27 June 2013

Machacas in Wales: A 3 day tour across Wales

We took the opportunity of the May bank holiday weekend to do a short tour across Wales from North to South. We caught the train to Chester early Saturday morning and were heading back from Swansea to London on Monday evening. A great long weekend getaway!

On Saturday morning we missed our train from London due to Alberto forgetting his wallet and the train tickets at home! Fortunately we weren't charged for being booked on to a new train, arriving into Chester about an hour later than planned. We headed out of Chester on quiet roads and then found that the GPS track led us onto a dirt road through farmland. We followed it for a few km and when we emerged back onto tarmac we had entered Wales.

Dirt track leading to Wales
It was quite hilly (as you might expect for Wales) as we headed towards Corwen, so we were ready for a break when we arrived. We did some small grocery shopping and popped into a cafe for a second breakfast, and the weather was even nice enough to sit outside!

We had made relatively slow progress thus far and I was finding it hard to relax into the rhythm of the tour. I was concerned about all the kms we had left to do. Fortunately, it was about at this stage that we entered into Snowdonia National Park so there were more interesting things to look at. I also seemed to discover the area of Wales where the Welsh immigrants who settled Southeastern Pennyslvania came from, as we passed through the towns of Gwenydd, Bala, and Cynwyd.

Bala lake
We cycled along Bala Lake (Wales' largest) into a pretty stiff headwind. We decided to take a break from the wind by diverting to Llanuwchllyn for a quick tea stop in the pub. It made a world of difference and we emerged back into the early evening sun ready to take on most daunting climb of the trip.

Bwlch y Groes pass
The climb up to Bwlch y Groes was on a lovely quiet road and it was great to settle into a rhythm on this long climb. We knew it was a high one, but when we reached the top we learned it was actually the highest pass in North Wales at 546 meters, and was historically used by pilgrims coming from the north down to St David's in the south.

Ready for the descent
We put on an extra layer for the fast descent and followed the valley downhill until we eventually arrived at a campsite in Minllyn. It seemed easier to camp there rather than search out a wild campsite, and I fancied a shower after working hard on the climb, so we decided to pitch up there for the night. There was one other tent, a family from the Netherlands whose kids spoke to us in perfect English. We cooked up dinner of cous cous and settled in for the night by 10pm, after a day of 100km.

The following morning it was a bit misty so the tent had to be packed wet, but it did improve over the course of the day. We had an offer of a garden to camp in, but it was 125km away, so we knew it would be a long day. We enjoyed a scenic ride towards Llanidloes, and when we arrived there decided to stop for lunch. We found a pub doing a £5 Sunday carvery including as much veg as you could eat! I don't think hungry cyclists were part of their business plan. We had a great lunch and headed to Rhayader on the B4518.

£5 carvery lunch
From Rhayader, we decided to take the A470 to Builth Wells as it would save us a bit of time. It wasn't too bad with traffic, and we made good time. The last 15km or so were done on a quiet lane going roughly parallel with the A40, just outside Brecon Beacons National Park. It was rather hilly and my knee was bothering my slightly, so I was really ready to make it to Trecastle and Mark's farm.

Finally we arrived (at about 8:15pm) and met Mark who showed us the ropes of the outdoor tap and loo. While we were cooking dinner, a very inquisitive cat started hanging around. I am much more comfortable with cats than Alberto, but we were both concerned that it was getting too close to the stove and could knock over the pot and set itself or somthing (else) we cared about on fire! It would not leave us alone and it took a tag team of Alberto doing the food and me distracting the cat to get dinner done.

Here's Marks cat the next morning still sniffing around
We decided to go inside the tent to eat dinner as we had had enough of the cat's begging. This turned out to be A Bad Idea. The cat tried to get in the tent and ended up puncturing the tent fabric with it's claws. Darn! It made us wish we had brought our old tent instead of our new Hilleberg. With all the excitement it was midnight before we managed to get to bed.

We woke up on day 3 to sunny skies. As soon as we were moving around in the tent, we could see the cat's shadow sniffing around outside. I do believe I've heard a song about this cat before....

We took our time packing up, waiting for the condensation to dry on our tent and chatting with Mark. We decided against cooking up the bacon we had bought to avoid a repeat of last night (Mark did confirm the cat was his, and that it was crazy about all food!).

We only had 50km left to Swansea so we could enjoy a leisurely start on a long, gently climb through the Brecon Beacons, followed by an incredibly fun descent to intersect with the A4067. Just down the road we found the Craig-Y-Nos Country Park with its excellent farm shop cafe and inviting outdoor seating area. We had a second breakfast and also bought a jar of homemade jam. It was great to be able to enjoy it without being in any rush.

Through the Brecon Beacons
We carried on on the A4067 for a bit longer (it was starting to get busy) and then diverted up a steep hill and onto NCN Route 43 which we would end up following pretty much all the way into Swansea. It was a great off-road route, well paved, shady, and not even particularly busy with people. As we were in no rush we just enjoyed the easy ride. The kms went by without us even noticing and suddenly it was time to get off the cycle route and into downtown Swansea.

Cycle path into Swansea
We made our way to the beach, which on this unseasonably warm bank holiday Monday was packed. After a quick shopping trip we found a grassy spot overlooking the beach to set up for the next few hours while we waited for our train. We got out the camp stove and cooked up the bacon we'd intended for breakfast. It was a great end to a great mini-tour of Wales!

Swansea beach

20 June 2013

Outer Hebrides Tour Part VI: Ullapool - Inverness

(Editor's note: We seem to have gotten a bit behind in posting our touring entries! This blog is the last in  our series about our April tour to Scotland, not to be confused with our June tour to Scotland which we promise will be written up in better time than this one was!)

We docked at Ullapool in the evening and headed to the campsite (which was conveniently located about 30 seconds from the ferry dock) where we had a bit of trouble finding a place to set up the tent as the grass was only superficial on most of the site with hard surface underneath. The campsite is nothing special, although it does enjoy a nice view of the water which is a plus.

Checking out the views from the edge of the campsite in Ullapool
We set up the tent and set off to explore Ullapool. After checking out literally the entire town (it's not very big) we ended up at a pub near the campsite where there was a special deal on fish and chips, so we both ordered that. It was nice to have a somewhat special dinner in a restaurant on our last night camping.

We woke up the following morning to the sound of rain on our tent -- for the first time ever with this tent! Fortunately it didn't last too long but the chilly temperatures and wet tent kept us moving rather slowly so that we didn't actually get on the road til almost 10:30.

We had a big climb out of Ullapool and it started raining lightly. We stopped at the top of the climb to put waterproofs, which clearly meant the rain stopped about five minutes later.

Traffic was relatively light on the A835 (certainly by Southeast standards!) and most of the cars left plenty of room when they passed. It helped that we had waited until after the big rush from the morning ferry arrival had passed.

Ullapool dock in the morning
The major roads make cycling so much faster and the chilly and cloudy weather meant we weren't really interested in stopping that much, so we were making good time. We stoped just before Garve to make a quick sandwhich, and again at a roadside cafe in Tarvie for some tea and cakes.

On the A835 to Inverness
We decided that we were making such good time that we could afford to divert to Strathpeffer which Alberto had been curious about, mainly because of the Strathpuffer 24 hour race that takes place there in winter. It was a cute town, though nothing too special, and after wandering about a bit we phoned our Warmshowers hosts Sarah and Keith. They were at home and gave us some directions to their house, so we set off from Strathpeffer just as it started to rain again.

In a little over an hour we arrived at their cottage in Kirkhill just as the rain began to get heavier. It was such a relief to come into their warm house with a fire going in the sitting room. We showered and ate a delicious meal that Keith cooked for us and enjoyed chatting about bikes, Scotland, and lots more with Keith (Sarah had to go work the night shift). As we sat in the comfort of their living room it started to snow, lightly at first and then more heavily. We were so grateful to be sleeping indoors in such a lovely and comfy house! It was our first time using Warmshowers but certainly won't be our last.

Leaving Keith & Sarah's house in Kirkhill
We got up early the next morning and as the snow continued to fall we headed the 15km or so in to Inverness. It was extra rewarding to arrive at the station in Inverness freezing cold and wet from the snow, to get on the train and change into warm clothes for our 8 hour journey back to London through the snowy highlands and down the East Coast mainline.

We loved our 9 days in Scotland and vowed to return as soon as possible - turns out that was June (stay tuned for that story in the future!).

18 June 2013

Yet another tour to Scotland

Things have been a little quiet here in our blog...simply because we were out having fun on our bikes! Even though our Icelandic plans could not pan out, the alternative of a tour to the Northwest of Scotland did not sound bad that bad to us.

I don't tire of going to Scotland and highly recommend it to anyone who wants beautiful scenery, friendly people and stunning roads and trails. For a softie Spaniard like myself, the weather can look a bit intimidating at first, but I have so far enjoyed lots of sunny days and only very few bad ones.

This time also, we took one of our friends in tow. It is great to share our hobby with others, but we all wondered not only how Mateo would find being on the road for so many days in a row, but also how his £100 bike would cope. Well, we are glad to say he finished the tour without any issues (except a bit of a sore butt) a big smile, and a fully functioning bike!

More photos and reports to follow soon...but for now here is a taster!

Scenic start at Edinburgh Castle

Crossing the Forth Road bridge heading North

He's a cheesy man, who likes flowers

The fun beggins on the A93 through the Caignorms National Park

Probably one of the best stretches of road I have ever been on

At the top of Glenshee ski resort (~650 m)

Plenty of rivers

Machacando the hills

Lucy faces Cock Bridge and its famous 20% hill

Not as bad as it looks!

An off-road detour to Craick

Camping near Durness with strong winds (and no midges!)

Famous hot chocolate from Durness - very expensive but tasty

Beaches around Durness

On our way to Tongue, at the very North of Scotland's mainland

Beautiful scenery near Tongue - but we had loads of midges!

Leaving the mountains for Inverness

02 June 2013

Bryan Chapman Memorial 600 km audax 2013 video

Recently published by a rider who filmed and took a good number of pictures on the Bryan Chapman. It really gives you an idea of what was like.

Old Joy from Milltag on Vimeo.