barmouth

West Wales – the Honey Trap

Yesterday (Tuesday) was the day the sun dimmed.

Maybe not literally (I assume it’s still out there in the middle of the solar system, doing its thing). But it certainly took advantage of the autumnal equinox to duck out of my way for a while.

And maybe the light dimmed figuratively, too, as the UK began a seemingly inevitable slide back towards Covid lockdown.

Despite only being about a week away from finishing the trip, there’s a rapidly increasing chance that the south-west corner of Wales might become a trap from which I can’t escape on the bike.

But, before most of South Wales locked down in front of me yesterday, the West certainly lured me in. It’s stunning.

On Sunday morning, I trundled most of the way from Bangor to Caernarfon on a bumpy cycle track, and then spent a little while enjoying the walled city, and magnificent castle (above). It was an impressive introduction to the west coast.

One of the big advantages of the light fading this far north on the planet is that (on the occasions that the sun actually shines) the light stays beautiful for a lot longer at the start and end of the day. Long shadows and sunshine make anywhere look nice, but the Lleyn peninsular, which sticks out into the Irish Sea, doesn’t need much help (above).

The only trouble with a solid semi-circle of high hills dropping into the sea is that you’re likely to have to climb them at some point. I’d managed to avoid 15%-plus gradients for a while, so it was a bit of a shock to be grinding up them again.

On the other hand, a little bit of effort led to some lovely views (above), and gives you access to the pretty towns and bays of the southern side of the peninsular, like Criccieth (below).

Sunday had been lovely, and I was pretty sure that Monday wouldn’t be able to match it. On paper, it was a long grind down the main coast road (like many remote places, all the traffic has to use the one big-ish road round here), which was not necessarily likely to be much fun.

The morning quickly put my mind at rest. Only a few minutes down the road from Criccieth, where the Lleyn peninsular meets the mainland, it was looking like this:

And the scenery barely let up all day. Even in the handful of miles around Barmouth, you get the pretty town, followed by the wooden cycle / footbridge attached to the railway across the estuary (below).

Then you push on a little, hit a little ramp out of a village, and suddenly realise that you’ve got a spectacular view of the town, the bay and the area around it (below). And not actually very much traffic to contend with until you get down to Aberystwyth.

Aberystwyth was where things started to change. When I arrived on Monday evening, it was basking in golden evening sunshine. Heading further south yesterday (Tuesday), however, things were suddenly looking much duller and less cheerful:

The road was busy, so I swerved into smaller lanes, which were pleasant, but super hilly. Combined with the occasional patch of drizzle, things were already a little miserable even before the politicians started lining up on TV in the evening.

There’s little doubt that summer is over (both literally and metaphorically). I’ve only got a handful of days to ride to get back to Bristol and finish the ride. But there’s now no route along the south coast of Wales, as most counties have entered local lockdown. And there’s rain on the ground this morning, and more incoming from the Atlantic. The temperature’s through the floor, too.

As it stands, there’s still the chance to squeeze through to the end. I can shunt the route inland from South Wales, although that would involve some heavy climbing through the Brecon Beacons. But with things moving so quickly in Covid World, it’s far from clear that the alternative route will remain open for long.

It’s fingers crossed time…