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Thursday, 26 March 2015


Is it really so long since I updated the blog? Sorry, I have been either so tired by the end of the day due to the hills or I've been so busy in the evening doing research for an article that may be published in Birdwatch magazine. So let's catch up.

Monday 16th March


Lampeter to Gwenfrydd Dinas RSPB reserve was a day of long upward bike pushes and time spent navigating the maze of small, narrow country lanes. Actually I pushed the bike up higher than Snowden by 10 feet. (As of the 23rd of March I have ascended hills totalling more than Everest this month alone! 33,240 feet up). All these statistics are available on my Facebook page and I have been keeping a tally on a spreadsheet. Now I knew Wales was going to be a challenge but I'm only half way.
Now I am sure there is a conspiracy of some sort going on in Wales. Everyone I meet seems to be from Essex! The girl at Cardiff Youth Hostel, the lads out for a lad's weekend, Essex. A couple in St David's, Essex. Today I had a long chat with an excitedly pompous but delightful young man, Dan from Essex but now living on a small holding with his parents. Dan had a passion for Sci-fi movies and spent the half an hour it took me to push the bike up a particularly long hill come upon almost immediately on leaving Lampeter.
There had been an interesting WW2 pillbox next to the river, opposite a supermarket that I photographed before the push. I have sent photographs of it to Paul Hayesmore, the WW2 pillbox expert I met back in early January in North Kent. Why just one pillbox and here in the middle of Wales as well?
Dan talked about films some of which I knew, like The Thing and others I didn't which I have forgotten the names of. Dan wouldn't let me get a word in edgeways, quite a feat really.
Goodbye was at the summit, a special memory place for me as I had camped in a field here one very frosty night back on the 2010 cycle run. The view from up here was and is tremendous.
Cycling on, I came to a small village and needed to check that I was on the right road. A young lady from, guess where, Essex with long dreadlocks and orange scarves was curious and friendly and ensured me that the left and right was the correct way. There was a small rectangle of tarmac adjacent to an empty old Primary school building, was for sale at £40,000. Who'd want it?
It was lovely cycling these small lanes as there was almost no traffic. In fact only a small number of white vans and a few cars all day disturbed my otherwise all over the road cycling. This meant that I could enjoy the views of the superb high hills and the sound of birds without the drone of traffic.
There were a lot of ups and downs but I didn't care. I was a beautiful day and I had all day to get to where I was going.
One particularly steep section was tough on the hands, so much so that I stopped in a pull off area by a bridleway through a plantation of spruce trees. Here a very tame robin almost came onto my hand for a bit of a hot cross bun. There was also a good number of siskins in the treetops together with 4 lesser redpolls; the first of the year.
Onward, the next stop was to ask the way at a road junction and ask for some water. Dave answered the door and surprisingly wasn't from Essex. Mind you he wasn't Welsh either and he and his wife had moved here over 20 years ago. His house is up for sale and he is hoping to move back to England to be closer to his children.
Further on I went past some attractive looking cottages which used to be the RSPB offices for the area. Now holiday homes I think the area is still managed at least by the RSPB. It would be fascinating to see a complete list of all of the land they manage. I always think that I have a complete list of reserves but it's amazing how many surprising additions I come across to the spreadsheet of reserves sent to me by Sandy HQ. I wonder if even they have a complete map of all their areas?
Eventually I reached Gwenfrydd Dinas RSPB reserve with an hour or so of light and a light drizzle falling. The access to the reserve from the car park was blocked due to maintenance work on the broad-walk. There was a couple of marsh tits that kept coming down to a bird table though and both a grey wagtail and a dipper were by the stream nearby.

Tuesday 17th March

Early morning walk into the reserve was as beautiful as I remembered from last time. This time though I am here a month before the date I was back in 2010. No migrants in yet, so no pied flycatchers and wood warblers to add to the list. A great spotted woodpecker was drumming and a couple of red kites were drifting over. Yesterday I had seen 22 of these fabulous raptors.
Now the reserve is famous because of a cave where the Welsh Robin Hood, Twm Sian     Cati or to use his real name, Thomas Jones, used to hide from his enemies and the law. He actually did exist and eventually married a rich man's daughter and lived a wealthy man to a ripe old age, after being pardoned for his youthful misdemeanour's.
Leaving the reserve the day was once again spent mostly cycling in order to get to Rhayader. This time though most of the cycling was along a very busy A road through Llandrindod Wells where I had lunch in a lovely cafe and Newbridge . Here the road went over the River Wye and I photographed and filmed both a grey wagtail and a male goosander.
Choosing to take a small country lane again just north of here, it took me a circuitous route to Carngafallt RSPB reserve. It was so beautiful that I thought it would be great to camp here. I found a spot away from the lane and rested against a tree to admire the view. I fell asleep and awoke sometime later with rain splattering my face. I ended up in a pub's accommodation in Rhayader.

Wednesday 18th March

A day to relax really and much needed after the last few days of cycling and hills. A day of watching red kites at one of the feeding stations set up for the birds, Gigrin Farm. This was after spending the morning in Rhayader library researching the Birdwatch article.

Thursday 19th March

Off early back in the direction of Carngafallt RSPB reserve, taking the cycle path there. A sunny day with a light northerly meant that the first part of the Elan Valley was sheltered and cycling along the flat, if a little stony cycle path around the first of the large reservoirs was delightful. Siskins in the trees, the occasional chipping crossbill and 3 peregrines chasing over over a dam; there was plenty to enjoy, not least the beautiful views.
Around the corner from the start of the second reservoir I came across a lady carrying binoculars and hence met Socha and her husband Brian. They were sheep farmers with land around this area and were using 3 dogs to bring in a small flock of sheep for vaccination. Really lovely to chat to, we exchanged Twitter details and took photographs. I found out later that they'd won an award as Best Sheep Farmers in Wales recently.
Onwards around each reservoir until lunchtime at the 12 miles mark. Now this was a very significant mark for my family. Back when I was a young teenager and Mum and Dad had a Post Office with newsagent and groceries, we all as a family used to go for a day's picnic at this very spot. No chance of texting them to say where I was as no mobile signal but I took photos to share later. There was the stream where we used to swim. There were the hills we used to walk up. There was the small mountain road going over moorlands after a steep hill to the east and stretching to the horizon along a U-shaped valley to the west.
After lunch I took the western route, a picturesque road which eventually left the Elan Valley through a narrow passageway between tall hills. The descent for the next 3 or 4 miles from here was exhilerating and with no traffic, perfectly safe. Then it was a long grind up again to get over some hills to reach devil's Bridge. No time to look at the three bridges there, one atop the other, oldest at the bottom. Instead I cycled down the A road to Aberystwyth and found accommodation on the seafront there.

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