Sunday, September 27

Welsh cycling

Well the holiday's over and I for one am NOT looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow morning after two weeks off! I dread to think how many emails await, despite having my colleague check them for me and supposedly delete anything irrelevant!

Last week I spent five more days in Wales, a couple of days exploring the quiet lanes of Pembrokeshire and staying in this fabulous hostel, and the remainder of the time on my bike travelling the Celtic Trail from Swansea to Newport.

In Lawrenny I enjoyed the peace and tranquility of a tiny village tucked away on deserted lanes on the edge of the Cleddau estuary, not far from Pembroke. The weather was rather gloomy but the scenery was delightful, and I visited Blackpool Mill (shown above) where I enjoyed some very welcome homemade soup, tea and cake. The hostel warden Irene was good company of an evening, and very helpful in recommending routes and places to visit, as well as sharing her local historical knowledge.

The Celtic Trail, one of the national cycle routes built by charity Sustrans, extends almost 400 miles from Fishguard to Chepstow. I chose the eastern section, which is from Swansea to Chepstow, although I finished at Newport and caught the train home from there.

It was an addictive mixture of industrial heritage and natural beauty, with some grubby housing estates and a bizarre stretch of route under a motorway viaduct, thrown in for good measure! Much of it was flat going, and even the hilly bits were not too demanding, apart from some rather short, steep sections that might need a push, especially if you have large panniers.

If you plan to try it yourself, I thoroughly recommend buying either the Sustrans map, or a good Explorer map (or two) which show the detail of the route. Although it is fairly well signposted throughout, it can be tricky to follow in some sections (particularly in the back alleys and ginnels of Port Talbot!) and the Sustrans map does have magnified sections of maps for the more tricky bits of the route. The map does actually include a huge amount of information about local services and amenities, includes phone numbers for local tourist information centres, and even gives you a diagram showing the size of hills you can expect to encounter. Despite this I managed to get lost a couple of times - once was totally my own fault when I missed a turning, I think I was just enjoying the fresh air and the sunny outlook and didn't notice for about a mile. Even then I was able to use the map to plot out an alternative that would meet up with the route a little further along.

My one criticism of the Sustrans cycle routes is that they tend to be on old railway tracks and alleyways along the back of houses; while this in itself is not a problem, it does tend to mean that you can't peruse possible lunch options while freewheeling along the route - you tend to have to detour to try and find somewhere to eat or a B&B. A bit more signposting would be useful to help with this; sometimes I found myself having passed villages without even realising it because there was no indication on the route. I suppose these improvements will come with time, and perhaps when local businesses realise the potential custom they are missing. One of the highlights of the trip was getting free entrance to Carew Castle because I had come by bike - can't wait for others to adopt this policy!

Caerphilly Castle - where entrance fees apply, bike or no bike!

1 comment:

Gareth Gardner said...

Fantastic photos of Wales!