Tour of South Wales – Day Three – July 2021

Tour of Wales (Day Three) – Aberystwyth to Llanelli

Day Three started in a similar fashion to yesterday, with a cooked breakfast to replace yesterday’s calories. One big difference was that we were greeted with blue skies, so the arm warmers & rain jacket were relegated to the luggage! We were packed & on the road by 8.45am for what promised to be another big adventure.

Within 2 minutes of leaving our hotel, we were introduced to the first climb of the day – it was only ¼ mile long, but all of it was at a gradient of 16%! A rude awakening indeed. We joined the A487 for a couple of miles, sharing the road with a few early morning commuters. After about 2 miles we joined National Cycle Route 81, which started off on tarmac, before becoming gravel & finally a mile or so of muddy off-road – normally I’d avoid conditions like this at all costs, however this trip is about trying new experiences. There was one small section where the route was too challenging & we had to walk down a steep, slippery descent – sometimes discretion is the better part of valour.

Some 30 minutes (& only 5 miles) into the ride we joined the A485 at Llanilar, where we started climbing up to Rhos-y-Garth – a steady & consistent 650 foot climb that continued for a couple of miles. All this climbing meant that we only covered 9.7 miles in the first hour – the first time this has happened since one of my Alpine Adventures! As we crested the summit, we left the main road behind & joined an unclassified lane/track & cycled through wild & rugged countryside, with huge views in all directions.

We re-joined the A485 at the 15 mile marker & headed through Tregaron, before picking up the B4343 to Llandewi Trefi (made famous by Matt Lucas as The Only Gay In The Village). We were now following a small river downstream, occasionally switching sides as we passed through numerous hamlets.

We arrived at Lampeter after 28 miles & found a great little cafe, where we enjoyed a berry flapjack & cappuccino – if ever you visit Lampeter, look out for The Minds Eye, you won’t be disappointed!

Leaving town, we found ourselves on the A485 once again as we headed for Carmarthen. By & large the traffic was cyclist friendly with the exception of one lorry driver who scared the living daylights out of us both by trying to overtake, then pulling in on us as he realised there wasn’t room to pass. We survived, so no harm done. This was the part of the route where we clocked up quite a bit of the climbing, but because of the hedges either side of us, there were few opportunities to take in the scenery.

We reached Carmarthen after about 52 miles, so stopped in the pedestrian shopping centre for more nourishment – flapjack & sprite to top up energy levels. We then navigated our way across town, then found a deserted & unclassified road to take us out towards the river Towy at Ferryside, where we got our first view of the coast. This was part of a 10 mile detour & it was a great little addition. One of my aims of this week’s adventure was to live in the moment more & just go with the flow – our Alpine Adventures are organised to the finest detail, so this approach doesn’t come naturally to me.

From Ferryside, we followed a small lane that hugged the Carmarthen Bay coastline as far as Kidwelly, offering up great views of the estuary below. This was almost the last of the scenery as we took the A484 past Pembrey Country Park (where I watched the start of the opening stage of the 2018 Tour of Britain a few years ago – this was a couple of months after Geraint Thomas had won the Tour de France) & on to Burry Port.

We then followed the coastal cycle path into Llanelli, where we found our way across town to our hotel for the night. We had another stunning day in the saddle – different to yesterday, but in no way any less enjoyable.

Tour of South Wales – Day Two – July 2021

Brecon to Aberystwyth

After a huge fried breakfast to replace the calories we burned yesterday, we were ready for anything the day could throw at us. Just as well, as the ride began in rain & with a stiff climb straight out the blocks! Leaving town, we picked up the A470, passing through Felinfach towards Llyswen.

Within 30 minutes the rain had passed us by & we were able to store our rain jackets for a bit. As we reached Llyswen, we joined National Cycle Route 8. This took along the side of the heavily forested Wye valley with occasional views of the river way below us. Just as we joined the B4594 we passed the small village of Erwood where the old railway station had been preserved in pristine condition – there was even an old steam train on display.

From Erwood, we followed the contour of the Valley, making short, sharp efforts to climb 150 to 200 feet above the river, only to plummet back towards the valley floor straight afterwards. The constant change in gradient & elevation made it quite hard going, especially with the bike fully loaded. We briefly joined the A481, then the A483 as we continued to track the river Wye north & west, passing the outskirts of Builth Wells & the Royal Welsh Showground.

We were gradually climbing as we picked up the A470 again & continued in a north-westerly direction, passing through Newbridge-on-Usk (although it’s on the Wye!). The rain made one final attempt to dampen our spirits, but after 15 minutes or so, it gave up the ghost for good. In spite of spending time on A roads today, without exception they were fairly quiet & drivers were really considerate of us. It made the day so much more enjoyable.

At Llanwrthwl we turned off the A470 & took a small back lane up & out the Valley, as we headed towards The Elan Valley – the first shock was when the gradient reared up in excess of 15%. Definitely not what the legs needed! We stopped at the Elan Valley visitor centre to recover & enjoy a piece of banoffee pie & a cappuccino before embarking on a wild & wonderful adventure.

In 1893, 100 local people were moved out of their homes, so dams could be built which would provide fresh drinking water to Birmingham via a 73 mile aquaduct – an incredible feat of engineering in its day which today delivers 360 million litres of water per day to Birmingham!!

For the next couple of hours we climbed from the visitor centre past the 6 dams that make up the reservoir system, climbing some 1,000 feet in the process. The scenery & views were stunning as we switched between forest low down, then sheep covered heartland higher up. In places it reminded me of some of the high Alpine lakes I normally visit. If you get the chance, come & see it for yourself.

As we navigated around Craig Goch, the highest of the reservoirs, we assumed we’d pretty much finished the big climbing for the day – we were in for a big surprise!

The Aberystwyth mountain road(National Cycle Route 81) lived up to its name as we continued climbing for another 3 or 4 miles, with some of the gradients over 10%. There was some respite as we reached Cwmystwyth metal mine, as the road descended for a couple of miles down to the village.

Following a recommendation from a Welsh friend (name withheld, but you know who you are), we took a detour to Devil’s Bridge – this meant more climbing, as we had to get across to the next valley. There was a great little photo opportunity at The Arch, before we dropped down to Devil’s Bridge, famous for its waterfall & for having 3 bridges built one on top of the other over time. Another place worth a visit – we only had time to stop for an ice cream, I double scooped with banana split & vanilla with chocolate cookie!

Surely the climbing was all done now…….. well, no it wasn’t! There were big mountains all around us & we still had another 4 or 5 miles of leg sapping climbing to go. The views helped take our minds off how tired our legs were feeling!

As I stopped to get a photo of the river Ystwyth 100’s of feet below, a red kite glided overhead – if you look carefully you may just see it in the 2nd photo below.

This really was the last of the climbing & we just had to freewheel into Aberystwyth & find our hotel. This has been an epic day out exploring the best that Wales has to offer – I really can’t wait to come back & explore some more. Today’s ride from Brecon came in at 71 miles with 4,800 feet of climbing, a big day out with some stunning scenery on show!!

Tour of South Wales – Day One – July 2021

Bristol to Brecon

For the 2nd year running, my planned trip to the French & Spanish Pyrenees got cancelled. Rather than cry over spilt milk, I spent a few weeks considering alternative options & eventually decided on a 5 day adventure touring around South Wales. I’m delighted to say that my cycling buddy Sean has decided to join me!

This trip is a bit different to usual, as I’m carrying everything I need for the next 5 days on my bike – (my weight = 182 lbs, bike = 40 lbs, kit = 24 lbs) – in other words, I’m dragging 17 stone 8 lbs around with me & up every incline! As a result, this trip is about enjoying the adventure, rather than seeing how fast we can ride.

I met Sean at Mangotsfield Station on the Bristol to Bath cycle path at 8.30 & set off towards the old Severn Bridge crossing via quiet country lanes as we passed through Frampton Cotterell, Gaunts Earthcott & Tockington. With bruised grey skies, there was a constant threat of rain hanging in the air, but we’re on holiday, so a bit of rain wasn’t going to ruin the day. We were surprised by how strong the breeze was as we crossed the bridge & entered Wales, it was a battle to keep the bikes pointing in a straight line.

After skirting around Chepstow, we took the B4235 & started our first climb of the tour – the road was never that steep, as we meandered through the forest, reaching the summit near Shirenewton. From here it was a swift descent into Gwernesney & then on to Usk, where at the 35 mile marker we stopped at #49 for a bacon sarnie & coffee.

We took the B4598 past the windmill at Llancayo & the tank driving school at Kerneys Commander, before taking a left which brought us to the Heads of the Valley intersection. For the next couple miles we were on a busy main road as we followed the A465 towards the road to Crickhowell. A better route would have been to take the B4246 through Llanfoist & Govilon, but you live & learn.

Having left the A465, we joined the much quieter & more scenic A4077, where we bumped along the side of the Usk valley. We decided to stop for coffee & cake in Crickhowell – by this point we were some 52 miles into the ride. Da Latte was a great little find & after demolishing a slice of Terry’s chocolate orange & an americano, we were on our way again.

Leaving Crickhowell behind, we pushed on towards Talybont-on-Usk, where we joined the tow path of the Monmouth & Brecon canal for a few miles of gravel off-roading – this was the highlight of a great day of riding. We had the place to ourselves & it felt like we were in the back of beyond.

A number of my friends are probably picking themselves off the floor at this point, as I usually avoid this type of surface at all cost. However, my new touring bike has 35mm tyres & the purpose of my trip is to try new experiences outside my comfort zone.

All that remained was to pick up the main road for the last mile or so into Brecon & check-in to The Wellington, our pub accommodation for the evening. While we sat relaxing with a beer we both reflected on how quickly our first day had passed by – if our next 4 days follow the same pattern it will be a trip to remember! Tune in tomorrow to see where we’re heading next!!

Tour de Cyprus – Day Two

The Baths of Aphrodite & Chrysochou Bay

Day Two began under blue skies & temperatures of 25 centigrade, with a light breeze – almost perfect cycling conditions, although the wind was forecast to pick up later in the day. Today’s ride started from Bob’s villa & we were on our way by 9am, heading for a day of exploration around the North coast of the island.

We joined the E709 for the 7 mile ascent to Kathikas & almost immediately had huge views out over Coral Bay & on towards Paphos, 100’s of feet below us. As we climbed, the gradient was a fairly consistent 7% – 9% (with one short, steep ramp), resulting in a 1,600 foot gain over the 7 miles. We had a bit of assistance most of the way up, as a tailwind helped us!

As we crested the climb at Kathikas, we found new tarmac, as we joined the E711. This took us along a ridge for a mile or so, before a swooping 10 mile descent into Polis. The road was fast & smooth, with corners that rarely required any braking, as huge views opened up to the coastline 2,000 feet below.

The descent ended as we skirted the edge of Polis & took a left on the E713, passing through Latsi on the way to the Baths of Aphrodite. We followed the coast, occasionally getting views of the turquoise sea just off to our right.

After stopping for a few photos, we turned back on ourselves & headed for the harbour in Latsi, where we’d arranged to meet Bob. After a brief stop for cappuccino & ice cream we were on our way again.

We crossed Polis & picked up the E704 coastal road towards Pomos. As we left town, we were able to join the cycle path, with the sea on our left. The wind was beginning to pick up & we were riding straight into a strong headwind. The views out to sea on our left & up to the Troodos mountains on the right took our minds off the tough conditions. We also passed a couple of small exercise spots, one of them having a static bike which I stopped at for a photo op.

As we reached Agia Marina, we turned around, picking up a proper tailwind back towards Polis. After a couple of miles, we were overtaken by a solo police motorcyclist who appeared to be indicating for us to slow down, but we weren’t too sure – he carried on past us, so we thought no more of it.

A few minutes later another police outrider went past me & was gesticulating for us to pull off the road – I looked behind me & in the distance I could see a convoy of 10 or 15 dark, SUVs heading my way, followed by an ambulance & more police outriders. After a bit of Googling this evening, the Presidents of Cyprus & Georgia met at the Presidential Palace & that was who was in the cavalcade that breezed past us!

We stopped on Polis for a quick lunch, before navigating across town again & embarking on the ascent back up to Kathikas – 2,000 feet of climbing in 10 miles, so it felt like a proper alpine ascent in approaching 30 centigrade conditions! The gradient was consistent throughout, so it was a case of getting into a steady rhythm & then keeping the pedals turning for the next 75 minutes. There were occasional views down towards Chrysochou Bay, which helped keep my mind off the big climb!

I’m out of practice on big, long climbs, so this was more challenging & tiring than I would have expected, but it was also good to test my mental resolve, as well as my physical fitness in such beautiful surroundings. As we reached the summit of the climb, we found out just how much the wind had picked up since the morning.

As we bounced along the ridge, we were taking a real buffeting – never dangerous, but enough to keep us focussed on keeping the bikes pointing in the right direction. Reaching Kathikas, we re-joined the E709 for the descent back into Peyia – this was the same descent we’d done on yesterday’s ride & we’d also climbed it first thing this morning.

This final 7 miles was over in almost no time – as yesterday, we stopped a couple of times to take in the big views towards Paphos in one direction & Lara Beach in the other. It was another cracking day out exploring the beautiful scenery of Cyprus.

We covered 58 miles, climbing almost 5,000 feet in the process. Unlike my normal cycling adventures, we only had 2 days of cycling on this trip, but I know I’ll be taking Bob up on his offer to visit again soon.