & the Knockin Shop

Day 1

Text from Rach at 04:53:
“Mate if you see the weather and think f that let me know as it’s really windy and really heavy rain here already … even the cat refused to go out.”

My reply: “Yes it looks biblical already. Your call. I’m ok to go with it.”

Then I got in the car and set off. It ‘s too easy to crawl back into bed at 5am … not the best time to make decisions. We could decide when I got there. I’d seen the weather forecast and knew there was a weather warning in place. Storm Francis was sweeping across the country bringing floods, torrential rain and 80mph winds. Bloody hell. 

Not ideal for a 260 mile bike trip.

It had been a bit of a year already. 2020 … pandemic panic, races all cancelled and lockdown. We’d planned this ride for as soon as we were all out of lockdown for something to look forward to and now we were going to be doing it with rainwater up to our eyeballs.
The phone bleeped while I was driving. But I didn’t pick up the texts until 0630 when I arrived at Rach’s house. She had asked to cancel the ride. 

Bother. I could see why, though. It was definitely a bit damp out.

Rach and I discussed our options over an delicious breakfast cooked by her talented husband. One option was to drive to Wales, ride about and then drive back. I didn’t want to. That’s not a tour, that’s a sportive. Besides, I’d been looking forward to a nice gentle ride there and back. However, I also didn’t want to pressure Rach into cycling in conditions she wasn’t comfortable with and offered to meet her there. I wanted to go by bike and was quite happy to go alone. I had snacks, GPS and a butt made out of asbestos. Besides I was fairly sure my skin was waterproof. If not windproof. 

Rach had a think and decided to cycle with me. She had spent days planning the route and wanted to cycle what she’d planned. She had drawn a 110 mile day for day 1 – Kidderminster to Colwyn Bay, 30 mile trip for day 2 – Colwyn Bay to Caernarfon and 125 mile trip for day 3 – Caernarfon to Kidderminster. 

Unconventional distances but I was happy to go with the plan and head for the mountains. 

Despite arriving at Rach’s at 0630 – we wanted an early start to miss the worst of the weather – we eventually left at 0830 hours. Faffing is part of the fun, right? Faces to the wind, we set off into the puddles and lanes of Kidderminster. 

We were cycling through flooded roads almost immediately. We tried to skirt around the worst of the puddles, worried there were potholes underneath that might swallow our wheels but some of them were road width and we had to get momentum up to go through the middle. Besides, who DOESN’T like cycling through puddles? There’s a ‘ziiiiip’ noise that tyres make through water that is pleasing to the soul.

Nevertheless, we both had wet feet and wet bottoms within 5 miles of leaving Rach’s house and Storm Francis came down properly, treating us to rain like stair rods and puddles that were a duck’s wet dream.

However, we were on an adventure! It was exciting! New roads, new places and MOUNTAINS later on!

Also CAKE. I had definitely been promised cake. 

And then at 18 miles as the storm notched it up a bit, Rach’s bike got a puncture. She had gone for a full set just before this trip – new bike, wheels, new tyres and new tubes on her bike. And now had a new puncture to match.

Rach hadn’t changed a tyre using gas before and in torrential rain with cold fingers is a tough place to learn. The valve sheared off on the first tube with the coldness of the gas and we had to fight to remove the tyre again. The second tube inflated and was sealed – after one of my tyre tools was sacrificed – but the tyre wouldn't seat properly. I also managed to lose half my fingerprint on the cold ice of the valve making sure this one didn’t shear off too. I didn’t want us to be 3 tubes down after just 18 miles.

But tyre was on, it was up and we were on the road! Woo! What’s a little bit of rain? There is fun to have, cake to eat and mountains to climb! 

Back on the roads and following the Garmin, we found the Mercian Way. Then realised we SHOULDN’T have found the Mercian Way … and backtracked. Maps? Who needs to be able to navigate? Just keep going west and we’ll reach Wales eventually, right?

Isn’t that how navigation works?

Going through Ironbridge and I noticed a bicycle in the window of a building on the left. Bike shop! We did a quick left turn and dropped in. Rach’s tyre not sitting properly was worrying her and we had a long way to go if there was a problem. The bike shop was called Bicycles By Design and made the most amazing bespoke tandems! They agreed to take a look at Rach’s wheel and shooed us off to the cake shop next door.

Fully caked-up and we dropped back into Bicycles By Design – not only had they found the issue (a piece of metal sticking up on the wheel itself which they’d ground down), they’d put a new tube on, reseated the tyre. They even sorted out additional gas cylinders and tubes. I did however grovel for a tour of their custom tandems … oh my goodness. If you’ve ever had dreams of a bicycle made for two I can recommend these guys. These bikes are BEAUT!

However our next obstacle was that the road to Ironbridge was closed – due to a murder! (In a Taggart voice) so we were given some very complex instructions involving a canal path, a train lift, a footbridge and a textile museum. It all sounded a bit complicated for us, who could get lost on a staircase … but we popped out at the right place surprising ourselves and feeling rather smug at our previously unfound ability to navigate. 

We’d planned a lunch at Shrewsbury in about 40 miles, but as we had already stopped due to the wheel issues and it was lunchtime, we decided to grab it while we were in Ironbridge and made a pitstop at The Swan Hotel.  There wasn’t room indoors so we decided to brave the beer garden. The rain had stopped and the sun even came out so we divulged ourselves of our damp kit, hanging it off the picnic benches and bikes where it blew around merrily like a mini washing line. 

We had a lovely pub lunch and much as we would have liked to have stayed and chilled out, we were already behind schedule so we saddled up, put our damp kit back on and put our faces to the wind. 

Rach announced that despite doing 100 miles on an indoor trainer, she’d never done 100 miles on the road on a bike. She was brave plotting a 3-day route with 2 x 100+ mile days without having done 100 on the road before. I was impressed and a little bit horrified.

The lanes were pretty and it was lovely cycling away, only having ourselves to please and chatting away a mile a minute. The rain wasn’t as bad as it had been earlier and our kit really was drying out quite well in the wind … which really was a bit blowy. While we were between high farm hedges, it wasn’t too bad but as soon as we passed a gateway, the gusts would push us almost across the road. And we had to keep an eye out on vehicles coming the other way being caught unawares by the wind too. 

There were a fair amount of branches down across from the trees which seemed almost comical and made it feel like we really were on a bit of a crazy adventure. We just needed a hobbit and a ring to complete it. We’d already had the Tyre of Terror and Cake of Deliciousness. 

On our road was a small town called Knockin. And to my delight, a small shop in the centre called ‘The Knockin Shop’. I clearly had to stop for a photo with the sign. Ok. About 10 photos.


The roads were certainly feeling a bit more undulating and they really hadn’t been particularly flat to begin with. We passed a sign welcoming us to Oswestry and which stated it was a border town. It certainly made it feel like we were heading into uncharted territory … as though we were going to pass through elvish woods or into the Wild West. 

As the border had been passed, the terrain certainly started to become more vertical. And the climbs really started. We were definitely in Wales now. Beautiful views and green sweeping hills filled our eyes. And sheep. Sheep everywhere. It was nice that things had changed so much in just a few miles. It made it really feel like our adventure had started. We may be slightly damp from the rain and heavily laden, but we were on an adventure! Even if it was wet and a bit windy. It was a bit odd being pushed UP some of the hills by the wind. Not complaining about it though!

Our watches were navigating us … it really was stress-free navigation. We’d get a beep when a turning was coming up and we could see how many miles until the next turning … until a particularly indignant beep told us we’d missed a turn. Missed a turn? We were on a straight road? We did a u-turn … maybe the watches expected us to go up this road … but it ended in a dead end! We turned around and went back onto the straight road … BEEEP! We looked at each other … then like some sort of horror film our heads turned to the left and up the vertical hillside – ok, mountain on our left. No. Surely not?

And then we spotted the tiny path that snaked it’s way up the side of the mountain. Noooo … surely not.

Apparently so.

Maybe it would get better after this first vertical, broken, trail section?

Spoiler. It did not.

It was as if a ploughed field had met a pebbled beach which had decided to have vertical babies. It was ridiculous. It was the sort of trail that if you’d have the option you would go around. That you would look at and go “Nah. I like my legs unbroken, thanks.” However, when we checked the maps, there was no way around … unless we wanted an additional 15 miles. We did not.

So we started it … telling ourselves that it was bound to get better after the next 20ft section, that the garmins wouldn’t have sent us this way unless it was an actual trail despite it looking like some kind of solid waterfall. 

It did not get better.

I would have carried the bike as it was THAT bad except it was also so steep that I was bent double just  trying to climb it. I had one leg in the trench, the other was 2 foot higher on the stones and the bike was like a 2-wheeled crutch. The trees twisted closely around he sides of the path and bent over the top enclosing it, like an eldritch, gloomy tunnel. 

Rach was behind me somewhere … I couldn’t look back and check on her, but I could hear the swearing and reasoned that if she had breath enough to swear that loudly then she must be ok.

It MUST get better soon.

After about a mile. AN ACTUAL MILE of this. I got to a crossroads of a sort. Well. A kind of muddy, stoney intersection. I propped my bike up and waited for Rach.

Rach got to the top and realised she’d dropped her glasses. She was going to give them up as a sacrifice to the trail of doom. She was THAT broken by this path but decided that as they were her very favourites she would at least go back a little way … and she found them sitting on the trail about 10ft down. 

That cheered us up … and as we were at a crossroads, we expected that the trail would very soon improve. Reader, it did not. If anything, it was was even bloody worse. I was crawling up this mountain side, branches were down, blocking it at places. I’d stop, put the bike down, chuck the branch to one side, pick up the bike and carry on pushing it up this hill. Tripping and knocking down stones after me, the wind throwing the weird elder trees around beside and over me, shaking them from side to side and this crazy, crazy path winding upwards. No sign of habituation or houses, just twisted trees beside me and this trail. Surely something had made it. Surely it went somewhere? I had lost sight of Rach. She was behind me somewhere down the trail, I’d glance below me every now and then but she was out of sight. I couldn’t even hear her swearing. 

The branches opened above briefly, letting some dim sunlight through. The wind was so strong, the clouds were moving in front of the dim sun making the light flicker like a strobe. It was very eerie and disconcerting and like nothing I’d ever experienced before. The roar of the wind in the background made it feel queer and strange as though I was in a completely different place. Alone on the trail (Rach was some way back) it felt very faerie and not quite our world. 

I put my head down and moved onwards as fast as I could. This wasn’t somewhere I wanted to stay for long. If there was ever a place where faeries stole children, this was it. I pushed the bike onwards and as I went I moved branches of the track for Rach to clear the path as much as possible for her. I couldn’t see her, but knew she was behind me somewhere. Gradually, I saw signs of habitation. First, there were a few strands of barbed wire fence, rusted and left behind. Then a can under a hedge, then finally, the old stone wall of a barn in the distance and a fence.

The trees opened up and there was a stoney track ahead, but clearly a track that was used, not the lumpen monstrosity we’d crawled up. And a sign (clearly hammered in by a farmer sick of having to tow idiots off the top section of the track as anything further down than 50m was to be left to rot) saying ‘Sense not satnav, it’s a track’. 

The next section was tarmac (TARMAC!!) and we passed a barn ... then a tree. An actual massive oak stretched across the entire road. Covering it with branches. There was no crossing to either side of it and no going over it as it was a fully grown oak. Rach and I looked at each other. We were NOT going back down that trail. Not only would we had to crawl down it – probably more dangerous than coming up – we’d have to take the 15 mile detour which would put us even further behind schedule. 

We were on top of a mountain, stuck on a narrow lane with a tree blocking the road. We couldn’t go around it, we couldn’t go over it … in the words of Bear Hunt, we were going to have to go through it.

It was NOT fun. The ripped trunk of the tree was angled up in the air and I was terrified that it would come down on us. There was no getting between the branches at all, the only option was to cross between the ripped trunk and the tilted remains. 

Sometimes, there is no option. So we climbed through between branches and just hoped that it wouldn’t move while we were there. 

But we were through. And at the top of a mountain. The only way was down, now. The descent was fast but steep and due to the amount of branches across the roads - which we had to swerve to avoid -  we couldn’t go too fast for fear hitting one or getting branches tangled in the wheels and going over handlebars. 

We made it to the valley at the bottom and breathed a sigh of relief. The roads were damp but there were no trees blocking them. We crossed into Llangollen which was very picturesque town and as we crossed over a bridge, we passed a railway station that looked like it should have been on a model railway. 

Due to the high wind, rain and gusts we had earlier decided to cut out Horseshoe Pass. This is a famous high winding mountain pass which has some steep climbs. We followed our watches to navigate, while looking for a right hand turn which would cut this section out. The roads were still incredibly steep though and the winds felt like they were working against us, we had to fight against the elevation and the headwinds. 

I got my head down and worked at it. Can’t go around the hills, just have to get them done. Rach shouted something to me. What? 

Apparently we had just ridden up Horseshoe Pass. Ah ok. I had just just thought it was Wales being lumpy. I’d seen the sign 20% for half a mile a while ago but the headwind had felt worse than the elevation. Apparently we had completely missed the turning to avoid the pass.

We missed the pass photo so took a photo by the cafe at the top instead. Meh. You have to work with what you have, right? I wasn’t cycling back just for a photo. 

The descent was fast and sweeping and fabulous. I didn’t see the cattle grid until I was already on it. There was one on the way up which I had spent AGES opening and closing the gate properly. Oh well. 

Were were now onto small roads and the light was fading. I thought it was getting really dark until I realised I was still wearing my sunglasses. Took them off and it was as though I’d put the clock back 2 hours …

However the rear light of my bike was fading. It was fully charged but I hadn’t been expecting multiple punctures, insane vertical mountain roads and having to climb trees with my bike so it had taken a bit longer than planned. 

The roads were undulating but nice undulating. Nothing too taxing. Then as the evening got darker, the roads got smaller and the surfaces got worse. Nice to cycle in the daytime but not so much fun in the dark. As the roads got worse and the dark deepened, our speed also slowed. In the darkness, we couldn’t see the potholes or downed branches so easily so needed to slow our pace. The hours stretched out and the night got wetter and colder. The hotel seemed a long way away.

We had a miserable petrol station dinner of sandwiches while standing in the rain. The wind blew the filling out of sandwiches and the darkness was deep around the lights of the petrol station. The shop clerk wouldn’t let us stand inside to eat so we shovelled as much food in as we could before we got too cold or the wind blew it away or it got rain-sodden.

Cold and miserable, we climbed onto our bikes. The last 20 miles took forever. We had small dark roads, then about 7 miles on a coast path which is a cycle route. We’d not have to worry about traffic and hopefully the surface wouldn’t be too bad. We just had to get there and then our hotel would be a mile away. Just focus on the hotel. Warmth. And I’d be able to get dry. It had been a long old day out. 

The roads got smaller and smaller and we crossed a bridge and turned onto the cycle path and into the wind. To put into context how strong this wind was, Rach and I tend to cycle at around 20mph in a race.  The headwind was so fierce on the cyclepath that we averaged 7mph! And that was tough going. Like being in the big ring and pushing up at 20% hill.  I have never known anything like it. It was 7 miles of awful cycling. And stones stuck up as sea breaks between the path and the sea like tombstones. And to make it worse, we passed some signs warning of steep drops. Ok that’s fine, but after the drops were 10% sections. On a cyclepath. With that headwind. It was FAR worse than Horseshoe Pass.

With a final beep, Rach’s garmin battery died and mine had 10%. Don’t conk out now, garmin. We’re using you to navigate ... 

7 miles of hellish cycling and then we turned left off the coastal path. We were NOT sorry.  As we turned onto the main road Rach spotted a glowing sign, lit up like the gates of heaven. The Travelodge sign. 

Checked in and into the room at 00.01. 

109.94 miles
2620 metres of climb


I’d set a late alarm. We’d not made it into the room until past midnight and after a much needed shower, it was gone 0100hours before I’d crawled into bed with a sigh of relief. 

I woke at 0600 hours, but turned over, grateful for a short day of only 30 miles today and slept in for another 2 hours.

When I crawled out of bed, I found Rach had left me a cake from a shop she’d found. It was divine. Good cycling days are built on cake. The cake was date, jam and deliciousness. 

Even better, there was bright sunshine streaming through the window.

We went for breakfast at the cake shop; Kitchen Cafe in Colwyn Bay. It was divine. Avocado and tomato and spinach and mushrooms on toast. It was one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had. I scoffed every scrap. Had two cups of coffee and a glass of orange juice. Perfect.

As we walked out of the cafe, with full stomachs, we passed a man outside a charity shop. He was merrily pedalling away in the sunshine on a stationary bike to raise money for charity. I gave him a side eye because he just looked too happy. 

Today was a short hop from Colwyn Bay to Caernarfon and mainly on cycle paths. Stress-free and happy. When we spotted a puddle on the road, we actually got off our bikes to avoid it. After yesterday we were NOT getting wet again unless we absolutely had to. I had a dry bum and I wanted it to stay that way. 

The sun was shining, the scenery was beautiful and just as I was getting into the ride, I heard a ping and noticed that the bungee from my drypac on the front of my bike was wrapping around my front wheel …! Crap! I did an emergency stop before it pinged and catapulted me all the way to Caernarfon. 

I did NOT need a catapulting accident as well as tree climbing, insane lanes and storms. Besides, how on earth would I explain to the insurance company how I broke both my legs without them laughing me off the phone?

We were cycling happily through pretty lanes and over small hills and chatting away. It is surprising how much easier everything is in the sunshine. The woes and misery of last night and salad sandwiches at a petrol station in the dark was quickly forgotten. 

We had a brief stop at Conwy. It’s so beautiful and how could I pass up the opportunity to see the (outside) of the smallest house in Britain and the pretty harbour and castle? It was so beautiful there. But a lot of people. 

We moved on quickly and hopped onto the onto the cycle path. The sea was on my right and the mountains on my left. It was so, so beautiful. The sun was out, I had short and easy miles on the bike … life was good! It was insanely picturesque and it felt as though we were cycling through Nepal with the mountains towering above us. It really didn’t feel like an afternoon in Wales.

The cycle path ran parallel to the main road for a while with cliffs on the left and then it crossed over by bridge with a series of zig zags to become the steepest cycle path I’ve ever done! Great view from the top though.

We cycled on the main road for a few miles and through a few towns. The roads were busy but smooth and then we hopped into the lanes. These were a bit more undulating and with a few juicy climbs which were made up for by the descents. Coming down one of the steeper descents, the brakes went on VERY hard. A ford, probably usually small and trickling, was - after the onslaught of rain yesterday - a raging tea coloured torrent. We took the foot bridge. A car came down, saw the deluge of water and reversed back up the hill. 

The other side of the bridge was a very steep uphill. I hadn’t expected the ford so I was in COMPLETELY the wrong gear after the fast descent. I jumped back on the bike after the bridge and finally got going by going back and forth across the single track road to get into the right gear. It was a proper hill and towards the top of road, despite being in a granny gear, it was so steep I couldn’t turn my legs and fell sideways in a heap. No one saw! I dusted myself off and pretended it never happened. What – this graze on my knee? No idea. 

I stood around looking nonchalant until Rach appeared behind me with her bike. 

We had a few steady miles in the lanes, undulating and interesting following cycle route 5. As we were climbing upwards, we had grassy fields stretching upwards and the occasional tree by the road with wire fences separating the livestock from the roads. I glanced to my left and said “RACH!” To make her look. “RACH! There’s a sheep in that tree!” And there was. I mean, I know we’re in Wales and the sheep probably do get in places they shouldn’t but I certainly didn’t expect to see one in a tree.

And no I didn’t have concussion from falling off my bike.

The lanes wound on, but I didn’t spot any more livestock in the trees. During a steady but long climb Rach announced that she’d had enough of cycling and was calling it a day and was getting the train home. This seemed to be out of nowhere. I tried to persuade her to get to the hotel to have a sleep as we were only 12 miles away from Caernarfon but she was adamant. Fair enough. When your motivation goes there’s no point continuing and hating it. 

Sometimes things just don’t go to plan.

We carried on through the lanes and down a long steep hill, lined with cottages. As we got towards the T-junction, Rach announced that Bangor station was 0.1 miles away and she was going. I offered to see her to the train but it was an hour’s wait so we decided we’d split there and she’d be on the train and I’d be in the hotel at about the same time. 

And then there was one. 

The next section was a steep climb through a street lined with houses. Ouch! But fun! Had some fun with a bus trying not to overtake at bus stops when he stopped and doing some very slow pedalling behind him at junctions but managed to a. not fall off b. piss off the driver of a very large object. 

There were rolling roads for a few miles which were very, very busy and not terribly cyclist friendly. I hopped on the cycle path for a bit when it was available and got some lovely speed up down a hill before taking around 15 minutes to cross a major roundabout with busy traffic. Not even joking about the wait. It was 2 lanes and there just wasn't a let-up in the traffic and as it was down the bottom of a very steep hill, the cars weren’t even coming to a stop before going. I eventually got a gap and pegged it across without being flattened.

A couple more miles on this road and the cycle lane came to an abrupt stop. A man passing stopped for a chat as I was checking routes and he said that a cycle route continued a little way up the hill on a minor road which bypassed this busy road. Apparently there had been some nasty accidents on this stretch of road involving bikes. I took his advice and cycled up the hill a little way until I came to a small path covered with leaves and shaded by trees hanging over on either side. On the map it looked as though this path intersected my route on the busy road, so I took a chance and set off under the trees.  

Gloriously leaf covered trails under trees. Lovely. I stayed on this trail on and off for the next 5 or 6 miles passing runner, walkers and other cyclists, I didn’t need to rejoin the busy road at all. It was calming and peaceful and there was no route-checking, no worrying abut traffic and about 30 minutes later, the route popped me out on Victoria Docks in Caernarfon. About 200m from my hotel. 

It was just what I needed. 

I went into the Travelodge and the receptionist was a cyclist. Stopped for a chat about cycling for about 20 minutes and went to check in.

I took the lift up and opened the door to the best hotel room ever. After a miserable few hours in the last hotel room, wet, cold and squeezed into what felt like a cupboard decorated with wet kit, I was now in an open airy space like a penthouse suite. I had windows on two sides with a view of the church and cliffs above Caernarfon and a glimpse of he sea the other side. Divine! Room 230. Clearly the best hotel room in the place. I was a little sad that I was here on my own, but sometimes things just happen. 

I carefully propped up Evie and dropped Rach a text so she knew I’d got to the hotel. First job … shower and rinse out the kit for tomorrow.

Smelling a bit better, I had a walk around the town with the intention of booking a table for food later on. The Eat Out to Help Out thing was on and absolutely everywhere booked up without spaces. I literally went into every single pub, cafe and restaurant I could find. No luck.

I’d blame it on the windswept hair and dents on my nose from the cycling glasses, but it seemed like a lot of other people had missed out so it wasn’t just strange cyclists with English accents.  

I popped into a newsagent and had a sandwich and a takeaway coffee by Caernarfon Castle. It was sunny and peaceful and the harbour was calm. I got cold quickly as the sun starting lowering, so I finished my coffee and took the long way back to the hotel along the side of the sea. 

Rather than heading out again, I walked to the supermarket by the hotel, and treated myself to a Morrison’s dinner of sushi and mango. Washed down with a bottle of cider. 

I believe it’s what all ultra cyclists eat in the evenings. 

I reflected on the next day. It was a 125 mile ride back and I’d be doing it on my own. No toothpaste and no shampoo as Rach had taken those with her but l could manage without for one day. Rach also had the tyre tools. One of mine had been broken changing her tyre so I’d have to rely on fingernails and patience if I got a flat. No problem. Swearing and plastic cutlery it would be then. 

I adore Rach and she’s brilliant company, but I was a bit peeved about being dropped in the middle of Wales, on a route that she’d planned and with a 125 mile last day. It was going to be one of my longest ever rides. And I’d be doing it solo and unsupported. 

Meh. So long as the coffee shops were open. 

And she’s still an ace cycling buddy. (Love ya, chick)

30.1 miles
552 metres of climbed

Day 3

Woke up 15 minutes before the alarm because isn’t that usually the case? Can’t even get a lie in after 150 miles on the bike … but there are adventures to have, lanes to explore, hills to climb … and no doubt roads to get lost on, punctures to have and coffee to be drunk. So better be at it. 

The damp bike kit had dried out nicely and Evie was looking sparkly after her wipe down yesterday. I’d dried the socks on the windowsill as quite frankly even a couple of soap washes weren’t enough to take out 150 miles of feet. Damp feet. The shoe covers had dried out. It was shaping up to be a good day.

I’d decided that 125 solo miles was too far to think of in one chunk. So after looking at the map, it looked like I’d be at the top of the biggest mountain at around 50 miles. So that’s section one. It would be undulating after that but nothing compared to the Welsh mountains and at around the 100 mile mark I’d be round about Shrewsbury. So that would be the 2nd 50 mile section. And then? I just had to find my way back through the lanes to get to Rach’s house. 

And then into the car, back down the M6 and home. Where the food and the shower was.

And where I could sit down without having to pedal.

After my dismal dinner of the evening before, I managed to get a full English breakfast for £2.75 at Morrisons. Coffee and apple juice included. 

It was a good start to a long day. 

Bike loaded up and with dry kit on, I was in good spirits. I managed to take a wrong turn within half a mile of the hotel, but managed to rectify it and coming off of a major roundabout, just leaving Caernarfon, I came past a dog walker who’d just crossed the road. As I zipped past, his small white dog lunged off the pavement to try and bite me, taking about 6ft of extendable lead with it. Luckily it’s aim was poor otherwise it would have ended up under the wheels and I would have ended up in a heap. On top of the bike. And the dog. And nobody would have been happy.

Luckily the rest of the way out of Caernarfon was uneventful and the route took me into the Snowdonia National Park. As the scenery grew more beautiful, the sky grew darker. I passed by the picturesque railway, the damp stone buildings of the youth hostels and some extremely inviting looking pubs as I wound my way through the lanes around the bottom of the mountains. It was overcast and drizzling now and I was cycling through puddles, but I was smiling as just couldn’t get over how beautiful it was.

Sheep were hanging onto crazy places on the mountainsides although I didn’t see any more in the trees. Or even in a hedge.  

The scenery was magnificent and awe inspiring and despite the weather, I was glad to be cycling here where it was so beautiful. I passed a couple of cyclists but not many and it seemed that the (now torrential) rain had put people off. I’d put my waterproof jacket on very early but the sheer amount of rain meant that it didn’t stop me getting soaked through. I’d gone without gloves today as I’d worn them on the first day and they got wetter and wetter and didn’t dry out so I felt that my hands were colder than if I hadn’t worn them at all. Without gloves, my hands were cold on the flats and downhills when I wasn’t staying warm by pedalling hard but were ok on the climbs. Although I did notice that without gloves I was getting a blister between thumb and forefinger of right hand. At least I’d have a good excuse for it. 

It was so wet it was kind of funny. There was water running down the roads, dripping off my nose and chin and soaking into my feet. As I passed yet another tiny railway station, it vaguely crossed my mind about getting a train part of the way back but it was no more than a fleeting thought. I was already wet on the bike, I’d be wet on the train.   

I knew that my first 50 miles of the day were the hilliest and I would be at the highest point of the day almost exactly at the 50 mile point. It was quite nice having a marker like this. I don’t know whether I thought it would be all downhill after this point … I wasn't thinking about it at all, lest I just get on the damn train. Just keep pedalling.

I also now only had 3 gears for some reason. My bike is a few years old now and there had been some issues with water and muck getting into the cable sheathing. Well. I’d managed with a 3 gear bike when I was a kid. What’s 3 gears and a few mountains between friends?

I had previously planned to stop at Bala for lunch but I still had the largest climb of the day to do so decided to power on through that before stopping. It seemed silly to stop before that and get cold before starting the largest climb. 

I climbed a few sizeable hills and on the biggest one, upon seeing a lovely view across a valley, I stopped for a photo. I had decided I wasn’t going for any speed records (unless downhill would count? With the amount of kit I’d packed, I was getting a fair speed up!) but to enjoy the journey so if I saw some spectacular views I would be stopping for photos. I smugly checked the elevation to see how far I had to go before I finished all the mountains and realised I was only partway up the first hill... the others – despite their size! - hadn’t even registered on the days’ elevation chart. Oh. 

Back on the bike and carried on climbing. After all what choice did I have? I wasn’t going to stop for lunch until I got to at least 50 miles so every minute I dawdled, lunch was getting further away. And I LIKE lunch. Particularly after I’ve built up an appetite from a damp, hilly bike ride.

The mountain kept on going … and I kept climbing. This big hunk of stone and dirt was standing between me and my pub lunch. As I got further up, the road twisted into alpine style bends. I love cycling these, makes me realise I’m on a proper climb and far from home. All OUR roads just go straight up. And then back down again. None of our climbs are big enough for proper alpine bends. 

There were quite a were lot of cattle grids intersecting the roads which were slippery in the rain. Coming up to these, I kept the bike as straight as possible and didn’t brake as I didn't want to slide or put a wheel between the bars as that would have led to a very nasty accident. And I’d STILL have to cycle home afterwards. 

The first hill terminated in a rocky outcrop with sheep nibbled grass. It felt very remote and bare. The road wound around some rocky spires before descending and on the wind-blown hill, I felt a long way from anywhere. 

I stopped on a long straight road edged with pines and had a drink, then climbed back onto the bike to tackle a steep climb which wound out of the trees and up, twisting up a bare hillside. The wind was in my face and it was tough going. Every pedal stroke took me a little further forward, while the wind tried to push me back. Just keep pedalling. Head down, I pushed on to the top, while a lorry loaded with cut tree trunks on a flat bed roared past me. Every time I looked up, I’d see another bend in the road. Was this the last section? Or did I have another mile of climbing to go? Head down, wind blowing and the rain dripping inside the collar of my jacket, I could see a sign. That was the top, the ‘Welcome to Powys’ sign. 

I propped Evie up against the sign for a photo and treated myself to some pick n mix sweets. It was the BEST pick n mix I had ever tasted. I might have casually picked it up in the Spar the evening before in Caernarfon while I got my coffee but it was a definite highlight of today. Thanks Yesterday Sarah. Good planning.

After the long climb, the downhill was steep and fun. Couldn’t get much speed up due to the sheep on the road and the odd branches and debris from the storm. It did mean I got quite cold though. 

Stopped at the first pub I came to and tucked the bike outside. I had to stay in the conservatory though as I wanted to keep an eye on the bike and it was cold. I changed my jersey for my hoody that I’d slept in (the bliss of a warm, dry top!) and put my waterproof over my legs to try and keep some heat in. I ordered 2 courses and scoffed the entire lot. I also ordered 3 cans of Coca Cola. One for the meal and 2 for my drinks bottle. 

2 sheep tried to get into the pub as I was sitting there. Sheep. They get bloody everywhere.

The few miles afterwards were like I was turbo powered. The meal was the perfect choice and even my legs felt fresh. I soon passed a sign saying welcome to Shropshire and the ‘ARAF’ s disappeared off the road as I was back in England, replaced by ‘SLOW’. Perfect description of my pace by now.

Shrewsbury came quickly and the cycle lanes slowed me down as I had to stop at every junction. I carefully opened my last vestiges of pick n mix and promptly dropped them. I could have cried. I’d carried them up mountains in Wales, past numerous sheep, kept them dry in  a storm … just to drop them in Shrewsbury.

I gave my bike lights a quick charge up while I was on the cycle paths, before darkness fell. I didn’t want to be caught out on the dark lanes by Ironbridge without decent lights.

I passed the Ironbridge and past the road closure and managed to retrace my route from 2 days ago through the dim twilight. I picked up the bike to carry it up the steps of the small iron footbridge and was back on the canal before popping out past the bike shop. 

A very steep hill out of Ironbridge meant I was out of the saddle for almost the first time in the whole 3 days. It didn’t matter if I blew my quads out now. The tough part was done. Nose towards home now. The light was lost and I had all my bike lights on – circles in the darkness.

The daylight was entirely gone after Ironbridge and I had 20 miles of unfamiliar dark lanes to navigate. I don’t like being alone in the dark. Things live in the dark. There were weird noises. I tried not to think about ALL THE HORROR FILMS I HAD EVER SEEN. 

Which of course meant I promptly thought about all the horror films I had ever seen.

I was just regaining my nerve when something hissed at me from a hedge. Just by my left ear. My legs took over before my brain engaged and whisked me out of there. I swear I would have dropped Lance Armstrong on that section.  

Just as my heart rate was slowing down and nearing it’s previous max (pre-hissing-monster-in-hedge-max), a dog chased along with me from the other side of a fence. I really hoped that the owner hadn’t left a gate open. Because quite frankly I was in no mood to be messed with.

Right. Game plan. Sing. 

I have a voice which can ruin even the easiest songs and tarnish silver. Happy birthday? Ruined it. Twinkle twinkle little star? Made small children cry.

So I sang. I was singing (incredibly badly) very loudly so I didn’t think about how spooky it was. The moon was shining through the clouds in classic werewolf style but it didn’t seem to illuminate anything. However, with my truly dreadful singing, the locals would no doubt be locking their windows and barring the doors thinking monsters were abroad.

Not just hissing ones tonight, cycling ones too.  

Finally, a village. And not one which looked like it would have locals with flames and pitchforks. Kinver. It was so pretty and the lit up pubs looked very appealing. But I couldn’t stop. Nearly done. Songs to be sung (badly) and miles to be ridden. But that climb to the church in Kinver – ouch.

Finally ... a sign for Cookley. The last few miles - dark, appalling singing -  and then my car. 


123 miles
2731m climbed
Wales, you were AMAZING.
Sheep, you were weird. (Trees, FFS?)
Cake, awesome.
Mountains, mountainous.
Storm Francis, bitch.
Rach, love you but leave me in Wales again and I’ll eat all your snacks and loot your kit.
Weird vertical mountain path – NOT A CYCLE PATH.
Wales, thank you. 

263 miles
5,903m climbed

NOTE: This cycle ride was August 2020