Ronde van Rhondda 2020
Naturally the circumstances this year means the planned ride to Greece has been postponed.
Instead Dale has carefully planned a tour of Anglo-Saxon Britain which leaves the Kingdom of Kent (long live King Æthelberht!) and neatly circumnavigates Mercia by travelling through Wessex and Wales, skirting the borders of Danelaw before returning south via the borderlands between the Kingdoms of the East Angles and East Saxons.
Naturally there will be dangers. Not least in Wales where it is rumoured many long lost relatives still remain. Some attempts will be made to contact them though the language barrier may prove difficult.
At the northern-most extreme the party will seek refuge in a local hostelry somewhere in the vicinity of Lincoln. They will face certain danger here if they are tempted to stay too long.
From here they will scurry southwards through Saxon country before reclaiming the refuge of the Kentish.
Ronde van Rhondda 2020
Of course it’s not really a tour of the Rhonnda – it’s more of a circumnavigation of the old Kingdom of Mercia – but the tour will be passing through the Rhondda valley in South Wales and in particular the Little Rhondda valley and the village of Ynyshir. This is the Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Old Land of My Fathers). Our father was born here in 1933 and of course Nana and Grandad House lived here before unemplyment took them to the Pits of Kent in about 1936.
Over the years we’ve made family visits here in particular to visit Nan’s sister, Aunti Sis (a Great-Aunt really) and all her family. Her son Uncle Norman I remember very well. I’ve no idea what’s left of this family or the generations that came after. It’ll be interesting to see what Dale and Keith discover.
From South Wales they will head to Denbigh in North Wales and track down some other relatives who moved back to Wales from Kent (usually via Leicester). I expect they’ll drop in to see our father’s sisters Auntie Doreen and Auntie Irene along with Uncle Alan and no doubt a few of our many cousins!
From Wales the team will head east over the Peak District towards Lincolnshire where they will rendezvous at the Dambusters Inn in Scranton. The pub is managed by family friend and village compatriot Steve Plews. I fully expect a night of boisterous shenanigans. They will be lucky to escape alive.
Geting it together
On the ride will be Dale, Keith, Dave Austen and Andy Stupples, and of course as it’s a bike-camping tour there is no minibus support and driver.
Sadly no pre-tour photographs came from Andy Stupples.
Test Run to East Sussex
Here are some shots from a pre-tour excursion down to East Sussex to test out the bikes and equipment.
RvR Day 1 Dover to Godalming
Well here we go again with an early start at Daves to meet Stubbsy. I’m met with an eery silance as everyone is just a bit apprehensive. Especially young Stubbsy as it’s his first tour. We have a quick photo-shoot and then we’re off to meet Bingo at Longage (Lyminge).
We soon met Bingo and with a quick hello we are off with Garmins buzzing like crazy as all of us are out of practise. It should be impossible to get lost in Kent and the plan is to head for Tenterden and then check where we have to go from there.
We even met a few lost sheep along the way making us feel like we are in Wales already.
It’s a lovely ride and we are soon at Tenterden for a little coffee stop. We reset the Garmins and off we go.
Guess what I was the first to get lost! Who said “It’s impossible to get lost in Kent”. I’m distracted by a junction pub but after 10 mins I’m back on line to meet up with the rest to the chorus. “How the xxxx did you get to Japan?”.
With a cheeky smile and word to myself I was reminded that if it weren’t for Linny I’d still be riding around Ukraine!
From here we then had really good 20 odd mile along an old railway line with superb riding.
[this is the Forest Way which follows the old TunbridgeWellss/East Grinstead/Three Bridges railway line closed in the Beeching cuts of 1967. Plans are to link this to the Cuckoo Trail at Groombridge. This follows another old railway line south to Eastbourne].
This line follows the upper Medway valley, through the High Weald and passes close to Ashdown Forest made famous by A.A.Milne and Winnie the Pooh. No time for Pooh-Sticks though. All of us really enjoyed the track and it went a lot further than we thought.
After that we stopped for a little food at East Grinstead and then carried on to Crawley.
The urban sprawl outside Crawley was boring and in the end we crossed and re-crossed the M23 three times! As a bonus we went through a woodyard so that at least kept Dave entertained.
We cracked on until Horsham and had dinner in a Western themed pub. It was a bit strange but the food was very welcome and naturally we had a few beers.
Then we ambled the last few miles on to the first camp. It’s a nice spot but I made school boy error : I should have checked how the tent went up before this! Eventually got it up but then I couldn’t figure out how to open it to get in!
All good in the end. Sadly we had no beer! Dry tour this year. [Ed: who’s he kidding?]
RvR Day 2 Godalming to Hungerford
We were up early like always when camping and chef Dave and Bingo got the the breakfast coffee or chocolate and porridge going.
Off we set just after 7 following the forest trails then was surprised to find the locks on the Wey and Arun Canal. We chatted with a narrow-boat owner who said it was his last trip fas the boat was being sold.
We carried on through the winding trails and foot paths meeting interesting people on the way giving us encouragement and directions. We met one bloke called Edward who had allegedly given up sex but carried on cycling. He thoroughly recommended it!
I managed to keep to keep to the trails most of the time and we another posh lunch; at Tescos this time. Bingo and I still managed to get a beer probably due to the fact I was in the shop. After that we pushed on then and got on the banks of the Kennet and Avon Canal after a little jump over the railway while the 13.32 Paddington to Weymouth thundered past making Stubbsy stop pretty quickly.
It was an excellent ride following the canal on bumpy tracks and we stopped for a few beers at the Row Barge pub, Woolhampton on the banks of the canal. here we met some more cycle tourists, who were great company. Bingo and I managed to black cat them all after some serious tour chat.
We then pushed along the banks of canal turned off at the junction at Hamstead Mill. Some locals told us that Hungerford was 7 miles away. It was getting late so Bingo did some calcs and booked a Guest House: The Three Swans Hotel. Then we rolled through some wonderful scenery for the last few miles and arrived at Hungerford which seems a nice town.
RvR Day 3 Hungerford to Chepstow
As we woke up a little storm brewing outside. Nothing to serious we hope, but bad enough for the captain to make an excutive decision and look at replanning the route. We will keep off the narrow trails and tow paths and keep to the roads instead.
While Dave and Stubbsy was eating their full English breakfast I was toiling over the maps. The captain’s work is never done. It must have taken all of 5 minutes. I let them all know how much I had worked!
We set off around 8:30 with the rain coming down like stair-rods and a bit blustery. Itlooked like a tough day ahead. We got on the old A4 which was a surprisingly nice road with very little traffic. We smashed some miles out in the rain and then stopped in quaint town called Calne. It’s a lovely place and I had the biggest piece of chocolate cake in living memory.
We pushed on little bit more and the sun even came out for 30 seconds though the wind was getting stronger. It was time to dig deep and keep pedalling. We passed through Chippenham (another lovely place) then turned off the A4 heading for the Severn crossing. We had lovely roads and the architecture in the villages was superb: Stubbsy said it was like the top end of St Radegunds.
Very weirdly I started to see lots of people looking like Bingo; seems like he had a holiday romance here ages ago!
We stopped for lunch at the Dog Inn in old Sodbury. We were all in good spirits as we left possibly due to too many coffees! The wind was getting a lot stronger as we carried on to the crossing and as we got closer all of us were unsure about whether a crossing would veven be possible. As we came to the cycle path entrance we could see the road traffic was as shut.
It was one of the most scary things I have ever done seeing Bingo walking horizontal hanging on to his bike as we walked across. I was tucked in behind him when a young lad on a motorbike came passed us like a speedway rider, obviously used to the the weather.
Eventually we got over the other side as we finally into arrived in Wales. All of us were totally knackered so we had a beer in the first pub and Bingo did the stuff to book a hotel.
As an added bonus Stubbsy’s daughter Anna came over from Bath which made for a very enjoyable evening. Bingo meanwhile was sorting out a rendezvous with Chris and Lester Powell.
RvR Day 4 Chepstow to Brecon
Eventually we had a lovely meal in the end last night. We were kept waiting for a table at the hotel for 3/4hour only then to be told they had no food left. The cylist were OK with it though Stubbsy daughter had just done a 12 hr shift at Bath hospital which is far harder than cycling. She was not best pleased. But all’s well that ends well as we found a great Italian restaurant less than 50m away.
We woke up to a lovely sunny morning had a bit of breakfast and then hit the road just after 8. It was a bit of a steep climb out of Chepstow as we headed for Newport for a quick meet up with Chris and Lester Powell. It was great seeing them both looking very fit and well. We had a little chat then wished them all well. Chris gave us a big bag of Welsh cakes: Bingo promptly took ownership of them.
We pressed on through Newport and passed the famous transporter bridge – a marvelous feet of engineering. After finally getting out of Newport we headed towards the Rhondda valley and picked up the Sustrans Cycle Route 4 or maybe Route 8 [Ed: or both; 4 goes E/W to Fishguard and 8 goes S/N to Anglesey]. It’s a credit to the Welsh tourist board as it was excellent, fully paved and a joy to ride on.
Before we knew it we were climbing steadily up the valley, going through Caerphilly where we stopped for a photo shoot of the castle and the statue of Tommy Cooper (I did not know he was Welsh [Ed: now you do, just like that!]). Then we stopped for lunch at a cafe in Pontypridd. Big Dave is making sure we have a dry lunch – he is a good lad. From there we carried onto Porth and then up the Valley to Ynysir where my Dad was born.
We had a few pictures taken along William Street and remembered holidays from the past playing football with Graham on the Oval and wearing a horrible tweed tweed suit that Dad had brought for Keith and I to name a few. Personally I was really pleased we went up the Ynysir valley. I loved it, but anyway that’s enough of the sentimental stuff as we had the first of two big climbs in front of us.
We had already started the the climb upto Maerdy. It was our first proper climb and it was good stuff as that’s what we came for.
All of us were laughing and joking as we rode up to Aberdare, and with big Dave ditching the no beer thing Keith and I went in the Aberdare Constitutional Club. Dave and Andy had a beer outside a coffee shop then joined us. It was just a timing and thirsty thing. The club was full of sporting memorabilia and the host was a great guy as he showed us all the bits and pieces.
Finally we left the club and struggled for a while to get out of the town. Then we hit another climb up to Merthyr Tydfil. On the descent we headed off towards Brecon for a good few miles, and stopped by a small hamlet on the side of a reservior. We tried a few B&Bs here to no avail and finally settled for a wild camp on the banks of the Llwyn-On reservior which is a lovely spo. We managed to put the water through the purifier, so we had coffee, 1/4 egg roll, 1/4 Soren Malt loaf each for dinner tand hen an early night.
All in all it was a great day in the saddle.
RvR Day 5 Brecon to Aberystwyth
We had lovely nights sleep in a 5 star wild camp. A bn to Aberystwytheautiful place. Breakfast consisted of coffee and any chocolate that Stubbsy had not eaten last night.
We then hit the road just after 7 with two things in mind one to get a breakfast and the other was to fix Dave’s rear wheel spoke. We found a bike shop in Brecon but it did not open until 9 so we had an impressive breakfast at Morrisons. When it did open the bike shop did not have a spoke for Daves wheel!
So we pressed on to Builth Wells and found a cracking bike shop called Cycle-Tec: they were great and gave us really good service.
With the rain getting a bit heavier we went on the A44. It was not too bad though a few trucks got quite close and we even had a car brush Stubbsy’s elbow. With the rain getting heavier and the climbs getting a bit steeper we pushed on with big Dave pulling at the front eating up the miles.
Then the shout went up ‘can we stop for something to eat’. So we stopped at a pub in Llangurig for a pint and baguette. It was still raining when we came out but with a hint of sunshine coming through. It also made us smile as we had only 34 miles to go.
We got back onto the A44 with Dave pushing from the front again climbing and going through some wonderful scenery with red kites swirling above us. Great times. There must have been 30 Red Kites in the air.
We stopped at a viewing station about 10 miles from Aberystwyth with the text going mad as Connor and Mark were organizing meeting us. [Ed: they were at Dovey Junction trying to catch a train, but these were cancelled and they eventually got the replacement bus to Aberystwyth]. Fair play they booked us into hotel whilst they had a bit of trouble on the trains. Bless them. No troubles for us.
Later we also phoned Auntie Doreen and made arrangements to meet them tomorrow. It was great that Uncle Alan got the priorities right and checked about going out and thought correctly that we would not want to stay up late. We go to bed at 10 when cycling! Well most of the time.
We arrived in Aberystwyth and I got my real ale order in for the special one and cider for the rest. Connor and Mark made the rendezvous and all of us joined up for a beer and food and discussed the next few days riding.
RvR Day 6: Aberystwyth to Bodfari
Mark booked the best hotel in Aberystwyth – well it was nowhere near the best or even in the top 100. However a good breakfast put it up a few places.
Off we go with the our new recruits Connor and Mark. They both set off up the big hill out of town at a fast pace accompanied by Bingo. Dave, Stubbsy & I stayed on the steady pace. Fair play as it was pretty steep and not my ideal start but I soon got into the swing of it.
It was steady climbing all the time as we passed King Arthur’s Labyrinth at Corris and a Gin Distillery. It’s a weird combination but it took the mind of climbing thinking what King Arthur got up to drinking gin
Up we climbed to Bala Lake at Lyn Tegid where Keith, Mark and Connor stopped at a lake side tourist cafe. It was really busy and cramped so the rest of us went into Bala (The Old Bull Inn) unfortunately they did not serve food so we had a drink and got some sandwiches from the Co-op next door and tried to dry off a little.
It was raining even harder now so with rain jackets and gloves on we went, with the quip “I am glad we came in the summer”. As normal we always start the session off with a big climb and it was no different today. The road was busy getting out off Bala with loads of tourist traffic; most of them looking at us as if we were mad I think they may be right! Bingo was setting a really good pace as we started to eat up the miles and before long we entered the small town Ruthin where we turned off the A494 on to the small country lanes. So much nicer to ride on.
Soon Bodfari was on the signposts and with the rain easing up slightly we pulled into the Kinnell Arms to regroup which was only about 2 miles from Doreen and Alan’s place. I gave Doreen a call said we were in the Kinnell Arms regrouping and drying off, obviously she knew better, after an hour Alan joined us with a wry smile.
Alan guided us down to their place and it was really good seeing Doreen. Angela was also there making us all very welcome as they always do when we venture up to see them. The lads got showered and cleaned up as best they could. Keith & I popped over the road to see Auntie Irene, once again she was so glad to see us, very humbling, unfortunately Irene was not up to joining the rest of us over the road, but offered both of us a bed for the night. We both jumped at it, far better than camping!
We then rejoined the rest, with Cousins Jeremy and Karen with their partners and children joining us it making it a lovely evening. We had a with a curry and later an array of flapjacks and Welsh cakes with Alan making sure all the lads drinks were topped up. All we had to do was all get together for the customarily family photograph, which was duly organised.
I would like to thank Doreen and Alan for their amazing hospitality. It was a real pleasure seeing you both and lovely to catch up with Irene too. We managed to squeeze in a few extra cakes into our bags.
Catching up with all the cousins and families made for a wonderful evening.
THANK YOU from the crazy cycling gang
RvR Day 7: Bodfari to Cheadle
We had a great night with the North Wales Clan and really enjoyed the stay. A massive thumbs up from the Team and also happy birthday Doreen have a lovely day you deserve it after looking after us. Irene, Keith and I loved the hot tub and full English breakfast you prepared for our early start. [Ed: nudge nudge say no more].
After starting the ride with our farewells we headed towards Mold and passed Warren House (We Doreen & Alan used to live) so we had little photo outside the main entrance. Once again happy memories of family parties and weddings.
Then we stopped for breakfast at Mcdonalds in Mold, and also had a look at booking some accommodation as we are meeting Dave’s mate Ian later for dinner and few beers.
But a bit of a problem as we can find no accommodation in Buxton. We were forced to do a bit of rerouting to Cheadle on the outskirts of Manchester. So on we went. At first it was not to good as the roads were busy with many intersections. Soon however we found some old railway tracks. Happy days, within the hour we were whizzing past Chester and back in England.
From there we kept on the tracks and canal tow paths most of the way but it was still not good enough to stop big Dave having a little tumble at a junction. He fell off with his shoes clipped in like a stranded turtle!
We stopped in a nice pub just outside Warrington for lunch and then carried on adjacent to the Manchester Ship Canal then on to another smaller canal. A great route. Then it was just the last few miles up to Cheadle and the hotel.
RvR Day 8 Cheadle to Scampton
We had an early start out of the Governor’s Hotel in Cheadle as breakfast was not until 8:30 which is no good for early start athletes. So off we went.
It was no good getting out of urban sprawl of Manchester but it was well worth it in the end.
What a tremendous route the Trans-Pennine-Trail (TPT) is, an absolute pleasure to ride. It’s pretty tough but nothing us trekkers can’t handle. The down-hills through the woods were very challenging for me, but the lads loved them. Honestly I can’t say how much we all enjoyed it. The looks we got from the mountain-bikers was a picture. “Bloody mad” they said, and were probably right.
We carried on through the mining villages around Barnsley thinking of the Sutcliffes from the village as they are from this area.
Then we stopped for lunch at the Scarborough Arms in Tickhill. We all regrouped and had a bite to eat. From there we then set off for the Dambuster’s pub and Plewies. It was great roads heading for Gainsborough which was the place of a classic crash for me on the Durness to Dover ride all those year’s ago [Ed: it was 2012!]. They even made me re-enact the accident!
These were great country roads and we hardly met a car for the 15 mile final run in. It was brilliant as we all grouped together to meet the legend Steve Plews a true gentleman and probably the best publican in the world.
What a welcome at the Dambusters. Cathal & Greg had travelled up from Sunshine Corner to meet us & the all the locals were amazing and great people.
Over and out from the Dambusters Inn. Great company having a little beer now.
RvR Day 9 Scampton to Norfolk
Great night at the Dambusters last night, with Steve, Greg & Cathal, all of had a bit of a sore head this morning. After a big bowl of porridge and a few mugs of coffee we set off just after 8.
Had some lovely country lanes, then a cycle track along the river Witham really good track and made excellent time with next to no-one around. Once again the track was a disused railway lines and fully paved an absolute joy to ride on. We at stopped a pub on the river just outside Boston for light refreshments or hair of the dog.
Went through the centre of Boston then headed on south on the country lanes towards King’s Lynn, with just a small section on the busy A17. We skirted around King’s Lynn and headed towards Downham Market, a small market town in Norfolk and had dinner in the Whalebone before cycling off into the sunset to find a wild camping place.
We duly found place on route for tomorrow in a field adjacent to a railway line, no need to worry about keeping us up as we were all knackered. Lights out and ‘good night’.
RvR Day 10 Littleport to Chelmsford
Lovely moon last night over the Norfolk /Cambridgeshire border. All slept well, with a little autumnal chill & dew in the air. Up with the larks and a spring in our steps with Stubbsy left over spicy chicken things and lashings of hot tea and coffee, Bingo been up since 5 stoking the stove just to make sure the lads are fed and watered.
On the the road quite early whizzing along the lanes with a cheeky good morning to all and sundry, heading towards Ely foremost to see if we could get Daves back wheel fixed and have a well earned rest. Another childhood memory, walking around the city and cathedral, must admit quite spectacular, not sure I appreciated so much in the day though.
We then headed for Newmarket seeing the race horses on the gallops and putting up with the quips that all the guys were the same height as me, put up for lots of banter, all in good spirits has we headed out of the town past the racehorse gallops and stables.
Back onto the country roads and rollings hills, up to a farm, the tractor driver gave us a wrly smile and a wave, he knew what lay ahead, a bridleway for the next few miles pretty tough going at places, finally rejoined the road after a bit of huffing and puffing.
The shout went up to stop at the next pub for light refreshments well that was easier said than done. Even worse was to follow the captain had a flat, the 1st of the tour not bad as at least 40% has been off road. We decided to limp to the next village and change the tube then, after around 6 miles and pumping the tyre up couple of times, we mended the inner tube outside a village shop, with a bottle of beer and sandwiches as always the work was done in the normal calm and collective manner the captain always maintains.
Finally back on the road, with a message to regroup at the 8 Bells, after talking with some locals they directed us to Sudbury and the 5 Bells, Bingo, Dave and Mark were already there another message we said we were 15mins away on the railway track, bit of a silence they did go down a track, that was clear when we arrived they were not there a few messages and confirmed we were furthest on the route, within 15mins all reunited.
Connor had booked rooms just outside Chelmsford, so with a bit of rerouting of we set for the final 20 odd miles, with big Dave leading us, all good as found the hotel together, few beers and meal all in all another eventful day on the bikes.
RvR Day 11 Chelmsford to Dover
Probably the best nights sleep of the whole tour night was had by all. More to do with how much work we had put in rather than plushness of the hotel. Functional would be more descriptive.
With a quick look at the route a collective decision was made to stick to the route for which we diligently and carefully prepared before we left.
It was possibly not the best decesion we made as we went through ploughed fields and had to strip off all the baggage on the bikes to get them over railway lines; not the easiest of tasks.
Then we hit the urban sprawl on the Essex side of the Thames and cycled through little used cycle tracks then on to the banks of the Thames. It was pretty disappointing really as the cycle path was in a bad state of repair with steep steps and locked gates which meant manhandling the bikes again.
We got past Tilbury Fort and then finally got to the Tilbury ferry pontoon. After a bit of lunch waiting for the ferry we got a cheery welcome aboard but had some difficulty getting all the bikes on. It was all sorted and within 10 minutes we were back in Kent; it may be the Kentish-Men side but the Men-of-Kent are on our way.
From Gravesend we followed the old Medway – Thames canal (never knew it was there!). However it made for a nice ride straight to Strood. We all regrouped to go through the Medway tunnel. It’s not great riding but it does cut out the stop/start riding going through the Medway towns.
We were quickly through the tunnel and on way out of the busy towns, mindful that now it’s the Man-of-Kent side. Two rivers to cross now. We stopped for a beer at the Happy Mariner in Lower Tydall and then set off again through the apple orchards of rural Kent.
Mark had a little issue with his bottle holder and then we pushed on skirting Sittingbourne as much as possible. Then it was on to Faversham as we kept off the A2 until the Brindley corner. From here we quick spurted around and down the hill to Boughto and then on to Canterbury looking good as we all kept in a peleton around the ring road. Then up to Bridge for a final pint and a debrief.
Everyone felt good if not a bit tired. We had a few little niggles but nothing us ‘Athletes’ can’t handle. Then we left going on our separate ways home to various corners of East Kent.
Another tour finished. It was somewhat different from other tours but nevertheless it was excellent riding and ‘guys, a pleasure and privilege to ride with you’.
Until next time, your calm collective tour captain, Dale