Day seven: Good friends, new friends – perfect planning and a perfect day…
Day seven marked the first quarter of the whole challenge and would also be the only time that I had to complete seven days continuously. As it turned out, I couldn’t have picked a more majestic and memorable way to mark the occasion – it was spectacular. If I had been disappointed at missing out on my kayak across the Severn Estuary, I was overjoyed at the more than perfect conditions the Menai Straits had in store for me later that day. In all areas of life, you learn to take the rough and look forward to the smooth.
We still had a few miles to get through before arriving at that great expectation, however. After leaving the campsite in Barmouth, Simon and I set off on the bikes and unexpectedly crossed paths with a bubbly cyclist, Paula, who was out training for an Ironman competition. This ironwoman’s joyful company for a few miles was a great way to start the day. Arriving at Royal St David’s Golf Club, in Harlech, we had a lovely run along the beach, decorated by a stunning backdrop with the majestic peak of Mount Snowdon at its centre. I persuaded Simon to join me for another short swim at the end of the beach, as we passed Clough Williams-Ellis’ Portmeirion, and then we tucked into a few bacon butties for breakfast.
Getting to know other travellers along Lon Eifion’s journey…
It was then back on the bikes and along the magical Lon Eifion Cycleway through Porthmadog to Caernarfon. Even on a lonely day this trek would stir the emotions and whisper fairy tales to those who passed by; but on bustle-filled days, its charms truly come to life. We enjoyed the latter, and it seemed that every few miles we would stop to mingle with school parties, family outings, day-trippers, adventurers and those, like us, on charitable quests. This time of shared passion for life, sunshine and the great outdoors made it one of the most wonderful sections so far… but the best was just about to start.
Menai delivers, memories are made, and Richard says farewell…
Picture the scene: a golden sun, glimmering in the richest of Welsh blue skies, the perfect tide, a gentle cooling breeze, launching the kayak at the base of the ever impressive Caernarfon Castle and paddling into the Menai Straits. Of all the days, moments, trails and waterways I had planned for this trip, this was always going to be a highpoint. And it didn’t disappoint! For seventeen glorious kilometres of smooth delight, Simon and I had the tide on our side and the sun shining its approval. We shared the experience for a few minutes with Richard and Tony, who waved and shouted from the famous Menai Bridge as we passed underneath. Even the white water ‘swellies’ were kind enough to invite us to pass through with their blessing and barely more than a friendly splash and a wave.
We emerged from the dreamlike waters at Bangor, and it was back on the bikes for the final leg of the perfect day. Chris Kelsey, a friend from our main sponsor, The Marble and Granite Centre, had driven all the way from Newcastle just to say ‘hello’ at Bangor: another surprise moment which helped to make the day such a highlight.
That kayak was a memory that will always bring a smile to my mind, and it was made all the more valuable to have shared it with Simon. I owed him that much for having forced him on a few swims previously… although I know, he secretly enjoyed those too.
The cycle around the top of North Wales took us away from the Anglesey coastline, east through Llandudno, Colwyn Bay, and Ryl; then over the border back into England. A day which had promised to be amazing and then over-delivered in spades ended in West Kirby with a touch of sadness – but no regret.
My very good friend, Richard Hillier, had been with me for the full seven days, and it was now time to say goodbye. He had been a rock and the main constant up to that point – the rest of the adventure was going to be different without him. Although, at the time, I didn’t realise just how much would change.
As the next few lonely days would teach me, you can’t overestimate the power of friendship and support – and you only really know how much it means to you when it’s no longer at your side.
Barmouth to West Kirby: Total = 161km
Cycle = 133km; Run = 5km; Kayak = 21km; Swim = 2km