Chasing fate on Route number 8.

Well, if you ever plan to cycle west
Try take my way
That’s the bikeway
That’s the best
Chase your fate on route number 8.

Well, it winds from Cardiff to Anglesey
More than two hundred miles all the way
Please shut the gate on route number 8.

Well, it goes from the Senedd
Up to Tongwynlais
Merthyr Tydfil looks oh so pretty
You’ll see Rhyader
And Machynlleth, Powys
Barmouth, Snowdonia
Don’t forget Porthmadog
Caernavon, Bangor, Menai Bridge

Would you get hip to this kindly tip
And go take that Ynys Mon trip?
Don’t burn your pate on Route number 8

(Sorry Chuck!)

Day 1. Cheltenham – St Briavels – 60km

First objective is to correct the fact that I’ve never stayed in St Briavels YHA, an ancient Norman castle, with turrets, moat etc. I faffed around sorting the kit and packing and only left home at 3pm. Even with this delay, after an hour I realised I was without a pump. So I determined not to detour onto the cycle paths within the Forest of Dean, but aim to get to Cinderford and then Coleford early enough to purchase a replacement. In Coleford I was in luck, and got a cheap-as-chips plastic job that hopefully I wouldn’t need, but would serve in emergency.

St Briavels is superficially impressive, but the YHA just can’t quite sustain the grandeur of these places. They get homogenised to hostel-standard, sadly. I meet a bloke my age who is planning to cycle 600km in a two day audax. Hmn.

Day 2. St Briavels – Three Cocks – 80km, 1417m

I still don’t really have a plan, but I figure I’ll aim to pick up a cycle route going north. After significant dither I’d decided to keep the road tyres which means speed and comfort, but not much flexibility to go off road. I see there’s a route 42 out of Abergavenny, so decide I’ll go for that rather than following the canal to Brecon. I follow the Wye initially, but get lost on the way to Monmouth, so skip that and get to Abergavenny by lunchtime. Then along the Honddu valley to Capel-y-ffin. A haul up and over the pass, where I decide to miss Hay-on-Wye and instead look for a campsite to the west, which I find at Newcourt (SO 19455 36810). Which is handy for Three Cocks.

Day 3. Three Cocks – Hafren Forest (SN 86135 87640) 91km, 1400m

The route 8 is right by the campsite and I’ve seen it goes to Barmouth, which I’m aiming for and then maybe further. So today I just follow that route all day. It’s sunny and the cycling seems OK. In the end I wild-camp in the forest: it’s the easiest thing to do and I go a great deal further into the woods than is really necessary. Mostly the route has followed the Wye upstream, but at some point it switches allegiance to the Severn. Both rise close to each other.

Day 3. Hafren Forest – Barmouth Estuary. 109km 1385m

First task of the day is to haul over the rest of the hill to Machynlleth. I get there in reasonable time, being fresh for the climb. I enjoy a second breakfast, and sort out the maps on my phone by poncing on the HSBC wifi. I decide to deviate off the route 8 here, and follow the river Dovey down to Aberdovey, where I walk along the beach to Tywyn. I was worried the bike would sink into the sands, but I found the Goldilocks line: neither too wet nor too dry, and the bike happily rolled along. Despite walking into the teeth of a strong breeze, the beach was as lovely as ever.

At Tywyn, I briefly entertain the idea of cycling along the coastal A-road, but dismiss this as sissy, and instead opt for route 82, which is up and over the shoulder of Cadyr Idris, rising about 400m. The ascent is one thing: tough and steep; but the descent is no fun, jangling and thumping over rocks with my laden bike, wrong tyres, wrong bike. But I didn’t stop, and I didn’t fall off – although the brake pads were a good deal more worn by the end. Then to the splendid Hafod Dywyll campsite close by Kings YHA.

After 77km, I might have had enough. But we all have our magical loved places, and one of mine is the estuary at Barmouth. I had to visit, and so cycled down to Penmaenpool, to rejoin route 8, and from there rode to Barmouth and back, adding another 32km to the day.

Day 4. Rest (climb Cadyr Idris, and then hanging around the campsite and estuary)

I am weary from the cycling, but figure (correctly as it turns out) that the climb up Cadyr Idris is a different form of exercise and therefore will be OK. It’s a fine if chilly day. At 800m I’m wishing I brought the gloves I’ve carried on the bike since Cheltenham. But back down by the river I wallow in the sunshine.

Day 5. Barmouth – Anglesey (Pen-y-Bont Farm campsite) 113km, 1065m

I vaguely continue to follow route 8 up the coastline, although I stick to the A-roads where the route veers up huge hills. I’m pretty tired by the time I get to Caenarfon, but figure with Anglesey in sight I have to get there now. This involves a down to Bangor and a back along the other side of the straites to the campsite. Fine day, and eventual reward of looking onto Snowdonia from the flat lands of Anglesey.

Day 6. Potter around Anglesey, Holyhead and Llanglefni. 88km 700m

It has to be done. I finish route 8 by cycling to the ferry terminal at Holyhead. There’s not a great deal to see there, so a tour into the island along quiet country roads and through the main town of Llanglefni.

Day 7

Day 7. Anglesey to Harlech (cheating). 69km, 700m + 9.3km, 151m

I’ve conceived the somewhat anorak-y notion that it would be nice to take the coastal train from Pwllheli to Machyntleth. So I develop a plan, after having set out, to get to Pwllheli, take the train to Harlech, spend a day there climbing the Rhinogs, and then go home by one means or another.

So the first stage is a fast ride to Pwllheli where I arrive with 20 minutes to spare and then get the train.

At Harlech I contrive to cycle up the steep hill to the centre of the village, only to discover the best shop is down by the station. Down again, and then the easy roads to the campsite at Dinas (SH 61075 29116).

Day 8. Home.

Overnight I discover that there’s huge amounts of engineering work on the railways this weekend. I’m uncertain whether I’ll get the bike on the trains, so I figure better to can the climb of the Rhinogs and instead head for home, with a bit of flexibility over times.

So I cycle to the station early doors, and complete the interrupted journey to Machynllyth. From here to Kidderminster, which I figure is the nearest station on the west-coast mainline. Actually it’s on a branch.

Indeed I do need to take a bus from here to Cheltenham, but luckily they agree to take the bike. All added up, I think 160km today. A ton in old money.