West Wales to Eastern England – crossing the UK

The following is an initial version – I’ll add more links and photos later. This completes the Mizen Head to Southwold / Lowestoft route that we wanted to do – and since we did it in a big loop from Pembrokeshire it adds up to about 1500 miles of cycling with the Irish section.

Wednesday 14th August 2019 From Sardis to Tynycornel – an Elenydd Hostel c. 70 miles.
We set off rather late at about 11am, in our best tradition when facing a long bike ride. Went to St Clears along Sustrans route 4 – over Marros hill (Marros is a village above a remote beach in Pembs). Pleasant enough but cloudy with a touch of light rain. From St Clears we took the B4299 road up to Trelech, which was only tough for a short period getting us up out of the St Clear’s flatness. Once up, it was undulating and reasonably fast. At Trelech we carried on along the B road until we suddenly found we’d lost it! Some map reading helped us to work out where we went wrong. Ploughed on until we reached the B4333, turned left then first right along a very straight road with great views over the Teifi valley – Newcastle Emlyn, Llandysul, etc. Lovely moorland. Ate lunch at the edge of forestry, the rain getting more frisky. Then down into the Teifi valley via Pencader and Llanybydder. Then an A road to Lampeter, not too busy though, just missed the town though because we had picked up sufficient food in Llanybydder. Then small lane to Llandewi Brefi before we started the long lane up into the Elenydd. After eight miles of slow mountain road, we walked the last bit to the hostel (a miles which is not tarmac, just about OK for a car with care but a bit tough for our road tyres). Arrived at about 7.50pm, a bit on the late side, but allowing for our late start, not too bad. Cooked pasta mixed with sweet shredded beetroot with some cheese (Cambozola) added was just what we needed. The warden was a great help – to our reading since she pointed out some really excellent books on the hostel shelves – a book called ‘Wilding’ about re-wilding a farm in the south east of England looked especially fascinating. Having passed some rather sad looking sheep farming hill farms, it was topical. Are sheep ‘white maggots’ preventing the proper ecological health of high pastures, and requiring the usual subsidies to the farmers in order to survive, or are they a patchwork quilt of local communities and food producers?

Thursday 15th August 2019 From Tynycornel Elenydd Hostel Trust to Kington YHA, about 50 miles.
A particularly hilly day, and in some ways tougher than yesterday though fewer miles! We went over the 1000′ contour three times at various points in the journey (at the start, then at the devil’s staircase, then again at Colva (I think this may be the highest church in Wales). Tynycornel is a dead end for the average motor vehicle – only a few sad 4WD enthusiasts persist in wrecking the track beyond it. But for bikes and the like, the track beyond Tynycornel is good news since you can get through to Llanwyrtyd Wells without doing any A or B roads at all. We set off pushing our bikes over the big hill to Soar y Mynydd, where a lovely, venerable and still used chapel can be found. Took a good hour to get to Soar y Mynydd. At the chapel a lady in light shoes got out of her car and promptly slipped over on the rough track. I was glad of my tough shoes. She recovered after a bit of a sit down. Then headed for Llanwyrtyd via the Devil’s Staircase (a steep bit of road, both up to the top of it, for us, and down it), then Abergwesyn and the lovely common (National Trust) along the road before it. After Llanwyrtyd, across to Llangammarch Wells (we always take a wrong turn in Llangammarch, so a detour of three miles or so) and then Builth and then a slightly round about route via Llanbadarn y Garreg, Cregina (almost), Glascwm (same word as Glasgow, more or less, in Celtic terms, notable for being overtaken on the climb after the village by a super fit cyclist with a pack on his pack, wow!), then Colva. All these villages have interesting churches, but Colva is a particular stunner because it’s quite a climb and it has wall paintings. Not to be missed. Then down to the Hergests, and then Kington. Reached the hostel at about 7.45pm. Oh well…. We would have been earlier but we were shopping for the evening meal when one of us (hmmm) thought that we had to arrive by 8pm. It turned out that the reception didn’t knock off until 9pm. So off to the shops for a second time after checking in. We went to the lovely Olde Taverne, just by the hostel, which has a historic interior, along with excellent beer. I wish there was a pub like that near home in Pembrokeshire! It would be lovely if some sort of worm hole could take us between our favourite pubs – The Fighting Cock in Bradford, this one in Kington, the superb Black Lion in Consall Forge near Stoke, and several others. It would make Physics a very valuable subject indeed.

Friday 16th August 2019 From Kington YHA to Heart of England campsite, aka Church Farm, very near Coughton Court National Trust, about 65 miles.
Today was, overall, very wet. It was just drizzly though for the first half of the day, but then, after we passed through Tenbury Wells, it became a bit of a deluge. Anyway, the route was pleasant – Kington to Titley to Shobdon to Yarpole to Eye (we passed Berrington Hall National Trust) to Berrington (another one near Tenbury) to Tenbury Wells to Rochford to Stanford Bridge to Shelsley Beauchamp (pronounced as if slightly tipsy) to Holt Heath, where got on an A road to cross the Severn. Unfortunately it was now after 4pm and the road was jammed with commuters and we were in their way. Most were pretty good, but it was pretty bad. We cycled on the pavement where viable. Car commuting is an awful thing – stressing out all the communities the commute goes through – noise, aggression and lots of fumes. Eventually we dived down the network of lanes to Ladywood, under the M5 to Dunhampstead and then Stock Green, and then a bit of busy B road in heavy rain (not nice) and a final little lane to Coughton Court National Trust, where we could go along the lane to the campsite – yes, we could but it was flooded for cars! There was a raised bridge for pedestrians over a stream, but the ford was a mess and unuseable. So a lovely quiet lane to finish with. Set up tent in pouring rain, and then the sheer bliss of being inside a good tent in a downpour with night coming on. We arrived at about 6.40pm, so actually not too bad! The tent is very comfy – my mattress is soft, my sleeping bag (ancient and has done two transams, etc) is warm, and my Kindle ebook reader has about a hundred books on it. All seems twice as cozy on a day as wet as today. We had considered visiting the Throckmorton Arms but given the heavy rain the mile seeme just too much. Perhaps on some other ride.

Saturday 17th August 2019 From Coughton (Heart of England/Church Farm Camping) to Ditchford Road Camping (near Wellingborough) – c. 70 miles.
The day was warm and sunny by 9am which was a tremendous help! There was a lot to dry out, so we left at about 10.30am. We had no food left for breakfast so we headed initially for Stratford on Avon, where we had a veggie breakfast (large) in Morrisons. Very good, recommended. Then through the delightful and manageable town of Stratford and out onto the Wellesbourne road – B4086. Then from Wellesbourne we went up to the Chesterton Windmill, an old an curious structure – a windmill with feet that hold it above the field it stands on. The view is great – some other cyclists were there and they said they had been out for a short tour to visit the Hook Norton Brewery – an excellent choice (and we visited Hook Norton on the return from Blaxhall, see below). They also pointed out various buildings hidden away in the distance which showed where Coventry was and some other big towns. We pressed on to Southam then out on the A426 to Grandborough and then just north of Northampton – Moulton, Overstone and then via Sywell into Welllingborough, where we shopped. Seemed a bit run down and down at heel. After heading out towards London (!) we found a left turn along a sort of ring road and eventually discovered the B571, which was closed where it crossed the railway line. This was OK because there was a pedestrian route we could push our bikes along. The road was then very quiet and eventually we found Ditchford Rd and the campsite, looking a bit down at heel itself, with only a chemical toilet and no showers. No other campers were there, but just a few caravans – though they looked more like residents’ caravans. It’s a great spot though, with water pouring over the weir, canal and river running near each other and lots of canal boats.We arrived at about 7.30pm, so a bit before sunset. There were at least four closed roads today – all of which we managed to squeeze around by using pedestrian routes. We crossed the M1 and A5 near Welton – the east<->west cyclist has to cross or go under a heck of a lot of motorway bridges. Britain is a crowded and bursting at the seams sort of place. Weather OK today – lots of sun.

Sunday 18th August 2019 From Ditchford Rd Camping, Wellingborough, to West Stow Camping and Caravans. Another long day of about 70 miles.
Off at c. 10am via Irthlingborough, Raunds, Kingston, Bythorn, Alconbury Weston, Wennington (a gorgeous bit of road here, more cyclists than cars), Woodhurst, Earith and Ely. At Ely we shopped and ate a late-ish lunch near the cathedral. It’s a tremendous building and it would have been nice to pop in for choral evensong but with lots more miles to do this wasn’t a real option. Ely is a pleasant town – Guy was buzzed at one point by a sort of Moth thing that had a long proboscis – perhaps it was a Hummingbird Hawk Moth? It had a blur of insect wings and seemed to think there was nectar somewhere. Perhaps it was after something we bought at Waitrose in Ely? Anyway, curious thing. Headed out via Queen Adelaide (!), Mildenhall, a brief moment on the A11 (busy and a pushy sort of road) before we found our turning and headed finally for West Stow. Lovely campsite in a wooded area. We tried to find a pub in the nearby village of West Stow but failed. Lovely village but no pub, sadly a common phenomenon. The campsite said ‘Adults Only’ – so it was impressively quiet. The towns look at bit run down and the villages are mostly lovely. I guess the internet has taken a lot of the trade and so there’s no need to go into a town to shop anymore.

Monday 19th August 2019 From West Stow Camping to Blaxhall YHA – a shorter day of about 50 miles. Easy cycling for the most part – and warm weather. We headed through Ixworth and saw, just south of the town, the Packenham Watermill (as well as the Packenham Windmill). Not open today but impressive just from the road. Then to Debenham, then Framlingham (excellent co-op), then a tricky squeeze getting past the heavy traffic around the A12 function with the B road. More hellish commuters! Then Blaxhall along a very quiet road – which we hadn’t done before, and turned into a sandy track for a short while (near a railway crossing), before we eventually arrived at the YHA. Arrived at 6pm, which is our best so far. Visited the super pub – The Ship. It turned out that there had been folk music at 2.30pm, so perhaps we should have hurried more. The Ship is famed for its folk music – goes back decades – and it’s a great place to hear a session. We drank Green Jack beers – LGM1 was the best we thought (LGM = Little Green Man).

Tuesday 20th August 2019 Blaxhall to Ipswich and back – c 35 miles.
We wanted to see Woodbridge, eat at a Wetherspoons in Ipswich and loop back north of Ipswich to see some different rural lanes. On the whole we found quiet ways to do this entire journey – just a bit of heavy traffic near Woodbridge. Ipswich hadn’t considered the bike much – but there are some quiet-ish routes in if you plan carefully. Nice Wetherspoons (The Cricketers) near the swimming pool in the town centre. The best route in and out seems to be the lane that comes in past the Ipswich Town FC ground. Ipswich are evidently not a major club so it’s a quiet route. Lots of evidence that there are big plans for development all around Ipswich – ‘no northern bypass’ signs all over the place. Hope they win. They need to spend the money on cycle routes to get people onto bikes instead. Ipswich didn’t seem very upbeat – still, a decent Wetherspoons. The Sainsbury’s we shopped at had all the charm (hoho) of the one in Leeds where there’s CCTV everywhere and evidently a crime is imminently expected (with reason). A great place to look for a job as a security guard. We went back to Blaxhall via Playford, Pettistree and along a lane that went over the A12 – tiny and hardly any traffic. I was singing while cycling it was so delightful. Warm sunshine all day, and we revisited The Ship for another pint of Green Jack beer.

Wednesday 21st August 2019 Blaxhall to Southwold and back – c. 45 miles.
A big loop in which we went to Southwold inland, via Swefling, Peasenhall and Blyford and Uggeshall and then down into Southwold on the B1126. We visited the Adnams Brewery shop (one bottle of aged Broadside purchased) which was heaving with visitors. It was hot so we sat by the sea for lunch. I couldn’t resist a swim – water was not clear, and the beach was a steep shingle with a significant northerly rip, but a nice water temperature (though we are only a few miles up from Sizewell Nuclear Power Station so this may not be a good sign). To stay in the same place you have to swim steadily. It’s not too risky because it’s going along the beach not out from the beach – well, not where I swam anyway! Then we found the bridge over the river – footbridge so OK for bikes. Last time we were rowed over by a hefty lad. The footbridge is cheaper and we found it before we saw anyone rowing people over. Back to Blaxhall via Walberswick, Leiston, Aldeburgh and then Snape and up to Blaxhall. Aldeburgh has some good grocery shops. We went to The Ship – there was a session! Excellent, though packed. It’s a very impressive standard, people don’t introduce their songs they just head off into their performance, there’s not many errors at all – the standard is high. Mostly traditional folk, though some music hall songs too. And particularly lovely to see squeezeboxes outnumbering guitars. Some wonderful concertina playing – looked effortless, so it must have required a great deal of experience.

Thursday 22nd August 2019 Blaxhall to Orford Ness / Shingle Street and back. About 20 miles.
Since tomorrow we set off back towards Pembrokeshire, we decided to do a short day with some walking and visiting today. So I visited Orford Ness, a lovely mix of military ordnance and wildflowers. This is not such a rare combination, since the ordnance keeps the general public off and allows the wildflowers to flourish. On the way there we visited St Botolph’s church at Iken. It’s as much a delight for its location as for its history. It’s on a bit of higher ground near the estuary of the Alde. Goodness knows what will happen to this area as global warming continues and accelerates. Anyway, it was a monastic settlement in the time of St Botolph – early to mid Seventh Century. We saw some remains of an elaborately carved cross which may, it seems, have been some sort of memorial to the saint. Ordford Ness is a fascinating place, bits of nuclear bombs were tested there (triggers rather than the actual payload), RADAR grew up there, and alongside all this there is a lovely mix of shingle and shore ecology – sea kale, samphire and the like. It feels a bit like that other big shingle spit – Dungeness. And end of the world, in more ways than one, sort of place. Eventually headed back to Blaxhall. Sadly no session tonight in The Ship, but still a great pub to read a book in. The hostel seemed to be full of Vietnamese. I wonder what they make of Suffolk?

Friday 23rd August 2019 Blaxhall to Panfield Bell (pub) camping (by the pitch). About 60 miles.
We got up early at 7am but we still didn’t leave until 10.15am – our bikes needed a bit of oil and checking. We headed towards Wickham Market and then Ashbocking, then Claydon, Elmsett and Stone Street. We visited a Chantry Chapel – St James – had a tithe of £5 per annum but this is back in medieval times so that was enough to maintain someone to pray for the soul(s) of the family member(s) who set the chapel up. Certainly a beautiful and old building – originally 13th Century in its current form, It became a barn for a few hundred years after the abolition of chantries but then it was donated to the nation. Excellent. We then pushed on past Helmington Castle and the Colne Valley Railway, both sadly shut by the time we went past! Then down to Panfield to The Bell pub to camp on the sports field. It’s a Greene King pub but they were selling a guest ale – Taylor’s Landlord – which I chose. Sad to hear that Greene King is subject to a takeover bid from a Hong Kong buyer. What’s wrong with keeping ownership where it’s clientele and its workers are? Globalisation should be restricted to defend the ‘locale’, of course! Guy went shopping in Braintree and bought a brainstorm of interesting food. Quite hot today, arrived at 6.45pm so not so bad.

Saturday 24th August 2019 From Panfield to the Old Dairy Farm, Stoke Hammond. About 75 miles.
We knew this would be a long day, but we also knew that the landscape wasn’t very hilly, just flat to undulating with a few hills near Hitchin. We headed to Thaxted via various Bardfields. Thaxted is a very pretty town and the church is tremendous, though it’s mostly white walls and clear glass. Evidently a great musical tradition – Holst lived here for a while and composed for the festival he was involved in setting up. We then headed off through Debden, Newport, Clavering (now on the B road) and then off to Langley Green where we had lunch by a huge old oak on a back lane (the lane to Meesden), watching the wind blowing the barley. Then Nuthampstead and Buckland (hobbity sort of name), where we crossed the A10, then down to Sandon, Rushden, Graveley, and after a bit of being lost in the Rangerover sodden lanes we got through to Hitchin where we got a gear cable (Guy’s had snapped, and it was very nice to see a local bike shop, worth cherishing) and shopped in the Asda. Hitchin looks pretty – compared with some of the urban wastelands we have seen! We were running a bit late so we headed out on the B655 to Barton le Clay, a road which undulates rather impressively, like a switchback. Reminded me of the Ozarks in the USA – which we did in very humid and hot weather. Then we got to Harlington, Tingrith, where we went under the M1, and then from Little Brickhill we reached the Old Dairy Farm Camping / Caravanning. Pleasant but quite busy, it being a bank holiday. A rather drunken man, drunk on cans of Carling, chatted in a surrealist manner to us. His tent looked broken, though useable. He said it was a bargain at £15… well I guess it might survive for a few days until a gale arrives. The site did have a lot of pretty impressive flowers and very clean toilets and showers. We walked to The Three Locks pub since it was in the CAMRA guide and a 25 min walk along the Grand Union Canal (which was in bank holiday mood). We were rather disappointed with the place – yes there were local ales (Tring Brewery), but no dark beers just summery golden or IPA things, and muzak throughout. I am sick of canned music – shopping, drinking in a pub, there it is, wearying and tedious. We had imagined it was a canal side local pub, but it’s more a big foodie establishment, especially steaks. The west coast mainline hurtles along nearby – which we liked a lot. Lit carriages rushing through the night across the field. Anyway, we wandered back along the canal in the dark (with a torch) and fell soundly asleep…

Sunday 25th August 2019 From the Old Dairy Farm Camping through to Cotswold Camping, Whichford. About 50 miles.
A much easier day today, though still hot and sunny. Set off via Drayton Parslow to the pleasant small town of Winslow. Sat and ate elevenses by a brew pub – at The George. It looked like just the sort of pub we would want to drink in, but unfortunately we still had 30 – 40 miles to go… Powered on via Middle Claydon, Charndon and Stratton Audley (where we ate lunch and read gravestones – fascinating one to Jody Anton McLuckie Williamson who was born in the USA, died in Oz but somehow ended up buried here at a tender age – in his 20s – perhaps a bit of a traveller, described as kind and witty). Stratton Audley (see https://strattonaudley.org/the-village/history/historical-society/) was a pleasant and curious place for lunch but we had to keep moving, so we headed on through Fritwell, North Aston, Little Tew, Somerton (where someone filled up our water bottle for us when we stopped in the shade near his house, that impressed us! 30° sort of day), Hook Norton (where we shopped – village shops are a bit rare) and then Whichford where we initially drank a pint at the beer festival at The Norman Knight. A great day for a beer festival, though it was a tiny beer festival and they were a bit pale and golden for us. We reached the campsite at the record early time of 5.45pm. Cotswold Camping is a great place, and it had a shared kettle so tea was possible, and not merely possible but actual. The landscape today was very pretty – increasingly cotwoldian, honey coloured stone, etc. The campsite is fairly well wooded around a central area that was Whichford Castle and is an ancient site. And for once we had plenty of time to read in the evening.

Monday 26th August 2019 From Cotswold Camping, Whichford, to Wye Valley YHA – basically Welsh Bicknor. About 70 miles.
Went through Stow on the Wold (reached via Evenlode, very nearly Adlestrop of the famous poem, but we saw that earlier in the year), where there was a big traffic jam. We just went to the Tesco and then left on the B4077, which was quiet since all the cars were stuck in the Stow traffic jam. Well every cloud…. Turned off for Farmcote and then Winchcombe. Winchcombe is lovely – big hill (escarpment) down to it, which was the end of the Cotswold / Chilterns, etc. Views of the Malverns in the distance, and the Welsh hills too. Then Gotherington and then Stoke Orchard where we missed our turning and did an extra 6 miles. Then to Odda’s Chapel – another chantry, and very near the Severn (big flood gates at the village of Deerhurst to prevent flooding). Then Apperley (yes, like the one near Bradford). I suppose you could be Apperley married…. then the bridge over the Severn (much nicer than on the route out), then Upleadon and Newent, a pleasant town with food shops, then down to Ponthill via the B roads, along a bit of the A40 because it was quiet and we were late, and then down to Kerne Bridge and Goodrich where we went along the steep track down to the hostel by the River Wye. A great location. Another cyclist chatted to me as we arrived – he’d just arrived from Cheddar Gorge on a 100+ mile day though on a lightweight bike with minimal luggage. He was hoping to do Land’s End To John O’Groats but he seemed to think he might just call in on his parents in Leeds and stop there. I was shocked by the idea of hanging around in Leeds, not a great place to spend your limited holiday surely. I hope he did the whole thing. Interesting the different ways of travelling, we are medium heavy (with camping stuff) and can’t really do much more than 70 miles per day unless it’s very flat (well we could get up earlier). I sometimes dream of credit card travelling – no panniers, just a rain jacket, a light bike, and no bookings just get wafted through to the en suite room in a hotel. It would cost a bomb so unlikely to happen unless ERNIE hears my plea. But would you see more going faster? Don’t think so… In fact we probably ought to travel slower, staying and exploring an area. Why do John O’Groats in a week when you perhaps ought to take a couple of months and really see the country you are travelling through, have time for conversations, wanderings, pints, books. A cycling version of the flaneur (pretentious eh?). I made a mixture of shredded beetroot, cambozola, and pasta for dinner (it’s a good combination believe me) – I was warned that grating beetroot was dangerous… I think he must have been employed as a health and safety officer. I risked everything and carried on. I think it was probably the beetroot colour that triggered his panic attack.

Tuesday 27th August 2019 From Wye Valley YHA to Ynys Faen camping (near Trecastle). About 60 miles.
Via lanes from Goodrich over to Broad Oak and then the B road to Skenfrith (the border between England and Wales and possessor of a fine castle and church) then over to Pandy on a quiet backroad, then via lunch at Llanfihangel Crucorney (in the churchyard), and a lovely route, very wooded, via ‘Forest Coal Pit’ to Crickhowell, where we shopped and sat in the bench that was the ‘social bench’ – you should expect to be chatted to sitting there (to combat isolation in the community this seems a great idea). But nobody spoke to us, though we weren’t there very long and we were eating most of the time. Probably not very encouraging. Then along the B road paralleling the Brecon Canal to Brecon, which took a bit of getting into if you want to avoid the dual carriageway. We then paralleled the A40 on little lanes to the north – passing Cradoc (roman fort) and eventually going down into Sennybridge. Two filling stations with food to choose from! Well we chose the one with the Spar (rather than the Londis). This gave us enough food for the evening and for breakfast too. As the A40 was quiet we did the 3 miles to Trecastle along that rather than faffing around with more little lanes winding up and down hills. Then from Trecastle we went over a hill and down to the campsite at Ynys Faen. Great campsite – spring water supply, rather than mains water. More like bottled water to taste, very fresh. A green and comfy campsite.

Wednesday August 28th 2019. About 55 miles.
It was drizzling a bit when we set off at about 10.25am. Via the Usk Reservoir to near Llanddeusant, then down to the A road and across to Bethlehem (yes, we went to Bethlehem, near Llandeilo, too cloudy to see any stars though). Then through Felinfach in the drizzle, then a B road to Camarthen. The B road parallels the A40 that occupies the north side of the valley. It was deliciously quiet. Past various gardens – National Botanic Garden of Wales, Aberglaslyn, Dinefwr – and on to Camarthen where we found Wetherspoons for a late lunch. Then we tried the Sustrans route 4 to St Clears. It isn’t very good, winding all over the place between high hedges so it feels a bit like a maze. There were farm dogs in the road, though not aggressive, deep mud at one point right across the road which nearly got me sliding, and frankly I reckoned it was poor. This is, of course, all done to get you off the A40 which at this point is a fast dual carriageway along the valley bottom. We’ve done the dual carriageway on our bikes and it does get you there much more quickly, though it is not a pretty. Some bits of the A40 have a bike path, some bits can be avoided by just a bit of a deviation to the north. Perhaps some route entirely to the north of the A40 would be better? Anyway, through St Clears, over the big hill at Marros and down into Amroth, high tide and the first sea we’d seen since Suffolk, and then up the hill to home. It is certainly lovely to reach a sofa and a kettle and a heap of books, even a piano. But we’ve done from Mizen to Southwold – about 750 miles – and back (another 750 miles) – in about 4 weeks, so it’s about a third of a big version of a transam. Very enjoyable, stimulating and a mostly very pleasant ride.

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