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A Journey Around the British Isles … Part 87

If you were to follow the River Severn from the high Welsh mountains to the sea, (and why wouldn’t you?) then Llanidloes would be the first town you would reach. I’m tempted to stop here as so many fellow children of the sixties have done. This is a place that shares its native Welshness with a ‘get back to the land and set your soul free’ outlook brought in by refugees from the rat-race. They don’t actually do anything as practical or hands on as to get back to the land and plough fields. Farming would be beyond these folk. Organising a small cooperative to open a whole food shop is a big enough undertaking.

There are a number of towns in Britain where people have sought an alternative lifestyle and have settled in large enough numbers to be almost considered colonists. I’ve never been tempted to go with them but then, I’m not much of one for joining. They do tend to improve towns from a social and cultural viewpoint. In the case of Hebden Bridge they’ve created a modern phenomenon; and pushed house prices up into the bargain. These older children of Woodstock do tend to be nicely off. They give Llanidloes a laid back air.

Llanidloes doesn’t do huge music festivals but if you go at the right (wrong) time you can find yourself in the middle of one of Britain’s biggest celebrations of fancy dress. Thousands don costumes for the day. They range from the predictable; lots of mini-skirted and cleavaged schoolgirls, policewomen and nuns and a plethora of young men taking the opportunity to cross dress. Some hire a banana costume or a sumo wrestler suit and some spend weeks in design and preparation. Often the costume has the anachronistic accessory of a can or pint of lager.

When they are not dressing up for the sake of dressing up, the good folk of Llanidloes do enjoy a good tractor rally. As many tractors of all ages as you can gather in a field set off in procession, up the valley to Llangurig, where they all have a pint at the Blue Bell before driving back again. It is quite a sight and makes just as much sense to me as any mass participation event. The town does enjoy having opportunities to turn up, join in and have some good old fashioned fun.


I’m pedalling for glory now. I’ve put a considerable number of miles on the clock and the road continues to slope gradually downwards and the wind is blowing straight into the small of my back. I’ve got to be a little bit careful. I’ve had problems with my heart before and cannot take myself into what cyclists call the red zone. The red zone being where you are putting considerable strain on your heart. This is measurable in simple heartbeats. For a super fit athlete like Miguel Indurain at his peak, this can be over 180 beats per minute (Indurain’s resting heart rate was 35). For an ex smoker in his fifties it is best to keep well below 150. I don’t have a heart monitor but I have developed a pretty good take on whether I’m pushing myself too hard.

All athletes have times when they just want to keep going. The endorphins are released. Exercise becomes a drug, a hit. I’m experiencing one of those days. It’s more than that. There is the desire to get through that next town, over that next rise, to that next county boundary. It’s indulgent in a way. The further the better. Maybe it is to boast. Certainly there are many cyclists who have gone out of their way to make conversation simply to give them the opportunity to let people know how far they have gone. It is more than this. There is a delight, a need, a call to sometimes go as far as we can. Many of our great stories are of people covering huge distances in less time than they should. We still honour Pheidippides and his run from the battle of Marathon to Athens. Squaddies still speak in hushed tones of the fifty mile ‘yomp’ across the Falklands after landing at Bluff Cove. Me, I’ve simply got no intention of stopping until I have to.

I skirt by Caersws. Like many in England, I know the name from it’s occasional mention on the football results with James Alexander Gordon. To most modern Britains, poetry is something they suffer at school and then ignore for the rest of their lives. There are exceptions; favourite lyrics from pop songs, advertising jingles and two BBC institutions; the shipping forecast and the football results. Both are read with a reverence for the poetic impact of the words that is lacking in all other broadcasting.


In the former we have the hypnotic intonation of; “Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, West or North west six to  gale eight, occasional severe gale nine, rough, rain then wintry showers, moderate or poor becoming good.” Believe me, it makes sense to anyone out there in a boat and many of us love to listen to it just to hear the names; Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight.

Equally with the football results we listen to the sounds as much as to the scores. It is one of the few places left on the BBC where you can guarantee that each syllable, each vowel and each consonant will be given due respect. Arsenal one, Tottenham Hotspur two: Derby County three, Port Vale two. The announcer’s voice rising and falling with anticipation and relish. The results are announced as much through intonation as through words.

James Alexander Gordon: the man who put poetry into football results

James Alexander Gordon: the man who put poetry into football results

When there aren’t enough top division matches, we get the results from the league of Wales where we have new words and sounds added to our vocabularies; Aberystwyth Town, Carmarthen Town, Gap Connah’s Quay, Rhyl Town.  (We love it when Rhyl fail to score). As well as peculiar ones like Afon Lido and Airbus UK. Caersws FC gets a mention on cup days. We hear the words pronounced “Car suess” and wonder where on earth it is. They once beat Aberystwyth twenty goals to nil. Their record defeat was against the un-romantically named Total Network Solutions who beat them seven goals to nothing. Teams shouldn’t be allowed to be called names like that. Come on lads, altogether now “Give us a T, give us an O…”

I pass along happy that I now have both Llanidloes and Caersws on my own personal map of places I’ve been to (or through). I’m on a big road, hungry and getting more than a little bit tired. It’s well into the second half of the afternoon and I’ll need both food and rest if I am to keep going into the evening. Ahead lies the biggest town in Powys and the birthplace of one of my true heroes.