Rides bikes, paddles sea kayaks, takes pictures. Life on the road & my home in Cornwall.
On a Northerly Heading
A ride on tracks and trails through the empty heart of Wales.
A journey by bike is always given a unique flavour by the country through which one is travelling, sometimes it’s food, sometimes it’s the people, and sometimes it’s just those funny little moments that sum up the experience perfectly. It had been a while since I did any touring here in the UK so it was reassuring to find that nothing has changed; it is still an experience partly defined by such things as finding refuge from the drizzle in a village bus shelter while lunching on limp petrol-station cheese sandwiches simply because nothing else is available, or standing out of the rain under the awning of a roadside catering trailer with a bacon butty, loaded with brown sauce, and mug of instant coffee while a lovely old chap called Phil tells you all about the arthritis in his knees. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Another such moment that goes with bicycle travel in this part of the world being the look of instant regret on the face of a friendly cafe owner when he offers to fill your water bottle and you hand over a filthy mud and sheep shit encrusted receptacle.
After the confines of Covid followed by an abominable summer here in Cornwall there was a strong imperative to just go and find some empty space for a while, and spend time with friends not seen for a long time. I pointed my wheels north in a general direction of “as far away from cars as possible” – I still flinch every time a car comes near or looks as though it might be headed in my direction, so a journey through the empty heart of Wales, using tracks and trails as much as possible, with a view to visiting friends in the northwest seemed a good idea. The second part of the journey, returning south down the Welsh borders, catching up with more friends, had to be scrapped in favour of a train ride – my ankles were injured when the car hit me back in July, and successive days riding really aggravated the injury to a point beyond which simply relying on ibuprofen and toughing it out seemed unwise. Despite that it was still a super mini-escape with about 550km of really lovely riding featuring a great deal of weather, and a delightful absence of cars and crowds. With continued physiotherapy I’m hopeful that my injuries will be fully resolved in time for spring, in the meantime however, as usual, I may as well tell a little of the story with pictures. For reasons of really not wanting to be encumbered I took just my Fuji x100f, finding a simple fixed lens camera quite ‘liberating’.
Most days I was on the road by 9am, having brewed myself multiple coffees – it was holidays after all – and riding until the light began to fade, pitching my tent based on whatever opportunities presented themselves. Sometimes it was, for example, a deserted farm camping meadow by a stream, eating dinner while watching a kingfisher hunt in the fading light, and sometimes a hidden patch of woodland. Arriving in the hamlet of Pontrhydfendigaid one damp evening in search of water and sustenance the friendly lady in the village shop said “just ride up to the top of the hill, the couple that live opposite the pub have a little meadow, they’re lovely and will be happy to see you”. They were. An old boy in the shop said “if you can wait a bit while I get my car I can give you a lift up there, it’s quite a hill…”. I declined but it was another one of those little moments that can define a journey, no matter how brief. Another such moment that goes with bicycle travel in this part of the world being the look of instant regret on the face of a friendly cafe owner when he offers to fill your water bottle and you hand over a filthy mud and sheep shit encrusted receptacle.