I have embarked upon the Lôn Las Cymru cycle route. Travelling from Holyhead in North Wales down to Cardiff through Snowdonia, mid Wales and the Brecon Beacons.
Day 1. The leg I dreaded most. I am not comfortable being entirely in the hands of public transport. My misgivings were not entirely unwarranted.
My journey began well, as my bike route, planned by computer and transfered to my bike sat nav, got me safely from home, across some of the Ridgeway, through a few bridle ways and footpaths, onto the former railway line that ran between Didcot and Newbury (the West Hagbourne to Didcot section now a dedicated cycle path), before arriving safely at Didcot Parkway.
On arriving at Didcot my only thought was to find a toilet quickly courtesy last night’s chilli! But my mind and body was soon diverted with the frustrating news that my first train was cancelled and a replacement bus service was running instead, due to delayed engineering works. This has the knock on effect that I would miss all my connections at Oxford, Birmingham New Street and Crewe. My train ticket, booked months in advance, now potentially useless. Tickets are cheaper when booked in advance providing you travel on the prescribed service. Deviation from the timetable usually invalidates the ticket.
I queued up and explained my predicament to the ticket clerk. He didn’t listen and told me I needed to go back online to get a refund. I explained I did not want a refund I wanted to go to Holyhead. He explained I could just catch later trains. He printed off a piece of paper and passed it to me. I walked away believing he had given me alternate bookings. I looked at the paper. He had not. He had given me an alternate itinerary. I went back to the window where he was now dealing with a very large but very understanding man, who let me back in the front of the queue to discuss my predicament. I explained I needed new bookings on different trains. The ticket clerk told me I didn’t as the first train was cancelled and it was not my fault. I left not entirely happy with the remedy. This might be okay at Didcot Parkway, where passenger confusion presently reigned supreme. But would it wash with a belligerent guard north of Birmingham? I resigned myself to crossing that bridge if it came.
Just after 10:00AM and that illusive toilet stop, the audibly relieved station manager declared over the tannoy system that the overrunning engineering works, causing everybody’s stress, had been completed. The trains could begin running again. 30 minutes later I managed to get on the first train to Oxford. Only to be told that I had to get off the train because there was no room for my bike. I responded by explaining both my bike and I would be remaining on the train. His response was to query whether I had booked on this train. My very short fuse was just about to blow, as I explained I had booked my bike for the cancelled train over an hour ago. He recanted and I continued on my journey.
Aside from this my journey was okay. I made all my connections and had no further issues. I was not asked for a ticket until just before Bangor, next to Anglesey. When I handed it over there was no issue at all. My bike had room on every train, but the spaces for bikes are too narrow. If there were other bikes, they would have struggled to get them on. Come on train companies, it’s time to divert some of those vast shareholder dividends into acknowledging the UK’s expanding commitment to cycling. This new policy of booking bikes in advance stacks the deck in the favour of the the supplier not the customer. Just to be clear. Before you monetise them, bikes should travel for free. On account of their negative carbon contribution and their improving the health of the nation. With the right planning bikes and trains could have a symbiotic relationship in regards to our national travel conundrum.
The second tier of my problem with public transport (apart from the transport) is the public. Perhaps it’s because I’m an introverted snob, but there are some fucking wankers in the general public. There are a few individuals who just know how to press my buttons. There was a man who I will describe as a ‘gum chewing cunt’ who sat next to me and audibly masticated. He unknowingly received my hardest Paddington Bear stare. He was the dregs for me. But the tattooed lady on her mobile phone sitting next to me, explaining to Brian that she didn’t care what he did, and that she hadn’t cheated on him… for a long time, and that she was off to see someone… someone else Brian, and that she was on the train, and that everyone could hear their conversation… do you think they want to hear this Brian, and that Brian could call the police if he wanted, because Brian made death threats as well… She deserves a special mention.
So finally, after contending with this, and people who apparently cannot wait for a cyclist to load and unload a bike, I reached Holyhead.
“Smile” they jeered at me taking my selfie.
“Alright?” I said looking they biggest one square in the face. “What are you lot up to?”
“Not much.” The same nonchalant teenage indifference endemic throughout Britain.
“Just hanging out?”
“Yeah. Is that a sat nav for a bike?” The most vocal of the kids said.
“Yeah it is.” I replied. A bit guarded they might make a grab for it and run.
“Cool. Where are you from?”
“South Central England. I’m cycling from here to Cardiff.”
“Whaaat! You mad cunt!”
I laughed. “It’s good trust me it’s fun. You should think about doing something like that. It’s really good.” The oldest one seemed to consider it as a future possibility.
“Yeah we could stop for spiffs on the way.” Piped up the smaller one. A face covered in small scars, I imagine from fighting, no doubt the first of many brush strokes on the canvas. I was a little shocked. These kids were clearly streetwise, but they seemed the wrong side of 15 for familiarity with cannabis.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“13. Wow. Aren’t you a bit young for spliffs. I didn’t have my first spliff till I was 17.” This is both a lie (I was actually 15) and a shameful attempt at trying to unnecessarily ingratiate myself with the youth. Who, in a group of three, were a bit scary.
“No. I had my first one when I was 10.” Said Mini-Scarface. With a proud flash of their little Baggie of skunk they departed.
So ended my interactions with the Holyhead welcoming committee. They were okay lads I suppose. They could have just as easily said ‘Fuck off wanker’ and nicked my sat nav. They were a bit threatening, but this is probably systematic of their everyday interactions. Given the clues from Mini-Scarface they’re probably used to getting fairly negative replies and responding in kind. I must admit it made me feel sad that they were already dabbling with soft drugs at their age. Options stripped away and replaced with short term entertainment. I genuinely felt concerned that statistically one of them could be on heroin by the time they were 18. But maybe they would turn out just fine.
I don’t know the statistics for the area but Holyhead seems pretty run down and starved of investment. Maybe because I hail from the more affluent south I’m prejudice. I’m sure there is a good community. I’m not knocking the people but it seemed that there is little to do. The first wave of investment seems to be around the 1850’s, when the major port link to Ireland was invested in. A second wave appears to be post WW2, where a lot of housing appears to have been built. Housing is quite basic and later housing has copied the rendered 1950’s bungalow architecture that expanded the town. I imagine there is fairly high unemployment and prospects seem few. Apparently a major employer was an aluminium company that closed its doors in 2009. It’s not a pretty place but few port towns I’ve visited are. It is located on an island separate from Anglesey (itself an island), called Holy Island. It being the major port to Ireland has clear influences from Eire, as well as Liverpool; the local accent sounds scouse. Wales is obviously the predominant vein though. The Welsh language is in common use.
So I have checked into Anglesey Outdoors. A nice clean, no frills but comfortable hostel and tomorrow I begin the ride proper. I’m looking forward to it.