Holiday Cottages for Mountain Lovers

That’s the strap line but is it true?

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.

Back to normal last weekend with mountain bikers in residence.  Guests in the Stable headed to Antur Stiniog and my other guests rode Revolution Bike Park and Coed y Brenin as part of a tour of Wales which also took in Black Mountain Bike Park, Bike Park Wales and Afan Forest Park before heading back to Scotland.  And that was all in 5 days.

And here’s a picture of me at Antur Stiniog as I can’t think of another one to use.

Is the marketing blurb correct?  That’s not for me to say.

Jympar Antur Stiniog

Enter the Dragon by Mistake (sort of)

Somewhere in the dark depths of January, in the full grip of a Snowdonian winter I was hunkered down by the fire enjoying a glass of wine when my phone pinged.  It was my good friend, who had just drunk a bottle of wine, suggesting that the two of us should do the Dragon Duathlon.  In an utterly uncharacteristic move I went straight to the Dragon website and entered.  £150 lighter, I then messaged him to tell him that I had my entry and received back from him a stream of shocked expletives.

The Dragon Duathlon involves cycling and running from Swansea to Beaumaris on Anglesey in a day, which is approximately 300km – or like cycling the length of a country the size of Wales.  For extra masochism the three running stages involve climbing three of Wales’ largest mountains: Pen y Fan, Cadair Idris and Snowdon – and the cycling isn’t flat either.

What followed now appears to me like the recollection of a confusing dream.  I went and bought some fell running shoes (lovely Walshes) and some weather proof winter cycling boots and off I went. There were 15 mile runs up mountains through knee deep bogs in freezing rain, bike rides that hollowed me out and left me asleep on the kitchen floor because I was too tired to walk upstairs. In a word – beasting.  There was one immensely long ride where my 80kgs were bodily lifted off the road by the wind and dumped on the verge. Right up on top of the highest parts of mid-Wales there followed about ten miles of the most frightening cycling I have ever done.

Lots and lots of very hard effort gradually, gradually started to bring rewards. Hills didn’t seem quite as steep or as long as I remembered them being, I had an extra gear or two left at the top of steep climbs and I could run and ride a bit further without too much effort. I still had no idea whether I could keep moving for as long as I would need to to do the Dragon.

It’s about ten years since I last rode the 296km Tour of Flanders sportive – the only similarly long ride I have ever done regularly. I really had nothing to which to compare this undertaking. So, I devised a series of the most testing riding and running that sought to simulate the Dragon.  I’d set off on my bike, meet my support vehicle (thank you Karen), run over a mountain, collect the bike the other side, ride to another mountain, meet my support, run over the mountain etc etc.  Even then, my confidence only began to grow very slowly.

 

I’m not someone who would describe myself as an athlete and I am not generally confident in my ‘athletic’ abilities.  I consider myself to be very lucky to have a good and robust physiology, despite the neglect I have heaped on it over the years.  And yet, when I found myself standing on the Dragon start line at 5am on Saturday 1st July 2017, on the Swansea waterfront, I knew that I would do this thing.  And so I did.

I wouldn’t say any of it was easy, and there were definitely times between the riding and running legs when I didn’t want to leave the car. After a wet ride to the foot of Snowdon I sat in a warm car and looked up at the cloud surrounding the summit. It was getting dark and cloud was getting lower. Leaving that warm car was probably the hardest part of the whole thing, but I did get out and I got over that mountain. It was grim and dark and lonely, but I got to Llanberis – then a quick 15 miles to Beaumaris. And then what? Well, I suppose there was a sense of relief – and then a massive sense of disappointment to find that all the pubs were closed.

On a slightly odd note, completing this event marks a return to my full enjoyment of road cycling and through that a return to fitness. It was eleven years ago this weekend (a week after finishing the Dragon) that the rider immediately in front of me on the Dunwich Dynamo was killed outright by a freak head on collision with a van. For many years I didn’t really want to cycle again, especially in SE England where there is so much aggression on the roads. It’s taken a long time, but I feel like I’m back and I’m enjoying it again.

When I mentioned to Karen that I thought I might do it the next time it runs in 2019 she told me I would have to find a different supporter – anyone?

 

Awesome* Snowdon Adventure

*If I was the kind of “dude” who used such words, but it was thoroughly pleasant nevertheless.
Summit Snowdon

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.

MTBs in the mist

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.

Llanberis Path MTB

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.
Glaslyn Snowdon
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.

Carbon Monkey Snowdon Llanberis Path