A whistle stop visit to Wales

13 May 2023

Tues 9-10 May. Chepstow to Cardiff. 55km.
I had a work call to do at 9am so we left Chepstow around 9:45am which was a late start for us. But as we were planning a day off in Cardiff didn’t mind how late we got there – and we were staying with friends Alan and Paul so it will all be very relaxed. Stayed along route 4 as far as Newport which was a bit hilly at times – to be expected in Wales I suppose – but the roads were relatively quiet, so it was nice cycling. A nice stop on a public bench outside someone’s house near Newport for lunch was probably the most noteworthy event of the day really….

Getting through Newport wasn’t the easiest or the most pleasant experience as a lot of the cycle paths were closed so we were in and off pavements and roads. But we managed – and made it to Cardiff by 3pm. One big hill climb before we made it to Alan and Paul’s where we were greeting with tea, chat and the welcome use of their washing machine!

A lazy day off on Wednesday when I did a bit of work, we planned our route for the next few days and replenished food stocks. We discovered there is a ferry from Pembroke to Rosslare so we don’t have to even go as far as Fishguard now – and that meant a bit of accommodation and food planning as we will now be crossing on Saturday – a few days earlier then planned. Our huge appetites have kicked back in, so it was a burger dinner for us all for our last night there…

Thursday 11th May. Cardiff to Swansea. 80km.

Set off nice and early in lovely sunshine for our jaunt to Swansea. We thought the A48 would be a relatively quiet choice because we were going out of Cardiff and we hoped that most traffic would be on the M4. Unfortunately that was not the case and it was only when we passed Cardiff airport about 20km outside Cardiff that the road got quieter. But we were on a mix of road and path, and the drivers were all pretty good, so nothing too terrifying other than the headwind. A coffee stop in Cowbridge was a welcome break at the 25km mark …

…and then it was onwards towards Bridgend and Swansea. At this stage of the trip I have to say that similarly to our world tour, the amount of lovely interactions with random strangers on our travels just confirms to me that there are more nice people in the world than not.

At traffic lights outside Bridgend we had a lovely chat with 2 older gentlemen on bikes who then put us on the right path towards Swansea. We also had another nice chat with a couple when we got to Swansea when we were parked up looking at maps. And considering how welcome we felt in all the different countries we have cycled in so far, it’s lovely to get the same hospitality on our home turf!

A bit further on, outside a place called Pyle, we picked up route 4 again, which felt like meeting up with a trusted friend after a long separation. It took us through housing estates and quieter side roads, which is always preferable to main roads…

…but that generally means more mileage. We went around the outskirts of Port Talbot, an industrial town that isn’t the prettiest….

…and then onwards into Swansea via the marina and waterfront. I have never heard great things about Swansea but the route we took along the waterfront was quite pretty – and the sun was still shining so we had nothing to complain about! Our accommodation in the Uplands area of the city – the birthplace of Dylan Thomas – wasn’t quite as nice as it looked on AirBnB. And when we arrived there were a couple of dodgy-looking youths up to no good outside our building. But we could take our bikes indoors – so once in and settled it didn’t seem as bad as our first impressions. We have definitely stayed in worse…and maybe we are realising that we might have to drop our expectations a bit for some parts of the trip!

Fri 12 May. Swansea to St Clears. 84km.
Up and out early after a good night’s sleep for me, but not so good for Nigel. We were obviously not in the best area of town so the local drug dealer with a noisy flash car made numerous short car trips during the night, which didn’t make for peaceful sleeping. No idea if that was really the case, but it seemed the most likely reason for all the activity 🙂

Getting out of Swansea involved going up a few monster hills, and I am pleased to say that my fitness has already improved so they seemed more manageable than some of the smaller hills from earlier in the week. Mind you, that was lucky as the entire day was all about hills – and some really tough ones that went on for a few miles. We were back on route 4, which although great for most of the journey, in places the signposting can be a bit sparse or confusing and a couple of times we lost about 20 minutes trying to get ourselves on the right track, but it was worth it as the route took us along the estuary of the River Loughar which had stunning views.

Today was definitely the day that we had the most consistent lovely cycling – with the added bonus of sunshine. A strong headwind slowed us down at times. Our first stop was in Llanelli (pronounced NOTHING like how it is spelled) where we met a lot of lovely, inquisitive people – we almost had to tell them to stop talking so we could get going again. The lovely coastal path continued to Burry Port and then went inland along a disused canal, which was also pretty and picturesque. Unfortunately the ferry at Ferryside across that estuary wasn’t working so we headed inland towards Carmarthen which was through lovely pretty countryside but it was very hilly so made for slow, hot, sweaty riding.

At one stage we passed another fully-laden cyclist pushing his bike uphill and as Nigel said “nothing like another cyclist to take out our competitive streaks” – and we managed to cycle the whole hill without getting off…and concentrating too hard on getting up there to even consider looking smug! He then passed us shortly afterwards on the downhill with his electric motor going…why he didn’t use that for the uphill bit??!! Our first bus stop lunch of the trip was a very posh one a few miles from Camarthen, which we needed as fuel to continue the relentless hills.

Camarthen itself was a disappointment when we got there so we didn’t hang around and made the push for the last 16km to a campsite outside St Clears. As it was our first time camping we needed to get petrol for our stove burner so we pulled up at a petrol station to see if we could ask someone filling up with petrol if they could fill our bottle…there is a minimum amount of 2L to buy petrol so we needed to piggy back of someone else filling up their car to fill our small bottle, which of course we would pay for. The first suitable petrol car was a Jaguar and the guy gave Nigel a long-winded story about trying to work our how many miles to the gallon he was getting etc etc before finally agreeing to fill our bottle even if it was going to distort his calculations…! We do tend to cause issues whereever we go…!

Got to our campsite, which was unfortunately beside a busy road that we didn’t expect. The views from one angle were pretty impressive (the Instagram photo!)…

…from the other angle they weren’t as pretty 😀.

We were a bit out of practice on putting the tent up and cooking etc but we soon got into the swing of it and had a nice pleasant evening before the sun went down and it got chilly. Dinner of pasta, pesto and tuna – the food for cycling campers never tasted so good! We were then in sleeping bags and ready for bed at 9pm.

Sat 13 May. St Clears to Pembroke Dock. 45 km.

On the road by 7:15 as we had a ferry to catch! The first part of the route was on back roads through rolling hills which was really lovely. But that didn’t last and we were on the A466 to Pembroke Dock. Even though it was Saturday morning it was quite busy and on a dual carriageway one truck did get quite a bit too close to me for my liking. But it was a functional cycling day to get to a destination so we stuck with it. Not too far from Pembroke we took a bit of a detour off the main road and came across Carew Castle which was a spectacular sight on a Saturday morning.

Back on the main road but unfortunately there had been a fatal accident a few kilometres ahead so although they would have let us through we decided to divert with the cars as it’s not something we really wanted to see. This meant a few fairly hard hill climbs on some country roads, which were starting to fill up with traffic because of the diversion. But we weren’t pushed for time and it was a bit of a somber ride thinking that someone who had started out a normal day had been killed not too far away. Arrived in Pembroke town around 10:30am and treated ourselves to a second breakfast ….

…before a final Tesco run and then onto the freely terminal. We had 2 hours to spare and as we were the only ones there and the weather was glorious we decided to take the opportunity to dry out the tent. Within seconds the guy in the ticket office came out to say that security had radio-ed him to say that a couple were setting up a tent outside the terminal and to go check…. some laughing and explaining and he believed that we weren’t planning to live there permanently so left us to finish drying our things. When we went to board, the loading officer told us that it was raining in Ireland because security had told him that some campers from Ireland were drying their tent out the front of their building….Chinese whispers gone wrong. We admitted it was us and were still chuckling when we were waved through first to lead the charge to get on board – even before the trucks! Ireland here we come…

We love Wales – both the people and the landscape and we will be back to do it more justice than we were able to do on this trip as we were just passing through. And the more West we came, the more Welsh it felt with more people speaking the language and more Welsh flags flying. Finally a couple of learnings on my trip so far…

Llan in Welsh means church
Bont means bridge
Goch means red
Route 4 means we are on route 4. Route 4 in brackets ie (route 4) means you are not on it, but heading towards it. Every UK driver reading this is shaking their head in disbelief as this is the case for all road signs in the U.K. but I never knew until now!!

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