Thursday, 24 April 2014

Wedding Cycling Tour Days 1&2

Months in the planning, 400 miles, not a drop of rain, no punctures either. A very memorable way to get hitched!

Lon Las Cymru is a route that has been calling to me for a few years - right through the heartland of Wales. It happens that there's a registry office en route in Dolgellau, so it seemed a fitting way to get married. We stuck a chunk of NCN5 on to the start from Chester and added an extra stretch into Somerset onto the end to beef it out a bit finishing at Blue Anchor near Minehead.

Day 1 had big mileage, but not much climbing, however there was a heck of a big headwind that ground things to a slow crawl along the banks of the Dee and all the way along the seafront past Rhyl into Llandudno towards the peaks of Snowdonia's hill tops that seemed to remain on the horizon forever as we slogged away. We enjoyed a nice bit of climbing after Flint which was lovely on pretty lanes up to Hoylake golf club for our first pint of the trip, which broke up the flat slog nicely.


As the holiday season hadn't got underway, most places were closed so finding a place to eat was no simple task. A lovely village before Llandudno came to our rescue with a fancypants pub meal. Semi-defeated we decided to get the train to Bangor to make up the time - that stretch is mostly along the A-road, so we werent missing much & we'd already visited lovely Conwy so had been on that stretch before.  We were also stopping at an Airbnb find & I was worried about arriving late, not knowing if our host had an early start for work the next day.

The night-time ride to the train then on to Penisa'r waun was delightful; bats flying alongside us, quiet narrow roads and the shadows of the mountains against the dark sky were breathtaking. Roller coaster roads came one after another.

We arrived at 10.30, our host, Luke who is a fellow cycle tourer was very understanding & lovely company - he had cycled Lon Las Cymru a number of times.

The great thing about arriving somewhere in the dark, is that when morning arrives, you're awarded with a beautiful view. The area here was stunning and I'm sure I could while away many cycling and walking hours just here. I aim to return there for a proper explore. 

Day 2 we set off towards Caernarfon where the start of NCN8 is beside the old mountain railway near the castle. Brilliant sunshine from the start, but cold headwinds again.
After leaving the beautiful lanes, we were on the converted railway track which offered mountain views to the west and more distant views of the coast to the east as it worked it's way in land to cut across the peninsular. 
The flat track was long forgotten as the route snaked it's way up steep hills and around farms, beautiful, but our legs were already tired from the previous long day in the saddle and getting reaccustomed to hauling two weeks worth of gear in the panniers. Eventually we were rewarded with a fast descent into the pretty seaside town at Criccieth where we enjoyed a picnic overlooking the bay, beneath the castle in a warm sheltered spot.

We plumped for a little bit of rough-stuff along the bridleway coastal path here, although it turned out there was a style we had to lug the heavy bikes over.

As we approached Black Rock Sands, we were greeted by a gentleman on an oldschool ten speed mountain bike & his good lady on a 3 speed, 20 inch wheeled bike with a basket containing crisps and pop. She  was taking the rough climb in her stride & apparently kept leaving him far behind as she managed every climb unphased; both joked (with grand Huddersfield accents) about his heart-attacks and the vein surgery he was about to receive. Half an hour later & we were pedalling towards Porthmadog again.

We made a quick stop for provisions before quickly carrying on to the stiff climb we knew was approaching.

We knew that the storms that had battered Wales the other month had left plenty of infrastructure problems in this area, but the miles of A-road diversion was less fun than we anticipated as we powered on with fast traffic on a very narrow road with drivers who must be sorely irritated by not only this huge detour, but the road works & traffic lights along this stretch that they've had to endure since before Christmas. The railway & pedestrian bridge is also out, adding to the volume of traffic on the stretch that cyclists are also being diverted on.

Finally we were through the diversion and we stopped at a roadside b&b which also has a cafe for a brew, a cake & a chill out! Right above us was a very high, steep hill. This is where route 8 goes. But we decided that we would make up for lost time by  going on the b-road which runs part way up the hill - offering lovely views, but with less effort. It was a good decision, although I'm sure the off road track is worth checking out another time.

It was a straight run into Barmouth from here and we did make excellent time, better than we'd anticipated, so it was a shame to miss the off road hill, but equally nice to enjoy our luxury room at the b&b, beside the window enjoying a glass of wine & the view of the Mawwdach Estury.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

A different perspective

I've lived in my home town for 31 years. Over the last few weeks, I've migrated to a different area of it and discovered that even after 31 years of general exploration of the place, there are still enclaves to be discovered.

And my new commute is flipping EPIC! 

It's upped from 18 miles to somewhere in the region of 30 miles per day depending which route I take, but so far I am loving it - the new bits are mostly off road or on quieter roads before I join my usual route.  And now I have someone to share the ride with, it feels less like a commute and more like a leisure ride.

I'm building up to it, not doing it every day just yet, but getting my legs used to that kind of distance more often. I'd been doing the 18 miles almost every day for a while now in all that blustery / galey weather we had the other month, so it shouldn't be too much time before I'm into the swing of those extra miles every day. 

And I'm looking forward to having another new perspective on distances. Since I started riding for utility as much as leisure, my concept of 'far' has changed dramatically. A 30+ mile round trip to meet my friends for a pub tea fits into the same bracket as going to work & nipping to town feels such a short trip that I can't get my head round why cycling round your own town is such a rarity - it really is so quick and easy & fun. And free!

The past year has been a real shift in how I experience the area where I live. Travelling to another town regularly to stop at Stephen's has made the county shrink & now I dont think twice at pedalling across the county for anything. As your learn new sections, the distance seems shorter as you break each bit of a route down into manageable chunks.
But now we're finally in our new house & we'll be getting into more of a journey routine rather than trying to figure out new & improved ways. Although there are a lot of new bridleways to explore up at this end of town heading over into Yorkshire. I'm looking forward to it immensely, although I will miss some of the routes I no longer need to frequent.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

RSF Grinton trip Day3: Fremmington Edge & Healaugh

By Sunday our numbers were down. A couple of guys went off to do their own rides leaving seven of us to do this short loop. I'd originally planned that this day's ride would be shorter, but as these things go when you havent had chance to try a ride out... this turned out to be a full day's worth of cycling.

Heading out of Grinton, we rounded a corner at what looked like a back street to be confronted by a vertical wall of a lane. There was a tiny reprise before another steep section emerged that kept rising and turned from a smooth track, to a bumpy one, to a fully lumpy one. We stopped a couple of times to 'admire the view' and nodded hellos to mountain bikers who were also climbing up Fremmington Edge.

Nick pushing his bike is a rare sight
Amanda & Ged almost at the top

Ian showing off with his sensible gear ratio, suspension & tyres

Atop Marrick Moor the wind was still fierce as we climbed further albeit a more gradual incline. We met some land rovers who were off up the tops for motoring fun and also some scrambling motor cycles. But we carried on beyond the tracks and towards a grassy descent where it took a little while to figure out just where the bridleway was. Soon we were enjoying some smooth descent, but this soon turned in to a technical rocky downhill section. We all lined up awaiting our turn.
The cold winds had frozen my hands and I interspersed riding with pushing since my raynauldsy fingers made effective braking impossible. But everyone else fully enjoyed that descent.

Passing some beautiful landscape, we were soon at Langthwaite & the pub.

Those who ride with Simeon were well prepared with packed lunches. Alas the Red Lion was lacking much food choice, so a couple of us cycled up to CB Inn heading up towards the Tan Hill Rd. The view up Arkengarthdale was amazing and the sun was trying to break through.

We enjoyed a really nice lunch & this place lives up to it's reputation.  Amanda left the ride here to spend the afternoon with her husband and the rest of us enjoyed some more climbing up the other side of the valley along the side of the wonderfully named Cringley Hill.

This was a really fun bit of moorland followed by a fast descent to Nova Scotia, so fast that we managed to miss our intended turn off, but instead found a steep bit of tarmac to enjoy that brought us to Healaugh where we took the road and then the greenway along the riverside to find a perfect afternoon tea stop in the form of a beautiful view whilst flasks and rations were pulled from saddle bags.

The last section brought us back to river level & we negotiated tree roots on a very narrow path. We were back in Grinton in no time.
Ian, Nick, Eileen, Stephen & I went to the pub for halves and brews and it was mild enough to sit outside.  Ged headed back up to the hostel for his lift home with Dave. A lovely way to end a brilliant weekend of cycling.

The map for the route can be seen here.

I had thought I'd take the monday morning commute by car to rest my legs after three challenging days in the saddle, but I was greeted by such glorious weather that I couldnt resist a cycle commute and I havent had any days off the bike yet. And my legs are telling me about it!

It was lovely to meet up with riders that I see so rarely, but the usual suspects turning up was as always greatly appreciated - you know who you are ;-)  Thanks for your company & making the trip brilliant!
Special thanks to Gerald (in his mid-70s) who was the only person to complete the full three days with me & was great company. On Sunday morning at breakfast, he'd asked if I was feeling fit this morning, to which I replied 'of course', his reply 'I was worried about that'.

Planning and leading rides for a group of well seasoned cyclists can be a little bit of an intimidating experience. Our club certainly has some massive personalities and some very strong views are held & I think that the history of past rides & leaders can sometimes get in the way of new people trying out those shoes with confidence.   Since I didn't know this area at all where others did, I had been filled with trepidation at the start of each day, but by the end of each day I was buzzing with the success of the routes and the enjoyment that everyone seemed to have had.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

RSF Grinton trip Day2: Castle Bolton

Cold, driving winds, head on! That was the start of day 2 of the trip. The moors were alight with heather burning (controlled), the smoke was thick and we were heading right into it as we headed towards the disused lead-mine buildings on Grinton moor. Sadly Andy had to head back as the wind and smoke didn't agree with his asthma. The rugged track soon vanished and we were left pondering where the bridleway was - without a gps it would have been very difficult to figure out the line of the track, but we had a few between us and we followed the overgrown, barely used route up the hill, all pushing our steeds; the grass & half burned heather tussocks making it impossible to pedal.

Through the border wall atop the hill, the proper track reappeared and soon we were enjoying a fast, albeit bumpy (for those of us without suspension) descent of Preston Moor, still into the cold wind as we headed towards Castle Bolton.

We lunched in the castle tea rooms with one or two people dressed in period outfits dotted around. They are filming some comedy about William Shakespeare. Alas we didn't see anyone famous.
It was somewhat slow service, but worth the wait!
After lunch we parted company from some riders who had to head home or save their weary legs!

The rest of us enjoyed a loop into the bottom of the valley following East Bolton Moor & descending into Carperby. The sun was now shining and the winds had dropped.

As we climbed back up to the castle, there was a definite evening glow forming.

Rather than take the road option back, we followed a track directly northwards to Greets Hill. Bits were rideable, other bits less so - but those bits meant we could have a good natter, a few breathers and admire the view.

The last climb was well worth the effort...
The final descent was smooth as butter over soft, golf course grade grass with the occasional hole and tussock to leap off as we sped our way down towards the hostel with the sun setting on our backs.
The gpx and map for the route can be seen / dloaded here

Monday, 10 March 2014

RSF Grinton trip Day1: Richmond

Way back last October, following an audax from Richmond, I penned in a RSF cycling trip to Swaledale to explore the area a bit more. The danger of booking anything so far in advance of March is weather risky - this time last year we had plenty of snow and ice, thankfully the long weekend this time turned out weather wonderful.

The hostel had filled up pretty fast (with what turned out to be a school party, not of little ones exploring the outdoors, but six formers on a mathematics residential weekend!), so some of the group stopped elsewhere - inns, tea shops, tents & campers!

The Friday morning started out chilly, but bright as fifteen of us zoomed down the steep hill to join Route 71, which happily had been closed to motor traffic whilst some road repairs took place. The cracks in the road were minimal for a rough-stuff rider, but we had been duly warned to take care. The lack of traffic made a lovely carefree start to the ride and we enjoyed views across the River Swale valley as we sped along in the morning sunshine.

Our first bit of rough by How Hill was accompanied by the echos of gunfire from the military ranges and we popped out at the quaint hamlet of Downholme.

The gusty wind helped us up to the top of Downholme Moor. We admired the views from atop as Phil fettled with his bike.

After this was a lovely long descent all the way into Richmond. Initially straight with a nice gradual decline, you could really let yourself go without too much concentration. The last, steep down into Richmond opened up a smashing view of the castle as we rounded a sharp corner, alas being on road and going at speed with cars now a factor, nobody could stop safely to take a photo. (I'll remember that view for next time).

We lunched in sunny, blue skied Richmond. Sadly the ancient centre resembles a carpark whenever the market isn't on - the church and monument become the centre of essentially a big cobbled roundabout - I always think it's such a shame letting cars into this beautiful ancient town centre.

The climb towards Whitcliffe Scar through the woods was delightful; you're up above the town in no time and from this side of the valley the views are magical...

... And the woods are muddy!

At Marske we headed for the hills for an additional loop around the side of Skelton Moor, then back towards the river, although despite the path following the river course, it was far from flat as it climbed up to Marrick.

The evening sun was closing in and there was now a certain chill to the air as we waded our tyres through farm muck, which is where I picked up a massive thorn and pfffft, I had a puncture so close to the end of the ride (only the second of the day for the whole group). Stephen came to my rescue and we were heading back up the hill to the hostel in no time, which certainly warmed us up.
I believe le tour is venturing up that steep road - the tarmac seems far too smooth for regular car useage.
To say I'd not had time to head up here to try the routes out, this one turned out to be perfect.
A map and gpx can be viewed here

In the evening some new guests had arrived at base, so we spent a good few hours chatting over drinks in the hostel. 
Day 1 was a fantastic start to the trip!!