Cardinal Spins

Cardinal Spins 1: SW day 2

Today’s ride was on the fringes of what was possible. I rode from Ironbridge in Shropshire to Porthcawl in South Wales – 129 miles and 7,550 feet of ascent. It was dry all day and very sunny for the last four hours! Breeze from the NW, so still cool; but good for cycling.

Near Brecon

This was a very big day! It was possibly only doable in June, for reasons of daylight. I started at 8.30am after breakfast, and finished at 9.30pm, stopping four times en route, in two cafes, a pub in Brecon (for apple crumble) and a chip shop in Neath. A long distance adventure cyclist needs fuel! I am staying overnight next door to a Chinese takeaway and within ten minutes of arriving I had a warm meal waiting! I averaged 12 mph and for such a long, tough ride, with panniers, that’s not too shabby for a man of my advancing years.

The day began as it mostly continued, along quiet lanes enclosed by abundant hedges. Everywhere seems to be exploding with growth at the moment. After half an hour I reached the small town of Much Wenlock. It is a pretty place, it’s centre happily devoid of passing traffic. There are plenty of old, black and white half-timbered buildings giving the place a timeless feel. The town is linked to the inception of the modern Olympic Games. Dr William Penny Brookes founded the Wenlock Olympian Society and the Wenlock Olympian Games in 1850. Throughout his lifetime he campaigned for physical education in schools and the revival of the Ancient Greek Olympic Games. The first modern Olympics took place in Athens in 1896. At the London Olympics in 2012, one of the mascots was called Wenlock.

Much Wenlock

My ride today went from Much Wenlock through twenty green and rolling miles of lovely Corvedale to Ludlow, which is a very fine looking town indeed. On the way I saw barely a car.

I made for the town centre with its impressive castle ruins, half-timbered buildings, lofty church tower and well proportioned Georgian Streets. This morning there was a group of American tourists enjoying its sights and many refreshment opportunities. I heard one tell her friend that the castle was well worth the £9 entry fee. I had a pasty to propel me through the next empty section of riding.


I left town via the only remaining mediaeval gateway, the Broadgate, at the bottom of a long hill of stately buildings, by the old stone bridge over the River Teme. It wasn’t very broad at all; just about wide enough to squeeze your 4×4 through while delaying the progress of nearby cyclists.

Phase two of my day took me into Herefordshire. I stumbled upon the delightful village of Yarpole and was tempted to stop at its cafe, which, along with the post office and village shop, is housed in the parish church of St Leonard. The church is also unusual for having a completely detached bell tower with a distinctly dovecote like appearance. It felt like somewhere worth returning to.


Hay-on-Wye, my next stop, is found in the broad Wye valley, just – and I do mean just – in Wales. The bilingual signs began around the Coop supermarket on the edge of town, although technically that stands in England. I crossed the river on a toll bridge of old wooden planks, free to bicycles. The other prices were advertised, for comparison, between those in the reigns of King George III and Elizabeth II.

Hay is a pleasant place, tucked away in the shadow of the Black Mountains. There isn’t very much to it; but it may have more bookshops per head of population than anywhere. It was the world’s first self-declared Book Town, and had just completed hosting its annual International Book Festival, for which many half-erected marquees were still in evidence. I found a nice little cafe, ordered a nourish bowl, and found myself well and truly nourished. Which was good, given that more than half my day still lay ahead of me.

Toll bridge over the Wye

Another 90 minutes brought me, somewhat tortuously, to Brecon, a rather larger town of local importance. I made the decision to avoid the A40 and follow the signs for the national cycle route. I don’t recommend it. It is very pretty and very quiet; but my goodness it is also extremely hilly. Too hilly, in fact, to enjoy, And I quite like hills.

I knew that Brecon had a big Wetherspoons, because I had partaken of its wares on a very wet evening in 2022 when I last passed through. And I knew, therefore, that I would be able to get myself a large serving of some kind of school-dinners-style pudding. This was exactly what I wanted and needed for my assault on the Brecon Beacons, which were already looming ominously ahead like a high, green wall. One large bowl of apple crumble and ice cream later I felt I had a chance.


I left Brecon at about 5pm knowing that I still had a long way to go, so the time had come to take the main road over the pass of least resistance. To be fair, there were very few options. The A470 is a wide road with a gradient that never, over nine miles of ascent, got unpleasant. It offered splendid views of Penyfan, the highest mountain in South Wales, just to my left. A stone memorial near the top contained a poem called “Pass” (or “Bwlch”), paying tribute to the Cambrian Way, which it called “A winter pass in any weather”. In fact, I was now enjoying uninterrupted, bright sunshine for the first time today, and it stayed with me right to the end.

The top came unexpectedly soon and quickly after that I turned across a cattle grid off the main road and onto the route leading down into the Vale of Neath. It was a fabulous road in excellent weather, swooping for miles across open, treeless hillsides past loose, unpredictable sheep. Eventually, it dipped over another cattle grid and entered the village of Penderyn, home to Wales’ best known and highly regarded single malt whisky. And then I was down and into former industrial villages strung along the ever broadening Vale of Neath, heading another 14 miles to Neath itself, and a little beyond it, the South Wales coast.

I won’t pretend that Neath is pretty. It’s not. But it isn’t as ugly or run down as it’s coastal neighbour, Port Talbot, home to the truly enormous steelworks. This was unavoidable stuff to get through if I wanted to reach Porthcawl, my destination, which lay over some attractive sand dunes. The last part of this long day was a bit of a correction to my otherwise fairly straight line, mountains notwithstanding. Except for the last hour, it was all beautiful and mostly very quiet. Even the steelworks offered a certain beauty with the setting sun behind them.

Penyfan, the highest of the Brecon Beacons

I arrived with the sun still above the horizon over the Gower peninsula and the Bristol Channel laid out before me. Somewhere over there, my SW line continues. But how to get there?

Ludlow castle

One reply on “Cardinal Spins 1: SW day 2”

Sounds like a day for a good BOTD this evening. You’ve earned it!

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