If you didn’t see it, yesterday I posted a sneak preview of all of the events we have planned for next year. One of the things we pride ourselves on is taking you to see beautiful views, places that inspire awe and wonder. Sometimes, they’re miles from anywhere, but at others, they’re literally on your doorstep and you may pass them daily without giving them a second glance. We’ve got so much lined up for you, here’s a glimpse of what’s in store…
1) Castles and fortresses
We’ll cross Offa’s Dyke, the 50-mile long earthwork defence built by the Mercian king of the same name, at both its southern and central points, giving you amazing views and a good sense of how powerful his kingdom was over 1,200 years ago.
We’ll also pass fortresses and residences in various states of repair, from castellated stately homes like Cyfartha Castle in the valleys of Wales, to grand but well preserved ruins like those at Chepstow, towering above the Wye as it does, right through to those now clinging on to their few remaining stones like Montgomery and Newport Castles, but no less impressive for it.
2) Places of worship
As well as castles, you’ll get to see how religion has shaped our lands for centuries, from Wells cathedral, making the city the smallest in England, to neighbouring Glastonbury Tor, fabled for its connections to Arthurian and Grail legend. Have lunch next to Tintern Abbey, a once great and powerful monastery sitting on the banks of the Wye and many others besides.
3) Hills and mountains
Cheddar Gorge feels almost prehistoric with its steep-sided cliffs and forested sides; you still wouldn’t be surprised if you saw dinosaurs roaming as you pedal through, whilst Cranborne Chase with its chalky down hills lets you know for sure that you’re on England’s southern slopes. Further north you can enjoy the dramatic nature of the Brecons, passing alongside Pen y Fan, the highest point in southern Britain, or the even more imposing figure of Cadair Idris in Snowdonia National Park as you cycle the valley floor below alongside a dark and mysterious lake. Climb atop the Cambrian Mountains on a road so peaceful you’d almost think civilisation had ceased to exist, or back in England, enjoy the sharp, cragged rocks of the Stiperstones or the 360-degree views from the Long Mynd, both found in the Shropshire Hills.
4) Lakes and reservoirs
Chew Valley & Blagdon Lakes, both at the foot of the Mendip Hills Area of Natural Beauty kick us off on our first ride of the year, the former a peaceful spot where you can watch boats sailing as you enjoy fish and chips from the fashionable Salt & Malt restaurant, and there’s plenty more to come with Pontiscill and Talybont Reservoirs nestled between the high peaks of the Brecons, or my absolute favourite, the Elan Valley, a series of reservoirs in mid-Wales that have an almost ‘moon-scape’ feel at the top but that give way to Alpine-like descents along winding roads through thick forests.
5. Rivers and seas
Follow the Wye Valley high above the river on our half-marathon walk and catch glimpses of the Severn Bridges beyond as the water makes its way out into the Severn Estuary, Bristol Channel and Atlantic Ocean beyond. You’ll also get the chance to ride at the very opposite end of the rivers Severn and Wye, through the mountains from which they first begin their journey and not far away ride alongside the picturesque Dyfi estuary looking out into St George’s Channel and the Irish Sea beyond. Enjoy the prehistoric feel of the The Avon Gorge from on high, not far from where one of the first dinosaurs on British soil was discovered, and follow it upstream through cities, villages, parks, meadows and forests, or join us as we cycle along the River Taff, the waterway that gave the Welsh people their overly used nickname.
6. Towns and cities
Pass through major places of heritage and history, from Bristol’s harbour-side, once the second most important port in the country after London, to Bath and its famous abbey and Roman spa, or smaller cities like Wells and Glastonbury, rich in history and the latter now a centre for free-thinkers due to its links with myths, legends and a certain music festival. At the other end of the scale, we experience smaller market towns like Brecon and Machynlleth, little fishing ports like Aberdovey, the village of Cheddar, a tourist-heaven famed for its caves and cheese, or Shaftesbury, which whilst sitting in the heart of southern England, has a famous cobbled hill once used by Hovis in an advert for their bread supposedly set in northern England. Even more bizarrely, the advert was directed by Ridley Scott!
7. Industrial heritage
Walk or ride along one of the many disused railway lines now converted for our leisure use and enjoy the escape from traffic and towns en route, or watch the old trains of the Talyllyn Steam Railway as we ride alongside. Pedal the Monmouth Canal with its ingenious lock systems and endless stone hump-back bridges, plus ride past the Cyfartha Ironworks and Goytre Wharf and marvel at their size and how they’ve changed from places of noise, fire, smog and dirt to green, peaceful ghost-like brickworks. On our walks get the chance to see Brunel’s most famous works including the Clifton Suspension Bridge, SS Great Britain and Temple Meads Railway Station, see the former Fry’s/Cadbury’s chocolate factory now converted for luxury retirement living, or marvel at the Palladian style of Pulteney Bridge, over 200 years old and built with grand shops running its full length on every side.
Hopefully you’ll join us for one or two of the days so that you can get to enjoy what Bristol, the south-west and the surrounding areas have to offer to help you find some balance.