Friend of IT (and author of delightful Cold Beer and Crocodiles: A Bicycle Journey into Australia) Roff Smith is just back from biking the Welsh national cycling route, and shares with us some tips on traveling in the area.
So how do you keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch? You got me. It’s not easy. Since I’ve returned from cycling the Lôn Las Cymru–the Welsh national cycle route–I’ve thought of little else but going back and doing it all again. Stretching more than 250 picturesque miles from the ancient castle town of Chepstow in the south, to windswept Holyhead in the north, (home to the Holyhead Harpies Quiddich Team, if you happen to be a Harry Potter fan), this is said to be the most beautiful of Britain’s long-distance cycling trails and having cycled a good many of them myself, I’d be hard put to disagree.
Those five days I spent travelling its length were like a step out of time, a harkening back to a slower, gentler oil-painted world of leafy country lanes, old market towns, World Heritage castles and the romantic 11th-century ruins of Llanthony Priory–and yes, there’s plenty of utterly unpronounceable Welsh names along the way, not least of which is the aforementioned town on the isle of Anglesey, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the U.K.’s longest place name. Locals shorthand it to Llanfair P.G.
The route itself is cobbled together of quiet lanes, cycle paths, even a stretch of ancient coaching road. It is superbly signposted and so easy to follow that you don’t really need any maps, although the excellent ones published by Sustrans are well worth having since they can help you plan your day, and offer up interesting alternatives–you can, for example, start off from Cardiff if you wish. There are plenty of B&Bs and pretty little inns along the route, so you needn’t rough it or carry a lot of gear–a point worth considering since the Lôn Las Cymru meanders through the Brecon Beacons, the Cambrian Mountains and Snowdonia National Park, making it one of Britain’s more challenging rides as well.
Of course, you don’t have to cycle the whole thing in one go. Good rail connections and bicycle-hire shops mean that the Lôn Las Cymru is very do-able in weekend-sized bites, say, between Chepstow and Hay-on-Wye, sixty miles of the very same countryside for which William Gilpin, the 18th century traveler and essayist coined the word “picturesque”. There are still the hills of course, but then, isn’t that what those hearty B&B breakfasts are for?
Photo: George Borrow Photography
Roff Smith’s October article for National Geographic magazine, about the shipwreck of a 16th c. Portuguese ship carrying more than 100 million carats of diamonds, can be found here.
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