The weekend before last it was the turn of the walkers. Many of my guests head for Snowdon (*sigh*) and so did these, but with a difference. One lot tackled the Snowdon Horseshoe, that’s a serious scramble, and my other guests ticked off Snowdon en route to Ben Nevis and then on to Scafell. 3 Peaks in 3 Days.
….is Revolution Bike Park or as it’s more commonly known, ‘Revs’
It’s one of the best downhill bike parks around and is where the world’s best downhillers come to practice. Revs is owned, built and run by brothers James and Tim Foster. Seeing a gap between family friendly trails centres and something for the more experienced rider they bought the land about 9 years ago and ploughed (pardon the pun) everything they had into building the park. A labour of love or probably more accurately, a battle with mud, lead and planning departments. But that’s another story. If you do bump into either of them, ask about their latest toilet project. Honest, it’s fascinating and you wouldn’t believe how difficult it could be to find water to flush toilets in one of the wettest parts of the country.
100 acres of woodland and 300m of vertical descent
10 trails taking in Red (Advanced), Black (Expert) and Purple (Proline)
12 miles from Ty Beic, about a 25 minute drive
Open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays 10am – 4pm
Uplift only (no riding up)
The best coffee between here and Oswestry. According to Tim.
I have to mention it although I don’t want to and I have tried my best to resist. It’s less than 4 weeks away. As you can probably tell, I’m not a fan. At all. So if you do stay here over Christmas do not expect tinsel, baubles, flashing fairy lights or Christmas trees. There are some of those – Christmas trees that is and real ones too, still in the ground – in the woods behind the hill and there’s a holly tree outside the Stable. I have been known to provide mince pies but they’re not just for Christmas, I like them. I also like sprouts. Do expect a warm and cosy cottage (there’s underfloor heating), spectacular views, plenty of places and time to cycle or walk and peace and quiet.
The Barn is available until 27 December and the Stable until 26 December. Dogs (or cats if you must) are welcome in the Stable. £85 per night, minimum 2 night stay.
The snow’s gone, spring is in the air and normal service has resumed so here’s a reminder about who we are, what we do and why we are here.
We moved to North Wales in 2013 after living in South East London for nearly 20 years. We have always been cycling obsessed. We met while both members of Dulwich Paragon cycling round the lanes of Kent and the North Downs and later getting our arses handed to us on a plate at Crystal Palace Crits. At the time I was the only single female in the cycling club so I had the pick of the club and Richard didn’t. Make of that what you will.
That’s me in 2009, 2nd in line looking a little chunky
After years of city living and spending many weekends escaping London to find good places to ride we decided to make a permanent move. I left my job of running a classical concert venue in central London, Richard re-located his furniture making business and we moved to Sarnau near Bala.
We knew the area well. Richard’s family is originally from near Llangollen and he spent many a family holiday in the Tanat Valley riding his BMX or ancient Peugeot MTB around what is now the Revolution Bike Park. I used to come here most summers with a ragtag group of cyclists from Southwark to attempt the Wild Wales Challenge.
I handed in my notice in March 2013 and by the end of June we were living in Ty Hen. We found the house from a small ad in the local paper. We didn’t immediately fall in love with the place but there was a lot that we liked, including the views of the Berwyn mountains, and we thought we could make it work for us.
The first job was to build a workshop for Richard so he could continue with his business (www.catchweasel.com) and work on converting the derelict outbuildings into holiday cottages. The workshop is the Swiss style chalet behind the house. One of our friends in Bala once said we would make more money from it as a holiday let than a workshop. He may be right.
Work began on the barn conversions in November 2014. We wouldn’t have chosen to start work then but we needed to get going as time and money were running out. It was not a labour of love. It was very, very hard work and I never want to do anything like that again. We finished the Barn in August 2015 (4 hours before our first guests) and the Stable in December 2015.
The cottages are designed to appeal to cyclists as cycling is our passion. We provide secure bike storage, bike wash, workstand and tools and can give advice about the best routes, rides and bike parks. One of the reasons we chose to live here is that we are no more than a 40 minute drive from about eight trail centres and mountain bike trails. One of our first guests described the area as Singletrack Epicentre which is about right and since moving here we have discovered that there are also some great natural trails in the hills behind us and over on the Berwyn. Last year we started to build a bike track in the large, steep field at the front of the property.
The road riding is exceptional with quiet roads, challenging climbs and exhilarating descents. We can go out for a 30 mile ride, pick the right roads and not see a car.
After about a year of living here we acquired a dog. Jac (spelt the Welsh way without a ‘k’) is the photogenic Labrador you see in nearly all of our photos. As we like dogs so much it seemed daft not to allow dogs to stay in our cottages so we made one of the them, the Stable, pet friendly. Dogs love roaming around the grounds and playing in the field and Jac gets on with everyone and everything. We’ve also had cats to stay and Jac didn’t eat them.
Our cottages are not your normal barn conversions. We both have unusual and quirky taste and have a habit of picking things up in junk and charity shops. These have found their way into the cottages along with some of Richard’s creations.
Neutral they are not. They’re also much nicer and much warmer than our house. We wish we lived in one of them.
It’s been 6 months since my last mountain bike ride as my last attempt resulted in an unplanned dismount and a broken thumb. Pain, lack of control (nothing new there) but mainly fear has kept me off off road and on on road ever since. Richard found a sneaky local loop which has tempted me back. 1 1/2 road miles from Ty Beic, a mile long with 200 feet of climbing and a gradual ascent and gentle singletrack descent. Nothing technical and can be ridden all year round. Ideal. Ride it multiple times at speed and it’s a good workout. Perfect for a quick morning spin before anyone else is out of bed or a gentle evening ride before bed.
I first road it last week in snow and ice and again yesterday in mud. I prefer the snow. If Eleanor isn’t too brutal I may go again today.
Shameless marketing warning, if you want to try it for yourself it’s only £65 per night (£32.50 per person) to stay during January to March and there are further discounts if you are a Singletrack magazine subscriber.
“It’s always nice here in September – the trails pretty much reach their best by then”
I said this in late June to friend who has visited us quite a few times at Ty Beic in North Wales. Taking me at my word, he booked to stay for a week in September. Cue the wettest July, August and September that we can remember. Oh dear.
Well, not all bad. This was a sort of test of our experiment of moving to Bala – the thesis that there is varied year-round riding whatever the weather. Certainly, the natural riding wasn’t going to be very rewarding unless wrestling your bike out of a sucking bog is a favourite part of your XC action. But…
We have trail centres galore – and each one has its own character. Penmachno is always wet – but when I joined Paul for the two loops the water was in deep standing puddles. Luxury! You know Penmachno is really wet when the puddles join up and the whole trail is flowing – not in the overused flowy sense but in the having an actual watery current sense. It was a glorious day – we got wet from below and sunburnt from above.Llandegla – mucky but only a light spray of filth. Sort of filth that looks like it’s been sprayed onto new bikes for a photoshoot. I hadn’t ridden here for ages and I had forgotten how much fun it can be.Coed y Brenin – quite a few times. All rideable in all its majesty and the bike came back cleaner than it went out.A quick blast round Brenig and Alwen reservoirs – often overlooked round here as there’s minimal (no) gnar, but taken at speed it’s a pretty thrash round some large bits of water (rather than through it).Paul also picked a couple of outliers – he made the trip from Bala to Nant yr Arian, which he seemed to enjoy and also took a spin along the Llangollen Canal to Chirk, taking in the World Heritage site of the Pontcysyllte Aquaduct. He topped off his week here with a rip round Cannock Chase on the way home to Essex.So in spite of my useless advice and the crap weather Paul still crammed well over 150 miles of offroad riding into his six days here. Not bad. The experiment in all year round rideability is proving worthwhile.
From our house we have a good view of one side the range of hills known as the Berwyn.
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.
Yep, it’s started, we’ve begun work on the long awaited Ty Beic bike track. Take your mind off politics for a few moments and have a look what we’ve been doing in our field (the very steep one).
As most things do, it’s starts at the top and then goes quickly downhill. Before you know it you’re at the bottom of the field and hitting a berm which in theory should propel you towards the top. Hmmm. And then the fun really starts with a tight and twisty climb. The test pilot did discover that maybe some of the turns are a bit too steep and a bit too tight or maybe a 35mm stem really is just too short. There’s work to be done here.
We are full in June but we still have gaps in July and August if you fancy giving it a test ride or even lending a hand. Prices per cottage are £80 a night or £475 a week and there are discounts if you are a Singletrack Subscriber. We don’t charge for digging.
I don’t like putting the bike in the car to go and ride, so for me a cross bike is great. It extends my range from the doorstep, allowing me to eat up the road miles and access cross country epics. This was certainly true when we lived in South London but is even more the case since we moved to North Wales.
I just decided to rebuild my old Brodie, having managed to replace the bent mech hanger. Me and this bike have seen some action, from the Three Peaks to London League cross races and to the other day when I found myself thigh deep in a bog with the old bike on my back. Moments of elation when it feels like you’re flying, to despairing times when you wonder why you thought this was a good idea.
One boozy evening earlier this year, cajoled by an old friend (and Three Peaks stalwart), I applied for the Three Peaks entry. I didn’t get a place, but I decided to get myself fit like I really had to avoid wallowing in the mid-Peaks trough of misery. Well, I’m some of the way there in spite of a bad ankle sprain and whilst the fitness is lagging a bit what I have (re)discovered is my absolute love for the cross bike.
I’ve spent many evenings over the last few weeks poring over maps, identifying circuits of bridleway and byway that take me out over remote moors. And, when I go out the next day to track these routes on the ground I’ve been about 95% pleased with the riding. There I am spinning along an old drovers’ road, on a trail so ancient that the rocks have grooves cut in them by centuries’ of wear from cartwheels. I stop to look at the map and I see that the bridleway carries on over the mountain into the next valley and from there back down to the main road some five miles further on. I’ll be sitting down with a pint in an hour… And so I bowl down the hill and the bridleway so prominent on the map isn’t anywhere to be seen. And there you are suddenly ‘transitioning’ from firm ancient trackway to thigh deep in blanket bog. So I ask myself: is this a bad thing? And I don’t have to think long to decide that yes, it is a very bad thing and this feeling only grows as I carry my bike two miles to firm ground. Did it occur to me to turn back though? Of course not.
Then about two hours later when I’m finally sitting in the back room of the world’s greatest beer shop, I reflect that it is that familiar sinking feeling (5% displeasure) that makes so many of my rides round here great. Embrace the bog, knuckle down for a slog and then hail the grog. Exertion, stupidity, reward and REPEAT.
Like the first time I did the Three Peaks, I swore at the finish line “never again”, only to find myself in the pub a quarter of an hour later wondering how I could do it faster next year. STOOPID but FUN.
I have a confession. I enjoy road cycling as much if not more so than mountain biking. I didn’t feel that way when we lived in South London where I endured and survived a 7 mile commute into central London everyday and weekend rides into Kent meant a 20 minute slog through South London’s Mean Streets. I don’t cycle as far as I used to and all day epics are a thing of the past – I blame that dog – but a 30 mile ride can be just as worthwhile and rewarding. The roads around here are so quiet that we can cycle for miles without seeing a car and there are very few roundabouts or traffic lights to break the rhythm. Bala’s driving test centre is famous, and much in demand, as one of the few centres where a test doesn’t involve such things. I took my driving test a couple of years ago in Bala, not having the need for a car when living in London. The first time I negotiated a roundabout and dual carriageway behind a wheel was driving to Chester and back to visit Richard in hospital after he broke his hand. But that’s another story.
The weather last week was great so we had no excuse not to get out on the bikes. Sunday was a 32 mile ride (with 3000ft of climbing) over Bwlch y Groes, down to Lake Vyrnwy and back over Rhosygwalia. Monday was another 30 mile ride through Llandderfel to the top of the Berwyn before turning round and heading back to Bala with a detour around Llyn Tegid. We had planned to ride over the Berwyns to Llangynog and then Vyrnwy, Bwlch y Groes back to Bala but realised we would be late for our Welsh conversational class in Stori, or ‘siarad caci tarw yn Gymraeg’ as we like to call it, so we cut the ride short. Thursday is chaingang night, a 20 mile thrash starting and finishing at the Bryntirion.