The first thing – and it really is the very, very first thing – you notice when you return to London from cycling pretty much anywhere in the UK that is not a city or large town, are traffic lights. Hideous, everywhere-you-turn, always-on-red traffic lights. I once counted 60 sets of traffic lights on an eight-mile journey between Streatham and Euston; I’d have had to spend another week pedalling through Wales to tot up that many. Still, there is one consolation to being back in London. Every male cyclist will empathise. No cattle grids.
So, three days in Wales, cycling from Swansea to Chester via Aberystwyth, 170 miles in all. It rained only slightly on day one, a day I’ll remember for a formidably tough climb north of Trefilan. On the evening of day two – after a visit to the Centre for Alternative Technology near Machynlleth, we found ourselves thundering along dark, windy roads (in a car, mercifully) to attend a two-hour public meeting about wind turbines in Newtown. These are the perils of travelling with an environmentalist. We returned to a hostel dormitory full of hot air and, later, the detestable, infuriating sound of snoring.
Rolling north from Corris on a crisp, almost wintry start to day three, Cadair Idris loomed ahead. The mountain was shouting to be climbed. It was a straightforward affair along the Minffordd path. Ascents of the Nuttalls, Craig Cwm Amarch (791m) and Mynydd Moel (863m), sandwiched the real business of the day, the Penygadair summit of Cadair Idris (893m). What a lovely view from this top, the blue and yellow glow of the Barmouth estuary and the striking outline of the Lleyn peninsula in particular. Llyn Cau was a pane of glass. The summit hut was a surprise too; I didn’t know it was there. A welcome retreat on bad days.
I broke into a trot off Myndd Moel as I contemplated the hours it would yet take me to cycle to Chester. I was fine until I hit midway point on the ever-rising Dolgellau-Bala road. I had avoided Dolgellau to shave off miles, but was paying with the bonk. Then a gear cable snapped, leaving a bonking man with just three gears in his armoury. I ate to excess in Bala, then again in Rug 10 miles up the road. A food-induced recovery did not transpire, however, and I spent 15 or 20 miles of up and down feeling sorry for myself. I can’t remember exactly where – shortly after Rhydtalog perhaps – the view ahead altered very suddenly. Ahead and below were the seething tentacles of civilisation – houses, cities, factories, shopping centres. No hills, no lakes, no sheep, no cattle grids. And then, also quite suddenly, there was a long, gradual (and, as it turned out, extremely welcome) escape route to England.