Berwyn Up – the Beginings

If you thought mountain biking began in California in the 1970s, think again.  It was born 100 years ago in North Wales when Walter MacGregor Robinson, aka the ‘Wayfarer’, decided to mark the end of the ‘off-season’ with a weekend ride.   On 30 March 1918 Robinson and a group of friends rode from Birmingham to Liverpool.  Not ones for taking the easy option, although they did very sensibly decide to “dispose of Wrexham” they embarked on a route that took them over one of the highest passes in Wales.  In a snowstorm.  Robinson never refers to Nant Rhyd Wilym as such.  He prefers to call it ‘Over the Top’ and that was the title of the article he wrote for ‘Cycling’ magazine a year after his adventure the popularity of which spawned a new interest in off-road cycling and the mountain bike boom was born*.

This wonderfully evocative article is written in Robinson’s eloquent, rhetorical and often humorous style.  It is also strangely prescient

“The road up the Glyn Valley for the first few miles has been “repaired” in a manner which suggests that the local authority wishes to discourage cycling and motoring visitors, upon whom the prosperity of the district in a measure depends.”

Robinson was a pioneer, encouraging cyclists to explore using mountain tracks, footpaths and byways as “some of the best of cycling would be missed if one always had to be in the saddle or on a hard road.”

Wayfarer Berwyn mountains

His cycling exploits are all the more remarkable given that he was injured during the First World War and often felt pain in his leg.  He rode a singlespeed Rover Light Roadster.  He advised other cyclists to dispense with mudguards, probably because they would become clogged with mud or on his epic wayfarer adventure, snow.  A perfectionist and fastidious in almost everything he did, he was not however a fan of cleaning his bicycle claiming that “cycles are for riding, not for cleaning”.

Robinson was an insurance clerk by profession but he was a remarkable cyclist and an inspiring writer.  In the words of the great man himself “’twill be an adventure”

Robinson’s full article about his ride is reproduced on cyclingnorthwales.co.uk

Photographs courtesy of CTC / University of Warwick Library from North Wales Mountain Bike Association 

*not entirely true, it did take another seventy odd years, but it makes a good story.

Stranger Than Paradise

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.

criteriums

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.

Barn from field

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.

North Wales Road cycling

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.

Jac the labrador

 

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.

nut job

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Stranger than paradise

door handle

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Neutral they are not.  They’re also much nicer and much warmer than our house.  We wish we lived in one of them.

 

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.

 

Welsh Trail Centre Watery Loveliness

“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.Penmachno viewLlandegla – 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.Oneplanet llandeglaCoed y Brenin – quite a few times. All rideable in all its majesty and the bike came back cleaner than it went out.Coed y BreninA 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).Alwen reservoirLlyn BrenigPaul 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.Aberystwyth mist and bikemonkey trail cannock chaseSo 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.

Re-visit the Wayfarer (again and again)

The ride up to the Wayfarer memorial on the Berwyn has become one of our regular rides.  A mini epic of about 24 miles with 3,300 feet of climbing.  The classic Wayfarer route starts in Llandrillo and goes over the Berwyn and down into Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog.  It’s an epic ride with lots of climbing and some interesting descents but finishing in Llanarmon DC means that there’s a long and hard slog home, unless you can persuade someone to pick you up.  We’ve created a shortened version which starts and finishes at Ty Beic and doesn’t require a car.

Our route starts from the back gate and up to Caer Euni along the ridge before dropping down to Bethel and crossing the A494.  There’s a much quicker route along the road if you want to avoid a testing grassy climb and some would say an unnecessary off-road slog.

Once across the main road there’s a bridleway through Ty’n Fedw and up to Mynydd Mynyllod.  During the winter months parts of this can be very boggy but a dry spring and early summer means that it is still relatively dry even after some recent downpours.  The track across the moor is difficult to find but we do have a GPS/Strava file we can share.

singletrack

there’s a track there somewhere

wind turbines

windy

Wind turbines

From the wind turbines at the top of Mynydd Mynyllod we drop down to Cwynyd and take small back roads to the start of the climb proper up to the Wayfarer memorial.  This is a hard slog up a tarmac road.  Once the tarmac runs out the gradient easies a little as the track follows the contours.  During the holiday season you may see the odd group of walkers and a few green laners but the track is wide enough to accommodate everyone and there’s never any conflict.  And choose a day during the week you’re unlikely to see another soul.

before the crash

The climb takes about an hour.  Once at the top take time to enjoy the views and sign the book in the metal box by the memorial.  It’s then a fairly fast and fun descent down a rocky track to Llandrillo.  Don’t do what I did recently.  Hit a loose rock, not hold on to the bars properly, impromptu dismount, trashed helmet and damaged hand.

arty rock and sky pic

time for a picnic

Dulwich Paragon

Looking smug and not for the first time

top of Wayfarer

quick check of the map

gates to slow the descent

If it’s open we’d recommend a quick pint in the Dudley Arms before bashing along the road to Llandderfel where it’s possible to have another quick pint and a bite to eat in the Bryntirion before the ride home.  The beer will help numb the pain for the *testing* climb from Llandderfel to Cefynddwysarn and the final haul back up to Ty Beic.  There’s another off-road route home through Ty Uchaf if the road doesn’t appeal.

That stem is too short

there is a lot of climbing

This ride is not for everyone.  There’s a lot of climbing and the descent off the Berwyn is slightly spoiled by the number of gates.  But if you like cycling out of the door without having to use a car, non-technical cross country riding with epic views and being able to earn your end of ride pint, then this could be the ride for you.  It is rideable all year round but in the depths of winter I’d probably take the car to Cynwyd and ride from there.  If you fancy the complete Wayfarer to Llanarmon DC and back then a cross bike would be Richard’s steed of choice.  He’s written about such a ride here.

wayfarer off road

and here we are again

Trail Builders Are Go

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.
bike track building Ty Beic skills track

Tim, Emma, Daisy and Mosy’s Welsh Adventure

Begin with four bikes and three dogs.  Add dry dusty trails and sneaky singletrack.  Throw in some big views and empty landscapes.  Add lashings of sunshine and a dash of Welsh beer and cider, combine with lots of enthusiasm.  The result is two satisfied customers, three tired dogs and two very happy hosts.