Despite the ‘Welsh Corners’, there is no better way to see Wales than by bicycle says Anthony Manrique of Hyphae Shroomery.
Wales was always a place I went to for a break, an escape, a place to mark transitions. My partner, Emma, and I saw off our mate Stoffer by seeing in the sunrise at Rhosilli Bay on the Gower. My friend Ollie showed us the ropes of bivi-ing up in the moonscape of Glyder Fawr in Snowdonia. I woke up between two rocks, dragged from sleep by a dog's rough tongue (and his owners) not too long after sunrise. Emma took me there for my birthdays. We camped in old woodlands and walked impossibly beautiful coastal routes, from pub to pub.
Over the years it came to be the place we dreamed of as we tapped away at our keyboards in the city. Eventually we decided to escape there. And we chose to do so on our bicycles. We'd been feeling a bit wonky in our London bubble. Wales would soon set us straight, in a really, really hilly way. Cycling in Wales is absurdly hilly. Emma coined the term ‘Welsh Corner’, which you can apply to basically half of the corners in Wales. The term applies to when you're cycling uphill and on finally reaching the turn another hill appears around that corner.
At first the ‘Welsh Corners’ were met with dread. A part of the journey that stole energy and exhaled breathless expletives as we worked to catch our breath. But a couple of days in we came to realise that each of those hills gave us something to look back on and forward to. Three-hundred-and-sixty degree panoramas; pure downhill switch-backs, rushing past river-snaked valleys carved out by ancient glaciers; hill-top pubs and remote little pink-house towns and lunch-time by high lakes.
I've never felt so elated and exhausted at once. I remember nearly vomiting with joy at the top of a beacon in the Brecons. I remember hearing our howls bounced back at us as we descended through a fungal paradise of pine trees recovering an old slate mine. I remember a microwave dry-stone-walled into a dry-stone-wall and rolling down to the most breathtaking coastal panorama after the most breathtaking hills. Sometimes it looked like Mordor was on the horizon, and then you'd realise you were going to cycle over it and all would be well. And then there are the coasts, with the most glorious, flat, traffic-free sections of cycling through seaside towns.
There is no better way to see Wales than by bicycle. It's an incredibly rewarding place to ride. Maybe the best reason is because cycling makes you really hungry and the food in Wales is awesome.
In the small corner of west Wales we eventually stopped cycling and settled in there are: at least six artisan cheese-makers; two small-scale but world-renowned gin distilleries; market gardens that were still selling when the “Beast from the East” cut the supermarket supply chains (Glebelands); the best bread I've ever had (Bara Menyn); herbal chocolates (Zamat); raw milk (Mountain Hall Farm), and the vegetarian approved meat that comes with that (me being the vegetarian who has approved it, with a solitary mouthful of beef).
I don't say that lightly. I came here a long-time WWOOFER and vegetarian. Visiting the projects in this country has shifted my views on food and farming profoundly. There are many people producing food in ways that regenerate the soil we so desperately need to protect.
Many craft their products with a sense of pride for the land they live in and on. Others source their ingredients from local growers. This sense of local pride is lovely to behold and celebrate with each mouthful.
And that sense of local and national pride was one of the other joys of cycling Wales. We found it inclusive and welcoming, with people proud of their towns and their ‘Welsh Corners’. We've never before received such detailed, land-based directions. The land is inscribed in the language.
For us Wales has become home and that's based in large part on the joyful time we had cycling up and down and across the country, visiting people's gardens, market gardens, farms and self-builds.
Anthony was an itinerant agricultural volunteer in South America and then the UK. With his partner Emma he bicycled around Wales volunteering on ecological farm projects. They recently stopped in west Wales to start their own adventure, cultivating mushrooms and plants.