Here is the book that started it all. Wales Trails should help get you in the mood, inspire you to dust off that old Raleigh rusting in the shed or at the very least inform you about all the great stuff in our small but beautiful country.
‘In 2016 Dave turned fifty years old and realised that eleven years was far too long to wait between cycling adventures, even though in 2005, after he and a friend rode the iconic Land’s End to John o’ Groats challenge, Dave swore he’d never sit on a saddle again.
‘When you’ve forgotten the pain of your last time on a road bike why not invent a new and exciting challenge closer to home? The plan – to create a loop of Wales, ride over 600 miles for charity and put your country firmly on the cycling bucket list.
‘This is the story of one man’s attempt to establish ‘Wales Trails’ as a ‘must-do’ bike ride for all the thousands of cyclists out there in the world. A vision that one day, the land of the dragon, with its rapidly diminishing yet rich cultural heritage, will become a ‘LEJOG-lite‘ that all bikers will want to do!
‘More than just a guide, this book is a funny and thought-provoking account of two weeks in the summer of 2016 when one man’s dream becomes reality. If this book doesn’t encourage you to get on your bike, while you still can, it should at least provide a few laughs as you sit in the pub reading it.’
The last time I decided to cycle anywhere further than the corner shop for a pint of milk and a Tiger loaf was back in 2005 when my friend Derek agreed to go along with my idiotic suggestion that we ride almost 1,000 miles, uphill, from Land’s End in Cornwall to John o’ Groats in Caithness.
The good news about that trip was that somehow, through much adversity, we did eventually make it. We had a fantastic time, met some wonderful people and got so drunk in John o’ Groats that I bet the locals are still wondering what hit them. It was Mark and his awful jokes by the way.
The bad news was that my bottom would never be the same again. Neither would my faith in British engineering, as my brand new Dawes Discovery 701 seemed to have this strange dislike of spokes. Keeping them attached to the wheel that is. So, with the wrong wheels, racers, not tourers, our intricately planned (on the back of a beer mat) historical and wildlife sightseeing trip through England and Scotland quickly turned into a bike shop Trip Advisor adventure!
Ah well, we live and learn. I wouldn’t make the same mistake again. Mmm…
When Steve Redgrave said to shoot him if he ever went near a boat again I uttered a similar refrain after pole dancing around the famous John o’ Groats signpost back in July 2005. But, after a couple of gallons of Scottish beer I completely forgot about this sacred vow, my tender posterior, seized-up knees, sunburnt hands and aching back.
And like the amnesiac fool that I am I haven’t stopped talking about doing a similar ride for the last eleven years. Luckily, no one would listen to me long enough for it to become reality.
A lot can happen in ten or eleven years though. Sadly, my wonderful dad passed away, my mam moved house, and my daughter gave up her bottle, whizzed through primary school, became fluent in Welsh and then metamorphosed into a six-foot teenager.
I started a fabulous new job, teaching computers, digital photography and Photoshop to adult learners about fifteen minutes drive away from the house. Then, about eight years later, I lost it. The job I mean, not my marbles. They went years ago.
Now, as it happens I’ve always been pretty good at losing jobs. In fact, since 1989 I reckon I must have had over twenty-five or even thirty different jobs, often doing two or three at the same time. Sometimes I just give them up because I get bored or I fancy doing something else other times there are more sinister forces at work. I once gave up a Head of Biology teaching job in a great school with great kids to go to Kenya to look for elephants. A year later, I’d seen the elephants and was back in Wales. Then about a week afterwards I decided to try to learn German and go to the Seychelles to tag turtles. I didn’t go in the end. Never been any good at languages.
Other Cycling Trips
Wales Trails is not my only cycling adventure of course and over the years I’ve cycled on various trails around the UK. Unfortunately I never thought to keep much of a record so many of them are lost in the haze of memory.
Two trips (one either side of the circuit of Wales; 2005 and 2019) have been committed to parchment though and these can be seen below:
‘Dave’s third cycling adventure is another little gem for fans of amateur cycling memoirs. Following on from the success of his LEJOG and Wales Trails books his latest outing charts a week in the north of England where he tackles two iconic cycle routes: Hadrian’s Cycleway and the Sea to Sea (C2C).
‘In true Buddhist fashion Dave cycles clockwise across Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and Durham. Taking in ancient Roman sites, great modern cities and the beauty of the Pennines and Lake District. Once again he makes his journey come alive with witty comments, weird references and superb photographs.
‘If you’re thinking of doing a similar ride then this account will act not just as a guide but also highlight the pitfalls of a lack of planning, reliance on technology and disregard for the power of the British weather.
A very funny book.’ – Derek Goode
Hadrian’s Cycleway & Coast 2 Coast (C2C)
‘Ah! Gentle, fleeting, wav’ring sprite,
Friend and associate of this clay!’
Trust me to want to cycle backwards. Especially as on my last two ‘big’ trips I’d managed to go with the wind. And of course if you read any UK cycling guidebooks or websites they will all tell you to go west to east or south to north. If you’re looking at Land’s End to John o’ Groats (LEJOG) cycle uphill (north) and if you’re going to do the Coast to Coast / Sea to Sea (C2C) route across northern England then go east young man! The hill gradients are easier and the prevailing winds ease your passage. Bugger
It was my own fault of course. After the success of setting up the ‘Wales Trails’ route, where I’d designed the snazzy website – www.wales-trails.co.uk, enjoyed the very modest but pleasing book sales, raised over £500 for Prostate Cancer Wales and hopefully put the land of my father on the world cycling map I had the bug again. The cycling bug I mean, not my old friend double pneumonia, which was never far away either.
I’d always wanted to ride across the north of England, especially the scenic Lake District, Celtic Cumbria and perhaps do the famous C2C route. It was, after all, the most popular long-ish distance, cycle ride in the UK. Not as famous as LEJOG but it was up there. The problem was, whilst looking at the map, I’d also discovered the Hadrian’s Cycleway. This is a route that roughly follows the old Roman wall built by Emperor Hadrian. Well, when I say ‘built by’ I doubt whether the old guy actually laid any of the bricks himself and he died before it was completed anyway. In fact three legions of infantrymen took around six years to complete the construction. Each legion was around 5,000 men strong and extra manpower was provided by conquered tribes. I think we call them slaves nowadays.
Anyway, now I wanted to do two rides. The C2C and the Hadrian’s Cycleway. OK, first problem. Both routes should really be cycled west to east for the reasons given earlier but I wasn’t sure I’d have the time to do two separate rides that were so far from my home town in Pontypridd, south Wales.
Right, easy solution, I’ll combine them and do both. And so yet another silly plan was born. I’d make it a loop and embrace the Buddhist doctrine of doing stuff in a clockwise direction. I’d start one end and cycle around Cumbria and Northumberland, taking in some great Roman towns, see a bit of the famous wall, have a ‘Newky Brown’ in Newcastle, see the river and iconic bridge (designed and built by the same contractors that built the Sydney Harbour Bridge), visit the mouth of the Tyne, tunnel or ferry across (whichever was open / running), pop down to Sunderland, then cross-country, over the Pennines, wind my way through the Lake District, over some horrible hills (or try to avoid them) and down to the beach for a couple of beers while watching ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Gladiator’ or some such suitable swords and toga epic on the B&B TV. Probably ‘Carry On Cleo’ with my luck.
Many years previous, in 2005, the ride and adventure that inspired the ‘Wales‘ idea. The End to End iconic cycle ride that was planned on a beer mat and became a best-selling kindle e-book.
‘Back in 2005 Dave Lewis and his friend Derek Goode decided they needed a challenge and so what better than a little bike ride around the countryside. Read on…
‘When you’re nearly forty years old, just recovering from glandular fever and double pneumonia what better way to celebrate your wedding than to leave your wife behind to cycle the length of Britain? An account of two friends, who got drunk one night and decided to pedal nearly 1000 miles for charity, proving that you don’t need a state-of-the-art road bike, a skin-tight outfit with a TV sponsor written on the front or a made-to-measure ego – you just need a good mate, a beer mat’s worth of planning, no training whatsoever and the will to do it.’
‘More than just another cycling trip, this e-book is a funny and sometimes moving account of a few weeks in the summer of 2005 when coupled with various personal events life takes on a new and different perspective.
‘Finally published, 10 years later, this gem of a little book will either inspire you to get on your bike or have you laughing all the way to the pub.’
Land’s End to John o’ Groats
It was in a curryhouse in Taffs Well, sometime in May 2005, when my girlfriend announced to me, in the presence of two of our best friends, that we should get married. I nearly choked on my Chicken Tikka Dupiaza! I wish she’d waited until I’d finished my meal at least.
I quickly sank the dregs of my Kingfisher lager, gulped some much needed oxygen into my lungs, went ashen white and mumbled an incoherent reply.
‘Hang on Sue! Let’s not rush into anything, is it?’
Alun and Sian were laughing so much they nearly fell off their chairs!
What could I say? I’d had a good innings as they say. We’d been going out forever. Well, fifteen years or so anyway. Some people get less for murder I’d heard. But there were other reasons of course…
In 2002 I’d become a dad and our precious miracle baby; who’d somehow ignored the sterilisation and lack of a full compliment of fallopian tubes in my wife-to-be, needed a married mam and dad. At least that’s what my mam and dad thought, worried that our hippy existence wasn’t the best way to bring up a child in 21st Century Wales these days.
There was another reason too.
My dad had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and it was only a matter of time. So, with a heavy heart and a thousand emotions swirling around inside my mostly empty head what could I do?
‘Brilliant idea love!’
‘You don’t look well Dave,’ said Alun, still smirking like Shrek.
The wedding was to be a small affair. Registry office, two witnesses; Alun and Sian, two bridesmaids; our respective daughters. We told no-one. Sue planned and arranged it all. I bought an orange shirt from a trendy clothes shop I’d never be seen in again and the kids; Eve and Eleri, got excited about dressing up in their frilly little numbers. God they start early eh!
Such was my state of shock in the weeks leading up to this monumentus occasion that I needed constant liquid sustenance. I also wouldn’t have survived the ordeal without continuous reassurance from our friends, funny stories from Mark, a dose of glandular fever, some double pneumonia that nearly killed me and five days in hospital, you know, the usual things.
And so it was, over a few pints, then a few pints more, with my secret still in tact, during one such male bonding session that me and Derek started talking about cycling.
Enter the beer mat…
Now I don’t know what Ranulph Fiennes does when he begins to plan an epic adventure but I’m sure he could have avoided frostbite and sawing his own fingers off if only he’d scribbled down a few ideas on a beer mat before setting sail for the land of penguins and yellow popsicles. For example, he could have written, in a leaky biro from behind the bar of the Llanover Arms, Pontypridd – ‘Don’t get frostbite’ – and that would have surely saved himself a lot of digit trouble.
As for me and Derek well we should have written – ‘Don’t buy a Dawes bike’ or ‘Do some training first’ or ‘Make sure you book some B&Bs’. Actually, looking back, I think we needed a few beer mats but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
So, having got married and missed the impromptu party that started in our house after someone spotted us all dressed up (‘What? Dave in a shirt?’ someone said) taking photographs over Ponty Common, me and my new wife contemplated life apart for two weeks on our brief, one-night honeymoon in an old country house somewhere between Brecon and Crickhowell, paid for by Alun and Sian.
Initial Planning… Lol
‘Derek, you’re drunk!’ I slurred.
‘Not as drunk as you are Dave,’ came the reply about three minutes later.
‘Yeh, but I haven’t been on a bike for ages. Years in fact. In fact I think it was twenty years ago. It may have been longer than that in fact.’
‘Stop stating facts,’ said Derek.
‘Yeh, well, anyway, I have bad knees, so it wouldn’t work,’ I continued.
‘You’ll be fine Dave. I used to go fishing to the reservoir with my knees and I always got lost on the way home,’ added Derek reassuringly.
‘OK, you’ve convinced me mate. So we’re going then!’
‘Now, in a minute… oh shit no we can’t, I haven’t got a bike yet.’
‘OK, we better get a curry then first.’
‘Yep, they don’t strike me as cyclists though, too much beards. Think about it. You’d never win the Tour de France with a beard.’
‘Unless you were French, then you might.’
‘No, Sue will drive, or Gosia, yeh, sorted.’
‘Do Italians still have beards?’
We stood to leave. ‘Don’t forget that beer mat. We don’t want to go without that.’
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