Day 6 Hay on Wye, Edward Thomas and the Gospel Pass

I have seen some beautiful country during this week but none to touch the lovely valley down from the Gospel Pass past Llanthony Priory and down to Abergavenny. 20 miles of deciduous forest, tinkling streams and lovely walking routes. I chatted with an elderly gentleman who’d driven over from Cheltenham to walk there for the day. And it was a downhill bike ride almost all the way. Heaven! Llanthony priory is mid valley and has beautiful ruins in local stone.

I worked hard to get there with a fearful climb up from Hay on Wye, the strange, pretty little town that lives for its annual literary festival, and for books. I bought a souvenir, a little Edward Thomas book on Keats. Keats, Edward Thomas

Edward Thomas is sometimes thought of as  Welsh War poet. IMO he is not really either of these: although born on Anglesey his adult life was in England and his work describes the English countryside and the way of life that was ending. His work came in a flurry in the mid War years, before his death in action on the Western Front. This little book is Thomas, by then an acknowledged literary reviewer and prose writer, learning from the master poets ; perhaps plucking up courage to begin writing his own verse, very special work to me.

Tomorrow I will be back over the Severn in England. I would like to express my gratitude to Sustrans and to the genius who stitched together this marvellous route through the heart of Wales.

I must also thank the friends and family who have encouraged me all the way with phone calls, text and other messages, while providing the all-important motivation of sponsorship for MLGS. It has been a hard road at times, but basically a lot of fun. I hope this wacky blog has conveyed that and has made you smile.

I haven’t quite finished ….


Day 5 : Jake the Yorkipoo, Llanidloes and Builth Wells 

I bid farewell to host Katrina and (head of security) Jake: a picture was essential and represents a desperate attempt to get a “like plus comment” (in my dreams) for my blog:


 He was going to the vet later….Awww!

So on to the bike gingerly pedalling in low low gears to Clive Powell cycles in Rhayader who fixed my bike : new chain..and new cassette (ouch!) with new extra big granny/grandad gear for Welsh mountains. Oh yes.. and a chain splitter spoke fixer Topeak multitool was another bargain buy from this Aladdins cave of a bike shop which is also a pub!


I’m told bike nerds are my only audience for contributions on bike parts and settings (thank you readers, all feedback appreciated) so you will have to wait for a ‘tech’ wash-up post for details on my wonderful new chain.

Now I must share my bird watching highlights of this sunny blustery day in the Wye and Élan valleys : first, a mousey little tree creeper . Then both kinds of woodpecker within a few minutes. And last but not least, majestic Red kites !! Shockingly large brightly coloured hawks with forked tails that shift about the skies at great speed. Still a little hard to believe they are indigenous. My iPhone Red Kite video is a triumph (but could be any bird and is not uploaded : Ed)

After several days without meeting fellow pilgrims I’ve had quite a day of it. There was a delightful man who’d walked from Cornwall – just 15 miles a day with plenty of rests. And looking very well on it.

Later a couple from Bristol doing Lon las on a tandem! I was amazed at the climbing power of their machine, but fear a little for them on the rough stretches and the steep North Wales hills.  

And most enigmatic was a hi-visibility Man who’d come from Lands End and apparently lost the power of speech somewhere on the way. In his defence he had just been warned by the lady in Llangurig post office that it got proper hilly from here on. He would have passed a sign saying he had just reached the highest village in Wales (1000ft above sea level) and had probably been looking forward to coasting downhill the rest of the way. I stopped my bike as he approached : he returned my good morning without slowing, and raced past. Llangurig (literally, church of St Curig) is said to date back to the 7th (seventh!) C ( AD), and was supported by the monks of Strata Florida Abbey 13 miles to the West. The present church is contemporary by comparison having been built in 15th century (not long before Strata Florida was ‘dissolved’).


Another taste of history was the ancient coach road between Rhayader and Newbridge on Wye. Overhung by trees, stony and undulating;  a Dick Turpin kind of woodland highway.  


The Builth Wells healing waters are, unfortunately, a thing of the Victorian past so I have had to be content with ibuprofen for creaking 200 mile legs. At least I can resort to a little prayer if knees allow in one of Builth’s many churches. 

Day 3 : usually comes before day 4, but “hey ho!” 

I heard duelling cuckoos on my way down the valley from Corris to Machynlleth.

I know they have a devious reputation but the science is astounding and the way they tune into the biological cycles of a group of candidate nesting pairs is nothing short of incredible. 

So I struggled to warm to the poetry that my hosts at a Machynlleth hotel (!) saw fit to include in the plastic folder with breakfast choices, fire exits and Wifi key: let’s draw a veil across the last of these..and move on to a sample of the haunting verse:

‘To the Cuckoo in the vale of Cuawg’

Attributed to Llywarch Hen, London 1792 : the original Welsh version ran to 32 verses and presumably rhymed . 

“Sitting to rest on a hill, cruelly inclined is my mind,

And yet it doth not impel me onward

Short is my journey and my dwelling wretched”


several stanzas later: 

The loud-voiced cuckoo sings with the dawn

Her melodious notes in the dales of Cuawg;

“Better the liberal than the miser”


and finally….

“The birds are clamorous, the beach is wet,

Let the leaves fall, the exile is unconcerned;

I will not conceal it, I am sick this night!”

Thankfully the takeaway kebab did not have the same effect on this ‘exile’. I am ‘impelled onward’ with that ‘wretched dwelling’ , far behind me.  A couple of photos to lighten the mood: 

Hazards of long distance cycling 1 : falling boulders and stray bullets (holes in sign)

Barmouth to Dolgellau with the breeze:   Hazards of long distance cycling 2 : Prince of Wales would not be impressed:

  Barbed wire shards mixed with thorny hedge debris. Looks like Friday going home time came all too soon!

Day 4: Llanidloes am byth! Snapped chain galvanises the town into action

Reached the highest elevation on tour,  500 metres ,  at midday today after a mammoth climb from Machynlleth. Tail wind was so strong I was keeping moving even when uphill against 1 in 4 gradient.

Bike didn’t complain ( until later : read on).  Celebrated with a selfie : but pressed wrong button due to non prescription sunglasses thus strange colour schemes from here on. Or maybe a new artistic direction ? 


Passing the high point I also passed the half way mark. So feeling Smug. Enjoying scenery baby Severn in steep sided tree lined valley. Chain snapped. “@&£$! “ 

Spot missing component: 


5 miles to Llanidloes. Free wheel or walk? Both. Took 1/2 hour. Could have been a long walk if not mostly downhill. Suffice to say no chain splitter or spare link in panniers : won’t make that mistake again.

“Llani” came up trumps as only villages and small towns can (come on Taunton!). I met Helpful Peter at ‘Mount Severn’.  “Sorry no bike shop in town: Rhayader 15 miles away”. He recommended Stuart in Huws Gray hardware store : “if anyone can help you, he can!” En route I met Hannah, dynamic student cyclist, for the 2nd time of the day. Hannah’s boyfriend is Stuarts son! Over at Huws Gray, Stuart stroked his metaphorical beard, scratched his head and a plan emerged : helped by Hannah’s Dad who donated a piece of chain and lent his chain splitters. Hannah brings them over to Huws Gray : a brilliant hardware store, incidentally : . 

Super Stuart stopped off on his way home from work and waved a magic wand over the twisted metal with a smile. Alison ( I hope I have your name right, many apologies if not) looked on and chatted. I learned at the feet of the master.,The kids sat patiently in the car. Thank you very much Peter, Hannah,  H’s Dad, Stuart’s family but most of all Super Stuart! And finally to my hosts Glyn and Katrina at Coach and Horses B and B for putting up with my comings and goings and a strong smell of Swarfega.

Off to Clive Powell’s in Rhayader for a new chain tomorrow.

Then to Builth Wells (to take the cure?)

Day 1 : wet Welsh Wales

Holyhead greeted me with a cold fish handshake and a face full of rain.  

 The train ride had been entertaining from Shrewsbury to Chester as the racegoers sardined into the carriage dressed to the nines. Heavy gold earrings were de rigeur : just one each to set off the whistle , flute etc. And a rapidly emptying can in the hand that wasn’t holding on to the swaying train. Several announcements warned they might have to walk home if ‘one over the eight’. Several were already.

The wind blew from the south altering its angle of atttack subtly with each twist and turn of my route. Over Anglesey , little to say. I K Brunel’s Menai bridge was nice and very like his Clifton gorge crossing. Picture hazy taken through driving rain: editing may help. Will try.

Then into the teeth of the longest squall this Millenium . It blew rain up under seams, through waterproof gear and carried road grit into chain, mechanism to start up a tinkling musical accompaniment to my grunts and groans.

62miles later, in the mist and dark with a hooly blowing off the Irish Sea I arrived at the lovely Moel yr Wyn guesthouse. It is on the top of a long hill. It took me a very long time to get up it. 6 hours of cycling into the wind was beginning to take its toll. 

Recovery drink , pot noodle and shower seem to have helped but I think I shall sleep rather well.