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.
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.”
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”
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.
there’s a track there somewhere
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
Looking smug and not for the first time
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.
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.
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.
*If I was the kind of “dude” who used such words, but it was thoroughly pleasant nevertheless.
There is so much great riding to be had in North Wales that I tend to avoid the tourist honeypots, Snowdon in particular. Putting my prejudices aside, I decided to join Tom from Carbon Monkey for a guided ride up Wales’ highest peak. Driving to the start at Llanberis, I followed a bloke driving at 15mph down the pass videoing the spectacle on his phone as he went. Prejudices restored.
What happened next, however, made me realise how silly I had been to shun this popular destination. It’s a big mountain and there is plenty of room for everyone. If it’s solitude you want then this isn’t the place for you (at least not at 1pm on a Saturday in April), but if you like a mix of grindy and techy climbing (with a little pushing) followed by some very flowy and then nadgery (with a hint of gnar) descending with brilliant views (if the cloud clears) and a great sense of achievement thrown in then it might be for you.
We took the Llanberis path up to the summit, with a plan to come back down the Ranger’s path. When it started to snow halfway up the plan changed and it became an out and back trip on the Llanberis path. In truth I was a bit disappointed as I’m not normally a fan of retracing my tracks, but it was a good call from Tom given the weather and I shouldn’t have worried – the descent was brilliant.
The mountain was busy with lots of people walking and running. I had feared that the non-cycling mountaineers might resent our presence but I needn’t have worried – there was a lot of good humour and encouragement all round, although quite often the cheery rambler was stood exactly on ‘my line’. Nevermind, it all added to spice. Hats off to my other riding companion, Graham, who opted to trial his way down the mountain, hopping from rock to rock.
As we climbed towards the summit, the snow stopped falling and the skies cleared to reveal views in every direction. I’ve walked and run up Snowdon quite a few times, but this was the first time I can remember actually having a view from the top – I just thought it was always cloudy up there. It wasn’t a disappointment.
How wrong I was to have avoided this ride for so long. It has a bit of everything for the mountain biker, with many more options of routes than the one we did. It’s got an epic quality because it is a proper pointy mountain, but if the weather does turn truly nasty then you can be back eating an all-day breakfast in Llanberis within 20 minutes (perhaps even with a cheeky San Miguel), looking at photos of yourself on the summit. Nice.
Thanks to Tom from Carbon Monkey for his quietly reassuring guiding and for busting another of my prejudices (bred of bad experiences in earlier life) against shouty, ego-driven outdoor types.
We found Ty Beic to be very comfortable, very clean, well equipped (including for cyclist/MTBers, as per the name!), warm, tastefully renovated with a lot of attention to details and a very high finish throughout. The woodwork done by Richard was a joy to look at! It’s a very quiet, rural location with fantastic views, and facing South. As no-one was booked in on the day we left, Karen extended our departure time which made for a nice relaxing day.
Charlotte and Mark stayed braved the wet and windy weather to try out so some local routes (roots). The slightly muddy conditions meant they made full use of our bike washing facilities.
*I don’t have any photos of our guests so the main photo is of Richard, the wood botherer, taken at Llyn Brenig the weekend before.