This Freedom 1926 Final – Part Eight


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.


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


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


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.