Wales astounds me. I am fascinated with it's rich history and rugged landscape. Within 50 miles I can travel over 5000 years. The Bronze and Iron Ages, the Middle Ages, and the not so distant Industrial Revolution all huddle beside each other amongst the verdant Southeast Valleys. This is where I ride and this is why I write.

NOTE: I'll be updating this section over the next few months as I re-post rides from my archive. Cheers - cm

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Lonely Shepherd

As part three of the "Bike & Ride" trilogy, we made our most aggressive climb yet by visiting the Lonely Shephard above Llangattock.

I've cycled below this "sculpture" several times going out Hafod Road. I've seen it from across the valley whilst riding through Clydach Gorge, but I had not made the climb up to the top... and what a treat it turned out to be!

The day started off looking like a bad idea. The skies were dark and gloomy as we cycled through heavy mist at Garn Lakes heading into Brynmawr.

Thanks to John's keen eye, he spotted this sign which leads to the top.

We asked a fella along the way for directions and his immediate reply was; "You'll not get up there on those..." Laughing, John replied: "We can always push 'em". And push we did...

... for a while at least. John takes a quick break where we ditch the bikes and begin the "real" hike as the grade begins to steepen.

The ground was very wet making the loose rocks quite slippery... plus the mud stuck to the bottom of our cycling shoes which made for some treacherous hiking.

Soon enough we got our first glimpse of the Shepherd.

Looking good fellas! We're getting closer.

Upon leaving the brown ferns and heather, the trail got MUCH steeper and became just a sheep path. At this point Brian turned back as we were on all fours scaling the hill. (Understandable I suppose... Brian is only 83 after all. He gave it a shot though...)

Getting closer and getting higher.

Sugarloaf and the Skirrid far off in the distance.

The Blorenge; site of our last Bike & Hike to the Punchbowl.

Not far away now... just across a few small ridges.

Looking north across the high plateau and quarry behind the Shepherd...

And then we were there.

John stands by to give a sense of scale.

And then we are off...back down the mountain having found a better trail no less!

Then just as we were about to leave the sun came out... so I grabbed a few quick ones with my phone/camera (hence the different aspect ration).

I love the contrast of the light on the rocks in the foreground against the dark valley below. Couldn't have asked for that!

From the looks of it, we just might get a bit of rain when we get down to Llangattock. (Can you spot the rainbow?)

Myself and John at the top...

  Ride Report Card
  Ride Name: The Lonely Shepherd
  Ride Date: October 10, 2017
  Distance: 85.3 mi
  Duration: 13:16:36
  Moving Time: 07:57:41
  Elevation: + 5214 / - 5215 ft
  Avg. Speed: 10.7 mph
  Weather: Clouds, sun, & rain
  Temperature: 15c / 59f
I should clarify some about the map shown above and the overall ride. We rode quite a bit further than just to the Lonely Shepherd and back. I met John and Brian in Pontypool where we began, but then we came back from Llangattock through Gilwern and Llanfoist.

John disappeared somewhere after Llanfoist - racing ahead as he does in the afternoons, while Brian and I hobbled along nursing a couple of pesky punctures. We rode together until the crossroads at Llanellen. There he split off to Pontypool while I then continued on to Usk and eventually down to Newport where I turned north to head back home - making a great big loop.

It was a gorgeous autumn afternoon and I thoroughly enjoyed just making my way along at a casual pace - looking at the yellowing leaves and the freshly plowed fields, but around 8:00 pm the temperature dropped and it started to rain as I entered Sirhowy Parc. I finished the remaining 10 miles in the dark and under a steady shower. Needless to say I was cold and soaked to the bone by the time at got home at 9:30 pm... plumb worn out.

The three musketeers on Hafod Road. Time to make our way home. It's been another fabulous adventure. Thanks guys... cheers!

Relevant Links:

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Punchbowl

Following our trip to the Folly above Pontypool, Ivor suggested a ride to the "The Punchbowl". Having not heard of this place, yet confident in Ivor's recommendations and the previous success; our next adventure did not disappoint.

Of course too, this ride would require a bit of climbing... (as do most all rides in Wales). So on the following Tuesday we set off for Blaenavon and the much revered; "Blorenge".

The clouds were heavy with a heavy blanket of mist as we ascended 1500 feet to the summit.

Climbing The Blorenge is not for the faint of heart, yet once at the top; the 360° views across the heather and into the surrounding valleys are stunning.

At the car park near the summit, we turned down a rough road and climbed another 100 feet to a high ridge seemingly at the edge of the world!

We then had to ditch our bikes to begin our descent by foot...

And then... quietly... slowly... she appeared through the thick trees.

  Ride Report Card
  Ride Name: The Punchbowl
  Ride Date: August 22, 2017
  Distance: 84.0 mi
  Duration: 13:47:54
  Moving Time: 08:01:44
  Elevation: + 5221 / - 5220 ft
  Avg. Speed: 10.5 mph
  Weather: Clouds & mist
  Temperature: 21c / 70f
There's a link below that provides some history about this place and all I can say is that it's well worth the effort. We met a few folks walking about and everyone agreed... it is quite special. First off, it is incredibly quiet - quiet to the point that it makes everyone whisper. Birds calling, toads croaking, and even just crunching through the grass is amplified from the sides of the surrounding hillside.

We walked around the perimeter, climbed a bit along one side, then after a long look back, we slowly climbed our way up the hill to our bikes.

The thing about Wales that astounds me continuously is that there is so much to see within such a small area. This place is tiny. And though it may take a bit of effort to reach some of these remote locations; actually, they are all within a reasonable distance. Wales has such a depth of history... it fascinates me. I am truly in awe. I am a lucky boy.

Far off in the distance, The Skirrid looms under foreboding clouds.

Relevant Links:

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Pontypool Folly & Roman Road

I've head stories about this place since I first arrived in Wales. Following the suggestion from Ivor of the Kingfishers that we make the visit and look for the roman road - the decision was made; we would go on our next group ride!

Notorious for having been torn down during WWII for fear that the German bombers would use it as a marker for locating various military installations; most notably the arms factory in Gwent near Usk, the Tower Folly above Pontypool was rebuilt to it's 16th glory and reopened in 1994.

  Ride Report Card
  Ride Name: Pontypool Folly & Roman Road
  Ride Date: August 15, 2017
  Distance: 73.3 mi
  Duration: 12:28:44
  Moving Time: 06:42:45
  Elevation: + 4520 / - 4518 ft
  Avg. Speed: 10.9 mph
  Weather: Sun!
  Temperature: 18c / 64f
Like so many places in Wales... it takes a climb and a will along with a healthy does of fortitude to make the ascent up the ridge behind Pontypool Park to reach the folly.

John, Ivor , and Eric "hoof-it" the last few yards to the top.

Once at the top, the views are well worth the effort. As you can see, we had a nearly 360 degree panoramic view of the surrounding valleys.

To our south the Ebbw River Valley and Rhymney River Valley flatten out and merge into the Bristol Channel 20 miles away at Newport, which is visible along the far horizon.

A large portion of our visit involved simply wandering about and looking. Someone points out something, another finds a little detail of interest. It's quite a spiritual thing to stand on a hill and look at the world around you. It makes you consider so much about yourself and your place. And even though you can never really answer your own metaphysical questions on the huge nature of meaning - when standing at such a place, on such a fabulous day, it just feels damn good to look and think.

And then it's time to head off. Reluctantly, we meander across the thick grass looking for something we may have missed... looking at what we've already seen one more time... placing little images in our mind to take with us.

The Roman Road?
So we set off again for our next adventure! Heading north and down the hill a short distance we left the paved road for a VERY rough trail into the woods. Clearly this was not for cycling. And so we climbed off our trusty steeds and began the slow navigation whilst pushing our bikes through the thick growth leading onto "The Roman Road".

Traveling along a route 2,000 years old is "hard to get yer head around". But there we were... pushing our bicycles through VERY thick vegetation, along a VERY slippery descent of wet cobbled stones. Partially a path at best, but mostly a creek at it's worst, we followed this "road" for nearly a mile.

As we moved further down the hill, the path slowly levelled and became a bit smoother. It was at this point the stones started to form a recognisable pattern. Yes! You could see that this was indeed a road... a well made road!

Look at that! There is no doubt about it.

So I searched online for more information on this "road" and I have to admit that my results are mixed. While some folks claim that it is indeed Roman, others claim that it is much newer.

And so we continued further down the road to where we met more modern pavement just above the M&B Canal.

You can smell the cold stone of the bridge and the musty green leaves and dampness permeates the air as light fights through the thick canopy overhead.

Eric waves "so long" as John sorts his gear and Ivor races ahead on open road.

Whilst searching for more information on the road, I found this blog, which seems interesting and could tie in nicely with my "Bike n' Hike" plans.

So, dear reader, if you have any pertinent information you'd like to pass along... drop me a note in the comments section below.

One last photo looking back... I am a lucky boy.

Relevant Links:

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