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6 July 2011

Over The Hill And Round The Bend by Richard Guise

Conceived during a kitchen top moment with a map and some string, this 567 miles (913 km) bicycle journey encompasses the most Easterly, Northerly, Westerly and Southerly points of Wales. Despite frequent visits to Welsh soil, and a few years living within its boundaries, Richard saw this concept as an ideal opportunity to glimpse the real Wales.

Astride his trusty bike, Tetley, this compass point inspired trip was undertaken in a leisurely 20 days, including a rest day. The book's gentle paced narrative unfolds in a logical chapter-per-day format, ambling along in perfect synchrony with his cycling pace. It's a pace that, along with Richard's acute eye for detail, captures an authentic portrayal of the Welsh countryside, its towns, people and, of course, weather.

Bounding with wit and enthusiasm the narrative unveils an ever changing landscape, characters from the dour to the highly colourful, tiny hamlets, urban sprawls and various tourist attractions. The route incorporated just about every type of road and track, including many sections of National Cycle Network (NCN) routes.

On the way there were a few surprises. Only the most Easterly point, in Monmouthshire, could be reached without leaving the saddle, the others requiring a final stretch on foot. And only the most Southerly point offered any signage indicating a compass point extreme had been reached.

Food and drink play a significant part in the story. Whether it be a hostel, pub, restaurant, cafe, National Milk Bar, takeaway shop or roadside van, his innumerable stops for sustenance reveal a particular penchant for cakes and confectionary of all kinds.

Many of the towns on route are given a unique rating by the support crew, namely his wife. Rather cleverly this rating revolves around the car parking fees required to explore the town. From a not-much-to-see one coin town, to plenty-of-interest three coin one.

Entertainment abounds throughout the book. I particularly enjoyed the 'absurdly simple history of Wales' using ten Richard-defined phases. It's such an easy-to-grasp orientation, I wonder why all historical introductions don't use this approach. Even after the last chapter the fun continues with a summary of the '10 laws of cycling', a reality-based gradient categorisation and a Douglas Adams inspired "Meanings of Liff' list of Welsh words.

All in all Richard's book is a wonderfully entertaining way to explore many of the little known byways of Wales, right from the comfort of your armchair. No rain. No wind. No hills. Effortless really.

1 comment:

John Allen said...

Dear David,
Your in-depth comments were most useful. I must get this book!
thanks,
John Allen.