Monday, January 9, 2012

Goodbye Ireland, Hello Wales

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Ireland - 37 miles, Tuesday, July 19

I didn’t get much sleep last night. 50-60 children stayed in a village of army green tents in on corner of the caravan park. At 10 p.m. we couldn’t keep our eyes open. At dusk, at 11 o’clock, the group played a soccer game, stomping up and down their “field” which happened to include the grass around our thin-walled home. Andy yelled, but it only antagonized the crowd. They circled our tent like a pack of wolves, screams and footsteps taunting our sleeplessness. We’d been through similar situations in other campgrounds and were amazed at lack of parenting and general control. 

Our thin-walled home.
The children quit at midnight, but our immediate neighbors, three men from Dublin, teased a woman they invited into their tent. By this time I was exhausted, unconcerned for the lady’s welfare, and my quasi waking was taunted by nightmares of mischievous kids letting air out of our bike tires. Eventually I used ear plugs and tossed and turned the rest of the morning.

Farming in progress, north of Wexford. Photo credit: Andy Sheridan
By morning we rolled across the grain of land, rising through pastures and potato fields then descending through thatched-roofed villages. Summer has arrived in Ireland. Farmers are cutting and rolling hay. Some are wrapped in black plastic; Andy refers to these bales as dinosaur turds. The dark balls clutter the land like eight-balls on a pool table. Mid-afternoon we pedaled into Wexford, a quaint village with a harbor, and got information for tomorrow’s crossing to Wales.

Wexford's narrow harbor. Photo credit: David Hawgood
We calculated the ferry fee and the night’s camping, using the remaining Irish punt for food. We stay close to the $30 USD per day budget (or 20 punt). Ferries are additional. We set up camp, this time in a quiet campground. A hay wagon chugged back and forth in the distance, its soothing purr a welcome relief.

I was highly amused that Andy had picked out a Cadbury chocolate cake – a whole one! He doesn’t usually have a sweet tooth, though I eat chocolate daily. After a dinner of curried apples, beans, and onions over rice (our own concoction), we ate the entire cake. Laughably, hunger pains growled in our bellies around 10:30 p.m.

View of Wales from the ferry.
Wales - 30 miles, Wednesday, July 20

The four hour crossing from Rosslare to Fishguard, Wales went smoothly.  As the cliffs of a new land came in sight we thought about what might lay ahead, hill riding for one. The general route would follow eastward to Stratford Upon Avon then south past Stonehenge, Salisbury, and Winchester before boarding a ferry for France. There were no destinations in Wales and thus no expectations. We would take it day by day, enjoying the scenery – the best way to tour.

Docking at Fishguard, Wales. Photo credit: Rob Burke
When we descended the multiple decks on the ferry to retrieve our bicycles a tremendous mooing enveloped the darkened hold. Our vision slowly adjusted to reveal two trailer loads of cattle. As we disembarked into the bright sunshine, the trucks passed, the cows still bellowed, upset from the cramped ride.
Dinas Cross. Photo credit: Lemmylou
Traveling east, we pumped up 10 percent grade, following the coastline. The aqua-colored sea undulated against the rugged Welsh cliffs below on our left. The scenery briefly took our minds off the steepness, but it was difficult; the hills reminded us of the Scottish Highlands. Stone walls and fields stretched onto a rounded horizon. Gradually the sea view gave way to little towns like Eglwyswrw, Boncath, Llanybydder - many we couldn’t pronounce.

Photo credit: Jeremy Owen
Campgrounds are common. It is a welcome relief to travel at a comfortable pace and stop whenever we’re tired. The pace of life here is slower than in Ireland, the traffic less.

We stop in Newcastle Emlyn for the night. Later we tramp into a bar house, conveniently near our campsite. With only a couple patrons we are fortunately spared the smoke. I sip Bass Ale, Irish Stout, Buckley’s Bitter, and a cider. The Welsh are proud of their ales. The bartender claims he has customers who drink two gallons at a sitting, though it’s amazing to us that anyone could consume that volume without passing out. Our host reminds us that cask beer doesn’t contain the additives of bottle or cans, lessening the chances of a hangover. But still, we can’t imagine that much alcohol in our systems, let alone pedaling the following day.
Newcastle Emlyn. Photo credit: Castle-cottages
The area is an agricultural hub; tractors often rattle past. The farmers, like everywhere, are encountering difficult economic times and are dividing their land, some for caravan parks.  In this valley, the Teifi Valley, tourism has picked up and the farmers are adapting with it.

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