Off On Road

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.

 

Berwyn Up (Part 1)

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.Road cycling Berwyns

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.

Cadair BerwynBerwyn cyclocrossBerwyn mountains

Berwyn Up (Part 2)

A few weeks ago I decided on a long distance ride over the Berwyn, following in the tracks of the very first offroad cycling journalist – Wayfarer.  He regularly travelled the same roads and tracks that I do today, though he did it 100 years ago.  Whenever I find that the going is getting tough or I click for a lower gear and find there isn’t one, I think of him and just how punishing some of his rides must have been (although, unlike me, I believe he was just as happy pushing).

I managed to pick one of the hottest days of the year for my expedition, which started by riding to the small village of Llandrillo in the valley of the River Dee.  My goal was to go over the top first to Pen Bwlch Llandrillo and down into the valley of the River Ceiriog on the other side and then back over the Berwyn (to my side of it), have a beer in my local beer shop and grovel the last 4 miles uphill back to my home – the last section of our drive being a particularly unpleasant 20% gradient.

A small homage to a big man.  ‘Wayfarer’ was an insurance clerk from Liverpool.  His name was Walter Macgregor Robinson and he was famously tough and cheery.  He wrote his account of crossing Bwlch Llandrillo in 1919 and it was published in Cycling.  One of Wayfarer’s mottos was ‘Cycles are for riding, not for cleaning’.  In my neglectful way I am keeping his spirit alive.

Like many people who ride a bike, especially when that riding is solo and in a remote spot, my mind tends to wander.  I often wonder what thoughts that Wayfarer, a veteran of combat in the First World War, must have worked his way through whilst crossing these hills.

Anyway, back to the ride.  Having climbed out of Llandrillo up an initially very steep track which turns into just a steep track, I crossed the pass at Pen Bwlch Llandrillo, where there is a plaque to commemorate Wayfarer – describing him as ‘a lover of Wales’.   I inadvertently disturbed some other lovers of Wales who were having al fresco sex behind a 4×4 next to Wayfarer’s plaque. A cheery “p’nawn da” (good afternoon) seemed to take them by surprise.

wayfarer off road

From there I descended the rocky track into the Ceiriog valley and to a small village called Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog.  There are two lovely pubs in the village but despite the heat of the day I resisted the very strong urge to stop at either of them.  The last time I came by this way with a friend on a bike, we were riding through a snowy landscape and being continuously washed clean by meltwater, and it was much easier to resist the thought of a beer.  As so often when I am tempted by a mid-ride beer the thing that helps me resist is the thought that it will taste EVEN better at the end.

From Llanarmon DC it’s a steep haul up out of the valley whichever way you go.  I chose to do the first bit on the road towards Llanrhaedhr ym Mochnant (where I believe one or some of the Athertons might live).  From the top it’s down into the Tanat valley and into tiny lanes that have hedgerows so high that all you can really see is a strip of sky.  The lanes are cool on a hot day.  It’s through Llanrhaedhr and along the Tanat, this time on rough tracks high above the main road and then a plummet down a sunken lane that is so overgrown it makes me feel I must be the first person along it this year.  This brings me out near the village of Llangynog – the location for so many of my childhood holidays.  Even 15 years ago this place had two pubs, a café, post office cum general store and a petrol station.  Now it’s just got the one pub – well, that and the Revolution Bike Park.

sunken-lane

From here I could take the ‘easy’ route out of the Tanat valley which is to say the three mile road climb back to the top of the Berwyn.  But I’m in no mood for that – I feel I would be cheating myself.  By now almost of all my body is tingling with nettle stings from the sunken lane and like the weird pervert I am I don’t want this ride to end.  So, instead of the road climb I opt for what I know to be an horrible slog along the rough track that descends right to the valley floor before heading steeply up and essentially gaining the same elevation as the road but having lost a load of height before and then making it up with a savage, loose rocky grind back to the top.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

spooky-gate

As I crawl the last few hundred metres to the top I can just see some riders on the road.  As I get to the road I can see it’s my clubmates from Clwb Beicio Bala on their Wednesday Social.  As I stand there covered in blood (my own), sweat and excrement (mostly not my own) they beetle past me in their neat kit and shout for me to come with them, but by this stage I have nothing on my mind except the five mile descent into Bala and a cold pint of beer.

I am writing this a few weeks after the event.  We have turned a corner into autumn and the dusty days of summer feel distant now. That day I went out in shorts and a short-sleeved jersey and I came back covered in a mix of sweat, dust, dead flies and what felt like 100 nettle stings.  Just how I like it.  I’m sometimes not sure why I do these rides.  I think maybe it’s for the sheer pleasure I have when they’re over.  One thing I do know though is that as long as I can ride a bicycle I’ll carry on.

spooky bikes

As I said, it’s autumn now and I love this time of year but that memory, like the memory of a dream, of a hot, dusty ride and of lying in bed that night with my legs and arms tingling will keep going through the winter.

I’m not sure what Wayfarer would make of my bicycle and my attire (or of people having sex next to his plaque), but I’d like to think that he’d appreciate my (and their) endeavor.  Another few miles under the belt and another few thoughts worked through.  Why take the easy way when you can make things harder and much more unpleasant for yourself in pursuit of long term private glory?  As in all things, as an old friend and I used to say “Maximum Endeavour!”

tanat-valley-spooky

Wild Wales Challenge

Entries to the Wild Wales Challenge are now open.  As the organisers say, it’s not a sportive, nor is it a race (shame).  It is a challenge.

We are both Wild Wales veterans, sort of.  I have ridden it about five times, Richard once.  I was even the first female finisher one year, although as it has been said, it is not a race.  I used to travel up from South London in a mini bus with a motley crew of cyclists and stay in the White Lion Royal Hotel and latterly Bala Backpackers. It was how I came to know and love Bala.  There is no irony here. I did have a nice collection of commemorative slates but they were lost in one of my many house moves.

The challenge starts and finishes in Bala and we can offer you the ultimate in bike friendly accommodation at Ty Beic.  We have secure bike storage, workshop facilities, a bike wash and hosts who can give you the lowdown on the local area and who will be delighted to listen to tales of your exploits and triumphs after you have completed the ride.  We may also give you a beer.

Each cottage is available for a special rate Wild Wales Challenge rate of £70 per night.  If you want to make a weekend of it, we have a special rate of 3 nights for £200.  There are further discounts available if you book both cottages together. Use the contact form in Prices and availability to make a booking.  Please mention Wild Wales Challenge when booking.

And start training so you can see this view on your way back to Bala… Cadair Idris and Barmouth Bridge