The Celtic Way

A cycle route across southern Wales, from Chepstow to Fishguard, following National Cycle Network 4 (NCN4).

Into Wales at Chepstow, over the old Severn Bridge, on a sunny afternoon.

Narrow lanes with high hedges, and little traffic. Fortunately, because there was little room to pass and stinging nettles in the hedges! A pleasant night in Chepstow.

The next day, we stopped for a wander around Caldicot Castle before having our regular bread, cheese and salami lunch.

We arrived in Newport in the early evening and stopped to look at the Newport Transporter bridge, as empty and deserted as it had looked two years ago when I also arrived when it was closed. It was difficult to tell if it was just closed for the evening, or more permanently for repairs; there didn’t appear much evidence of daily use.

There is a large difference in height between low and high tides on the River Usk through Newport – in the region of 12 m. A conventional bridge would have to be high to allow shipping, requiring substantial bridge approaches. After study of the Portugaleté transporter bridge near Bilbao (which Bev and I used on our Camino del Norte ride four years ago) , a transporter bridge was decided upon for Newport.

A transporter bridge has a platform, or gondola, for vehicles and passengers, suspended on cables from a high superstructure. The platform loads up passengers at one side, takes a quick ride across the river, and deposits the passengers on the other side, like an elevated drive-on drive-off ferry across rivers in many parts of the world.

But it wasn’t looking hopeful for ride across the river on it :(

We spent the night in an Ibis Budget Hotel in Newport and were on our way, back past the transporter bridge in the morning. Now riding along the west side of the river, I stopped to photograph the transporter and spotted the gondola moving – yes, it was operating. Run, apparently, by volunteers. We happily paid our £2 for a return ticket.

Opened in 1906, the transporter eased access to steel works on the east bank of the Usk without impeding access to the town docks which were, at that time, located further upstream. There are a handful of transporter bridges still in use around the world.

Caerphilly Castle, Wales’ largest, has its own leaning tower resulting from damage incurred in the 17th Century in battles between the forces of Oliver Cromwell and King Charles I.

Locals believe it leans twice as much as the tower in Pisa and that the Leaning Tower of Pisa does not deserve its place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Pisa leans at 4° and the Caerphilly tower at over 10°.

The Welsh take their angling seriously.

There are hills everywhere, not particularly long climbs but frequent. The elevation gain affords great views of rural Wales. The route follows a combination of minor roads with little or no traffic, dedicated cycle tracks (often along abandoned railway lines) and some gravel double-track.

Chris would have preferred wider, and less slick, tyres for the gravel we occasionally encountered.

Into Swansea where the castle remains are not particularly enhanced by the concrete tower behind. Still, a pleasant city to spend a day in.

Swansea Castle with the BT concrete tower as backdrop.
Sail Bridge, Swansea

Chris left us in Swansea, taking the train back to London. Three hours instead of almost three weeks ;)

Not being blessed with the best of weather on this trip, we waited out a day of rain in Llanelli before continuing westward. There seems to be a pattern of wet day, dry day. And we’re not sufficiently hurried (motivated?) to ride through the wet ones.

St Ishmael’s Parish Church, on the approach to Ferryside, has parts that date from the 13th century. There is a splendid roof, and a sundial that is claimed to have been added in 1725.

Despite the intermittent grey days, when the sun shone, the light was bright and the greens intense. It’s not all Lightroom!

The prevailing winds are westerly and the abundant wind turbines explained our regular headwinds.

We arrived at the Harbourlights Guesthouse, in Saundersfoot, just a few minutes too late to prevent getting soaked when the heavens opened. By the time we showered, changed and were out for dinner, the weather had cleared again. We enjoyed curry night at The Royal Oak, with the excellent (and seemingly appropriate) Jaipur India Pale Ale to complement the food.

Tenby is a popular tourist town, crowded with holiday makers but still with a fairly relaxed feel. There is a beautiful beach and it is easy to see why so many people spend their precious summer holidays here. Unfortunately, with the vagaries of the British weather, beach vacations are always a gamble.

Parts of St Mary’s Church in Pembrooke date from the 13th century, and some from the 15th. I learned later (pity!) that there is a tablet commemorating the Elizabethan scholar Robert Recorde, responsible for introducing the equals ( = ) sign to mathematics!

Every town in Wales seems to have a castle. This is in Pembroke, where we spent a couple of nights (actually, we lodged a couple of kilometres away at the Highgate Inn in Hundleton) to escape another day of wind and rain. We didn’t see the castle until we passed through Pembroke when the sun came out again.

Another ‘rain stopped play’ day. In Haverfordwest.

Welsh slate roofs. Keeping the rain out.

OK, we cheated, I admit it. We were riding along pleasant quiet roads a little way from the coast. The ‘route’ takes a longish detour, down to sea-level, passes through Broadhaven, followed by a seriously steep uphill to regain the lost altitude. Enjoying the scenery and the day, we decided upon a direct route and avoiding the (to us) unnecessary downhill followed by uphill that I would have to/want to push.

We employed the same policy to avoid Druidston Haven, warned off by arrows on the cycling map indicating steep descents and climbs. We did, however, take the road (steeply) down to Nolton Haven.

There was a lifeguard shack watching the narrow cove but on this very windy day (they all seem to be such…) there was no-one in the water to keep watch over. Maybe it was the wrong tide for surfing. The ships offshore were presumably waiting to offload their cargo at the refinery in nearby Milford Haven.

I pushed back up the steep hill of Nolton Haven. A minor consolation was the view of a ‘roadie’ on an unladen bike also pushing. (He probably didn’t have a low enough gear whereas I just didn’t have the leg muscles.)

We had planned to spend the night camping in Newgale but we were enjoying the day and decided to push as far as St David’s. Bev’s cycle route map showed an alternative route inland (supposedly flatter although, in my opinion, still not flat enough). One of my phone’s online mapping applications showed a variation on the same alternative so, instead of dropping down into Newgale and then climbing steeply out of it, we turned right to Roch and continued along a somewhat official route.

On the outskirts of St David’s, I contacted a friend from my first university days who ran a B&B. It was a long shot, hoping to get in on a Saturday night in high season but, if not, we could camp nearby and get together for a visit later. It turned out that Kila had given up the B&B seven years before but had a comfortable fold-down couch…

It had been 38 years since we had last been in contact so there was some catching up to do. We decided on a few days in St David’s to see something of the area. First, a spectacular coast walk:

St David’s is Britain’s smallest city (a city by virtue of having a cathedral). Interesting architecture and varied ceilings. And a library with works from the 1600s.

One day’s ride from St David’s to Fishguard and the end of NCN4. Time to decide on future plans!

A gentle day on to Fishguard and the end of NCN4 (arriving one day ahead of my 67th birthday). Relatively flat to start but some of the usual later on. Occasional tail winds! The route signs ended (or, rather, started: did we do this all backwards?) in nearby Goodwick, not actually Fishguard. That’s fine, since our hotel is in Goodwick :)

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