This is my love letter to Wales. I am fascinated with it's rich history and rugged landscape. Within 50 miles I can travel over 5000 years. The Bronze and Iron Ages, the Middle Ages, and the not so distant Industrial Revolution all huddle beside each other amongst the verdant Southeast Valleys. This is where I ride and this is why I write.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Winding House

Going to the Winding House in New Tredegar to see the thing in operation was really impressive. The weather was fantastic. It was wonderful to see everyone and we shared a lovely ride up through Rhymney Valley. Ya can't beat that!

But the Winding House is all about the machine... on a MASSIVE scale. And you really have to see the thing running to appreciate the magnitude behind this force of engineering. It is humbling to reflect upon how its basic operation was central to the extraction of men and coal.

It's quite unnerving to see something this massive spinning - in an enclosed space... and you are so near to it. Crazy!

And yet, we can walk away and relax... have a coffee or tea with cake. (So unlike what the miners had!) I wonder what they would think if they saw us today? Sitting back and contemplating their lives... their struggle and hardship... was it all for this? I feel quite fat and lazy and extraordinarily fortunate, yet I hope to show my appreciation and understanding. I truly admire the people that lived and worked here.

Today, I was not in a hole in the ground. I was not digging coal. I was out in the sunshine, with my friends, having a bit of vacation, riding my bike like a crazy loon. I didn't have to come home to wash coal dust off in a dirty metal tub in the kitchen and go to bed early only get up to do it all again.

I am clean and the day is bright and I can look back and remember this day... this day was unique and I am very, very fortunate. Yes, I am a lucky boy, indeed. Thank you everyone.

Winding House Ride Part 1

Winding House Ride Part 2

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Daffodils & Disasters

I first wrote this report for Ride with GPS in the Spring of 2017, so it's not only important to get a version posted to my site, but it's incredibly fitting to point out the extremely different weather we're having this year.

This overall route includes three distinct parts: Manmoel, Quoits Wood, and Sirhowy Country Park. I generally cycle this route as part of short warm-up on the day before I make a longer ride. This report focuses on the section down to and through Sirhowy Park.

There's an old quary by the side of the road heading through Gelligroes.

Compared to the US, there are not a lot of roads in Wales. Of course, this country is tiny. It's fairly close to the size of Connecticut and has a population of just over three million.

It's dark and murky and smells funky... salamander and toad nirvana.

Many of the old main roads have been superseded with dual-lane elevated motorways. It's quite a good solution, because it takes the busy thru-traffic away from the villages and keeps the small roads quiet and quaint villages intact. Also, there just isn't a lot room to build roads... this one simply couldn't be much wider without taking down a mountain or moving a river.

This was once the main road, but there's not much traffic now... the Sirhowy River flows along the opposite side.

The South Wales Valleys are steep, long and narrow. They generally run north from the southeastern coast up to the Brecon Beacons. All of the original roads were built for horse and wagons, whilst many of the cycle paths I follow were once dram ways or later; rail lines.

He was just a 25 year-old boy with a homemade wireless up in a tree.

You can't go far without seeing something of historical merit in this country. In 1912 a young man who lived and worked at this mill was the first in the UK to hear the distress signal from the HMS Titanic. It's an interesting read; Arti Moore.

The old road is cut off just past the bridge, but fortunately I can make my way up this charming little path to continue.

The topography of this part of Wales is defined by rivers and valleys. If you look down at your hand and imagine your fingers as the ridges and the spaces between as the valleys, you'd have a pretty good idea of the landscape. Most everyone lives in small towns or villages along the valleys and the ridges are often barren, but for sheep (and now wind turbines).

This is the new main road heading down Sirhowy Valley. Gelligroes is below on the right.

Many valleys had two train lines running up and down on opposite sides; one for coal and the other for passenger service. There was generally one main road that connected the villages and followed the river. When I get down to the bottom of this road, I'll cross over the Sirhowy River and head back up the other side through Sirhowy Country Park.

Avoiding rush hour combined with speed limits of 30 mph makes scooting through the villages a pleasure.

I love Wales. It's so damn cute. It's like living in a model railway. It's got every imaginable land and water feature - all packed into one small space. I can cycle from the mountains of the Brecon Beacons to the coast in 50 miles. Its mind-boggling to see so much diversity in such a short distance. And all this was cut by glaciers, so it's rough and rugged with deep gorges and rocky outcrops. Plus, there is so much history. It just oozes old, old world.

Looking west across Sirhowy Valley... you can make out the country park route as it runs along below the rock face.

Across the river and heading back north through Sirhowy Country Park on what was once an old dram way.

Now on the other side of the valley and looking across toward the back side of Wattsville.

The Sirhowy River

Yup... there's four uninterupted miles to this gem...

In 2013 the Welsh Government passed the "Active Travel Act" which "creates new duties for local governments and highways authorities to address the needs of walkers and cyclists and make better provision for them..." As part of the National Cycle Network, NCN 47 passes through Sirhowy Country Park and is a showcase example of cycling & walking paths outlined for use in Wales.

Loads of interesting things to see, explore and wonder...

Looking back down the valley...

Passing under an abandoned bridge at the top of the park... just about to head out.

As I was finishing this report, I realized that I should have thought about writing this in three parts to reflect the three sections of the ride. But since I have already written about Manmoel, that kinda foils my grand idea. Regardless, if you are reading my reports, you might notice that some of the common routes are often included in the larger/longer maps.

Thanks again for stopping by. cheers! cm

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Mad Explore & Discovery

The weather was glorious, the ride; an adventure.

I set out to cycle up to and around Langors Lake. On the way, I was going to explore a road that encircles Blaen-y-Cwm Reservoir just above Brymawr. That was at least my plan.

The scenery was enticing and though the road was unpaved, it was certainly passable. The views did not disappoint. The road, however; diminished quickly...

... and my plans for reaching Langors Lake fell away as I gave up the road and began a two-hour slog across the moors to escape the mire.

I followed "goat paths" when I could... but most of my time was spent dragging the bike sideways over the tall grass dodging the wet. And despite my best efforts to avoid the mud, I was covered in muck up to my knees.

It was physically exhausting. Sweat poured from my face and I could only go a hundred feet or so before having to stop to regain my breath. But the views...

And then suddenly, over the top of a small hill I spotted a vague sense of civilisation... and relief knowing that I might escape my mis-adventure.

Who were these people? What lives did they live? Way up here in the middle of nowhere... who knows of them now?

I stopped to reflect... I was completely overwhelmed with what I had just been through. Had I not given up the road to trail blazing, I would have never found this hidden treasure.

Then I was down... out from the moors, and never has a paved road been more appreciated.

(... pause for a moment...)

Because as I got back to cycling; new and different vistas began to unfold.

How can so much diversity be found in such a small place... over such short distances?

...and then there is this; Clydach Gorge.

This photo epitomises my claim; "Wales is like living in a model railroad". Note: There's a cycle path down there too... running along the old rail line. Hmmm?

But first let me finish this road ahead... what looms before me now?

The air was warm with a slight breeze. The road was well-paved, perfectly flat, and beyond traffic of any sort. So sometimes ya just gotta shut up and let the photos do the talking...

If you saw my post on Facebook, the road ended and became a wide footpath that snaked around the side of the mountain. I went as far as I could ride and stopped...

... to have my lunch overlooking the Usk Valley and the village of Llangattock.

Then I turned around and headed back as I came, thinking; the road deserved one more look, one more ride on this amazing day.

"You lookin' at me?"

I then needed to make a decision on how to cycle home. Riding to Langors Lake was completely out of the equation... I had spent too much time hiking across the moors. But I could go down through the valley to Llanfoist where I could get onto the Monmouth & Brecon Canal? I had a few hours of daylight left... AND I had my new dynamo hub light. 'Nuff said.

Then I was back through Brynmawr, into the woods, down the crooked path, and along the other side of the valley... into Clydach Gorge!

And just as quickly, I was then heading down the cycle path toward Llanfoist...

... and the Monmouth & Brecon Canal.

Dusk was setting in. I had been out on my bike for over eight hours at this point and I still had over 20 miles to cycle home...

... and just like the light, I was fading fast. I fired off a few more snapshots as I wobbled down the tow path, but soon it was dark and my head was down as I rode the final miles home.

Thank you Wales.

POSTSCRIPT: It had been an enormous day. It had been exhilarating and exhausting. But there is even more... yes. I've created a gallery of nearly 100 images (edited down from over 300...) that shows the full extent of my photography on this day. If you've further interest, here's the link;

Thanks for stopping by... cheers, cm

Ads Inside Post