To Abergavenny - The Seven Year Itch - CycleBlaze

June 9, 2024

To Abergavenny

Before getting to today’s events, let’s step back for something that got omitted from yesterday’s: a conversation with the man at the table next to us at breakfast.   He was very interesting - well thought out, clearly well educated, and I suspect had or maybe still has a distinguished career although there wasn’t an opening where it felt appropriate to ask.  There was a lot of conversation comparing American and European culture (he’s well traveled, including in America); but the detail that stood out the most clearly for me was when he spoke with obvious pride of his daughter who’s currently living in Kiev.  Or rather she shuttles between there and her other base in The Hague as part of her work for the UN, using her background in conflict resolution.  I’m sure he must experience very mixed emotions of pride, admiration, and fear for her safety.

So that was an important thing to be remembered from yesterday.  Here’s another: 

Butty Bach, a local brew I like. Its a funny name, but apparently it’s a Welsh term meaning little friend.
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Bob DistelbergButty…. Like buddy (aka friend) perhaps? Nah, probably just a coincidence. Buddy happens to be my nickname for any dog/cat/wild animal I encounter when out and about. As in “Hey buddy, go on home now!”.
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1 week ago
Scott AndersonTo Bob DistelbergIt’s the right reading. Butty means a man’s male friend or man he works with. According to one reference it’s derived from byti, a term for a coal miner.
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1 week ago

We like our stay at the New Court Inn fine, with one small gripe - breakfast service begins at 7:30, MTWTF; but not until 8:30 the other two.  By bad luck both of our nights here are those other two, and 8:30 is awfully late for that first cup of coffee.  In fact, Rachael can’t wait - she uses her heating coil that she’s managed not to fry so far and has both of her two cups in the room from the instant packets she’s stashed away for emergencies like this.

Finally the magic hour comes and we rush downstairs and take our seats at our assigned table - the one with our room number on it on a sheet of paper.   A minute later a large French press arrives, all for me; and then the spread, pre-ordered to our specifications the day before.  Today Rachael’s having a scrambled egg, bacon, tomato, portobello mushroom, hash brown wedges, and two slices of brown toast.  I have the same, except that I swap out one of the toast slices for a croissant and add the sausage.  That should be enough - we’ve only got an easy twenty miler to our next stop, Abergavenny.

Check-out comes at 10:30, and we’re gone.  With only an easy twenty miles ahead of us we’re appreciative that our host at the apartment we’ll be staying in for three nights said our room will be ready by 11:30.   Our plan for the day is that we’ll make short work of this easy twenty, get to town in time for lunch, and then have the rest of the day free for a walk of some distance.

Twenty is a good length for us, but we could have taken a more direct route and gotten to Abergavenny in only thirteen if we’d taken the direct route on NCN 42, also part of Eurovelo 2 through here.  It’s even easier as well as shorter, but we’re both up for more so I look for an alternate route with a feature of interest worth detouring and find one: Raglan Castle.  It’s right at the midpoint of the 20 mile route I sketch out, and its photos look enticing.

This being Wales, easier ≠ easy of course.  Today’s really is easier than most rides we’ve seen recently, with only one or maybe two places that break 10%; and none of the climbs is long enough that you can’t reasonably power up.  We do have to get off and walk in a couple spots though because we’re on a narrow lane when a car comes along at the wrong time - annoying when it breaks your momentum on one of these short climbs and you decide it’s just easier to walk the rest of way up; and especially annoying if you brush your bare calves against the nettles in the hedgerow when you’re plastered against it to make room for the damn car.

We’re on one of those stretches here. Not really that steep, but we got stopped half way up to give way for a passing car. Grr.
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Rich FrasierAt least it's a beautiful place to walk!
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2 weeks ago
Ben ParkeWhen I first looked at touring in Europe I considered England, mostly because of the common language. But now I’ve read enough journals to know that as lovely as the scenery is, it is definitely not my type of riding terrain. I really hate climbing, so respect to those of you that take on the challenge.
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1 week ago
Scott AndersonTo Ben ParkeYour instincts are right on. I’m pretty sure you’d hate cycling here. If the hills didn’t do it, the inconsistent bike routes would surely do it. I can’t imagine trying to manage a velomobile on most of the roads we travel.
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1 week ago
Ben ParkeTo Scott AndersonIt’s bad enough on the bike paths in Germany and Austria. Actually bad enough I’m not sure I’ll tour there next year. If I’m going to ride on a road with traffic, I might as well do that here. At least then I usually get a shoulder to ride on.
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1 week ago

Raglan Castle makes an impressive appearance when we bike up to it.  It’s got the right balance between persistence and decrepitude to make it interesting to stare at and use your imagination, like you would looking at a ruined abbey.  It’s not quite so compelling as to make want to fork over the admission fee and wonder about what to do with the bikes while we poke around the inside though, so we’re content to just stare through the gate, take a few shots, and move on.  There are reams of castles around these borderlands, and we’ll wait for a freebie somewhere for a more thorough exploration.

If you want to know more about Raglan Castle, you could start here.  It’s  got a complicated story, much too detailed and confusing for me to try to summarize.

Raglan Castle, whose construction began around 1460 by a local power figure with resources to burn. A lot has happened to the place since then, some good, some bad.
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A peek inside Raglan Castle.
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Actually, what might stand out the longest in thinking back on the castle was how hard it was to get to it.  It’s on a short spur off the quite busy and of course shoulderless A40.  We got there by crossing the circle onto A40 just outside the village, biking down a short alleyway, and then making a mad dash along A40 during a brief break in the traffic.  Scary, and it definitely took the edge off the experience.

Leaving the castle though, we see there’s an easier way - straight across the A40 to a narrow dirt path that leads into the village. You have to get across A40 of course, but at least there’s a small landing spot in the middle so you only need clearance from one direction at a time.  After that though we circle through the village (on a detour route, because Main Street is closed for a street festival), and then navigate back through that same circle on A40 again.  

After that though, it’s a pretty easy, reasonably quiet 10 miles to Abergavenny.  It’s a surprise though how hard it seems.  By the end even the 5-6% grades are feeling like a challenge.  Toward the end I realize why when I finally notice my ride is feeling bouncy.  My tires are both low - not so low that I can’t finish the ride, but when I pump them up later I’ll find the rear one is down to 25 psi, and the front only 20; and Rachael’s is almost exactly as bad.  No wonder those 17% climbs have seemed so hard.  We’ll probably fly up the next one!

Video sound track: Desperate Man Blues

We make it to Abergavenny around 1:30, check ourselves in to our riverside apartment, give an approving glance around, and then head out to Casa Bianca for a satisfying Italian lunch, one decent enough that we’ll probably be back.  Afterwards we come back to the apartment and I sit out on the back deck overlooking the Gavenny River that runs right below it while Rachael goes food shopping.  I’ve got my eye out for a kingfisher, a bird I haven’t seen before, and am hopeful because in our apartment there’s  a guestbook that requests people to record any kingfisher sightings in it.

No kingfishers this afternoon, but a pleasant place to sit anyway.
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As I said, the plan was to have a free afternoon for some sort of walk.  Rachael already had hers on her trip to the supermarket and is content to just hang out; but I make it out for at least a few miles anyway, exploring the impressive large public space along the river.  No kingfishers were spotted, but I did see a grey heron along with the usual avian riffraff, and what I think must have been a salmon leaping what looked to have been a full foot out of the water.  Impressive!

The Gavenny River, which flows into the Usk near here.
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The Castle Gardens, an impressively large open pasture bordering the Usk River.
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You probably think that’s the castle, but there you’d be wrong. That’s the museum, built not long ago. The castle itself, built a thousand years ago now, is a ruin that we should probably walk up and check out some evening.
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Looking across the Usk in the other direction, this is the Blorenge, an impressive plateau that Rachael plans to climb tomorrow.
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In the Castle Gardens. Abergavenny is surrounded by hills and mountains. I think this little one is Ysgyryd Fach, right outside of town. Looks like an easy walk for a great view down on town.
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The Usk River.
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The Abergavenny Bridge was built in the 1500’s, with several reconstructions since then. It’s a Grade II listed monument. It’s also too narrow for its current use as the main entrance to town. Something will have to give someday.
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Today's ride: 20 miles (32 km)
Total: 1,999 miles (3,217 km)

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Steve Miller/GrampiesGood luck with the Kingfisher search. We too have been hopefully looking for one, so far with no success.
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2 weeks ago