The Breacon Beacons to Exeter, pt 1

Breacon Beacons to Bristol:
87km, av 15.5km/hr, max 44.2km/hr, time moving: 5h 38 mins

After 4 days of late nights festivaling at Green Man, the exact thing you want to be doing is cycling almost 90km with a heavy tent and two fully loaded panniers to Devon. Right? Right.

And so, nursing a hangover (and with last night’s glitter still showing) on a dreary Monday morning – when most sensible people are leaving by coach, train or even car – I set off from the bucolic Glanusk Park, speeding past a long line of vehicles queuing to make their escape.


I do sometimes question my sanity. Soon though I’m riding through beautiful countryside along the River Usk and I’m OK with my life decisions again. My route takes me south of Abergavenny, towards Usk, where I pause briefly for supplies. Then it’s onwards and upwards towards Shirenewton, via a particularly killer (16%) hill and¬†Penycaemawr Methodist Church – so tiny it’s not even on Google Maps.


Here I rest and seek solace among the stones – each grave telling a sometimes intriguing story of lives lost. Andrew Charles died ‘accidentally’ on 4th July 1977 (just a month before I was born), aged 15 years and 9 months. His grave is immaculate. It’s a tranquil, quiet resting place for the dead – and the weary.


From here, it’s (mostly) downhill all the way – along a road called ‘Smoothstones’, then a left at a tiny roundabout that nearly trashes my navigation skills. Suddenly I’m at the (old) Severn Suspension Bridge, and back to thunderous reality.


Cycling across this bridge is a much more visceral experience that I’d envisaged, as lorries go racing past. If you stop for a moment, you can feel the vibrations as they whiz on by. It’s also huge – at least a mile long (or it feels like it). But once I make land on the other side, I’m back in good old Blighty.

Now, in my mind, I’ve made the mistake of thinking that once I’ve crossed the bridge, I’m basically in Bristol. Unfortunately for my tired legs, that ain’t necessarily so. There’s a good 25-30 km still to go. Fortunately, the supply of luscious roadside blackberries is just as plentiful here as it was in Wales, and it’s these that keep me going. Or rather, cause me to stop every 5 minutes as I pass another irresistible patch of fine-looking berries (just a couple more!)


Eventually, I make the outskirts of Bristol, pausing to stop for a quick celebratory tin of cider (when in Brizzle…) at the promising sounding Blaise Castle Estate. Unfortunately, this turns out to be a bit of a diversion and from here, getting to my final destination in Bristol proves incredibly tricky (and surprisingly hilly). I’m so tired I can’t be bothered to navigate, so “follow my sense of direction”, and end up going round in circles. Bristol is bigger than I thought. I inadvertently add about an extra 10km and hour of cycling to my already long journey – and don’t make it to my friend Amy’s until gone 7. Thankfully though, her shower’s working and she cooks up a vegan feast before we slump on a sofa and watch the surprisingly touching Netflix romcom The Big Sick.

It’s been a long day in the saddle, with some tough hills, but still plenty of “this is why I love cycling” moments – just as well given I’ve been wearing an I Love Cycling t-shirt by Sustrans (who are based in Bristol – it’s all starting to make sense…)