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Tour of Pembrokeshire 2019

It’s safe to say that the Tour of Pembrokeshire and I have history. Years of it. I’ve done the Prologue ride a few times. I’ve done the actual Tour quite a few times, and done every route from the short to the long. Not the very long route they had one year, even I’m not that daft – I’d still be out there!

But that’s when I was riding a bike. These days well…thanks to my health (mostly) and life…it’s coming up for a year since I actually rode out on the road, and it’s been a fair few months since I even sat on the spin bike at home. Such is life, etc.

So I had no intention of being anywhere near this year’s Tour of Pembrokeshire. Why would I? I’m not much of a one for being a spectator in life, if I’m not taking part, then what’s the point? I’d rather spend a few hours doing something than watching others doing it. A little bit of me was a bit sad about it. I know all the guys who run the Tour. We may not quite be what one would call friends, but we’ve all hung out quite a bit, in friendly and amicable style. And it’s a shame when traditions fall by the wayside. 

Now whether or not they felt the same way, or whether they were just short of volunteers to help on the day, we may never know…but a couple of months prior the event, and a couple of phone calls from Peter, the organiser, and somehow we’d agreed that we (being Matt and I) would be there, and that we’d spend the day interviewing riders at one of the food stops to help with the post-ride promotional video that they were planning on making. Now I know a lot of you think I’m a extrovert, and that that kind of thing is probably very me. Believe me, I’m not, and it’s not. But given the chance to spend another weekend in Pembrokeshire, and to catch up with some folk, with the addition of a little curiosity as to whether or not I could push myself out of my comfort zone thrown in and…there you go. 

And so, once more, late on a Friday evening, we spent another few hours retracing our now very familiar steps back to Crug Glas, HQ for the Tour for the last few years. By the time we’d made it down there, the pre-ride evening do was drawing to a close. We were just in time to grab some of the fish & chips laid on for dinner though, which went down a treat. Peter was as busy as ever, unsurprisingly, though we did manage to grab the odd five minutes with him so as to pick up the camera & kit, before getting our briefing from Griff as to what kind of thing he was after on the day. Slowly all was cleared down, the remaining riders retired to wherever they were planning on getting a good night’s sleep before doing the Tour, rather than just talking about doing it.

We all followed suit, with Peter playing support vehicle to make sure we got to Preseli Venture (who are one of the Tour’s Adventure partners), where we were staying without getting lost, which was good as we could easily have missed it on the dark narrow country lanes! So then, time for couple of beers in the bar, and a couple of games of pool, methinks. The bar closed pretty early, around 9ish, but she was happy to leave us to our own devices in the club room, so we chilled out for a bit, and then had a relatively comfortable night’s sleep on a couple of mattresses pushed together on the floor, as neither the two single beds nor the bunk beds in our room appealed… 

The sun rose, seemingly actually shining, and at some point so did we. Not at the usual hideous o’clock that is associated with actually riding the event however, which I can’t be said to have missed. These days the only sport I could compete at is sleeping, and I’m very good at it once there! We were due to spend the day at the Bluestone Brewery food stop, where even the first racing snakes through wouldn’t be there until a fairly reasonable time, and being such, the chances were they’d not be wanting to stop and talk to us either! Post breakfast, well for him anyway, we headed off in the sunshine, both suitably attired in a range of Tour kit, past and present. And jeans in my case. No-one wears cycling shorts unless they have to, right? 😉 I wanted to make sure that we looked at least vaguely official – rather than just a pair of numpties walking around pointing a camera/mic at random people! 

Which worked, albeit in a slightly counter-productive sense. As we parked up outside the brewery, and emerged blinking into the slightly breezy sunshine, (yes, it was sunny, yes this is not entirely unprecedented for the Tour, but it is rare, and I am going to keep mentioning it), we were accosted by a couple of riders, one of whom had recently had an unfortunate incident with a support vehicle, on his brand new, very swish, and no doubt expensive bike. Although the back deep carbon rim wheel was probably worth a little less than it had been, what with it being slightly buckled… 🙁 We did out best to help, until Griff appeared from nowhere, and we passed them on to him, in true pass the buck style!

Time to get to work. It’s harder than it looks videoing people. For starters, it was getting busier. There was loud music being played. Lots of chatter. And a fair few rookie errors. Like, did you know it helps to turn the microphone on before talking to people? And that the mic is fairly directional even when it is working? And that I get fairly flustered doing such things, although I did get better as I got the hang of it. It’s just hard approaching people, interrupting what they’re up to, be it eating, chatting, or just trying to avoid you! We did our best…and both thanks and apologies go to our victims!  Basically everyone was having a good time, the weather was great, they loved the route, the organisers were friendly and helpful, and the food stops were amazing. Imagine many variations of that theme over, and over, and over…  The atmosphere was lovely, the sun was still shining, though it could get a tad chilly on the few occasions where it hid its face or the breeze blew a little stronger. I had thought I might feel nostalgic, or a bit sad, left out, whatever. But no. I know the Tour. I know that whichever route you do, it’s bl**dy hard work, and I didn’t find myself missing it at all! The best part of the ride for me has always been the stunning scenery, and I was still getting to experience that, without slogging my guts out or ending up sat on the roadside in tears again. I’ve done it. Nothing to prove here, it’s on my palmares. Job done 🙂

Back to doing this “job” then. Which we did. Then the battery ran out. We had a spare. What I wanted to do was put the spare in, and put the old one on charge. However as it turns out, the only way to charge the battery is to plug the camera (complete with said battery) into the wall. I really didn’t want to risk ending up with no battery at all, especially considering that the first charge didn’t seem to have lasted all that long. 

So, what to do? Take refuge inside the brewery of course! Where they were conveniently selling their very nice, and cold, beer. Weight off feet, time to cool down, and recharge the batteries. (Do you see what I did there? 😉 ) The barman was a cheerful chatty chappie, quite amused by the fact he didn’t think he’d ever had so many people around the place while selling quite so little beer…! Not surprising really, but we weren’t the only ones indulging – chapeaux to those who thought that they could cycle the rest of whichever route they were on after a beer or two – I know I couldn’t! On the other hand, as well earnt pints go…

Break over, and we got back to work, as the flow of riders lessened to a trickle, and we decided to head back to the Start/Finish and see if we could chat to people there instead. One last chat to a lovely lady from China (possibly) who was doing the long route, who was possibly the last en route, and even though it was her first event, and neither her bike, helmet or kit marked her out as a “cyclist”, was totally unphased when we had to tell her (she asked!) that she had a good three hours or so ahead of her. On our way out, we followed the road through the still beautiful Gwyn Valley, and passed her walking up an incline. We checked she was ok, and left her behind us, still with a massive smile on her face, determination writ large. 

Back at HQ the place was full of lycra clad bodies sprawled all over the place, debriefing with friends, cold beverages, and the free food on offer for riders. Live music, massages, hustle, bustle, on one of the best days weather-wise that the Tour of Pembrokeshire has ever had, if not THE best. We collared a few more, slightly more willing, victims for post ride comments, to be told again what a great event it was (it is!), how much they’d enjoyed it, and that they would both recommend it and ride it again. Well, apart from the poor lady who had snapped her gear hanger (or something equally technical and hard to fix at the roadside) and had had to be rescued by the broom wagon. Better luck next year!

Having finally had enough of getting up enough nerve to talk to complete strangers, we decided that, in the spirit of being supportive and sportive, we would take our food, and a glass of something appropriate, and wait by the finish line for our cheery girl. I’ve been on my own and amongst the last in at sportives a fair few times, and it can be an rather lonely experience, which is sad when it comes on top of such an achievement. So wait we did. And quite some time later, about 3 1/2 hours after we’d last seen her, there she was, with a couple of other stragglers, all of whom summoned the energy for a brief sprint finish together, to be cheered over the line by us, a few marshals, and a family with many offspring still waiting for Daddy to get in. Our girl was still as smiley as ever, and I gave a big hug and congratulations, without hopefully being too patronising. She was inspirational! And last seen buying every piece of memorabilia and kit to remember the day by – who can blame her?

Right then. Time to make our way “home” again. Sadly the bar had closed by the time we got back, and neither of us had any change for the pool table any more. A slightly anticlimatic and unsociable end to the day, but luckily we had some provisions with us, so we hung out in the club room, and used the wifi to watch TV on the laptop for a while before bed beckoned again.

Good day sunshine! One of the best things, to my mind, about the Tour of Pembrokeshire, is that it takes place on the Saturday. Which leaves you the Sunday to go out and enjoy the area in a more leisurely fashion, should you so wish. Thanks to having helped out on the day, we (and a few similar) were in for a treat. Peter had organised a schedule of boat trips with Falcon Boats, the Tour’s other Adventure partner, around Ramsay Island to see the wildlife. It was fab. We were the first group, of around 12 or so, to head out. The sea was as flat as we’ve ever seen it, the sun was shining, the boat was fun, and came with a very lovely skipper who spent the ride doing her best to tell us all about everything we were seeing. Unless a seal popped its head up of course, in which case she got completely upstaged! The sea was beautiful, the range of birds on the island was amazing, the rocks and cliffs and caves were stunning, and the seals were just fabulous. Sadly the little resident pod of Riley’s Porpoises was nowhere to be seen, but hey, no complaints here.  Well unless you’re Matt. He would have liked the sea to be much more bumpy and the boat to have hurtled and bumped around a lot more. The lady sat behind me would not have done however – it was quite bumpy enough for her as it was! *grin*.  Sadly all good things come to an end, and it was back to shore where, after a brief wait for the bus, we were deposited back in St Davids to go our separate ways. Which in our case involved a pub lunch sat outside the pub, with views of the Cathedral, watching jackdaws thieve leftover packets of biscuits from the table next to us. They’d take them up to the roof next door, open the packet, drop the plastic bit, and fly off with their bounty. Someone is going to be mystified next time they clear out their gutters….! A very pleasant end to a very lovely weekend 🙂

Tour of Pembrokeshire 2019 done! Well, sort of 😉

Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue 2018

You would be forgiven for thinking that I don’t ride a bike anymore. Let’s face it, I practically don’t. As my health has gotten worse, I have been less and less able to ride a bike… I’ve barely even been even to use the spin bike.  That wasn’t going to stop Matt and I doing this year’s Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue ride however.  What, miss a good excuse for a weekend in Pembrokeshire, with bikes, and beaches, and all?  Not likely!  

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Which is sort of the point I’d like to make in this blog, and part of the reason the Tour of Pembrokeshire – i.e. the actual event in May – is such a great event.  Unlike most sportives it takes place on a Saturday which means you have the change to spend a whole weekend in one of the most beautiful parts of the country I know, without that mad rush for home to be ready for work on Monday..  Even if you don’t want to ride the sportive, and your other half/friends/family do. it’s not like there’s not plenty of other things to do in that neck of the woods – more of which later.  

But let’s re-wind a little, to the morning of Friday 26th January, when we were due to be at Crug Glas, the official event HQ, first thing.  When you’re aiming for bacon butties at 8:30am, and it’s a 3+ hr journey, sleeping through your alarm clock and not realising how many times you’re hit snooze until around 5:15 is NOT a good start!  You’d be amazed how quickly you can get your act together, kit/clothes on, and bikes into an already mostly packed car when you have to!  

OK, so getting there in time for the bacon was never going to happen…and as we got closer, and I dozed while Matt drove, and rain intermittently kept us company, it was looking like getting there in time to ride at 9:00 was also not only unlikely, but unattractive!  I pinged Peter (organiser extraordinaire) to warn him, in a fingers crossed tone, that I might not make it but I was on my way.  A quick check of the schedule for the day informed me that we were actually due to head out at 9:30am, and for all that the weather was looking unappealing, I did actually kinda want to ride the bike, just to prove I still could. Back to crossing those fingers…

By the time we arrived, the weather had brightened up considerably.  I left Matt parking the car outside the hotel proper and sorting bikes, since we were staying the night and the Cowshed car park was full, and nipped in to let Peter know we’d made it and would be riding, and to please not leave without us. Just as I walked in to the back of the briefing, where he was reading out who would be riding in which group, he read out my name – spotted me, and pointed me out to everyone.  Comedy timing..thanks Peter!. 😉  Having had issues in previous years with losing riders en route, and with the Prologue getting more and more popular every year, we were all organised into groups of roughly 5 riders to 1 official Tour rider, roughly by ability, and by route (25 or 40 miles) with the emphasis being very much on keeping those groups together.  Not that those groups couldn’t end up riding together – but G is for group, and you should never leave your wing man, right?

 

Our group was to consist of Tour stalwart Griff, Matt and I, and three others (names escape me right now, I’m rubbish with names!), all very happy with 25 miles being the wise choice to make around here – what with it being early and the year, and it being more than a tad lumpy here!  Having checked in, and had a quick chat with Peter, there was just enough time in hand for me to rejoin Matt, for us to put every layer of kit on we owned, and to take the bikes over to rejoin our group.  Did I mention that it may well have been brighter, and it was, but it sure as hell wasn’t warm?!  And it was a tad breezy on top of that…isn’t it always?  S/s base layer, l/s winter jersey, bib winter tights, winter jacket, gilet, long finger gloves and, Matt’s leg warmers over the top of my tights.  More kind of as a precaution than anything – I tend to get cold and then stay cold – and they’d be easy to take off if necessary.  Matt, clearly being of questionable sanity, wore baggy shorts as usual…! You can take the boy off the MTB but you can’t take the MTB out of the boy… 😉

 

So there we were, all ready to go and, after Matt played Good Samaritan and helped some lad who was borrowing a bike put pedals on it, we headed off into the wilderness.  Last year, on leaving Crug Glas and heading towards the coast, you’d never have even know there was a coast to head towards…  Today, in chilly winter sunshine, under brightening skies, there was the deep blue sea stretching away towards the horizon…which was enough to put a smile on even my slightly nervous face.  It felt a bit weird being on my bike after so long…but it also felt good.  I have been missing it, and I’m looking forward to the days when one day I’m able to get back into, and onto, it properly.  

I hadn’t had chance to look at the route really, but we’d established that there were two or three big climbs to be done – one out of Solva, and two at Newgale – one on the way out and one of the way back.  Which was bound to mean more than three – Pembrokeshire tends to either up or down, there’s precious little flat stuff around here!  We headed out towards St David’s, where we skirted the main town centre to head out along the coast road east.  It was a shame not to see the Cathedral…but I also know going to see the Cathedral involves a country lane detour and one of two possible killer and not short enough climbs to climb up past it, so I really wasn’t complaining!

Being on the bike very quickly got painful.  Which was bad, unsurprisingly.  But good, in that it reminded me why I’ve not been able to ride a bike for months, and helped me feel a little less guilty/cross with myself about that.  Silver linings I guess.  Which are hard to cling on to as, as the ride progressed, it got worse and worse….

Anyway, enough of my pity party, back to the road and the ride.  The coast road is rolling, with some steeper drags, and as it happens, not a lot of traffic and what there was was very courteous and respectful.  Being able to look right and right out to sea helped distract from some of the drag, and also from the fact that the first climb of the day, out of the very pretty village of Solva was coming up.  Our group stretched a little from time to time, as the climbs spread us out, with me not quite last, and the descents did the same, with me not quite, but sometimes, first 😉  

 

The descent into Solva is a bit wiggly, and I wasn’t best positioned to get the most of it. Neither was I really in any rush to get to the unavoidable climb ahead.  Back in the day the route didn’t come this way, but my drive down did, and every time I drove up or down it I used to muse that I was really glad I didn’t have to ride up it.  Well these days it does, and having done it before on last year’s Tour I did at least know it was doable.  I also knew how hard it is if you’re me.  And as we left the very  picturesque and colourful village and started the climb upwards, the gradient cut in pretty much straight away, the group spread out, and it was time to sit back, engage crawler gear, and just concentrate on plodding my way up.  Matt decided out of the saddle was the way to go and disappeared into the distance.  Some considerable time, and pain, later, I finally met up with him and the rest of the group, bar one, at the next suitable regrouping point.  I was ever so glad for the bar one, as it meant we didn’t head off straight away, and I got to get my breath and composure back again!

With the group back together again, in more ways than one, we set off again.  A few more miles of draggy saw us to Newgale, for yet another lovely descent to be followed by a climb!  As you arrive and start descending the whole coastline opens up in front of you and the beach stretches out ahead of you, beckoning.  Don’t get too distracted by it though, there’s a really really nasty hairpin wiggle on the way down, which would be bad even if the road surface was good, and it isn’t, so it’s even worse!  Think of slowing down as an excuse to look at the view? 😉  Once at the bottom the road heads along the beach, divided from the sea by piles of grey stone,  which block out the view until you start to leave the beach towards the other end.  Rather than carrying on up the main road climb, which was on last year’s Tour, we turned right to continue further along the beach, and climb away from the coast that way instead.  No rush though, we slowed down somewhat to enjoy the view, listen to the waves, and have my camera tell me it was full and refuse to take photos of those stunning views! (not amused…turns out later that the memory card had popped out a little – it wasn’t full at all *grrr*).

It turned out to be a nicer climb than t’other one in some ways.  Longer, but more gradual, sort of stepped, with occasional steeper bits.  Matt kept me company this time, which made things feel a little easier.  Had he been with me up Solva I’d have been tempted to ask him for a helping hand, something I virtually never do or permit…now that he was with me, I found it easier not to need one. Perverse I know…  And..then…climb done…or so I thought.  Turns out there as another similar one shortly afterwards, after the left turn inland, which no-one seemed to have thought to mention…told you there were bound to be more than three climbs!   Ouch!

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Somewhere around here, where the 25 mile route was to split from the 40, the other female member of our party was struck down by the puncture fairy.  We all pulled over in a convenient gateway, where a Tour marshal and his extremely cute small child happened to waiting, and various manly MAMILs helped get the job done, using a surprising number of different bike pumps.  Meanwhile I enjoyed the chance for a break, out of the wind, to enjoy the sunshine and be glad we only had 10 miles or so left to go.  Having said that, Peter’s routes have often proven to be somewhat longer than expected, so I was mentally aiming at it being more like 27 miles than 25, so as to not be annoyed if that happened! Praemonitus, praemunitus…or something like that anyway.

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Time to head back then.  Which involved looping us back round, down the much more enjoyable decent to Newgale from the other side, and more beach loveliness.  It took a while to warm up again after the break, but retracing our steps back up that wiggly hill out of Newgale was bl**dy hard work, relentless, and seemed to go on for ever. It warmed me up though!  Every time you thought you’d reached the top, you hadn’t, and the photographer, who’d been popping up en route all morning, was predictably sat half way up after one of the worst stretches to capture the moment for posterity.  I may have smiled.  Or gurned… Once again Matt kept me company, once again it hurt like f*ck, once again we both made it to the top eventually.  

We regrouped, headed back along the main coast road for a bit, where we stretched, and regrouped as usual, and then checked the map and route ahead to make sure we weren’t going to get lost.  One right turn later and we were on to virgin territory.  Which did involve us getting a tad lost, or at least not entirely convinced we were in the right place and/or going in the right direction a couple of times.  Maps and gadgets were consulted but, with only a few miles to go, it wasn’t too stressful an affair. I was pretty sure I could see Crug Glas in the distance anyway, which helped.  Somewhere in amongst those wiggly lanes was a fair killer of a hill, which took the last of what little was left in my legs and then some.  Except it can’t have been a hill because there were only three hills today right?  Sure felt like a hill to me…  By now I was definitely in “I need to go home” mode.  Stick a fork in me and call me done.  Too much ouchy on many fronts, but hey at least we were all still together, and I was warm enough, right?  It was definitely a relief to find ourselves on the road back to Crug Glas, and a welcome surprise to discover, upon turning into the drive back up to the hotel, that the route had indeed been 25 miles or thereabouts!  Result! The work part of the Prologue was over and we’d suffered but survived. That’ll do me 🙂

Right then.  Time to park the bikes up outside the hotel and, with a little time to spare, head inside, have a shower, and freshen up.  The faster/longer groups probably weren’t far behind us to be honest, race snakes one and all, but luckily lunch was set for a fixed time, not for when everyone was back!  Here’s the photo that a nice lady took of us, to prove that we survived.

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Being off the bike, my body and soul stopped having to hold it together, and lost it fairly monumentally.  I thought it hurt on the bike but holy crap, did it ever hurt now!  Unbelievable sort of mind-numbing amounts of pain…  Luckily I carry a fair arsenal of analgesia, but it took me quite a while to get on top of it, get it together, have a shower, and put on civvies.  Which, as I said before,  made me feel rather better about not having been on the bike for quite a while – because this is how it feels when I do, so I’ve not been being lazy, I’ve been being sensible, so there!  Still…  Ho hum, hopefully I’ll get back to it eventually. Put me back on my bike!

Wrapped up in comfortable warm clothes, we headed back over to the Cowshed for the eat, drink, meet & greet part of the event.  Catering for both this and the Tour is always good, and today was no exception.  It’s a two part buffet.  Jacket potatoes and/or wraps, filled with whatever you want – pulled pork in my case, or various other options.  To which you can then go and add salad, pasta, cheese, whatever floats your boat.  It was very tasty and very necessary. Even I ate most of my wrap!  I could have eaten it all I suppose, but then where would I have put the sticky treacle pudding & custard?  Yes yes, I know I shouldn’t, but I did. I figured I’d earnt it, and bl**dy lovely it was too! 🙂 

We chatted to our group, who’d we’d ended up sitting with, and also to a few others, over food and the odd pint of rehydration therapy. Andrew Mathias then gave us a motivational talk about his circumnavigation of the UK coast, which was really interesting, and mad, if you consider he’d not been riding a bike for all that long.  I’d call it the folly of youth (cos I’m a grumpy old woman), but since he was doing it for a very good cause – the Paul Sartori Foundation – I won’t. Especially as he raised £5,403.04 for them!  Quite surprisingly, given the ride, good food, and a warm darkened room, Matt even managed to pretty much stay awake!

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So that covers the Prologue. But as I mentioned before, the Tour of Pembrokeshire is about far more than one long very challenging sportive 😉  It’s a weekend in Pembrokeshire for both riders and their families, to stay and enjoy the whole area.  After all it can be a long way to travel for just one day, so why not make the journey even more worth while?  When it comes to staying around St Davids, there are plenty of places to stay locally, up to and including Crug Glas itself (which is amazing!), and you can also book a space for a tent, caravan or motorhome on site if that’s more your thing.  And when it comes to activities, the Tour of Pembrokeshire has teamed up with Preseli Venture for coasteering and sea-kayaking or surfing and Falcon Boats for wildlife boat trips.  It’s not all about the bike you know 😉

You and yours could join the guys at Preseli Venture for a full or half day of family friendly coastal adventure. Try coasteering, sea kayaking, and surfing – it’s your chance to see this beautiful coastline from a whole new perspective! You can enjoy a hot local lunch while you’re there, and even stay in their 5 star eco lodge which sleeps up to 40 people. It includes a private lodge bar with music, pool table, outside seating, cosy lounge and lovely bedrooms, with a range of different sized rooms.  Hardly slumming it! 🙂

If that sounds a little bit too active for you, how about taking a trip with Falcon Boats for the wildlife trip of a lifetime around the Pembrokeshire islands? Discover the RSPB reserve of Ramsay Island, head out to Grassholm to see gannets, and maybe porpoises, whales & dolphins, or North Bishop to see the shearwaters and puffin colony. Seeing a whale in the wild is on my bucket list, so I may have to give it a try – how cool would that be??

Back to the Tour, which is where I’ll be on May. This year’s Tour has four routes – opening up the stunning scenery and roads of Pembrokeshire to everyone, whether you want to do 25, 50, 75 or 100 miles.  The Tour of Pembrokeshire really is one of THE best sportives you can do.  Quiet country roads, with challenging climbs, swooping descents, amazing scenery and the sea all around.  It’s why I keep coming back for more, year after year.  Sadly it’s looking like I may only be up to the 25 mile route this year but…with free parking, amazing feed stations, delicious free post-ride food, free hot tubs and showers on site, free beer (if you do the right routes!) and live music around the course and at the finish, what more could you or I ask for? I’ll be there, wearing my very fetching Tour of Pembrokeshire Castelli Women’s Team Jersey in the hope it makes me look like I know what I’m doing.   See you there?

*official photos – i.e. the good ones with ToP marks ‘n all are used by permission from the Tour of Pembrokeshire and are Â©huwfairclough.