This Freedom 1926 Final – Part Eight

                                                                                                            Sunday

There is a ‘missing link’ in this story of a tour, and that link is yesterday, Saturday.  No, I was not in bed all day; on the contrary, with the two London cyclists, I spent the better part of it in a wild, hare-brained, but successful climb on the Cwm Glas – Crib Goch crags of Snowdon, under the vilest conditions imaginable.  But that story remains for another time !

[See “The Narrow Way that leads to Paradise” – Ed]    [Please don’t panic, I will put the said chapter in next weeks release.  I am always happy to oblige – Ed]

For the first time this tour I got up late.  11am.  In fact we were all late, and had breakfast together at 11.30am.  It got 1pm before we were all ready for the road, and after Bill had taken photographs, my uncle rolled away on his motorbike towards Caernarvon and Bill, Jack and I set our faces eastwards.  The weather was very like yesterday, rain came in spasms, the mountains were cloaked, and a high wind was blowing behind us.  We soon reached Nant Peris and the jaws of the Pass, up which I have climbed on five occasions, and twice descended.  Having plenty of time we walked up the Pass, stopping near Pont-y-Cromlech to pay our homage to that wild recess high above the screes, high up in the mists, Cwm Glas, the exalted tit-bit of yesterday’s adventure.  At the summit of Llanberis Pass is the Gorphwysfa Hotel (the resting place) called in English Pen-y-Pass, an hotel which, in the latter part of the last century, with Pen-y-Gwryd and Ogwen Cottage, rivalled Wastdale Head hotel in Lakeland as the home from home of cragsmen.  There at the end of the year and at Easter were to be found men who had achieved fame as Alpine climbers, and a glance at the old visitors books will reveal more than one interesting signature and the tale of some adventurous climb.  They had their poets too, just as we ‘Seven’ have ours, and songs were written and sung, as the one below:

“When the winds from Cwm Idwal, Cwm Llyddaw, Cwm Glas,

Come welcoming over the scree;

Come home mountain friends, to your Rest on the Pass,

Come back mountain climber to me.”

You know, I have a great admiration for climbers, and only wish I could do more of it.  A sharp dip round an elbow of Gyder Fawr brought us to Pen-y-Gwryd, a well known spot to me, for I recorded this as the 11th time I had stood there.  The way of my companions from London was not my way, so, after a long chat we separated, promising not to lose touch with each other.

Inside my cape, with a rain-laden gale behind, I fled down the shallow Mymbyr Valley, by the twin lakes to Capel Curig and Bettws-y-Coed, where the sun was shining and no evidence of rain was anywhere to be seen.  Bettws-y-Coed was several times its normal size, being crowded out with all classes of traffic, the charabanc predominating.  I had dinner in a quiet backwater across Pont-y-Pair.  It was more of an in-between meal, for it was half past three, and I in an economical mood, calculated on saving a meal.  Even as Snowdonia had been wet and misty, so now Bettws-y-Coed was sunny and clear, and on the climb up Dinas Hill I enjoyed those ever-green views, the Lledr Valley, with Moel Siabod at the head, cloud-capped, and the hollow in which lies Bettws.

After the climb to Pentrefoelas, the Holyhead road loses all its beauty for a time, and one has to be content with rather drab moors and hordes of speeding motors, until, nearing Corwen, a rather pretty valley is entered.  But a few miles beyond Corwen, in the valley of the Dee, the Holyhead road becomes a symbol of beauty, and if you have a mind to peep here and there over the wall you will find wonderful river and hill scenery.  Many a time I sat on the wall for a long time at once, and I joined a rambling lane for a mile or so.  With such erratic progress, it is no wonder therefore, that the shades of evening were falling when I reached Llangollen and was welcomed in at ‘Bronant’.  Supper was a real bust-up, aided by two Southport lads on the first night of a tour.  One of them was 6ft 6inches tall, and only 17 years old.  His chief concern was finding a bed long enough !  A motorcyclist and son shared my room, and I learned that he was an antiquarian of some repute, a chap who revels in old castles and Roman remains, and, unlike many of his kind, was interesting.  We talked far into the night.

Monday

So this is my last day of ‘This Freedom!”. I had arranged with Mr Kay, the antiquarian, to visit Plas Newydd, but whilst I was visiting the local barber’s shop, he disappeared, and as I could not find him, I went up to Plas Newydd alone.  The ‘New Hall’ is a timber mansion built in the 18th century, and stands in beautifully kept grounds.  It is remarkable for the collection of carved oak and other articles of interest which it contains.  It is not ill called the ‘quaintest of carved oak miniment chests’, as it is covered inside and out with the weirdest and most grotesque figures.  There is an oak palisade round the garden, and the doors are richly carved, whilst the black-oak porch is supported by bedposts of the time of Charles I.  Inside, the oaken work is still more beautiful and fanciful, the light in the rooms being softened by stained-glass windows.  In this room is some fine panelling, in that the walls are covered by embossed leather of the 16th century, here a bunch of flowers are carved; there is a scorpion or a mermaid or a lion depicted in oak, every room is crowded with carvings, besides holding many art treasures, pottery, curiosities of all kinds, and articles of historical interest.  On the lawn in front stands a remodelled Druidical circle, brought from the near Berwyns.

Plas Newydd was built by those two curiosities, the Ladies of Llangollen, and here they spent the latter halves of their long lives.  They were quaint, familiar characters in the town, public benefactors, and had many of the most famous people of the time visit them.  The credit for this collection of old oak goes to them, for it was the custom of every visitor to the house to bring a gift, preferably of carved oak.  Wordsworth once paid them a call, but offended them by alluding to Plas Newydd in a sonnet as a ‘low roof’d cot’.  They said they could make better poetry themselves.  The caretaker showed me over the hall, and there in the grounds I spent a very enjoyable hour.  When I got back to Mrs Williams’ I learned that Mr Kay had gone to Plas Newydd in search of me.  Anyway, before I left I saw him, and we exchanged addresses.  He lives at Colnbrook, Bucks.

I made a start with a high wind behind me and a temperature hovering round heat-wave level again.  I pottered along the main road through Ruabon to Wrexham, turning aside for a few yards to have another peep at the fine steeple of the parish church.  From Gresford Hill I had a fine view over the Cheshire plain which is broken by the wooded ridges of the Peckforton Hills and the isolated rock that is crowned by Beeston Castle; at the foot of the hill I stopped again to look at the old timbered mill at Rossett.  So, along to Chester, and the Warrington road – and Mrs Littler’s at Frodsham.  No one was in, and at Sutton Turnbridge I was not wanted.  At another place where I tried to get tea they had no coal.  Turning into the lanes, I met with no luck, though I raked Preston-on-the-Hill, Hatton and Stretton out, so I fled to Warrington and on to Winwick, where I had my last meal of the tour in the flowery garden of Honeysuckle Cottage.

In ten more miles I was at Atherton and completing the ten day circuit, then the same old hill to Four Lane Ends, and the same old tram lines brought me back to the end of ‘This Freedom’.

It was strange returning to the heavy atmosphere, and finding everything just as drab and monotonous as ever.  Again it was dinner at precisely 12.30 instead of between 11 and 3pm; tea at 5.30 instead of between 4 and 8pm; and again I find myself at morning in the same old room and with the same old brick and mortar outlook.  I had slept at seven different places and fed at 26; I had travelled in 17 different counties, Lancashire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Hereford, Gloucester, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Glamorgan, Brecknock, Radnor, Cardigan, Montgomery, Merioneth, Carnarvon, Denbigh and Flint, and in them eight Cathedral cities.  Vivid yet in my memory are the days spent; now I see the old towns, Salop, Ludlow, and Hereford, the Highlands of Gloucestershire, and the limestone Mendips, ancient Wells and Glastonbury, the two glorious coasts of Devon, its lanes, its nooks, and its villages, the rural charms of Somerset, the well-hidden collieries of Glamorgan, that night run of breathless beauty in the Wye Valley, the unfading beauty of North Wales, that adventurous escapade on Snowdon, and, greatest of all perhaps, the people I met.  I am happy to have friends like those Llanbradach miners who were on the threshold of starvation, in the midst of a lock-out that is driving them to the wall, yet who made me so welcome and gave me a share at their already meagre table, because I was a cyclist, they are cyclists, and we, therefore, are linked in the Brotherhood that stretches beyond mere acquaintanceship.  Again the London cyclists with whom I spent that hectic Saturday, are real chums, and you will find that we have since met in a weekend ride [‘The Reunion’].  For less that £5, these ten days have been spent in as thoroughly enjoyable and variable a way, as they possibly could.

It speaks well for my little ‘Grubb’ bicycle when I affirm that I covered the whole 880 miles without making the tiniest adjustment or even pumping up the tyres.  Neither did it get even a drop of oil or a clean up – or any attention whatever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Freedom 1926 Part Seven

Thursday night – Friday

The road was smooth and slightly uphill, and in anticipation of the journey before me, I took things easy.  There were one or two short, stiff hills by some large reservoirs surrounded by dark moorlands.  As I neared the summit I ran into a mist which came and went ethereally, whilst the steep hillsides on the right were clothed in a pea-soupy fog.  I got the surprise of my life when, on the high moors on the left, a great searchlight played, then a little later a broad beam of light came down the moors, making a striking picture.  It was a motor car with powerful headlights, and I was unaware that a road existed at all up there.  But when I reached the summit, 1,400 feet, all was darkness, all was silence.  On the subsequent descent I saw wonder pictures in mist, closing and breaking over the great peaks of the Brecon Beacons, just below which I had passed, then, as I got lower, the full glory of a starry evening and velvet sky burst upon me.  Joining the Usk valley I came into Brecon, a quaint old market town and the county town of Brecknock.  Then an undulating road through beautiful country, with thick, deep hedges and fields of newly mown hay, heavily scented.  Watching the map (I was a stranger here), I took a short cut along a steep lane.

This Freedom006

Wondering along a strange byway in unknown country after midnight is a great adventure.  In one place I was placidly pottering downhill when something went crashing through the hedges.  I got a shock, as it was too big for a rabbit or any ordinary animal, and I could only come to the conclusion that it was a fox.  I had just regained my composure when, from nowhere it seemed, a dog came at me like a whirlwind with a noise like all the furies of the nether regions let loose.  Didn’t I just blind !  Soon after that I reached the Wye valley at Three Cocks.  Though it was night-time I found myself in the valley I had so often wanted to see, of which I had heard so much.  Now I was to traverse some of its most beautiful stretches, from Three Cocks (near Hay on Wye) to the source.  I think it was Wordsworth, the Lakeland poet who wrote in retrospective mood:

‘How oft in spirit have I turned to thee,

O sylvan Wye! Thou wanderer through the woods,

How often has my spirit turned to thee’.

Immediately the rich beauty of the valley asserted itself.  All the 14 miles to Builth Wells I rode through woodlands or by the gleaming river, now placid, now breaking into cataract, now overhung by foliage, now studded with slabs of rock that glistened grey.  And the villages and hamlets.  Sweetly decked with flowers, neatly built in grey stone or part-timbered, they fitted in with country round, and shared with the hedgerows and grassy borders in making the road an example of the ordered style of the English countryside.  I got lost in Builth, then spent an idyllic ten minutes on the old bridge.  Builth is just an attractive, stone built town of the quiet style of Brecon and, indeed, most old Welsh towns.  If possible, from Builth the scenery becomes even more beautiful, as the valley gradually narrows and the hills on each side become higher.  Newbridge on Wye, then, with the river becoming more rapid and musical, and less, and the road going for miles through the deepest of pine woods, I went through Llanwrthwl to Rhayader, just as day was breaking.

With my exit from Rhayader (where I had my lunch) there came a sudden downpour of rain, driving me into my cape.  I now made my way (with the Wye) through a narrow pass called Bwlch-gwyn-isaf, leaving all trees behind and gaining open moorlands.  When the rain ceased I decided on a bathe, but, as I pulled my shoes and stockings off, a million tiny, winged insects got busy with the result that I packed up and beat a hasty retreat.  Then the rain came down again and stuck for the remaining six miles to Llangurig and for six miles beyond.  The Wye was now only a tiny stream; soon I would see it like a hundred others, coming down a moorland ravine from its source.

It was all climbing now, on the wildest of moors, the brown wastes of Plynlimon Fawr, then I came into the wild upland depression called by English people Plynlimon Pass, but better called the Steddfa.  And I got a rude introduction to it too!  When the rain ceased I had a partial bath – a ‘paddle’ – as a compromise, for it was now chilly, then entered the two mile Steddfa, meeting therein a high wind.  It was cold, wet, and I had reached that stage better known as ‘half-baked’, so I struggled along to the summit at an altitude of 1,350 feet.  When on the down gradient, on the long slopes from Dyffryn Castell, I could make no headway, and had to fight for every inch of the way.  It had been my intention to breakfast at Llanbadarn Fawr near Aberystwyth, but when I saw smoke issuing from the chimney of an Inn at Pont Erwydd, I could not resist the temptation.  I got a good breakfast there.

Being inwardly fortified, but outwardly sore and cold, I continued the descent after viewing the pretty little falls at Erwydd.  Had I been in better condition I should have gone to Devils Bridge, for of all the times I have been in the vicinity I have never been there.  When I reached the valley the wind dropped and the air was warmer, until, at Cwmmwythyg, where I took a short cut to avoid Aberystwyth, I became more like my normal self again.  By the time Bow Street, on the Machynlleth road was reached I was on my old form and ding donging away at the old pace – until it occurred to me that I had plenty of time, so I pottered.

Of course I was now on very familiar ground, old ground that grows more delightful with each visit.  At Tre-Taliesin I once more shirked the two pilgrimages I had once vowed to accomplish; the visit to Llyfnant valley and to the grave of the half-mythical bard around whom, in Welsh literature, such a web of romance is woven, Taliesin.  The dimpling road bore me along the beautiful Vale of Dyfi to Machynlleth, where I joined the winding road that climbs through the woods to Corris.  A narrow gauge railway accompanies the road, but, owing to the coal shortage the vastly amusing, snorting little engines have been substituted by ponies.  The last few yards to the summit got the better of me, but I had barely mounted again when I found myself staring in appreciation across a deep little valley at the precipices of Cader Idris, about which the greyest of mists was swirling, reminding me of a great whirlpool of water, and adding to the ridges an imaginary height that was awesome in its wild grandeur.  Yet a little farther on, my eyes met a feast of loveliness, in a green valley and the mirror-like Tal-y-Llyn.  A sudden descent brought me to the valley, and in the little Inn of Minffordd beneath the whirlpool-crested cliffs I lunched… and dozed.The high wind of earlier had returned again when I resumed my journey; the misty wraith above had gone, and in its stead the hot sunshine beat down on the rocks and sent back from them an uncomfortable heat.  With the wind now behind, the heat, on the climb up the pass, became unbearable and I was glad to turn and let the wind blow in my face, or hold my head under some shrunken cascade that came bounding down the rocks.  But even the wind and the water became warm – or had my open air habit made me immune from cold?  I always was susceptible to heat.  So far as riding was concerned, Tal-y-Llyn Pass was easy except for a bit here and there, and the characteristic view down to the Llyn and beyond was as clear and perfect as ever it had been.  It is interesting to record that nine days later heavy rains washed down the whole mountainside and swept away the road.  A new road is now being constructed, but for what I can gather, Tal-y-Llyn Pass will not be the pass of old.

This Freedom008

 

 

On the other side I went bounding down, first over pot-holes, then on a perfect surface, instinctively pulling up at Cross Foxes to gaze meditatively over to where a ribbon of white road led into the mountains eastwards.  I should have needed but little persuasion to turn my wheel east and sample once more the wonderful country that lies beyond Cold Door Pass.  But not this time, and my brake was released, and I skimmed down into the woods, emerging in grey old Dolgellau.  I traversed only a mile of the Barmouth road – that glorious example of the British wonderland, but that mile took me half an hour or more for I often stopped to gaze across the river at the shining ridge of Cader, and to admire the effects through my sunglasses.  The yellow tinted ones bring out the cloud effects in a manner that the eyes do not suspect.

With my face set northward I headed up the gorgeously wooded valley of the Eden – truly a little Eden, and with the wind behind again, drew onto the moors, from where one gets a photographic view over woods and water to Cader’s ridge.  On the left a line of great saw edged peaks provided the only interest now until Trawsfynydd was behind, and below, the bountiful Vale of Maentwrog.  I had a great struggle against the temptation to return to Ffestiniog, but, well, Llanberis was my destination, so I flew down to Maentwrog, crossed the valley, and joined the old road from Tan-y-Bwlch.  From the ‘encrusted’ little Llyn Mair I enjoyed the view over the valley; of the moorland ridges and painted peaks of Ardudwy, then soon passed through little Bwlch-y-Maen.  A hunt for tea at the tiny hamlet of Rhyd beneath the bulk of Moelwyn put me onto a nearby farm.

They said they had nothing in, invited me inside, and proceeded to show me what ‘nothing’ is.  I never knew it was so much !  After a feast of the gods and another doze by the fire, I fled down to the lowlands, rode along the border of the reclaimed Glaslyn estuary to Pont Aberglaslyn, stopped a moment to pay my tribute to this manhandled masterpiece of nature, and came into Beddgelert.  Here I was amidst Wales’ grandest scenery, in the Vale of Gwynant where the beauty of everything green mingles with the wild grandeur of peak and precipice.  Whether to my credit or not, I rode all the way up to Pen-y-Gwryd, pausing here to watch a swift transfusion – so common where high mountains are concerned – from sunshine to clouds, from crystal atmosphere to jade, until, when the utmost heights of Snowdon were lost in a dark blanket, I rode on and completed my triumph by riding from Beddgelert to Gorphwysfa.

Torrential rain came down then, and I rode as in a river down the Pass of Llanberis, stopping once to watch a sheep dog getting the flock away from the crags with marvellous dexterity.  With black storm-clouds scudding across the tottering cliffs, the Pass was more awe-inspiring than ever I had before seen it.  At the bottom the wind slewed round and buffeted me all over the road.  Some enterprising missionary had been posting bills on the rock at bends in the road.  I was down on the ‘drops’, fighting  might and main against rain and wind, when I happened to glance up and was confronted with the big black words “Prepare to meet they God”.  The next time I looked up I was informed in bullying blue words that “The evil shall surely perish”, and again some monster red type warned me that “Death is at Hand”.  They made me feel quite chirpy !  But all the same it is a silly idea shoving posters up at sharp bends, distracting the attention of road users and spoiling the natural beauty too, besides being directly opposite to the true teaching of religion.

I reached Llanberis at 8.30pm, just half an hour late – not bad judging in a 250 mile run, and there I met my uncle and two London cyclists.  After supper, one Violet, a pretty lass who keeps a tobacconists shop nearby, helped us pass a merry evening, and it was nigh on midnight when we turned in.  To say that I slept soundly is merely superfluous, after a 36 hour ride from Somerset to Snowdonia, but never shall I forget that night ride and the day that followed, the ride through the Wye valley and over eight Welsh passes, Brecon Beacons, Bwlch-gwn-isaf (which means the high white pass), the Steddfa, Tal-y-Llyn Pass, Bwlch-y-Maen (Pass of the Stone), Aberglaslyn Pass, Bwlch Gwyddel (Pen-y-Guryd), and the Pass of Llanberis, surely a good day’s “Bag” for the Pass collector !

This Freedom 1926 Part Six

In Thirty-Six Hours                               Thursday

I got news of a boat this morning, kindly supplied by mine host.  At 4.30pm from Weston-super-Mare.  It seemed like inequality itself !  Here I had 7 hours to do 40 miles, then, before the next evening I must cover a matter of 210 miles !  I cursed the fate that led me to tie myself then – but later, how I blessed that same tie !  That homely little cottage on the Watchet housing scheme was put high in my list of ‘best’ places.

So, by a winding lane hard by a coastguard training camp, and near the restless sea, across which I could see the brown Welsh mountains, I pottered – super pottered – back to the Minehead-Bridgewater road at the beautiful little village of St Audries or West Quantoxhead, from where one goes over the fringe of Quantocks, an exquisite range of hills.  Though a main road, somewhat motorised, and ‘done up’ by tar and flints, its long sweeping contours, its hill scenery, and its views over the ‘Severn Sea’ and the pretty little villages, flower spangled, stamped it as something ‘different’.  But after all, it was a main road, and sub-consciously I got on the ‘drops’, and speedily twiddled the remaining miles to Bridgewater.

Bridgewater was big (fairly), Bridgewater was modern, Bridgewater was busy, so busy, modern, big Bridgewater stayed me not, it knew not whence I came and cared not whither I went.  I fancy Somerset motorists have an unbounded gratitude to the Powers that Be in B.M.B, Bridgewater.  I saw myriads of petrol-pushed gentlemen entering the town with a great and holy joy on their faces.  The reason was not far to seek.  As I left B.M.B Bridgewater I entered on the very latest in speedways.  Wide, immaculate, level, and straight as an arrow it went, and on its broad back roared a million engines.  On each side great, highly decorated notices blazed the superb qualities of ‘Smell’ spirit (the stuff that shortens every mile), BP sparking plugs, and Spratts Motor Food (I fancy they have abandoned the dog biscuit line).

I had it to endure, however, and slowly ticked off the unromantic miles until, at Pawlett, there is a Bend in the road, whilst I detected a Rise.  Only one very little Bend, and one very little Rise.  Then it resumed the even tenure of its way to Highbridge, and in disgust I abandoned it.  Besides a hunger had appeared through the petrol fumes, and I thought that I might find a place in some secluded fishing village; it was with this in mind that I made for Burnham on Sea.  When I got there I wondered why it was called Burnham on Sea.  In the far distance I saw a white streak that I took for the sea, but my general view was miles of mudbanks, which the authorities of this pushful little resort call ‘miles of golden sands’.  Such is human nature.  Being a rather fashionable, if small place, I fled from Burnham, and took a road behind some dull-looking sand dunes, hungrily looking for a feeding place.  I found one at Berrow.  From then on I had an ultra-lazy ride across a great reclaimed marsh, and eventually reached that super-resort, Weston-super-Mare with about two hours to spare.

I made for the stone jetty and isolated myself thereon, finding, after an hour, that I was on the wrong one, so off I went to the north pier, paid five pence for self and bike, and found a seat.  The ‘fun of the fair’ was waging fast and furious, and a moving array of fashions constantly passed before my eyes.  What on earth people can see in parading up and down a pier beats me.  The men are all dressed to death, the women (sensibly enough) delight in wearing as little as possible, though that little contained all the frills and fops of a fastidious fashion, and all together, with the blaring ‘music’ served up, a brilliant but nerve-wracking picture is obtained.  And in a corner, un-noticed, sat a Welsh Miner’s choir, ill-dressed and obviously ill-at-ease, waiting for the boat.  From which inferences, bitter enough, can easily be drawn.  When at last the boat came in I took my place in the queue, found that it would cost me another three pence to go on board, and then had to pay four shillings and six pence for me and my bike to cross.  So my trip across the Severn cost five shillings and two pence for an hours sail.

It was a glorious sail however; the sun was beating down fiercely, a sea breeze blew in, and along the Somerset shore the mudbanks really did look like ‘miles of golden sands’.  In the middle of the Channel two big rocks stuck out of the water, sheer sided, picturesque little islets.  At 5.30pm Cardiff was reached, and soon I stood in Wales. This Freedom005   The ease with which I got through the city surprised me.  A mile of setts and tramlines, Lascars, Chinamen and the most ebony-faced blacks I ever saw brought me to a fine square, one side of which was bounded by the castle and the other by the handsome city hall, then, in a few minutes, Cardiff was behind me and I was bounding along a perfect road.  I reached the mountains at Taff Wells, entering the Taff Vale.  My way would lead me through part of the busy South Wales coalfields – Pontypridd and Merthyr Tydfil, rather squalid for touring, but – well I could see for myself what the conditions were like due to the lock-out.  [At this time in 1926 a national coal strike had been in place for many weeks – Ed].  At Nant-Garw, I was just searching the handbook for a tea-place when I was hailed by a lightweight cyclist.  We got riding together, so he invited me to tea at his place, and, nothing loth, I accepted.  So we headed uphill on a byway and dropped breathlessly down into another valley and a town where were the ruins of a great castle.  Immediately I saw it I knew that this was Caerphilly Castle, one of the best preserved and most extensive Edwardian castles in Britain.  A little beyond Caerphilly we reached the tiny mining village of Llanbradach, where my friend lived.

The people I met at my friend’s house were of the best.  He was a locked-out coal miner, his nephew, who made up the tiny family of three was a cyclist member of the Caerphilly CC, and his wife, every bit Welsh, was one of those warm-hearted, bright people anyone would like to know.  The table was sparse yet I knew it was the best that they could muster – no money coming in, no hopes of any, their tiny savings going down rapidly; this I gleaned, though they would not have me know.  I was made thoroughly comfortable, and though I tried to pay them something they would not take one penny.  So it went to the Miners Relief Fund.  They were the true cyclists in spirit, lovers of the open and the road.  Yes, those workless Welsh miners were some of the best people I have met.

At 7.30pm I left Llanbradach – I had to tear myself away – and headed up the Rhymney Valley.  It is a real colliery valley with little sign of any pits, whilst the scenery was quite good and the evening perfect.  There were many hills, but by now my knees were attuned to hills, and after Devon it was not all bad.  There were so many different roads that I had to keep in close touch with my maps, for some of these roads end in a cul-de-sac at some little town at the head of a valley.  After a place called Nelson, I reached Taff Vale again.  Sunset.  Over the great brown humps of Fforest Fawr the sky was now blood red.  High overhead the wisps of cloud were tinged gold and red, and the eastern sky was an endless blue.  Now and then the valley became pretty, now and then squalid.  I passed a row of houses, each house possessing only one room; miners dwellings, and a condemnation of the perniciousness of that industry at the present day.

The pits were all closed, silent knots of men stood in the streets or sat by the roadside, half naked children ran in and out of the houses, and women with careworn faces stood gossiping at their doors.  From that it is but a step to see what lies behind it all, to see them in semi-starvation, with empty purses, empty larders and empty stomachs, but with that indomitable courage to carry on and fight to the end.  I think they deserve every help it is possible for us to give them towards defending their already grossly inadequate wages.

Merthyr Tydfil was reached now, a biggish town crowding the end of the valley.  When I was walking up the hill on the Brecon road, one of a crowd of youngsters shouted: “Ee look, a boy scout!”, whereupon another answered with withering contempt “Nay, ‘e’s not a boy scout, if ‘e was ‘e’d ride that ‘ill!”.  I felt very, very small at that.

Now the time was 9.30pm and I had 185 miles to go to Llanberis.  It was plain to see that I should never do it in a day, so I hit upon the idea of an all nighter.  The more I thought of it the more I liked it.  I got some supper at Nant ddu above Merthyr, and got the Innkeeper to pack me something up, and so, with lamp lit, I made a start.

 

This Freedom 1926 Part Five

Along the coast of North Devon

Wednesday

This morning was distinctly brighter when I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and found the sunshine flooding the room.  I had something before me, I thought, as I lay abed musing over my future plans.  Here was Wednesday; by Friday night I must be at the foot of Snowdon to keep an appointment.  A boat from Ilfracombe to somewhere in South Wales would make that comparatively easy, but then I should miss Lynton and Lynmouth, so I decided that a boat from, say, Minehead, tonight, would nicely fill the bill.  So I must get to Minehead for an early boat.

As a stubbly crop had appeared in some density on my chin, and as I did not desire to be taken as a real tramp, I decided to patronise the first barber’s shop I came to.  That barber was a traditional one as regards chinwag, but he ‘knew his Bideford’, and told me how he had followed ‘Westward Ho’ and all its characters all through North Devon.  He had traced Amyas Leigh and his family and found them true characters, Salvation Yeo, Captain Oxenhope, Charles Carey of Clovelly, and many other old sea dogs he ascertained had actually once lived and undergone experiences just as exciting as Kingsley tells of, though, the barber told me, Carey was only 12 years of age when Kingsley credits him with crossing the Spanish Main.  He was an exceedingly interesting and well informed man, was that Bideford barber.  Owing to a burnt-up complexion, my adventures with the razor were just as exciting and painful as any of those buccaneers of the Main.

I came to Bideford Quay, where young Amyas heard Salvation Yeo exhorting his hearers to cross the Main with him and to:

“Fill his pockets with the good red gold

By sailing on the sea-oh!”

and where he had seen the marvellous hieroglyphic chart.  Bideford Quay is just what anyone expects in an ordinary fishing town, for all the old picturesqueness has gone under the pressure of more modern needs.  A statue of Kingsley stands at the end of the quay.  Crossing the bridge, I joined a road that ran by an estuary of mudbanks, then ran across country on an uninteresting, hot, and dusty road to Barnstaple, which is called ‘Barum’ on the milestones for short.  This place is similar to Bideford in style and ordinariness, but retains some slender hold on the past by the possession of an old council house or something; beneath its verandah are displayed in miniature all the coats of arms of the well known local families of bygone days.  In a cage-like affair there stands the bartering table that did service at ‘Barum’ market centuries ago, and a big notice propounded to all and sundry the points of interest in the neighbourhood.  The rivers Torridge (of Bideford) and the Taw (of Barnstaple) join forces here ‘ere they empty their muddy treacle into the bay at Appledore.  Again the road was level and almost featureless for some miles, until it ran along a pretty little valley and then, evidently deciding that it would have to shape if it wanted to be called a Devonshire road, it climbed a big hill.  The top on the other side was down an exquisite little valley that precipitated me into Ilfracombe.

Now I am not going to run Ilfracombe down just because it happens to be unfortunate enough to be popular and modern, for even I would not mind spending a day or two here-abouts for the sake of exploring the coast.  The coast is great, and the setting is gorgeous, but the rows of classy shops and the big hotels and the band playing popular airs on a huge mass of rock that cuts the bay in two are liable to frighten away a mere cyclist.  I enquired of a boat for South Wales, but found that, owing to the coal shortage, pleasure boats only sailed on Thursday afternoons, so I left Ilfracombe alone in its glory.  Still, if I could not get a boat till then, how on earth could I get to Llanberis in time?  I am not addicted to thinking for long at once, however, and ceased pondering with the thought that somehow or other I should manage it.  I saw a cliff path zig-zagging up some steps, was fascinated with it, sweated up it, and arrived on the very road that I wanted, more by good luck than good management.

A swoop down brought me back to sea level at a tiny, almost cliff-bound bay which was ruined by a housing scheme and bathing vans.  The long climb onto the cliffs again made me feel that lunch was an urgent problem.  The view was absolutely great.  The reddish cliffs, the green sea and the jutting headlands were finer than I had ever seen, finer than my imagination had painted them.  I dropped down to Combe Martin, a famous beauty spot with a tiny, quaint harbour and a long straggling village leading up the combe.  Here I had dinner of strawberries and cream at a café that proclaimed its nature to me as soon as I got inside.  Tiny, painted teacups and wafers of bread are of little use to a hungry cyclist.  The waitress opened her eyes when I called for plateful after plateful; then when the bill came I opened my eyes – and ‘paid through the nose’.

The belated heat-wave had returned with renewed vigour when I started again, so I decided that I deserved a rest and bought a newspaper and some postcards, stopping beyond the village to read and write.  But something else had a say in it, for I was driven away by those ferocious, man-eating vipeds, the Midge family, which were undisturbed by dense columns of Woodbine smoke by which I sought to defend myself.  Followed a long, long tramp uphill through deep, hot woods, with never a sign of water where I might quench a long-standing thirst.  When I reached the top, I saw a lane leading towards the sea, and caring not whither I went, I followed it.  I led me to Trentishoe, a tiny hamlet with an ancient church, then over a heath with a view of a great shining sea.  A heat haze robbed me of the views of South Wales.  A fork road that I took deteoriated into a track and ended in a farmyard at the head of a little dell, but by enquiring I was shown a path that led me down the dell into exquisite woodland scenery – and to a stream where my thirst was temporarily banished.  The dell ran into a magnificent combe whose steep sides were clothed in woods, and I joined a narrow road at an hotel called Hunters Inn.

My road was now all uphill, and was motorised to the point of exasperation.  In the hot rays of a merciless sun I padded the hoof round and round and in and out with many a stop for water until I reached the edge of the cliffs again.  Glorious Devon !  Oh, who could traverse this part of the English wonderland and see those iron-bound cliffs, those jagged rock-teeth, that sapphire sea and those distant headlands, one beyond the other, without being affected.  The miles of hard-riding and walking behind and before me were limmed into delightfulness at this magnificent vista.  Here, now, was the time to sit gazing over it all and let ones thoughts soar to realms beyond the world.  Here was the place where to be alone was most desirable, for, though I like to share these delights with a companion, there are times when I would rather be alone in my communion with nature.  A companion whose whole mind is in sympathy and is toned with one’s own is rare, and of all my friends, only one I know finds the same delights and feelings as myself.

Walking and stopping every few minutes was my mode of progress along that cliff road.  I left the motor-road and kept on a cliff path, eventually running down between over-hanging bushes of bramble and golden gorse to Woody Bay.  It is a woody bay; here the cliffs are hidden beneath a dense growth of bushes, and right from the waters edge one sees nothing but green and gold bush, first sheer, then in a gradual upward sweep to the summit.  Beyond here the red cliffs again took precedence, then after a dip into another attractive little combe (I forget the name) I climbed over a golf course in which was an old mansion made into a hotel (Lee Abbey), and reached the Valley of Rocks.  This, in direct contrast to Woody Bay is entirely devoid of trees.  Here rocks are piled up in all conceivable shapes, some great solid masses, some delicately pinnacled, and some finely balanced.  The narrow path wormed in and out of the rocks then ran on the edge of the cliffs, showing the same magnificent coast views as before, and I eventually reached Lynton, which is upper – and modern Lynmouth.  This Freedom007

I was hungry, but couldn’t find a place, so I dropped down to the Ilfracombe-Minehead road, which here consists of mud, ruts, and contortions at a gradient of one in five; Beggars Roost by name, and said to be the most dangerous main road hill in England.  At its foot is Lynmouth, another of those quaint fishing villages amid surroundings of breathless beauty.  Then, on an empty stomach I started up the two mile, one in seven Countisbury Hill.  If you intend to go up Countisbury, have a feed at the bottom.  It is worth it.  Half way up I met some Manchester CTCites, and had a long chat with them.  They put me wise to a good place at Watchet, eight miles beyond Minehead, of which more later.  Just near the summit, when my eyes were glazing, and I was sinking fast for want of food, I spotted a farmhouse with a ‘teas’ notice inside the garden, so in I trooped.  I found it the tea-place of my dreams.  A real Devon tea it was, with strawberries and thick butter-like cream, all kinds of fruit, and eggs and delicious bread and butter and cake – it was a right blow-out.  My afternoon mileage was fourteen !

Within two miles of Countisbury, Devon, glorious Devon was behind me, and I was back in “Zummerzet”, and on the sea-edge of Exmoor Forest, wherein are wild red deer.  I saw none.  Aided by a strong breeze, and the cooler air of evening, I was able to make great headway over the ups and downs, and was often rewarded with views of the glistening sea away on my left or rolling moors and wooded combes on my right.  Then the Porlock fork road was reached, and I took the toll road – the main road descends one of the worst hills in England at a one in five gradient.  The view from the edge of Exmoor, over the vale, and the golden bay of Porlock was magnificent, holding me for a long time.  The descent on the toll road to Porlock village afforded me many fine views both seaward and landward, and the neat, whitewashed village was a picture in itself.  Followed a fairly easy run between the hills, with the setting sun behind throwing a crimson glamour on the even sea, and the ‘evening glow’ spreading over the countryside, to Minehead, a pleasant enough seaport.  No boats would leave for Wales for a week !

Hm, the position was getting more complicated !  If no boats were available, my only way was by the Severn tunnel, which would mean a ride to Llanberis of about 380 miles, obviously an impossibility in two days.  I decided to try that place at Watchet, so, as the time was 9.45 I ‘did a blind’.  Then I saw a signpost pointing to Dunster, which, I had heard, was worth seeing, so off I flew up a secluded lane.  Dunster is a wonderful little place, hidden from the rest of the world, and passed by, unnoticed by the roar of modern traffic.  Old fashioned, overshadowed by the wooded hillsides, sweetly scented by the creeper roses adorning the walls, and quaint, with its ancient little covered market, it demands a place amongst the foremost of England’s prettiest villages.

Another blind down another lane from the main road landed me in Watchet, and I soon found the recommended place, at 11.10pm !  At supper I had a table fit for a duke, with food that would make the same duke green with envy.  Mine host promised to find out if a boat crossed the Channel from Weston-super-Mare, informing me that had I been a little earlier I should have got a chance of spending a night in a fishing smack, reaching Barry Dock for breakfast next day.  That would have been OK !  Anyway, I consoled myself, one can’t have it both ways.

 

This Freedom 1926 Part Four

Tuesday

At breakfast this morning, it did not take us long to put Kingsbridge behind which, after a night of rain, was just wallowing in sludge.  It was one of those close, sticky mornings with a sky of sombre grey that foretold of more rain.  The Plymouth road was like a narrow lane between high banks that, though they shut out the views, displayed hosts of roses and honeysuckle; it was full of steep hills, rarely rideable and, much to my joy, was all pot-holes full of water.  One gets sick of immaculate surfaces, and really appreciates a few miles of rough riding and splashing.  So I got as many pot-holes in to the yard as I could.  This country is very sparsely populated, and it is quite a common thing for schoolchildren from the outlying farms coming to school on horseback.  We saw several such.

Although we were on a regular touring route, Modbury turned out ‘en masse’ to see us.  And as Modbury is situated all the way up a steep hill it had the chance of seeing us properly.  Youngsters who ought to have gone to school spoke loudly and scathingly because we dismounted, maidens pulled faces and giggled at me (so my friend said, though I swore it was him !) and old ladies left their washing to gossip about our clothing, for, as my friend wore generously made ‘plus fours’ and I ‘shorts’, we undoubtedly made a fine pair of freaks; so by the time the top of Modbury was reached, I, at least, was ready to do a sprint.  After that the ripples in the country grew less pronounced, until at length we were riding at least a mile without walking a hill, and the surface had deteoriated to its usual perfection.

The entrance to Plymouth was dull and tram-lined.  The inside of Plymouth was exciting, the traffic and cars, and a heavy downpour of rain deciding us not to take up permanent residence there.  My companion was just as anxious to get out of it as I was, and as his way was not mine we parted company, he making for Devonport and I for Saltash ferry.  I never saw Plymouth Sound or any of the ‘lions’.  I left my companion at exactly noon, by a nearby clock, enquired for the route, walked up many steep streets, rode over millions of setts, and at exactly 12.40 reached the same place again.

The second attempt put me right after I had wandered all over the warehouse district, and inside the cape I came to Saltash Ferry and found the craft on the wrong side.  It took me an hour to get across to Saltash, making the journey by a sister-ship to the one at Dartmouth.  A ‘Teas’ notice in a quaint little alley attracted me, and I had lunch in the rear of an oyster shop with an open window in front of which the budding manhood of Saltash stood watching me.  But that is not all.  All the street came to look at my bike and to whizz the pedals backwards or ring the bell.  Then a baby started to cry, and in two minutes pandemonium reigned, every baby for miles around joining in sympathy.  Clicking freewheel, ringing bell, and the lusty howls of a host of seamen-to-be struck up a tune that would make Jack Hylton’s celebrated Savoy Orphans weep with envy.  The houses were quaint and doddering; upstairs one might shake hands across the street; fishing tackle was piled up by the doors, the street was cobbled, a pungent shrimp-cum-lobster-cum-oyster smell prevailed, and the kiddies spoke in the drawling Cornish accent.  When I left the alley I was given a royal send-off by a cheering crowd of urchins.

After that – ugh !, it was all hills, all ups, with the scenic tide at its lowest ebb since leaving home.  It was inland Cornwall, dreary, half moorland country, very hilly, with rain coming in spasms, each spasm leaving me sticky and thirsty.  Happily every hamlet had its pump !  At Callington I discovered that the last ten miles had taken me two hours.  Callington is a bit quaint, steep-streeted, and whitewashed very white.  The next stage of ten miles to Launceston started very unpromising, uphill, with dreary, lumpy hills all around and a hampering sidewind, but after a few miles an improvement took place, then, dropping into a little combe, I passed through some wonderful woodland scenery.  After that things went more pleasantly, and I got many a fine view of the valley of the Tamar on my right, until I reached Launceston, which lies on the main Exeter-Land’s End road, only 80 miles from the latter.  It is a steep little town of historical interest, owns up to a castle, a priory, and the remains of a wall, and is picturesquely quaint.  I joined the Bude road, and, of course, the worst of two alternatives, precipitous down, into the Ottery valley, and ever so hard up.  Then I got another dose of rain and hills, but both were left behind at Yealmbridge, from where a rippling stretch of high country took me to four cross roads at the Red Post Inn.  I was torn between two desires, the Bude road and the Kilhampton road, and the latter won.  A real Devonian lane took me to Kilhampton, an ordinary looking village on the north road to Land’s End, but Kilhampton possesses a very good tea-place, which, after 38 Cornish miles is more than just a tea-place.

It was a good job that I got tea there, too, for I came in for it when I started, open ground, dismal, very hilly, and a high wind of mushroom growth anchoring me down to one place, but after about five miles it turned completely round and, in violent contradiction sent me scudding along like a whirlwind.  After a time I deserted the main road and was soon heading furiously down into scenes of riotous beauty.  With now and then a momentary glimpse of the sea through the foliage, I went down, down, until, turning a bend, I looked upon that gem of Devon – Clovelly.  Some folks say “See Venice and die”:  I would say, “See Clovelly – and live!”  I left my bike at the top of the cobbled street which goes down to the sea in steps.  Every building in that street was a picture; verandahed, whitewashed, each wall had a most beautiful show of roses.  Down one goes on slippery cobbles, then in and out of quaint little alleys, and actually through houses until the shore and the tiniest of harbours is reached.  It is possible to walk along the harbour wall to a little lamp set at the narrow entrance.  From this point one may look back on the houses, tier upon tier above each other, at the high cliffs red and brown stretching away in headlands and toothed promontories, at the tiny, secluded little harbour with its fishing boats, and away over the foam-flecked waters to the low dim mountains of South Wales and Gower.  It was all so gorgeous, so stunning in its loveliness.  For a long time I stood by the harbour lamp, contemplating the scene, until, finding the time creeping on, I pulled myself together and tore myself away after a stern battle with a desire to stay in Clovelly.  So I climbed in and out of the alleys, and (with many a backward glance) up the cobbled street to my bike.

In a narrow lane above the combe I sat on a gate and watched the sun dip into the sea.  It changed the rolling waters into a long, rippling glory of crimson, tinted the meeting sky and sea as on the night when Hiawatha sailed into the great Beyond; as Longfellow quotes:-

“The evening sun descending

Set the clouds on fire with redness

Burned the broad sky like a prairie

Left upon the level water

One long track and trail of splendour

Down whose stream, as down a river

Westward, westward Hiawatha

Sailed into the fiery sunset,

Sailed into the purple vapours

Sailed into the dusk of evening “

“A dozen miles or more to go if I would make Bideford tonight, and now it is 9.45”, I murmured to myself as I sped down the glossy road.  I had set my heart on going to ‘Bideford in Devon’, for it stirred up thoughts of ‘Westward Ho’ and Amyas Leigh and all the heroes of schoolboy days.  So – I had set my heart on going to Bideford.  The wind had risen to gale velocity, roaring behind me, sending me scudding over hills and dales, through many a picturesque village, and on the sea edge of Dartmoor.  Darkness had fallen, and the streets were very quiet when I reached Bideford and perused my handbook.  I had gone too far, so back I ambled up a steep hill until I found the place at last, and just scraped in as the people were going to bed (11pm).  It is getting later each night !  Over supper I read a bit of Kingsley’s ‘Westward Ho!’ which lay on the table.  Very often I have perused that book, and now here I was in the town that forms the base of it.  So I turned in, with many thoughts on the past day, soon lapsing into the sleep that comes easily to one who set 92 west country miles behind him in the day.

 

This Freedom 1926 Part Three

At 8.30 this morning I was spinning along the road again, the Exeter road that took me along the edge of a wooded hill-country and gave me views one side of newly-mown fields and rippling acres of golden wheat, whilst on the other hand many an alluring little lane tempted me to leave my highway.  Only once did I yield to the temptation, then I found myself between two blazing walls of roses with the sky above almost hidden by foliage.  In twelve miles I reached Cullompton, where I tried to get a 20 tooth freewheel but failed, though I was offered consignments of 18’s.  At one village cycle shop I was told that an 18 would do just as well, and when I told the dealer that my gear would jump from 59.8 to 66.4 with a corresponding jump in pushing resistance, he could not understand why, so I took him out and explained, then he fell to examining my mount, confessing that he had not quite “tuk up wi’ them new-fangled thingummis”, and I had to drop my wheels out and in and work my calliper brake for him.  Still, it was one of “them there racers an’ don’t like them down handles an’ I think them back forks are too thin an’ I don’t like the looks o’it front un’s either, an’ I’d sooner you ride it till me”.  He had the old idea of something massive for a big ride.  I got a freewheel of the requisite size in Exeter, knocking a 19 tooth fixed cog off and putting the freewheel in its place.  I rode free after that until I reached Corwen on the last lap of my tour.

I paid a visit to Exeter Cathedral; in any part of which one may go without payment, the trustees leaving it to the generosity of the visitor.  And a visitor who goes through Exeter cathedral without making a voluntary contribution must be a very mean person indeed.  As with Wells, I shall serve no purpose by trying to explain the wonderful works of art that I saw both within and without, so again I will just leave it at that.  Exeter was very busy, and is all narrow streets; I was glad when I had squirmed through the traffic and reached the immaculate road on the east bank of the Exe.  Topsham was reached, and here I decided to have lunch, a Devon lunch, and just to see how things went I decided to make a light mid-day meal.  So I went into a pub and ordered a pint of cider and bread and jam – I am not enamoured of cheese.  The bread came in tiny cottage loaves, and was so delicious that I ate six to two pints of cider – bang went my light lunch decision.  Topsham is a rather quaint place, more so in the narrow streets leading to the river.

From here my road got hilly, giving me many fine river views, whilst at the foot of each hill was a hamlet that was a brilliant kaleidoscope of flowers.  The diet of cider, bread and jam was doing its worst, for the whole road was a drag.  Then I dropped into modern suburbia embodied in a seaside resort that resolved itself into Exmouth, and ere long I was on the promenade, glimpsing my first view of the English Channel.  Exmouth struck me as being a very usual resort, so without delay I got a boatman to take me across the mouth of the river.  It was one shilling to the sandy bar and two and sixpence to the Dawlish road, so I decided to economise and had a bobsworth.  But had I known !  Came nearly an hour of collar work over soft dry sand until I was reduced to the consistency of butter, for it was a hot, dull day.  Thus I reached Dawlish, which carries the usual brand of the resort, but is bounded by magnificent cliffs and jutting teeth of rock, a glorious first glimpse of the South Devon coast.

The road was all uphill and down dale; from the summit of each hill were wonderful sea and coast views.  My ideas for a thrust into Cornwall that day went by the board, for it goes against the grain to rush things amid this kind of scenery, even if the road allows it.  ‘Billy J’ was right when he said that 70 miles is a good average for a hard-rider in Devon.  In two miles I walked up three long hills, then unclimbed them all in one headlong descent into Teignmouth, another ordinary resort with an extraordinary coast.  Out again after crossing the river by a long wooden bridge for which I paid one penny and up again until I looked down on the river mouth in which were the low grey hulks of three warships, the golden bay and guardian cliffs and islands of weather and tide worn rocks of fantastic shape, with behind it all the rolling waters of the channel dotted here and there with ships.  So, with sea or land views I swept inland to Newton Abbot and Torquay.

I am correct when I say ‘inland to Torquay’ for I had not the slightest desire to go scouting around the promenade which is like the ‘prom’ of every fashionable resort only more so, and in my hatred of dresses, ‘prom’ adornments and piers with their quaint amusements, I was willing to sacrifice whatever scenic attraction there might be, to get away.  That is why I crept un-ostensibly round the back of Torquay, and came to rest at a CTC place on the outskirts.  The people came from Lancashire and were delighted to see me.  We fell to talking about ‘up north’ and about cycling matters, for they were old cyclists, retired and keeping a beautiful boarding house, which, to keep memories green, they have called ‘Dentdale’.  I had a right royal tea, a real Devonshire tea with extras, and yarned about things until the time got late, and I reluctantly tore myself away.

A few minutes later I descended to Cockington.  Situated in a narrow valley, it is everything that guide books and picture-postcards depict it to be – and more.  The old forge, charmingly set in a narrow lane hedged by equally ancient thatched cottages, whose stone walls were brown and moss grown, whilst over the garden walls hung roses and intertwining creepers, the tiny, musical stream and the overarching trees made up the sweetest rural picture I had seen for many a day.  The hamlet was quiet and unsullied by its proximity to a popular resort.  I crept down the valley, by the musical stream, along a lane whose leafy walls and roof shut out the light and threw the road in semi-darkness.  A Devonshire lane !  Is there anything in the world so beautiful !  Is there anything that can show such treasures of nature as the hedgerows of wild flowers and such scents as a Devonshire lane !

My lane took me to the tramlines and promenade of Paignton.  Only one thing did I see at Paignton that stamped it as different from the ‘rest of em’, and that was the tropical plants that grew in the gardens.  I might have been suddenly transported to some Indian or Hawaiian garden city, so different everything appeared.  Beyond here, I was pondering on a moorland-like heath, at the Brixham-Dartmouth fork roads, on which way to go, when a farmer came up and I got into conversation with him.  He was a right old West Country chap, swarthy and stolid, and speaking in the drawling tone typical of this county.  When he had ventilated his views of every topic under the sun, I asked him about the best way, and if Brixham was worth seeing.  He told me that there was nothing at Brixham and advised me to carry on to Dartmouth, which I did, though I later learned that I had missed a glorious bit of South Devon.  A long, long climb took me to a viewpoint from where the beautiful river Dart lay below me with its convoy of craft – including two ugly, grey torpedo boats.  On the long easy descent to the river, magnificent moving pictures rolled before my eyes.

They have a ‘floating bridge’ across the river, propelled to and fro by a steam engine, which, if noise is a virtue, must be positively bristling with good points.  Anyway, it rolled me and couple of motorcars across and charged me fourpence.  Dartmouth is a breath from the past, recalling vividly the days of those bold thieves, Drake, Raleigh, Blake and other ‘British Mariners’, but recalling them in a romantic, history book way.  Ancient cobbled alleys with the houses quaintly built, seeming, in some instances, ready to topple onto each other, a sleepy, old-fashioned little quay, and a castle and church combined, so to speak, a place where, (including the coast) one would like to potter about for days.

But my path, though flowery, and strewn with roses, had a few thorns in it.  I was already looking like a Red Indian with the heat of the two days before, and I found washing a painful, delicate operation, whilst my arms and knees were peeling and I dared hardly touch them.  Then each day was as much as anything one long search for water, for I had acquired a thirst that knew no limits.  Also, two days and a half of hard-riding on ‘fixed’ had somehow made me saddle-sore, and I knew that another day or two would be required to alleviate it.  Still, when one is amidst such scenery as I was, these ‘thorns’ are nothing against the pleasures one finds.

As ever, the road was hilly from Dartmouth, and this hill was an extra special one, the narrowness and depth of the lane making it like an oven.  On the top lay the little village of Stoke Fleming, where the walls were covered with roses and the gardens a blaze of glory,  The church, like several others I had seen had a half-round tower, castellated and no spire, similar to the narrower of the round towers of Norman fortresses.  So far as I can make it out it is a style peculiar to the West, for I don’t recall seeing one north of Somerset.  The scenery became more enchanting; now I looked down on a glorious little cove of brown tinted cliffs, either rising sheer from the water, or weathered into fantastic shapes, pinnacles and arches in islets of brown rock from a green, clear sea.  A sudden breathless descent took me to the cove, where was the tiniest of sandy beaches, and a tiny hamlet deep in a glen that owned a thousand summer shades of leaf and flower, and through which ran a crystal-clear stream.  And its name was….Blackpool !  I could not imagine a greater contrast than this infinitely beautiful, unspoiled cove beside the big, dismal, unattractive Lancashire seaside namesake, and I fancy should not hesitate if it came to a choice.

Another precipitous climb through hot woods put me once more on top of the cliffs, and with a view westwards of a stretch of golden sands behind which was a marsh where the road ran across, and eastward of magnificent cliffs, I tumbled down again, round many a hairpin bend, to sea level – on the first rough road of the tour.  A dead level two miles took me across Slapton sands to Torcross, where I turned inland for Stokenham.  Then, in rapidly gathering dusk I had six lumpy miles, through many an attractive village until I came to a town built on a very muddy river, with a quay on which all the beauty – and otherwise – of the town walked about – Kingsbridge.  As I was not attracted with it, I stopped to weigh up the chances of making a seven mile blind to Modbury (it was now 9.45).  Just as I was about to make a start and risk it, up came a cyclist, who, divining that I was in search of a place, suggested that we both ‘pig in’ where he was staying.  So I gave up my thoughts of Modbury, and away we went and were soon fixed up.  He is a Manchester chap on a fortnight’s pottering tour to Land’s End.

 

This Freedom 1926 Part Two

Sunday

Sometimes I feel the need of a watch, one of those watches that tells the truth within half an hour or so.  In my determination to cast all laws of convention overboard this trip, I rigidly refused to carry a watch.  Of course, I do not find this difficult simply because I do not possess a watch, my financial resources not running into the price of a decent one.  I am always on the brink of bankruptcy.  So when I awoke this morning I had no idea of the time, and as all was quiet round about I did not want to go down too soon, but I hate to lie awake with a view of a blank wall through the window, so at last I got up, and was soon outside, inspecting the ‘lions’, which includes an ancient covered market hall and a castle.  The time was only 7.15.  By 8.15, I was bidding goodbye to that very interesting ‘modern maid of Ross’, and a few minutes later Ross was behind and the road to Gloucester was ahead.  The sun was getting strong and everything pointed to a continuance of the heat-wave, whilst the countryside, refreshed by the slight rain yesterday seemed more golden than ever.

I entered hill-country, the northern extremity of the Forest of Dean, a heavily wooded land, with the perfect road winding about between the hills in valleys ravishingly beautiful, and by snugly-placed timber and brick cottages, until, with a climb, I found myself looking down on the green plain of Gloucester.  The road flung itself clear of hills and straightened itself out, and by the time I had reached the City, it had become monotonously level.  I pottered round the beautiful Cathedral just as the bells were tolling their message to the yet sleepy citizens, then, not finding much else to interest me, I joined the Bristol road.  Gloucester was once a fine city to look upon – some of it may be yet, but I found industry predominating.

For some miles then I got a dose of modern highway.  Running near the Severn, this model speedway is as level and straight as a die; it is lined with the blatant adverts and dull workshops of ‘England’s Glory’ matches – matches that I shall in future refuse to buy; on its sweltering hide roared hordes of engines, so where the Bath road breaks away I joined it.  I wanted hill-country.

Need I say that I found it?  Almost subtly this winding, smooth road gradually introduced me to the southern Cotswolds, then, at Stroud, suddenly left me in the midst of them.  To begin with, I made an involuntary detour to Stroud, then, with equal unwillingness, climbed a long, un-necessary hill.  The water-supply was good, however, and I quaffed a tremendous amount.  I came into a winding valley, often spoiled by ugly houses and spasmodic industry, until at Nailsworth, I reached the open down-land.  It was rolling country, ideal for the freewheel, which I had left at home.  The hot sun was merciless, there was no shelter, no water to drink, and little outlook beyond successively bare, green ridges and coils of road.  For 25 miles it did not touch a village, but always kept to the highest point.  Never will I forget that 25 miles ride over scorched downs without a drink.  In an exhausted condition I spotted a village pub at last, and drained two tankards of cider, the first in my life.  It is queer stuff !  At last, 4 miles from Bath, I found a lunch place.  A morning ride of 50 miles would put anyone in form for lunch !

In two minutes after leaving the lunch place, I was in Somerset, and speeding downhill with widespread hill-and-valley scenery before me, into the valley of the Avon, and into Bath.  Some may say it was a shame to go through Bath without visiting the Abbey and the relics of the Roman Aquaesolis, but if anyone else had happened to be there on a hot Sunday afternoon, when crowds of people attired in the very latest fashions were parading about and eyeing them with either supercilious snobbery or discomfiting grins, he might have done as I did – take the shortest way out.  My shortest way was the wrong one, though it led to the right place, Wells, for I had intended going over the Fosse Way.

Motors predominated until I left the Avon Valley and the Bath-Bristol road at Corston, where a long, easy climb brought me onto the hills again.  Of one thing I was thankful; every village supplied water on tap.  The scenery was pleasant, not great, green and undulating.  On a climb leading to a village a passing cyclist warned me of a swarm of bees higher up.  I saw them; there were thousands of them, buzzing angrily with a noise like an aeroplane, and holding the traffic up.  I crept warily by.  I was a bit saddle-sore, somehow, but I think I was in form, for despite the excessive heat I maintained a good speed and soon came to Chewton Mendip at the foot of the famous limestone Mendip Hills.  A straight, jerky road led me to the summit, 855 ft, from where I descended Stoberry Hill.  Winding round characteristic low bluffs of limestone, and past riotous banks, with a living image of a barren Derbyshire Dale on the left, the scenery became very beautiful, and halfway down I obtained a heat-hazed view of Wells and the plains behind, flanked by the hills of Dorset, which looked like headlands jutting into a sea – a sea of green fields.  A few minutes later I was in that delightful little Somerset Cathedral City, Wells.

Of course I made for the cathedral, and obtained entrance therein.  I won’t attempt to describe it; it is much too big a subject, but I will remark on that much-discussed piece of architecture, the Inverted Arches.  Some say they are too heavy and clumsy-looking beside the intricately worked tracery around, but personally I thought they were very fine.  Wonderful places these ancient English cathedrals, with their delicate oaken carvings and intricate masonry, their memorial tablets and stained glass windows, most of which are very old and are priceless and zealously protected.  Outside, the building is almost as beautiful as the interior, and I spent quite an interesting hour looking the building over.  It is very old, building work started in 1180.  Getting some picture postcards and the ‘Dorset’ map, I moved out of the city, on the Glastonbury road, for I decided to ‘make’ the old Abbey town for tea.  It was a pity to leave the district of Mendip so soon, but I wanted to get to the South coast as quickly as possible.  The Mendip Hills possess some of the finest stalactite caverns in Britain, and round Cheddar (8 miles from Wells) are many caverns and the famous Cheddar Gorge (and cheese).

There was a motoring couple from Manchester in the tea-place, old cyclists, and still possessing the cycling characteristics, though they thought I was very ambitious when I said that I hoped to do both Devon coasts.  Of course, like many others, their cycling had been done on roadsters (push-bikes) with daily rides of 30 or 40 miles.  The ‘Lions’ of Glastonbury I did not look for, though they are many, including an Abbey and the site of a lake-town.  As at Bath I took the wrong road, but by crossing a couple of fields and stiles I regained my road and headed for Taunton, passing the church-topped hill known as the Isle of Avalon.  The road was not striking, being a series of villages until, at Piper’s Inn, it left the main Bridgewater road, became narrow and winding though perfectly smooth, and went as flat as a pancake.

Romance and history walk hand in hand in this part of Somerset.  Between Greinton and Greylake I crossed the field of Sedgemoor, where, in 1685, the last pitched battle on English soil took place.  Just beyond Othery a ruined church perched on a hill made me think that by some mysterious means Mont St. Michael had been transported from Cornwall, so identical was it, but on enquiry from a lady who proved to be a well-known painter, I was told that this was the Chapel of St Michael, Boroughbridge, and rather than actually ruined, it had never been completed.  It is very conspicuous, and I went up to it, but was not able to explore it, as every corner possessed a pair of people, who regarded me as an un-necessary intrusion.  So I left them to their corners and went to admire an excellent view over the vale of Bridgewater.

At the next village is a little stone monument which is supposed to mark the exact spot where King Alfred let the cakes burn.  I refer to the Isle of Athelney.  This area was once, no doubt, under water, and every hill was an island possessing its shrine, as Athelney and Avalon, which, in after years, became famous in legend.  Lyng was the last of a chain of marshland villages, so I hailed Lyng with relief.  After a day of hills a bit of level country comes as a change, but when one does not get the ghost of an incline for mile after mile, when level fields and stagnant dykes dissect the fields and line the road all the time, and when the air from four to six feet is solid with flies and midges, making you dismount every hundred yards to unearth them out of your eyes, one does get tired of it.  The sun specs’ were very useful, but I could not bear them on for long at once; they made my head ache.  But Lyng ended the marsh, and for a few miles I climbed and descended umpteen snappy little hills, eventually joining a main road which took me into Taunton.

Fig 10d     Boroughbridge near Taunton

This Freedom004

Taunton on Sunday night is like any other town on Sunday night, a place where, in the main street, all the lads and lasses parade their manliness or beauty, and failing those qualities, their best clothes, and stand staring at you, making cheap jokes about ‘bare knees’.  Moreover Taunton struck me as quite an ordinary country town, whatever there might be ‘behind the scenes’, so after ascertaining the time I got on with it along the Exeter road.  It was crowded with bicycle riders, motorcyclists and motorists.  A ragtime cyclist on a cheap lightweight drew me into a scrap.  He rode wrong, was geared miles too high, and was dressed in his Sunday clothes, but he gave me a hard tussle, and it was only after one or two hills that I left him after a record seven miles to Wellington.  It was 9.30 in Wellington, but as it was something like Taunton I decided to push on and bank my hopes at an Inn at Sampford Arundel, the only listed place after Wellington for 20 miles.  I pottered then, for it was only 3 or 4 miles away, and the country had become charming.  From a ridge I obtained a beautiful view of the last rays of sunlight above the Quantocks and the green fields between, settling down to the quiet of a summer twilight.  Ah, here was Sampford Arundel, just the place to spend the night, at a dip in the country, thickly wooded with a little stream running musically by the Inn.

It never struck me that they might be full up until I asked, then – “I’m sorry but we are full up” came the reply, and I was advised to try the White Ball a “little up the road”.  That “little”, as is usual in the country developed into two miles, all of it being literally “up” the road.  It was dark when I got there, and the Inn was closed up.  Then a yokel told me that the Pink Ball – Blue – no it was Red Ball was sure to put me up – a few yards down the road, so off I skipped for another two miles, wondering if I should have to try all the Balls on a Snooker table ere I found a place.  Ah, there it was, a new place with a crowd of topers on the steps – it was well after closing time.  It struck me very unfavourably, but, well the next place was twelve miles away, so it was Hobson’s Choice.  The Barman decided, on my enquiry to ‘ask mamma’, and a long time elapsed before ‘mamma’ came and accepted me.  Supper in a well kept room, and the neat condition of my bedroom served to nullify my misgivings about the place.

This Inn is just near Burlescombe, a mile or so over the Devonshire border, so I found that I had unconsciously set myself a record; breakfast in Herefordshire, dinner in Gloucestershire, tea in Somerset and supper in Devon.

Glorious Devon !

‘Green swelling hills of Devon, foliage-traced

With cliffs romantic, round bright waters close –

Here blushes early, lingers late the rose,

The myrtle here survives the leafy waste

Like isles pine-pinnacled the glossy deep ‘

This Freedom 1926 Part one

This Freedom001

And now, for ten days, I have the wish.  Ten whole days in which to exercise ‘this freedom’, in which I own no master, no allegiance to anyone, even be he the king; in which my mood will take me where it will – as it will; my bicycle to take me – some money (not too much of that !), and ten days of absolute, untrammelled freedom – why, I was the wealthiest man in the whole world !  So I packed up my kit; on a cycling tour the secret lies in knowing not what to carry, but what not to carry.  The ‘tenderfoot’ tourist, even if he has studied the problem, always takes too much luggage with him; only experience can teach him what constitute ‘necessities’ and ‘luxuries’.  So, modestly enough, claiming to have some idea of the hang of it, I took the following to pull me through ten days.

A spare shirt, a pair of stockings and handkerchiefs were my touring extras, to which might be added nearly a dozen maps Bartholomew’s CTC half inch to a mile, and that golden key to touring, the CTC Handbook.  My cape of course is my regular kit.  I was clothed to the best advantage, though perhaps not very conventionally, wearing light cycling shoes and stockings, flannel ‘shorts’, sports shirt and alpaca jacket – which is about as thick as a piece of tissue paper.  Thus I combined coolness with a maximum amount of freedom of limb.  To conclude, the only knowledge of where I was going was a hazy notion of the South coast, Sussex, Dorset or Devon – and even that would depend on my mood.  The only thing I had promised was to meet a motorcycling uncle at Llanberis on the return Friday evening, with a view to climbing Snowdon.  But till then I had seven days, and much can be seen and done in seven days.

I had decided to get away at 5am on the great morning, for my first day was to get me somewhere about Gloucester, but as is my habit I was late, and what with messing about cooking breakfast and other things, it was 6.30 when I banged the door; then, as I mounted I felt that I was free at last – my holiday had started.  How sweet were those rural by-lanes, the pretty, winding lanes of the ‘old, familiar road’, those little cottages and quiet villages by which I sped ere I reached my Southward road at Beeston.  My Southward road was the great highway that runs from end to end of the British wonderland, from Lands End to John-o-Groats, and for many miles this was to carry me.  To Whitchurch the scenery was typical Cheshire – and remained so when I had crossed the border into Shropshire.  I crossed a corner of Prees Heath, the scene of a big military encampment during the War, then I rode through pleasantly scented pasture country and drew into the Hawkestone Hills, similar to Peckforton Hills in formation and very beautiful.  With very little climbing the road wormed its way through the range to picturesque Lee Brockhurst.  Hadnall introduced me to long, straight stretches of road that would be uninteresting were it not for the distant views of the border mountains and the nearer Wrekin, and that this is the plain on which was fought the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.  There is a village called Battlefield and a memorial church three miles from Shrewsbury.

Stifling a strong desire to make a slight detour to Wroxeter, where is the Roman Uriconium, I ran into Salop, where I had a lunch of strawberries and cream with other delicacies, for which I was charged a formidable price.  Heeding not the various attractions of Shrewsbury, I crossed the English bridge which was being widened, and took the Ludlow road.  The scenery was nothing to write about, being flat and monotonous and motorised, and as I faced a stiff breeze and unaccountably became saddle-sore, I was not sorry when I came up against the hill-country, and entered the narrow vale between Caer Caradoc and the Long Mynd, in which lies the residential town of Church Stretton.  I searched high and low here for maps of the Dorset and Devon coasts without avail.

The hill-country became splendid, and the villages were glorious pictures in ‘black and white’ and flowery gardens, whilst the wind turned and sided me now, so I easily ticked back the miles, having the good fortune to run into a heavy rainstorm, which was luxuriously cooling.  Unhappily, it soon passed off.  Just after Craven Arms I turned to view quaint little Stokesay Castle, and becoming enamoured of it, went inside.  Though not a ruin, the castle interior is barren of equipment, except for one room, which has been turned into a tiny museum, in which are various local relics and documents relevant to Stokesay.  I know nothing of its history, except that it dates from the 13th century, the timber work that gives it such a picturesque appearance being added in the Elizabethan period, thus converting it into a kind of fortified mansion.  I fancy that the ornamental fireplace and beautiful plaster work also belong to these latter times.  I was sorry to see that the main hall has been converted into a refreshment hall.

This Freedom002 Whilst I had been pottering about the castle, another rainstorm had come, but just as I made a dash to get in it, it passed away, and soon the merciless sun was beating down in approved heat-wave fashion.  A wide, perfect road carried me through a rich haymaking country to Ludlow, which is situated above the River Teme.  There is an old bridge over the river, leading into the steep main street, and from this bridge one gets an imposing view of the castle, a ruined fortress similar in style, I thought, to Kenilworth.  In Ludlow are some ancient little ‘bits’, the best being old inns, a notable example of which is the ‘Feathers’.  I had another exhaustive search here for maps but met with the same rebuffs as at Church Stretton.

My lot was now the type of country that often lies in view of a main road, just ‘country’ – nothing else, whilst the main road itself suffered for a time from the usual complaint, traffic.  The heat too, was almost unbearable, and at Woofferton, where I was tempted to follow the Teme Valley to old-world Tenbury and Worcester, I enjoyed the doubtful ‘fun’ of wallowing along a newly tarred two miles length of road.  By the time I had dissected countless tarry stones from my knees and shoes, and succeeded in liberally transferring the dauby stuff to my hands, I had decided to go straight ahead.  Then the country took on a new outlook, the road winding in and out like an alluring by-lane with the country around just like a garden.  Herefordshire !  I met a tandem couple who turned out to be two prominent members of my club, and with whom I had a long chat.  They were as brown as berries, had been in Devon and Cornwall, had there obtained, besides an unhealthy taste for cider, a great enthusiasm for the West Country and they urged me to go their way, lending me maps and putting me ‘on’ several finds, in the shape of caterers and lodging houses.  So I left them, and the half-formed thoughts of heading West resolved into a decision.  I had tea in an old-world cottage in old-world Leominster, or ‘Lemster’, as it is pronounced, and then ran into a magnificent country, perhaps not really magnificent in the right sense of the word, but a bit of untainted England, fields of waving wheat all splashed with crimson poppies, long-grass meadows, rolling up and down in furling waves….

‘-Such and up and down,

Of verdure, noting too much up or down,

A ripple of land, as if God’s finger touch’d

But did not press in making England’.

and hedges ablaze with roses.  Once the road climbed evenly for a mile or more, and I had a fine view from the summit, a view of sweeping hills – waves of land all green and red and brown and gold until the blue haze of distance mingled it all.  I came to quaint old Hereford, busy Hereford, I should say, for the Saturday night crowds were about.  Perhaps the best thing to remind me of Hereford will be the long search for ‘sun-specs’ I had.  I wanted some ‘sun-specs’ for my eyes had ached that day with the glare of the sun, but the millions of midges which seem to be all determined to explore the inner recesses of my eyes were my chief reason for the investment.  Hereford was combed for those ‘specs’, and I got them just as I was about to give up the hunt.  But they were good ones, and I yet mourn their loss, which came about a month later on the Berwyns – Bwlch Rhiw Hirnant, to be precise.  I must hold the crowds responsible for my failure to take a proper look at Hereford Cathedral and for not looking up the street where Nell Gwynne was born, but I did spend a moment looking down at the sylvan Wye from the old bridge.  That, I think, concluded my associations with the ancient city of Hereford.

This Freedom003

The next 14 miles on the hills to the west of the Wye Valley hold glorious memories yet with me.  The sun was setting; over the hills and valleys, green fields and woods was the hush of a summer twilight, a twilight that, at first tinged with the rays of the setting sun, golden hued, changed ever so slowly until the distant hills went blue and hazy and a dead quiet settled o’er the countryside.  Then is the time when the bicycle scores, when one glides noiselessly along, when one is, and desires to be, at peace with the great peace around, when one may sit on a stile and watch the distant mountains turn from purple to blue, and see the haze of night – a filmy cloak steal over them, when one may walk slowly uphill and see the roses drooping to sleep, or catch the scents of the hedgerows and hayfields; that is when one draws closer to infinite secrets of Nature, and feels the call of the countryside.  Add that to the thoughts of a whole week – more than a week of such country and it will be readily understood how supremely happy I was.  I revelled in my bare arms, open neck and, yes, bare knees, loose, light clothing, and in the knowledge that now, time was my own; I could go whither I chose.  I would put up in the next village till the next village came, then the next, and so on, for I hated to give up riding on such an evening.  The freedom of cycle touring, it is great !

Eventually I found myself crossing the Wye again and entering a quaint little town, Ross on Wye, where I took counsel with myself.  The local clock was set at 9.15; Gloucester, the next place in the handbook was 16 miles away.  Was it feasible tonight?  An hour’s hard-riding if the roads were not hilly, an hour hard-riding in country like this – no, I couldn’t do it, so I found a place, had supper to the tune of a wireless concert from 2LO (You can’t get thoroughly away from modern life even in quaint little Ross) then took a walk when dusk was deepening to night, and a bright streak over the Black Mountains of Brecon was all that was left of a magnificent day, a day of 148 miles of the English Wonderland.  Back at my little Temperance Hotel I sat listening to the burlesque of Harry Lauder, and to the engaging remarks of the daughter of the house, a rather pretty ‘modern maid of Ross’, who wanted me to tell her of the latest things in jazz and hairdressing in town.  I’m afraid that I failed to tell her more than she already knew, for I did not know myself, but all the same I must apologise to Harry Lauder for neglecting him.  The end of a perfect day !

Over Moel Sych 2,713ft

OVER MOEL SYCH

Over Moel Sych001 September, 1932, like ‘the Lady April’ had her full share of moods.  One associates this lovely month with bountiful harvest, with sunshine and blue skies, a period of settled weather through which creeps approaching autumn.  But this month was tearful, sunny, shaken by gales, frost and calm and hot, mixing all the varieties of our English climate into an April pot-pourri.

On the third Saturday afternoon I crossed Chat Moss under the bluest of skies.  Little puffs of white cloud floated slowly along, and the sun was hot, like full summer.  I moved quickly, as one who has many miles to cover in few hours, for Jo and Fred would be awaiting me ninety miles away, and they had promised to have a grand supper awaiting my arrival.  Although adding a few miles I took the Tarporley road in preference to the main road by Chester and Chirk.  I was on roads that make hurry possible.  The little hills and long levels of this familiar highway, with a light breeze behind, kept my feet circling quickly; unconsciously, as my mind travelled with my eyes along the hedges and into cottage gardens.  Twelve years before I had first timidly crept along here in a mood of discovery, my wondering senses in a growing delight of new sights and scenes, and now I appreciated it just as much, looking forward to the next bend just as keenly, though I had turned that bend a hundred times.  There is something great about the way one can travel the same old roads so many times in the same spirit of enthusiasm.  It would break one’s heart to know that never again could one’s face be set towards them.  Death were better!

I appreciate suitable company, but when an alien voice breaks upon a mental ecstasy, I curse silently, and answer with an eloquent semi-silence.  This voice announced a desire to be listened to for the next ten miles to Bunbury – ten of the loveliest, most expectant, miles.  At least he had a turn of speed, so we whipped along until the lane which led him to his lady-love appeared, and I found myself alone again.  Eleven miles to Whitchurch, easy, glorious miles, with the red hills of Peckforton to the west, a roaming place on many a Sunday with Tom in the past nine years.

[Now alas with his real buddy, Tom Idle no longer.  One year earlier, Tom Idle had stepped up to the altar and married a Welsh girl and presumably settled down in North Wales, for we hear no more about him, and my computer searches have thrown up nothing.  Charlie must have been gutted for in his record of cycle runs kept for 25 years, just two words against the entry for 28 September 1931, “Tom’s Wedding”]. 

Two miles from Whitchurch, on the Shropshire border a tandem pair caught up to me, and boasted how they had come all the way from Burtonwood by St Helens.  I agreed they had done a good ride (almost as far as I had) but when they complained of the hard road I laughed.  “You’ll have harder yet!” I forecasted, as, entering Whitchurch, I sent them on to the Wellington road, myself turning westward in an oblique slant towards the Welsh border.

A few miles along the Ellesmere road I stopped for tea at a cottage all but hidden in a long riot of a garden.  Fifty six miles were good enough for an afternoon ride.  Now the level waters of the Mere, the narrow streets of Ellesmere, the crossing of the Holyhead road at Whittington, where the great towers and moat of a feudal castle add romance to the place.  I have heard it said that here was born the poor boy who dreamed of London streets paved with gold, and who became the Capital’s greatest Lord Mayor three times.  Behind the fairy story of Dick Whittington is the germ of truth.  Saturday night in Oswestry, narrow streets, great crowds, dusk – and the road again, beating south again as the moon came up.

There is a cross roads at Llynclys, and there I turned westwards, between low hills, growing higher, with a river growing swifter, clearer, the Tanat river.  Lamplit, in moonlight, a road almost level, are ideal conditions of travel, and my wheels sped for many miles, veered at last from the main valley, and came to Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, the deep village under the shadow of Berwyn.  The last four miles above the Rhaeadr stream would shatter any dream of speed, the ninety miles in my legs began to tell their tale, and my mind was occupied with the promised supper, now so near.  I had earned it, I felt.  After an array of good things there was to be plum pudding overspread with custard.  Two helpings.  Then I would lie back in supreme comfort when it was over, and smoke a reminiscent cigarette.

There was Pistyll Rhaeadr ahead, a tall black cliff shutting up the valley, with the white streak of water upon it, a farm, even a group of great fir trees dwarfed by this, the highest waterfall in Wales.  On the last hill above the farm I turned aside through a gate, along a good green track, and at the first bend I saw our two tents romantically placed across the track – the only level spot in that region.  The tents were unlit and deserted; inside I saw the rest of the kit hurriedly thrown down.  Leaned against the steep moor were the two bicycles.  Then I saw the table.  This was a huge, flat-topped rock about two feet high.  For lack of other space Fred had encircled it within the tent, one large section protruding from the doorway.  And even the table was bare!

My light had evidently been seen, for there were voices calling me from somewhere far below in the bottom of the valley.  Some time later two overheated cyclists burst through the bracken below the path, carrying a milk can and canvas bucket.  They had foraged the farm without luck, and taking a short cut along this branch valley had become tangled up in fences, heather, and bog.

Long afterwards the pudding appeared, if not hot and steaming, at least warm on the outside.  Of custard there was none, but we sat round our rocky table in the bright moonlight and ate, and drank coffee ad lib, and yarned.  The ‘table’ effectively stopped us from closing up the tent, so Fred and I slept curled round it.

Cool and sulky morning.  How often has serene eventide lulled our last thoughts into a golden morrow, to find, on awakening, a transformation, a promise falsified?  The rain barely held off while we packed our kit away, and as we moved on in single file along the narrowing path the rain came, “gentle as the dew from heaven” at first, then steadily settling in, in true Berwyn fashion.  At a stream the track ended, the trouble began, the usual becaped struggle over tufty grass, tangly heather, into the wild amphitheatre in which lie reed edged, gloomy Llyn Lluncaws, under the frowning brow of Moel Sych.  As this was our third crossing we feared no false moves, and skirted the lake, striking by the easiest route, towards a rugged summit ridge directly north.

There is no easy way, with heavily laden bicycles that first summit was reached by sheer hard graft.  The cumbrous capes, the slipping grass, brought us down in turns, and we fell heavily.  The heather tugged at us.  This ridge gave a view into the deep jaws of Maen Gwynedd valley, across which the rain slanted.  Now the climb was toward Moel Sych itself, aslant  the main spur, again a devilish struggle, this time with loose scree to cross, over which one looked down hundreds of feet of rock to Llyn Lluncaws.  I was well ahead when I saw Jo suddenly slip and come down, bicycle and all on the very edge of the cliff.  Fred dropped his bike and made a grab, hauling her clear, with not a foot of space nor a moment of time to spare.  Dangerous moments!  No injuries, just a word of thanks, and once more the slow, wary plod with shouldered bikes.  These things are not remarkable, just the rough chances of the hills which the three of us are willing to take.

Over Moel Sych004The summit cairn of Moel Sych, yours truly aged 15 in shorts, Fred Dunster left of picture and H H Willis seated and standing behind another RSF member known only as ‘Bart’.  This picture and story incidentally, complement the release on this website of the story ‘Behind the Ranges’, released on 21st of January this year.  This ‘summit’ took place at Easter 1956, on the occasion of the very first RSF Easter Meet.  Below you will see a picture – an old one – of Charlie in a tartan shirt taking tea with our RSF President Sir Hugh and Lady Rankin at the same Easter Meet.

Over Moel Sych003

A tiny ‘gateway’ of a gap in the rock heralded the summit, and hot and winded we threw ourselves down.  Our altitude was 2,715 ft; the great backbone of Berwyn heaved away with its many ribs eastward.  Llyn Lluncaws lay a thousand feet below in dark reflection, a pear shaped mirror.  On the northern side, miles of bog-ridden moorland slopes wasting away into the rain.  Nothing more, except the sense of vastness and a great solitude.

Now the long descent, three miles and more of wary treading.  Again we were fortified by past experience.  The exultation of winning to a difficult summit is apt to vanish when the subsequent descent becomes so involved that one wearies of even hoping to get down to sane, hard roads again, and we shall never forget such an experience in rain and bog when every step had become a labour, every movement an effort, every vista a morale-shattering vista of endless acres of shaggy tussocks emphasised by boggy runnels that were more to be feared than the bitter tops.  That is when one begins to long for the easy pleasure of just lying down and perhaps sleeping, sleeping on and on…  for ever.  We had learned the way, striking down the slope of Nant Esgeiriau, remaining sufficiently above the watercourses to avoid shouldering the heavy bikes again.  The rain ceased – perhaps we got below the clouds – and at a farmhouse called Rhuol we reached the old road which runs up Cwm Pennant to join the Milltir Cerig.  There we tried to make ourselves look less disreputable, changed into dry stockings (but kept on soaked shoes), started the primus stoves, and did ourselves well on the rest of our food.

Jo was the lucky one for once; she had a day or two to spare, and gathering together our kit, bade us au revoir, to penetrate deeper into Merioneth.  Fred and I, with over eighty miles yet to cover, turned our wheels eastward from Llandrillo, through the vale of Edeyrnion to Corwen, laboured over the Llandegla Moors to a belated tea at Chester.

In the quiet glow of evening, with September once again in her golden mood, we planned our next hill-crossing, little dismayed by the hostile reception Moel Sych seems to hold against our persistent wooing.

By the way, Moel Sych means ‘Dry Hill’.

Over Moel Sych002

Camping Cameo Four

Camping Cameo 4 03

 

         We had covered hard country that day, and we were tired.  Dusk had come as we crossed Stang Pass from Barnard Castle to Reeth, but the lovely evening, changing into night, had kept us on…Easter Sunday 1931……  through a section of Swaledale, over the ridge to Leyburn and across Wensleydale to Middleham.  We entered Coverdale, but searched long and fruitlessly in the dark for a farm campsite.  The open moors would have suited us, but the nearest moorland site was far up the dale………and we were tired.  At last at the end of the cosy street we sighted a farm building – the last farm in Carlton Coverdale – a long black building, with a little curtained window dimly lit.  Searching around, we found a gate giving access to a large side door, and through its many cracks a light was burning.

One of us knocked, and the result was silence.  A second knock resulted in heavy breathing from behind the door.  We waited and the breathing stopped after a time.  Doubtless here was an old man.  Again we knocked, and the breathing started again.  A very old man, we agreed.  A chain started to rattle; the door was being loosened, we surmised.  The rattling ceased and silence reigned again.  This must be a very old man who is very much fatigued, we reiterated, and felt sorry to disturb him.  We knocked yet again and the chain started to rattle again, this time continuing without ever seeming to be loosed.  The thing began to get weird, and we got no ‘forrarder’.  One of us at last gave a loud rat-tat on the door.  A horse whinneyed…….!

Further searching about the long, blank mysterious building with it’s one little curtained window and it’s lighted stable, brought us to a path which led round the back.  The secret was out!  The ‘back’ was the ‘front’, and the side in the village street was actually the back.  There was a door on this side and a cottage window beside it, so we knocked on the door.  Someone moved about but did not answer, so in a little while we knocked again.  We heard another movement, the light went out of the room, and in a moment re-appeared in another room on the other side of the door, probably a scullery to judge by the tiny window.  Then silence again.  The place got on our nerves, and one of us, determined to know something, knocked again, hard.  Came a slouching sound as of old, tired feet on stone flags, a series of bolts were drawn (we counted about six), then a period of fumbling, a creak, and the door was flung open.  Tightly rolled strips of paper fell in all directions, obviously packing from all around the door, and an old man evilly dressed with a face that was screwed up in bitter, miserly rage, stood, first surveying his scattered papers, then looking bloodthirsty-like at us.  “Can you find us a place to pitch a couple of tents?”, one of us ventured.  “No” he snarled.  We turned away immediately, and left him to rebolt his door and replace all the bits of newspaper.

We found a beautiful little place a mile further on, and obtained whatever we desired, but we could get no information whatever about the long, blank, ‘back to front’ building in Carlton Coverdale.