by Madi & Andy Key
This year, we decided to let someone else organize our cycling holiday. Madi takes up the story...
Madi:While we were in a wholefood restaurant in Hay-on-Wye, we noticed a leaflet advertising Bicycle Beano holidays. They sounded wonderful. A week cycling in Wales coming back each night to a base camp or house to be fed good wholesome vegetarian meals. So here we are at St. Davids, one of the most western places in Wales.
Our holiday started on Saturday. Saturday night was spent eating, getting to know a few people and putting our bikes together.
One of the great features of a Bicycle Beano holiday is the route talk each morning after breakfast. Rob and Jane, who ARE Bicycle Beano, are also a brilliant double act. Route maps are given out and explained, points of interest and numerous tea stops are highlighted, and the departure time is announced.
Sunday's ride was a nice fairly easy day's cycle to break us in. The sun shone all day. We set off in convoy, but soon all found our individual pace and broke off into small groups.
We rode first to St. Justinian's Bay where the local lifeboat station is, then on to the Blue Lagoon (which wasn't very blue). Our lunch stop was at Porthgain, once a flourishing port from which granite was shipped to London to pave the streets. On Sunday night a number of us visited the Cathedral to hear a concert as part of the St. David's Bach Festival.
Andy: Time for a word about St. David's. The place claims to be the smallest city in Britain, and in that respect it leaves even the nearest competitor (Wells) standing. We are talking about a city with only one proper pub here. The Cathedral sits in a small valley on the northern side of town, with the ruins of the Bishop's Palace next to it. Five minutes' walk up a country lane on the other side of the Cathedral brings you to Pen Rhiw, a former priory and our home for the week.
Madi: Monday, another gloriously hot and sunny day, saw some serious cycling. There was also a short cut if required...we decided to take the long route. So far on this holiday, we had two days of really splendid weather. In that time my skin had tanned more than it did all last summer. I awoke early on Tuesday morning and said, "It's pouring with rain".
All day Tuesday, it poured. In a strange perverse sort of way I almost think I enjoyed Tuesday's cycling best. I don't mind rain, and once you're wet you cannot get any wetter. The tea and lunch stops were particularly welcome I have to admit, as was a bus shelter and a church along the route where we stopped to take a break from the rain. Andy and I did the afternoon cycle back to Pen Rhiw on our own. The mist came down over the fields and everywhere looked very mysterious, and strangely beautiful.
Wednesday was our cycle-free day. Most of us opted to do a two hour boat trip around Ramsey Island.
Andy: The boat in question was hardly your average ferry. It turned out to be the type that are usually used for inshore rescue - a large, open inflatable with a solid bottom and a HUGE diesel engine. To get aboard we had to wade out from the beach. We had been advised to wear wet-weather gear, and the reason for that soon became obvious. The strong currents and many rocks around Ramsey Island results in a collection of vicious tidal eddies and standing waves, over which our helmsman steered the boat at breakneck speed. The boat crashed through waves, spray came over in bucketfuls, and we were all thrown feet into the air. Great fun.
Madi: The boat trip was wonderful and we saw loads of birds that I have never seen before; Kittywakes, Razorbills, Guillemots and best of all two Puffins. The day was incredibly warm and sunny, and it is hard to believe that the day before was something resembling Noah's time.
Wednesday night all the bicycles were loaded onto the cars or into vans and on Thursday morning a Beano convoy set off for the Gwaun Valley and Preseli Hills.
The ride started off pleasantly with a long gently undulating ride along the valley. I started early with the group of people who considered themselves to be the slower cyclists. We were soon overtaken by the faster types. The lunch stop was at Rosebush. To the uninitiated Rosebush seems like a village in the middle of nowhere with nothing in particular to recommend it. There is a post office which is attached to a restaurant-cum-tea room where we stopped for lunch.
During the last century at the height of the railway era, there were plans to turn Rosebush into a holiday resort. It never happened. Other places became fashionable, and Rosebush was left. Fortunes were lost, including that of Barbara Cartland's grandfather [which is why she was forced to write novels].
The lunch we had was splendid. By the time most people started arriving I had finished my lunch and was rather toying with the idea of attacking the salads a second time.
For the afternoon there was a choice of routes. The short cut over Preseli top; and the long route around the edge. We elected to do the long route and set off in a group with James and Helen, John and Terry.
I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon's ride. We passed through what could be very bleak countryside which had a mysterious air about it. Part of the route took us off the road to a circle of standing stones where we enacted the ancient ritual of breaking open a packet of fudge and sharing it around.
We continued on our way and reached the highest point on the route with almost no effort at all. After that it was a very gentle, long ride downhill to the afternoon tea stop. It is amazing just how much food you can manage to put away while on a cycling holiday. I would not normally dream of having a large breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then to top it off afternoon tea as well. The tea place, gained full marks on my star rating system. My pot of coffee actually outlasted Andy's tea. It was served with a jug of real milk, and the Bara Brith (traditional welsh tea bread) was delicious. After that it was amazing that I was able to waddle to my bike let alone get on it and cycle another nine miles.
The rest of the afternoon's ride took us on a gently downward route along the Gwaun Valley. There was a detour to a small candle factory, but as we would have made it just as it was closing for the evening we skipped this. Henry, a New York lawyer, did make the trip in time and bought something like 22 candles to take home to friends and relatives in the States.
Next port of call was a pub just about a mile from the end of our day's ride.
Andy: The landlady serves the beer through a small hatch. Ask for a pint of bitter and she'll take her jug off to a barrel somewhere round the back, fill it up, then pour it out into your glass. She does stock other things, but only under protest. Despite prior warnings, Jerry marched in and asked for (gasp) alcohol-free lager. We got him out of there alive.
Madi: Friday dawned grey and gloomy. Rob kept us all 'cheerful' and decided to skip the first part of the ride and drive to where we would normally have stopped for morning coffee.
After morning coffee, even though it was still raining we decided to set out (up hill). There we all were, togged up in layer upon layer of wet weather gear, and when we reached the top of the hill what should happen, the sun came out.
We cycled down to St. Ishmaels where most of us visited the 11th century church. I joined the group who took a woodland path and walked down to Monks Haven, a tiny isolated shingle inlet. The inlet was one of those places in which it is very easy to imagine the past.
The Gann CrossingFrom St. Ishmael's we cycled inland again and headed towards Marloes where we regrouped for lunch. Andy joined a group who cycled to Marloes via the Gann Crossing. This way I understand involved sand, a plank bridge and the sea lapping around your ankles.
When we reached St. Brides we lay down on the cliff top and watched the sea. The sun was still shining on us even though it was by now late afternoon. I could have sat there forever. I was with a group of people who within the space of a few days had become important in my life in the way that only a group can do. Instead of only a few days it feels as if you have known each other for always. We were in a beautiful place, amongst friends with the sun and the sea breeze...
I haven't mentioned the masses of wildflowers that we saw; Foxgloves, Campion, Wild Orchids and many more whose names I don't know. I haven't mentioned the badgers at Pen Rhiw who raided the compost heap each night for our wholefood vegetarian scraps.
Andy: And then there were the evenings spent attempting to play volleyball, juggling, going to the pub. And the endless supply of cakes, scones and flapjacks in the dining room. And above all, the sunshine, the breeze, and the view that was always waiting at the top of the next hill.
Madi: Saturday morning Rob and Jane said goodbye to everyone with big hugs, and you leave with great regret wishing that it were just the beginning of the holiday instead of the end.
Of course there is a cure for that...we intend to book for another Beano next year.