A new sponsor
Overnight I had acquired a new sponsor! During dinner with Paul and Marian, I had mentioned that money was looking a bit tight, and that I needed to rein in my spending to be sure of making it back home without interruption. Before breakfast, I received a text message from my bank informing me that an electronic deposit had cleared overnight. It came with strict instructions from Paul that its sole purpose was to keep the expedition going to the end. An extraordinary and typically generous gesture.
Before leaving Bangor, my bike was in need of attention. The brakes were wearing thin, and required more forceful clenches of the levers with each day that passed. The chain also sagged noticeably, and I remembered reading in the Thorn manual that it should be tightened every 1,000 miles or so. That was almost exactly the distance I had covered since stopping at the Thorn factory in Bridgwater a month earlier. Despite every intention of attending a basic cycle maintenance course before setting off, I hadn’t done so and was therefore reliant on whatever the network of seaside town bicycle shops could offer.
Although I found a store on a side street that sold and repaired all makes of bicycle, it didn’t fill me with confidence. When I asked if they had experience of oiling a Rohloff hub gear, and adjusting and relocking the eccentric chainring, the young guy I was about to entrust my bike to just said that he ‘probably did’ know what he was doing, and that there were bound to be YouTube videos that would show him how to do it. He looked slightly irritated that I had called his ability into question.
I collected the bike an hour later. The brakes felt tight enough, which was reassuring, but I’m not sure that the chain looked any different. It would have to do for now.
Twenty miles beyond Bangor on the north Wales coast lies Llandudno, often referred to as the ‘Queen of Welsh Resorts’. It’s wonderful, and seems to have remained largely unchanged for more than a century. The elegant Victorian promenade is lined with pastel-coloured hotels, and the town boasts the longest pier in Wales.
It’s a friendly place for cyclists, too, largely because it is relatively flat, just as the twenty odd miles from Bangor had been. However, Llandudno stands in the shadow of the Great Orme, a massive limestone headland that rises more than 200 metres out of the sea. I was heading for the northernmost point of the Orme, where there is an interesting castellated former lighthouse.
There is a single-track road, four miles long, that stretches right up to the top and around the Great Orme headland. There are a number of blind corners and several sheer drops on the seaward side, so all but half a mile of the road is one way. Unfortunately, I pushed up the first mile and a half before realising that I had started from the wrong end. It was too late now, so I hugged the safer side of the lane as closely as I could each time a car passed.
At the top is the Rest and Be Thankful cafe, which seemed particularly apt after an hour of pushing uphill. Behind the cafe there is one of those tourist viewpoint telescopes, but it really isn’t necessary. Sitting on the cafe’s boundary wall, I could see the Isle of Man ahead of me, the Lake District to the north east, and back to Anglesey to the west.
Just a few hundred yards beyond the cafe, I found the entrance to the lighthouse. It’s a guest house now and so I rang the doorbell, hoping for a guided tour. A young woman answered the door. She looked flustered – she might have been cleaning rooms – and evidently I had arrived at an inconvenient time. She was very polite, though, and said that I was welcome to take the side gate leading to the lantern room to take some photographs. She thrust a business card in my hand, and suggested that I booked a room there sometime.
The lighthouse on the Great Orme was built in 1862 by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company to guide shipping heading to and from the Dee and Mersey ports. It was designed by Engineer in Chief George Lister, who later worked on the alterations to the lighthouse at Port Lynas in 1871.
It is built at the northernmost point of the headland and, at 325 feet above sea level, is the highest lighthouse in Wales. The square, castellated two-storey building is dressed with limestone, and the lantern room is at ground level with the signal and telegraph room above.
It showed a white flashing light, visible for twenty-four miles, powered by paraffin burners. These were replaced with vaporising petrol mantle-burners in 1904, and with acetylene mantle lamps in 1923. The lighthouse was electrified in 1965, and responsibility was handed to Trinity House in 1973. It remained in continuous use until 1985, when it was decommissioned.
Nowadays, it’s a small guest house, and the original lantern optics are on permanent display at the Great Orme Summit Complex visitors’ centre.
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) July 9, 2015
I free wheeled the two miles back down into Llandudno, mindful of travelling in the wrong direction down what was a one-way street. I was fortunate to pass only two cars in the process. It would have been a delight to pick one of any number of the town’s seafront hotels to stay at this evening, but it was still early afternoon. Besides, it didn’t feel appropriate to blow my daily budget on the very day Paul and Marian had boosted my finances. I sat on the promenade and started to research a cheap room for the night. I settled for a sea-facing room in a small guest house at Rhyl, sixteen miles along the coast.
My route followed the sea front the entire way, some of the fastest and happiest miles I had covered in Wales. But about two miles short of Rhyl, I suffered my third puncture of my journey, and my attempts to sort it out were a complete shambles. I managed to remove the tyre from the rim easily enough, but when I fitted a replacement inner tube, I forgot to check and sort out what had caused the puncture in the first place. When I pumped up the tyre, ready to make a move, I heard a loud hissing noise and realised that I had managed to puncture the new inner tube as well.
Fortunately, I carried two spare inner tubes at all times, but my second attempt was no more successful. This time, I found and removed a sharp piece of grit embedded in the tyre, that had caused both punctures. I fitted my only remaining spare inner tube, but failed to seat the tyre properly back into its rim. As I pumped it up, a worrying-looking bulge appeared on one side of the tyre. After a few seconds, the tyre burst away from the rim, the inner tube forced its way into the gap between the two, and then promptly exploded.
I wanted to cry, but as I was completely alone I chose, instead, to shout every obscenity and expletive I could think of across the deserted beach. It felt good. I drank the last of my water, and then set about with a puncture repair kit to fix the first inner tube I had removed. Old school. I had the last hour of the second day of the first Test Match against Australia for company. We were in good shape, having posted more than 400 runs in the first innings, and then pinning the Australians back with five wickets.
I reached Rhyl at seven, tired and with filthy black hands to show for my efforts. Rhyl was not looking at its best, with the entire seafront promenade cut off from the rest of the town by seven-foot-high metal riot fencing. The group Madness were coming to town for a concert on Saturday, and this improvised venue was being constructed in their honour.
The Pier Hotel was newly opened, and the perfect tonic for my efforts at bicycle DIY. The young gay couple who ran it were new to hospitality, and were the most delightfully positive and optimistic hosts. I was not sure whether decent profits would follow, though, because every time any of the four of us in the bar ordered a round of drinks, they poured themselves sizeable drinks at the same time. I know the margins on some drinks are better than others, but between them, they must have got through three bottles of white wine in a couple of hours.
They were hugely entertaining company, though, and it wasn’t long before the puncture fiasco was a distant memory. I mentioned that one of them reminded me of Andy Bell, from Erasure, or the physic, Derek Acorah. He seemed delighted to be compared to Erasure’s lead singer, but grossly offended by the comparison to Derek Acorah. As I decided to call it a night, he tried to come up with a damning comparison of his own. Somewhat the worse for drink, and studying my beard carefully, the best he could offer was:
‘Goodnight … Father Christmas!’