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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Cycling in Wales

Those of you who know me from a few years ago will be more than mildly surprised to know that I've just cycled 120 miles up and down (it seemed like mostly 'up') the Welsh hills.

Since meeting John two-and-a-half-years ago, I've had to put my couch potato days behind me and start a new lifestyle which includes cycling, running (though I have to get beyond 5km), the gym and eating healthily.

But nonetheless, as I am a very reluctant cyclist, and training consisted only of a one hour session cycling behind John as he ran along the canal, I was filled with trepidation at the prospect of a six night cycling holiday with John and his 15 year old daughter Rachel, herself no slouch in the saddle. They recently did the London to Cambs cycle ride and she came third in the Pedal in the Park, ahead of serious cyclists.

The holiday started at the farm HQ of Wheely Wonderful Cycling in deepest Shropshire where friendly Chris & Kay gave us our bikes, confortable touring machines (Rachel had a mountain bike) and we sheltered under the awning waiting for the rain to stop. It didn't, so we set off for the first stop, a pub for lunch. Except that when we got there, at 2.30, it had stopped serving food and we couldn't even get a sandwich out of them. So fortified with crisps and nuts we set off again in the rain for Presteigne. The hotel dated from Tudor times and had some very strange and interesting twisty staircases. Fortunately the heating was on - we needed it to dry our clothes and hats - and it took a hot bath before circulation was restored.

The next day saw us cycle for 21 miles to Hay-on-Waye, the town of books. The day after, 21 miles to Builth Wells and a very elegant country house hotel; an easier day of 15 miles to Rhyader and then the killer day, 33 miles to Knighton. The route, the Welsh national cycle route, was mostly quiet country lanes (and hills) with hardly any traffic. There was one short off road section where the mountain bike excelled. There we saw two dead sheep. I wondered how they got there - the rest of their brethren were grazing below, fenced in.

Fortunately on the killer day the weather was kind to us; the forecast had been for torrential rain. We seemed to be ahead of the rain all day. But it was very bleak at times. The first 20 miles seemed to be all uphill. The plus side was that the remaining 13 miles were mostly downhill - but too steep for me to be comfortable. All you could hear was the screech of my brakes as I inched my way down the hills, John and Rachel already waiting at the bottom.

Ah yes, bottom. A gel saddle cover was not enough to prevent the agony of cyclist's ass for the first two days. If I could give any advice to novices like myself it would be to acclimatise yourself on a bike beforehand to try to avoid being saddle sore. It's a killer, and something I will happily consign to Room 101 if Paul Merton ever asks me.

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