I spend a lot of time staring at these hills, watching as they change by the second with the passage of clouds over them and noting how they change with the progress of the seasons. This year I have also spent a lot of time riding over them. There is one metaled road across the top of the Berwyn, which in itself makes for a beautiful road bike ride, but, as I am discovering, there are many old green lanes and drovers’ tracks that cross the tops, dipping in and out of steep-sided blind valleys. You know that if you descend from the tops you are going to have to work to get out of the valley.
My father’s family is from a small place called Froncysyllte at the northern end of the Berwyn, made famous by Thomas Telford’s aqueduct which carries the Llangollen Canal across the River Dee. My paternal grandfather was born there in 1917 and met my grandmother there when she was visiting her family in the valley. He only left the place when World War II dragged him away. Subsequently he became a vintner and went on in the 1950s to invent and name the drink ‘The Snowball’ (for which he won some shopping vouchers and bought an highly fashionable studio couch (sofa bed to you and me).
Anyway, all this is a roundabout way of saying that I have some connection with the area. In fact, and this may be sentimental mumbo jumbo, I would say I felt a profound sense of homecoming (something akin the fulfillment of the Welsh sense of hiraeth, which refers to the longing for a place, tinged with sadness for the departed) when my wife and I decided to move to near Bala just over three years ago. I have since then been learning Welsh and also my way around the area. As a child I spent many holidays in the area and before I was really aware of notions of longing I was conscious that my heart used to lift as we crossed the border into Wales and the hazy outlines of the Berwyn would start to emerge.
The main venue for my childhood holidays was a small village in the Tanat Valley, called Llangynog. I used to ride my Raleigh Burner round the disused quarry there, and drag the heavy little bike to the top of the steep hills that surrounded the area, then descend with no meaningful form of braking as the flexy calipers failed to grip the yellow plastic ‘mag’ wheels. There was literally no stopping me. The same disused quarry is now the Revolution Bike Park and the obstacles created there by the Athertons are well beyond the capabilities of me and my Burner or indeed of me on any bike.
More to follow as our small boy becomes a man (of sorts) and reacquaints himself with the Berwyn.