Landing in Dublin I go immediately to Duff Cycles to get my pedal bike taken out of its transport box and reassembled. My plane was delayed several hours, so when every joint is greased and tightened I race to the ferry that will take me from Dublin, Ireland to Hollyhead, Wales. With only minutes to make it to the registration desk I push to maximum speed, and in my negligence I come close to colliding with a right-turning truck. When I realize too late that the driver didn’t see me, the tiny speeding bike, I brake and swerve to avoid the massive vehicle. My skinny tires get caught in the slippery tram tracks. The next moment I’m on the ground, covered in mud and grease. I can see the torn skin of my knees start to bleed through the fresh tears in my pants and I can feel the tears of panic rise. If I miss my ferry I’ll be stranded for the night. With no time to spare I ignore the truck driver’s apologies and get back on my bike.
“Don’t worry, you’ve got plenty of time,'' says the friendly man when I arrive at the desk. I do lunges on the ferry to keep warm, a friendly lady lends me her sweater, and a nice girl lets me use her phone charger for the next three hours.
When I get into Hollyhead I immediately find the national cycling route trail that will take me to my air bnb. All feelings of shock and panic fade as I fly over the countryside. The trail takes me by the water, where there are people fishing. As I go further inland my route takes me across seemingly endless fields of sheep. There are great big rocks in the fields and the sides of the roads are all lined with thickets.
After a night of little sleep and a fast paced morning I finally feel at home. I’m on my bike, taking the winding roads out in the open fields of Wales. Nothing could feel better in this moment.
Chickens! My host has almost a dozen laying hens, two ducks, two dogs, a cat, a cockatiel, and a sheep who thinks it is human. The first thing I do is pick up a chicken. It’s healthy looking, soft, covered in red-brown feathers, and sits comfortably in my arms while I chat with my host family.
The teenagers turn on the music, the adults hand me a mug of wine and the seven year old puts Chris the chicken on my shoulder. I decide I want to stay here for a few days.
I help out feeding and caring for the animals on the farm over the next few days. There’s always someone or something to feed, water or wash and I’m kept busy with all the fun of the weekend. On Saturday we play hide and seek in the back field. A field so big that you have to give up hiding and go out searching for the seekers. I learned from the kids that the trick to finding anyone is to watch where the sheep are running from. We took the sheep-dog, Jess and her keen sense of smell was the second trick that helped us relocate each other. On Sunday we take the hyper-active Jess for a run on the beach. The sea is beautiful and calming, but too cold for a swim. I collect shells to bring home to my mother and we head home for Sunday dinner.
The next day the kids are at school and I take a day trip to Snowdonia National Park on my road bike. I make it 50 km before it’s time to head back, leaving me enough time to have lunch and take a few pictures. As I bike away from the massive mountains I know this will only be our first encounter together. Next time, maybe I will have more appropriate tires to surmount the beautiful rocky peaks.
My last day in Wales I go to the old copper mines, called the Amlwch Copper Kingdom. Looking at the multicoloured expanse of gravel and the great pits of chewed rock, I am surprised to learn that the activity of this mine was entirely powered by the energy of humans and horses. It was the late 1700s and the Anglesey mining town grew rich from the bounty of the soil. The mine grew into what would once be the biggest copper mine in the world. Next we head to a chapel from the early 12th century. There’s no roof but all walls still stand and there’s a plaque with information about the services that might have been provided by the small chapel so many years ago. Off to the left is an opening in the floor, with stairs leading into a small dark room. The ceiling is low and there are window-like indentations in the stone walls, presumably made for holding candles. We wonder aloud if there are any bodies still hidden under the earth, or if the archaeologists have come to excavate all the remains.
Word has it that Anglesey farmers find archaeologists and their ancient burial chamber excavation all a bit annoying. If any burial chambers survived in a field, they could be conveniently cleared by a tractor. I wonder if this quiet destruction of a burial ground is any more reprehensible than the practice of excavating and analyzing the human remains. My scientific curiosity has me biased and I wince at the thought of all that precious evidence being churned up with the soil, all those stories of ancient civilizations lost forever.
The days seem to have passed by so quickly and already it is time for me to board the train to London. The three hour ride reveals the foggy expanse of Anglesey shoreline and endless rocky hills. It’s said the rocks here just grow out of the ground and you can see them slowly peeking through the lush greenery to drop away into steep cliffs and pile back up into great hills. The geology is unlike that of my more familiar Canadian shield and the budding geographer in me is captivated by the stunning beauty of the wild landscape. I am certain this will be the first of many visits to come.