With our trip to Holland fast approaching we thought this would be a good idea to test out some of the new kit that we had acquired over the winter. The plan had been to cycle to Cardiff and back in the week of 28th May, though the forecast had been fine, much to Mr V’s irritation (you may recall, he takes an inaccurate weather forecast as a personal affront) it changed dramatically the day before our due departure with heavy rain meaning that our plans also required some fluidity. The following week though, the forecast remained resolute that the sun would shine with the chance of rain minimal. We set out early on the allotted day as we had a 5 pm deadline to book into the chosen campsite, heading off on a familiar route that we take when journeying to Bristol, stopping for coffee at our usual bench at the 2 hour point just outside Berkeley. This is clearly a favorite cyclists’ stop as the parish have installed a small bike rack next to the bench, and indeed we had not been there more than 5 minutes when a couple of road cyclists drew up for a break, clearly hoping to have found the bench free. We exchanged the usual pleasantries; enquiries of where each were heading, and from whence we had come, judging each other’s journey length and bestowing the appropriate kudos.
We were conscious of our deadline and the uncertainty of how long we would take to cover the remaining miles (I shall revisit the matter of distance later), so did not tarry long over our coffees. We rode on to Severn Beach, which is where we diverged from our usual Bristol route. Previously the Severn crossing has been a distant landmark, today though, we would ride across. I was beyond excited at the prospect! There are now two Severn bridge crossings, and we were headed for the earliest of them. It’s elegant white suspensions towers, similar in form to it’s larger and more colourful San Franciscan cousin, drawing ever closer with each pedal turn.
I had expected to feel a frisson of danger in the exposure on such an open bridge, with little separation from the traffic on the roadway. Our experiences of the Avonmouth crossing are of a frenetic almost overwhelming rush of traffic just a couple of feet away, the sound of which fills the ears and reverberates through the body so that it is a palpable relief to leave it behind. Perhaps it was the glorious weather, or the fact that this is clearly the least busy of the two crossings, but it was a joy to traverse. The cycle-way is really quite open on both sides giving panoramic views of the magnificent vista and up close sight of the monumental engineering of the bridge itself. Once across we wended our way along the quiet country lanes (quiet apart from the tractor traffic, for whom this is their office) and came to rest at a very pretty little chapel, which did not disappoint in the provision of a peaceful bench where we could lunch. The only downside of our arrival was the long freewheel downhill to get there. Yes, there is little I find more joyous than a good old freewheel, where Talula really comes into her own as the weight does make her build up quite a speed. However, where we are undertaking ‘there and back’ journeys, the exhilaration is rather tempered by the thought that the hill will not be nearly so much fun going up!
Conscious of the miles we still had to go, we did not stop too long here either, just long enough to refuel give the derrières a little respite, and pass the time of day with a couple of hikers. Pressing on we covered roads so little used that there was a grass verge in the centre, and a dedicated cycle-way that had such a loose and bumpy surface that we were glad of Talula’s off-road hybridization, though in spite of this, there were still a couple of hairy moments where her back end started to slide away.
After a bit of a slog, we reached the outskirts of Newport and our second bridge of the day. This was also a marvel of engineering, being a ‘transporter bridge’. For those, like me, who have never experienced such a thing, this is essentially a platform suspended from a scaffold river crossing, which is moved from one side to the other, in the way of a ferry. Only travelling through the air, rather than the water. We arrived just as a gentleman completed his descent of the stairway within the tower, having walked across the upper gantry of the bridge, which I have to say was rather a knee trembling height!
Once across, we reviewed our route as at this point we had the option of a direct course to Cardiff, or a more circuitous route that would take us up on the surrounding hills. The latter had been the original plan, however we were starting to tire from the rigour of the miles covered thus far, and worried that the time and effort to do the prettier route would mean that we would arrive in Cardiff too late and exhausted. We therefore opted for the more direct route, and pressed on through the pleasant enough countryside until we hit the outskirts of Cardiff, where we had to use google maps to navigate to the campsite, which was in a park in the centre of the city. Negotiating the city traffic without the benefit of dedicated cycle tracks is always rather perilous, and we seemed to hit the city at one of the busiest times of day so there were a few frayed nerves before we eventually got off the road and into the parkland. We arrived with about 20 minutes to spare for check in, and were very surprised to find the site had every nook booked out on a Wednesday. It transpires that Beyoncé was playing at the Millennium Stadium that night, so all the single ladies just happened to converge on Cardiff on the very same night we did.
The purpose of the trip was to test out the bike, camping equipment and some new bits and pieces that we had acquired following last year’s trip. New stuff included some well reviewed air pillows, and an upgrade of the Bunsen burner stove which did not teeter quite so alarmingly. Having guzzled the reviving cups of tea hastily bought from the cafe before it closed, we set about the task of pitching the tent and were pleased that this was a relatively smooth operation. We were thoroughly spent from the long day, but had not brought provisions for supper having planned to pick up something fresh from the supermarket we had identified on the map as close to the campsite. However, close turned out not to be that close, and entailed a 10 minute cycle, our legs and derrières protested at this betrayal having considered their work done for the day. Needs must though, and wearily we peddled along the banks of the river through the park. The day had been hot and the evening was sultry so even this short trip seemed hard work. Provisions purchased though, we headed back so that we could at last relax with the aid of a bottle of something to hit the spot after a long day.
Our evenings when touring on Talula tend to follow a tranquil pattern; once supper has been finished, Mr V will review the next day’s route and I do a little blogging, with both of us discussing ideas before we wearily tuck up for the night. Tonight though, we seemed far wearier than usual and wondered if this was due to the warmth of the day or our fitness levels not yet being up to where we were last season. We have found that we are well capable of covering about about 50 miles per day for many consecutive days cycling around Holland last year, so perhaps it was the English miles that are more challenging given the terrain? When reviewing our progress however, Mr V discovered that there was a fatal error in not checking mileage prior to planning a route. What he had taken for an average days cycle, was actually about 20 miles longer. Twenty hilly miles longer; no wonder we were spent!
I am afraid that once again, my blogging suffered as it remained started but unfinished as my eyelids grew heavy and I had to surrender to slumber. Alas though, this was relatively short-lived as all the single ladies heralded their triumphant return from worship with little care that it was 01.30am and canvas offers no sound-proofing. Having woken, I realized also that there was a definite chill in the air and so a return to sleep eluded me and I awaited the dawn chorus as a cue to commence the day.
The weather had promised another warm day, but as we rose rather early, there was still only grey cloud and heavy dew so dressing and ablutions were carried out with briskness. The time to test the new stove had arrived, and having carefully purchased the extra-long variety of matches given my nervousness around the ferocious earlier contraption, we were impressed that the new improved stove had a push button ignition, rendering the matches redundant. Porridge and coffee made, we quickly and quietly broke camp to embark on what we now knew to be a far longer journey home than we had imagined.
We had skirted around the top of Cardiff and dropped down to the centre to arrive yesterday, so we decided to do a little early morning tour around the sea lock of the Cardiff Bay area, and indeed were not disappointed at being able to take in a few sights whilst the city was still rubbing bleary eyes and not fully awake. We then retraced our steps out of the city back to Newport, but due to the early start had to make a slight detour to cross a regular bridge as the transporter was yet to commence crossings.
The cycle-way ran alongside the main thoroughfare and so was not the most pleasant ride and we were relieved when we once again joined the quieter back roads, even if they were a little scrappy. On we rode, but our legs were heavy today, and the sky remained too grey to lift the mood. Nearing the turning to our previous day’s ‘chapel of rest’ we considered the option of staying on the A-road for a quicker more direct progress or the albeit pretty but slog up the previous day’s long freewheel. We opted for the former, thinking that this would cut out the worst of the hill. We were mistaken, we still had to make the height, but in a much shorter distance – I am still not sure whether this was the right decision or not as our legs were like jelly when we reached the summit. The payoff though was an almost constant downhill trajectory right up to the Severn bridge; a welcome respite.
The rest of the journey was relatively uneventful, there was a distinct lack of pleasant stopping places so we peddled on to Littleton-upon-Severn and stopped at a popular out of the way pub/restaurant and guzzled shandy, tea and scoffed delicious steak cut chips.
Taking stock, we had felt that we were on the home leg, having peddled for 6 hours at this point; we calculated though that in actual fact we still had about another 3 hours before we would reach home. Fortified though with our tea and carbs we dug deep and looked to the positives that this was a fiber building exercise. We reached the bike stop outside Berkeley and gave ourselves a breather, I made the mistake of laying down on the bench as I was feeling bone weary and sleep deprived completely identifying with this gif!!
The need to get home so that we could rest properly was overwhelmingly strong so we roused ourselves for the final push, clocking up the miles and ticking off the list of familiar landmarks that signposted our home turf. Finally we made it, our elation only diminished slightly by the dishevelment of the house courtesy of our two kidult sons. Now on the eve of our 3 week adventure to Holland, Germany and Denmark, you can bet your bottom dollar I have fully appraised them of the house-keeping expectations on our return!