Finding my way

In which I explain how I have approached route planning for the Slow Cycle Around Wales

I have never been particularly good at finding my way around.

Some people seem to have a sixth sense that means they always know where they are and which direction they should be headed. For a long time I suspected that this was just a question of self-confidence; as in: they don’t really know where they are or where they are going, but they approach it with an entirely unwarranted air of confidence. Jane knows what I mean.

As the evidence has mounted over the years, I have conceded that most people do genuinely seem to be more in tune with their place in the world than I am.

This isn’t a metaphor. I am being quite literal. Spatial awareness isn’t one of my strengths. You get good at what you practice and I haven’t put the work in.

All of which is a long way of saying that one of my first challenges when deciding to cycle slowly around Wales was simply how will I know which way to go?

Someone must have done this before

My first thought was that someone must have done this before.

A little googling led me to this wonderful blog by Chris Knight, who describes himself as a “budget version of Ray Myers”. An ex-rugby professional, Chris cycled the coastal path from Chester to Chepstow in July 2019 without any training on the bike and no experience of wild camping.

The Welsh coastal path is designed for walking and large segments are completely unrideable, meaning that Chris spent quite a lot of time carrying his bike – fully laden with his camping gear and supplies – up and down steps and over rocks, not to mention dragging it over sand dunes. So, while I continue to take a lot of inspiration from his journey, I wasn’t particularly excited about the coastal path idea.

I also discovered Richard Barrett’s excellent book Cycle Touring in Wales. Richard’s approach couldn’t be more different. He likes tarmac, doesn’t carry his bike at all, and prefers B&Bs to wild camping on the side of mountains. He is a classic bicycle touring kind of guy and this is a proper guide book, packed with useful insights and detailed (and I mean really detailed) directions.

Reading Chris and Richard’s equally compelling, but very different approaches, I decided to aim for somewhere in the middle. I want some off-road adventure and wild camping, but I want to balance that some quick progress over tarmac and towpaths, and the occasional warm bed and hot shower. This meant I needed to plan my own route.

There’s an app for that

Technology has long since solved the problem of my lack of spatial awareness. Provided you have a charged device and a connection, you can’t really go wrong.

The words “provided you have” are doing a lot of work in that sentence, but let’s assume for a moment that I will have a charged and connected device at all times. How do you go about planning a cycle around a country?

I turned to apps and spent my evenings for several weeks researching routes and segments on Komoot, Strava, Garmin Connect, and Google Maps, trying to connect together noteworthy gravel segments and stunning locations, while avoiding major roads and traffic. I also “want hills”, but not “all the hills, all the time”.

Ultimately, I settled on Komoot to plan the route. It’s still a work in progress (and doubtless will be until the last minute), but you can check it out here and I’ve included a screen grab image below (because Komoot and WordPress don’t play nice together).

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face

Given that I was born in Rhyl, it felt like a natural place to start and finish the journey. The first choice was whether to travel clockwise or anticlockwise. This is one subject on which Chris and Richard agree. Richard had analysed prevailing wind conditions and meteorological reports to determine that clockwise was the preferred direction. Chris has just set off anticlockwise and faced a brutal headwind. Clockwise it is.

As you can see from the map, I haven’t strictly kept to the “cycling the circumference” idea. I head in land on a few sections – sometimes quite significantly – to either avoid horrible roads or because there are sections that I really want to cycle and things that I really want to see.

The trip is organised into rides that average around 100km per day, in most cases ending at a campsite. I am trying to cover longer distances on the days when the climbs aren’t so brutal. My plan is to cycle on 14 days, with at least one full rest day (currently planned for Saundersfoot, where it just so happens there is a rather lovely spa).

While I think I’ll broadly follow the route, I don’t expect to follow the schedule and that’s kind of the whole point of carrying bikepacking gear. I don’t want to be stressing about whether I am going to make it to campsite X or Y on time. If it’s windy or raining (quite likely) then I’ll slow down. If I am feeling good, I will push on.

If you have any feedback or ideas on how the route could be better, or any other useful tips, please put them in the comments. Make sure you subscribe for updates, you can always unsubscribe if it gets too dull.

Rides since last post: 12

83km. 47km. 68km. 82km. 49km. 76km. 167km. 40km. 77km. 73km. 47km. 47km.

This includes two overnight bike packing excursions, which allowed me to test the kit wild camping. Some tweaks needed.

Unpacking why

In which I explore why I am planning to cycle around Wales


This post was originally published on Substack on 19 April 2022. At that time, I was trying out the idea of a newsletter. I have subsequently discovered that it is really difficult to write on Substack on a mobile phone, so I have decided to migrate the content over to my blog.


Why am I planning to cycle around Wales? Honestly, I don’t remember where the idea came from and I don’t know why it stuck. What I know is that it has become an itch that I feel the need to scratch.

I currently have four possible explanations, all of which are true to some extent.

  1. I am Welsh
  2. I like riding bicycles
  3. I needed a goal
  4. I’ve been locked down for too long

I am Welsh

I was born and raised in Rhyl in North Wales. “Sunny Rhyl” as it is often called.

I can’t be alone in thinking that anything that needs to include an adjective in the title is generally not to be trusted. The “Quality Inn” is almost certainly not a five star establishment. The “People’s Democratic Republic” is unlikely to be a country that holds free and fair elections. You get the point.

I suspect the whole “Sunny Rhyl” thing was started by a Wales Tourism Bureau officer with a sense of humour. I imagine a set of ironic postcards designed for the English tourists who were trapped in their caravans eating soggy chips while it pissed it down outside.

The point is that, despite having lived in England from the age of 20, I remain stubbornly Welsh. I genuinely love the country and the culture. Like many ex-pats, my sense of national identity has grown rather than diminished over the years.

I’ve visited often. To spend time with family. To watch the Welsh team play rugby (sadly, losing more than winning). To enjoy the countryside. Some of my fondest memories have been introducing non-Welsh friends to Wales.

I am not sure any of that really explains why I feel compelled to cycle around the whole country though. Lots of people feel warmly about their motherland (or land of their fathers), without needing to circumnavigate it. I suppose I should just be grateful I wasn’t born in Canada, which has a circumference of 356,000 km.

I like riding bicycles

Ever since my Nan bought me my first bike aged 11, I have loved cycling. It was a bright orange Raleigh with dropped handlebars. I remember it felt like liberation.

I did quite a bit of mountain biking in my youth, where I learned on the Welsh mountains that up == down. As a grown up living in Cambridge and working in London, I’ve pretty much always commuted by Brompton. I’ve cycled for pleasure (occasionally) and on a Peloton for fitness (don’t judge me). Perhaps lycra was inevitable.

I started cycling with more of a purpose at the end of August 2021 when I got bored of getting shin splints from running (what one of my doctor friends rather unkindly called “fat guy running on concrete disease”).

Some friends welcomed me into their weekend cycling group and showed extraordinary patience while they waited for me to catch them up. Sometime between that first ride in late August and writing this newsletter, I decided to cycle around Wales.

I needed a goal.

For most of my adult life I didn’t do much in the way of exercise at all. That changed in 2012 when I was diagnosed with a disease that affected my lungs. Apart from taking copious amounts of steroids, one of the only things I could do to lessen its impact was exercise. Ever since, I’ve tried to exercise pretty regularly and it’s honestly a habit that I wish I’d started sooner (take note kids).

Other than the occasional game of badminton doubles, I don’t do team sports and I’ve learnt that I need goals to keep me going. At one stage I outsourced the whole goals thing to personal trainers, which was fun and expensive in equal measure. I’ve signed up to online programs. Done couch to 5k and even some 10km running programmes. So when I started cycling, it felt like a good idea to set a goal.

I’ve been locked down for too long

The past couple of years have been all kinds of miserable for pretty much everyone on the planet and, while I count myself incredibly lucky in terms of the impact that the pandemic has had on me and my family (minimal), I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling as though my world has closed in a bit. I am craving some adventure.

Having written all of this down makes me wonder whether I am really just trying to rediscover some of that sense of liberation that I felt on a bright orange Rayleigh bike with dropped handlebars cycling around the hills of Wales.

I’m bloody lucky to have the option

I also acknowledge that I am bloody lucky to have the option. My family is perfectly able to cope without me and generous enough to let me have a go. I am able to take the time off work. I can afford the necessary – and some unnecessary – equipment. While I suspect it will be painful in part, my body should be up to the task. Not everyone is so lucky.

That’s all for now. I’ve tried to open up the comments, although I think you need to have subscribed to receive my newsletters to make a comment. Subscribe for updates, you can always change your mind later. I’d love to hear what you think.

Rides since last post: five

35km. 95km. 79km. 62km. 78km.

The short ride was a first attempt with the full bikepacking gear. Spoiler: it’s heavy. All rides benefited from Spring sunshine, not much wind, and largely flat topography. I really need to find more wind, rain, and hills if I am going to be ready for Wales.

A slow cycle around Wales

My plan to spend a couple of weeks on a bike in the land of our fathers


This post was originally published on Substack on 5 April 2022. At that time, I was trying out the idea of a newsletter. I have subsequently discovered that it is really difficult to write on Substack on a mobile phone, so I have decided to migrate the content over to my blog.


Some time over the past 6 months I decided that I should cycle around the circumference of Wales. The current, rather vague, plan is to do this in late July 2022, with a fallback of September depending on work and family commitments.

The route I’ve sketched out starts in Sunny Rhyl and goes clockwise. It is about 1,400km long with something like 15,000m of climbing. A mix of off-road, tarmac, and cycle paths. I expect to return to Rhyl approximately 14-16 days after setting off. This is a tour not a race.

I am doing it solo and unaided, which means carrying my camping and cooking gear, clothes, repair and maintenance kit, and everything else on the bike. And no, I’ve never done anything like this before.

I’ll explore the rationale for the trip in a future newsletter. Much to unpack there.

The idea of a newsletter is much easier to explain. It was inspired by my friend Chris M. who once cycled across America on a tandem. He published a daily newsletter that gathered quite the cult following. Chris is a much better writer than me and I have no aspirations for this newsletter to be as witty, insightful, or well-read as his.

What really inspired me to follow Chris’s example was his observation that having a newsletter to write gave him something to think about when he was on the bike. I sort of dismissed the thought at the time (too difficult, self-indulgent, surely I’ll be focused on the stunning landscapes).

That all changed last Saturday when I did my longest ever ride: 217km (Kings Lynn to Southwold). It was nearly 11 hours of cycling. Hard work. Beautiful sunshine (until the last two hours in the dark). Lots of time to think. That’s when Chris’s advice came back to me and I decided to give this newsletter thing a go.

We’re at least a few months out from the actual event so, for now, this will be a place to explore my motivation, preparation, anxieties, fears, and hopes. I think it might be helpful to have a record of this pre-ride phase to look back on. It might even help me get advice from more experienced adventurers before I set off.

I also see it as a commitment device. The more people I tell about my plan, the lower the likelihood of me finding excuses for not following through. Professor Thaler would be proud.

Ultimately, I hope this newsletter will give me something to think about on the bike and a way of sharing some of the experience with friends.

If you’re here, please subscribe. If it turns out to be shit, you can easily unsubscribe or send me to your spam folder. I won’t take it personally.

Feel free to leave a comment. I am particularly in the market for stories of people who have been on similar adventures.