Today was the day that Dominic Cummings dished the dirt on what was really going on in No10 when the pandemic hit last year but we were unconcerned as we woke up in a campsite in Wales looking out on a bright but cloudy morning. DC may have offered “challenges” for the present occupants of No10, but we were more concerned with the challenges faced by occupants of cycling saddles. However, reading the reports later, his revelations were interesting and it may well be that he abandoned the habits of a lifetime and said it as it was.
There are two things that occur to me about cycling trips. First, I sleep so well. I am a bit of an insomniac when I am home; legal cases, making good relationships, the future of my family and other things all seem unutterably bleak at 4am at home. Here I sleep solidly through the small hours, oblivious to the distortions my mind inflicts on me at that time of the day when I am doing less exercise.
The second thing to share with you is that the challenge is not the climbing per se – even hauling 25kg of kit in front and back panniers on a bike. The real challenge is the gradient. I know we could reduce the amount we take on these trips by – for example – getting rid of the computer I am typing this on – but we have been through all our stuff on numerous times and this is the best compromise. But it makes going steeply uphill a serious challenge. Climbing 200m is fine at 5%, even strangely enjoyable. Climbing the same height gain over half the distance is much more of a challenge, and climbing at 15% is a trial of strength. Over 15% and we get of and walk – very slowly! We sometimes (well often actually) get passed on such hills by cyclists out for a ride on a road bike that weighs about 5kg. They usually have 30 years on us and are probably fitter as well. They have one of 2 reactions. Either it is “chapeau” for even attempting such a hill with kit, or it is a look which says “are you totally mad or just lost”. To be fair it is normally the former – and we could, of course, actually be lost.
So – back to the day. We packed up – a familiar routine now – and got on our way by 8.30. The first 15km to Brecon followed the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal. This canal was authorised by its own Act of Parliament in 1792, which created the Company of Proprietors of the Monmouthshire Canal Navigation and empowered it to raise £120,000 by the issuing of shares, and a further £60,000 if required. The company also had powers to construct railways from the canal to any coal mines, ironworks or limestone quarries which were within eight miles (13 km) of it. Thus, following this motorway of yesteryear, the road was reasonably flat.
Along the way I had an issue with my cycling shoes – a bolt holding the cleat in fell out and was lost. Hence, to get my foot out of the pedal, I needed to take the shoe off. This was probably not a long term solution so I used the other side of the pedal and cycled into Brecon like that. The one bike shop in Brecon was closed on Wednesdays – and of course this was Wednesday. But there was a traditional hardware shop where the inventive proprietors cut down a bolt to the right size and it fitted, whilst chatting about the weather, relatives from Suffolk who were coming to camp and whether she would finally get her bike out of the shed to restore it – unlikely being the consensus. They attempted to charge me 30p for the bolt – but I insisted on paying far more – namely £2. Such generosity will leave us bankrupt.
The road out of Brecon was the first climb of the day. The road was gently uphill for about 200m at about 5-7% to a lovely moor on the top where people came to walk their dogs in the stiff breeze. The rain stayed off but it was cloudy. The views from the top across to the beacons to our south were lovely, with the sun picking out parts of the green slopes.
We descended towards Sennybridge but stopped just before at what I thought was an old school which was converted into the International Welsh Rabbit Centre – which included a café and bakery. However I had read it wrong – it was the International Welsh Rarebit Centre, which perhaps explained why there were no rabbits on the sign. We felt it was too early for rarebit but the coffee and cake were excellent.
The road took us west towards Carmarthen over another series of hills, rising to roughly the same height as the first climb. However this climb was a series of level parts with very steep intervals. We got off and pushed for some of the really steep bits, and powered or way up others – or more accurately applied a great deal of power and made marginal progress. The views at the top were great – well worth the exhaustion.
After that we sailed down the other side and had a final 25km of reasonably flat valley roads towards Carmarthen, with the novel experience of the sun shining on us. First time we used sun cream this trip (hope it is not the last). By this stage we were pretty tired and passed up the chance to look at some possibly attractive gardens – we just needed to get to our destination and relax.
Carmarthen is a lovely city, to the west of the mountains and with a history stretching back to the Romans. We will explore the city tomorrow morning but this evening was a poky Air B & B but that is fine!