Royal College of Physicians (RCP) registrar Dr Andrew Goddard marvelled at the view from the Severn crossing as he cycled into Wales in search of more signatures for the RCP's charter of modern-day professional values.
Since my last leg I had holidayed in Portugal with my family and apart from a couple of rides at weekends was slightly out of practice so perhaps not at my fittest. I caught the train down from Derby (another early start) to Bristol Parkway. The weather was sunny and clear as I set off but the forecast was for a cold front coming in from the west so I knew I was under a bit of pressure if I was to get to Cardiff dry.
The ride up to the Severn crossing was lovely and the views of the bridges across the water stunning. The short climb up to the bridge was surprisingly picturesque although I had a little ‘worry moment’ when I saw a sign that said ‘cycle route may be closed due to maintenance works’. Thankfully the gate was open and I cycled across the bridge feeling lucky to be alive with such fantastic views. Cycling across bridges is a great pastime. You get the best views and can always stop for a better look if you want. Cars don’t have that luxury. I was so lost in wonder that I didn’t restart my satnav so I have no idea how long the bridge was.
Chepstow is the other side of the bridge and has a cycle path wandering through it. The path crosses the main road frequently with helpful ‘look left’ and ‘look right’ signs written on the road surface. These signs have an interesting effect on me. At some point I have got it into my head to associate the wording with the lyrics from the Lion King song ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’ (if you are of the right vintage you’ll get this – my kids were going through their Disney phase when the film came out on ‘video’). I am then humming songs from the film for the next few minutes which is good from the point of view of feeling happy but probably bad from the point of view that people think it is odd someone is smiling and singing to themselves as they cycle along. Oh well: hakuna matata.
I had plotted a route down country lanes towards Newport which was fantastic from the traffic point of view but once again meant having to avoid hawthorn trimmings and getting a fetching light brown spray pattern all over my bike and me. The other problem was I could now clearly see the weather front bearing down on me and was fighting a headwind. The roads down the Severn coast are remarkably straight and long in places but that meant the wind was unrelenting.
On the outskirts of Newport I cycled through a large industrial estate with HGVs everywhere. As I avoided being crushed, I had an inkling there was a plus side to this. Where there are HGVs there is usually a bacon butty van...and then there it was. I ordered a large mug of tea (in a Union Jack mug no less) and bacon butty and settled down to watch life go by. The banter between drivers and van ladies was fantastic: the language was a little fruity but no quarter was given on either side and it was clear who was the boss. I quietly finished my cuppa and thanked the ladies of the manor.
The rest of the ride into Cardiff was fairly event free. I had to navigate around a closed road but this was relatively straightforward. I got slightly lost on the outskirts of Cardiff but once I saw the central stadium I knew where I was going and arrived at the regional update to be greeted by old friends aplenty. As I parked the bike in the hotel the heavens opened. It’s all about timing.
We have created a Welsh version of the charter and it was the first outing for the siater (if I can mix my languages). People could sign either the English version or the Welsh version. I won’t say which one got the most signatures.
The following morning I caught the train to Swansea as there was a signing planned at Morriston Hospital at 8.30am. I then planned to cycle back to Cardiff. On the train was a teenager still in her dressing gown. This struck me as odd at best and lazy at worst. It wasn’t until I was watching 'Children in Need' on the telly that night that I realised why she was dressed like that. Lesson to self: don’t think uncharitable thoughts about people.
The ride up from the station was colder, longer and steeper than I had envisaged. I had made the mistake of leaving my gloves in Cardiff to keep the weight down – doh! There was actual ice on the road and by the end of the climb on my nose and hands. Thankfully the gritters had been out and it was a safe ride. The new main entrance to the hospital was easy to find (I’m told it has not always been so) and I found Rhiannon and Sarah-Jane at an RCP-liveried desk in the foyer.
I am constantly surprised by how good it is to see old friends around the country and see myself as lucky I have the opportunity afforded by the ride.
The signing was interesting. One consultant wandered by, did a double take and then gave me a massive bear hug. Barry and I were at medical school together and haven’t seen each other for 25 years. I am constantly surprised by how good it is to see old friends around the country and see myself as lucky I have the opportunity afforded by the ride.
The most interesting thing about the signing, though, was the appearance of two hospital representatives asking if we were going to tidy things up as the CEO was due to appear. My bike was a little muddy I confess and we had a small pile of coats by the table (rapidly pushed under the table). They were most concerned about a trolley (not ours) and that I looked a little shabby (ouch). I explained why we were there and they said they knew and
that the CEO was coming to see us...bizarre. I took it as a message that I needed to depart.
Chastised, I set off for Cardiff. I cycled north through local villages and then followed the river south towards Neath. The ride past Port Talbot was on very well maintained and signposted cycle paths and it was a pleasure to get a bit of speed up. There were still roads to cross (everybody look left, everybody look right…). Broken glass was a frequent hazard and I had several moments of waiting for a puncture after spotting shiny bits too late. I rejoined the roads and cycled east with the M4 a companion on the horizon.
The route I had chosen involved a bit of a hill climb just past South Cornelly near a quarry. I took a steady pace and all seemed to be going well until the road stopped. The quarry had been extended. I could see where the cycle path was supposed to go (there was a sign painted over badly enough to see what was under the paint) but fencing and a 100 ft drop ruled out that route. There appeared to be an unofficial path around the outside of the quarry with bike tyre tracks visible so I crossed my metaphorical fingers and went onwards.
Thankfully this path did eventually join up with the road I wanted to be on and I was grateful for wider tyres and a stiffer frame. I’m not sure a lightweight road bike would have faired well. The climb was tough and I took stock at the top to get some fluids and calories on board.
The rest of the ride to Cardiff was tough. I followed the coast and once again got some fantastic views. However, nearer Cardiff it got very hilly and I got very tired. The cycling term for when you run out of all meaningful energy is ‘bonking’ and I can assure you it is not a pleasant sensation. I stopped a couple of times to try and refuel and refocus and ended up setting myself target points on the map to reach. The airport was one, but once past it the hills got steeper. Somehow I ascended the last set around Dinas Powys and was greeted with a very welcome view of Cardiff laid out before me. The downhill into the city was fast but I needed to be careful as I knew I was tired.
I wheeled into the city centre and was relieved to see the Marriott hotel (where the RCP regional update was taking place) just ahead. I strolled in with a nonchalant air but obviously it didn’t work as people asked if I was OK as I looked quite tired. I had a little sit down on a sofa in the foyer and dropped off for a few minutes. I turned 50 the week before and have never felt so old.
However, after a little shut eye I perked up and was able to thank everyone for their support before boarding the train back to Derby. It had been a tough last leg before Christmas but I now have 764 miles under my belt and can plan the routes for 2018 and the remaining 1,254 miles. I’ll be back in February!
Read previous entries of the RCP Charter Cycle blog to catch up with what has happened already during Dr Goddard's journey. You can follow updates and find more photos on Twitter by searching for #RCPCharterCycle and #RCP500.