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

Unrepentant in the shadow of the cross

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.

Cyclocross Llyn Celyn

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.

Cross is not just for girls