Lessons in procrastination rarely come better than this. We started out with some orange belt, semi-justifiable, faffing with our bikes - cleaning chains, putting on lights, fixing up my speedometer etc. Then a round of green belt sun screen application, having shown our blue belt potential by waiting for the bags to be packed before re-opening then to find the cream. Finally our bags were on the bikes, we had said our goodbyes and we were about to push off when Duncan dragged us back with the frankly brown belt excuse that he had hit the wrong button on his speedometer and couldn't work out how to get it out of set mode. Obviously not willing to pedal any unaccounted miles we gathered round to help sort this out. We topped this off with a black belt observation that my watch was not attached to my wrist so I had to go back inside (Duncan's father was rather surprised to see me again) and search the bedroom. Having not found the watch we drew the line at the 10th Dan option of unpacking all the bags and just pushed off hoping it was lurking somewhere to be found later. By now the sunshine had turned to a light rain, so much for the sun screen.
We soon passed Taunton and headed out towards Bristol as the weather dried up for a moment and there was even a hint of a back wind, although for the most part it was knocking us sideways. Still after the hills of Devon this flat ground felt easy and we made good time. To try to slow ourselves down we stopped by a road side cafe and for once Colin was the hungriest person there, but he was shown what proper hunger was as Hugh slammed in an order for a breakfast baguette and not willing to be out-eaten Duncan and I followed suit. This was truely a fried breakfast in a bun - two rashers of bacon, two eggs (fried of course), mushrooms and of course the by now superfluous two sausages. With wide eyes and hearts skipping a few beats we tucked in and I'm not ashamed to say that I had to pack half in my rucsack for later.
With the comment 'you're going to get wet' ringing in our ears from a helpful customer we set off with the flat ground giving way to hills. It turned out that he was prophetic, in the approach to Bristol we were caught out in sheets of rain. Huddled soaked by the side of the road it was hard to see the up side but as Hugh had already commented one of the 'bonuses' of booking everything in advance was that there was no room for 'shall we stop early today and hide from the rain and make it up tomorrow' debates. We had to play the ball as it lay and just get on with it. Thinking rather dark thoughts about this approach to biking we plodded onto Bristol.
City navigation is always fraught with possiblities of losing a couple of hours getting lost so we were pleased to find the Clifton bridge first time. What would have made it more of a celebratory moment would have been if we were going over it rather than looking at the underside of it. Still a short stiff climb later and we were topside and back on track. With the break baguette weighing heavy on our hearts we pushed through Bristol without stopping and made it to the Severn bridge. As we crossed over we were in no doubt as to the direction of the wind - directly in our faces. Feeling like it would be easy to slip and be blown back to Bristol we made a quick stop for camera snaps in the middle and carried on to the other side. With Chepstow within sniffing distance we were looking forward to cuppa and a cake, after of course the required 'Welcome to Wales' photo shoot. Having followed a promising looking cycle track for a while we began to have doubts that we were onto a winner when it went from tarmac to dirt track. Persevering we were rewarded only with a dead end, what ever prankster currently sits on Chepstow local council my congratulations for way laying another three cyclists, may your open arms to tourists never close.
Chepstow eventually located we set about the happy task of ordering sustenance. Meanwhile I had to clean my glasses to make sure that I had just correctly spotted a lady walking past with a parrot in a cage strapped to her back. Duly confirmed that I wasn't seeing things I had to wonder what the story was, especially since the cage had a small Scottish flag attached to it, as if that explained everything. With this sort of craziness creeping over the border we were in for a real treat towards the end of our trip.
The weather by now had picked up and we only had a short distance to roll into our stop for the night, the castle at St. Briavels. Before you ask I wasn't on mind altering drugs but we were indeed staying in St. Briavels YHA which is a castle, originally built as a hunting lodge for King John but which was soon fortified more sternly when they built the ring of stone around Wales. This was a lovely location, made even better by the fact that Steve had forgotten to cancel his bed and the owner said that we could simply spend his twenty quid on items from his shop which was basically alcohol of one form or another. We were pointed in the direction of the guard room on the top floor and we all trouped up to claim a bed. Being more experienced YHAers Dunan and I picked beds which hadn't been made up where as Hugh confidently claimed a bed with the bedding and sheets all sorted. In an effort to avoid some red faces later I explained that it probably meant that this was in fact someone elses bed. The novelty of staying in a castle didn't seem to wear off and we finished the evening with gin and tonics in the lounge room imagining King John strolling in after a long days hunting kicking off his boots and probably taxing someone for existing if he lived up to his reputation.