To Usk - The Seven Year Itch - CycleBlaze

June 7, 2024

To Usk

We’re up early this morning, and step out at 6:30 for breakfast at a Greggs bakery a few blocks away that Rachael spotted last night.  There are three or four Greggs within a few blocks of us, but this is the only one that opens this early.  We’re looking forward to sitting down with a cup of coffee and a selection of fresh pastries, but when we arrive it’s disappointing to find that there’s no seating.  

It’s fine though - we take our breakfast items outside and sit in the sun on the lip of the base of a flagpole in the middle of a pedestrianized street and eat there.  We should do something like this more often, because it’s actually quite pleasant.  The streets are quiet, the sky is blue, there’s almost no wind, it’s a good time to be outside.  We’re just finishing up when the street sweeper comes by and breaks the silence.  He’s driving an all-electric washer so it’s still pretty quiet except for the sound of the spray, so we don’t mind.  Its interesting to watch - he starts by running a stream along the base of the buildings at each end of the street, and then begins on the surface, making a circle around us and working toward the center when we decide it’s time to move on so he can complete his work - he’s been cutting out when he approaches us and there’s some scattered broken glass on the pavement he’ll need to get to.

A few hours later when it’s time to check out I look out the window and see it’s not blue any longer.  It’s overcast, and lying Weather.com now says there’s a slight chance of showers sometime in the next two hours.  And the wind has picked up, though fortunately it should be generally in our favor.  Should be, that’s the key.

The view west from our room this morning. We’re up on the 11th floor, high enough to get a wide, open perspective. There are what - three churches right below us? And that tower on the far right I noticed leaving the train station.
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It’s the clock tower of the civic center, built in 1937.
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We pack for showers just in case, but it’s dry when we leave.  We’ve got a really short ride ahead today so we don’t need much.  This and our next travel day to Abergavenny are short enough that we could have doubled them up and skipped the layover in Usk really; but Usk looks worth a stop and short days give us a better chance at coping with whatever the gods toss our way today - showers, hills, and whatever.  TA is notoriously tough - we can put up with a lot for a couple of hours at least.

The first challenge that comes our way is just in trying to get out of town.  There’s a marked NCN route the whole way but it’s still confusing and pretty slow going as we stick to a snarly route working its way over, under and across a couple of highways and the train line.  Safe enough, but slow going.

It’s not particularly steep on this overpass, but we’ve just come out of a hairpin bend too narrow and sharp to bike comfortably. Were off the bikes anyway so it was just easier to push to the top and remount there.
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Once we’re out though we’re pleased to find that the next five or six miles are a complete delight as we ride a paved path beside the old Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.  It’s very pleasant, even when a bit of a shower gives us pause and makes us wonder if we should hide under a tree.  And it’s generally flat of course - it’s a canal route after all - except when we come periodically to a short, steep rise beside a lock or small overpass.  Suddenly we’re shifting down to the lowest gear and powering up a short 12% incline and then coasting down the other side.

Along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.
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Along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. I don’t recall seeing a canal with wooden gates on the locks before.
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Along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. I’d like to see how these were operated but it looks like it must be hard work, pushing that wooden beam. It’s hinged and folds back on itself in the middle, so I imagine it got unfolded to give enough leverage to muscle the gate open.
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Along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.
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Along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. It was fun watching the mallards and moorhens swim through the algal scum, leaving a clear break in it in their wake.
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Along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.
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Along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. I don’t get what’s happening here - the series of rippling cascades doesn’t fit with my understanding of how canals work.
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So that was fantastic.  We were sorry when time came to leave the canal, but it’s headed up toward Pontypool, not Usk.  The remaining miles were Ok but not as idyllic as what we’re leaving behind.  There are a few hills now, though none that push us out of our saddles though.  What does cause us to dismount from time to time are some horrible highway crossings, at badly congested circles that really need a traffic control light.  We’d stand at each one looking for a gap in the flow, or walking between impatient drivers stalled waiting for their chance to advance again. 

We’ve got a few hills now.
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We don’t stop much for photos, trusting that Rachael has us covered with her GoPro (and she does - it’s a video we were especially pleased with). I do at least stop for a look at the high point though when we come to a break in the hedgerows. It looks dark and ominous, so we don’t stop for long.
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The last few miles to Usk go fast - if you’re going our way at least, because we’ve got a strong boost from the wind blowing us forward.  Not like this poor woman pushing into it that Rachael catches on her camera.  We should have included audio to hear her cursing about how brutal the wind is.

We’re having the better time here.
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Video sound track: Windsong, by Ralph Towner and Slava Grigoryan

We arrive in Usk at about 1:30, having met both of our goals - we arrived safe and dry, and we arrived in time for lunch.  The lunch was important mostly because we needed to arrive before it ends at 3 - otherwise we wouldn’t be able to get access to our room until the inn reopens for the evening at 5:30.

It takes awhile to get registered and shown to our room, because the host is constantly breaking off to deliver a meal or pour a drink for one of the lunch customers.  Other than the kitchen staff she’s the whole show for the moment.

Eventually we get to our room though, which is fortunately only one floor up for a nice change.  Bikes go in a narrow hall next to the kitchen, so that’s not a problem either.  Twenty minutes later we’re seated and enjoying a typical pub meal.  After we’re done Rachael heads back upstairs and I stay down to finish my pint and then follow it with a crumble and coffee.

One thing that’s struck me about our host/server is that she reminds me of my grandmother.  I remember hearing that she’s believed to have had Welsh ancestors, and for probably the first time it occurs to me that I’m likely part Welsh.  No wonder I like it here, I’m coming home!  I mention this to the woman when she brings my coffee, and it earns me a warm smile and pat on the shoulder.

Later in the evening we both go out for a look around our pretty little home for the next two nights.  Here are some pics that came back with us.

Usk’s clock tower. The town doesn’t really have a central plaza, but this intersection looks like it’s closest thing.
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Bob KoreisAny idea what the crosses, plants and stones are in place for? All I can think of is remembrance of June 6.
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2 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Bob KoreisOh, well that would be a natural thing to ask. I’d have had to walk across the circle to check it out more closely for evidence though.
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2 weeks ago
Tidy single story row houses are the typical look in the streets here.
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In Usk. This is the town’s short main street, in an atypically quiet moment. There are no stoplights in town, but it could use one here.
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In Usk. The blue building is the former jail.
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Saint Mary’s Church.
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An impressive cypress.
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In Usk.
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Some jackdaws.
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My walk was a short loop along the Usk River. I crossed it on this overgrown overpass from the former train line - the Coleford, Monmouth, Usk & Pontypool Railway (CMU&PR), a 16 mile short line that was short lived and has been long gone. Theee are the remains of the train station nearby, barely visible under the overgrowth; and a tunnel beneath castle hill that used to be part of a walking route until bricks started falling from its roof.
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The Usk runs quiet here, and appears to be a favorite swimming river. It’s also a wild river, favored by salmon.
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The Usk Bridge: pretty, but a serious bottleneck because it’s so narrow. When I was walking across I waited for a farm vehicle to cross - he was wide enough that he took the whole lane and part of the sidewalk.
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Steve Miller/GrampiesOld bridge photo!
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2 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Steve Miller/GrampiesCorrect. And not the last, I think. There are a lot of rivers in the UK.
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2 weeks ago
The Usk Bridge is lined with red valerian, high you see blooming everywhere here now.
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Looking upriver from the Usk Bridge.
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A few shots from Rachael’s walk. Here she’s on the Coniger trail, a short path along the river on the edge of town.
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On the Coniger Trail.
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Foxgloves are in now too.
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Some attractive riverside homes along the way.
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Usk’s small, ruined castle isn’t open to the public, but somehow scofflaw Rocky found her way up to it.
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Usk Castle isn’t the most riveting fortification we’ll see in Wales.
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That’s my gal.
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Today's ride: 17 miles (27 km)
Total: 1,945 miles (3,130 km)

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Polly LowRe. Greggs (the north-east's most successful export...): you might enjoy this video of a man who attempted to visit every Greggs in Newcastle on a single day -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXBOo5EGB1M (nb that I am very much not recommending that you take this on as a walking -- or eating -- challenge...)
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2 weeks ago
Rachael AndersonDon’t worry, I won’t! We are in an apartment and I’m enjoying making our own breakfast and coffee.
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2 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Polly LowWell, that’s pretty great! If I ever get that knee replacement I keep thinking about I’m pretty sure I’ll come back to Newcastle and take the challenge too. Hopefully there will still be just the 32 of them by then.
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2 weeks ago