The summer months are here, the weather is dry, and going green is the new trend so why not get out and explore the countryside on a bike ride and feel the wind in your hair. Based in Cardiff I set off to explore the Taff Trail which runs between Cardiff and the Brecon Beacons, for some 55 miles on well sign-posted and maintained paths.
Even if you don’t own a bike there are no shortages of places to rent from. I rented a bike from Pedal Power, a business run by the council and situated at the Cardiff Council Caravan Park. For the very reasonable sum of £11, a top quality mountain bike and safety helmet come as standard, along with the, hopefully unnecessary, puncture repair kit.
You really don’t ever forget how to ride a bike. The ease of it means after just a few minutes I was looking for little jumps and off-road tracks to get the most from the bike. The trail passed beneath my wheels with a pleasing sense of speed, as walkers and fellow cyclists offered a cheery nod or a snatched “morning” as we passed in opposite directions – a respect for being out and about on such a fine day.
I headed on to Tongwynlais, a little village at the bottom of the step rise which leads you up to Castle Coch. The climb up to the castle was painful. I have to admit I had to get off and push to make it all the way up – but you’d have to be in training for the Tour De France to make it all the way without getting off. The pushing can seem defeatist but once you behold the view that greets you it all seems worthwhile.
Stretching away to the horizon is a busy scene of the Welsh landscape and man’s intrusions too. You can see as far as Flat Holm Island, just south of Penarth in the Bristol Channel, which then turns into the concrete sprawl of the city. The Millennium Stadium cuts high into the sky and the M4 snakes its way through the landscape laden with traffic.
The view is beautiful respite. But there are more hills to climb. The next isn’t quite as steep but is still a struggle. As each turning of the pedal became a Herculean effort, my legs were struggling until I remembered a very important maxim used for showbiz, shares and now cycling: “What goes up must come down.”
Standing atop the hill behind Castle Coch, some 150 metres above sea level, I couldn’t help but beam as I saw the path descending away before me. I let the bike begin to move under gravity. The wheels turned faster each time and soon dust and dirt was flicking up. Sticks and pebbles were bouncing away and I concentrated my eyes on the path ahead, looking for large rocks and possible jumps.
Inside my head a child-like voice was urging me to shout out. Feeling young at heart and hurtling down this mountain trail, I couldn’t resist and yelled out, “Yahoo!”, my face grinning madly as I continued my descent.
The route levelled out and I cycled on, admiring the scenery and taking the odd photo. By 2pm I was a good 12 miles away from Cardiff and feeling as if I could cycle forever, but I knew I had to get my bike back so reluctantly turned around.
Heading back into the city I passed many other cyclists heading in the opposite direction. I couldn’t help but feel superior having already notched up some 25 miles before they had even made it out of the city. I pedalled into the caravan site and pulled to a stop. Chris put my trusty stead away for me as I worked out how to use my legs for walking. “Good time?” Chris asked, “Brilliant,” I replied.
After such an exhilarating and enjoyable day exploring under my own steam I promised myself I would try and leave the car to gather dust and get on a bike whenever I could…
– Take a hat, gloves and a spare change of socks – Wind chill is multiplied when moving at speed while your feet will thank you no end for a clean pair of socks for the journey back.
– Pack lots of water and energy foods – Dehydration can be fatal so don’t tempt fate and high energy foods like Mars Bars help you power through the final miles home.
– Check the weather before you go – Unless you’re the most hardened biker you’re not going to enjoy cycling in the driving rain.
– Look for paths off the beaten track – Make the experience even more extreme by leaving your own tracks.
– Stop and enjoy it! – You’re out and about in the beautiful countryside, make sure you stop and just admire the scenery.
– Leave it late – Set off early to get the most of the day and appreciate being out of the city.
– Go mad at the start – Pace yourself, it’s a long day.
– Forget the rules of the road – stay on the left and give way to pedestrians.
– Forget a camera – There are plenty of opportuniies for some great snaps of you and your friends out and about.
Words and images by Dan Worth