To ride every road. The Coast of Wales 500

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The website ‘Strava’ can generate “heatmaps” – visual summaries of every road you’ve ever ridden.

For me, immediately around my house and work, almost every road is painted in red. Then, as the map expands, these red lines spread out and the cluster of colour dissipates into thinner and thinner tendrils of exploration, until they, too, turn back to whence they came.

There are other epicentres of activity around my other cycling-haunts: North London, the Cairngorms – and even the Alps. Red lines of memories which serve as a my photo albums and diary.

I’ve started to look at these maps as I plan my next rides – to fill in missing roads and find new ones.

On a recent ride with my local cycling pals, I got excited about a new left turn – and announced my goal: “to cycle every road”.

“What? ‘Every road’ where – in the Cotswolds?”

“No, no, my friend…. in the world”

Much still to do.

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This last week I did a multi-day ride around the coastal perimeter of Wales.

Although coastal cycling is exposed, and often with tough gradients, it certainly rivals mountain ranges for dramatic scenery.

I started in the South-Eastern corner, crossing into Wales via the Severn Bridge, before passing along the South Welsh riviera (the industrial conurbations of Port Talbot and Cardiff); through the summer holiday crowds around the Gower and St Davids; then up, North, along quieter and more rugged roads towards Snowdonia. The North-West was to see a much flatter profile along a sweeping floodplain all the way up to the Isle of Anglesey. Having gone all that way, I insisted on doing a loop of that island before heading East, back across the top of the principality to Chester Train station and a much faster (and motorised!) journey home.

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Riding across the South of Wales felt a bit constricted.

The roads were busy with chains of holiday traffic and every town was beset by traffic lights and queues at the coffee shops. All the cars seemed to want to be somewhere else, and to be getting there in a hurry.

I largely stuck to minor roads, but kept accidently finding myself on dual carriageways – where I felt obliged to cycle as fast as my legs could carry me to get away from the revs of impatient drivers.

I took photos of smokestacks, steelworks and industrial recycling centres. These ‘cycling-badlands’ were the same roads where I’ve had to swerve to avoid a dead horse; and had bricks thrown at me whilst a group of kids shouted “Go Forest!” [which, I guess, is pretty funny…].

Cardiff Bay did offer a bit more sheen with its fancy Assembly Building, boardwalks and tidal barrier – but the first real beach I came to was at Swansea, where misty rain was herding the tourists into steamy tearooms.

Tenby has a beautiful beach, but the town was bursting at the seams with visitors. It was only when I “turned the corner” at Pembroke, and started heading North, that the landscape really opened up. In the morning on my second day, the sunshine was desperately trying to burn through, and succeeded enough so that the beaches started to dot with multi-coloured bathers for my obligatory photos. Riding alongside the tourist railway at Aberdovery was a real highlight and, by then, the sea was glittering.

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A hint of a tailwind and even my route miscalculations started doing me favours – a wrong turn near Barmouth meant that I could catch a speedboat across the river whilst a gaggle of fascinated children asked me every question under the sun about my tri-bars and lycra (!)

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By the time I crossed the Menai Bridge into Anglesey, I had started to curse the buffeting cross-winds a bit. But I was where I wanted to be – in the great outdoors – and it felt a very long way from an office desk. The road came to an end in Holyhead, and I could go no further north.

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Heading back to the East along the top of Wales took me along a remarkable web of interconnected cycle-ways. They bobbed and weaved up, down, over and around the coastal road – at times, ocean spray dowsed my bike and windblown sand threatened a wheel-spinning skid. I was tired after a few long days of riding, but a steady drip-drip of beautiful photo opportunities kept me enthused: Llandudno castle, the oceanic wind farms out at sea, the spikey coastal defences at Penmaenmawr and the occasion tourist honey-pots of a pleasure beach. For lunch, I sat with my feet dangling in the huge seafront paddling pool at Llandudno, feeling quite as happy can be.

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The last 20km or so I rode on the extrordinary “concrete beach” along past Rhyl. The camber of this storm defence pulled me towards the surf of hightide; I wobbled a bit uncertainly in the gusty winds and cagily overtook dogwalkers.

I could see England again in the distance – and it began to feel like a good time to turn off whilst I was still ahead.

I stayed my last night with my sister’s in-laws.

I arrived pretty roughed up by the weather. And pretty tired.

The dad laughed, “I can’t believe you’ve done all that in 3 days – it’d take me that long to drive it!”

I was fed a delicious dinner.

As I looked in the mirror tonight I thought how tired I looked. My hands were buzzing with pins and needles – they were in my left cheek and neck too, which has become a new symptom of late. My arthritic knee felt particularly stiff and sore.

I am very much looking forward to a nice new, circular red line on my “heatmap” – one that was hard-earned.

 

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