Let me start this post by saying two things. The Taff Trail is lovely, in concept, if not in execution, and it is unwise to cycle in a foreign country, ever, without a map. Our hotel had some of these maps, which it would have been costly and large, not to mention didn’t cover everything. I think we should have bought this map, but we thought we would be able to get a map of the trail from the cycle hire company we rented from. We got a map from them, but it only went about 8 miles. We wound up taking pretty decent pictures of our route the second day on our smartphones, which worked nicely, so at the very least, do that. Actually, at the very least, please print a map of the trail off of the internet. You can start here, and then you at least know how close-ish you are to your destination.
So we started in Cardiff. The trail from Cardiff north is lovely – it’s wide, easy to read, and flat. It didn’t start to get difficult until we reached Castle Coch. Which we weren’t supposed to go to, as it turns out there is a high road and a low road.
Castle Coch is up a very steep hill. Husband toughed it out, I walked my bike up it. Once we were up there, we checked the map and realized our mistake, and returned to the low road. We had another few miles to go before we got to Pontypridd where we were having lunch. I think if I had really known what we were up against, we would have started earlier and had lunch in Merthyr Tydfil (the “d” is silent, so it’s pronounced “tiffull”). Merther was a much bigger city than Pontypridd, and probably had more than two options for lunch. I wound up with a cheese and salad sandwich, which is literally shredded cheese, white bread, and lettuce. It was good, but not great, and for this kind of cycle trip, you need great.
Our pace was extremely slow both days. It took us about 1-2 hours longer than expected to reach either destination. I was pedaling pretty hard both days, so I’m not really sure if the problem was the hybrid bikes, being out of shape, or some other problem. But I wish I had realized, and come to terms with, how long it was going to take us, because I think I would have planned a different trip.
Right before getting to Pontypridd, the trail was covered, and I mean covered, in gnats. Could hear them bounce off my helmet covered. Keep your head down and your mouth shut and get through it, is what I kept telling myself. When we got to Pontypridd, we had to go through a roundabout, which is no small feat, as we are cycling on the wrong side of the road, and a high-speed traffic circle is no joke even if you’re not totally freaked out by the cars.
I will say, the trail was not as off-road as I had hoped, although it was probably as off-road as we could expect for such a long trail, and the roads it was on were generally quiet and well signed. It was great having a cycle route with a number and knowing we just had to keep following the trail signs. I will also say that cycling on the left side of the road was generally not a problem for me, although intersections were tricky. I have extremely bad spatial perception and a lot of problems with right turns and which direction the traffic is coming in. I do not plan to ever drive in the UK, because I’m pretty sure I, and several other people, will be gravely injured.
Anyway, we made it to Pontypridd for lunch, and then we were continuing on. Around this point, I began to realized that the trail was much hillier than had been promised. We were shifting gears a lot, and this accounted for a lot of the slow pace, as I have huge difficulties with hills. In addition, the trail had several barriers up to prevent motorcyclists, but that also slow down cyclists because you have to stop and maneuver through them.
I thought the hills and the roads and the gnats and the barriers were our biggest problems, but then it started to rain.
to be continued…