National Cycle Network Route 4 – Wales
Cycling during a school run is never pleasant, but soon I am winding my way through the Monmouthshire country lanes towards Newport. The NCR 4 will take me all the way to Fishguard for the ferry to Ireland in a few days, after cycling through the industrial landscape of South Wales.
Llanwern Steelworks dominates the skyline until I arrive at the wonderful Newport Transporter Bridge. One of only 8 in the world, it is a marvel of engineering and a fantastic way to cross the River Usk. Everyone is smiling and happy in the glorious weather. Everywhere is beautiful on a clear sunny day.
The castle at Caerphilly is an ideal time to stop for lunch. The whole town centre seems to be doing the same. All of us watching the geese nonchalantly waddling around looking for tidbits. A good rail track leads to Pontypridd, which would not be at the top of my list for a lunchtime stop and is followed by a steep, endless climb out of the valley and into the hills. The effort is worthwhile as the descent follows the Ogmore Valley. I can imagine the unspoilt beauty of this part of Wales in a pre-industrial era.
It took some effort to persuade the local campsite to let me stay. Even though the weather is grand, the ground is sodden and have not yet opened. It is a convenient stop, before entering Bridgend and navigating towards Port Talbot by way of the smoke stack belching from the steel works. There are well maintained cycle paths, a result of significant investment, with dedicated bridges to keep you away from the traffic.
Swansea likewise, has a great cycle tracks, that lead you to the seafront promenade that is a joy to cycle along. After stopping for lunch, a equally pleasant rail line takes you towards Llanelli, where I cycle along with a ex-Policeman for an hour or so. He is only too delighted to tell me about a major resurgence in cycling in the area and to watch out for the brand new velodrome at Carmarthen. Cycling through Burry Port and Pembury Forest is relaxing and traffic free, with expansive views across the estuaries.
I camp at Ferryside, where I am informed a new ferry service will soon operate to Llansteffan, for the first time in 60 years. That will be great for cyclists and walkers of the Wales Coast Path. I have to cycle to Carmarthen to cross the River Towy and stay on the NCR 4 towards Amroth via St Clears. The roads are quiet except for fellow cyclists, many on electric bikes which make sure work of the steep hills.
I wiggle through the Tenby crowds resisting the temptation to stop for an ice cream. The roads then lead to Pembroke Dock via delightful villages at St Florence and Lamphey. I stop to shop before crossing the Cleddau Bridge to Neyland and stay at a cozy campsite. I chat to the farmer for a while, who is delighted the weather has turned. Everyone seems pleased to see a cycle tourist, like a daffodil, it is a sign that summer is coming.
Another rail line takes me to Haverfordwest. It is another glorious day and joggers and cyclists are out early to make the most of it. Now to the coastal route and a rollercoaster sequence of ascent and descent with views across St Brides Bay, which is still and silent in the haze of a warm sun. After a nasty hill at Newgale, the NCN4 double-backs inland along pleasant lanes into St. Davids. This will be a half-day as there is no rush to catch and evening ferry, preferring the midday sailing tomorrow.
I settle in early to a great campsite at Caerfai and wander into the city to get lunch and provisions. It is time to wash all my gear and service the bike and just laze about. Tomorrow is Day 10, perhaps a quarter of the entire route, and a ferry to Ireland.
I wake early and cycle the 30km or so into Fishguard along quiet lanes populated only by post vans, milk wagons and the ubiquitous Openreach vans. I pass a Youth Hostel in Trefin, a place I once stayed in 1974. I can’t believe I was only 14 when I walked the Pembrokeshire Coast Path with a friend. We had army boots, a day-glow frame pack and a lethal brass Primus Stove. Such a contrast to modern gear.
A grumpy lady meets me at the check-in and says immediately that I am going the wrong way. What does she know? Perhaps they could put a sign up instead of employing someone who clearly enjoys a moan. The ferry departs near the station, where there is a cafe. I meet up with a young couple who plan to cycle in Ireland for a week. We chat and share notes on the routes ahead until we arrive in Rosslare. It is a short distance to a nice campsite, where I am the only guest.
It is great to be in Ireland, the first time for 25 years. I wonder how it has changed?