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.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

SOLITAIRE 
Magor & Seawall Explore


Spring is here. And on a lovely sunny Sunday I went for a ride down to Newport and out the Gwent Levels for a day of exceptional cycling, which included; a bit of seaside exploring, and my longest, laziest ride of the year!

 
Looking out across the Bristol Channel from the seawall below Redwick...


 
Overview
Distance: 79.7 miles
Elevation: + 2951 / - 2950 ft
Moving Time: 06:43:42

I had the modest goal of making my way down to Newport and then turning east out along the Gwent Levels toward Caldicot and Magor. It was to be a day of easy cycling along mostly flat and open terrain.

The weather forecast that it was to be sunny and mild all day, so I wanted to relax and just spend my time wandering. Melanie made me several sandwiches for lunch, so I packed my thermos and everything else I thought I might need and headed out early.


 


 
Sunday mornings are incredibly quiet here in Wales... especially at 7:30 am. I hardly saw a car as I made my way through Blackwood High Street and then down through the sleepy villages of Ynysddu, Cwmfelinfach, Wattsville and Crosskeys, where I entered the canal path (NCN Route 47).

Once in Newport, I decided that since the morning was so nice and the roads so empty that I turned west and rode out to Marshfield for a few extra miles. I then got on Lighthouse Road for a scenic ride back into town. Bonus points!

The temperature was chilly at 7°c, but the sun was bright and the sky cloudless. By the time I reached the Transporter Bridge back in Newport, it was not yet 10 am and I already had 30 miles under my saddle. Time for a brief stop, coffee and a snack.

I've cycled the route along the Gwent Levels many times now and on a day like this it is incredibly relaxing. My mind wandered thoughtlessly as I pedalled an easy 10 miles through Nash and Goldcliff to reach tiny little Redwick as the church bells rang.

This area is popular to cycle because it's very flat, so many other cyclists were out by this time... all waving "hello" and "good morning" and "lovely day". Fabulous.

I continued on a little further to Undy where I next turned onto the B4245 and headed across to the village of Magor.

I wandered about the village for a short while. It's a charming place with many narrow lanes leading in all directions a bit like a squirrel's nest. I then turned and headed back to Redwick as I had come, passing more cyclists and walkers and folks milling about their yards, all waving hello once again.

It was wonderful to be out. Everyone was full of smiles and you could sense the joy people felt just to be outside in the warm early Spring sun.

Once again in Redwick, I turned down a back lane off the main road to find an even smaller lane heading out toward the water. A sign read; "Mead Farm Road Not suitable for motorized traffic" and that was all the encouragement I needed. I was away!

Mead Farm Road changes over to a dirt track not long after passing the farm itself, which then leads you for roughly another mile to a junction and the seawall.

There's a rather aggressive-looking high wire fence with a small side gate through which I squeezed my bike and then made my way another hundred yards up onto the seawall itself. I later found this area on the map to be called "Scarog Bay".

And what a view, eh? I certainly didn't expect to find this on my ride. But as luck comes to those who look for it, I found both an interesting route with an incredible view on a beautiful day. I could smell the salt air mixed with a slight mustiness from the estuary. It was simply stunning.

I had a few gates to lift my bike and clamber over, but so what? It's no big deal when you've got miles of scenery like this. In fact, I met a friendly couple walking along the seawall who said I couldn't get through... so, it just goes to show what can be achieved with a little effort.

The ground was hard-packed with the grass cut short so that rolling along was a breeze. And speaking of breezes, there weren't any. The shoreline is often quite windy and exposed as I was... raised up off the water; it could have been a nightmare.

On the east coast of the US most beaches are lined with houses all choc-a-bloc, one after the other, leaving hardly any room to even access the beach itself. It's pretty horrible really. So I found the beaches of Wales quite surprising - the contrast could not be more different.

However, this pink monster surprised me too. Not much to look at architecturally, but jeesuz, this is quite the exclusive beach front property. Talk about a million dollar view!

There were a few rough places as I passed through a paddock for horses near the end. But soon after this gate, I made my way down to the Seawall Cafe and exited.

This place is a mecca for cyclists and most everyday of the week you can find the place packed as many local bike clubs stop here for a cuppa. Today however, it is closed for bereavement. Here is their Trip Advisor review(s); Seawall Tearooms.

I had a short ride back to Newport and then to 14 Locks for the remainder of my way home. I stopped briefly as I passed over the Rhymney River for it was surprisingly loud. I could smell the freshness from a light mist that was blowing up from the rushing water. Amazing.

I discovered one more surprise as I turned down the Monmouth & Brecon Canal (NCN Route 47). Just above 14 Locks they have begun to put down tarmac where once it was a rough dirt track. This is very cool indeed, because I cycle this route at least once a week and often I find this section quite muddy. Good job Newport County Borough!

Report Card
Ride Name: Magor & Seawall Explore
Start Date: Mon. Mar. 24, 2019
Starts in: Oakdale, Wales, GB
Departed: 6:43 AM
Distance: 79.7 mi / 128.3 km
Elevation: + 2951 / - 2950 ft
Max Grade: 12.0%
Total Duration: 08:41:04
Moving Time: 06:43:42
Stopped Time: 01:57:22
Max. Speed: 28.5 mph
Avg. Speed: 11.8 mph
Weather: sun, sun, sun
Temperature: 14°c / 57°f
Summary
It was a wonderful Spring day in Wales. This is what I want from my cycling in 2019. It was a perfect ride.

Then I was home. And what is unusual for a lengthy ride at this time of year; I was home before dark. Yet another bonus!

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

Cheers! - cm


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Monday, November 5, 2018

SOLITAIRE 
Llangattock Escarpment
& Fall Colours


The days are darker now. The leaves are showing their last bit of colour and the winter rain is looming for Wales. I started late on this late Fall day for a quiet seasonal wander around the Blorenge.

 
Bleary-eyed or blurry vision along the Monmouth & Brecon Canal?...


 
Overview
Distance: 55.4 miles
Elevation: + 3713 / - 3713 ft
Moving Time: 04:53:48

I wanted to go for a ride, but it was raining steadily in the morning. I wanted one more ride before all the leaves lost their colour. But this is what you get in Wales come November... dark wet days that signal long hours in the saddle are coming to an end for the year.

However, I was not to be denied! Once the rain subsided, I made my dash. It was noon by this point; the day had been shortened quite a bit. My adventure would have to be reduced unless I wished to spend a large portion of my ride cycling home in the dark.

Where to go? I couldn't decide. So before wasting any more time, I just set out to wander. I let the bike lead me.


 

I started off heading up Sirhowy Valley along NCN Route 467. It's a lazy and easy warm-up, and it's always quiet. I kinda feel like it's my own private cycle path at times. It's the perfect route to just pedal and plan where to go next.

 MINI MODULE 
Quoits Wood
It's only three miles long, but it's completely isolated and traffic-free. NCN Route 467 is the closest cycle path to our home and just across the valley.

 
Did I mention that it's lovely?


Can you make it out? There's an old viaduct buried across the valley.


The Sirhowy is one of the few valleys in South Wales without a train line. It's odd and frustrating at times, but too, it makes it very quiet and rather isolated.

 
Yup Robert, this old fella always makes me think of you wandering the mountains of NC...


They're logging that hillside now. It will soon be clear of trees...


Looking back down the valley...


Note: The images in this mini-module were pulled from a previous post. If you'd like to see more about the Sirhowy Valley, check out my gallery; Quoits Wood.

At the top of NCN Route 467 in Hollybush, I have to get on the road (A4048) for a couple of miles to Georgetown. I cycle through the village High Street to where I get on the dual-use cycle path to take me further north to the town of Tredegar. There I get on NCN Route 46 which turns east and snakes along the Heads of the Valley to Brynmawr.

It's a fairly easy 18 miles, but at Brynmawr the big fun starts.

I rode out the mysterious "unnamed road" toward Llangattock Escarpment. The views looking out over Clydach Gorge are stunning. However, as luck would have it; it started raining.

You are above the tree-line and are completely exposed whilst riding along this very narrow mountain road. The wind began picking up and I was starting to get pretty wet too. It did not look as if I would reach the Escarpment.

Also of note, my phone camera was acting up. I don't know if was the rain or the low-light, but the images are mostly all out of focus? URGH!!!

Feeling a little defeated, I decided I should head back. I turned down a road I hadn't cycled before which was surprisingly steep (and rather scary in the rain, to be honest). White-knuckled and out of breath, I came out on the A4077 just below Crickhowell. I turned south onto the road and cycled with real purpose as I passed through the sleepy villages of Gilwern, Govilon, and Llanfoist in the pouring rain.

Perhaps it was the desire to return home quickly or the rain had softened my thinking, but I made a poor decision to ride on the A4042 at Llanellen. It has far too much traffic for my liking. There is a pavement which you can ride upon, but it's very narrow in places, covered in road debris, and it's rough as hell. So combine that with high-speed traffic whizzing past you, it's not an enjoyable ride. After three miles of the nonsense, I found a sign for Goytre Wharf where I escaped onto the Monmouth & Brecon Canal.

You looking at me? What a difference a few miles can make. It's not a bad climb up from the A4042, but looking at the map following my return, I should have gotten on the canal path at Gilwern. The A4077 goes through a very nasty roundabout just before Govilon, it then changes over to the B4246, and then becomes the B4269 before hitting Llanellen (blah, blah, blah). Simply put, there was far too much traffic to be cycling along those roads by myself especially in the rain.

The rain stopped for a few miles, but a heavy mist remained. I was pretty wet by this point, however I could sit back, relax and just pedal along. My main concern was avoiding puddles and the occasional muddy sections. Rough stuff, eh? This is what I like.

I think the rain and the greyness of the day accentuated the colours along the canal. Unfortunately too, I think the low-light conditions caused most of my images to come out blurry. I still kinda like them so I'm posting them anyway because in a way, it's how I remember the day.

I cycled through the city park in Pontypool and then headed back across the valley to Newbridge along the Old Crumlin Road. The temperature was beginning to drop and along with being quite wet, I was getting cold.

 MINI MODULE 
 
Owning the old road to Pontypool...


Coal mining once filled this narrow valley and I pass many old remnants wrapped in undergrowth along the road. It was a different time then. People say it was black and filthy. I wouldn't know. It's lovely now.

 
An abandoned coal washer stands along the road like an alien spaceship...


Note: The images in this mini-module were pulled from a previous post. If you'd like to see more, check out; Monmouth & Chepstow Fall Classic.

I have to admit that I'm pretty negligent with taking photos late in my rides. I guess I just want to get home? So I tried to find a few unusual shots to capture more of the colour.

I stopped in Newbridge and climbed up on the folly (bridge) crossing the rail line, cycle path , and the Ebbw River. I havw always liked this view.

And then for something different, I wandered off the main road heading back to Oakdale, down the trail which wanders along side the Sirhowy River. Cycling is not allowed down here (which I think is a good thing), but it's quite pretty and isolated. I just love that this is a quarter of a mile from our home too!

Report Card
Ride Name: Llangattock Escarpment
Start Date: Mon. Nov. 05, 2018
Starts in: Oakdale, Wales, GB
Departed: 11:49 AM
Distance: 55.4 mi / 89.11 km
Elevation: + 3713 / - 3713 ft
Max Grade: 12.2%
Total Duration: 06:12:29
Moving Time: 04:53:48
Stopped Time: 01:18:41
Max. Speed: 30.7 mph
Avg. Speed: 11.3 mph
Weather: rain, mist, rain
Temperature: 12°c / 54°f
Summary
It was a classic fall day in Wales. I got soaking wet and made a mess of my bike. Riding along the unpaved canal path kicked up loads of muck all over my bike and myself as well. Cars pass and road spray covers my glasses.

It was not the kind of weather I often choose in which to cycle, but sometimes I just have to get out. The fall colours were wonderful and I'm glad I went out. The blurry images only emphasise the look and feel of the day.

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

Cheers! - cm


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Thursday, October 25, 2018

SOLITAIRE 
Monmouth & Chepstow
Fall Classic


I left early because the days were getting shorter and I wanted to be home before dark. This was to be my last 100 mile ride of the year and I wanted to relax and enjoy the time. This is what cycling is all about for me.

 
Early morning mist along the Monmouth & Brecon Canal...


 
Overview
Distance: 103.2 miles
Elevation: + 5296 / - 5296 ft
Moving Time: 08:44:49

It's a short ride up the hill behind our house. Up and over to Newbridge. I then head across Ebbw Valley to Pontypool following Old Crumlin Road. It's generally dead quiet in the early morning with most of the traffic speeding along the new main road, below and to my right.

 

 MINI MODULE 
 
Owning the old road to Pontypool...


Coal mining once filled this narrow valley and I pass many old remnants wrapped in undergrowth along the road. It was a different time then. People say it was black and filthy. I wouldn't know. It's lovely now.

 
An abandoned coal washer stands along the road like an alien spaceship...


Gliding down through Pontypool city park...

Once in Pontypool, I cycle through the city park to enter the canal path on the far side at Pontymoile Boat Basin. I've travelled 13 miles in just over an hour and warmed up nicely. Now it's time to relax.

Everything levels out on the path. The sound of cars racing to work disappears. Anticipation wanes. I am here.

There's hardly anyone about... the lone jogger or perhaps someone walking a dog. I call out "mornin'" and my voice seems too loud.

My tyres crunch over the frost. The air is crisp and cold. I stop just to look.

Every turn offers a new vista. I cycle a few hundred feet and stop again.

Off to my right the clouds sit low in the valley making my views appear as if I am high on the ridge of a mountain.

Several ducks make their long slow splash into the canal, gently quacking at each other as they paddle away proudly.

In the distance I can hear cows mooing and sheep bleating... a tractor rumbling up the hill. A farm coming to life for another timeless day.

The morning mist began to lift... the sunny spots are noticeably warmer now.

Boats moored along the canal creaked quietly, water like glass along their hulls.

I can hear children laughing and screaming, their voices clatter across the yard and over the hedge. I can imagine them darting about, bright-eyed, full of life, their mother tired, but smiling through the sleep in her eyes, gently coaxing them to get ready for school.

This is why I cycle. This is the very thing of life.

There is nothing more than what is here, right now.

This is my world. Thursday, 15 October 2018.

Stories within stories of a life.

But I must ride on. I have far to go today. There is much to see.

I've travelled five miles along the canal. There's one last bridge to pass under, then I'm away and down the hillside, into the valley, and out the long flat road to Usk.

Leaving Goytre Wharf I spot Sugarloaf mountain peeking through the clouds in the far distance.

There's time for one more stop to snap a photo, then I'm down into the clouds.

And surprisingly, I need to turn on my headlight. The fog is quite heavy. I don't need to be killed by the milkman.

A few moments ago as I was cycling in another world 350 feet higher up along the canal, my view there was across the top of these clouds.

I've just a couple of miles to reach Usk. I'll make a proper rest stop there before heading across the valley to Monmouth.

 SIDEBAR OF NOTE: 
The bridge and gatehouse in 1818,
drawn by Copley Fielding
The Monnow Bridge
There is much to read about the history of the Monnow Bridge in Monmouth, but the most surprising bit of trivia I discovered was that it was used as the main western entrance into town until 2004! Yup, that's right. Cars and trucks and buses and any vehicle that would fit - drove over and through this 800 year old bridge to get into town. I just find that crazy!

Now there's a much wider modern bridge approximately 1/2 mile down river that handles all vehicle traffic and the old bridge and tower are Grade 1 Listed and designated just for pedestrians (and cyclists!).

Standing proud...


Another small historical tid-bit is that the tower was originally built to keep out the Welsh. This part of Monmouthshire is referred to as the "Borderlands" such that "ownership" has changed back and forth between England and Wales for hundreds of years. The top bit of the tower now houses a small museum which is only accessible on certain days.

 
Folks have been crossing this bridge for 800 years!


Folks have been crossing this bridge for 800 years!


Take a few minutes to read more about the last surviving fortified bridge in the United Kingdom.

Resources: Wikipedia; Monnow Bridge and Castles in Wales, a website by Jeffrey L. Thomas


Jump cut to Redbrook and the River Wye.

I must have completely zoned out. I didn't stop for a single photo for nearly 15 miles? And now I'm through Monmouth, leaving Wales and entering England at the village of Redbrook.

The main road is closed further up ahead, so I need to cross over the Wye River to follow the walking path. Fortunately, the old railroad bridge has been converted into a footbridge.

It's a little rough in places, and muddy; but I'm not complaining. There's not a soul about.

It's nice to see the river from this side.

My route passes through a farm then returns onto a lane heading south toward Tintern Abby.

Homes along here are not too shabby.

The road widens to two-lanes as it rises along the River Wye. On the weekends, this section can become quite busy, especially with motorcycles. It's not uncommon to see groups of 15 to 20 of them racing through here.

Coming into Tintern the rail line crosses back over the river. It too has been converted into a footbridge. There's rumours that someday the entire rail line from Chepstow to Monmouth might be developed into a proper walking and cycle path.

 SIDEBAR OF NOTE: 
The Chancel and Crossing
of Tintern Abbey, Looking
towards the East Window
by J. M. W. Turner, 1794
Tintern Abbey
Growing up in America, I wasn't taught much on European history. And to be perfectly frank, I don't think many Americans have a grasp on the enormous amount of history scattered about this tiny island.

The first church to have been built at Tintern was in the early 1100's. What we see today was built primarily during the 13th and 14th century and was an active monastary for 300 years until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII during the 1500's. Can ya get your head around that?

While America was struggling through the early years of independence, when Turner painted the image shown to the left; Tintern Abbey was then 700 years old and had been a romantic medieval ruin for almost 300 years.

The majestic ruins of Tintern Abbey


Across the main road...


Read more about the one of the greatest monastic ruins of Wales.

Resources: Wikipedia; Tintern Abbey and Castles in Wales, a website by Jeffrey L. Thomas

Meanwhile, we'll just use the main road. It's really quite lovely. And even climbing up from Titntern Abbey to Chepstow (a pull of 550 feet in three miles...) ain't too bad.

Once through the outskirts of Chepstow, the countryside takes over again.

I stopped shooting photos soon after leaving Chepstow. I needed to make a move on getting home. I couldn't even tell you where I was for that last shot...



Report Card
Ride Name: Monmouth Fall Classic
Start Date: Thu. Oct. 25, 2018
Starts in: Oakdale, Wales, GB
Departed: 07:10AM
Distance: 103.2 mi / 166.25 km
Elevation: + 5296 / - 5296 ft
Max Grade: 12%
Total Duration: 12:41:12
Moving Time: 08:44:49
Stopped Time: 03:56:23
Max. Speed: 32.4 mph
Avg. Speed: 11.8 mph
Weather: mist, fog, sun, clouds
Temperature: 12°c / 54°f
This route is particularly long and it has so much to see that I'm going to refer you over to my Gallery for last two sections;




As I mentioned at the start of my report; I made this ride ten times during 2018. It's a favourite and my "go-to" hundred miler. I hope to capture more photos and descriptions of the entire route during 2019.

Thanks so much for visiting.

Cheers! - cm





Just some young lamas having fun...


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