Day 6: Cardiff to Penmaen (Gower), distance 110km, climbing 994m

Not gonna lie, that was a pretty miserable day of cycling (albeit with a few non-cycling highlights), but I’m in a dry tent, I’ve eaten, and I’ve got a beer. So what happened?

The real AirBnB

Decided to get an Air BnB last night. No reason other than I knew I would be getting to Cardiff pretty late, there didn’t seem to be an obvious campsite, and wild camping in cities still feels a bit much for me (sorry Adam).

Anyway, I landed a room with Claire and her 10YO doggo, Eddie.

Eddie was nonplussed

This was Air BnB as originally advertised. It felt like visiting with Claire (and Eddie), not just getting a cut price pseudo-hotel.

When Claire’s daughter moved out 9 months ago, she thought she’d have a go at Air BnB to make a bit of money and have some company. She’s practically fully booked and already a super host. She jokes that she should have turfed her daughter out sooner.

A seasoned social worker who has an eye on retirement, you can see the financial attraction for Claire (although she really does need to up her prices). But I got the sense this was more about meeting people than the money. As Claire put it: “the world comes to me” and she has indeed met people from all over the world. She’s also got a good line in banter and lots of stories.

Claire’s garden: an oasis in the city centre

If you need a room in Cardiff, check availability at Claire’s house.

While I’m in recommendation mode, you should also check out Neighbourhood Kitchen, which was just around the corner from Claire’s place, offering fried chicken and beer. Pretty much my perfect night out really.

Neighbourhood kitchen, Cardiff

Ride report

Set off early thanks to no tent faff. Headed to the bay for an obligatory photo in front of the Millennium Centre (below) and then west into a head wind and drizzle.

Wales Millennium Centre, bike for scale

The contrast with yesterday’s sunshine couldn’t have been more stark. And yes, I realise that blogging about how dry the reservoirs were, means that I am not allowed to grumble about the rain, and yet…

Try as I might I just couldn’t find my mojo at all this morning. Even a detour / pilgrimage to Barry Island (location of the wonderful Gavin and Stacey) couldn’t lift my spirits.

The bike with the cast of Gavin and Stacey

The headwind was sapping my strength and there was literally nothing to see other than the drizzle. They route was functional in that it headed in the right direction, but uninteresting in every other respect.

I am not gonna lie, doubts started to creep in as to why the bloody hell I was choosing to do this. I figured I could give you all your money back, make a donation to Llamau myself, delete the blog, get the train home, and just pretend it didn’t happen.

My route took me suddenly off road over a golf course and through a thicket of thorns and gorse bushes. It started to descend at a scary rate and I was seriously cursing my route planning. This was a low point.

I popped out near a pub that had what initially looked like a pancake van in the lot opposite. On closer inspection it turned out to be Chimney Cakes. Intrigued, I got chatting to the owner Graham, who explained that this had all started when he had been laid off from his role as a sales manager when the first lockdown happened.

In his mid-fifties, he struggled to find work and decided to take a risk and set up a Chimney Cake business, inspired by a trip to Prague where he first encountered them. I tried one and am happy to report that they are amazing!

My Chimney Cake, filled with Nutella

Graham was the real star here though. He has become an entrepreneur in his mid-fifties, taking a risk and a loan. Learning tough lessons, but seemingly finding happiness. A bit like Claire, I got the sense that what he really likes is meeting people and he’s found a way to do that while making a living.

When I told Graham what I was doing cycling around Wales, he immediately made a donation to support Llamau. Legend.

Spirits buoyed by meeting Graham and aided by the sugar high, I set off again and quickly hit another routing fail, a set of pebbles across a stream where a path was meant to be.

This is not a cycle route

The detour was large and just as my spirits were starting to flag again, a chap called Alex came alongside and started riding with me. We got to chatting and it turns out he is a Raspberry Pi fan. He is Welsh and has just returned to live in Wales after studying his undergrad, masters, and PhD in England. He has a viva and a wedding in the next few weeks, and a new job in life sciences. Mazel tov.

Alex and I cycled together for maybe 15km. Enough to see me on my way to Port Talbot. the ride from here on was pure grind. Cycle route 4 tracks the M4 and is adequate enough, segregated from traffic for the most part, but only just. It rained constantly and the headwind was unforgiving.

But a combination of Claire, Graham, and Alex got me through.

They each seemed to offer a glimpse of a new economic story for Wales. The soon to be retired social worker who leverages her house to generate income and connection. The ex-salesman who has found a unique product and entrepreneurship late in life. And the bioinformatician who has returned to Wales to start a family and a career in a high tech industry.

As I cycled past the steel works in a Port Talbot, which physically dominated the landscape of the town, I wondered whether it would be enough. Then I stumbled upon Ffordd Amazon. I kid you not. This was one of those mega-distribution centres like we saw in Nomadland.

Ffordd Amazon

From Swansea to Gower was flat and fast, which offset the wind and rain a little. Gower was hilly, but nothing I haven’t seen before. Sad that I won’t see the Gower in the sunshine though. Abandoned my attempt to get to Rhossili beach and pitched my tent in the rain at Three Cliffs.

Ask me anything (for money)

Clennell from Cambridge asks: Five days in, what is your favourite luxury item?

Great question. I thought about this a lot today. First we need to define luxury. I think that luxury items are things that would not be necessary in order to safely complete the ride. that narrows it down a bit.

My answer is therefore my travel aero press. For those who don’t know this is a device for making filter coffee. Bulky rather than heavy, it takes up a lot of space that could be used for more essential items, but it does mean that I am guaranteed a great cup of coffee (provided I have coffee and boiling water off course).

That’s all for today. The weather looks equally grim tomorrow and I have my toughest day of riding yet ahead of me, to Tenby.

Keep the donations coming – Just Giving link here. Send me your questions. And keep up the messages of support. They are honestly keeping me going.

Day 5: Llwyn-onn to Cardiff, distance 97km, climbing 669m

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.

Possibly the highest point above Merthyr

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?

The house I grew up in, with pebbledash

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!?

Turns out the clues were all around me

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?

Ride report

Link to Strava route.

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!

The cycle path along the Cyldach

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.

Canals in the sunshine

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.

Be:Vito in Cwmbran

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.

Iona and me at Llamau’s offices

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.

Day 4: Glasbury to Llwyn-onn, distance: 68km, climbing: 1,000m

Re-reading yesterday’s blog I realised just how shattered I was last night. Forgot loads of stuff that I meant to include! Not least of which was the amazing birds of prey that I saw all day as I travelled through the mountains of mid-Wales.

I’m no ornithologist, so I won’t attempt classification, but they were bloody big and majestic. More on birds of prey below. Let’s unpack day 4.

Power anxiety

As well as a sub-standard blog post (and forgetting to clean my teeth before bed), the other symptom of my exhaustion was messing up my power situation.

I left my garmin connected to the battery pack not realising that it hadn’t been able to upload yesterday’s ride. I think it must have been trying all night, because the half-full battery pack was completely depleted this morning.

Luckily I have an emergency back up, but it doesn’t feel great to be using that on day 4. These battery packs are 20,000 mAh / 72 Wh. So they take a minute to charge. Power anxiety is real. Better type faster.

Fear is the mind-killer, I must not fear

I went to bed last night exhausted and full of fear about the climb into the Brecons today. I feel a bit silly now.

Sure, it was tough, but it was glorious and my legs and lungs were more than up to the challenge.

I really appreciated all of the DMs, comments, and motivational voice notes from folks who offered support. It really helped. Keep them coming. And if you haven’t messaged me with your support yet, perhaps take a moment to reflect on that 😜

What also helped was my cool little speaker and the Sun’s out, guns out playlist that I blasted out (at a moderate volume) up the brutal, lonely climb. Hitting the downhill off the top of the Brecons at 40km p/h to the soundtrack of “Nowhere to run to” by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas is a memory that will stay with me for some time.

Muzen wild mini Bluetooth speaker

I have also started cycling really slowly up hills. Granny gear all the way. This isn’t a race. Feeling much less knackered as a result.

Where’s the water

In yesterday’s blog I noted that the River Wye was running low. I hadn’t realised quite how bad it was. This morning I got chatting to some guys who run a canoe business on the Wye. They said it was grim. They were turning people away because there just isn’t the water to go canoeing, with knock on effects on campsites, B&Bs, cafes and more. It’s not canoeing, it’s the economy.

They joked about rebranding next year to offer walking tours of the river bed of what used to be the River Wye. Quite.

That was on my mind when I cycled up into the Brecons and passed three reservoirs (Talybont, Pontsticill, and Llwyn-onn) all of which are much lower than normal.

Pontsticill reservoir, dryer than usual

Reading about the efforts to reintroduce Golden Eagles to Wales today (which is pretty cool), I wondered if I was guilty of environmental bike-shedding. Excited about the cool birds of prey while the water runs out.

The ride report

Link to the Strava route.

Followed cycle route 8 again this morning, left it, and weirdly picked it up again later in the day. Made a mental note to research this more and consider cycling the whole thing in future (sorry, Jane).

Also realised that there is a thing called the Taff Trail (part of route 8?), which takes a different route from mine into Cardiff. One for another day.

The point at which I left route 8

Most of the climbs were gentle compared to yesterday. Gentle but long. Very long. Tough in a different way.

Long, slow gravel climbs

Delighted to discover canals again. Had a lovely chat over second breakfast in Talybont with a local cyclist who said the canals were a godsend when his legs gave out on a long hilly ride. He would always find the canal and follow it home. The first high-priest of Canalism right there.

Hallelujah for canals

Talybont reservoir was extraordinarily beautiful, if a little lower than typical.

Talybont reservoir

Day’s cycle ended with a wild goose chase around Merthyr Tydfil trying to find some camping gas. Ultimately I was successful, but as you can see from my Strava map (below), it was comical / tragic. Anyone who knows Merthyr will appreciate how much climbing that little jolly involved.

Comical / Tragic cycle around Merthyr

Another big day of climbing, reaching 1,000m, with some significant % being in Merthyr. Felt much more doable today.

Decided to use the camping gas and consume one of my dried meals this evening. That’s 165g I don’t have to carry tomorrow.

Tonight’s supper

Fourth night camping and I am still feeling pretty good about my tent. Had a chat with a chap who was taking his family around the country in a campervan this afternoon and he said “the thing I love about tents and vans is wherever you are and whatever is happening outside, they’re always the same inside”. I liked that.

Ask me anything (for money)

I am so grateful for all of the donations that are still flooding in for Llamau. Click here to make your donation.

I figured I needed a new gimmick to get you lot digging deeper into your pockets (clearly me punishing myself cycling up hills isn’t enough), so I am introducing the Ask me Anything (for money). With due trepidation.

How it works: make a donation on Just Giving. Then ask me a question through a comment or DM or whatever. I will endeavour to answer your question as honestly as I deem appropriate. There are no refunds if you don’t like the answer (it’s for charity dude).

If you have already made a donation, tough. You’ll have to make another one. I don’t make the rules! (Or do I?)

Here’s an example:

Greg (from Cambridge) asks: is it true that you cut your toothbrush in half and why?

Answer. Thank you Greg for your question. The answer is yes, I did saw my toothbrush in half, but not for the reason you might think.

Toothbrush sawed in half

Most people assume that this is some kind of extreme weight wrangling. The lower half of the toothbrush is unnecessary grams and every gram counts, right?

That’s a fun myth that I like to perpetuate, but the truth is that I have a very small wash bag and I needed to cut the toothbrush in half to fit it in. Yes, you can buy a silly folding one, but this is cheaper.

What question would you like to ask? You know what to do…

Tomorrow, I am heading over the valleys and into Cardiff where I will hopefully be meeting the team from Llamau and finding a garden or public park to pitch my tent. The South coast beckons.

Day 3: Llanidloes to Glasbury, distance: 78km, climbing: 1051m

Third day in the bag. The keen eyed among you will notice that I have started including climbing as well as distance travelled in the title. That kind of sums up the day. Honestly, it’s been a tough one.

Rivers and valleys

Started in Llanidloes, which is the first town on the River Severn (or Hafren), as measured from the source on Plynlimon, the highest point in the central range of the Cambrian mountains.

The Roman name for Hafren was Sabrina and Celtic legend holds that she was one of three water nymphs (sisters apparently) who disagreed about the quickest way to get to the sea from the top of Plynlimon.

Ystwyth headed west (we are due to meet her in about a week or so). Varga (the Wye) headed South. And Sabrina, who loved the land, headed east, ultimately becoming the UK’s longest river and presumably losing the bet with her siblings. Incidentally, I love Celtic mythology, it’s proper nuts. Expect more.

The Wye (aka Varga)

I said goodbye to Sabrina and followed her sister south, crisscrossing multiple times and ultimately landing at Glasbury, a town on the banks of the river Wye. One of the crossings was particularly scary (I was very brave though).

The Indiana Jones bridge across the Wye

Here’s the thing I noticed about rivers today: they’re not canals. They share some characteristics with canals, notably that they are both bodies of water. Yet rivers lack the flat towpaths that delight the cyclist and which lulled me into such a false sense of optimism yesterday.

Rivers are in valleys, which have big steep sides that you have to cycle up and down and up again. It’s an obvious point, but one that I had a lot of time to reflect on today as I cycled very, very slowly.

Interesting aside on rivers is that apparently the Wye is incredibly low at the moment due to the absence of rainfall. That is impacting the river activities industry here in Glasbury who are having to drive budding canoeists miles down stream to get their kicks.

The ride report

Link to Strava route.

Today was (sort of) meant to be a rest day. It was anything but.

The original plan was to cycle 58km to Llanfaredd. I knew there were a couple of tough climbs in the mix, but I wasn’t anywhere near prepared for what was to come.

In the end, I climbed over 1,000m, which is the same height as Snowdon. Now I know that lots of cyclists do much more climbing and don’t write blogs about it. But all things are relative and this was tough for me.

By 11 am, I was mentally writing psalms and holy texts for the new religion I was going to found (let’s call it Canalism), which would inspire its devotees to cover the whole of Wales with a network of canals and – crucially – towpaths for cyclists.

By midday, I was seriously contemplating the role that human sacrifice could play in accelerating the spread of Canalism. Then I had a guava bar (thanks sister) and focused on spinning my legs instead. Sleep easy, for now.

Spent lots of the day on cycle route 8, which is a corker. Lots of tarmac, but traffic free, and a decent smattering of gravel tracks and off road sections.

National cycle route 8

The valleys were incredible and photos don’t even begin to capture their scale. The landscape changed as I entered deepest mid-Wales, with forests and ferns taking over from farmlands.

Made it to Builth Wells about 2 pm, grabbed some food and decided to push on to Glasbury. Mostly to try and minimise the riding on day 4.

As I crossed over the last hill before Glasbury I got my first glimpse of the Brecon Beacons, which I am meant to be cycling over tomorrow. If Komoot is to be trusted (and I have my doubts) that includes an uninterrupted 10km climb that will see me ascend 300m (one of many such climbs tomorrow). I am feeling suitably daunted.

Lovely Chats with folks today. Lots of Duke of Edinburgh award leaders, one of which called my blog “posh” which I quite liked.

The award though goes to Viv and Stu, retired grandparents and camper-van aficionados. Spending retirement caring for grandchildren and whenever they can visiting the parts of Wales that they don’t know yet in their van. A very British version of Nomadland. They also made a donation to support Llamau. Legends.

All the gear, no idea

Today’s featured gear is the humble zip tie. Multi tool extraordinaire. Recommended by Adam. I packed a load with no idea how they could possibly be useful.

This morning I saw that the screw holes in my forks, which hold my fork mounted luggage, had broken. No serious damage to the forks but annoying and raised the possibility of having to rethink the whole packing scheme. Three zip ties later and it feels firmly attached again.

Zip ties attaching luggage cage to forks

Keep the donations coming

We are doing an amazing job raising funds for Llamau. Thank you so much to everyone who has donated already and helped to spread the word.

We’ve already raised £3,400 and I know that we do even better.

Here is the link to my Just Giving page. Let’s help Llamau end homelessness in Wales.

Day 2: Llangollen to Llanidloes, 104km

Second day done. I am sat in a beer garden in Llanidloes with a pint and a lamb shank (I realise this isn’t yet sounding very adventurous). The sun is shining. My legs are hurting. All is good with the world. Let’s unpack day 2.

Lamb shank and a pint in the sun

Establishing a routine

Last night was uneventful. I slept like a log despite it being pretty windy outside. My slumber only disturbed by a mad dream where Simon Pegg and Chris Martin persuaded me to manage Coldplay after I negotiated a £4m joining bonus.

Just to be clear, Simon and Chris (if you’re reading), it’s a sabbatical and I am not available. Sorry bois.

My mate Jonathan (who does proper ultra stuff) made me think I need to establish a routine. Some structure to my days on this adventure. I was up at 6.30 and had the coffee and porridge ready 15 mins later. Ablutions. Dressed. Tent down and drying, while I sort out the mechanicals. Bike packed and on the road by 8.30. No need to rush.

Saying goodbye to Abbey Farm campsite

The aim is to get some km under my belt before I stop for second breakfast (always listen to Samwise). More km before lunch. Try to make camp before 5 pm. Ablutions. Eat. Admin. Sleep. Repeat.

How the industrial revolution changed cycling

First stop today was the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which was built by Thomas Telford at the turn of the 18th century. It’s an astonishing achievement towering over the valley below and allowing boats to travel across the River Dee valley, essentially through the sky.

View from the aqueduct

Aqueducts – and canals in general – are a remarkable innovation. The British didn’t invent them though (the Chinese got there in the 10th Century and the Mesopotamians had them 3000 BC).

Seeing them in Wales this week it dawned on me that they effectively remove mountains as a problem for transporting heavy goods. Invaders have been stealing copper, wood and other stuff from Wales for centuries, but the industrial revolution created an insatiable demand for steel, coal, wood and more.

Enter stage left, Thomas Telford and Co, who engineered a way to get plunder (sorry exports) out of Wales and into the foundries of Shropshire at a scale never before imagined.

The cycling benefit of this innovation from the industrial revolution is that canals are flat. That’s kind of their point. Which is why my second day of cycling around Wales was mostly trundling along at a fair old clip and enjoying the rolling hills from the flat tow paths. Some of which were a little overgrown from disuse.

A slightly overgrown towpath

The ride report

Link to Strava route.

Covered a lot of ground fairly quickly on towpaths today. Didn’t do much for my irrational fear of cycling next to water, but flat and fast.

Made a couple of excursions across the border into England (don’t @me).

One major routing snafu involved me trying to cycle through an active quarry. The foreman and I agreed on a diversion.

The quarry I avoided

The kicker was the last 10km after Newtown, which involved three brutal hills in close succession. These were the kind of hills that lead to the founding of religions. The sort of religions that sacrifice thousands of people in the hope that they won’t have to cycle up hills like that again.

16% hills are not fun

The weather was perfect. Slightly overcast, but lovely and warm. Wind at my back all day. Sun broke through just in time for me to make camp.

No mechanicals worth noting. Granny gear repair went well (thank you Duncan).

Legend of the day

NPC and Legend awards are combined today and both granted to Mark. I met Mark at the Knockin Shop, a cafe (yes, an actual cafe), where I stopped for second breakfast.

We got to chatting and Mark asked if I was doing the Slow Cycle for charity. I told him about Llamau and he went and got his wallet and gave me £10 as a donation. What a legend.

Mark. A legend.

If you’re in Oswestry, please pop in and say hi to Mark. And buy some stuff. Places like that are the heart of communities. Use them or lose them.

Also. Be more like Mark. Make a donation to support Llamau. If you’re thinking: “I’ll just read the rest of the blog and have a cup of tea and do it later”. STOP. Do it now.

All the gear and no idea

Instead of a whole blog dedicated to gear (which I fear could be alienating to new readers), I’ve decided to highlight some gear in the daily update. Today it’s the Timber Bell.

This is a passive tiny cow bell that sort of ding-a-lings as you cycle along. Recommended by Al. It is absolute genius on towpaths and other places where you might encounter pedestrians or doggos. Doesn’t sound aggressive. Alerts them to your presence.

Apparently they are also good at warding off bears, which may be why I haven’t seen any yet.

What’s next

Camping at a site (rather than wild) again this evening. Shorter day planned tomorrow. No firm plans on where to camp, but I’m heading for Builth Wells.

Camping and washing

Day 0: Cambridge to Rhyl 354km (by train)

I’m officially at the starting line. I arrived in Rhyl this afternoon after a relatively uneventful – if desperately overcrowded – three-train journey via Nuneaton and Crewe.

Sunny Rhyl did not disappoint, being a whole 10 degrees cooler than Cambridge, overcast, and with sporadic rain.

Sunny Rhyl, not

This evening I’ve enjoyed a slap up Sunday roast courtesy of my big sister, who is putting me up for the night in Rhyl.

She is an experienced cyclist and has furnished me with chamois cream, guava blocks, and vitamin b supplements; all of which I am told are essential. I also passed a meticulous kit inspection with only the absence of a bumbag being criticised. I declined the generous offer of a loan of hers. Some sibling boundaries just shouldn’t be crossed.

Saying goodbyes

On Friday I started a mini-sabbatical from work, which means that I am properly switching off until the start of September. This will be the longest break I’ve had in 25 years, which is only just starting to sink in.

The sabbatical coupled with the bike ride means that I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past week saying goodbyes. It’s all been rather lovely to be honest and I have really appreciated the advice, encouragement, and banter.

A particular favourite was the friend who confided in me that “No-one thinks for a minute that you’ll finish it, mate. That doesn’t matter, we’re just all looking forward to seeing how far you get”. Quite.

This morning was a little bit emotional as I said goodbye to Jane, Dylan, Bethan and Prim.

Bethan (11YO) made me a good luck card

Jane made breakfast. Bethan made a good luck card. Dylan made it out of bed in time to see me off. Prim made cute doggo faces. In terms of relative effort, Dylan (the teenager) wins hands down. I know I’m only going away for a couple of weeks, but I’m gonna miss those guys. And the rest of you.

Raising funds for Llamau

So far we have raised an incredible £3,000 to support Llamau’s work to end homelessness in Wales. And I haven’t actually started the ride yet.

I originally set a fundraising goal of £2,500 and I am wrestling a bit with whether I should up the target or just keep overachieving. I am sure there is some research somewhere that says which is most effective. Let me know in the comments if you know.

One friend assured me that whenever he posted a photo of Bob Geldof on his fundraising pages, the volume and value of donations increased. Some kind of collective neurolinguistic / visual programming that means we feel compelled to give him the f@*#ing money now.

Bob Geldof swearing on Band Aid 1984

If you haven’t made a donation yet, please do. Llamau does amazing work and with your support they can help many more young people in Wales.

Click here to donate (takes you to Just Giving).

Thinking about blogging

I’ve been thinking a bit about how best to do this blogging thing when on route. Long time readers will know that it was inspired by my mate Chris M who created a daily newsletter when he cycled across the USA.

I was struck last night speaking to several friends who had seen the blog on their social feeds and who all assumed that I had done the ride already. A stark reminder that we are all bombarded with stuff all day long online and we can’t possibly process anything but a fraction of it. The fire-hose as Twitter affectionately calls it.

So I think that this blog is really a kind of journal. A record of what happens over the next two weeks or however long and far it ends up being. Something for me to look back on and for you to read if you want to.

Tomorrow it begins.

All the gear, no idea (part 1)

In which I share info about some of the equipment I will be using on the Slow Cycle Around Wales

My last post was all about feelings. In this one, I’m going to change gear and talk about gears and other equipment. Think of it as restoring balance in the universe.

If gear isn’t your thing, you can get straight to the donating action by clicking this link (takes you to my Just Giving page). Don’t forget to subscribe (big button on the left) before you go!


I want to start with some thank yous. A year ago I knew nothing about bikepacking. What little knowledge I have now is largely thanks to my much more experienced friends: Adam, Al, Clennell, Greg A, Greg F, Justin, Marc, Phil, and Tom have all been generous with their wisdom and never made me feel stupid for asking stupid questions or buying dumb stuff.

I also want to give a shout out to, which is packed with inspiration and advice. If you’re thinking of creating your own adventure on a bike, this is a great place to start.

The bike

The vague idea of what is now the Slow Cycle Around Wales germinated in August 2021 when I took delivery of a new gravel bike: a Sonder Camino AL.

Sonder Camino AL – fresh out the box August 2021

At the time, the world was in the grip of a Covid-induced supply shock. Demand for bikes (and other things) had gone through the roof and supplies of components were under pressure due to factory closures and supply chain breakdowns caused by this pesky virus.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, a boat called the Ever Given got stuck (ridiculously) in the Suez Canal, which screwed up global shipping for months, and the UK was just starting to realise that Brexit would make it harder to get stuff from Europe.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that there wasn’t a lot of choice for the discerning purchasor of bicycles.

After weeks of struggling to find anything, Greg A (a serious adventurer) suggested I check out Sonder bikes made by the folks at Alpkit, a UK-based group of designers, makers, and sellers of all kinds of adventure gear. I read some reviews and couldn’t give them my money quickly enough. Four months later, I had new wheels.

The Camino is a lot of fun. Made for gravel adventures, but capable enough on tarmac. It isn’t a particularly expensive bike, but it’s well-made and copes with being packed up with bikepacking gear and thrown around rough terrain with aplomb. I committed the cardinal sin of not having a bike fitting or even trying it out before I bought it. Feel free to remind me how dumb this is in the comments. Call it luck, but it seems to fit me just fine.

Pimping my ride

The Camino comes with the SRAM Apex group set (that’s the chain, gears, etc), which is one-by with 11 gears. That means that it has one cog at the bit where you pedal, which means fewer gears overall, less weight, less stuff to go wrong, and is very fashionable. My experience so far has been that the gearing is low enough to get up the most vicious of hills. This will be tested over the coming weeks.

I opted for the flat bar because I wanted something that I could ride off road for long distances and I find dropped bars a bit scary when going downhill on anything other than smooth tarmac (and even then…)

I didn’t particularly like the handlebar that came with the Camino and, after A LOT of research over several months, I swapped it for the KOGA Denham bar, which was designed by bicycle touring legend Alee Denham. You can read the story behind the design here. This is a game changer, combining the best of flat and dropped handlebars. Also Alee’s blog is an incredible resource.

KOGA Denham bars image from

Taking Alee’s advice I also went for a set of Ergon GP1 grips, which are designed for comfort on long bike tours. Al has helped me get the angles right.

On Adam’s advice I flipped the handlebar stem to make the handlebars a little higher, which feels much more comfortable. One lesson I am learning is that bike fitting is all about making tiny tweaks.

I got the 650b wheels, which are a bit smaller than the typical 700c, and a tubeless set up, which means that the tyres have sticky goop in them rather than inner tubes. Both of these decisions divide opinion and I invite your feedback in the comments, which I will ignore, because I like my wheels.

Finally, I upgraded to a Brooks Cambium C17 saddle, which seems to be very comfortable so far. Again, this is going to be properly tested soon.

Bikepacking bags

If you thought that choosing and kitting out a bike was nerdy, wait until you hear about bikepacking bags.

The basic premise of bikepacking is that you load up your bike with everything you need for a multiday (week, month, or year) adventure and off you go. You can go further and faster than hiking and, provided you have some basic skills and a little bravery, you can wild camp your way around the world. Freedom from the tyranny of timetables.

The challenge is how you most efficiently attach all of your stuff to your bike and that’s where bikepacking bags come in. Rather like the bikes themselves, this is a bottomless pit into which you can throw all of your hard earned cash.

There are loads of brands and companies innovating like crazy, all of them coming from what Charlie Leadbeater described as the pro-am movement. Bikepackers are designing the products they want.

After much agonising, I opted for:

My bike with bikepacking gear
Camino fully loaded with bikepacking bags

Tent and sleep system

Before you @me, I am well aware that using the phrase “sleep system” makes me sound like a plonker. Go easy on me babe, I didn’t invent this jargon.

Pretty much everything in bikepacking is a trade off between comfort, weight, and cost. Nowhere is this more true that with your tent and sleep system.

The tent in the wild

My tent is the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1, which is a light weight one person tent that has shorter poles to make it easier to pack on a bike. The mattress is Thermarest Neo Air Xlite, the pillow is the Nemo Equipment Fillo Foam, and the quilt is a Sea to Summit Ember. Sleeping bags versus quilts is another heated topic of debate, see you in the comments.

So far, I’ve spent about ten nights sleeping with this set up and it seems to work just fine. The tent is pretty small and, with the benefit of hindsight and fewer budgetary concerns, I might have sacrificed the 300g extra and got the 2 person version. Bygones.

Other stuff: coming soon in part 2

Bike, Bikepacking Bags, Sleep System. Those are the core elements of the gear.

There is a lot of other stuff involved in this bikepacking adventure (clothes, food, cooking equipment, toilette, maintenance and repair, electronics), but this post is already too long and it’s the hottest day in recorded history here in the UK, so I’ll save the rest for part 2.

Let’s end homelessness together

As part of this crazy adventure, I am raising funds for the fabulous charity Llamau, which is on a mission to end homelessness in Wales.

You can make a donation through my Just Giving page or you can send me the cash in any means available to you and I will send it on to Llamau.

Huge thanks to everyone who has donated already and please remember that it is completely acceptable to donate more than once (I’m looking at you, Louise).

Rides since last post: four

8km. 23km. 66km. 23km.

I’ve been taking it steady post-Covid. Still getting tired too quickly for my liking.

How does it feel to have two weeks to go?

In which I talk about my hopes and fears with just two weeks to go until I embark on the Slow Cycle Around Wales

A quick recap for anyone who is new to this blog or just forgetful: my plan is to cycle (slowly and clockwise) around the circumference of Wales. I’ll be starting in my hometown of Rhyl and the route is around 1,400 km with around 15,000m of climbing.

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.

As part of the journey, I am raising funds for the fabulous charity Llamau, who are on a mission to end homelessness in Wales. If you can’t be bothered to read the blog, do the decent thing and donate by clicking this link (takes you to Just Giving).

Once more with feeling

Since I started writing this blog, I’ve had some lovely comments, feedback, and advice from friends and strangers (thank you). One of my dearest friends was a little critical (the quote below is abridged, but reflects the general sentiment of a very long WhatsApp message).

I am reading a lot of facts. I’d like to read more feeling. I’d like to know more about your fears, highs, lows, your insights. I think you need to write more about the human experience.


This is feedback that I’ve only heard from one person, so presumably everyone else is happy with the lack of emotional connection to my feelings in these blogs. For you, normal service will resume shortly.

That said, I have read that repressed feelings are bad for one’s health and, so, in the interests of pleasing this one reader and perhaps providing myself with some health-inducing catharsis, here are some of my hopes and fears about the Slow Cycle Around Wales. In no particular order.

1. Will I be able to finish? This is the big one and it’s about pride and shame and ego, all bundled into one horrible Freudian mess. My original plan was to do this ride very quietly. Maybe tell my wife and kids (lest they report me as a missing person), but otherwise sneak off and have a go safe in the knowledge that if injury, mechanical failure, or lack of legs prevented me finishing, it would be a mostly private pain. Then I launched a blog and a fundraiser, and suddenly the stakes feel much higher. They call it a commitment device for a reason. I hope that you will be kind, gentle reader, if ill-fortunate thwarts my plans.

2. Have I got the legs and lungs? Really a subset of (1). Two weeks ago, I was pretty confident that I had both the legs and the lungs to get round the course. Yes, I was properly scared of the hills and there are a couple of days on the route that look bloody hideous (we’re looking at you days 10, 11, and 12), but my training was going well and a couple of practice bikepacking trips had given me confidence. Then I got my third dose of Covid. It hasn’t made me particularly unwell, but my training has taken a hit and both legs and lungs are feeling weaker. I am trying to convince myself that this is tapering, but the truth is that I am worried that I lost some conditioning at just the wrong moment.

3. Will I learn something about myself on the mountains? This is more of a hope than a fear, although I guess it depends what I learn. I talked about motivation in a previous blog and incidentally this was the one that elicited the “constructive” feedback about a lack of emotional connection. Danny Kaye said that “to travel is to take a journey into yourself” and truth be told, I am looking forward to the opportunity to get to know myself a little better. At 49 years old, I have a lot of shit to process and this is marginally cheaper than therapy. Who knows, I may even find some redemption up there on the mountains.

4. Eating and shitting. Speaking of processing shit, I suspect that my time for self-reflection and introspection will be somewhat curtailed by the overwhelming concerns of finding my next meal, followed unavoidably by finding somewhere to safely evacuate my bowels. If this is too graphic for you, I wish you luck when reading the daily updates when I am on route. In any case, I have emergency rations and a Cathole Trowel. Toilet paper however is going to be a constant concern.

5. Do I enjoy my own company? A subset of (3), but following on immediately would have ruined the “processing shit” gag in point (4), which I quite enjoyed. Credit for this hope / fear goes to Tom Allen, bikepacker extraordinaire and author of How to Hit the Road, one of the many great books I read while preparing for the Slow Cycle Around Wales. Tom cautions that anyone planning a long bicycle journey is going to get know themselves really well and there is always the risk that you won’t like who you find. I feel that there’s only one way to answer this question. Let’s call it a hope.

6. What happens when I get lost? Speaking of finding myself (see what I did there), regular readers will recall that I have no sense of direction. I have planned a route, which will be loaded onto a GPS device and a phone (see power anxiety below). However, I am assuming that getting lost is an inevitability and will – at best – lead to unnecessary kilometres and at worst to something altogether less pleasant.

7. Power anxiety. My fear of getting lost (and cycling in the dark) gives rise to “power anxiety” a condition that afflicts riders when their electronic devices run low on electricity. This isn’t just my safety at stake; without power there will be no daily blog post for you to enjoy. My friend Fran who has cycled around countless countries suggested that I get solar panels. I reminded her that I was cycling around Wales, to which she responded “oh yes, that’s not going to work is it”. The big debate is whether to install a dynamo (expensive, heavy, slows you down) or carry more battery packs (expensive, heavy, need charging). With less than two weeks to go. I need to get off this fence soon.

8. The kindness of strangers. One of the common threads in bikepacking books and blogs is the kindness of strangers that they enjoy on the road. I have high hopes of meeting fellow travellers and locals who cheer me on and offer small kindnesses to help me on my way. I have already been touched by the lovely folks at Abbey Farm Llangollen who offered me a night’s lodging for free when they heard that I was raising funds for Llamau. I look forward to meeting many characters and learning more about the Land of My Fathers, the people and their culture. For some reason, I expect to meet the NPCs from Darren’s D&D adventures (although why there would be Mexican accents in Wales I have no idea). Nevertheless, I hope to get drunk with them and hear their stories and songs. Blanche DuBois, eat your heart out.

Catastrophic breakages, impassable mountains, extreme weather, man-eating dogs, highway robbery, running out of toilet paper – the list of adverse scenarios on a bike tour is as long as you want it to be.

Tom Allen, How to Hit the Road

9. Mechanicals. Bikes are wonderful machines. There’s a reason their design has barely changed in hundreds of years. But like all machines, they are prone to wear and tear. I will be loading mine up with too many kilos of human and too many kilos of stuff and then throwing it around mountains and trails. Things are gonna break. (Them’s the breaks as BoJo would say). Some I will be able to fix. Others I won’t. Pray that the catastrophic mechanicals happen within a reasonable walk of the nearest bike shop. Let’s chalk it up as a hope.

10. The weather. Finally (although honestly I could go on for much longer), the weather. I grew up in Wales, so I have no romantic fantasies about the weather being kind. It rains. A lot. Even in the summer. There will be wind. Sometimes there will be wind and rain. Occasionally, there will be sunshine, but that will only serve as a cruel reminder of how much wind and rain there is. I have waterproof clothing. I am not afraid.

That did feel cathartic. Thank you Becky. Over the next few days, I’ll be finalising the kit list and starting packing. Subscribe for updates. Don’t forget to donate and remember that it is okay to donate more than once.

Rides since last post: none

Covid has prevented me doing any training. Let’s call it tapering.

Help to end homelessness in Wales

In which I explain how you can help to end homelessness in Wales by supporting my slow cycle ride

TL;DR : I am using my Slow Cycle Around Wales to raise money for the brilliant charity Llamau. Skip the explanation and get straight to the giving-money action by clicking here.

Do we really need another charity fundraiser?

When I started talking to friends about my idea to cycle slowly around Wales, one of the most common questions was “Which charity are you doing it for?”

My initial response was that I was doing this for me, not for charity. I just want to ride my bike. I’ve got enough to worry about, I don’t need extra pressure. Basically, give me a break! That elicited a few different responses.

Some were relieved, clearly fatigued by the constant asks from runners and riders and sellers of cookies. Who needs another fundraiser!

Others were understanding, recognising that the motivation for the trip wasn’t about raising money (see previous blog post on motivation).

More than a few were not impressed: why would I pass up an opportunity to raise money / awareness for a good cause? Didn’t I understand how my privileged position could be used to serve others?

I’m not going to lie, this latter point hit home a bit. If I’ve learnt anything about philanthropy, it’s that the main reason people give money and time to charities is because someone asks them (Helen G knows what I mean). It was starting to feel a bit lazy to not use the Slow Cycle to do a little good in the world.

Probably the most valuable comment I got (from more than one wise friend) was: if you’re going to raise money for a charity, make sure it’s something that you care about.

Improving the lives of young people in Wales

Rubicon crossed, I knew that I wanted to support a charity focused on improving the lives of young people in Wales. Why?

I grew up in Rhyl, which was one of the most deprived towns in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s (when I was growing up) and sadly still is today. I’m not shitting on Rhyl. I think it has masses of potential and is filled with all kinds of lovely, clever, caring, and brilliant people. But…

For too many kids in Rhyl, life is hard, fragile, and filled with trauma. The economy is a shit-show. Aspirations and expectations for what you can achieve in life are far too low. Their parents are so busy dealing (or not dealing) with the consequences of their own childhood traumas that they struggle to parent well. It’s an epigenetic hot mess.

My experience was growing up in Rhyl, but I know there are towns and villages all over Wales that sing the same song.

If you’re lucky (and I was), you find love, support, and inspiration in your extended family and from good-hearted, generous people that you meet by chance as you tumble through life. Others aren’t so lucky and that’s where community organisations can play such a vital role.

So I was looking for a charity that worked with disadvantaged young people, ideally helping them develop their aspirations and skills. I decided to crowdsource some ideas from twitter.

From the responses to that tweet, I discovered 40 organisations working in communities all over Wales. I spent late nights in April and May reading websites and impact reports, scrolling through their social media accounts and watching their videos. I saw loads of examples of brilliant organisations doing heroic work to help kids in places like Rhyl, all over Wales. Humbling.

Imagining a world without homelessness

One name kept coming up and the more I looked into their work, the more impressed I was. They’re called Llamau.

Llamau is a charity based in Cardiff that works all over Wales to support young people and women who are at risk of homelessness.

They have a 30+ year track record of making a difference when it matters most. Working proactively to prevent homelessness, providing a safe place to live for those who sadly do become homeless, and helping those who have experienced it get back on their feet and chart a positive future.

You can read more about the brilliant work that Llamau does on their website or you could take my word for it and donate to support them by heading over to my Just Giving page. Every penny will make a difference and you’ll earn my eternal gratitude.

Just three weeks to go until I set off on this crazy adventure. If I’m honest, it’s still mostly for me, but I really hope that I can also use this trip to raise some awareness and money that can support Llamau’s crucial work.

Don’t forget to subscribe for updates and leave a comment with any advice, ideas, or encouragement.

Rides since last post: three

18km. 49km. 57km.

In my defence, it’s only been a week since the last blog post and I have managed to catch covid (again).

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.