Welsh Cycling: So Close Yet So Far

If you haven’t yet seen my page entitled ‘The Manifesto‘, I encourage you to check it out now.

I talk about how in rural places like Wales, it the case that there will be a big flat highway running through the low ground, while the cycle route runs up hill and down dale. Rather back to front considering which has more power.

But I see it that way because bikes really are under used as a solution to carbon (and all the other dodgy gasses) emissions, traffic congestion, dependence on oil and other matters.

Yesterday my family and I went cycling on route 5 of the national cycle trail towards Llandudno instead of towards Bangor, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.

The cycleway, modelled by mum!

The cycleway, modelled by mum!

After racing down the promenade of Penmaenmawr, we entered what is in every sense a road for cycles. It had dividing lines, good width, new surface, but most of all, it was flat and ran in parallel with the A55 highway. Since this road is one of the most useful things that ever happened to North Wales, I hope that describes just how beneficial this is. A direct flat route that ran between Penmaenmawr and Conwy. That leg of your journey can be done quickly and comfortably.

People can commute very effectively using bikes over some distance (I’d say 15 miles or more) if the conditions are right. Contrast this with the route in the other direction, which climbs up into the hills for a long stretch, and is quite challenging when you’re also up against the prevailing headwinds. It removes the opportunity for cycling from the common man.

A fantastic upgrade to our cycle routes would be to snap up just a little more land on one side of the A55 expressway and continue this cycle road right the way to Bangor. And of course, follow the same train of thought into other cities. Market that properly and next thing you know, there might be traffic queuing on the cycle way.

Have a look at the route for yourself, see what you think. Google route 5 on the National Cycle Trail.

Are you a cyclist in North Wales? Do you think I’m barking mad or might I actually have a point? Discussion and comments are welcome below, or tweet @chrisjbarker89.

See also:
Riding Route 66, the British Way!

I like my iPad, leave it alone!

A few days ago, I had the joy of going on a short coach journey. Now, for all the quips we have against public transport, this was definitely a trip and a half. We had a beautiful Mercedes coach and the sun was shining as we drifted across North Wales.

But the banta was the best. The great thing about coach travel, is that not driving, your mind is free to go over other things, thus stimulating some interesting discussions. We started by talking about mountain biking, concluding we should have a race down the A55 North Wales Expressway, then we set the world to rights, talking about how wind turbines take 30 years to pay themselves back before they actually produce renewable energy. We debated whether we’re really running out of oil or not, and then ending up resolving the problem with solar energy.

And then on the way back, something happened. My head became explosively large. This actually relates to apple products. There are a certain group of people, who like to buy iPads, iPhones and other bits and pieces, and then consider themselves higher up than others, for their new possessions. It’s a bit like some BMW drivers. When I bought my iPad, I told myself, I would not become one of them. But suddenly, a guy on the bus told me I was stupid for having bought an iPad, called me an apply fanboy and said I only thought it was best because I hadn’t seen the alternatives.

No no no! I retorted. I tried the Samsung galaxy tab in the shop, and I have an android phone (all-be-it a Motorola) which is rubbish. I want to choose against android. Then he told me I should get the Acer tablet, because it doesn’t need expensive custom leads, and that with apple the structure of getting app’s is too rigid. And he showed me the photo quality on his Samsung galaxy. When I told him I had the iPad 3, with its high-res display, he thought I was an even bigger idiot. And at that point something switched itself.

My response: yes I know that the iPad is astronomically expensive, and that I could buy a small country for the cost of hooking it up to my TV. And I know that to make an app you have to pay apple copious amounts of money and have them bug check it. And I know that someone somewhere claims to have a more responsive keyboard on their touchscreen, and that nothing with it is properly compatible with anything else, but the simplicity and use of its user interface are perfect, and mean I don’t have to worry about things not working as they should. And maybe it is robbing me of my computer literacy skills, but I don’t care. I have an iPad and I love it!

Seeing that I was getting a little bit exasperated now, he persisted. So I pulled out my scriptures, and with Holy writ as my basis, shared inspired words about putting your faith in what you most believe in. Now please don’t misunderstand me here. In saying that I do not mean to mock that which is most important to me. I know that my Heavenly Father is he in whom I most believe, and my source of life and joy. But my experience with my iPad shows me it is a very good piece of equipment, which serves its purpose very well. And I do put confidence in it to accomplish many day to day roles.

So where am I going with this? Am I saying that iPad owners aren’t smug, they’re just driven to it by the quips of others? Or just simply that we should go on more coach journey’s with buddies? Or is it that we all just start saying things we don’t mean when we get carried away, but who cares, since we had our fun?

All I can say is that none of it would have happened had I gone in the car. Which takes us right back to peak oil again. Ugh.

Tales of an Uncommercial Traveller

My journey began at Bangor station. In comparison with Germany’s wondrously efficient rail system, Bangor station evidently didn’t deserve chairs or a working lift. To add to the effect, even though I don’t smoke, I think my lung capacity will shrink today as a result of the train exhaust fumes being puffed out on to the platform.

Two-thirds through my rail journey and everything is pleasant. The crowds got on at Wrexham, and got off at Shrewsbury. The driver is a pleasant chatty guy, no script to his announcements. Just… Er… Yeah, there’ll be a jolt when the new carriages join on, were running ahead of time.

A guy got on at Rhyl, and leaned across the passenger to blow his wife kisses. Two hours later, and they’re now best buddies.

Compared with Germany, rail travel is worse than the road. You get the feel that they were built during the Victorian days and not modernised since, which is probably because they weren’t. So it’s far from perfect, but it’s novel and sweet to experience.

12.51 – Saturday

So I arrived in Birmingham. Headed out if the station and had a look in a few of the shops. I explored before going to meet those who I was visiting. In croasing the Bullring outdoor Market, I was accosted by a man who declared himself homeless. He asked me to buy a big issue magazine. After I politely declined he begged me for money to buy a sandwich. He was working hard not to let me go, so I decided to give him £1. A reversing lorry driver then stopped and yelled not to give this guy any money, since he’s always sniffing glue. I then found a chocolate bar in my bag, which I would rather give him than money, but he still persistently kept asking for some money. I should add at this point that when the man accosted me, I was mid phone call, and the call was still running in my pocket. Needing to get back to my business, I gave him the pound and the chocolate, knowing it can never be to my detriment regardless of what he then does with his stewardship over that money.

So the purpose of my trip, to camp with my friend as a stag party, commenced. I met new people, other friends and family of the groom to be. In not long we had a tent erect, burgers cooking, and games in motion.

In the morning, we found our logs and charcoals had been rained on, and our matches too. Yet with the help if skewers, deodorant and a gas cooker, we soon had our fire re-lit.
What a wonderful experience to share with newly made friends, to bond and enjoy time with. It adds freshness and vitality to life.

Now I am back in transit, on the Mega-bus. We are heading up the m6 motorway at 60mph. People are reading, talking, working on laptops and iPhones. And it’s pleasant to enjoy the motorway not as one driving. The mega bus is a fairly modern business idea, and a good one that actually takes the cost of long distance travel what it ought to be. As a coach, it has the ‘greyhound bus feel’, which adds novelty to the journey.

21.57 – Sunday

Now I ride into the final stage of my journey. Admittedly, I didn’t bring any snacks, and it’s late, and that all hit me upon entering the Leeds station. As we entered Leeds in the family cars via the M621, I thought about all the places Ive been this weekend, the people I’ve been with: my family and friends, and also the people I’m coming back to.

As a family, we watched the Muppets film, and had Krispy Kremes donuts afterwards. In the evening, another friend came around, and we searched for Geocaches and stood at the end of the Leeds Bradford airport to watch some low flying planes come overhead.

Today was mothering Sunday, with the special mothering Sunday sacrament meeting at Church. We visited my Grandma, and the grave of my other late Grandmother. We stopped by Hull to take my sister backto university too. We took two cars, due to the family car having sprung a diesel leak, which was exciting and interesting.

What have I learnt this weekend? 1) the railway system is fun to use, but it’s rubbish. It steals my flexibility and costs more. But 2) I’ve learnt more of the importance of people. Of planning my activities around people, not programs. Spending time with those I haven’t seen in a long time and doing quality activities is truly fulfilling.



Enjoying the British Summer

Well that was it. September is here, and now we’re moving in to the colder and latter end of the Summer. And it seems to have been a pretty rubbish summer doesn’t it? Statistically, this was the coldest August in 17 years, and according to weather know-it-alls, the temperature did not once exceed 27 degrees [1]. That is dissappointing isn’t it? Now that we’re enduring the consequences of recession, none of us can afford to travel far away, so we all flock to the coast, in the hope that there will be some good weather waiting for us when we get there.  But there wasn’t was there? We work hard all year round, waiting for summer, and that warm time that we’ve waited for just doesn’t turn up, giving us instead day after day of overcast, cool weather.

But actually, I enjoyed my holiday, and I want to tell you why…

Our Noble Castle

On a Monday evening, a few weeks ago, I got in my car, and drove down to Pembrokeshire in South Wales, to join my family, on their Caravanning holiday. As I drove, the sky’s darkened, and I arrived to driving rain, coming in from the coast. At 4am the next morning, we were awoken by my younger sister reporting that her bedroom was now full of water.

Now, I had the idea to write about this at the start of the summer, obviously not knowing what the weather actually would be, yet anticipating quite a degree of disappointment. But really, that was the worst of it. Apart from that, I really must be honest, the weather was not at all that terrible.  Yes is was cold, and the sun was only there when it pleased, but the only consequence from the previous nights weather was that the local coastal path turned in to a bog, and even that had fixed itself by the end of that day.

So what is it that made this summer so bad? Was it really so bad?

When I walk through caravan parks, I do wonder what exactly people wanted to get out of their holidays. There’s caravan after caravan, of people, sitting in their deck chairs, with their Sky dish nearby, just being roasted by the sun. Well, there wasn’t this year. But if that is your idea of a holiday, then I’m not surprised that you’re disappointed.

Wading through the frankly not so bad quagmire...

So how did we make the most of the weather? Well on my first day, we walked the coastal path to nearby Tenby, got fish and chips, and came home again. That was it. It took all day, but we had fun doing it, and no amount of cloud and cold was going to stop us, it was foolproof. We had varying degrees of weather throughout the day, sometimes sunny, and sometimes on the verge of raining, but it simply didn’t matter.

Yes, you can actually win prizes for having the best looking cow...

The next day, we went to the Pembroke County Show, which may not sound like the most thrilling concept, yet we had great fun. I should inject at this point that I am not an animal enthusiast. For me, the natural beauty of a cow is when it sits in my frying pan, at the last stage of its journey to my mouth. But it was brilliant watching the dogs doing their little jumps and then getting distracted by spectators eating their lunch. Or looking at the classic car display, or the classic tractors, or the motorbike dare devils. In fact, dispite how frustrating it is seeing horse riders blocking the road, it didn’t even remotely stop me being impressed watching them in their show jumping tournament.

Unfortunately, it was but a short holiday, but for the last day, we visited the Pembertons Chocolate Farm, a local chocolate manufacturer. In the afternoon, we checked out Pembroke Dock, which at one point was a military strong hold; we explored the area around about, seeing the old military buildings and towers.

And that was my summer holiday. It was only three days long, but I’ve spent all summer doing things like that, and have had one of the best summers ever. The simple point I want to make by all this, is that the most filfilling activities do not depend on the weather, that you can have quality, uplifting family fun, in any circumstances. So if you want to have a good holiday, don’t bother going off to Disney Land, or Turkey, or anywhere like that. Go down to some coastal town or other, and go grab from the Tourist Information all the leaflets for those places you’d previously dismissed as boring.

You may still be feeling a little hard done to, that we didn’t get to see Mr Blue sky, but there’s no need to worry. September’s here now, and the sun will be getting back to work along with the rest of us.

[1] Source: The Daily Mail, so yeah, take it as you will.