We almost stayed in Wales. The hours we spent pushing our bicycles up the 20% grade hills not withstanding (when we thought we might not physically be able to leave Wales), it was truly one of the loveliest places we’ve ever been.
Like in England, it rained, but the storms pushed quickly past and left us with at least a glimmer of hope of sun each day. The aggressive pitch of the hills did little to dampen our enthusiasm, as at each crest (and there were many) the country spread out before us, brilliant green and webbed with impossibly long stone walls or dark and thick with reaching pines, interrupted only by the occasional sprawl of summer homes that somehow fit in with the pastoral look of corralled livestock.
We followed a combination of cycle routes and picked our way along the narrow country roads that rise to old pastures and farms before dropping back down to the gray sea. We cooked our morning coffee under the shelter of forests when it was raining, and we were eyeballed with suspicion as we walked our bicycles up the steep hills past hundreds of the more than 11,000,000 sheep that call the tiny country of Wales home.
Each hill crest was more lovely than the one before and the people we met followed suit. In many of the towns and villages we passed through, Welsh was spoken and we loved hearing the musical lilt of the language; it seemed to belong to the land which had a striking fairytale quality itself.
We didn’t go a single day in Wales without experiencing exceptional generosity. Farmers invited us to camp in the most beautiful parts of their pastures, families invited us into their homes, and on one of our last evenings in the country we pulled into a campground perched high above a valley and met Lizzie and Bryn, the owners of Merthyr Farm.
Bryn had been reading a book about a gentleman who cycled the world, and although we assured them both that we weren’t suffering nearly as much as his book’s protagonist, they insisted on letting us camp for free. They brought us tea that afternoon as we dried our tent in a bit of merciful sun, and a couple of beers to go with our dinner. They washed our smelly clothes, had hot showers available, and invited us to breakfast the next morning.
We had only one more full day of riding in Wales before we caught the ferry to Dublin, and it turned out to be a beautiful one. Twelve hours later the sun set over the countryside and the beginnings of rain tapped quietly on our tent. We were excited to see Ireland for the first time, but were having trouble imagining how it could be any more beautiful or more friendly than Wales.
The next day it poured and we faced strong winds during the final 40 miles to the ferry. We had two flats in three hours and rolled our bicycles onto the boat just as the metal boarding ramp creaked closed. Wales is supposedly where the fabled wizard Merlin was born, and the country certainly has an enchanting quality… we couldn’t help feeling like it was pulling to keep us there.