WELCOME! I've been cycling through the Southeast Valleys of Wales since 2010 and I can't say (or show) enough about the place. I just love it. So if you've got the interest and would like to spend some time... sit back and let me show you some of the fabulous places I've discovered.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

[ 2012 ] Whatta Year!
A Brief Review...

My first year in Wales was quite simply - stunning. I discovered some of the most beautiful countryside whilst cycling over this little bit of South East Wales. (view my gallery here). On the weather front, it's been a record year for rain often making the rides long and wet. But despite it all, I climbed on the saddle on 111 days and pedaled over 5000 miles (I think that deserves some braggin' rights...). Read below for just a few of the highlights...

Lookin' back... an lookin' good.

I started off in January buying a new touring bike; a Dawes Ultra Galaxy. I finally made the upgrade to 700cc rims, 27-speed, areo "brifters", (including that crazy STI), and big fat cantilever brakes. (In fact, my '78 Trek has been packed in it's shipping box since July 2011, along with its' tiny brakes, and down-tube friction shifters...). The new Dawes is a serious tourer and classic without question.

In March I joined Sustrans as a volunteer ranger. I began working with Tim John in Cardiff on an assortment of projects ranging from managing event booths, trail maintenance, leading group rides, and even helping in the office on marketing materials and website updates. I took several training courses; became an Active Travel Champion, and beginning in January of 2013 I will be the Group Coordinator for the Caerphilly District of Sustrans. (Read more about Sustrans here.) 

While wandering down the mountain into Abergavenny on a cold late-April morning, somewhat lost (as is the case often enough), I ran into a group of eclectic cyclists that quite simply - adopted me. The Kingfishers have since lead me about every Tuesday on a wide variety of "historical tours" to educate this American hayseed to all things Welsh. And if you've been keeping up with my blog, you know that their tours through the Wye Valley have been nothing short of brilliant. (ex; Land of Discovery... Llandovery)

Brian, John, Graham, and Ivor.

And then there is the crazy man; Will Rossouw who has single-handedly shown me more cycling trails than I ever new existed - plus a better way to get anywhere in Wales (see below). Or read this; Talybont Adventure or Maybe Maerdy, Maybe Not. He and his wife Joanne are quite a charming couple and it's been a pleasure to get to know them through cycling.

So... there's not much more to add. It's been a fabulous year... just check out my previous diatribes! I am a lucky boy, indeed. Braggin' rights sit here. 

John Wilson of the Kingfishers

Hey butty... watch the road!

Will Rossouw; "Magellan of Wales"

"I don't need no stinkin' road."

Tim John; Volunteer Coordinator Extraordinaire, Sustrans Cymru

A rare sight... and proof that Tim does leave the office.

And of course there have been numerous others along the way. I've been very fortunate to meet and work and cycle and play with these fine individuals...

And now for your viewing pleasure...

Are ya sure ya wanna ride yer bikes, boys?

How ya like them cookie bars?

Is anyone paying attention to anything?

Tim workin' his magic!

Will workin' his magic.

Of course, Joanne has her own special powers.

A lovely day to remember...

Thank you everyone for making 2012 such a joy. Cheers, cm.

In memory of Holly. A very special girl.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Usk & Raglan

Yesterday turned out to be quite a surprise... the weather couldn't have been nicer. It was a completely freaky December day for Wales and a fabulous day to be out on a bike.

Just a tree that caught my eye...

Even at mid-day in the winter the sun never gets very high,
 so when the sun does come out, you see extremely long shadows.

Nice crib... if yer a crazed killer! Yup, this old mansion has
been converted into a prison for the criminally insane.
(Keep ridin' fellas...)

I hadn't been on my bike in almost two weeks (shocker!) and I wasn't feeling too motivated to leave at 7:30 in the morning... in the cold... and in the dark. But by the time we arrived in Usk at 10:30 the sun was out, the temperature had climbed to around 10c and a glorious day had begun.

Town square in Usk with the castle peeking through the trees.

I'm leaning heavily toward the move to RideWithGPS as my new online mapping program. It's hard to imagine leaving my old friend MapMyRide... so we'll see. I'm working on a thorough review in the Maps section if ya care to see my investigations... (read more here).

Today it's raining and cold again... a typical Welsh December day. At least it gives me time to work on this blog, which has been sorely attended this year. I'm planning on dedicating myself to writing one post a week regardless of whether I ride or not... but I'm littered with big ideas.

The boys... (minus Ivor)

Yes. John wore Christmas lights. A truly unique fella.
So... it's nearing the end of the year. I'm working on a "Best of" set of photographs to add to the gallery. I'm hoping to have my reviews finished on the online mapping as well as write a year end piece... all big ideas. I'm hoping I'll get a few more followers in the new year... perhaps a few more comments? Maybe I'll even get a guest contributor or two? Cheers, cm

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Ride With GPS, or not.

(The Guardian photo by Melanie Copleston)

This was my second attempt using the online mapping service Ride With GPS. I'm liking the online GUI quite a bit. The map embeds well within the frame of my blog and I love the included elevation scale (Note to MapMyRide!). The catch is that I'm NOT using it with a GPS unit OR a smartphone app! In fact it's a big surprise that the program doesn't yet offer a smartphone app. So it's important to know that I've mapped my ride after the fact. [ To read more about my mapping investigations click here. ]

A Good Winter Ride

It was a cold and bright morning when we left out of Cwmbran up into "cowboy country" heading toward Brynmawr. We had ice at places to avoid. We were hit by sleet, snow, and blustery head winds. The weather was such that I didn't even take out my camera... which is kinda disappointing because it was such a beautifully extreme day. Welcome to Wales in the Winter.

The route(s): I left Oakdale early in the dark morning and headed down the mountain to Newbridge and Cwmcarn where I got on the tow path that runs south along the Monmouth & Brecon Canal (NCN 47) to 14 Locks. There I met John Wilson where we slipped around back lanes to Cwmbran and got onto route NCN 492 and headed north.

NCN 492 is a fabulous converted coal railroad line that snakes slowly up the high western slopes of the Blynavon Valley. Just above the old steel town of Blynavon and "Big Pit" National Coal Museum we joined NCN 46 and turned west along the Heads of the Valleys through beautiful and desolate "cowboy country".

It's just a short ride into the town of Brynmawr and following a short stop for lunch, we then turned south onto Route NCN 465 and headed back down the Ebbw Valley.

("The Guardian" photo by Melanie Copleston)

Route 465 is still under development and consists mostly of interconnected narrow roads though small villages and short paved paths through an assortment of parks that line the Ebbw River.

Passing through Abertillery you can find this surprising oddity... a disused banked cycle track. (aerial view from Google shown below.) Further down, the path becomes newly paved and widened heading into tiny little Six Bells where you can see the magnificent "Gaurdian" (shown above). You simply must stop to read the names of the men and boys that died and reflect upon the 1960 colliery disaster... (read more here).

View Larger Map

I'll be going back for photos and diggin' for more info. cuz it's cool as shit! You'll never guess what it is and I would imagine most would ride past it without much notice, but it's an outdoor cycle track.

Kendon Hill, aka; "Big Mean Bastard"

And at the end, after much coaxing from Dai Parry; I climbed Kendon Hill... a first for me. It's a 420 foot ascent over 1.2 miles with a 15% average grade.