Hereford to Llandovery – day 4

In spite of the constant “thump thump” of some dreadful computer-generated “music” from a group of adjacent tents, I drifted off quite quickly. But I had a disturbing dream in which my sis-in-law, who is a wonderful and revered person, was giving me a piece of her mind about something undefined, but which was probably associated with my generally wayward behaviour.

I awoke with a jolt, very aware that the thump-thump-thump was still coming from the adjacent tents. I looked at my bike computer: 1.54. What the bloody hell were these idiots doing disturbing the entire camp site at that time? I lay silently fuming, but also aware that my bladder needed emptying.

I struggled out of my sleeping bag, carefully leaving all of my silk liner in the tent, put my shoes on and had a wee amoungst the trees. I then stomped off to the noisy group intent upon giving them a piece of my mind.

I found a largish group – possible as many as 20 – grouped around a camp fire with some electronic device pumping out the noise.

My opening gambit was “Don’t you people ever get any sleep?” which gained the attention of about one-third of the assembled company.

“It’s two o’clock in the bloody morning!” I bellowed.

A partail silence fell over the group, like a class whose teacher is missing but who have just been unexpectedly visited by the Senior Master. A decidedly ageing hippy whom I had seen the previous afternoon ferrying firewood and wielding a chain saw rose as spokesperson.

“I’m really sorry, man!” said he in a strong Welsh accent which for some unaccountable reason I didn’t expect. “We didn’t think we were disturbing anyone.”

“Well you are. The entire camp site.”

It occurred to me that the entire camp site bar one could well have been assembled around the camp fire.

“I’m really sorry,” repeated the spokeperson. “What’s disturbing you, the music or our voices?”

“Both!” I replied.

“OK, we’ll tone it down.”

And he was as good as his word and I didn’t hear another thing until I became aware of birdsong at around 7 a.m.

I breakfasted and my packing up was interrupted by a pleasant chat to a young Bristolian lady in a camper van. I was eventually away around 10.30 and shortly after leaving the camp site I heard a cuckoo not far away and attempted to entice it over but either I’m losing my touch or I can’t cwcw in Welsh.

I arrived at a viewing point below the dam where a couple armed with very expensive looking Nikon cameras with large lenses attached were taking photos. They came and engaged me in conversation and it didn’t take me long to notice that under her leather jacket the lady wore nothing but a string vest. I’m fairly sure that there must be some sort of risk to personal safety, not to say comfort, in sporting such attire on a cold day and, connoisseur of haute couture that I am, I’m equally sure that it isn’t the latest Vivienne Westwood. The only conclusion I could reach was that the scenery was not the only subject matter they were interested in photographing.

Soon I climbed above the level of the water and the really spectacular stuff began. Every turn in the road revealed a wonderful view.

It’s the road that has everything – hairpin bends, huge majestic sweeps, views across the reservoir hundreds of feet below, red kites, buzzards, glorious sunshine and plenty of other cyclists.

The first group I met were doing the loop in the opposite direction, fast boys and girls on frames as lithe as themselves. Down they swooped, led by a lass with a huge smile and a pony tail, who must have been travelling at nearly 50 mph when she flew past me.

Although there were plenty of climbs, there was none that defeated me – yet. I was caught by a chap on a red Specialized who commented that I liked doing things the hard way.

Eventually I left the lake behind and the Tywi reappeared as a river, much smaller than it had been the last time I’d seen it.

Another cuckoo, another attempt at conversation and this time, success! Not one, but two appeared, quite some distance away but there was nowhere for me to attempt concealment in the dereliction of that patch of felled conifer forest. It didn’t take them long to ascertain that I wasn’t the real McCoy and they disappeared back into the trees.

Much sooner than I expected, the junction for Tregaron appeared. I turned right, up the steepest section. I could see the road going up and up

and although the sign at the bottom of the hill said 25%, which I’m pretty sure was right, Ordnance Survey had awarded the hills only one chevron at a time. I was off the bike and pushing, 30 paces at a time, with a short rest at the end of each.

Quite some time later I reached  a point where I could ride again and not long after, at 1577′ above sea level, I reached the watershed between the Tywi, which becomes tidal at Carmarthen, and the Wye, which emerges under the Severn bridge near Chepstow. Now came the helter-skelter descent, nicknamed “The Devil’s Staircase” apparently, one of several, I’m sure. I had expected to walk this, so vicious did it appear on the map, but in the end I rode, trusting my safety to two slender strands of brake cable.

I emerged into the Irfon valley and what a superb sight it was!

Flat-bottomed initially, the road and river were almost plaited together, low, barrierless bridges allowing one to cross the other. Now, of course I had the gradient with me although I was still over 1000′ up. There was an occasional climb but mostly it was exhilarating descent. I reached Abergwesyn and realised immediately that there would be no pub here, so very soon, when I came across a picnic site named Pwll Bo, I took advantage and knocked up a quick cous-cous, courtesy of Ainsley Harriott, and washed it down with a nice cup of tea.

Lunch over, I completed the journey into Llanwrtyd, where there was a cash machine and a loo, and I then headed back to join the same road that I’d cycled up the previous morning. Just before I did so I was overhauled by a couple on good tourers: his was a Dawes Galaxy, hers an Argos. We rode together briefly, and I picked up two vital pieces of information: the first was that in the winter months the Swansea to Shrewsbury line is free to over-60s and the second was that there was an alternative route to the one I’d planned, with two fords in quick succession. I chose it, and thought what an ideal road it would be for Andrij and Rower40 to exchange stories about watery non-events.

The remainder of the ride was the reverse of the previous morning’s, with the exception that this time I stopped for a couple of minutes to watch a treecreeper living up to its name, to take a photograph of the bridge at Builth and to wonder how anyone can own a river.

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