Wonderful Wales Warmshowers – Bucknell to Monmouth to Bristol (133/20,812ks, 1,320m)

(written by Dave)

We’ve had a great couple of days working our way south.  Our night at the Bucknell was quiet.  We can sure tell that normal holiday season is over here as there were only 2 other campers besides us.  We had a nice meal in the pub, steak and kidney pie for me, plus a great locally brew ale.  We had a longish day planned so we set the alarm for 6AM.  I woke up early at 5:30 when it started to rain.  Not the best start.  It was a weird morning because it went from socked in at 6AM to bright sun we left camp at 8:30 but we weren’t complaining.

The route took us through many hedge covered rolling hills.  All the rain makes for some very green scenery, even if you can’t see it all the time – though the last couple days we got a pretty good look.  The hedges here are still occasionally built out of stone but we are seeing more and more hedges that are made of various plants.  As we went through Brampton Bryan we saw a somewhat famous hedge made of yew trees that had been sculpted into smooth curvaceous shapes – it would have been easy to take hundreds of photos of it.  It would be interesting to know how often someone had to get the trimmers out to keep it looking like it does.

We passed back into Wales again today.  The Welsh road signs really make you laugh.  We don’t get Welsh, they really seemed to have lost a few vowels along the way.  The route we chose traversed the border area between England and Wales for days and all up we rode in Wales over 4 days for about 50k.  We never saw a “Welcome to Wales” sign but we did see a couple of “Welcome to England” signs.  We don’t know if this is because Wales is less independence-minded than the Scots or if it was simply that we were on very quiet back roads.

We passed through the village of Mortimer’s Cross, the location of a famous battle that was part of the long running War of the Roses between the House of York and the House of Lancaster.  At the end of the battle thousands of Yorkists and Lancastrians were dead, with the Yorkists taking the win.  Apparently the border we’ve been casually riding is another one where there has been many great battles through the years.  Hard to believe sometimes when the sun is out and the fields are green and everything is peaceful.

We had several “tea” stops, one in Hereford, England and then a second in Monmouth, Wales.  Our destination for the night was just 10k beyond Monmouth at the Warmshowers home of Andrew and Claire.  They provided us with detailed directions but our maps did not have enough detail and the hills blocked our mobile signal.  We stopped and looked hard at every fork in the road and compared notes.  We somehow managed to find their farm and were later congratulated by Andrew for being the first guests that did so without him having to going in to Monmouth for a rescue.  There were some good hills getting to their home and Andrew later informed us that we had a 20% short grade to get out.  We decided to put that into “tomorrow’s” bucket and enjoy our evening.

Andrew and Claire, and Andrew’s daughter Olivia, were great hosts.  They know the area very well and have just about every map known to man.  We pored over the maps, had our third and fourth and fifth cups of tea for the day and shared tales past bicycle, sailing and caravan trips.  We were treated like members of the family and really did enjoy a fantastic evening – another wonderful Warmshowers treat to reinvigorate the travel bug.

This morning, after breakfast and more travel trips we reluctantly pulled ourselves away from the farm house and hit the road.  The 20% grade that Andrew warned us of was real.  I made it about 3/4s of the way up before having to bail out.  At that point my computer read 19%.  I’m not sure how we keep finding these grades on our loaded touring bikes.  I remember a few years ago when we training for a trip in the Alps, we had a hard time finding grades over 10% in Australia.  Now, it seems like every day we are getting out the crampons and ropes.  Nancy was questioning our choice of route today but thankfully the 20% was only 100 meters or so.  I was gallant enough to walk back to the start of the 19% and help her push her bike to where flattened out a little – flat being relative, it was still probably 10% as the first mile (1.6k) our average grade climbed was 11%.

We only made it 10k to Tintern before we saw an Italian café and had to stop for an espresso.  Tintern is also the location of the Tintern Abbey, a very impressive ruin.  The Abbey has no roof and is more of a skeleton than it is building but much of the detail work on the building and the windows remains.  It was established in 1131 and de-established in 1536, and became a tourist site in the early 1800’s.

From Tintern we headed south and went over the Severn Bridge, leaving Wales for the last time and crossing back into England.  The bridge is quite long, passing over the Severn inlet, which has the 2nd highest tidal surge in the world, as much as 50 feet.  I think the tide must have been mostly out when we crossed as we could see lots of muddy banks.

From the southern end of the bridge we had to make our way into Bristol.  We followed one of the routes that Andrew recommended which made the navigation a little easier.  We stopped first to pick a bag of roadside blackberries for a treat for later in the day.  Then we stopped again when we spotted a group of little girls selling cupcakes.  The girls were quite cute and had happened to be selling some tasty cupcakes.  They were impressed that we’d ridden all the way from Sydney so that we could purchase their cupcakes.

We are now in the Premier Inn in Bristol.  We are staying here for two nights.  We’ve ridden the last 8 days and 14 out of 15.  It’s time to take a day off the bikes.  We’ve not stopped much in the UK cities so we thought that it would be fun to have a day here.  Andrew and Claire give us lots of tips on things to see but we’ll also try mixing in some relaxation.

We had pizza in the room for dinner and some great blackberries and yogurt for dessert.  Somehow fresh and free black berries always taste the best.  And tomorrow we get to sleep in…

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