Introduction

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 3000 years. The Bronze and Iron Ages, the Middle Ages, and the not so distant Industrial Revolution all huddle beside each other amongst these verdant valleys. This is where I ride and this is why I write.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

SOLITAIRE 
Dislocated Finger Event


I set off on a lovely morning to meet the Kingfishers for our Tuesday ride. I never imagined that I'd be limping home fifteen minutes later.

 
Before and after...


 
When I looked at my finger I could tell something was wrong. When I touched it with my other hand, it moved like it was made of rubber. I couldn't feel anything. Then I thought; "shit... I've broken my damn finger".

And that's what pissed me off the most. I knew my cycling was over for the day... and perhaps longer. Urgh. I wanted to be out with my buddies. It was a warm and sunny Spring day. A gorgeous day for cycling.


 
Overview
Distance: 3.2 miles
Elevation: + 285 / - 289 ft
Moving Time: 00:34:32



 
So, essentially I had just made it down the hill from our house. I was on the shared-use cycle path when I came upon a T-junction. There was a car stopped at the give way crossing, so I continued across the road.

Just as I got in front of the car, she decided to pull out. I was perhaps four to six feet away from the nose of her car... then whamo! She just pulled forward and knocked me over. Just like that.

Of course, there were questions of who actually had the right of way. So I looked it up in the highway code. Not every driving/road situation is covered; however, if the driver had followed any of these regulations (The Highway Code: Rule 170), she would not have hit me.

Had her car been moving, I would have stopped. And because her car was stopped well behind the give way lines; I proceeded to cross the junction. It was when I was directly in front of her car that she then pulled forward and struck me.

I have to say too, she was visibly shaken and very concerned. Several other cars stopped and people quickly came to check on me. They helped me out of the road and asked if I needed an ambulance. They all were very generous and caring, even offering to give me a lift home.

However, I was just a little shaken and I didn't think a broken finger warranted an ambulance. Walking home did me good. It was tough pushing my bike along, especially up hill, but I made it back without too much difficulty.

It's when I got home and took off my cycling gloves that I saw the impact I had made with the road.

Yeah, it looked pretty nasty, so I had to document it! However, it was also pretty numb at this point. Time for ice.

Later that day I inspected my helmet. Now there's some testimony for wearing a cycle helmet. Had that been my head... I guess it would have been split instead.



It's weird how accidents seem to happen in slow motion. I distinctly remember my head hitting the roadway with a loud clear crack!
So I spent the remainder of the day sitting with an ice pack on my finger. I didn't know what else to do really. When Melanie got home she couldn't even look at my hand which made me laugh. She insisted I go to A&E.

Fortunately, the hospital at Ystrad Mynach is brilliant (Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr). We went early the next morning and I was out in an hour and half. I can't say enough good things about my treatment. The nurses were excellent. Their care for me was superb. I had a quick inspection, a few x-rays determining that it was just dislocated, not broken. (Whew!) Then they reset my finger, took another couple of x-rays, gave me a final check and sent me on my way by 9:30 am. Just what you want from a hospital and all that you need.

Now I can't say enough good things about the NHS. I walked in, gave my name and address, they fixed me up, and sent me home. Total cost; £0. Had this been in the US it would have cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 (see: Cost of a broken or dislocated finger.) Shocking.



Lastly, a few days later I went to work on my bike. My rear wheel needed truing, the front brake cable holder was bent, but when I tried changing gears, something odd was happening.

I have no idea how it happened without damaging the crank arm(s), but the outer chain ring was broken. Weirdnees.

Now I've put her back together and I've been out for a couple of rides. Along with a couple of new tyres, my trusty steed is as good as new.


As for me; after a week off, I went out for a couple of rides and my neck is giving me problems. I must I have hit my head on the pavement harder than I thought and I'm suffering a bit.

So for the time being, I'm sat at home, a bit stiff and sore, working the recovery mode and shopping for a new bike helmet! And that's how it goes sometimes...

See ya down the road, Cheers! - cm


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Saturday, April 6, 2019

SOLITAIRE 
Llangattock & Abergavenny


The forecast for the day had called for dark clouds with a chance of showers. My plan was to go for a straight-forward training ride... something simple to ease myself into longer rides. However, the situation changed once I realised the folks at the weather station had it wrong!

 
Heading out Llangattack Escarpment on a lovely Sunday afternoon...


 
Overview
Distance: 65.4 miles
Elevation: + 4745 / - 4745 ft
Moving Time: 06:35:49

Due to the differing characteristics of my route, I've divided this report into three sections. The first part leading from my home up to Brynmawr is somewhat urban in that the route snakes along the old rail line connecting the villages of the Ebbw Valley. The second part becomes exceptionally scenic as I leave Brynmawr and head out across Llangattock Escarpment overlooking Clydach Gorge. And lastly, my return home takes me from the hills above Abergavenny through the rural countryside of the Vale of Usk including a short section of the Monmouth & Brecon Canal.

 


 
It was to be a straight-forward ride without too many stops. I know the route well. It's scenic and not at all difficult. But since the weather turned out so nice... I spent a tremendous amount of time wandering and taking loads of photos; as you will see.

Note: The accompanying photos were all taken with my Samsung smartphone. It's not ideal and only really works well in sunlight, but I had to give it a go because it was such a spectacular day!

Oakdale to Brynmawr
The start is a simple ride winding down through the villages of Croespenmaen, Newbridge, and Crumlin. It's a quick drop of over 500 feet in 2.5 miles which then connects to NCN Route 465 where the slow climb up the Ebbw Valley begins.

This first short section is not listed on the Sustrans website, nor is it shown on the Open Street map, however; it's the old disused Main Road that connects Crumlin and Llanhilleth. It's well maintained and traffic-free for an easy mile to where the route officially begins. The route then follows the road for a short distance into town and continues to the village of Aberbeeg. From Aberbeeg, the route again becomes traffic-free as you rejoin the old rail line into the woods to Six Bells and Abertillery.


 


 
I always look down this alley when passing through Llanhilleth. It's a rather unique perspective to see so many back gardens lined up against each other. For anyone wishing to cycle this route from further south, there is a train station in Llanhilleth making it easily accessible from Cardiff.

The first stopping point is just off the cycle path in Six Bells and you'd miss it if you didn't know it was there. But, if you're cycling along NCN Route 465 it is a must stop.

The Gaurdian stands over the site of the former Six Bells Colliery to commemorate the 1960 mining disaster that claimed the lives of 45 men and boys. The sculpture is made from welded cordite steel rings giving it an almost transparent appearance, yet the the hair, fabric, and the man's muscles are incredibly detailed. As he stands looking over the valley, with outstretched hands; it's an awe inspiring sculpture to behold.

Coming out of the woods, the route joins the road again as it passes through the village of Abertillery. I took this photo to show how narrow the valley becomes in places. Many of the homes sit right across from the river. (Also of note is the abandoned cycle track; additional photos can be viewed in my article; New Mudguards & Brake Levers.)

The path closely follows the river for the next couple of miles. It occasionally narrows in places where the weeds haven't been cut back and it can be muddy at times, but it's very quiet with hardly anyone about.

There's a lovely footbridge crossing a bend in the river where you can sometimes spot fish swimming in the clear water. Today, I was not the only one looking...

I stood on the bridge for about thirty minutes just watching the heron. So often they fly off whenever someone approaches, but today this one seemed fine with me watching and photographing. Amazing!

The route continues a short distance before coming out of the woods at Blaina. It then follows a dual-use path running beside the very busy and terribly uninteresting A467 for two miles to Nantyglo. However, from there and entering into Brynmawr it seems as if time has stopped. The downtown is clean and quiet. People stand chatting along the streets and wave hello as I pass and it feels as if life hasn't changed here in 50 years.

This is the perfect place for my first stop. Time for some coffee and a snack. I've traveled just over 16 miles in two hours (including bird-watching!) Of particular notice is the Market Hall Cinema. It's the oldest operating in Wales.


Brynmawr to Abergavenny
The next section I'll be traveling is exceptionally scenic and very unique. It's not part of any specific cycle route, but I always see folks cycling along the road for it is pefectly flat and virtually traffic-free for five miles.

Currently north of Brynmawr there is a tremendous amount of road work along the Heads of the Valley dual carriageway. A bridge has been removed with a new foot bridge put in it's place. This required climbing quite a few steps to reach the far side.(Should have taken photos!)


 


 
Once outside of town, I headed out an unnamed road(?) toward Brynmawr Foundation School. A friend at Sustrans pointed out this small road which runs parallel to NCN Route 46 through Clydach Gorge; however, this route is high across the valley on the opposite side to the gorge itself.

And if you look at the photos below, you will see why. The views are nothing short of spectacular.

Yes, the road is very narrow and follows right along a very, very steep embankment. There are no guardrails with a drop of over 600 feet to the valley floor.

It's a stunning view down the valley and reiterates my saying; "Wales is like living in a model railroad." There is so much to see in such a small area. It is astounding.

The vistas continue for five miles along this cliff edge. In the distance are Sugarloaf Mountain (left) and the Skirrid (center). Behind that lay the Brecon Beacons. Directly to my right is the Blorenge, noted by it's scarred sides from quarrying.

This side too has it's scars. I pass several places cut into the sides of the mountain. This is the Llangattock Escarpment. I cycled out here with the Kingfishers last year and we climbed up to one of the more notable sites. You can read about that adventure here; "The Lonely Shepherd".

There's a short road with a car park just off to my left where you can then climb up to the Lonely Shepherd. Surprisingly, no one is about today.

Just before you reach the end of the road there's a turn off to the right. It's surprisingly steep and takes you 700 feet down the mountain in just over a mile! Yeah... that works out at 14%... for a mile. (Scroll back up and check the route elevation profile...)

Along the way down there are some lovely homes tucked into the hillside, plus the views are spectacular. It's worthwhile not only to stop to enjoy the views, but to rest your hands and forearms. (Mine were seriously cramping from braking...)

And then you come out in the sleepy village of Llangattock just over the Monmouth & Brecon Canal. It's still stunning to me to see such variety and beauty in such a small area.

Across from Llangattock is the legendary Crickhowell. I won't go into detail about this place now. That's for another report, but I'll leave you with a couple of quick "postcard" shots of the bridge looking across the River Usk.

The next six miles follow the A4077 (Crickhowell Road) south into Abergavenny. It's a lovely road in places, but can also be quite busy. Fortunately too, it's mostly flat and rolling so I shot down the road into Abergavenny with little concern. Castle Meadows was perfect for my second stop.

The town was exceptionally quiet for a Saturday. The castle here is another location I wish to visit and photograph. I paused for a moment along NCN Route 46 for a quick shot before heading north out of town.


Abergavenny to Pontypool
Leaving north out of town the route snakes behind small housing estates whilst following along the sleepy little Gavenny River. In less than a mile the route turns under the A465 and begins a fairly intense climb for a couple of miles. Fortunately, it's very quiet and shaded. It's actually quite a lovely lane, so it's the perfect climb to relax and take your time.

 


 
The National Cycle routes running through Abergavenny can be rather confusing. NCN Route 42 and NCN Route 46 crossover each other, merge, and divide in ways that are not very clear on the Sustrans map (below). However, volunteers have done a great job signing the route, so the key is to follow the signs along with an Ordinance Survey map.

Half way up the hill NCN Route 46 branches off to the left (north) whilst NCN Route 42 carries on heading east. At the top of the ridge there's more relaxing riding over the rolling countryside.

This is just what I like best; quiet lanes, wide vistas, and a beautiful day. The lane travels west for a couple of miles before abruptly turning south into the Vale of Usk.

The Skirrid towers off to my left, whilst the valley spreads slowly out to my right. The sounds of newborn lambs, an occasional blackbird, and the crunching of my tyres are all that I can hear now.

This time of the year, at this time of day, everything is perfect. There is no rush to get anywhere. I am here. Cycling doesn't get any better than this.

I've been wanting to stop at this bridge ever since I saw a painting of it. I've cycled over it a hundred times, yet had no idea that it had such style.

The valley is populated with working farms and quaint architecture. It's stunning. NCN Route 42 continues on to the village of Usk, but I'll be turning west toward Gotre Wharf.

Once at Goytre Wharf, I climb onto the tow path for the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal; NCN Route 49. It's getting late in the afternoon. The next six miles to Pontypool are eazy-peazy.

I take my last break for the day just outsdie the canal in Pontypool City Park. From here I'll be following NCN Route 466 across the valley to the village of Crumlin. It's a mixture of road and traffic-free cycling.

Report Card
Ride Name: Llangattack & Abergavenny
Start Date: Sat. Apr. 06, 2019
Starts in: Oakdale, Wales, GB
Departed: 11:15 AM
Distance: 65.4 mi / 105.3 km
Elevation: + 4745 / - 4745 ft
Max Grade: 14.1%
Duration: 09:21:21
Moving Time: 06:35:49
Stopped Time: 02:45:32
Max. Speed: 32.5 mph
Avg. Speed: 9.9 mph
Weather: clouds, sun
Temperature: 13°c / 54°f

Summary
I had my last sandwich and looked around the park a while. The late afternoon light was really nice. There were a few folks walking dogs and kids screaming over in the playground. I didn't shoot any more photos because I was just beat tired. It had been a wonderful day yet I still had 14 miles to cycle home.

It's easy to get lost in one's thoughts after cycling such distances. I hardly remember the ride home, but when I rolled my bike through the back garden gate and my wife asked; "how was your ride?" All I could say was great... and smile.

I hope you enjoyed this report. Thanks for taking the time to visit my site...

Cheers! - cm


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