It was the seagulls that gave it away. Five days after leaving the seagulls of Rhyl behind me, I knew that I’d made it to the South coast of Wales when I heard that unmistakable squawk.
I am in Cardiff and I am completely exhausted. I don’t think I’ve done this much physical activity in a week in my life. I thought of all kinds of things to write during the ride today. If I remember 10% of them now I’ll be impressed.
Let’s unpack day 5.
Climbing out of Merthyr Tydfil
I camped close to the Llwyn-onn reservoir, just up the road from Merthyr. Another good night’s sleep in the tent (cycling over the Brecons will do that for you), disturbed only by the after effects of the swarm of midges that caught me before I put on insect repellant. I think I have somewhere in the region of 1000 bites. It’s not pretty.
After yesterday’s tragi-comic jaunt around Merthyr, I looked with horror at the route which started by cycling down into the hollow of despair and climbing out again to join the cycle path that tracks alongside the Heads of the Valleys Road.
It did not disappoint. The climb just kept on and on. At one point I decided that the Merthyr town planners must either be some kind of sociopathic cult whose mission in life was to make overweight, middle-aged, bald, Welshmen cry (mission accomplished) or else have aspirations for breeding a generation of fell-running champions (will google later). Possibly both. Canalists they were not.
On the plus side, I got most of my climbing out of the way early today. No bad thing.
Can we talk about pebbledash?
Today’s ride took me through lots of council estates. From Merthyr to Cardiff, I travelled through what were clearly some of the toughest neighbourhoods in these parts. Not a deliberate choice of routes, but none-the-less striking.
You could see and feel the poverty. If you know, you know. I wasn’t going to take photos (no-one needs poverty porn).
A salutary reminder that Wales isn’t all beautiful campsites and stunning views. There are lots of people struggling to get by in a post-industrial, global economy that doesn’t need their muscle anymore.
We built houses and communities when we needed labour to extract natural resources. When we didn’t need the labour anymore, we took the jobs away, but left the houses and communities behind. Too many people are trapped by this legacy.
My economic treatise will feature in a future blog, but, for now, can we please talk about pebbledash? I grew up in a council house in Rhyl that was covered in pebbledash. I always thought it was a coastal thing. Something to do with protecting the building from the harsh seaside elements.
Based on today’s ride, I am thinking it was just a standard for Welsh council housing. Does anyone know why? Was this an aesthetic decision by the Merthyr planning cultists?
If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor
Jaw drop moment of the day was when I figured out that I could have followed the canal from Talybont to Newport. What!?
Instead I left the lovely flat towpaths to battle the mountain passes of Brecon and more. Like so much in life, I was fine with my choice until I glimpsed an alternative.
Made me think about how we torture ourselves wanting something that we didn’t get, rather than enjoying what we got, when that was actually pretty good, all things considered.
James nailed it with that lyric from Sit Down, didn’t they?
Glorious sunshine all day. Perhaps a little hot, but the breeze on the massive descents kept me sufficiently cool to make it all okay.
We’ve already discussed the big climb out of Merthyr. Let’s never speak of it again. The cycle path that tracked the Heads of the Valley Road was excellent from a cycling infrastructure perspective, but gave less of a view down the valleys than I had hoped for.
All was forgiven when I hit the cycle path along river Cyldach, a 10km + descent along perfect gravel paths, with a huge valley to the left. It felt like all of the metres of climbing since Rhyl had been leading to this. Joy!
After a short, sharp incline, I came out at what looked to be a canal. Could it be?
There I met one of the best NPCs all trip so far. Bryn: a cyclist, golfer, and fisherman. Sat on a bench at the point I joined the canal. We got to chatting.
Bryn told me that he lived on the canal and revelled in its flatness. Today he had stopped when he saw the “biggest carp I’ve seen in my life”. He’d been sat in the same spot for 1.5 hours watching it come up for flies periodically. He was going to keep watching and learn its pattern , so he could come back later and catch it.
He confided that this was so that he could stick it to his mate who had become a Welsh National fisherman (apparently a thing), but who had only dreamed of a carp like this. I skipped the obvious side mission to help Bryn catch the carp and followed the canal to Newport. Bryn clearly the second high priest of Canalism that we’ve met this trip.
I stopped for lunch in Cwmbran and stumbled across Be:Vito tucked away in an industrial estate. This felt like the resurgent middle class Wales. Outstanding food and terrific service, family owned and buzzing. Check it out if you can. We need more places like this.
More canal, skirting the suburbs of Newport, and finally into Cardiff, where I stopped off at the office of Llamau to meet with Iona from the fundraising team.
Great to hear from Iona about the brilliant work that Llamau does to support young people in need. Very proud to be able to contribute in some small way through the Slow Cycle Around Wales.
Here is that link to make a donation.
Ask me anything (for money)
Bethan (11YO) from Cambridge asks: why is the paracord strap on your speaker unravelling?
Bethan is referring to yesterday’s blog which included a photo of the speaker and an admittedly unraveling paracord strap.
Full disclosure, Bethan is my daughter and made the strap. Although she did make a donation to ask the question, so it’s all above board.
The answer Bethan is that everything is unravelling. The bike has been traveling at high speeds downhill over very uneven ground. Screws are coming undone. Things that were tied down are coming loose. Paracord straps are unravelling. Every morning I have to check everything to make sure it won’t fall off.
Rest assured I am checking the paracord every day. I will make sure that it stays attached. Thank you.
Too tired to write any more. Heading west tomorrow for Swansea and the Gower. Aiming for Tenby in 2 days for a proper rest.