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, November 22, 2017

Monmouth & Chepstow Classic

This route was my very first century way back in 2014 and has since become my "go to" 'hundred-miler. To be honest, it's rather easy - yet it's also incredibly scenic covering some diverse landscapes. What more can I say? I just love it.

I try not to ride simply for the sake of clocking miles. But November has been very wet and I haven't been out on my bike much. I decided that as soon as the weather improved I'd take a big ride to catch up a bit (I am aiming for 8k this year...). So this past Sunday we had a fabulous Autumn day and I set out on one of favourite rides.

It was cold and grey when I left the house just before daybreak (7:00 am, 2°c/36°f) and as I climbed the hill behind our house, I stopped briefly to snap this photo of the sun coming up above Crumlin. I wasn't planning on spending too much time taking photos - just get some typical shots along each unique section.

On the cycle path up to Sofrydd

If you've been reading my blogs, you know that I broke my lovely little Canon camera last month and I'm now using the camera in my phone. I'm not sure about the Samsung J3... it doesn't seem to focus very well, especially under low-light. But then too, it was foggy and misty... and I am a bit ham-fisted in full-finger winter gloves.

Looking back toward Crumlin

Always the coldest section... through Hafodyrynys.

Some folks call it Hafodyrynys Road, while some call it the Old Crumlin Road, regardless of what ya call it, the road to Pontypool is always pretty and quiet. At this time of the morning - I owned it! I was loving the colour still on the trees... very unusual for mid-November in Wales.

Yup... no one is about the city park in Pontypool...

...and the canal path is quiet as well.

Too early for dog walkers or joggers...

... but never too early to be beautiful.

The ride from Pontypool to Gotyre Wharf is just five miles, but it is stunning. The canal path continues on another 30 miles or so up to Brecon, but I drop off at bridge #71 and scoot down the lane to Chain Bridge where it's a very short and fast race into Usk; my first stop.

Loving the tail-wind and windmill at Llancayo!

It was just about 9:30 am when I pulled into Usk and I'd cycled bang-on 25 miles. I sat in the square and had some coffee (from my flask, of course...), ate a breakfast-bar-thingy and watched a group of cyclists gather for their Sunday club run.

One of my favourite lanes: "Lord Raglan's Bugatti"

The next section is one of my favourites. I call it; "Lord Raglan's Bugatti" because it goes past his old estate and he was well knwon for his collection of antique cars - especially a 1933 Bugatti. (read: Lord Raglan's Obituary) Cycling along this section, I imagine Lord Raglan zipping down the lanes near his home in that red Bugatti... something akin to Peter O'Toole in the opening segment of Lawrence of Arabia.

Looking across the late Lord Raglan's 600 acre estate...

Snaking around on the lane...

Looking over Llandenny

Then I left the lanes and got onto a "B" road that leads straight up through Raglan and on to Monmouth. Wales is incredibly quiet on Sunday mornings; most of the traffic along this stretch were large groups fast-racing cyclists. This road is popular for it's mild hills and long straight sections. It's wide and smooth and uninterrupted for almost 12 miles.

Easy rolling and empty... how I like 'em!

Folks have been snacking here for 800 years!

I always stop at the Monnow Bridge in Monmouth because it's just so friggin' cool and there are picnic tables right along the riverbank where you can sit and look and ponder time. Generally, it's crawling with tourists, but today I'm mostly alone. Weird?

The bridge and gatehouse in 1818,
drawn by Copley Fielding
The Monnow Bridge
There is much to read about the history of this lovely bridge, but the most surprising bit of trivia I discovered was that it was used as the main western entrance into town until 2004! Yup, that's right. Cars and trucks and buses and any vehicle that would fit - drove over and through this 800 year old bridge to get into town. I just find that crazy!

Now there's a much wider modern bridge approximately 1/2 mile down river that handles all vehicle traffic and the old bridge and tower are Grade 1 Listed and designated just for pedestrians (and cyclists!).

Another small historical tid-bit is that the tower was originally built to keep out the Welsh. This part of Monmouthshire is referred to as the "Borderlands" such that "ownership" has changed back and forth between England and Wales for hundreds of years. The top bit of the tower now houses a small museum which is only accessible on certain days.

Take a few minutes to read more about the last surviving fortified bridge in the United Kingdom.

Resources: Wikipedia; Monnow Bridge and Castles in Wales, a website by Jeffrey L. Thomas

And then it got crazy beautiful...

Heading out of town on the eastern side I cross over the second river and bridge that defines this medieval town (The Wye River Bridge). Immediately, it's easy to see why this valley is designated an "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" because it's stunning. Also of note; shortly after leaving Monmouth you pass through the quaint village of Redbrook and enter England!

... heading down through the Wye Valley.

Even though it's an "A" road (A466) and the main connector running between Monmouth and Chepstow, it's wide and commonly used by cyclists. Drivers are mostly courteous for they too seem to appreciate the scenic beauty. However, I should add  that it's not for the faint of heart. The speed limit is 60 mph and cars, especially motorcycles often exceed that - so cyclists take heed!

The Wye River looking like glass

Crossing Bigsweir Bridge back into Wales

After crossing the Wye (again) at Bigsweir Bridge I continued a few miles down the road to the adorable village of Llandago, perched right on the banks of the Wye. Blink and you've missed it. The road then snakes and climbs above the Wye for another few miles before dropping down again beside the river to enter the village of Tintern.

Coming into Tintern

Hold onto your hats ladies and gentlemen because the next few bits will knock yer socks off!

Looking back...

Looking down river...

The old railroad bridge is just for pedestrians now

Looking back again...

The majestic ruins of Tintern Abbey

And then after a lovely cruise past the quaint shops, small hotels and pubs that line the narrow strip between the hillside and the river; the valley widens without fanfare and there she sits nestled against a backdrop of trees and undeveloped natural beauty.

The Chancel and Crossing
of Tintern Abbey, Looking
towards the East Window
by J. M. W. Turner, 1794
Tintern Abbey
Growing up in America, I wasn't taught much on European history. And to be perfectly frank, I don't think many Americans have a grasp on the enormous amount of history scattered about this tiny island.

The first church to have been built here was in the early 1100's. What we see today was built primarily during the 13th and 14th century and was an active monastary for 300 years until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII during the 1500's. Can ya get your head around that?

While America was struggling through the early years of independence, when Turner painted the image shown to the left; Tintern Abbey was then 700 years old and had been a romantic medieval ruin for almost 300 years.

Read more about the one of the greatest monastic ruins of Wales.

Resources: Wikipedia; Tintern Abbey and Castles in Wales, a website by Jeffrey L. Thomas

Across the main road...

I stop again at Tintern, have lunch, and walk around for a few minutes. It's the half way mark on the route and a good spot to get off the bike. Normally, this place is crawling with tour buses and visitors from the world over; today it's weirdly quiet. It's absolutely gorgeous. I don't understand why people aren't out enjoying the weather?

Behind the abbey, looking north...

... looking south again.

Leaving the abbey I've got a good three-mile climb up to St. Arvans. The road gets narrow in places and traffic can be somewhat of an issue. They regularly close lanes to repair areas of subsidence and rock falls are common. Today, however, it's fantastic. The road works have provided new tarmac practically all the way up!

An old quarry scars the far side of the valley

I race like the wind down from St. Arvans, past Chepstow Racecourse and the Sunday traffic, and onto the Gwent Levels. Admittedly, I'm getting tired now. It's late in the afternoon. I've been out on my bike for nearly seven hours and I've roughly 40 more miles ahead of me.

Down from the mountains and heading onto the Gwent Levels

Muddy, but lovely country lanes zig-zgging around farms

If you look closely, you can see the Severn Bridge in the distance

Report Card
Ride Name: Monmouth & Chepstow
Start Date: Sun. Nov 19, 2017
Starts in: Oakdale, Wales, GB
Departed: 7:07 AM
Distance: 102.2 mi. / 164.5 km
Elevation: + 4972 / - 4971 ft
Max Grade: 12.7%
Total Duration: 11:16:29
Moving Time: 08:33:40
Stopped Time: 02:42:49
Max. Speed: 35.0 mph
Avg. Speed: 11.9 mph / 19.1 kph
Weather: SUN!
Temperature: 8°c / 50°f
Some Technical Details
I follow the route shown above clockwise, with planned stops in Usk, Monmouth, Tintern, Caldicot (or) Redwick, and Newport. Generally, it's a full 12 hour ride/day.

As part of my goals for this year, I've made the ride three times. You can read more about my longer rides in the Charts section of my blog at 2017 100 Mile Club.

I've also included my newly redesigned "Report Card" which you can see directly to the right. I record all of my rides using a Garmin Edge Touring which I then upload to the website Ride with GPS.

Recently, I was asked; "why use Blogger?" I started using Blogger along with the suite of Google cloud applications when I went I bought a Samsung Chromebook (way back in 2010). It's a worry-free setup without having to install ANY software or virus protection. As long as I can get online, I have access to ALL my files (including photos!) And yup, I'm still using this setup in 2017! It's a wonderful portable writing system.

I then transpose, compile and embed the information from these other external websites here. It's that easy! (Oh yeah... and it's FREE!)

In my heart, I'm a farmer

The sun is getting low and the shadows long

The day is getting quiet now. It's late on a Sunday afternoon and I'm feeling it too...

Solitude for miles

Coming into Redwick

The church and mill in Redwick.

It's been a long day. My photos are starting to show a lack of enthusiasm (would love to have the photo above without the car...), but I'm just too tired to put in much more of an effort.

My old friend

How many times have I sat here looking down the Usk River. The slightly blurred image seems to capture my mood and the end of the day perfectly.

Not long after this I was riding in the dark. Head hung down, feet just going 'round.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

To the Top of Manmoel!

Following a few miserable days rain-locked in the house, the weather broke and I got my act together to make another ride in my "Bike & Hike" series... this time to the top of Manmoel.

Looming under distant clouds...

Once I landed on the notion of "Bike & Hike", I knew that Manmoel would be on my list of goals. It's just six miles up the road behind Oakdale and is quite desolate and spectacular.

First stop along the way, however; is Pen y Fan Pond. It was about 10:30 in the morning and loads of folks were out, walking dogs, pushing strollers, and enjoying the lovely fall day.

This is perhaps the best time of the day to be cycling; for the kids have all been dropped at school, the commuters have made it to their destinations, and those of us left... are just chillin'.

I had been wanting to see some fall colour, but was worried that all the wind and rain might have brought down most of the leaves. Boy, was I pleased to be wrong. I couldn't have asked for a better day.

Manmoel peeking out above the ridge to the left...

I stopped at the base of the hill to change shoes and stash my bike behind some hedges. I then strapped on a small back-pack and headed up!

The Ebbw Valley runs south to my left and to my right; the Sirhowy Valley.

And then I'm walking back down the hill the long way. Gotta scoot over some fences and wade across a few gullies... well worth it all.

Report Card
Ride Name: Top of Manmoel!
Start Date: Wed. Nov 01, 2017
Starts in: Oakdale, Wales, GB
Departed: 10:57 AM
Distance: 26.3 mi / 42.3 km
Elevation: + 1634 / - 1634 ft
Max Grade: 19.9%
Total Duration: 05:10:49
Moving Time: 02:47:06
Stopped Time: 02:23:43
Max. Speed: 30.7 mph
Avg. Speed: 9.5 mph / 15.2 km/h
Weather: SUN!
Temperature: 14°c / 57°f
Unfortunately, a second notable incident occurred after I was on the road again to Tredegar... I fell! Riding down a rough bit of partially-paved road, I skidded on some loose gravel and lost control. Down I went!

Everything came off the bike; panniers, water bottles, tyre pump, Garmin, and yours truly. Thankfully, there is no traffic along this section because my shit was thrown everywhere-helter-skelter. But more importantly, I only banged up my right knee and scraped some knuckles.

I hate falling. It scares me to death and pisses me off to boot. Thoughts rush through my head as I'm going down (always in slow-motion); "You've fucked up now, boy!" and "Don't put your arm down... you'll break your shoulder!"

After a few moments hobbling about, cussing and rubbing various parts of my body, I regained a faint sense of composure and continued on... feeling my age, humbled yet, relieved. It could have been much worse.

It's a pretty easy ride overall. Getting to up to the Common takes a bit of a push, but there's plenty of reason to pause. Once at the top I just cruise north along the ridge from Manmoel to Tredegar and then turn back south to coast downhill for 12 miles to home. We're so very lucky to have this just on our back door.

NOTE: Be sure to check out my full set of photographs... [ Top of Manmoel Gallery ]

First question; "How did they get the car up here?" Second question; "Why?" I don't understand the fascination with setting cars alight, but they do it here in Wales with surprising regularity. I don't think it's meant as an anti-car statement... but, I'll take it as such!

cheers! - cm

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