Distance so far: 1005 miles, Plymouth to Cheshire
Leaving Plymouth and heading up into Dartmoor for a second time was hard-going. The heat was unrelenting and the trails at times non-existent, so much time was spent navigating around bogs. But it was the insects that really got me. I'd spent an hour or so eating an evening meal at the pub in Postbridge and then went to pitch my tent in the forest nearby. Had I realised that the midges were going to be there in their millions I might well have found a B&B, and three days later when in Bristol my friends thought I had brought smallpox back...!
However, that section of the journey also provided some of the most fun off-roading on the trip in the Quantocks, a small but pretty set of hills Southeast of Minehead. I got completely lost on the dense network of trails, some of which were marked on the map and some not. But it didn't matter - I had the sun as my compass and I spent the morning climbing up the ridges and speeding down the woodland trails and basically having a right good time before a dramatic change of scenery in the form of the A38 to Bristol.
Bristol provided a welcome change from the blandness of English pub food, which has been the staple on this trip. A Jerk chicken picnic in the park provided something for my spice-craving and washed down with some cold cider and good chat with old mates it was a lovely evening.
As we headed up through the Brecon Beacons pretty much everyone that we met was talking about the army lads who had unfortunately died on Pen y Fan. Whilst dehydration and heat exhaustion were of course things that we had to be wary of in our long days, the conditions leading to these deaths were somewhat more extreme, and we were able to enjoy the clear blue skies as we looked down on the spectacular valleys of Central Wales.
The Elan Valley in particular was very special. It is the land that time forgot, and having not seen a soul for miles and miles we were amazed to stumble upon an outdoors centre with woodland mountain bike trails. As we arrived we saw signs indicating that the Red Trail was closed. That was the trail we had just come down, and it was closed because of logging - we'd had a lot of fun riding over heaps of branches that had been felled and were littering the trail, but it wasn't easy work.
Walking across rivers and surrounding bogs up onto the moorland was to follow, and when we finally summited we realised we had gone off the trail and then had to make the descent along tiny sheep trails down the steep hillside. One mistake and it's hard to recover. At the bottom, we had a superb, rocky trail to work our way up before finishing at Claerwen Reservoir, where we camped for the night on the shore, with nobody to be seen for miles.
The worst campsite of our trip was on the edge of Snowdonia, and, interestingly, was the most expensive. It begs the question of why so few people venture off the beaten track. When there is so much beautiful countryside in Central Wales, why is it so deserted when Snowdonia in school holidays is tourist-central? Admittedly, we did well with the weather, but it is good to see that there are places in the UK which really feel remote and inaccessible, even untouched. We did not see a DofE group for a record three days!
Don't forget to check out new photos, too.
Next stage: up through the Peaks, The North Yorks Moors and then the Lakes