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.
Catching a ferry is one of the pleasures of cycling the North Sea Cycle Route. I counted 26 in total but I probably missed a few. Some services run for just 6 weeks in summer, so careful planning is needed to avoid long detours.
This is a rough guide to the main ferry services, but it is not exhaustive and some of the ferries mentioned are not strictly on the NSCR.
Starting from London and working clockwise:
LONDON to SHETLAND
Brightlingsea Ferry from Mersea Island to Brightlingsea – brightlingseaharbour.org you cycle across Mersea island down a rough lane and then have to push your bike to the end of a shingle spit. There are no signs or indication that a ferry even runs, but phone the number and they come and pick you up
Harwich to Felixstowe Ferry – the Harwich Harbour Ferry harwichharbourferry.com takes you across the River Orwell and past the huge container port of Felixstowe, landing you on the beach near Languard Fort, very friendly, with a café at the Harwich embarkation point