Travel StoriesBrecon Beacons 2019
Somewhere Between Heaven and Merthyr Tydfil
Ride Date 28 Jun 2019
By Ren Withnell
We survive. We didn't die from the mould and we didn't get fried by the electrics. Actually the electrics are still not switched on. Probably not a bad thing.
We discuss. Sharon has this last few weeks, months and even years spent most of her spare time arguing with doctors. Arguing to get at least some kind of help for her daughter if not proper medical investigations and diagnosis. In between she's also had to argue to get her own medical conditions accepted and treated.
Sharon, Citizen Parker, Freedom Fighter, holder upper of justice, supporter of righteousness and hater of all things unfair, questionable, misleading or just downright wrong. She is tired and needs a break. She doesn't want an argument with the owner. She doesn't want the hassle of claims. She just wants a quiet break. She also agrees she doesn't want to waste money. We'll stay, we'll slum it out for another 2 nights.
We are here, the weather is great, we'll cope with the accommodation so let us just get out there and do what we love doing - exploring. To the bikes!
As we ride away I ponder. Should I say something? Should I be the one to fight for justice and let Sharon take a back seat? 2 things. 1 - I'm the kind of guy when the Stasi came knocking I'd do as I'm told, shut up and smile pleasantly as they point their guns at my head. 2 - I know because I'm useless Sharon would end up speaking up and ruin the point of this exercise.
We are on single track. After Scotland in May and a few other recent jaunts I think I've had enough of single track. But wait, no, I'm OK. This is single-and-a-half track. Not quite wide enough for 2 cars to pass easily but wide enough for a bike and car to pass just fine. Yeah, I'm good with this.
Single Track and a bit. We're just put-put-putting along.
We are sauntering, no rushing today thank you. We dawdle between high hedgerows then open fields then alongside Talybont Reservoir. I am reminded of Scotland and The Picos in Spain. And then my mind wanders off into thinking land. Oh dear.
It is pretty here, no doubt. I know I should not but I am comparing in my head. It lacks the drama and ruggedness of The Highlands. It's not quite as other-worldly as The Picos. Aha! No! Fool that I am. It's that Ikea Effect thing again. Getting here was too easy so I'm not *feeling* as invested and appreciative as I could be.
I take a long deep breath and look again. Next to no traffic. Good. Water, hills, trees, sunshine. Good. Motorcycle working as prescribed. Good. Sharon still upright and behind me. Good. What is not to like about this present situation? Just then it gets even better. Steep hills, gnarly corners, waterfalls and views from hilltops.
I sense we're coming out of the hills and I also sense there is too much blood in my teastream. I spy a quaint country cafe. This being rural and quaint and olde-worlde and smart I'm expecting to pay a king's ransom. I brace. £2.50 for large pot of tea for 2. Being Ren anything over 15 pence for a brew is a rip off, being in the real world £2.50 regrettably represents good value these days.
What a lovely place for "affordable" tea.
I inform Sharon we're heading for Merthyr Tydfil. "Oh yes, what's there?" Her tone suggests she's expecting a picture postcard chocolate box village. Merthyr has been portrayed in recent times as a hell-hole of underfunding, joblessness, closed mines and mills, scruffy streets and thuggish children and downtrodden wasters living in squalid hovels. It has gained a terrible reputation.
Sharon says "most folks come to see pretty things, lovely churches and the countryside and quiet cafes like this. And you, you want to see hell?" No, I want to see interesting places. I am curious by nature and I am curious to see what the truth is for myself.
We don't see ALL of Merthyr Tydfil, that would take weeks or months. What we do see is a town and outlying areas as ordinary and as average and as normal as any other town in the UK. There's the retail park, just like home. There's the terraces in rows and rows and rows, just like home. There's the shuttered up vandalised pub, just like home. There's also the smart street with manicured lawns, just like home.
I don't doubt Merthyr has it's problems. It's likely these problems may be more pronounced than some places. I'm sure there's some really questionable estates and truly horrible people. But these things exist in any large town. Merthyr Tydfil ain't pretty, I wouldn't want to holiday here but don't believe the hype, it's no worse than any other town.
It ain't purdy, but it's no worse than my gritty grimy street.
We only stop briefly so I can snap a couple of "illustrative" images then carry onwards. We visit a random Asda which furnishes us with a butty and a drink. I'm ready to eat these here in the car park but Sharon suggests we find somewhere a little more, erm, picturesque. So we head out onto the A465 eastbound not by design or plan but by simply following the front wheel.
I've come to the conclusion the Welsh have a thing for digging. During the industrial revolution Welsh miners dug up their country's coal to fire the boilers. Large swathes of North Wales was stripped for the slate that covers my own and hundreds of thousands of roofs. Now that's all over they've taken to digging vast troughs through their hills and mountains for their road network. The A465 roadworks only create the slightest of disruption to our journey.
I've heard the name Crickhowell before but it has no context or meaning to me. I can see a church spire and what looks to be a small town without tower blocks or huge shopping malls. I'm ready for my butty so I'm hopeful Crickhowell will be picturesque enough to satisfy Her Ladyship.
Oh my, it is. It does have rather a busy main road through it complete with a narrow pinch-point in the centre which plays havoc with the traffic. Other than that it has old buildings with small local shops, a pleasingly eclectic mix of older houses, what looks like the remnants of a tiny castle and a vacant bench upon which we sit and dine in glorious sunshine.
Awww look, she's so happy!
There's worse places to eay ya butties.
I feel better for stuffing my face. We can park for an hour so we wander to the church. I think I prefer this small church to a vast cathedral and within it is blissfully cool and quiet. Despite the small size and presumably small budget the stained glass windows are fresh, bright and vividly detailed. The alter is endowed with intricate masonry. There was some money here once.
A lady within is arranging flowers and seems chuffed to talk to us about the church as well as contemporary politics regarding floral arrangements. She's equally fascinated with our excursion and preferred mode of transport. She's a character, older than us but vibrant with life.
Small, detailed and ornate.
We depart Crickhowell before anyone realises we've exceed our allotted hour's parking. I've had a gander at the maps on my phone, rather than following the main A40 which would swiftly lead us back to Talybont-On-Usk we can take the B4558 which looks far more interesting.
We are flowing gracefully on a mix of narrow twin track and occasional single track, between trees and drystone walls and villages and hamlets and farms and fields. We stop in Talybont-On-Usk for supplies then head back to the caravan.
Gosh darn it. We've had a chilled out day exploring in glorious weather. We're all relaxed and enjoying that holiday feeling. Then we have to come back to this. Admittedly the driveway outside the kitchen and toilets has been cleared of building materials, alas the kitchen and bathroom remain on par with mechanic's facilities I knew when I was a younger man.
No matter, no matter. We ask about the electrics and a helpful young chap leads us to a mains block carefully stored on a pile of straw in a ripped and torn poly-tunnel. It is good to learn the issue is the RCD has tripped out - which means there is an RCD and it does work. Electrics and straw? I'm so glad it's not raining too. We now can make a brew in our little wooden kitchen.
Electricity. Straw. Now, what could POSSIBLY go wrong?
Well, we can after Sharon spends about 2 hours removing the spider webs. And the wasp's nest. And the dead bugs. And adapting the waste water plumbing such that it fills the bucket and not the shed floor. By the time she's done she has achieved "serviceable" if not "sorted". Well done that woman.
The water now drains into the bucket and not the floor. This has also now been cleaned. A lot.
We make tea. We wander around the site in awe of the hills around us and the chaos of the farm. We sit and talk awhile, admiring the trees behind the lorry trailer used as a hay store. Hmmm, what to do tomorrow? Oh Sharon, the light works!
Don't you feel the juxtaposition of the trailer and trees really give this scene a certain something?
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Sunshine And Mould
With scorching temperatures forecast in a change to the usual script Sharon and Ren are booked into a Gypsy Caravan. Can you guess how that's going to turn out?
Somewhere Between Heaven and Merthyr Tydfil
What can the Brecon Beacons offer and is Merthyr Tydfil as bad as the media would have us believe? The Dynamic Muppets find out to save you the trouble.
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Travel StoriesBrecon Beacons 2019