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A Journey Around the British Isles … Part 80

The legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod tells of a land to the west of Wales that was lost to the sea. It is the Welsh Atlantis. Almost every culture has its flood story and every flood story has the possibility of being at least partly true. An increasing knowledge of geology and geography gives credence to myths and legends including the most famous of them all, which left an ark aground on the side of Mount Ararat. Credence but not necessarily credibility.

Writers, historians, geographers and storytellers are drawn to these myths out of curiosity and enquiry and an equal desire to confirm or debunk the legends. I’m sitting on a bench looking out to sea out of a desire not to be pushing a push bike up yet another hill. I’m joined by a man who looks a lot like Nigel Rees and who would be equally at home on radio 4. He’s good company. He doesn’t wait for introductions or explanations. He launches straight into his thesis.

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“You’re looking out over the lost land of Cantre’r Gwaelod. Of course it’s all nonsense but it makes for a damn good story. A drowned world under Cardigan Bay.” He pauses and we both look at the sea in front of us and imagine land extending out for miles.

“They say you can hear the bells tolling in the churches on a clear night, but I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never heard them. And anyway, if there was a land out there it drowned centuries before they knew how to cast bells.”

Something told me that I wasn’t the first to get the benefit of his knowledge and opinions. He was an engaging conversationalist and had taken the trouble of understanding why people held a different view.

“Been a lot of interest in it all since that programme (turns out to be Coast with Nicholas Crane and Neil Oliver) did a feature on it.”

“If you’re passing Aberystwyth you should go on to Borth. There’s a submerged forest up there on the beach. Reckoned to be six thousand years old. Big trees. Well just the roots and the stumps there now but there must have been a pretty big forest there at one time.”

“Of course the whole of the south of Britain is sinking. Like a seesaw see (I stifled a chuckle). Scotland is rising up still from losing all that weight of ice from the last ice age and England and Wales are going down. We’ve always lost land to the sea and always will. Doesn’t mean that there is some Lyonesse or Atlantis out there.”

“I rather like the coast the way that it is. Couldn’t have been much prettier.”

“I agree. Tell you what though. See out there. Right on the horizon. That is land out there. See where its just a bit more bluey grey than the sky and the sea. That’s a line of land that. The Lleyn peninsula. And that speck at the end of it. That’s Bardsey Island. If you want myths and legends, that’s the place to go. Most magical place in Britain is that. Ynys Enlli. The island of 20,000 saints. Trees move and animals talk out there if you get a full moon. That’s where you want to go boy.”

He won’t believe in a lost Welsh Atlantis, but he’s convinced of the supernatural power of Bardsey. We wish each other well and he waves me off.

I’d love to have more time here. I’m only scratching the surface. Below me is the village where Dylan Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood and I may well be sitting on the original LLareggub Hill. Inland is the stunning Aeron Valley. If I had any sense I’d stop here for the night but my resolve is strong. I’d planned on making Aber by evening and reaching your destination is a big part of the appeal of cycling. I add it to the growing list of places I feel a  need to return to and to share with others.

My friend had told me about Aberaeron too. It’s become quite famous he’d said owing to the brightly painted houses. It was a planned village and so has a pleasing, logical layout. I don’t know whether the colour scheme of the houses is planned or haphazard; but it works. Who would have thought that allowing people to paint rather nice houses any bright colour you like would work so well?

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It’s a bustling town too. I’ve been passed by an endless stream of tourist cars and caravans along the way and many of them have stopped here for lunch. It seems the perfect place to continue my intention of compensating for my lack of sleep with extra portions of food. The queue outside the chip shop says two things: either it is very good or there are an awful lot of people wanting chips. I wander on and find another chippy without a queue. There must be a reason why there is no queue so I return to the one with the long line of customers and am rewarded with a packet of the nicest fish and chips I’ve eaten in months. I find a place down by the harbour and watch families fish for crabs.

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On my way out of town something grates and barks inside the mysterious world of the derailleur and I’m suddenly without half the gears I had previously been enjoying. There is a problem with the front cogs. I can either use the big wheel or the small but can only change between them by getting off the bike and forcing it by hand. On these hills the small cog makes more sense. Actually with my level of fatigue and these hills, having my shoes re-soled would make more sense still. It’s a nuisance but it doesn’t slow me down. At my pace it’s difficult to go much slower.

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Gradually I wear down the miles as the miles wear down Simon. The hills become less steep but equally challenging. I develop an antipathy to caravans. Or, more precisely the sort of driver who spends his holidays pulling one behind his car. (It is invariably a he). They seem so blissfully unaware of the needs of anyone else on the road. So blissfully unaware that they lack the driving skills needed to tow a sizeable trailer and so dangerously unaware that a caravan is invariably a foot or so wider than a car. My advice to fellow cyclists is to use your head. Caravan drivers are very predictable. They go to certain places at certain times. They label their Lloyd Webber CDs alphabetically, have separate socks and underwear drawers and  haven’t yet finished colouring in their favourite book. I have got my times wrong. The Welsh coast is to be avoided between 11 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. Before and after that, you are safe. Mr Caravan will be connecting his mobile home to a power supply in a field with fifty identical caravans, and hoping to find some one to exchange route details with, while waiting to watch Pointless on a flickering tv.

I don’t get knocked off by a caravan driver but my right elbow streaks the grime along the inside of three of them.