Wednesday, July 29
We got up late and had breakfast in our room. To our surprise, we were staying in the village of Pembroke Dock, Wales, which adjoins the port but is separate from the town of Pembroke by 3 km away and up a long hill. We rode to Pembroke to get oriented to Wales and get some of the Sustran maps of the national biking routes. On the way we stumbled across Pembroke Castle which sits in a very dramatic place and much of which is well preserved.
We took a tour of the castle with a guide who genuinely enjoys his volunteer work. He extended the one hour tour to one and one half hours and filled us with facts about the castle and about Welsh history. It is hard to remember who was attacking whom starting at least in the 12th century and not ending until the 1700’s. but suffice it to say that there were not many periods of time when the country and the castle were not under attack. One part of the castle is original and has walls 15-18 feet thick.
The castle was never conquered, but the land changed hands many times. In about 1700 the castle became obsolete as did all of the other defensive castles of those eras because of the discovery of gunpowder and the use of canons and the explosive power that they delivered. In the 18th century, this particular castle was purchased by a very wealthy man who decided to renovate it by adding windows and other non-defensive accouterments. Nevertheless, it still looks like a castle and the older parts shine through. After our Welsh castle fix for the day, we headed out on the national cycle route #4 to Tenby.
We hadn’t left Pembroke until around 2:30 thinking we only had 16 miles to go…wrong. It may have only been a short ride, but the terrain was one hill after another and we were quite tired by the time we got there. As usual, the town was at the top of a hill with a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. The castle that crowned this town however was used as an art gallery and not as a tourist attraction.
Thursday, July 30 Tenby-Laugharne
The day began a bit early with a long climb out of Tenby, then a ride by the seashore and 3 tunnels through the rock. The tide was out. The shoreline here is not as rugged as some in Ireland. It was an exhausting day with 4 more big climbs that seemed to never end. Two of the climbs were very long and had stretches of 14 and 16% grades. There were also 2 screaming descents, the last one ending in Laugharne (pronounced Larne.)
Laugharne is a very small, picturesque village with many old buildings and whose claim to fame is its connection to Dylan Thomas, the great Welsh poet and playwright. We found a great old hotel at which Dylan Thomas spent much time.
Just after we lined up the hotel, we met a couple from Holland who were touring the same #4 route but going the opposite direction on a tandem.
We chatted for a half hour and agreed to meet at Laugharne Castle after they checked into their hotel. By this time the weather was beautiful and after walking around the very picturesque ruins by the sea
we met up with the couple from Holland. We all retired to a pub and spent the better part of an hour chatting.
Friday, July 31 Lougharne-Carmarthen
It was another cool but rain free and sunny day in Wales. We delayed our departure in order to have some minor wardrobe malfunctions repaired by a seamstress who had her shop just down the block from our hotel. Wearing the same clothes for 3 months is evidently very hard on them!!! The ride started about 10:30 with a long climb out of Laugharne, (naturly) which did not really relent. Again the day was exhausting with one climb after another through beautiful rolling farm country of patchwork hillsides.
For much of the ride, we could not get long views because of the very high hedge rows, some as high as 8 feet. It is amazing to think that these hedgerows began as waist high rock walls made with the rocks that farmers removed from the fields. The remaining height is the result of wild foliage that is so thick light does not penetrate. We arrived in Carmarthen at 2:30 in time to go to the train station and check the schedule for tomorrow in order to avoid a 47 mile day with a long, climb out of Carmarthen.
We plan to take a train to the next town, see its castle, then ride the remaining 37 miles into Swansea. From the station we went to Carmarthen Castle for a walk around. The original castle was started in 1106 and made of wood. Shortly thereafter the wood was replaced with rock. From that time until the end of the 17th century the castle and the land that it was constructed to protect and defend was fought over by vying Welsh princes, the Normans, and the English, to name a few. The town is very pretty and set at the mouth of a river draining into the sea. Our hotel in the middle of town above a pub, dates back to the 1700’s.
Carmarthan is not known for its wine.
Sat. August 1st….our anniversary!!
After a 15 min. train ride to Kidwelly we started the ride to Swansea. Shortly thereafter we sat out a 25 minute rain storm. We then continued on from village to village along the coast. Around lunch time we stopped for a break in a small village and walked through a flea market in the park by the harbor. The rest of the ride to Swansea was beautiful along the coast and mostly on dedicated paths. Along the way we rode through a large national park which had a beautiful old show home constructed in the 1840’s for some guy who had too much time and money. The sun was out and turned into the warmest day since Italy.
The site was teeming with people attending a children’s festival. It was a natural stopping place to rest. There were a lot of people camped out on the grounds for the weekend and a Volkswagon camper rally was part of it. There were about 50 old VW campers of every vintage…very cool. The day was sunny with a strong head wind the whole way. By the time we rolled into town, we pulled up at the first coffee shop we saw to “caffeine up” and relax. We then called our Airbnb hosts before riding around town and to the tourist center for info about the place. By that time we’d had enough and headed to our place of rest for the night. Since he had said there were no restaurants near his home we stopped at a pub for grub on the way. As it turned out that was a very wise move. Their house was up a very, very steep hill for nearly 2 mils. Our hosts were a nice couple from India. He had gotten his PhD then taught at the University in Swansea, but now works for a non profit having to do with discrimination issues.
Sunday August 2nd
What a great downhill to start the day! We picked up good old route #4 near the beach and followed it all day through forest, fields, and small villages including many ruins and very old, small, still in use churches whose legacy is being preserved by a group that is called “Friends of Friendless Churches.” One of those churches was in a sheep farmer’s homestead. The sign on the fence said people were welcome to walk through the farm to visit the church. The sign also said to close all gates as to not let the sheep loose. The church was from the 15th century.
We planned to spend the night in Bridgend, but when we got to Bridgend we found out that there were no places to stay in town. We also felt like we needed to make a little faster progress getting across Wales, so got on a train and went to Newport for the night. The 5pm train wouldn’t let us on as there were already 7 bikes on it (only 6 official spaces and a crabby conductor). The next train was 30 minutes later. We got on with no problem with a much happier conductor. When we arrived in Newport, there was a “Travelodge” right across from the station which was very accommodating. We rolled our bikes through the lobby and into our room with panniers on and headed to a pub for dinner.
Monday Aug. 3rd
From Newport, we rode to Chepstow on the Wales-England border. The final ride into Chepstow was down a huge hill into the town. It’s a beautiful Castle town built on a steep hill that goes down to the river which is the boarder between Wales and England. Parts of the castle that are still visible were built in the 11th century. It was the site of many battles and sieges as were all of the others that we have visited.
We were in early enough to go to the tourist center, find a room in an old hotel on the walking street, and get Ed’s bike worked on at a local shop. We had dinner at a wonderful Greek restaurant in a building that had been a stable in the olden days. We then decided to stay another day here to see the Abbey near by.
The next day we took a 20 minute bus ride to Tintern Abbey, a beautiful, huge site that is very impressive and extremely well preserved and presented given its size. Not only is the abbey itself big, but adjacent to it are about 40 buildings in which the monks lived, cooked, bathed, etc. Aside from its intrinsic beauty, the abbey is famous for inspiring artists, writers and poets. Pictures don’t really convey the size and beauty of the abbey, but we’ll try.
Since we had about an hour wait after lunch before the return bus was scheduled, we decided to try and hitch to another very old town north of Tinturn. Our efforts were not rewarded and we returned to Tintern on the bus.
Tues. August 4th The day we left Wales behind.
Wales is a beautiful green country full of Castles and friendly people. There are more than 300 ruined castles and hundreds of ruined Abbeys/churches, so you could spend a summer wandering around the place. The coast line is a fabulous string of bays, cliffs, beaches, farms, and villages. We wish we had more time, but are glad to now be touring in the motherland. We got up early to get a jump on the ride to Bristol. It was raining when we took off, but it was uphill (remember the huge hill coming into town?) so we stayed warm. After crossing the river and of course some route finding and mistakes, we found the #4 and wandered on small back roads and paths to Bristol. It took longer than we had thought it would and by the time we got to the center of town it was lunch time. The place was hopping as the center is at their harbor and there were several summer festivals going on. There were no places to stay in town so we visited the cathedral,
and decided to ride on to Bath for the night. We had gotten a room in the University of Bath housing for 2 nights and they were able to extend it to include tonight. Whew!!! While we were standing outside the Bristol Cathedral we were approached twice by people interested in our gear and where we were going. We’ve already seen 10 times more cyclists in Wales and England than in our 6 weeks in Ireland and Scotland. Bristol is chocked full of bikers and in fact we visited the Sustrans headquarters here for more maps of routes in England. They are the U.K. version of Adventure Cycling only on steroids.
The ride to Bath was another 13 miles and a continuation of #4. (Route # 4 goes all the way to London.) We arrived at the University around 6 pm and of course had a bit of trouble finding our bldg. The room is larger than other school housing we’ve stayed in and the kitchen on our floor will allow us to make dinners and breakfast with ease.