Obviously the Chadwick Expedition had landed with immediate plans to enter the hinterland! One should remember every single road outside of Bergen was loose gravel, and if that is difficult to believe in this day and age, well go back to my arrival with cycle in 1961 and the tarmac ended just 20 kms or so outside of Bergen and was never seen again until the 14 day tour was almost over. I was given to understand that in Charlie’s day the winter used to play havoc with the tarmac, but perhaps that was just an excuse to either save money or deter the unwise traveller !
This must have been a magical moment arriving abroad for the very first time. It actually looks a little wet, but there is Jo Chadwick, Charlie’s wife, enjoying the experience. Especially when the Norwegians are so friendly and well disposed to the British, little did they know of the very hard times to come under the Nazi jackboot.
There are quite a few pages to this tour, I do hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
First, some background information: Just two years after Charlie married his long term girl friend, Jo, in 1936, they set sail from Newcastle to Bergen to tour Norway on a tandem. I should just explain that Charlie had had a very long courtship indeed, with a lovely picture of the pair of them bathing their feet in a stream as early as June 1929. As you will see, when Charlie compiled his photo album he himself captioned the picture ‘Significant ?’
To avoid confusion, Jo before the war was referred to by Charlie as being called Jo, after the war she had assumed another nickname of Peggy (as introduced to me), but as I learnt from her birth certificate acquired many years later, she was christened Margaret.
So there you have it. Charlie in his youth had extended periods of unemployment caused mainly by the depression and all that that entailed, but was rescued from his misery by being able to secure a position at the new Ford factory being built at Dagenham in 1933. Less than a year later he found an even better job working for what was then Metropolitan Vickers at Trafford Park Manchester on munitions because rearmament in Europe was then in full swing. The impact for Charlie with all this relatively steady work was that he could budget ahead, something his personal finances were never able to do in the past.
So that is the picture. Steady employment from May 1933, Touring holidays at every opportunity through 1934 and 1935, get married in 1936 before a camping honeymoon in Scotland, and finally in 1937 a tour in Northern Ireland based on Donegal. Now, in 1938,+ the great leap into Norway ! The entries in his photo album describe his Norway, and that was written up in white ink in his album, some of which has slightly deteriorated due to the passage of time. I hope you enjoy reading about Norway in 1938. Incidentally, his home made map of Norway, pasted inside the front leaf of his photo album must have been made by tracing the map of Norway, and then cutting out the shape with a craft knife, a very painstaking job, to create an embossed map as the frontispiece.
The story starts next week and continues for a few months ! I have to say that in 1961 I also ventured across to Norway for a fortnights tour, 17 of us as a contingent from the CTC Blackburn section. I personally and very antisocially toured a different route on my own from the other 16 cyclists, because it was my belief that the 16 would only talk amongst themselves, and learn nothing from the local Norwegians. I believe I made the correct decision. My route did not follow the one taken by Charlie, although our routes did cross on occasion. It can be very wet over in Norway !
Bank Holiday morning was so glorious that Jack got up first at the unearthly hour of 8am, and not content with that, proceeded to awaken me. I protested vigorously, advancing the opinion that, as we had only ninety miles or so to cover, we ought to have a long sleep and a good rest. But Jack was keen on an early getaway and an easy potter, so Jack won. A swim was too risky in the raging river, but we dashed the sleep from us by means of an awfully chilly sit-down in a bubbling cataract, and then proceeded to polish off the usual gargantuan breakfast.
We packed up and slid down to Betws-y-Coed. Hot, glorious sunshine all the way up Dinas hill, with the Lledr valley beaming and the granite crescent of Moel Siabod above it, clear in the clear blue of the sky. At Pentrefoelas we turned north along the mountain road to Denbigh, and along that road, at a farm, was a notice board offering fresh cream for sale. We bought cream and half a quartern loaf. The lady was of the hardy mountain type, a type that a constant struggle with a barren earth has produced. She could speak no English at all, though she was apparently well under 40 years of age, and we could only surmise that she had recently come from the remote rockies of Shire-Carnarvon, or from the semi-waste hinterland of Anglesey. A man acted as interpreter, but she understood coinage so well that we found ourselves paying for bread at the rate of sixpence a pound. An argument ensued in Welsh from one side and English from the other, and the result was hardly enlightening to the detached observer who might be present. We eventually held our own and proceeded on our hilly way in happiness. From the first summit we beheld (as we had hoped) a magnificent prospect of all the principal North Wales peaks, laid out in line and behind each other like a mutilated saw-edge, and every one – even Snowdon, without a wisp of mist. At 1584 ft we reached the summit where, beneath a ridge, the little Sportsman’s Arms Inn snuggles safe from the winds.
There was a great descent for about nine miles to Denbigh, and we held not our impulsive steed, while real moving pictures unfurled before our eyes – the pleasant Vale of Clywd and its line of Moels, a brown chain of blunt peaks dominated by Moel Fammau.
We had lunch at Denbigh, and found the Pentrefoelas bread terrible stuff that we couldn’t possibly masticate. We threw eighty per cent of it to a cow in a field, and waited a bit to see what effect it had, but the cow remained normal so we gave it the other twenty per cent. Denbigh was hardly three miles behind, and we were skipping away down the Vale of Clwyd with a fine wind aft, when there was a great sigh below. In automatic silence, born of practice, we proceeded to mend another puncture. After that we ‘slipped it’.
There was nothing to linger for on these roads, for these roads are as familiar as the back of my hand, and whatever charms may lie along them can comfortably be explored on a Sunday run. So we ‘slipped it’ through the long level valley to Mold, along the Wrexham road, then a lane and in turn the rolling road to Chester. On the outskirts of Chester we punctured again, and it proved the last of the series. We met a camping pair who often camp with us o’ weekends. They were returning from a three day trip on the mountainous roads round Vyrnwy, and had a weary story to tell of Saturday nights deluge, of trying to light a primus with petrol, and of a consequent flare up inside the tent – with the tent closed up. To go by various adventures, these two certainly seem the most happy-go-lucky pair of a happy-go-lucky crowd.
After tea at a place midway between Chester and Warrington, we pottered home for 10pm – a reasonable time to end a holiday.
Two – a tandem – and a tyre ! I ought to put “and three tyres”, for three tyres and five tubes were the back wheels total in ten days. We must have had punctures, bursts or blowouts at least twenty times, and with as many heart-thumps, swan-songs, and ten times as many laughs !
NEXT WEEK ON THIS WEBSITE. A complete change of scene.
The Rough Stuff Fellowhip’s ex Chairman, Steve Griffith is organising a ride over the Nant Rhyd Wilym in the Berwyn mountains in North Wales on the above date.
Anyone wishing to attend is invited, if they can, to bring an vintage bike to add to the flavour of the day and the atmosphere, but any bike will do. You can arrive in fancy dress if the weather permits !!
The point of contact for Steve Griffith is his email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
It is also an opportunity to see the Wayfarer ‘Over the Top’ memorial stone erected at the summit by the RSF in 1957. If you wish to read the actual story written by Wayfarer and published in 1919 then go to the site here:
www.cyclingnorthwales.co.uk/pages/wayfarer.htm#home When I looked it up my firewall suggested it was not a safe site, but it seems OK except some of the pictures are missing.
Sorrowful tones and a scraping sound assailed my ears that Sunday morning at Glandyfi, and I looked round to see Jack industriously cursing himself and wiping butter from everything in his vicinity. It transpired that he had been sleeping on the butter all night, and half a pound of butter can be spread an amazing distance. Sleeping bag and groundsheet received the most plastering, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening and watching Jack work. It was a great pleasure to see him up at 8am, a most unearthly hour to his way of thinking. And mine.
The rain was still inexhaustible, though nothing but a hard wind remained of the hurricane. Dry, warm clothing awaited us at the farm; we breakfasted, packed up, and were streaming along into Machynlleth by ten-o-clock. We tackled Corris Pass manfully, and marvelled at the volume of water in every stream. The rain was merciless and nothing we wore was proof against it; ere we reached the summit we were at last nights point of saturation again, and therefore happy. Happy with childish delight at every cold douche over our feet, at our streaming hair splayed like battered wheat over our heads. With a swoop we descended to Minffordd at the foot of the Tal-y-Llyn Pass, and with the wind now dead behind, we found it no more than a heavy drag. Cader Idris was a line of cliffs with a hundred streams down its hundred-crannied sides and the grey swirl of storm clouds enfolding the broken summit-crags. Tal-y-Llyn was far behind down the valley, a gloomy reflector of the gloomy heavens. And all the hills were lost in mists. The run down to Dolgellau was hectic. The brakes on the wet rims were a long ere they started to grip, and in that space we needed them. The many bends below Cross Foxes were taken at a steep angle that, each time, left us wondering why we did not conclude on our necks. In Dolgellau we shook ourselves much as a wet dog does after a swim, and went in a place for lunch.
After that came ten drenching miles of the Mawddach estuary to Barmouth. To anyone who will show me ten other miles containing so much beauty I will be forever grateful. Each mile impresses one as the culmination and the climax, the be-all and end-all of loveliness till the next takes you into further raptures, on and on, beauty transcending beauty till the mental outlook can take nothing more. Mountains and streams, a river in-tide, rocky banks and sandy dunes, ravines, woods, flowers and roses. These things in bewildering successiveness and other things unwritten give themselves to you on the Mawddach estuary.
From Barmouth we pursued the coast road and saw the darkness lifting from the sea. While we watched the mad torrent fling itself across the road when a bridge could take no more at Llanbedr, the sky turned from grey to broken white, and the rain ceased after a constant deluge of thirty-six hours. It seemed a great pleasure to ride unfettered, to towel our soaked hair and keep it dry, to feel our clothing like dish-rags no more !
Sunday, in Wales, a land as commercially dead as the proverbial dodo. Bigots have passed a law that no-one must open a shop on Sunday, and bigots enforce strict adherence. A meal and a newspaper are the only articles allowed for sale, and in the case of the newspaper, to go by the average Sunday paper, that is the one and only thing which might be better prohibited. Wales, like the rest of Britain, must have its chapels and divorce court news, however ! So at Harlech we were without cigarettes – a calamity ! But we had been in Wales on many a Sunday……… a side-door of a side-street shop smuggled cigarettes to us with the air of criminals, and regaining the main street we stole past the sole policeman with skulking stride and burning cheeks. We had evaded the law ! And what a law !
The weather improved by leaps and bounds, which was unlike Jack’s singing which always remains at a certain low level, and I had just reason to rebuke him. Thereafter, for several miles the puritan peace of Wales was disturbed. We had tea behind a hedge at Maentwrog, a sweet little place in one of the sweetest valleys in all Wales. We followed our usual custom of eating the whole of our stock, and thereafter found ourselves in the terrible position of being without food on Sunday in Wales. It was a hard climb to Blaenau Ffestiniog, but it was harder by far combing out Blaenau Ffestiniog for food. We damned that law to the alleged inferno where bad Christians are sent, and we knocked and punched a dozen side doors almost from their hinges ere one less biased lady, influenced no doubt by our haggard looks, provisioned us, bidding us hide all we had obtained ere we went out. To hide the stuff we got was nigh impossible, and a great bulge of brown paper covering bread was eyed by a policeman who stood at the very shop door. We grinned in triumph that he might deduce how happy we were, and rode away.
We tackled Garddinan Pass, a 1400 ft route of unpromising, industrial beginning, but blossoming into a glorious mountain crossing with a view down the Lledr valley that leaves one sobered and thoughtful. There rise the swelling sides of Moel Siabod in many colours, there on its little rocky eminence, hardly visible in the growing dusk, is ‘Dolwyddelen’s Tower’, and there the mazes of the Dale delight the eye, charm the mind. “What more seek ye, Wanderers?”, quoted Jack as we tumbled down to the cork-screw bends that took us to the river Lledr. The river Lledr in swollen pomp rushing down the rocks; the river shouting and chattering back at itself; the white fleck bearing down on the racing back of the flood; the thousand white streams pouring from the mountains in many a magnificent cataract of thirty-six hours growth; the washed shiminess of bare rock and fresh moss on cleaved rock; the roses clean and bravely blooming; the green finery of summer and all the majesty of summer in fields, in hedgerows; the scentedness of twilight – the dusky sky not yet swept clear of cloud……. “What more seek ye, Wanderers?”.
“Ye Olde Fish Inn” lent us the most beautiful campsite of our holiday; by the river the field stood and beyond sound or sight from the road. Boy Scouts, camping a couple of fields away, sent their chief to talk to us, and he was a man after our own spirit. Last night he had been washed out completely, and his patrol had been forced to fly to an old barn. The river had overflown its banks, and even while we talked the work of salvage was going on.
The ground was beyond reproach, and after previous sites, thought ourselves on a feather bed. We slept long………
Thus murmered Jack as he sleepily surveyed the outer world from the depths of his shorts-cum-jacket-pillow. I assented as I saw the steady drizzle descending from the triangular patch of grey sky above the tent door. So, with one accord, we turned over and slept another hour away. The grey sky and the drizzle still continued, and we made breakfast a long, lazy affair till nothing remained. Then a joiner ‘rained off’ from a nearby job came and we chatted away till noon brought a cessation of the rain. We packed up, and for eight beautiful miles rode dry-shod. At Llyswen we joined the Wye, and shaped our course up what I consider to be the most beautiful section of a very beautiful river-route, the Wye Valley. At Llyswen too, we ran into rain of the real Welsh type, thoroughly wetting. The river was in flood, and it is worth a days heavy downfall to see the upper Wye in spate, bubbling ‘over itself’, driving between rock walls and over cataracts. At Builth we were soaked and hungry, and we found a place that did us well. Happily the tyre was on behaviour beyond reproach, so our spirits soared as the mercury fell and the rain settled to a solid downpour all the way to Rhayader. All the way to Rhayader – miles and miles of winding road by a river that kept our senses in delighted surprise at each bend….. “oh, sylvan Wye thou wanderer through the woods” – sylvan yet in deluge !
A smoke and a ‘breather’ was indicated at Llangurig, six miles above above Rhayader, for ahead were the mists and heavy gradients of Steddfa Gurig, ‘Plinlimmon Pass’. A charabanc en route to Aberystwyth from Hereford unloaded a cargo of the most miserable-looking human beings imaginable. Their very features set Jack and I into hysterics.
Steddfa Gurig ! Incredible, it seemed, that such a deluge could possibly continue for so long, but it did continue. It swept the moors in hissing douche, and the mists crept down as we crept up in the teeth of a wind that bit us. We helped a car out of a ditch and didn’t get a word of thanks for it; we saw half a dozen others in a similar fix, and in anger we ignored appeals for help; we got drenched to the last stitch, and laughed thereafter that the worst could no more wet us; we fought our way all along the rippling summit of the Pass, and fought our way down when we should have coasted, till the lower slopes were gained and the wind lost its power. And at Ponterwyd we had tea after thirty-six soaking miles.
But worse had still to come – and better, withal ! We started again loaded with the evenings foodstuffs, somewhat drier, but still with heavy rains. The land was very familiar now – we approached the lovely lands of many a holiday tour, a North Wales that is charged with memories and dear to me. Lovely, lovable North Wales roads ! A downhill sweep took us to Llanbadarn where branched a lane that cut out Aberystwyth and took us well on the way to Machynlleth. From Bow Street to Tre-Taliesin something like a cloudburst descended on us, and in five minutes we reverted to that state which knows no wetter. The fury of it was appalling; roads were awash, streams rose to over-flowing, houses were invaded by irresistible torrents, and down the mountain-sides came newly born streams, over bushes and bracken and round the trees, down the walls, across the roads. We rode through it all like laughing, silly children, though we weren’t silly because we might just as well carry on once we were wet, and we laughed because it was easier for us to laugh than to mope and grumble – and quite as effective. We had laughed at all of our ills in the same way.
Looking across the tide of the Dovey Estuary, we saw the clouds massed as black as night, and the wind from the sea driving them across Cader Idris – though Cader was invisible to us. As twilight approached the wind growled and grew, and whipped the trees into a sigh. A gale was coming in from the sea; we could see it in the quickening clouds and in the whining of branches; we felt the lash of the rain to our backs and on our heads, and twilight came early and went…….. and left the night behind it.
A little farm at Glandyfi, four miles from Machynlleth gave us a campsite with sympathy ad lib. We only required the site. A friendly hedge staved off the force of the hurricane, and the farmers wife took in to dry as much of our clothing as we dared to let her take. We were left with little else beside a bathing costume ! We camped in haste, and found ourselves upon tree-roots that stuck up beneath the groundsheet like logs of wood. But we dined well, and slept well upon them, in spite of the hurricane and the tattoo of rain on the tent.
Yes, we slept like logs, if logs sleep late. And ate at breakfast like hogs until not a crumb was left. The rector had gone on his rounds, leaving a ‘bon-voyage’ with the housekeeper. Cothelstone Hill was a ‘teaser’, but on the top we got a magnificent view of the ‘Severn sea’, and all the wooded graciousness of the lovely Quantocks. Yet ‘here only man is vile’ – and I include woman, for a large crowd was gathered to hunt the stag. Men, women, and hounds, all out for the express purpose of hunting and rending one poor stag ! Sport ! Some of the elite of the land engaged in a vile pursuit of such a fine creature – Jack and I bubbled over in wrath, and expressed a pious hope that was intended for other ears, that they would break their precious necks at the first fence. Our wrath and the rear tyre subsided together, and another tyre-battle ensued ere we could slide down into Bridgewater.
We joined the dead flat road that runs to Weston-super-Mare, and made excellent time for the first dozen miles – till, in a village street, the tyre failed us once more. Our fingers nearly bled with the strain of pulling it off and replacing it. Buying a newspaper, we read that a boat was due out to Cardiff at 2.50pm – forty minutes hence, and we had 11 miles to go, which meant a speed of almost 20 mph to catch it. We jumped on and slogged the miles back in a great burst of speed like the old times, forgetting the tyre or hoping it would keep up. On the two mile length of promenade the people and the police stopped and stared as we flew past well above ‘evens’, dodging traffic and passing motorcars. We caught the boat with 3 minutes to spare !
The sail across to Cardiff was lovely, with sunshine and all the summer fashions parading aboard ship, insipid, bony, effeminate youths and maidens that showed a goodly proportion of ‘figure’, pretty and otherwise – disdaining the dusty figures of Jack and I. We played a merry game of avoiding tramlines, traffic and pedestrians through Cardiff, which, however, is an easy city to leave behind, and which boasts with justification of its new civic centre – including the just completed National Museum of Wales. The road northward through Taff’s Well and Nantgarw, though industrialised, still contains figments of a once beautiful valley, and part of it was not new to me. We had missed dinner, which meant a gnawing hunger towards four o clock, and a heavy investment at a grocery shop. We bought stuff for tea, supper and breakfast, but we ate the lot at a single sitting. Pontypridd was a black hell to us that hot afternoon, and nothing improved till we had seen the last of Merthyr Tydfil.
From Merthyr we climbed, and Welsh industrialism with its feverish squalor dropped like a cloak over the valleys behind. Up on the moors a few people lounged, drinking the wine of sunset air. Brecon Beacons were over to the east, just above us, and in sublimity they told nothing of the human miseries that peopled the valleys behind them and to the south, they were above the weary story of semi-starvation, of hovels huddled round silent pits that worked no more. Of unemployment and the blight of despair.
The ridge was topped at 1400ft, and we slid down Glyn Farrell into what seemed a land of enchanted things, if rivers and moors and moorland hollows, and valleys, are enchanted. To Brecon. The first instinct at Brecon was to go straight to a grocery store, and, unerring, we found one and repeated our laying-in habit. In twilight we climbed out of Brecon, shamefacedly, be it noted, we abandoned the Vale of Usk, and a short mile further on a farmer gladly allowed us to pitch our tent in what on investigation proved to be a hen-run. We found the exact spot where the hens had scratched the most earth away, and there we supped and slept and wondered what a smooth patch of land was like.
After a troubled night of spasmodic rain came troubled morning. We were up earlier – about 8.30am, and were dismayed to find most of our food had gone in last night’s supper orgy. A two pound loaf, half a pound of butter and a few biscuits were all we could muster, and after that we went hungry, promising ourselves the best dinner a man could hope for. With care and patience we repaired the tube, packed up, and were just about to move when the common-keeper came up. The turf was pressed down to the shape of the tent, but he had apparently no direct proof that we had camped on the hallowed spot, and after eyeing us very suspiciously, he went on his way. After walking up and down the fiercer hills, we rode tenderly into Ashburton and joined the Exeter road – the main road from Plymouth.
It was a beautiful main road with a swinging contour and a roaring wind behind; the temptations were many for Jack and I on that sporting tandem, and we quickly and conveniently forgot the rear tyre and bowled along for many a jovial mile, through rain and sunshine to Chudleigh where we raided a confectioners shop. With such delicacies to make the urge for lunch unbearable, we climbed gradually until we reached a little place with shelter and tea to drink, and views of the rolling lands o’er Dartmoor.
There came a breathless descent, on which we left amazed motorists behind in a frenzy of speed which the unrestrained impetus of the tandem lapped at nearer forty miles an hour – for a few brief minutes. A few miles from Exeter came the heartrending repetition of the past – another burst, and once more we added patches to carry us to the fringe of the city, where another burst compelled us to walk to the cycle shop. After explaining our case, the shop assistant tried every tyre of the same size in the shop, and every one we rejected as being too slack. The next size lower was too tight; we wanted to force it on, but the assistant would not let us take the risk of breaking the wire. The manager was sent for, and the whole stock was formally tried with the same result. With a new inner tube, we levered the lower sized tyre on whilst the manager wrung his hands, but we got it on in the end, and the shop-keeper, nobly standing by his guarantee, refused to charge for the new tyre. We thanked him and left Exeter in a happier frame of mind than we had known for days. We were assured of no more tyre bursts !
We still had a shred of the tour left, and agreed that we would make a homeward potter of the four days at our disposal, so we headed up the Exe valley, lapsing into song as our troubled past slipped away behind – forgotten things in a remembered land. Jack ‘lapsed’ into song – I ‘ascended’. There lies the difference ! We had covered five beautiful miles when a sharp hissing aft broke our song, and with suitable adjectives we dismounted. No need to look, we just knew that hissing could only mean one thing, the rear tyre. We wept in vexatious unison for fully five minutes, throated a funeral duet for a further period, then set to work. This time the tyre was too tight and had nipped the tube ! We had a hellish struggle to get it off, and in replacing it we waxed hot and furious.
At Tiverton we bought new rim tapes, and just beyond the Thing went ‘phut’ again, and another half hour was wrestled away. Near Wiveliscombe, where the Exe and us parted company, a third puncture occurred, and while we were making faces to each other, an aged man and a young lady came along on ‘dreadnoughts’, and proffered help. We allowed the man to mend the tube and replace the tyre, which he did with infinite care, and guaranteed it. Then we joined a little lane route, hilly, but very, very pretty. We had no tea, but kept on, map in hand, through an intricate network of Somerset lanes till dusk found us at Cothelstone Hill, a 1 in 6 ‘teaser’, we pulled up at a vicarage and ‘put’ the question to the old rector of the village. He had no land except a little paddock at the rear, and we could pitch there. We accepted, passed through a maze of privet trees and reached the paddock, a tiny, railed off, precipitous slope with more bumps to the square yard than any other we had met. It was a problem to pitch the tent, and one or two places were not as taut or as slack as they should be, but we had passed the stage of criticism long ago. Over supper, the rector came to chat with us, and proved a very well-informed chap on cycling and geographical matters, which is not what most parsons are, being too full of Scripture to allow of anything really sensible.
Tired enough, we rolled in and in spite of a host of bumps beneath, slept like logs.