Day 19. Rosslare to Duncannon

memorial
Memorial at Kilmore Quay

There was a wide choice of continental breakfast set out in the lounge, electric kettle and tea and coffee-making facilities but no sign of staff at any time. It seemed that, like a Travelodge, that there was only one person on duty who set out the breakfast during the night. The bike was produced and was I quickly down the road to discover rural Ireland.

I was looking forward to seeing what the Irish countryside looked like and, on a bike, the first noticeable difference were the road side hedges: they were rampant and there was little apparent planned  planting. The rich variety of species made them very colourful and I was brought to a stop by a stretch of wild rose and fuchsia.

wild rose

The condition of the road surface matters more than every other aspect. In Essex, though the original road surface is good, potholes are allowed to develop which become dangerous enough to bring you off. You learn where they are and during a Club ride those in front continually look out for them and shout warnings to the following pack.

For some time before I came I had been enquiring of Irish acquaintances about the condition of the roads and could never get a clear answer. Their expressions were pained and there were references to subsidence at the side of the road, patching and variable surface and I now understood the reason. As a cycling tourist I would rather go for teeth rattling patches than dangerous potholes.

cob cottage

I was soon brought to a sudden stop by a glimpse though a gateway. It seemed like  something I had not seen for 50 years, we would call them a “Cob Cottage”, and you can sometimes still see the name in villages.  Everything was there, a thatched roof for lightness, thick walls, and only a few narrow windows to protect structural integrity and for longevity most important of all a sturdy outside coating. Where there is no stone the walls are formed from the local earths, baked. I wondered what they would use in this area but quickly discovered the answer from a derelict barn – a rubble earthy combination.

barn

I also came across a notice about the Japanese Knotweed which seems a remarkably good idea as the seed pods are forming now.

knotweed

I had seen lots of tourist/large traffic notices to Kilmore Quay so, intrigued, diverted to see what was there. On the way down I had been overtaken on a relatively narrow road by two large foreign refrigerated lorries. Found a busy little fishing port and could see a fishing trawler heading towards the harbour entrance.  A woman was by the dock was watching so I asked her about the trawlers and she suggested that I went through the dock to the harbour entrance so I headed that way rather expecting notices saying “No Admittance” but no one seemed surprised by my appearance.

truck

The trawler had docked and nearby was an empty van with its doors open so asked the driver and his mate if there was a market and he said most of the catch went direct to France and rather bitterly “the Irish don’t eat fish”. There were some large foreign refrigerated lorries nearby including the one which had passed close to me on the narrow road on the way down to the quay.

trawler

I spent some time looking around. Nearby there was a large memorial area dedicated to those lost at sea, either locals or others who had drowned in the waters off the coast including teenagers drowned off the nearby beach, locals in boat bombed by the Germans and locals drowned when a ship with over 300 migrants aboard went down on its way to America in the 1880s.

memorial stone

On the way back to return to my route I spotted this board. We could do with some in England where the same rule applies. I had already noticed that the vehicles in Ireland gave you more room.

notice

After a really enjoyable ride of 40+ miles I was given a good welcome when I arrived at the B&B in Duncannon called Harbour Lights. I was shown into a room where you could just see over the wall into a small  harbour.

room with view

Went on recommendation to what seemed to be the usual pub on the corner but found it was called the Strand Tavern Seafood Bar and Restaurant. Saw that on the Specials Menu was Pan Fried Hake. It had an exquisite taste and just crumbled under the fork. I asked where it came from and was told “Kilmore”: it was today’s catch.

Day 17. Off to Ireland

off to ireland

With panniers all loaded up again, left home to discover new territory. I had only been to Irish cities so was looking forward to seeing what rural Ireland was like. On a bike you are part of the everyday world. I had gone to Wales with some preconceptions but had found it a more relaxed society than I had expected, particularly the further west I went.

First I had to get back to Fishguard again, a journey that would take most of the day, with clapped out trains at both ends and the most modern carriages between. Always enjoyed this part of the journey. I always pre-book a seat, the scenery is interesting and it is a chance to relax after the hectic attempts to clear up everything before leaving home. Now it was too late to do anything more and I could even have a glass of wine if I fancied it.

Went, as usual, to the back of the train at Braintree where there were seats that could be pushed back to accommodate a bike and pushchair – gone. Sudden realisation that, at last, there was new train stock. Every time the train franchise came up for offer there was a promise of new stock which never happened and it always the same foul toilets with never the full compliment of toilet flush/water/soap/dryer in operation. The biggest mistake was to take soap before checking that the water was working. (Perhaps you need to be of a certain age to be fixated about train toilets).

On the cycle for the inevitably eventful cycle across London. Found a way down through little lanes to super cycle highway along Embankment with some closed lanes near the station now open again. Went along opposite side of Serpentine this time and had close up view of The Mastaba looking magnificent in the sun (see Day 9 for more information).

Everything went well. I was allowed on the train from Paddington to Cardiff early giving me plenty of time to hang up the bike. The train connection at Cardiff was perfect and I put my bike in the cycle space where it was joined by several others. The train to Fishguard became busier as we passed through the towns that I had cycled through so  recently. A passenger sitting next to me was a regular commuter into Swansea. We talked about Wales and the castles. He said that the accents in S.W. Pembrokeshire were more English than anywhere else in Wales. It was, he explained, because that area had been colonised  by the Normans when the castles were built and they continued to bring in English labour. Just before he got off he asked where I was going. When I said Fishguard he paused and then said, sympathetically, that it takes a long time. I realised I still had 40 minutes on a train which travelled cautiously, with fewer and fewer passengers, through the farmlands but it been an easy event-free journey so far.

train to fishguard

The train suddenly braked and the driver hooted once and then with a succession of hoots, and there was the sound of the train hitting several objects. The conductor went into the drivers cab and returned walking down the carriage to the rear saying “dogs”. After several minutes’ delay, as he returned to the driver’s cab he told us that the vets were coming and, after an apology for the delay from the driver, we set off again. I usually get off last with my bike so as not to be an inconvenience and so spoke to the conductor who was coming from the driver’s cab. He explained that there had been a hunt and the pack had gone over the tracks too quickly for the driver to stop. I asked how the driver was and he said he had been shaken up but would be okay.

The hotel that night was in Goodwick, close to the train and ferry. Shown room and presented with key. It was in a small, single room on the top floor, somewhat sparse but with a very comfortable bed – better than camping. They did not do evening food so asked for recommendation and the barman pointed to a customer who recommended the Hope and Anchor across the road. The barman grinned and said the customer worked there. They had a grill restaurant in a basement, the food and presentation were high class, and I had good smokey bean chilli.

 

 

 

Day 16. Off home

 

london cycling

A cheery goodbye from Steve and down to the station, still seemed deserted, went back into large but eerie reception area and, comfortingly, the screen showed my train. Heard a rustle and saw the crouched back of a small man behind a bench; rustling became louder, man vanished, even louder rustling so tried to get a glimpse from a distance.  Man in rather battered brown coat was kneeling on the floor surrounded by bags he was searching  through. Saw someone on the platform went over, he seemed perfectly normal and the feeling that I was on some strange film set vanished. Yes, there would be a train he said, in fact, one of the mostly highly subsidised train in Wales. The winner was a train which ran down from the North Wales coast which the Government were going to axe until two MPs from North Wales pointed out they would not be able to get down to the Parliament in Cardiff in time without the train.

Brown coated man appeared with several bags, a selection of pieces of printed paper and a very worried expression. He explained with a southern Irish accent that he had lost his ticket and tried to persuade us to look at the papers from the travel agent and let him know whether they would let him on the train. I used the “I’m a stranger here myself” and the other passenger was non committal.

Another passenger arrived who was being seen off by a friend. When the train arrived, the driver got out of the train, vanished for a moment, went in at the other end and the three of us sat down and we left going, very slowly until we emerged from a forest of Buddleia, the rampant flowering branches having been scraping along the side of the train. The rest of the journey went perfectly and, after a couple of changes, I arrived in Paddington.

The previous afternoon there had been what had been thought to be a terrorist attack near the Houses of Parliament and the road had been closed. If the cycle path to the main path along the Embankment was closed, the obvious alternative was along the dedicated cycle path which went two thirds of the way along the Mall, then leaving me with the imagined perils of Trafalgar Square and Northumberland Avenue. I could leave the decision until Hyde Park Corner. Meanwhile, I started down the North Carriage Way of Hyde Park. The sun was shining and the wind was behind my back and I obtained a good momentum, aided by my bell to warn the wandering tourists. When I arrived at the lights I came up alongside what I think of as a “Mad London Cyclist” and asked her advice. She said she always went up to Trafalgar Square, it was quicker, and she was going that way.

There are many types of London cyclists: the tourists on rented bikes, the guided groups, the cautious and the Mad London Cyclists. The latter are usually on stripped down bikes, go everywhere at speed in and out of traffic and set off like dervishes at the traffic lights. As the lights changed she shot off and I charged after her. She arrived at the next traffic lights and I drew up alongside her and she gave me a rough idea of the route and eventually set off at speed again afterwards. I am not sure how welcome my presence alongside her again at the next lights was but she then gave me full details of the lanes round the Trafalgar Square roundabout and how a cycle lane appeared halfway down Northumberland Avenue and then turned into a cycle-only filter on the Embankment. When I arrived at the next roundabout on Trafalgar Square I tucked in behind her and followed her into the Avenue which she quickly disappeared down.

With the following wind, and efforts to keep up with my Guide, I found myself heading towards my turn off up the quiet, but slow, streets to Liverpool Street Station much sooner than expected. The problem I had was the train to Braintree left after 4.30pm. Although I did not have to book to take my  bike on it, I could not do so in the rush hour which started at 4.30. I was hoping that I could surreptitiously get through the barrier but what if I continued down to the A3 turn and took on the heavy traffic which went up the A3 and up Gracechurch Street and Bishopsgate to the front of Liverpool Street Station and try to get an earlier train? My adrenaline was already running so off I went. Soon discovered there were frequent traffic lights and lots of buses. I tried creeping up the pavement, impossible and dangerous as there was very little room and you were at the mercy of buses pulling in and any vehicles turning left. I tried staying in the bus lane but you were as slow as a bus and it was unnerving squeezed between buses who seemed unhappy at your presence and pulled up to your rear mudguard. I then noticed the Mad London Cyclists and decided to join them and had one of the most exhilarating 10 minutes cycling outside of a race. The system was to charge up the middle of the road overtaking the slow moving traffic until, at the traffic lights you could slide into the cycle box at the front of the vehicular traffic, get right to the front of the box, fix the point in the next part of the street you wanted to arrive at and shoot off the front as soon as you could sense the lights were changing after the crossing traffic had ceased. By that means I was able to catch a Witham train shortly before half past and catch the Braintree train when it arrived. Home is a 10 minute ride away.

What a wealth of experience there has been in the last 8 days. Now for Ireland!

Day 15. St David’s to Fishguard

Abercastle
Abercastle

Woke again to dull and damp conditions as on the previous two days. The YHA warden said this was common there and the sun would eventually drive away the cloud. After my porridge pot, set out in good time for an overnight stay at Fishguard, leaving the families cheerfully anticipating the day and a Pembroke Coast Path walker who was freshening up after a night camping in the wet paddock by the Hostel.

Though there was no staff at the Hostel between 10am and 5pm you were given keys so you could let yourself in your accommodation during the day. As I cycled away I realised that the sun was clearing the mist and it was possible to see the top of the Carnedd for the first time so I took photo of the Youth Hostel.

youth hostel

It turned out to be a pleasant, undulating ride with occasional steep dives down into a valley or inlet with the corresponding push up. Abercastle was particularly beautiful and had a notice with an unique claim to fame.

abercastle notice

Later, I had stopped for a drink of water and a cereal bar as I had seen a convenient small wall to perch on in a pretty, steep valley. Shortly, a mixed group of cyclists came down and we started chatting about our cycling but I suddenly felt a bite and realised I had sat by an ants’ nest. My clothes were being covered in ants and one of the group suggested that, unless I wanted to be on social media, they should leave me while I took off and shook some clothes.

Further on, I spotted another sign to a woollen mill, was in good time, designated a lunch break and, with the sun now out, had a leisurely coffee and snack and all was right with the world. After some climbing over the hills, I then found myself on the last summit and there, way below, was Fishguard and my very last hill; a long freewheel into town.

fishguard

I had chosen to start my train journey back home from Fishguard where the railway started. From past experience of docks, I decided to check exactly which way to go as it was easy to take the wrong lane. The station and docks were invisible from the main roads so I headed down the most likely lane to find, eventually, a No Entry sign. I headed down the next one into the Security area which seemed promising  –  deserted so cycled through until I could see the railway station – also deserted. Rode along the platform and found the large arrivals hall – again deserted but encouragingly with an electronic board announcing the time of the evening train. Navigated my way carefully to the Guest House so I would know the way back in the morning and found Steve the proprietor by the door, very welcoming and immediately sorting a place for my bike. There was a different atmosphere than a normal B & B and in the course of a long, interesting conversation Steve said that he used to run a Hostel until he purchased and converted what was a former school. Upstairs there was a very large and comfortable lounge, the size of the former Schoolroom below, comfortable seating, tables and books. Breakfast was self-service but with a wide range of food and kitchen facilities, very useful to the mixed nationalities, who came off the ferry.

Steve gave me a recommendation for a pub with good food and I walked through deserted streets to find it. It was 8.15pm, no one in sight and when I got to the pub, which was empty, met the owner near the door looking distraught and he said he was closing. I mentioned food and he said no one had come in for food and he had to throw a lot away. He told me of one place in town which was open and he gave me directions. I asked him where there was a cash machine and his reply was eerily absolutely identical to another  I had received in Newhaven, another ferry town a year ago, “There is only one, it’s in the Co-op, walk by Barclays Bank which is now closed …” Found the pub in the centre of town, only met one person on the way but it was quite busy and I had another good Welsh meal. The cooking throughout West Wales had been homely. About 9pm quite a few smartly dressed young people came in and, encouragingly, when I left I met a similar group coming in to town.

Day 14. St. David’s – two ambitions filled

furthest west2
Furthest west of Wales

Woke early: this was the big day. I had finally arrived and there was only a walk to the most westerly place on the Welsh mainland left. I looked out of the window – it was raining, annoying, but nothing could stop me now. Took my porridge pot to the kitchen, mixed it with the remains of last night’s rice and headed off.

I had discovered the previous night that there was a coastal bus service for tourists that served the beaches and coves of St David’s headland. This headland had the Pembroke Coast Path running along it and is famously rocky with spectacular views. It goes through Whitesands Bay near the hostel and from where the children had come back the previous evening happy, and covered with sand. I headed for Whitesands Bay, taking the path behind the hostel and almost into the cloud and down to the beach. It was just the place for youngsters with a wide beach of fine sand and a snack bar/shop with everything needed for a day on the beach. Today it was very popular for surfers as the waves rolling into the wide and shallowing bay gave perfect conditions.

I picked up the bus, it was about a 20-seater with a very cheerful  driver who clearly enjoyed his job, chatting to passengers, giving them useful information and helping them in and out. The bus went round to a cove, St Justinian, where it dropped me. I set off past a small Lifeboat House up on to the Coast Path running along the edge of the cliff. It was rocky, you could rarely take a full stride, and exposed where it ran past a series of spectacular niches where the sea was working into the cliffs.

furthest west

Wales’s “Land’s End” is not obvious from the map but can be worked out with careful calculation and I wondered if there would be something marking it. From the distance nothing is clearly visible but descending on to a small flat area where the point was, there were the foundations of a small building where you could look west over two small rocky islands called “The Bitches” to Ramsey Island. While I was carefully inspecting it two walkers came round the headland, enquired what I was doing, were impressed to find where they were and we exchanged photographs. Setting off again there was a clash of the high tides coming in opposite directions round Ramsey Island creating high tumbling waves which some adventurous kayakers were enjoying.

west wales

Ramsey Island is an RSPB reserve and this, with the neighbouring island of Skomer, have very large populations of seabirds, particularly Manx shearwater and Puffins. The Manx shearwater, a bird smaller than a gull, spends almost the whole of its life in the open ocean , returning to remote places on land to breed. Numbers were falling because of rats until there were only 850 pairs on Ramsey Island in 2000 and all the puffins had gone. Fortunately, they have now risen to 4,796 pairs according to the RSPB and the number of puffins has increased on Skomer but not returned to Ramsey Island. I then heard a guide tell a pair of Canadian clients that they had put cut-out models of puffins in good breeding places hoping to entice them back.

It was hard-walking to Porth Clas Cove with a glimpse of a seal and some harbour porpoises and expansive views out to The Celtic Sea but I was glad at last to be able to look down to the cove where I could pick up the bus which came shortly thereafter with the same driver. He said he had a 10 minute stop for coffee and took me around to a stall and recommended the home made flapjacks. The coffee was welcome and he was right about the flapjacks which had that crumbly consistency that you cannot get in a shop version. Joined by another family, the bus continued back to to St Davids in time for me to achieve my second ambition before evening services.

bus stop

My National Service friend Ian’s obituary in 2009 had said that “his skill at the organ and inspiration of choirs showed throughout his ministry”. He used to talk with great passion about the organ and St. David’s was his last appointment before moving to a church in Leicester from where he retired. Was this appointment some reward for his work? It gave him access to the great organ there which he used to tell myself and my late wife about, with enormous enthusiasm, and I have had a growing ambition over the years to visit the Cathedral.

organ

I arrived at the Cathedral and, though the keyboard of the organ is not visible, the great organ pipes are over the Chancel Arch and I stood there for some time to breathe in the atmosphere and imagine Ian playing the organ. Then I went to look at the impressive high interior of the Cathedral with fan vaulting Norman arches and a tremendous sense of grandeur which must have impressed the pilgrims; St David’s has been a place of pilgrimage for over 800 years. In 1124 the Pope declared that two pilgrimages to the Shrine of  St David, the Patron Saint of Wales, were equal to one to Rome and the Shrine has been recently restored with five new icons depicting local saints, and a painted canopy has been installed above the Shrine.

After an excellent large plate of curry in a pub, the offerings in the cafes in the town had seemed unlikely to satisfy the hunger all the walking had brought on, I headed to the bus park to find the bus back and met my old friend again. He said that I had just missed the Whitesands Bay bus but that after another loop to a Bay he would be going there and that I could either meet him when he returned or go on the bus with him. I had a day ticket, my legs said that they had had enough and it was an extra last trip though the countryside so elected to go with him. Later I told him I was at the YHA so he said he would drop me as near it as he could. It had been an unforgettable day.

Day 13. To St. David’s

mill wheel
Solva Mill Wheel

The forecast for this day was rain, heavy for two hours in the middle of the day, so I was anxious to make an early start. This was often difficult as Guest Houses and B&Bs reflected their owner and breakfast was usually from 8am or 8.30am; small pubs would often ask you what time you wanted breakfast and would not be enthusiastic if your choice was early. There was a good reason for this: a landlord cannot start clearing up until the last customer has reluctantly left the evening before and often would not want to go to bed until everything was washed up. Late nights do not make for early mornings!

The Mariners Hotel, however, included among its customers what used to be called “commercials” and offered breakfast from 7.15 at which time it was still fine and after the usual problem of finding the right way out of town I was bowling along to the famous rocky headlands and beautiful sandy coves of the South West Coast Path.

By the time I arrived at Broad Haven the rain had set in and the headlands clouded with mist. My friends Terry and Miriam had walked the Coast Path and I had intended to take photos of the path as it wound round the headlands but discovered the limits of my new smartphone which unlocks by touch of your fingerprint. The pad you touch has to be absolutely dry as does your finger. Everything was misty and as soon as I opened my phone the wet condensed on it and the only way to dry my finger was to shove it down my underpants which could be embarrassing except that virtually the only people around were the Lifeguards peering out of their huts into the mist. I managed, after about 10 minutes, to get a shot there but could not photo the rather small stone at The Druidstone and gave up.

verywet broad haven
A very wet Broad Haven
lifeguards view
Lifeguards’ view

The worst thing about pushing my laden bike up the narrow, winding and busy coast road was the traffic coming up behind me who were taking a chance if they tried to overtake me and it was with great relief when I arrived on to a quiet straight road heading inland until I saw a barrier and hut some distance ahead. I had clearly missed a turn but thought I had better enquire and a young serviceman carrying a gun emerged from the hut. It was Brawdy Air Base so he was very surprised at my question about a cycle route but, fortunately, another serviceman emerged and told me which direction to go.

By then it was throwing it down, which was predicted to last two hours, so when shooting down a hill and over a bridge I saw a sign to a Woollen Mill with a small tea shop I shot inside with great alacrity and ordered tea and cakes which were consumed in a very leisurely fashion and closely followed by coffee and Welsh cakes. I went inside the Mill, which I discovered was called Solva Mill, but nothing much was happening. It was Saturday and there was one small loom (see photos below) which had been in use and had a particularly completed piece of work, an information board explaining they produced woollen carpeting for sale in the adjacent shop or to order, and a short  video showing the loom in action. The shop itself was popular but no one stayed long in the Mill and when the heavy drumming of the rain on the roof eased, I set off for St. David’s.

mill clock
For clocking on at the Mill

loom1 loom2

St. David’s boasts a famous Cathedral where Ian, a friend from my National Service days in the RAF, had in 1978 been appointed as a Succenter. His obituary in The Church Times said that his skill at the organ and inspiration of choirs showed throughout his ministry. It also referred to his native wit, which he had had plenty of opportunity to use mentioning the absurdity of life in the National Service during winter nights in the huts where servicemen huddled around a red hot Tortoise stove.

By the time I got to St. David’s the rain had stopped. It is a surprisingly small  town, very pretty and full of tourists. Approaching the town you could see St David’s Cathedral tower for miles but in the town it was hidden until you walked though a gateway into the Close and there it was below you – it seemed immense in its setting. I went inside, and its grandiose was not lessened, reminding me of St. Albans, but I did not stay long as I was conscious of my bike and panniers standing outside unsupervised so I intended to return the following day.

stdavids cathedral
St. David’s Cathedral

The YHA Hostel  was only a couple of miles away and was a former farmhouse and situated down a very bumpy track. It was staffed between 5pm and 10am but I was given a cheery welcome when I arrived 15 minutes early. It didn’t provide food but there were pots of instant porridge, and curry and rice bags that you could heat up in the kitchen. I was surprised to find several mothers with young children but one explained that if you walked a bit further up the hill behind the buildings across some rough ground and then down there was a lovely sandy beach.

 

Day 12. Part 2 – Evening in Haverfordwest

river.png

The Mariners Hotel was at the top of the town, near to what was becoming the inevitable castle, and was another rather old-fashioned hotel which still retained  the cheaper single rooms, and everything except the restaurant seemed to be dealt with by the very friendly lady receptionist.

I decided to walk around the town and gain some sense of the its atmosphere and prosperity. Looked into the hotel restaurant which seemed attractive, clearly refurbished, and with a high quality menu. Walking back down the High Street was disappointing. The mainly local shops did not appear to be thriving and the road was carrying through traffic. I stood at the bottom looking around when someone carrying a shopping bag came along so I asked her where Boots was as this, I have discovered, is the best way of finding the retail centre. She said that it had moved to the edge of town with other, larger stores. I mentioned that the town centre seemed run down, she agreed and said it was sad and there were more and more empty shops and charity shops. On inquiring as to somewhere to eat she said that there was a newer area by the river, although there were not proper restaurants. She then used the phrase I had now heard several times on my journey, particularly later in evenings: “there’s always Wetherspoons”.

I walked down to the bridge with, to the right, the Western Cleddau flowing into the town and, to the left, the old wharves area. Further along the river was illuminated by lights from Greggs and the type of outlets you see in a service area on the motorway.

I went back up towards the castle meeting several others going in the same direction. It is perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the countryside . Checking the history, interestingly there was a Flemish connection. According to local records it was built by Tancred the Fleming; the original medieval town and castle would have been Flemish, not Norman, and remained in the Tancred family until 1210 so that is perhaps where the Flemish traditions at St Florence came from.

H castle

There was not a lot of the castle left but inside there was a fete with a band playing and various stalls and I was told it was part of the town’s festival weekend. There was an exciting atmosphere, everyone seemed intent on enjoying themselves, as indeed I found they were in Wetherspoons which, like Llanelli had the feel of a social club with groups settled in for a night’s cheerful conversation.

fete