Friday, 8 June 2012

Day 8: Rhoscolyn to Chester

So this stage was meant to take 10 days- 7 days cycling then a rest day in Rhoscolyn, followed by 2 more days of cycling.

We were meant to have a rest day today- to put up our wet and weary feet, enjoy the warmth of the pub and go fishing in our kayaks so we could smoke mackerel on the beach. Both Nick and I were really looking forward to today.

The reality is that severe weather is predicted for the next 3 days across the whole of the UK but primarily west Wales. Great.

The idea of spending an entire day inside, with wind and rain lashing at the windows might seem a good option, but we'd be sitting there thinking "We both know we're going to be cycling in this tomorrow and the next day so there's not much point feeling smug now."

UPDATE- April 2013 : We can now inform our readers that the real reason we decided to skip the rest day and combine the next two days of cycling was because Nick and his wife found out they were expecting their first baby, Ella, who is now 3 months old! It certainly was an exciting end to the trip!

So, having got ourselves dry last night had a delicious supper at The White Eagle we set our alarms for 6:15am. This proved to be as painful as expected and after scoffing some muesli and packing our panniers, we were pushing on our pedals by 7am sharp.

Why the early start I hear you ask? Well, we planned not only to sacrifice our precious rest day, but also do both Saturday's ride and Sunday's ride in one day. That's 190km of fun. Rhoscolyn to Chester in one day- not a small days riding by anyones measure. Judging by the fact we finished most days in the late afternoon, in addition to our early start we'd have to ensure breaks were kept to a minimum and all under 5-10 minutes long.

So far, this doesn't sound much fun, but I've yet to explain our reasoning... the storms that were scheduled were all Westerly winds gusting 25mph. We were heading East. This meant that for the majority of the day we should have wind on our backs...or if we were going 25mph have no wind at all!

Heading North from Rhoscolyn, we arrived at Treaddur Bay by 7:20am and took a photo in about 45 seconds and were back on our bikes as if our lives depended on it. From there we continued North to Holyhead, the gateway to Ireland by Ferry, where there was another RNLI station.

The undulating terrain of Holy Island was more than I remember and as we crossed the 4 mile bridge (not actually 4 miles long) onto Anglesey we were beginning to feel 7 days of cycling accumulating in our legs. The rain was just starting but the wind had yet to appear... I was almost wanting it by now.

We got into a steady rhythm of 2 minutes each at the front taking the brunt of the wind cruising along at 35km/hr along empty 2 lane A-roads. If this kind of progress continued we'd have no trouble getting the 5:40pm train from Chester that would take us both back to our loved ones.

We had our first little break at Moelfre, enough time to wolf down a couple of Welsh Cakes and a few sips of gatorade. We sheltered ourselves from the rain (poorly) in the doorway of the RNLI station but it was a rather pathetic effort by anyones judgement. Buoyed on by the fact we only had one more station to visit before mainland Wales we set off for Beaumaris with a bit more spring in our cycle.

I think we were both deciding not to mention to each other that the weather was essentially utterly miserable and that it's days like this that make the beautiful days of sunny weather that much sweeter.

Beaumaris, a pretty town on the East coast of Anglesey, which draws plenty of tourists was practically dead. The wind and rain kept all but the mad inside and the best we could find for our 5 minute break was sheltering under a bus stop- although it did have a fantastic view of the Menai Straits. We absorbed the warmth of a bacon and egg bap and a chocolate bar and felt alarmingly good considering we had 80km under our belts and it was only 11:30am. It's amazing how psychological these things are- if we only had another 20km to do (which was initially the plan for Saturday's ride) we'd probably be feeling much more tired. But we just couldn't feel tired when we had another 110km to ride!

It was over the Menai Bridge (which up until that point I had always confused with the Brittania Bridge), through Bangor and onto Conwy before we stopped again. By now our tailwind had arrived but for 15km of northward travel it was hitting us directly side on- not fun.

By now, unless we were cycling, we were cold. If we got cold we got tired. If we got tired we cycled dangerously. So we just decided to keep cycling, keep warm and make that train in Chester.

With this in mind the journey from Conwy to Chester become somewhat of a blurr. The primary events of which that stick out was our route taking us onto a coastal walking path that is completely incapable of being cycled. Our only way out was to backtrack through a farm covered in slurry carrying our bikes. This sounds horrendous but actually we were only concerned about getting cold and wasting time.

We then had a rather horrific section of A55 (triple lane A-road) to cycle in the thick rain with poor visibility with cars going past at 70mph! We got off this as quick as possible and tried to find a better route to cycle. After getting directions from a local carpenter to "the £1 million cycle route that no one used!" we found ourselves making progress a little slower but far more safely.

This cycle route took us from just before Conwy all the way past Rhyl to Prestatyn not straying more than 50m from the sea! It was epic. We headed due west for over 20 miles on a dedicated cycle path with wind slapping our backs. For over an hour we averaged about 40km/hr! It was fantastic!

The string of rather grotty towns came and went on our right hand side. We try our best not to bad mouth certain areas of the UK but Rhyl was probably one of the most horrible places we'd been to yet. We were 'welcomed' to the area by a rather bedraggled looking man in a long leather coat. 100m behind him was a employee of a local ASDA on the phone to the police, asking us if we saw the man in the long black coat carrying a knife! We had clearly not known how lucky we were. It was fair to say we didn't wait around long at the lifeboat station.

Veering inland and heading further south took to wind from our backs and deposited it on our sides again. We had another 30 km to cycle and there was only one way to do it, get our heads down and cycle hard. Which we did and apart from a brief stop at Flint RNLI station we barely looked back.

We arrived at Chester at 4:15pm, an hour early! We hugged, celebrating a tough day in the saddle and boarded the next train to London. We went to one end to deposit our bicycles in the appropriate carriage and found the seating area to be empty. Our desires to be warm and dry were so great that we both started to get changed there and then.

We were in such an odd state of tiredness and delirium at our achievement that once we had dry boxer shorts on we almost thought it completely fine to be wandering around the aisle of a train virtually naked. As soon as this dawned on us we got ourselves dress and packed our wet clothes into a bag. By Crewe we were warm, dry and fed and celebrating another fantastic year of our adventure.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Day 7: Abersoch to Rhoscolyn

We woke in the crew room of the Abersoch RNLI station to the loud pitter patter of rain on the Velux windows above us. Not the best noise to hear at the start of a day's cycling!

We checked the forecast to see if it was worth waiting for a while until the rain stopped, however this was optimistic thinking... Heavy rain and head winds forecast all day! So, I resigned myself to getting drenched again, donned the kit which I had washed and spent huge effort drying overnight, and set off into the rain for another soaking.

Rad on the other hand donned the kit that he hadn't bothered to wash- smug from the fact that all of my efforts to wash and dry my kit which were a waste of time, and also clearly delighted by the fairly fruity smell of his kit which I would need to endure for the coming day. 

Not only this but Rad’s focus on cutting weight down when packing for the trip had meant that he had taken measures such as cutting his toothbrush in half, and more importantly for me, leaving his deodorant behind... this led to some fairly interesting’ smelling kit by the end of each day, and Day 7 was certainly no exception.

Cycling through torrential rain, it began to dawn on us that there was a bit of a pattern emerging here with the Welsh weather!  The only way I could describe this morning's ride, is by asking you to imagine someone spraying a cold power shower directly in your face for three hours consecutively. You will now begin to realise how enjoyable the ride was through the hills to the north of Abersoch.

We headed north westward across the Lleyn Peninsular into strong head winds, until we reached the Porthdinllaen Lifeboat Station, which was located at the end of a rough gravel track on a remote promontory. What a phenomenal spot. The storm was reaching its peak by the time we arrived at the station- strong winds and heavy rain battering us as we tentatively cycled along the track, working hard to avoid potholes or getting knocked off by the strong gusts of cross wind.  A quick photograph and we were back on our way, to avoid getting any colder! What a phenomenal spot thought, and we wished the weather had been kinder to us so that we could have admired this with a little less haste... 

We ploughed on for a couple of hours heading northward, stopping briefly at a service station for some food and in an attempt to warm up. The very kind lady a the services gave us each a mug of coffee from their staff room to help us warm up, and sent us on our way again- back in the rain.

About half an hour on, and we crossed the Mennai Bridge onto Anglesea. Seeing a break in the rain (in the knowledge of heavy rain forecast all afternoon) and even a brief sunny spell, we woolfed down a few Eccles cakes before getting under way again.  Deciding to pick up the pace a bit, we began streaming behind one another for two minute intervals across Anglesey targeting  an average of 30 km / h.


But with Rad and I being rather competitive animals, the pace kept creeping up, and we ended up averaging 38kmph over the coming hour with top speeds of over 50kmph on the downhills. Head’s down we forged on across the island and were soon pulling up the Hart-George family’s wonderful house in Rhoscolyn. No sooner had we arrived but the heavens opened and it began pouring- good timing for once!

Thankfully we had the use of the Hart Georges washing machine at their house and quickly loaded Rad’s stinking kit into it before a very welcome hot shower and change into dry clothes, before heading off to the pub for a late lunch, followed by a brief windswept walk down to the Rhoscolyn Bay. Not quite the weather we were hoping for with our planned rest day coming tomorrow. During the afternoon and over supper we began contemplating the idea of getting up early the following day (which was forecast for gale force winds, driving rain and flooding), and plough our way across North Wales in an attempt to get the rest of the trip done in a single day. Based on the forecast this started looking like quite an appealing option and the seed was sown.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Day 6: Aberystwyth to Abersoch

Another cracker of a day. It began with one of the best send offs we have had yet- a warm bacon baguette brought to the station by Gem who was also kind enough to cook supper for us (with Emily) and 12 other crew members last night.

We were also joined by Ian, another crew member, paramedic and keen cyclist, for the first 40km of today's ride and it was great fun to have the company. Using his in depth local knowledge, he navigated us to our first station in Borth via a much flatter route than we had planned which given yesterday's issues with me being stuck in one gear was a welcome change of plan!

While cycling as a three, we chatted about the local area, and living by the coast and the more I hear about it the more I am looking forward to living by the sea. This trip is such a great way to meet people from all over the country, and normally they are so friendly- which makes sense- idiots generally don't volunteer to be crew of the local RNLI station!

A few kilometers past Borth we arrived at the edge of the Coed-y-Glyn Eestuary- we could see the other side a few hundred meters away where our next station (Aberdovey) was situated but between us and that was either a cold swim or a 20km detour to the nearest bridge- we opted to cycle... just.
Ian left us at the bridge to make his way home and have a sleep before his nightshift and Nick and I ploughed on, into an increasingly strong headwind.... it also began to rain, which was fun. The views of the estuary kept us motivated and before long we were chatting to the local helmsman at Aberdovey, who rather frustratedly informed us that if he has not been imminently required at a wedding would have loved to have joined us- we presumed he was a guest.

The coastal road from Aberdovey to Barmouth (over a railway bridge but a shame about the rather tacky town) and onto Criccieth (far nicer) was simply spectacular. I think it was one of the best cycling routes we have done on the RNLI Tour of Britain yet!

The road divided the Snowdonia National Park and the Irish sea. It's almost perfect tarmac gently undulated and we witnessed rainclouds sweeping accross the skyline accompanied by their dark shadows. The breaks in the cloud would allow for some fantastic crepuscular light shows. Truly memorable.

With two stations still to do- Pwllheli and Abersoch- we could not afford much time off the bikes but we did managed to carve a slot into our schedule to taste the 'world famous' (I'd never heard of it) Cadwalader's ice cream. I must confess the natural yoghurt flavour with an extra fudge stick was arguably better than the views of the Irish Sea!
By now we just wanted to finish for the day so we got our heads down and did the last 20km in just under an hour, including a photo outside the stations. We were let into the Abersoch Station and kindly given a key and some local advice on restaurants. All that was left was to wash- made harder by the fact the station had no shower- but a (very) cold hosepipe provided a 'refreshing' alternative.

We're both happy with today- 6 stations visitted, plenty of miles done with some spectacular views to remember. Tomorrow is supposed to be wet and windy (again) so if you're anywhere near the Lleyn Peninsula and see two wet cyclists please offer them a cup of tea.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Day 5: Fishguard to Aberystwyth

We woke at Luke Garfield's House just outside Fishguard this morning, after a great night's sleep. Following a quick pack and wash we sat down for breakfast with the others, during which the rain began... By the time we set off, we were having to battle our way through heavy rain and strong winds, both of which worsened over the first hour of the ride, leaving us completely drenched and pretty chilly...

We were however focused on a principal task for the day, while travelling along the coast- to find a bike shop where we could buy Rad some new gear cables... Being stuck in a single gear (which could only be altered by stopping and adjusting his gear hub with a spanner), was clearly less than ideal in the Welsh hills! 

So, the search began, and Rad battled on like a champ without complaint... We did some research the night before and found out that there was a bike shop at our first stop- Cardigan. Fighting our way through the rain and strong head winds, we eventually arrived at Cardigan, only to find out that the bike shop was closed for the Queens Jubilee bank holiday... Great! Time for a plan B...

We headed down to the Cardigan RNLI station, where we were given a very warm welcome and cup of tea by Rachel who works in the RNLI shop. While we were there, we did some Internet research and found out, much to our surprise, that there was a bike shop at our next stop of the day- New Port. We called them and sure enough, they said they were open until 2pm. We explained the predicament but emphasised that we were a little further down the Welsh coast and would do our best to make it to them by 2pm, and they seemed happy to wait for a few minutes past 2pm for us. 

We raced ahead, through the elements to cover the 25 miles to New Quay over some challenging terrain, with Rad still stuck in one gear. It only dawned on us about 15 minutes before arrival however that there are the Newquay's... Sure enough the one we were visiting had no bike shop at all, and the shop keeper in New Quay- Cornwall - hadn't thought it worth mentioning that he wasn't In Wales! Time for plan C...  

While having lunch in Newquay (Wales!) we did some further research online and found out that Aberystwyth (the final stop of the day) had a Halfords which closed at 6pm. The race was on again, and with Rad still stuck in one gear (stubbornly refusing to let me take any of his kit) progress was not fast! After a long and hilly ride, but thankfully with some marginally better weather we arrived at Halfords with two minutes to spare and Rad at last had the parts he needed to fix his bike.

Soaked and windswept we headed on through the town to Aberystwyth RNLI station where, completely unannounced
we were given the warmest welcome we have received on he expedition to date. 14 of the crew had come down to greet us as we cycled in, with 'Welcome Rad and Nick' signs in the windows, a cold drink waiting, hot shower and then the most incredible home cooked dinner laid on by the crew. It was truly phenomenal, and hugely appreciated by us both- especially after what had been a bit of a nightmare day.


We had a fantastic meal with them all, and heard about their recent call out's  and some of the more amusing experiences they have had over the years. After supper, e went down to the boat for a photo with the crew and an couple of Rad and I dressed up in RNLI dry suits, before saying our farewells. Heading back up to the Crew Room Rad and I then set about fixing his bike- which with huge relief, we achieved, in preparation for a long day's cycle tomorrow.


Monday, 4 June 2012

Day 4: Angle to Fishguard

Starting off today's cycle with a 15km detour around Pembroke Dock Estuary is never the best way to start a day in the saddle. The other side is constantly in view, always there, just the other side of the water, letting you know that every pedal you do is in the 'wrong' direction. It also didn't help that the weather was awful- no matter what direction we were cycling it always seemed to be a headwind and this wasn't because we were cycling fast- we weren't, largely down to the fact that I had snapped a gear cable rendering it impossible to change gear unless I got off the bike, took out my leatherman multitool and turned an 8mm bolt 5 degrees.

This process took so long that it ended up being quicker to labourously churn up hills in a middle gear with a cadence (number of pedal revolutions per minute) of about 6! I had to pull on the handlebars with all my might, for standing with all my weight on one pedal would not be sufficient to get up some of these hills!

I reconcilled this annoyance as best as I could by thinking of it as 'good training' and that resolved that 'at least I can still cycle' albeit at about 3mph up hills and about 12mph downhill, far slower than normal, for once I had achieved a given speed on the descents, my pedalling would be pointless as I could not spin the pedals fast enough to provide any benefit.

Nick, as you would imagine, was fantiastic - offering to take weight from my bags (politely declined) and taking the brunt of the headwind most of the day (quickly accepted).

Anyway- what did we see today? From Angle (an indutrial style station perched on the headland of the north Gower coast) we cycled east, then west around the estuary and over to Little & Broadhaven, where upon arrival we saw the Sea King helicopter take a suspected 'bent diver' to hospital. All very exciting.

From there we headed north past St Davids and down to the coast where there was an incredibly picturesque station situationed just off the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. On our way back up through St. Davids we had a quick walk past the beautiful cathedral.

North from St. David's holds special memories for me, having got engaged there earlier this year. I popped the question on a cliff just south of Porthgain, so we ventured off the A-road and down to the village so I could show Nick the area. Where we had been the only car there in February, people were parking 600m up the road leading into Porthgain in June! Still, the combinations of little art galleries, great pubs and a stunning coastline makes this a wonderful place.

From there we climbed our way (slowly) north where we were scheduled to meet up with some Ferg (a school friend of both Nick and I) and Luke (a university friend of Nick's), the latter of which had a cottage on the outskirts of Fishguard.

Just before we reached them, I passed a marine chandlery and to my surprise (being a bank holiday) saw an 'open' sign on the door. I popped in andexplained that I was looking for a 5mm star shaped alan key. He kindly went away and returned with the appropriate tool as part of his own personal toolkit. After I bored him with who we were and what we were doing and asking if I could leave a deposit for the tool and post it back to him once I'd fixed the bike, he slowly lifted his t-shirt and revealed his RNLI pager- he was crew. He told me to post it back when I was finished and wished us luck!

10 minutes later we both had a beer in hand and explained the toils and tribulations of our day to Ferg, Luke and a few of their friends who had come to Pembrokeshire for the long weekend. Recounting our troubles acted as a form of therapy and after the chat (and the beer) things were looking up.

A fiercy competitive game of croquet followed (which Ferg and I won) and various parts of animals were being slowly cooked on the BBQ- now this is more of a holiday!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Day 3: Burry Port to Angle

Following a great night's sleep and cracking breakfast at the George Hotel in Burry Port (with many thanks to Hefin Williams for kindly putting us up) we were soon back on the road.

The day began damp and breezy, and rapidly became wet and windy! We were soaked within an hour and remained that way throughout the day. The wonderful easterly tail wind which we had yesterday had turned to a strong westerly head wind. This combined with our first taste of the Welsh Hills made for a challenging day.

By now we felt we were well into Wales- the country of dragons and leeks, Brains Beer and valleys, and apparently a lot of suped up cars!

After slogging our way through the elements for over 50km, we arrived in Tenby (our half way point for the day) and quickly settled into a cafe to try to warm up up and have an early lunch to recharge the batteries. What we hadn't realised was that we weren't in in Tenby at all, but rather the small seaside town of Saunderfoot. We therefore needed to get our wet kit back on after a brief lunch and plough on over several more windswept hills in driving rain before reaching our actual half way point - the picturesque seaside town of Tenby and it's phenomenal new RNLI station.

Although the weather was terrible, Tenby was teaming with people being the Queens Jubilee celebrations. The lifeboat station was also filled with visitors, however we received a very warm welcome from the crew including a fantastic cup of tea, and a photograph with 'Stormy Stan' on the boat!

Being soaked and cold, we decided to crack on and were soon in the saddle again, battling the elements and hills!

It was a tough afternoon, but after 95km, we arrived at Angle RNLI station. It really was a heavenly sight after such a miserable day!

Rich the Mechanic and Andy the Coxen, kindly came down to let us in and give us a coffee and a tour of the station. What an incredible place and absolutely amazing setting. Perched on the rocky estuary edge in a very remote position, the station houses a Tamar offshore lifeboat on ramp, and crew room above with 270 degree views of the estuary (our accommodation for the night). The estuary was more industrial than we had seen to date, with oil and gas refineries and shipping along the far shore, but this made for some incredible recounts of rescues by the RNLI crews. Rich and Andy looked after us like kings.

Following a much needed shower to wash and warm up, we headed into the local village for a pint and supper at the local pub. before heading back to the station for an early night.

Day 2: Porthcawl to Burry Port

What a day! The sun was shining the wind was on our backs (most of the time) and we were done and dusted by 4pm!After an early start after a large cooked breakfast from Olivia's house B&B in Porthcawl (which was excellent) we headed towards the Port Talbot. On our arrival we found about 50 women doing some form of military fitness on the amazingly long beach. We can confirm that there was the full spectrum of human shapes and sizes present all giving it their best 'rocky' style running up the steps from the beach to the promenade. This spectacle delayed our departure by 10 mins or so but it was well worth it.

Spurred on by their enthusiasm, We set off for The Mumbles. With a strong Easterly wind on our back and our heads down we were there by 11am and were very happy with our progress.

Greeted by Shirley and Tony who were managing the RNLI shop. They kindly filled our bottles and even bought us a bag of fruit sherbets each!

The afternoon cycle was a little longer heading onto then of the Gower Peninsula via the Horton and Port Eynon Station which was sat back from a beautiful beach flanked by cliffs reminiscent of the Jurassic Coast.

Heading East off The Gower meant tackling the wind that had been on our backs all day- this slowed our progress somewhat but a portion is scampi and chips eased the pain. All that remained
was the 30km left to Burry Port.

The last 5km of which was a beautifully tarmac'd cycle path running alongside the beach. We celebrated our completed day with a Mr. Whippy and headed to The George B&B which Hefin Williams (one of the crew) had kindly put us up in. We gave him a call and ended up having a few pints with him and some fellow crew mates who are all such genuine guys. What a welcome!

The sound of karaoke across the road is 'lulling' is to sleep albeit at 9pm! Rain is forecast for all day tomorrow so wish us luck!