Away we pedalled, like a multi-coloured snake wriggling through the streets

Who's got pole position?" cried the Mayor of Llanwrtyd Wells merrily from the steps of the Victoria Hall. His necklace of medallions flashed as he beamed down on us. "I hope we shall see you all again sometime. But now it's my pleasure to say 'GO!'"

Away we went. Not all at once, because that would have been impossible with 167 bikes in the confines of a small Welsh spa town, but in a steadily- elongating, multi-coloured snake, which wriggled off through the streets and out into the surrounding hills on a cool, grey morning.

So began Day 13 of the Belfast-to-Land's End trail-blazing ride organised by Sustrans, the Bristol-based charity which is creating the National Cycle Network. If last year's ride, from Inverness to Dover, was an immense success, this year's is proving a triumphal progress: more people are taking part, and support from local organisations along the route is immeasurably greater.

Thus, as we pedalled southwards, people spoke in awe of the terrific spread laid on the previous evening by the Llanwrtyd Wells Town Council. Such were the mountains of sandwiches and cakes that not even the army of ravenous bikers had been able to finish them.

People also spoke grimly of the weather they had been through. The opening ceremony, outside the City Hall in Belfast, took place in a torrential deluge, and the rain on the first days had been so fierce that it beat the oil out of chains and gear-wheels, with the result that several machines seized up.

For me, the greatest pleasure lay in the unfailing friendliness of my fellow-riders:although groups were constantly changing as people moved up and down the line, everybody was ready to talk.

The bikers could hardly have been more diverse in origin and nature. Chris Le Breton, an environmental officer with the European Commission, had come from Brussels, where he devises management programmes for the Black, Caspian and Aral Seas. One of the most resolute (but also most decorative) cyclists was Emily Shirley, riding a tandem with her two-and- a-half-year-old son Finbar perched on a little seat just behind the handlebars, her eight-year-old daughter Meg pounding on specially built-up pedals behind.

The machines were equally heterogeneous, from bone-shaker to state of the art. Malcolm Brenchley, a retired dental surgeon from Devon, and his wife Vera had spent pounds 2,500 on a new tandem. Cynthia Kirby, a great-grandmother from Norwich, was giving a first run to her custom-built Bike Friday, which had cost her pounds 1,500.

As we whirred down a minor road on the east bank of the Wye, I had breath for a chat with Phil Insall, a leading light of Sustrans. He described how the organisation, gavlanised by a grant of pounds 43.5 million from the Millennium Fund, had expanded furiously over the past year, and how the target of a national network is now definitely within reach. As originally proposed, the network was 5000 miles long. Now, because so many local authorities want to be included, it has been extended to 6,500 miles. The aim is that half should be on road, half on traffic-free paths also open to pedestrians. The cost will be about pounds 190 million. Nearly half should be finished by the year 2000, the rest by 2005.

In such a gathering, nobody much likes cars. The Pollution Solution proclaimed the backs of several T-shirts - and the only altercation I witnessed came when a white van shot over the brow of a hill so fast that it had to do an emergency stop. Although nobody was hit or hurt, the driver began abusing us for blocking the road - but within seconds he was surrounded by a swarm of bikers, who saw him off as smartly as if they had been bees.

At Hay the ride split. Half went on over the fearsome Gospel Pass and down to Abergavenny; the rest of us took a gentler route to Brecon, which we approached as evening sun gilded the ridges of the Beacons high on our left, and we came to rest at last with 52 miles behind us.

It was a tragedy for all concerned that Geoff Hamilton, presenter of BBC TV's Gardeners' World, should have died of a heart attack during this stage last Sunday. Millions will mourn him and his death inevitably cast a shadow over the ride. But Sustrans will pedal on; and when the cavalcade rolls into Penzance next weekend, the great goal of a complete national network will be that much closer.

Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?