Thursday, 6 July 2017

A Week Through England and Wales

I have recently attached the words, "and beyond", to the blog to represent the fact that I may stray outside of Australasia from time to time on my bicycle tours.  Fitting then that my first tour not in either Australia or New Zealand will be back home in good ol' blighty.

I haven't been home for about 3 and a half years, so as much as I'd like to do a huge tour of Britain, I think it is more important to re-connect with friends and family, so for that reason, I will be touring for about a week and having about 4 weeks just at home in Colchester.

I had been hoping my inspiring mate from Korea (who cycled from Korea back home to England) could join me on this one, but alas it wasn't the right time for him.  This is often the problem with bicycle touring; not many people do it or can do it, and when they can, the time isn't always right for you both at the same time.  However, I plan to meet up with him at the start of the cycle to scale some mountains- just like old times in Korea.

The Route

I will be first hiking in Snowdonia National Park and then cycling right through Wales, where I will hike up Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons, the highest mountain in Southern Wales and the training ground of the SAS, before heading home through England.  If I am struggling for time, I may take the train home from Oxford, shortly after passing through the Cotswolds, but the plan is to cycle all the way home.  The way home, through a very populated area of the UK with a myriad of different routes and unpalatable roads to cycle on, is my main headache for this trip.

Without doubt, the highlight of the trip will be Wales.  I will begin by being driven from my home in Colchester to Conwy where I'll meet up with my friend for some hiking, and where I will stay at my mum's friend's house.  She has kindly offered to put me up for a couple of nights while my mum visits her for a few days.  Conwy looks like a nice little town to explore, as well as being in close proximity to Snowdonia National Park.  Perfect.

The Challenges

This is going to be a very different kind of bike tour to any of the tours in Australia and New Zealand that I have completed so far.  Physically, this tour is nowhere near as demanding (although it's still over 800Km in 7 days with a fair amount of hiking).  There will be some climbs at times, but not a patch on New Zealand or the Snowy Mountains in Australia.  I will also not have to deal with a lack of supplies, which is always a serious consideration when you venture outside the major cities in Australia as you are met, quite often, with vast expanses of wilderness. Even in New Zealand, I had long stretches without shops or civilization.  This, not only creates worries about finding supplies, but also makes your bike significantly heavier, as you have to carry lots more food and water.  I won't have such troubles cycling through England and Wales.  Lighter bike, more stops, and less hills.

However, there is an advantage to the wilderness; less people, less roads, and less traffic.  In Australia and New Zealand, you pick a road and you ride on it for hours, sometimes even days, and in the case of riding through Australia, even weeks.  Unbelievably, in over 4000Km through Australia, I only turned-off onto another road about 6 times I think, and I was on one road, the Stuart Highway, for nearly 3000Km!  Even New Zealand has less roads than you might imagine, route planning in this part of the world is a doddle.

In comparison, looking at the road map of England, especially, is like looking at a maze of different possible routes, and I know many of these roads are probably not going to be fun to cycle on, with too much traffic being my main problem.  This is making it slightly difficult for me to know just how far I will go in a day.  However, on my side is more hours of daylight than I have ever ridden with, so I can make up time if necessary.

The unpredictability of the weather is also something I will have to watch out for.  It isn't that much fun riding in the rain.  In Australia, it is not something you have to contend with that often and in New Zealand I had the time to plan around it and rest-up when it came.  I only have 7 or 8 days this time, so if it rains, I'll have to ride through it.  Again though, long hours of daylight may help me and I may be able to stop and let showers pass.  At least it should also be warm (fingers crossed).

It will certainly be a more challenging tour in terms of route-finding and dealing with traffic and people, but it should serve as good preparation for a couple of tours of East Asia, on the drawing board for next year.  At least I can speak the language and know what to expect in the UK, it could be a whole lot more confusing in Japan, for example.

The Hiking

It is not all about the cycling. Wales promises to be a pretty cool place to do some hiking, so with that in mind, I have a number of hikes in Snowdonia National Park planned, mostly only a few hours in duration, but I might string them together into one or two long days on foot.  All the hikes are within 40Km (about 25 miles) of my base at the start of the trip in Conwy.

After cycling through Snowdonia and down the West coast of Wales, I will also be cycling through the Brecon Beacons, so another opportunity - this time for a longer hike - will present itself, this time up Pen y Fan.

This journey promises to be a very strangely different experience for me, as most of my adventures, both hiking and biking, have usually occurred on the other side of the world from where I was brought-up. I haven't lived in the UK for the last 7 years, and in the last ten, I have only spent about a year there, so it is both familiar and alien to me all at the same time.  It should be a fascinating trip.

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