31 October 2010

John O'Groats to Brora

Our caravan site was some 8 miles to the west of JO'G and Terry delivered me back to the famous landmark to resume the next stage to Brora. The picture shows the outfit in front of the impressive but closed and sadly, almost derelict, John O'Groats hotel that overlooks the harbour. Another crystal clear morning and we had hoped that the signpost man would be back to get an "official" picture. We arrived to find a young LEJO'G motorcyclist with the same idea but learned from him that the signpost was elsewhere and not likely to reappear in the near future so the painted subsitute was used again. This young man had just arrived after his four day trip from Land's End in support of the Birmingham Children's hospital. We made a mutual fuss of our respective achievements to mark the the sense of occasion, shook hands and he was off!
The westerlies that had carried me so swiftly to JO'G yesterday had swung to the southwest and thus commenced an ordeal of a day. The A99 is the main road to the south from JO'G. It runs close to the sea to the east, and open scrubby moorland to the west. There is little by way of shelter against the strength-sapping winds that take their toll throughout the day. The ride is in excess of 60 miles and at less than 12mph progress is painfully slow. It is so fortunate to be able to simply pick a rendezvous with Terry based on a time/est distance at a convenient layby and then be elated when the familiar creme coloured square comes into view. Without the caravan, there would have been many days where there would have been no coffee or lunch stops simply because there just aren't any cafes!
The slow approach and passing of the prominent lighthouse at Noss Head, close to Wick is as memorable an event that I can recall for the entire ride on this quite depressing day.
We were in trouble as to where to stay at Brora. Terry has excellent research backup with his bride, Andrea, ever-willing to find sites for us to stay. On this occasion however, and even after talking to tourist boards and assorted local authorities and insiders, the best she can offer is a public car park where "no questions are asked." We therefore asked Salvina (my Uber-minder at AOS HQ) if the PP at Brora might have a space within the church grounds and were delighted when Fr Benedict Seed readily agreed to let us stay in the car park. In addition he let us hook up the umbilical to the electric mains which means we had all mod cons. It is quite humbling to hear Fr Seed, who spent 50 years of his life in the monestary at Fort Augustus until it closed, tell of a life that seems to be so frugal but completely commited to providing for Sutherland Catholics.

30 October 2010

Bettyhill to John O'Groats

The side trip to Cape Wrath meant that the departure from Bettyhill was delayed until well after 12:00hrs but the skies are blue as I set off for this important stage. The recognition that unlike the 2007 trip, JO'G will not mark the end of the ride is of little account. The wind is exactly from astern and blowing at a good force 5. I threfore am able to rattle along at a good 30k/h for much of the trip, taking in these banks and braes without seriously hindering progress. The wind is singing through the telegraph wires and the bike tyres swoosh along in unison on the still-wet roads. Their tune...? Ride of the Valkyries!!!!

Arriving at JO'G brings a short lived feeling of elation. There are photos to be taken, although the counterpart to the Land's End Signpost man here seems to have packed in for the day and taken the important bits of his sign with him. As it happens, the adjacent store has a conveniently painted signpost on its wall that does the trick. That's the top end of Scotland completed, now to head south.

A side trip to Cape Wrath

I have taken the Pentland Firth, or Northabout route as it is called at sea, to cross the Attlantic and seen the fabled Cape Wrath from the sea side on several occasions. Being so close to the famed Northwestern-most corner of the UK it is very tempting to do a "proper" coast ride, but with a distance in excess of 50 miles in ech direction from Bettyhill, I can't cycle it within the schedule. However, as the distance from Bettyhill to JO'G is only 51 miles, its possible to drive there and back to Bettyhill and still ride to JO'G within the day. We therefore decide to make an early start and take a drive to Cape Wrath.
The night was wild with strong westerlies and persistant rain buffeting the van and the morning dawned grey, heavily overcast with squally showers as we set off to the west. The town of Tongue, and then the circuit of the shores of Lough Eriball amid swirling low cloud added to the sense of isolation. Access to the Cape itself is possible only by ferry and then minibus - neither of which were operating on this dismal morning. Hardly surprising I suppose, but it's a disappointment to have come so far but not been able to reach the lighthouse.
We returned to Bettyhill with the weather clearing and by the time we were back at the site the skies were blue but with strong winds. The good news is that they are from the west.


28 October 2010

Dingwall to Bettyhill

Terry is a master 'vanner and expert at getting the van exactly at the right level, even to knowing that the nose needs to be down a tad in order to assist the shower to drain! The Dingwall site was sloping and this meant that he needed to use the ramp under the wheel on the door side of the van. As usual, he saw me off and then set about getting ready for the road. When I met him a couple of hours later, he told me that when he came to move the van off the ramp, he happened to be standing immediately next to the door. What he didn't expect was as the van was rolling off the ramp, the accumulated rain on the flat roof cascaded over the side and give him a thorough drenching! I know the feeling Terry!
The road out of Dingwall takes in the busy single carriageway A9 so there is no pleasure here. Looking over to the East I see the stream of traffic crossing the Cromarty Firth towards Inverness and think to myself that I will travel 250 miles before I am on that same road - more than 80 of these miles today. After leaving Alness, and the A9, things change dramatically along the B9176 and then the A836 to Bonar Bridge and Lairg, one of the few roads I ever travelled where an "A" road is a single track with passing places! The terrain here is unlike any other in the UK. It is beautiful, stark, bleak and largely empty. It is a such a great feeling to be in the open air and part of that.
We stop for coffee at Bonar Bridge and agree to rendezvous for lunch at the Crask Inn, a pub/B&B so remote that it features as a place name on the map! The last time I was there, there were 34 fellow soaked-to-the-skin cyclists crammed into its small bar. Today it is empty. We are greeted warmly however. They probably wont be offended if I say that the Crask isn't exactly the Ritz, but Kier and Mike still were kind enough to make a generous contribution to AOS. It is very humbling to see such kindness and I rejoined efforts towards Bettyhill with renewed vigour.
A late start and a long ride meant that it was really close to nightfall when I rolled in to Bettyhill. As I pass, nothing seems to have changed at the hotel, but the sight of the empty beach and the Pentland Firth gives me "another milestone" feeling. The site is just along from the hotel but is just as bleak as the countryside with a few statics that I note have some very substantial anchors lashing them down! Nevertheless it does have electric power which means we can stay warm without depleting the gas bottle. It is a stormy night and the prospects of the ride to John O'Groats in the morning in gale and rain are not encouraging.

Fort William to Dingwall

Another bright but very cold day dawns at our caravan site at Onich and Terry drives me the 8 miles into Fort William. In case you might think that this is cheating, I used these miles as a payback for adding 8 miles on leaving Inveraray due to a navigational (ie navigator) problem!
The ride from to Dingwall retraces the same route that we took in 2007, through very scenic areas including the Caledonian Canal.
I recall a recent episode of Coast that looked at the construction of the canal, pointing out that its timing turned out to be too late to make it a great comercial success due to the emergence of trains. A fact that stood out was that the navvies who dug the canal by hand, needed to demonstrate that they could dig a full 12 m3 every day. Amazing.
I was expecting a fairly easy day and followed the western shores of Loch Ness in dry weather and quiet roads. I overlooked however, that immediately after leaving the magically named Drumnadrochit, there is a gruelling hill that sees me again failing to stay in the saddle. It doesn't matter. I am past feeling shame at this stage!
The Dingwall site is almost empty and how it justifies a £24 a night fee beats me. What is notable is that on the other side of the site, a lightweight tent is pitched and a hardy and cheerful couple of pensioners seem to be enjoying themselves in this decidedly cold venue. What fantastic resiliance!

Fort William

Having a rest day at the Caravan Club's (CC) Bunree site is twice-blessed. Terry's thoroughness in planning the sites included a request to the CC asking if they would give us some support. What a generous response then to be given a free night's stay at each of the CC full sites. All CC sites are really a treat, being maintained to the highest standards but Bunree must be amonst the finest given its superb location. The scenery arross Loch Linhhie is amazing and having yet another cloudless and mild day makes it very special indeed. (Anyone who knows this area will realise just how rare an occasion this is!) We treat ourselves to the full Scotish before heading again to St Mary's to speak after the morning mass. Today is Mission Sunday so I make a point of telling the congregation that I am not making a collledtion, but just want to tell them about AOS. I am fast reaching the conclusion that "The Year of the Seafarer" is a very well kept secret. It is sad that no-one has heard of it.
In spite of my comment to the contrary several kindly parishioners do squeeze notes into my hand as they leave. One of these is a lady who is in her 90's. Another adds to the stash with a wry smile saying "It's expensive being a Catholic!" Lovely people - thanks so much. On returning to the site, Terry suggests a brosk walk! I decline with a lame excuse of needing to do some office work, when what I am looking forward to is a PM snooze. I do however find time to give the carpets a much needed vac, and also to clean the bike. Several people are lounging outside their vans in the warm sunshine. Definitely among the "Sights you seldom see" category. A delightful day.

25 October 2010

Inveraray to Fort William

As Terry returned me to the town of Inveraray to set me on my way towards Fort William the low cloud and rain was already clearing and the hills across to the Eastern shores of Loch Fyne were starting to become distinct. Ascending the steady climb out of the town and the day was improving with each passing minute, even though there was a real bite in the air.
The distant mountain tops of the Nevis Range were covered with a sprinkling of snow and so it made for a great ride.
Our regular schedule of rendezvousing for a coffee break after one third of the ride is working well - not to mention saving a fortune in paying pub prices!
Although it is a long ride, the day is exceptional and I am spending a lot of time stopping to take in the wonderful autumn scenery.
We have been fortunate in getting a booking at the Caravan Club site at Bunree, Onich, about 9 miles to the south of Fort William. I arrived at around 1700hrs to find that Terry had managed to procure a loch-side pitch. Not surprisingly for this most scenic of sites, it is fairly full even for the end of Oct and vanners are taking full advantage of the magical evening sun. BBQs are out and a brilliant sunset is in prospect. We need to rush however, as there is an appointment to speak after the 1800hrs mass in Ft William.
Fr Donald McKinnon at St Mary's is a wise and delightful story teller and he kindly cooks dinner for us after mass.

24 October 2010

Helensburgh to Inveraray

The rain that started on Thursday evening on the way to Helensburgh continued throughout the night. In a caravan you alway know exactly when it is, and when it isnt raining! Thinking positively that this was a good thing and that it would clear up by morning was mistaken. There was no easing as daybreak and breakfast came and went. I delayed leaving for as long as possible but this certainly was the day when there was no doubt about what to wear! The good news was that it's only a 70 odd km trip and easy to navigate. Terry agreed to meet me at the 30 km point. It was after 10:00 AM when I departed Balloch so this was a lunch rather than coffee stop. Constant rain and even with my "waterproof" jacket I am soaked on arrival. The soup and hot drink help and I contnued thinking that with already almost half the ride over, it's a straight run home. Why I overlooked the small matter of the Rest and be Thankful 300m climb, I cant imagine. For some reason it was on my mind that this memorable ascent was to be between Inveraray and Ft William. In a way it was a good thing not to have been expecting it, because I simply though of it as just another "bit of a climb" and got on with it. It therefore came as a quite a shock to see the famous signpost "Rest and be Thankful" at the summit. The descent was invigorating, but scary, since brakes weren't at their most effective, to say the least! The low cloud, thunder of roaring water in all directions from byrnes, brooks and culverts made for an exciting ride.
The approach to Inveraray is as picturesque as you could wish for but, hidden in a mist of rain and low cloud does detract a bit. Our site is located a couple of miles to the south of the village so I take in the views of the Para Handy boat (Vital Spark) replica, moored to the harbour wall in passing and squelch on in the still-pouring rain. Although I'm sure that no ill-intent was meant, an approaching Skoda timed his passing of a big puddle - no, pond - in the road in perfect sync to deliver a wave-load to drench me just as I passed!!!! The good news was that the loch-side site with waiting tea and hot shower was just a few hundred metres ahead.
Refreshed, we set off back to Inveraray for the wamest of welcomes and great food and craic at the George! Fr William McLean PP at St Margaret's Lochgilphead, with AOS supporters Mary McPherson and Ellen Simpson drove 25 miles in the wet stuff to meet us at Inveraray and we were joined by Inveraray locals Kenny Stark and Danny Kennedy who are all round warm, generous and dedicated men. Kenny spends so much of his time organsing Jumbulances to Lourdes for the Across charity it is amazing to learn of the number of seriously sick persons who are helped in this way. I hope I recall it correctly to say that an Across Jumbulance leaves the UK every week for Lourdes and that 7,000 people are able to make this trip.
The Across web site is http://www.across-uk.org/ We share many stories and of course Fr McLean's fondness for cycling adds a further interest. Details of St Mary's can be found on their site at http://www.lochgilpheadcatholic.com/ Theanks for giving us a wonderful evening. As always, the pain of the ride, the rain and the tiredness were all forgotten with such good companionship. Your contributions too to Seawheeling were most generous.

Lanark to Helensburgh (Balloch)

The stage from Lanark to Helensburgh is largely through the sprawl of Glasgow so I wasn't expecting much by way of spectacular scenery. The route taken on the LEJO'G ride in 2007 took us along the Clyde pretty much from Motherwell to Loch Lomond which was great and took in all the famous Glasgow river sights. The downside was that more punctures were had on that day than any other. It was again very cold and the tyres on the Condor aren't Armadillo's which, on my experience are virtually puncture-proof. I therefore elected to take the main roads through the city - of which there seem to be dozens.
Finding myself passing Motherwell railway station at around the 30k (coffee-stop) mark, I noted a refreshment wagon close to the entrance. It's good enough. Seeing me locking the bike to the chain fence, the lady at the counter asks me how far I'm going. When I tell her that it's Helensburgh she says I'd be better taking the bike on the train rather than leaving it locked to the rails. Evidently its chances of being there when I returned were zero!!! I laughed to explain her misunderstanding. But wait...train...bike...Helensburgh...???? Nah, I'm not going to get away with that kind of stunt so forget about buying a train ticket and content myself to munch on her tasty, but very heavy, cheese and ham toastie before getting under way.
Given the busy urban terrain, Terry and I agree that we wont rendezvous for lunch but meet instead at the destination site, Balloch which is on the southern shore of Loch Lomond, around 8 miles from our date tonight with Fr Peter Lennon, PP at St Joseph's Helensburgh.
The ride was unmemorable, but I did take the river route for several miles when I found myself at the top of Stockwell St. Passing the Holiday Inn Express and Scotia Inn where I spent many nights with "Jolly Jack" in the early 2000's brought back some great memories!
A quick shower at the Balloch site and then were are off to Helensburgh. The rain that was just starting did not stop for two days!! Fr Peter and his two lovely (self-styled) groupies, Rosaleen Moffat and top class cook Margaret Nicol give us our fourth roast of the week. Neither of us is complaining at all about this! Peter returned to Helensburgh about five years ago after many years at Glasgow City parishes. His passion to support handicapped children to go to Lourdes was revealed in a lovely story he told about visiting the parents of such a child. He knew that this was not a Catholic family but only when the father answered the door did the truth dawn. Peter described the father as "a ringer for Rab C. Nesbit" and this was compounded by the presence of the sash, Bible and King Billy pictures aound the wall! Was this a good place for a Catholic priest? Evidently when the idea of their child being taken to Lourdes was explained, the parents agreed, being at first puzzled, but none the less grateful for such a charitable gesture. Fr. Peter conluded the story by saying that the same man still does the rounds of pubs every Friday and Saturday night rattling a tin to support the Handicapped Children's Charity Trust. Thanks Fr Peter for giving us such an excellent evening. The roast was great, but the Crumple and the Roulade made it complete!!

21 October 2010

Carlisle to Lanark

The cold start on Tuesday had nothing on what Wednesday has to offer. We awoke to see both the front of the caravan and car windscreen frosted over. The single upside is that it is sunny, but the very strong northerly tells me there is a bleak day in prospect. I am cold to start with, and it doesnt get better - one of those days when you just dont warm up. The performance of my top-of-the-range heavy weather gloves isn't impressive and I was getting really c0ncerned later into the afternoon when numb fingers meant that pushing the gear levers across was hard going. The persistant wind in my face was so tiring. It's not impressive to find that even on slight ascents I was in bottom gear and struggling to make 15k/h.
The good news is that I d0nt need to worry too much about navigation as the majority of the ride is along the B7076 and latterly, the B7078 that interwine the M6 and M74. These are superb and empty roads, nestled between the main rail line into Scotland and the motorways. Thoroughly recommended if you are heading north and are bored with the motorways.

It seems quite surprising that after only two days after leaving Liverpool, I encounter the "Welcome to Scotland" signs at Gretna. The days when Gretna was the home for runaway marriages are remembered by the signs for the blacksmith's cottage and signs on another building announcing that 30,000 marriages were conducted at that location. Ecclefechan followed soon after and I looked without success for the hotel where we stayed with Bike Adventures on the way to John O'Groats in 2007.
The highlight of the day is at Lanark Racecourse where we meet with old friend Sean Noonan who has promoted the ride among the Lanark schools and resulted in a bevy of youngsters who are kitted out in appropriate gear and ready for a spin around the disused racetrack. Many thanks to the parents and the children from Lanark Primary who turned out to support Seawheeling. What a kind gesture. We completed the day with a fine roast at the home of Liz and Sean - the hardships of the day soon forgotten!

19 October 2010

Lancaster to Carlisle

I tell myself to write out 100 times "I must remember to do my stretching exercises after riding, and drink a lot more water and carb/electroytes drink." Chronic cramps in the quads last night were excruciating and there's only me to blame. I've tried to resolve that today.
We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before hitching up and going our separate ways. In deference to the sensitivities of other campers, I demurred at Terry's suggestion of a farewell hug! Although there was plenty of rain during the night it was fine and sunny morning - but single digit cold when I left. Today presents no problems with navigation. It is A6 all the way to Carlisle. Kendal provided the coffee stop and then the fun of approaching and climbing Shap began. Although nowhere near as tortuous as nearby Kirkstone Pass, Shap is a long grind and a poorly timed heavy shower plus the head wind made the going slow. My new Goretex waterproof hat does the business but its cute looking peak only serves to effectly cut forward visibility down to nothing.
I had suggested to Terry that we meet for lunch in Penrith, but after he had seen the Shap climb, he wisely decided to park up at Shap village and stop there. A welcome sight indeed to see the van opposite a pub door. The only downside of course was that there was still the small matter of the 30 remaining miles to Carlisle to complete. The afternoon continued with a cold northerly and a couple of heavy showers that didn't help me to stay warm. It was a long ride and I arrived at Carlisle at 1645 feeling very tired having clocked well over 70 miles.
Of course the good news is that Terry has taken care of setting up the van, and we are able to enjoy a warming cuppa before getting ready for our evening out. Tonight we are given royal treatment at the home of Rosemary Armstrong who has pasta, locally produced meat pies and a delicious apple pie. There were never two more grateful guests!
A look at the weather forecast is enought o put me off - snow is expected.
The photo shows the silver threads of the roads approaching Shap.

18 October 2010

Liverpool to Lancaster

I've always thought that our kids had full social lives but now I'm not certain. Two of them - the better looking and more intelligent ones that is - asked last week why I wasn't keeping up the blog!! The two weeks off were great but it's good to be back. As you can see, the modus operandi has changed for Part 2 and Terry Jepson, freshly returned from the National Parks of the US West, will act as roadie and chief caravan tow-er betweeen now and Hull. Terry helped to clean the van yesterday so it's looking spic and span for the first day on the road. The prospect of murderous Monday morning traffic on the M62 encouraged us to make an early start, so early it was - 06:00hrs to be precise. This paid off and we had a smooth journey, arriving at the Seafarers Centre at Liverpool shortly after 08:30, greeted by Peter Devlin, Jackie O'Connell and John Wilson, who is Chief Exec of the Liverpool Centre. (See photo)
Jackie told us that yesterday (Sun) a Filipino seafarer arrived at the centre dressed in just a tee shirt and torn jeans. No wonder the warm clothes that are so kindly provided by supporters of the Seafarers Centre are so welcome.
I managed just two hours on the bike during the two week break so was not really looking forward to today's 60 miles or so, but fortunately the road was flat and the strong wind blew from the Southwest - perfect conditions thqat aided good progress. The forecast of heavy showers amounted to nothing so it turned into a pleasant ride, the average speed being in excess of 16mph throughout the day.

Both the Willie Nelson and the Canned Heat songs about being on the road again come to mind but it's the verses from City of New Orleans that seem to sync perfectly with the cadence.

Terry has organised all the caravan sites, while Salvina has somehow "magic'd" a full invitation list setting out detailed plans for dinners and other functions that will take place as we progress. What a great talent - Thanks Salvina! Such a coincidence too, that we find that we are invited for dinner at the home of Eddie and Maureen Hignett who just happen to live only a mile from tonight's caravan site! We were treated to an excellent roast of lamb plus a perfect October evening's dessert of apple crumble and Custard! Thanks to you both for such a welcome and also to your friend Cliff who entertained us with stories of hill walking and passenger ship cruising. All good wishes to Cliff and Pauline for your Golden Wedding next year.

It's many years since our family holidays in a caravan, and amazing how, what used to be very basic Caravan Club Certificated Location (CL) sites have changed. In the 70's these were little more than fields with a fresh water stand pipe. Tonight we are located at at CL at Laverick Hall, abour 5 miles to the North East of Lancaster, with full electricity. excellent showers and toilets and even free wi fi, and not least a genial owner, William Tower who offered to drive to the caravan shop at Carnforth when we couldn't find the fresh water hose connection. Luckily it turned up in the sink. Yes, not being able to find stuff is definitely a man thing!

03 October 2010

The Liverpool Seafarers Centre

Fr Patsy and Peter leave us with the instructions to just follow the road towards Southport and then shoot off to put on the kettle at the Seafarers Centre. I'm energised with the presence of Martin and Dominic and we average around 34k/h for the final 5 miles. It was my first visit to the Liverpool Centre and a privilege to meet such a great group of supporters. Several seafarers were taking advantage of the hospitality in this fine building and computers were much in evidence as their key link with home. At least a dozen PCs and a similar number of phones are installed and on hand to make communication as accessible as possible.

It was a pleasure to end Part 1 of the ride at such a historic seafaring location.
In the photo, Front row. L to R, Fr. John Seddon, Fr Pat Harnett (port Chaplain), me, David Wilde (lay Chaplain). Back Row, Peter Devlin (lay Chaplain) and Fr Patsy Foley.

Holywell to Liverpool

The final day of Part 1 and we are joined by our elder daughter Catherine, her husband Dominic and Rebecca - age 16 months, The kindly Sisters from St Winifride's (Sister Roshni and Sister Jualiana pictured) wish us well and we take off on the final stage. The road to Birkenhead is flat and straight forward. Dominic is a recent convert to bikes with skinny tyres and sets a fair old pace after Catherine who has the added bundle on the pillion completes her 10 miles. We rendezvous a short way from the Woodside Mersey Ferry terminal in order to catch the correct ferry that will ensure the welcoming committee are out and waiting for us!
The sight of the Cunard and Liver Buildings are a stiring sight and again it strikes me that we have worked hard to earn these views. We dock at Liverpool pierhead just in front of the Liver Building and a few lines of Gerry Marsden's famous song that imortalised the ferry are played to add effect. The welcome sight of AOS Assistant Port Chaplain Peter Devlin and Fr Patsy Foley, former Southampton and Tilbury port Chaplain and recently appointed AOS roving ambassador greet us as we land. When Fr Patsy explains his new role I suspect that the previous challenges of getting Seafarers Centres up and running might seem like a piece of cake in comparison!
Younger daughter Aisling, Martin and Elijah join the family and photos are taken all round to commemorate this latest milestone.

Porthmadog to Holywell

When he saw that the Porthmadog to Holywell stage was forecast to be in heavy rain, Wille Austin suggested with a wink that I just do a "Garmin Cheat." By this he meant me putting the bike on the roof rack but with the Garmin switched on, and then driving at 13mph to simulate an actual ride! Neat idea Willie but you know how it is for Catholics and conscience! I could also envisage the rage of other drivers crawling behind! Having said this, I had no problem in having Maria giving me a lift out from Porthmadog to Penrhyndeudraeth (Thanks Google Maps ;-) for this) where she dropped me at the junction to the A496 to Ffestiniog. I had already covered this road comng into Porthmadog yesterday so it didn't feel like cheating (No matter that it would have been all uphill on the way out!)
The lack of rain has been so much of a feature of the ride - I estimate that I might have seen no more than 1hrs in total, but today I know from the start that this is going to be a wet one. As always, however, I find that there's so much to be positive about. This is incredibly beautiful countryside. There are two grinding hills which once again have me wishing for that third chain ring, but I can just about stay upright and in the saddle. The mountain tops are shrouded in scudding cloud and the rain falls steadily. A further happy event takes place mid way along the A470 out of Blaenau Ffestiniog where major road works are in progress. These involve long waits for motorists in both directions as lorries delivering stone to rebuild the parapet have to be unloaded, so block the single carriageway for long periods. Looking at this, I venture past the line of cars and ask if I can squeeze by. This request is greeted with a thumbs up from the gent handling the unloading so I get back to the climb well ahead of the motorists feeling smug. The descents on these hilly roads are so exhilarating and I just need to be careful not to go too fast. The rain stings like needles into my face but in these mountains the feeling of being at one with nature is so satisfying.
Betws y Coed - "Prayer house in the wood" if you are interested (thanks for this Tony!) is just as beautiful as I imagined it, but the numbers of visitors tramping around the gift shops tells me that they are missing the point. I share a warming but expensive soup and cake with Maria and leave for the afternoon session along the A470 just as the rain is easing. The compass is pointing almost due north which means that the coast at Llandudno is now not too far away. I also recall that looking at the route, seeing that the A470 runs alongside the Conwy Valley, this is going to be flat country! There is still a 28 mile ride ahead after Llandudno, but with favourable winds and lovely views, I am feeling in good spirits until a BMW driver, obviously not happy to have to share the road, "encourages" me to use the cycle path. Given time I could have explained that the Highway Code gives cyclists a choice, but content myself with bidding him a "Sailors' Farewell!!"
I arrive at St Winifrede's Guest house that is run by the lovely sisters of St Brigit of Sweden close to 1800. Maria is waiting and we are both feeling hungry so after the ever-welcome quick shower and change, we are off! Anyone looking for a restaurant around Holywell should check these out before arrival. We were close to Flint before coming across one that didn't mention Southern Fried, Doner, or take away. The food however made up for the long search!

Aberystwyth to Porthmadog

The coastal route via Borth might have provided better scenery but I'm more than satisfied with what the A487 is offering. The hills are undulating as far as Machynlleth when I enter the Snowdon National Park.
I was delighted to be contacted by my old friend Tony Jones, SIRE Auditor, and fanatical photographer, and who lives in Builth Wells. Tony has offered to come along and take some "proper" photos en-route.
I stopped at the Dolgellau Bike shop to replace my Arbus bike lock that for some reason refused to work and met the owner who was keen for me to sponsor him there and then in order for him to lock up his neat shop and join me for the rest of the ride! He promised me that the UK Coast ride was on his bucket list and gave me a replacement lock without charge. What a nice gesture.
Tony passed me and then stopped at several lay byes on the road to Porthmadog promising me that in spite of my snails pace, he would easily fix this in Photoshop to create the impression of speed!
Maria was shocked to see Tony waiting at the Ffestiniog Railway terminus at Porthmadog, having not received my text but added to the welcome with a few snaps of this lovely town. We took the short ride to Portmerion where we had the inevitable cup of tea and cheese bap. The kindly lady who served us was a marathon runner and wanted to show her sympathy for a fellow sufferer by piling in as much cheese as she possibly could! All of these sights offer so much of intersest, and we are surely just experiencing a trailer for the real thing at some stage in the no too distant future.
We spent the night at the Church of the Holy Redeemer Presbytery with Parish Priest Fr Pius Mathew, who is from Kerala. In spite of Fr Mathew's assertion that he is a modest cook, we greatly enjoyed his Chicken Biriani and Pilau and also learning of his early life in India.
The photo shows with Fr Mathew and attendees at Mass.

02 October 2010

Cardigan to Aberystwyth

It's an ill wind...
The two key things I need to remember each night before turning-in is to charge my phone and the wretched Garmin. I've mentioned my disgust at its performance as a navigator, but it is essential for stats and in fairness, using the built-in maps for major citiy destinations has its uses. I just know not to follow any of its illogical directions.

When I looked for the Garmin, I realised that it was missing and then, even worse, remembered it was in my rucksack, and that was on the back seat of the car, which returned to Milford several hours previously with Fr JJ and AOS Director Martin Foley. The good news was that Martin was to return to Cardigan en route to Aberystwyth the following morning in order to pick up my overnight stuff. It therefore just meant a later departure. By the time Martin arrived at 11:00, the rain was clearing. The wait permitted a further chat with Fr Jason Jones who told me about the visit of the Pope and of his involvement with taking the statue of Our Lady of the Taper to Westminster. He also mentioned that Bishop Tom Burns (Bishop of the Menevia Diocese and also Bishop Promoter for AOS) led a Mass of thanksgiving following the Pope's visit, and started his homily. "The Papal visit was a disaster..." and then, "It was a disaster for the BBC, a disaster for the Press, etc...!" I have missed all of the coverage but loved that quote.

With the clearing weather, I enjoyed yet another fine ride enjoying favourable winds and stunning scenery. This part of Wales is completely new to me and I am further captivated when I stopped for lunch at Aberaeron. (See photo) My first experience of eating Cawl (Coul) too! This is another shortish ride and I arrived at Aberystwyth to meet Maria who has roadie duties until Liverpool. She wasn't waving balloons, but did manage to comment that I wasn't as gaunt as she had expected :-)
We enjoyed a cuppa in the warm afternoon sun, and then I rode the final 5 miles or so to Bow St where we stayed at a country house hotel. The muscle pain in my quads on restarting after resting for more than a few minutes gets more acute but passes however as the muscles warm up. I am now remembering to follow Vinny's stretching tips and must say that I haven't had the pain of severe cramps in recent days.