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Mussolini's Travels

Discussion in 'Free Fire Zone' started by Mussolini, Mar 16, 2017.

  1. Mussolini

    Mussolini Gaming Guru

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    I decided I would write up a trip report from when I went to Wales 2 Years ago. I did a bike Tour (bicycle) by myself, carrying my gear, and only traveled ~300 miles over the course of 8 or 9 days. I started in Chester (in the UK) and rode along the majority of the North Coast of Wales, before traveling down the top part of the West Coast of Wales, then darted inland to go over the Welsh Mountains and Brecon Beacons into Cardiff, my end destination. From Cardiff I took a train back to Chester and then flew back to the states from Manchester. I took a few pictures here and there and visited some sites along the way. I will have to check google, but I am quite sure I went to the Cheshire Military Museum in Chester and a dew other ones.

    This will give me a good chance to test the function of photos embedding into the new forum software as well, so I shall start from the beginning of my trip!
     
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  2. Mussolini

    Mussolini Gaming Guru

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    The Beginning

    Some of you may know of my British Heritage and my story starts with that.

    My Father was the son of a Welshman who can trace his family roots back to Ireland in the late 1800's. My Grandfather served in the RAF during WW2 and resided in Cardiff after the War, though I believe his family (and that of my grandmother) may have lived in Chester or Liverpool prior to that. My Father grew up in Cardiff and passed away in 2013. So part of my reason for wanting to go to Wales was to honor his memory and see where he grew up. My mother is the daughter of Irish Immigrants to England and in 2013 I had a less-successful bike tour of the West Coast of Ireland. If you are interested in seeing my pictures and hearing my story from that trip, let me know and I will start a new thread with those.

    Despite being born in LA myself, I am a middle child and both of my sisters were born in the UK. My mother was apparently 8 months pregnant with me when my parents moved to LA for two years. We lived back in the UK for 6 years and returned to the States when I was 8. Apart from a week-long interlude in the middle of high-school where we moved back to the UK before saying sod-it-all and moved back 'home' to the states, I have lived on this side of the pond ever since.

    Growing up in the UK, we spent a lot of time visiting Chester, where my grandparents had moved long before I was born to be closer to family in the area. My great-uncle (my grandfathers younger brother) still lives in Birkenhead and is an ardent Blue - Everton Supporter - while I still support my Gunners of Arsenal. I met him for the first time several years ago and was able to share stories with him - he was 8 years younger than my Grandfather so lived through WW2 as a youngster, including the bombing of Liverpool. He recalled a memory where a bomb landed in a courtyard where he was and did not explode. He does not recall how he climbed the 10 foot fence that enclosed him in the courtyard but is happy to have lived through the experience.

    So I have family roots in Chester, an ancient Roman City, and even did a Cathedral Report in the 6th Grade on Chester Cathedral. We visited it on a Spring Break so I was the only student who had actually visited the Cathedral they were doing a report on and actually had my own pictures (long before the days of the Internet and 'Google Images'). Thus, I decided Chester was a good enough place to start my journey and was closer to an International Airport than Cardiff was.

    Day 1 (Arrival)

    Jet lag is a real issue for me when traveling to the UK. I live on Colorado, which is 7 Hours behind GMT. Basically, when the UK is waking up to start their day, I am perhaps an hour into sleeping. So arriving early in the morning was basically like starting a new day, without having slept. In this case, I arrived 7AM GMT, which is about Midnight my time, so right when I would be falling asleep, I was at the start of a new day!

    The tiredness I feel in such states is my favorite kind of tiredness - I have trouble sleeping and the only times I have ever 'passed out' into sleep was going trans-Atlantic. The same thing happened on my trip to Ireland two years prior. Luckily, my accommodations (where I was able to store my suitcase while I toured Wales) were very accepting (and was part of a pub) so I was able to take a cat-nap for two hours to recharge my batteries. My head was out before it even hit the pillow and as much as I would have liked to have let my sleep run its course, I did awake to my alarm to try and adjust to GMT time.

    After my nap, I spent 45 minutes walking around Chester and its trademark Tudor-style buildings. It is funny how memory changes over time but still remains the same. I don't recall Chester being such a busy place but these days, from 10 - 5 every day, its a shopping haven for people from all over the place. However, once 5PM hits and the shops close, the place becomes a ghost town as everyone departs. I didn't mind though I did feel strange walking down the empty streets taking pictures of the buildings.

    I picked up my bike from the LBS after its tuneup, had some dinner at the pub, and stayed up until around 11PM GMT before finally falling asleep. The room was quite cozy and the bed was soft. It was very hard for me to stay up that late after a very, very long day of travel and timezone changes. I find it much easier traveling East to West for some reason.
     
  3. Mussolini

    Mussolini Gaming Guru

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    Day 2 (Day 1 of Cycling)

    Chester to Rhyl

    If you look at a Google Map of Chester, you will see that the City Limits go right up to the border with Wales, so it doesn't take much to get into Wales from Chester. Chester, as I mentioned previously, is a very old City dating back to, I think, even prior to the Romans. I believe its the only walled city left in England as well - its old wall is still mostly intact and you can actually walk along parts of it. You can also see where the Wall was breached during the War of the Roses, by cannons, though the defenders still managed to hold off those laying siege. I don't who was who so don't ask me that question! Its also got the largest Roman Amphitheater in England as well, but I could be getting my facts muddled up. At any rate, its a really old city with a lot of cool history. I had a day or two planned at the end of my trip to explore Chester but that will come later.

    So I was up early due to the whole time-zone issues but that was okay. I did find I was drinking a lot of water - and I did along the whole trip, unnaturally thirsty some might say - and got a good stretch in. My training for this trip was around 40-miles on the weekend while I'd do a solid hour ride before work most mornings (10 - 15 miles) so my legs were actually in pretty good shape even if the rest of me was not. Prior to my Ireland trip, I had a very bad case of, well, muscle cramps? I am not sure the term, in both of my thighs at the same time, and place on my leg. I could barely walk the next day and blamed it on extreme heat. I've come to learn (i think) that its more my legs not being used to riding my bike for that long, so when it happened again at exactly 40 Miles (same route) I became worried about my trip and the days where I had 40 miles or more to ride. Ideally, I'd be riding about 60 miles a day on such a tour, but I had each day planned to be around 44 miles, the short day being 30, and the long day (last day) being about 60 miles.

    I met up with a local rider at the Canal Locks in Chester. I think there are 4 or 5 of them in a row, transfering boats quite a good elevation. Sadly, no boats to watch when we were there. The sky was overcast and looked like rain, by the local said that was pretty normal and that it probably wouldn't rain. Typical British weather I suppose!

    He led me out of Chester and down a better route than the one I had originally planned and took me up Halkyn Mountain - a place where sheep are allowed to roam free and there are some ancient land rights to it granted by the crown long before any of us where born. I think the official term is 'Common Land' and the 'Commoners' let sheep graze there. Kinda interesting if you ask me.

    I was quite happy with the condition of the roads in Wales. Ireland was like riding a vibrating bike given the rough condition of all the roads, but Wales was much like being at home, riding nicely paved roads, nice and smooth. At leas that part was an improvement! Graham, the local I was riding with, told me most of the roads in Wales were like this so I was excited to find out whether this was true or not.

    We parted ways at the top of a mile-long hill (so he wouldn't have to come back up it) so off I went...as the skies finally opened up. No time to pull over and pull on my rain pants and my jacket was a windbreaker, not waterproof. Luckily, it wasn't a downpour but I did get thoroughly soaked. I had planned to stop at Rhuddlan Castle and take some pictures, but with the weather I just zoomed on by. The storm had blacked out the sky as well, so I was eager to get off the dark, wet roads and away from the cars. I made it to my lodging for the night and was able to get things dried out enough for the next morning.

    I don't have any real pictures from this day. The sky was quite overcast and I was talking to Graham most of the ride - didn't want to nuisance him with stopping for pictures all the time. The poor weather meant that while we could see the coast from Halkyn Mountain (mountain in English terms, a bump in the road in Colorado terms) we could not see Liverpool or Manchester. My lodging was right along the coast as well, but in the conditions I couldn't even see the off-shore wind farm (largest in Britain I am told as well) until the next day.
     
  4. The_Historian

    The_Historian Pillboxologist

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    Mussolini Itinere...great thread!
    One of my brothers lived in Chester a long time ago. Beautiful city.
    Never really been keen on Wales, but love Ireland, especially Kilkenny.
     
  5. Mussolini

    Mussolini Gaming Guru

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    Day 3 (Day 2 of Cycling)

    Rhyl to Bangor

    I awoke to sunnier skies (IE i could patches of blue through the clouds) and discovered I was about a block away from the beach. The bike route, NCN 5 I believe, runs practically along the beach the whole way to Bangor. It made for relatively flat riding, part of the reason I had chosen to ride this way (allowing the legs to get used to the weight on the bike, etc) only it wasn't quite as flat as I had hoped.

    Periodically, the bike path would turn about 90 degrees and go up a short, but steep embankment...short and steep where you have to stand on your pedals, but any longer and your legs would be in real trouble keeping that up. It would then turn parallel to the beach for maybe 50 - 100 yards, then turn back onto the beach. Why it was designed this way, I do not know, but it was quite frustrating. But not as frustrating as the wind.

    The Wind was the bane of my existence in Ireland. It had apparently awaited my return and ambushed me on my second day in Wales. Heat and Cold and Rain I can deal with riding my bicycle. But the Wind...the Wind is a fearsome beast. My Panniers act like a giant parachute - great when the wind is behind me as it then propels me even faster, but at any sort of angle that is not from behind, its threatening. I was nearly blown off my bike Ireland and while such a crosswind didn't hamper me here, it was head on. To top it off, it was also whipping up sand, stinging my face to add injury to insult.

    To be honest, this was perhaps the most disheartening thing to happen to me. It brought back the bad memories of Ireland. It made me want to throw the towel in. "Well, Musso." I said to myself. "Here we go again...a battle for every foot, consuming 4 times the amount of energy as needed...its not going to be so fun is it?". It was also quite overcast and stormy looking - and I could see my objective most of the day: the Big Orme. Its a large rocky outcrop of a peninsula, remind me a but of the Burren of Ireland, and I had planned to head to it before ending my day in Bangor.

    The Luck of the Irish escaped me in Ireland, but I found it in Wales instead.

    At Colwyn Bay, I had had enough. Between my GPS and Phone, I realized I was in a decent sized town and could probably find a bus or something to help me along the way. At any rate, I needed to get away from the wind so found some large building to shelter behind. I ate and drank something and caught my breath, then zoomed out on both pieces of technology I had brought with me. I realized that, because the Great Orm was a penninsula, I could cut off the loop I had planned and take a more direct approach to my end destination. Conway Road was bot a major road as it ran beside one, so I decided to take it, cutting off the Great Orme, and rejoin my planned route afterwards. This was a great decision!

    The change of direction brought me out of the wind and the skies seemed to open up as I hit Conway Castle.

    I am guessing the Great Orm somewhat acts like a mountain, pushing air around it. North of the Orme, along the coast, the weather was windy and nasty. But on the south side of the Orme, it was sunny(ish) and mostly wind free. I was starting to feel good about my trip once more and had desired to take a tour of Conway Castle but that was not to be.

    There was some sort of street-market going on in the town and it must have also been the only spot in Wales where the sun was shining as every 5 or so minutes, a tour bus would drive up and dump off a ton of people. Not my most favorite of settings but Conway was also my lunch stop. The streets were a bit chaotic and I really had no idea where to go to eat. I found a sandwich shop and a fellow cyclist watched my bike (no where to chain it up) while I went in the store and got a sandwich.

    I headed over to the Information Center, just outside the Castle, as I had stopped there earlier to get my bearings in town and found a nice little courtyard with a picnic table to eat my lunch. I also spotted another Cycle-Tourist's bike in the same vicinity and when I went inside to get a post card, I met the owner of the bike. I am not sure what his name was, but he was Danish, and was heading towards Dublin (via Ferry) but was having trouble finding lodging for the night in Bangor (thus the Information Center person-helper was on the phone). Being a good sameritan, I gave him the name of the place I was staying and he was able to get a room for the night there.

    Now, I am sure most Danish people are nice and friendly, but when I asked if he wanted to make our way their together (even the solo cyclist like myself enjoys company from time to time) he was very adamant about riding by himself. I didn't press the matter or anything, but was a little miffed by his response. I am not sure how much was lost in translation, so we headed our separate ways. I did see him in Bangor later that night as he was riding down the road (and I was heading out on foot to find a meal) but that was that.

    Now, back on NCN 5, I was starting to discover a common theme in the route that would last throughout my travels.

    The National Cycle Network (NCN) is poorly marked. The signs are often obstructed, or are some tiny sticker stuck to a regular signpost that is easy to miss. They aren't too precise in showing you which way to go and I often found myself at the end of a road, with the option to go left or to go right, with no real indication of which way to go. GPS can be dodgy as well and it was sometimes hard to tell which way to go as the road wouldn't even show up on the GPS. But the worst part was the Welsh road builders.

    When on a twisty, windy road, all my life I have heard the saying 'The Irish built it'. The Welsh, on the other hand, must be half Roman because they like to build their roads in the most direct manner possible - the shortest distance between Point A and Point B is in a straight line. Of course, this ONLY applies when you are at the bottom of a hill and want to get to the top of the hill. Wales has some of the steepest roads I have ridden on. I kid you not when I say they had gradient of 25% or greater. The steepest pitch in Colorado where I live is, I believe, 12% for about 100 yards. Now, try riding up that on a touring bike with all your kit on the back! It was pretty easy to get knackered on such hills and (not on this day) I did have to dismount and walk a few times - I could kiss the road when i did so with the angle my body had to take to push the bike up the hill!

    Of course, it was on my descent into Bangor that I discovered my rear disc-brake was not working so well, barely slowing me enough to keep me in control. Luck was with me again and I found a LBS at the bottom of Bangor who was able to fix it for me - but not before burning his hand on the brake. He asked if I had come down such-and-such hill and I had told him I had - it must be a common issue for him to know exactly where I had come from!

    You may be wondering why I said 'Bottom of Bangor'...well, like the ridges and hills around it, Bangor is spread out over a steep hill. They even nickname one of their streets 'Heart attack lane' because of its steepness. My tired legs were up to the task, but it did make me carefully plan out where I went in search of food in Bangor.

    For simplicity, I am going to rename the photos I upload here to make it easy. Please let me know if they view okay - the originals are quite large due to my camera, so I have reduced them to 25% of their original size.




    Wales1.jpg
    Wales1 - The Great Orme is the rocky outcropping in the distance, the foreground being the beach I was riding along. As you can see by the clouds, not so pleasant of an area.
    Wales2.jpg
    Wales 2 - Looking back at Conway Castle. Hard to see it, but the sky is brighter and sunnier than where I was before lunching in Conway.
    Wales3.jpg
    Wales3 - Another look back. Nice blue skies. The clouds are over the area I had started in earlier on the day.
    Wales4.jpg
    Wales4 - Sunshine! Looking back up the bike path again, this time looking at the Great Orme. Hard to believe this was only hours apart from the first image in this thread! Turning the other way would reveal the Isle of Anglesey, home of the train station with the really long name!
    Wales5.jpg
    Wales5 - A view of Penryhn Castle, just outside of Bangor.
     
  6. Mussolini

    Mussolini Gaming Guru

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    Day 4 - Bangor

    Rest Day

    This was my planned 'rest day'. Well, I had planned on riding out on Anglesey and to that train station (Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (lan-vire-pool-guin-gith-go-ger-u-queern-drob-ooth-clandus-ilio-gogo-goch)) but there was supposed to be quite a nasty storm blowing in, bringing up to 2 inches of rain with it. So I didn't fancy riding in that, or getting my camera soaked, or not being able to see much. So I decided to spend the day in Bangor. Bangor is a University town but the town my university is in, in the middle of Pennsylvania, is far more entertaining than Bangor. Maybe it was the time of year, maybe it was the weather, but I wish I had gone on the bike ride instead. I did get a good stretching of the legs walking up Heart Attack Lane a few times as I wandered the town aimlessly.

    At the same time, I did need the rest. I woke up, had breakfast, went back to my room...and promptly fell back asleep. I have no idea how long I slept, but I did wake up in time for lunch. This seemed to fix my internal clock and I don't recall being so tired on the rest of the trip. The Chinese food I had eaten for dinner had apparently not been a good idea either, so it was probably good in the end that I took the day off from cycling completely.

    I wish there was more to write about Bangor, but there really isn't/wasn't. The stores weren't anything special and it was not like I was there to shop. There was very little to do so...yeah, Bangor.
     
  7. Mussolini

    Mussolini Gaming Guru

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    Day 5 (Day 3 of Cycling)

    Bangor to Harlech


    I was happy to be on the road again and after my nap on my rest day was feeling a bit better. This was going to be my longest day yet but I did have a slight shortcut at a certain point, depending on how I was feeling. I was a little worried about where to stop for lunch (trying to stop halfway to do so) as this portion of the route didn't really have a good place to stop for lunch.

    Wales6.jpg
    Wales6 - Protected bike path, now on NCN 8, the Lon Las Cymru!

    The first part of the trail was nicely wooded and protected from the weather. A good portion of the route today looked like this. It was also why I could not see Caernarfon Castle until I almost ran into its outer wall as I burst through the trees and suddenly found myself at the Castle Gates! I also came across a Dutch couple, a few years older than myself, on their touring bikes looking at a map. I offered some sort of guidance (having spent all winter planning my trip) and they invited me to coffee. I don't drink coffee so simply had some water while we talked. It turns out that this was their first day of their own bike tour (having met in school on a school trip to Wales, now married this was an anniversary trip of theirs). They were camping so had no real time schedule but were basically doing 1 day of riding, 1 day rest, 1 day riding, 1 day rest etc. Their end destination was Swansea, so where I turned inland on my trip they would be closer to the coast. On this particular day, their journey ended at a camp site about 10 miles closer than my own destination, so we decided to ride together.

    Now, I am not the most social of persons, keeping to myself mostly, and whats more lonely that riding across Wales by yourself? But I do like the occasional company and riding in the wind is always better when you can alternate turns at the front of the pack. Which is what we ended up doing for the rest of the day. We got on our way and stopped at some point to put the rain gear on as the weather was deteriorating. It was a good decision as a few minutes later, a very fine but heavy/wet mist rolled in. It was almost like rain, but not really. Sadly, it blocked any view of Snowdon we may have had.

    Wales7.jpg
    Wales7 - Our Lunch Spot

    Luckily, they had earmarked the same area I had as a potential lunch sight. We had to navigate over a wooden bridge to cross a railroad (the NCN followed an old gauge railway for a good part on this day) and ended in some unknown town. There really wasn't anything there but there was a supermarket type of place called a CoOp of some sort. Not the greatest lunch I had and we had to eat it outside in the cold. Luckily, this tiny little church had some benches so that was where we ate. It also had a memorial to the Great Wars as well. Me being, well, me, I took a few photos of it. This was the Welsh side, the other three had the names of all the locals who had died.

    There are 30 or so names from World War I. 12 of them share the last name of 'Jones', while there must have been two sets of brothers (3 Hughes, 2 Lloyds), 5 by the name of Evans and 5 by the name of Williams. It did make me wonder, given the era and the town, just how many of them were directly related to each other and how many generations were wiped out because of this. Interestingly, the WW2 side of things has only 16 names on it - Owen, Hughes, and Williams all reappear at least once, which left me wondering if they were related to those of the same surname that had died in WWI.

    After lunch, the wind started to pick back up as we drew closer to the coast once more. This time our next rest stop was Criccieth Castle. Coming from a higher elevation gave us a pretty good view of the place on a narrow, single lane descent (its hard squeezing my cars when you have panniers on your bike!).

    Wales8.jpg
    Wales8 - Criccieth Castle

    As you can see by the above image, the Welsh flag is REALLY easy to see...because of the wind! Its never a good sign when you're riding a bike and you can see a flag from that far off. The other side of the castle was the Irish Sea/St Georges Channel depending on how you view the map. A little further on, we stopped in the main town as the Dutchies needed to do a food shop for their camping adventure. I grabbed a croissant myself for a nice little snack and we apparently road beyond their campsite turn-off. In the distance, I could see the mountains of Wales that lay before me and would take me away from the relative flat routes I had been on so far.

    Wales9.jpg
    Wales9 - Harlech Castle

    Some of you may have heard of Harlech Castle. Some of you probably know 'The Men of Harlech' song. Well, after departing from the Danish Couple (we kept in touch via email for a short period afterwards) I still had 10 miles to go to get to Harlech Castle. My lodging for the night was right below it, so it was a good visual key for me. Only I was starting to get tired and that Irish Wind seemed to be blowing directly across the Irish Sea to make my going as hard as possible. Despite the flatness of the route, it seemed to drag on forever as I battled the wind. I think I may have also taken the wrong road (following signs) as for about 5 miles, I didn't get any closer to the Castle as the road seemed to peel away from it, before finally taking a more direct approach.

    The wind was so brutal that I had to stop a few miles short and stuff down a Mars bar to give me the energy to get me those final pedal strokes to my goal! Normally, my lodgings seem to be at the top of hills. I was very glad I was just outside the actual town of Harlech (which is on the ridge above the Castle) and was instead down below on what used to be an area underwater. They used to be able to sail supplies right up to Harlech Castle so it was always quite hard to lay siege too.
     
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  8. Mussolini

    Mussolini Gaming Guru

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    Day 6 (Day 4 of Cycling)

    Harlech to Machynlleth


    Leaving Harlech meant an immediate climb to try and wake the limbs up on. Today was the first day of the Welsh Mountains. I made my way to Barmouth, a very seaside town. Umbrellas and Floaties and all the typical beach-gear at all the stores as I rode through. Despite the overcast weather (perhaps normal for the Welsh?) the town was quite busy. Barmouth is historically significant as they did a lot of shipbuilding in the area - floating the hulls of ships down the river (no masts) after making them further up the river banks. Apparently the trees were quite good for such things in this area back in the day. Not very many big trees left there anymore.

    Wales10.jpg
    Wales10 - View from the bridge looking up the river. My route would take me along the right-hand side bank, towards the mountains in the distance.
    Wales11.jpg
    Wales11 - The rickety wooden bridge I had to ride across. It was not very fun to ride on -very bouncy and loud.

    The weather, as was standard in Wales, was pretty much overcast. I would get hot going up the steep climbs and take a layer off. Once on top of the hill, I would have to put it back on as the descent would chill me to the bone if I did not. Apart from my first day of riding, there was never really a heavy rainfall...more of a drizzle, or a squall blowing by. I always wore my tights/leggings to keep my legs warm, but generally did not need my booties (waterproof coverings for my cycling shoes) or my rain-pants. My trip to Ireland was the opposite, where both were required pretty much every day.

    The Maddwach Trail was a hard packed gravel that left my shins and below covered in a gray muddyness. It was also heavily populated by walkers and slow moving cycling families. It was an easy enough ride though and I made it to Dolgellau, my launching off point into the Welsh Mountains. I had a nice jacket potato for lunch there before getting back onto the road.

    The Welsh don't hide their hills. I was on a nice, flat road when I made the turn off of it...and immediately upwards. When plotting this route, I didn't give much though to this particular day or climb as I knew the following day would take me to the highest point on my route so I simply overlooked this hill. I knew it was there, but I really had no idea how long it was, or how high it went. The trail was actually quite pleasant as most of them seem to be in Wales, on a smooth pavement and traffic free. I got to what I thought was the top of the climb, only to find myself looking down onto what could only be described as a Fishbowl.

    Wales12.jpg
    Wales12 - The Fishbowl

    Mind you, I had just come up the first real climb of my tour and thought it was downhill and then somewhat flat to Machynlleth. So this came a bit as a shock to me. I got down into the bottom of the fishbowl and considered my options, knowing I needed to save my legs for the following day. The main, busier road went through the valley, while my bike route (which can be seen in the picture below) went up over the ridge. You can see the beginning of that on the left hand side of the picture. I decided to stick with the bike route.

    Wales13.jpg
    Wales13 - The road to the left is the bike path, going up the side of the hill.

    This was the first really steep part of my ride through wales. The Sheep out here are part mountain goat, I kid you not, with the extremely steep inclines they traverse. It was very telling, though, that most of the sheep were on the lower half of the hill and very few were at the top. The pathway was also covered in sheep-shit but after trying to avoid it, I gave up. The sheep seem to only like to poo on pavement and the future days of my rides would certainly prove that! This was also the first time I had to hop off my bike and push - a gate halfway up did not help with that though.

    Wales14.jpg
    Wales14 - The downhill, and Welsh Mountains all around.

    Of course, what goes up generally comes back down and the downward side was probably steeper than the uphill. It was the first time I had the pleasure of smelling the burning rubber of my brakes as a I rode them hard. The straight line from top to bottom (in this case) combined with the feeling of almost falling face first over my handlebars made this a bit of a sketchy descent, especially when forced to brake hard to stop at another gate to pass through it. My hands were beginning to cramp by the time I got to the bottom of it!

    The path then somewhat meandered over a few rises and along a stream, but crossed it a few times to the point where I lost the trail. When I stopped, a few miles outside of Machynlleth to figure out where I was, I found myself on the main road into town, which I took until I found NCN 8 again and rode that the rest of the way into town. Of course, my lodging was at the top of another steep hill so I had one final climb before I could relax.

    I walked down the hill into town and went to a Pizza shop. I had a strange experience there. Apparently, in Wales, Pizza Places take reservations? I was the only one there but was told all the tables had been reserved. It was quite literally a Pizza place. I was really looking forward to eating a pizza (great recovery food for cycling) and was a bit miffed, especially since I was the only one there at the time! Luckily, they had some sofas and the owner allowed me to sit there and eat my pizza (yay). While I was there, two Englishmen came in and ended up joining me as they had no reservations either. We had a good chat and I believe they followed my blog that I kept at the time.

    Walking back 'home' after dinner, I got caught out in a pretty heavy rain and had to take shelter in a doorstoop for several minutes before it calmed down enough to allow me to climb back up the hill without getting soaked.

    Machynlleth, for you warplane aficionados, is well known for the low altitude flying the RAF does through the valleys. Perched on the hills, you are often ABOVE the various military aircraft that fly through the region. The sky was too cloudy for me to see any aircraft, but I did hear the roar of at least one jet engine racing through the valley while I was there.
     
  9. Mussolini

    Mussolini Gaming Guru

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    Day 7 (Day 5 of Cycling)

    Machynlleth to Rhayader


    Today was the peak as far as climbing went for the trip. Some 300ft of climbing over the course of some 38 miles, though most of the climbing done in the first 8 miles. The climbing started immediately and I could start to feel a soreness in my lower back from all the steep climbs and the weight of my gear. I only had to stop once on this, the biggest climb of the trip, and walked a few yards before getting back on the bike. It did allow me to snap a few pictures of the area though.

    Wales15.jpg
    Wales15 - A very typical view while riding the Welsh Mountains. Lovely country if I do say so myself.
    Wales16.jpg
    Wales16 - The Way Traveled, looking back down the climb that never seemed to end.
    Wales17.jpg
    Wales17 - The Way Ahead, looking upwards. I remember this photo very well, as I thought to myself "Ah, the top is just around the bend.". No, no it was not. There was still a bit of climbing to do!

    I did have some cycling partners for this climb. A father and his two sons were on a jaunt from Machynlleth. They were going to the top before turning around and we j ust happened upon the same route at the same time. Despite the climb and my back, my lungs were okay and I was able to have a conversation with the father periodically. Of course, with them on road bikes and carry very little gear compared to me, they started to pull away around halfway up. This shot is from 'around the bend' of the previous picture...only to reveal another bend in the never ending climb! We all stopped briefly here for a breather and a drink before continuing the rest of the way.

    Wales18.jpg
    Wales18 - My companions for the climb, and yet another bend!

    There was even a rare sighting at the top, next to the Lon Las Cymru Highest Point Marker...

    Wales19.jpg
    Wales19 - Il Duce....

    The Marker points 8.5 miles back to Machynlleth, and 18 miles forward to Llanidloes...which was still a few miles short of Rhayader. So I still had quite a ways to go. I said goodbye to my temporary riding partners, who now got to turn around and speed back down hill. I had to switch back over to my rain-jacket (presently wearing my Irish Windbreaker and my Colorado Cycling Jersey) as a squall was blowing in and it was getting cold up at the top there standing around getting my picture taken.

    Some more ups and downs lay ahead of me but the weather finally broke. The sun came out for a bit and I made it to Llanidloes for a late lunch. The first cafe I tried was full of old ladies so I quickly departed. The only other one I found was, well, a bit of a hippy hangout. It had a very 'whole foods' feel to it...very earthy etc. It was playing some nice Irish music that I listen to myself, so decided to eat there (another jacket potato I think) and had some fresh lemonade (organic) that was actually quite good.
    Wales20.jpg Wales21.jpg Wales22.jpg
    Wales20 - Wales22 - Rolling hills / Sunshine / Views

    I was quite tired at this stage. The combination of the hills from the day before and the big one from earlier in the day, combined with the rolling hills in the miles since, was quite tiring. I would much prefer a 30 mile continuous uphill to 30 mils of rolling hills...the constant up and down is much more tiring than a sustained climb. So I decided to veer off my planned NCN 8 route and take a more direct approach that 'seemed' flatter...but of course, it started with a nice climb that lead into more rolling hills. I figured I was on the right path though, as several cyclist coming the opposite way passed me. I did get back into the swing of things, perhaps it was the appearance of the sun that rejuvenated me, but in the end the B-roads paid off and I had nice downhill into Rhayader, my destination for the day.

    In retrospect, I would have planned the following day to be a rest day and ridden into the Elan Valley, the head of which Rhayader sits. Its apparently a very beautiful place, with submerged farms and the like due to all the dams in the valley. But as it was a 20-mile round trip, it was off the cards for me at this time.
     
  10. Mussolini

    Mussolini Gaming Guru

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    Day 8 (Day 6 of Cycling)

    Rhayader to Brecon


    At this stage, my back was hurting quite a bit. Rhayader to Brecon was to be a hilly 48 mile day, followed by my final day - Brecon to Cardiff, over the Brecon Beacons, and some 60 miles in length. I was honestly a little worried at this stage due to the soreness in my back and the knowledge of how steep the hills and climbs were going to be. For some reason, my memory of this day is a bit fuzzy, so I was probably a bit more knackered than I realized. I had just come off the two hardest days of the tour though, so my previous retrospective thought of a rest day in Rhayader may have been a wise decision.

    Luckily, NCN8 somewhat loops way out to get to Brecon so it was very possible to take a shorter route of some 30 - 35 miles, cutting off at least 15 miles and a few of the hills. So I decided to go for it. It took about an hour on relatively flat roads to get to Bullith Wells - 11 or 12 miles, which was pretty good timing for me given how slow I typically go up Welsh hills. It was far too early in the day to stop there for lunch and the main street was deserted, so I decided to go to a place called Upper Chapel.

    Now, writing this, I realize just how knackered I was...a place with the name of UPPER Chapel clearly is ontop of a hill...which, of course, it was! My goal of avoiding the hills was clearly quite flawed given this decision. I don't think I stopped in Upper Chapel for Lunch, and wrote about making it to Lower Chapel after going up a hill, and about the only picture I took on this day was this gem:

    Wales23.jpg
    Wales23 - Ah, official signage for a 25% gradient. Most of the gradients are not marked, given most of my route was on a bikepath...

    I think that given the lack of pictures and my fuzzy memory, it was a good decision to cut the miles out.

    The route I picked turned out to be a good one though, as after a few initial hills, it was virtually downhill all the way to Brecon. In fact, I do recall that I got to Brecon pretty quickly and almost rode right through it, not realizing I was there already. I think I had lunch there and the day basically became a rest day - the sun was out so after showering at my lodging, I took a small walkabout town in the sunshine and washed my clothes, letting them airdry in the sun out my window. It was good to rest the legs, but especially the back, especially knowing I was in for my longest day - and my last - the following day.
     
  11. Mussolini

    Mussolini Gaming Guru

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    Day 9 (Day 7 of Cycling, final day on bike)

    Brecon to Cardiff


    Ah, the end was in sight! Of course, the best weather of my entire trip happened to be this day! The sun was out and for once the sky was not overcast. I started along the Taff Trail, along a canal, and enjoyed the warm air. It was the first time I was not wearing a wind-or-waterproof jacket along the entire trip so it felt nice. I also did not notice when the trail started to climb up, until I arrived at the reservoir and thought to myself "This isn't half as bad as I was expecting". I do wonder if the 'rest day' of the day prior had allowed my legs to recover after two days of big climbs, or if my legs were finally in touring shape (maybe I could have continued for another week if that was the case!) but for all my fear of the Brecon Beacons climb, it was actually one of the easiest.

    Wales24.jpg
    Wales24 - Starting out along the Canal, the sun is shining!
    Wales25.jpg
    Wales25 - The First Reservoir. You can see a cut in the trees on the left hand side - this was the route I mistakenly took.
    Wales26.jpg
    Wales26 - Looking back down the valley, where I should have been, and at the trail I had just come along. Very rough and not really suitable for touring on, but it was a gradual climb instead of a short steep one.

    The gradient here was quite gentle. Since there was basically only one road to travel along, I decided to go along the left side of the water instead of on the main road that ran through the area. It turned out to be what I assume was a logging road. It was mud and gravel and not smooth at all. It was quite jarring and I regretted every moment of it. But it was a very gradual incline and before I knew it, I was essentially at the top. Looking down at the road I should have been on revealed a short but very steep climb to get to where I was, so maybe it hadn't been too bad of a decision after all.

    I got back on the Taff Trail and decided to stick to the main road for the descent as the actual trail turned into a dirt path by the looks of it. It was another one of those decisions that may not have paid off...it was a smooth route, but the downhill turned into an uphill. A road cyclist was at the top, debating which path to go, so I told him not to go the way I had just come as it wasn't a downhill at all.

    The downhill resumed as I sped down the Cardiff side of the Brecon Beacons. I stuck mostly to the road - it was quite, wide, and smooth instead of the trail until I was out of the Beacons. Things became a bit more populated this close to Cardiff and I lost the trail quite a few times but managed to find it again. I guess they were concerned about motorbikes using the trail, so had these gates whenever it crossed a road, or a 'maze' like thing that was there to prevent motorbikes from using it. Of course, a touring bike fully loaded can't make those turns either and can barely squeeze through the ones that were gates, so that slowed me down and became a nuisance as well.

    The usual foot traffic littered the trail and I didn't take any pictures along this section. I was also expecting to get a view of Cardiff from the hills I was coming down, but it turned out to be one of those things were I popped out of the woods into a large park which was Cardiff itself. My lodging was right across from the Milenium Stadium and very near Cardiff Castle...and I actually rode past it before realizing where I was.

    And with that, my Cycling trip had come to an end.

    I visited Cardiff Castle the following day and quite liked the Firing Line exhibit they had there. I took lots of pictures of course and walked around the north end of town a bit. I never made it down to the seaside part of Cardiff but I am not the most social person so ^-^. I think I spent two days in Cardiff before taking a train back to Chester before spending another full day there (The Cheshire Military Museum part and a Cathedral Tour) before flying home...to start my new job a day or two later!

    I will post some pictures from that stuff later!

    Hopefully you enjoyed reading this adventure of mine! I will work on my Irish writeup this weekend!
     
  12. Owen

    Owen O

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    Cheers for that report.
    I love Wales & have had many many holidays there.
    Good to read of an overseas visitors view.
     
  13. jagdpanther44

    jagdpanther44 Battlefield wanderer

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    What a wonderful report!

    Chester is in my neck of the woods and it is indeed a beautiful city. I've taken many a walk around its citys walls. I've also spent many happy a day as a kid on family days out to Rhyl, although it's not the place it used to be.

    Wales is a really great place for people who enjoy exploring on two wheels, however, I prefer an engine to power my two wheels! :)
     
  14. Mussolini

    Mussolini Gaming Guru

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    Here is the full route I took: (hopefully the link works)

    Full - A bike ride in Chester, England

    It should show a google-map style image of wales, with the route I took highlighted, along with a mileage calculator and elevation profile. If you mouse over the elevation profile, it shows you where along the route that spot is...alternatively, I could post my daily segments if people want a closer look.

    EDIT: You'll want to change the view from OSM Cycle to 'Map' for a clearer view on the map part.
     

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