Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Misty mountain hop

I'm packing my bags for the Misty Mountains
where the spirits go now,
over the hills where the spirits fly.
I really don't know.

Me neither, Robert, but I agree there's nothing like a spell in the misty mountains to get the spirits flying.

So it was with high hopes and a low-weight bike that I set off for Llangadog and the welcoming hearth of Mick and Julie's place, The Last. Dinner and a couple of b-grade Welsh pints took care of Friday night and I'd planned a morning's jaunt over the Black Mountain on the A4069, a road made famous by Top Gear presenters. This I postponed until the afternoon after persuading Martin it was still worth coming down, he having been psyched out by the heinous weather report for the weekend in the area.

On his arrival, we readied ourselves for an afternoon of hill climbing in what would be my new steed's first ever outing. The excitement was tempered by a sense of trepidation and the lingering effects of an unexpected hangover - surely my intake didn't warrant this?

The bike responds admirably to my laboured legs, but I can't keep up with Martin for long and soon find myself out of sight and a good distance behind, even before the climb proper begins. Nevertheless, I stick it out and find my rhythm, my breathing audible many metres away as I find out later. The toil is rewarded with literally breathtaking views across the western beacons in what is turning out to be a glorious sunny afternoon. And once peaked, the Black Mountain offers an exhilarating descent whichever way you climb it, so we head down to Brynamman at great pace.

A swift drink at the bottom of the hill, we turn and head back over the pass to Llangadog. A long, steady drag with a large section of heavy road contributes to the impression the ascent is longer than the first, but Cateye says otherwise - just the three miles as opposed to four and a half. Again, the descent is sweet reward for the effort sweated out on the climb, but with added hairpins for good measure.

We turn round again at the foot of the mountain and repeat the dose before calling it a day and, if anything, the legs seem more willing than they were the first time. But I'm pleased as we roll back into the village and dismount, not least because the saddle on the new bike is beginning to smart.

We're taken to an authentic old Welsh front-room pub in Llandovery for evening refreshments and I'm happy to wind down in hospitable surroundings with 40 miles of good, honest riding in the legs. Deep down, however, I know the next day holds the more serious challenge in potentially grim conditions.

More on that in the next instalment tomorrow...

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