Two, a Tandem and a Tyre Part Eight

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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 !

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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.





Two, a Tandem and a Tyre Part Seven

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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.