Bev had been texting and talking to two friends, James and Andy, university buddies at Bangor 20 odd years ago, trying to co-ordinate a ride during our stay in Porthmadog. In the end, James couldn’t make it because of work commitments but Andy, who lived just over the welsh border, in Shropshire, was up for it on the Wednesday (21st March).
Bev, the master route-planner, decided to start in Betws-y-coed and ride round Snowdon, a journey of about 50 miles (but only 47 miles when you forget to start your GPS device, like I did) which would take in the famous Pete’s Cafe in Llanberris. Arrangements were made with Andy for a 12 noon departure, which meant we’d need to get away by 11am.
On the morning, another sunny one with cloudless blue skies and a correspondingly cold temperature, we prepared breakfast. OK Bev cooked, but I made the all important mugs of coffee. No coffee, no functioning body – simples.
My car, loaded with our bikes and kit, we set off at 11am, as planned. Bev likes to be early, left to my own devices I struggle to be on time when it comes to social activities. We had a choice of routes. Due North through Tremadog, Beddgelert and Capel Curig, then dip down into Betws-y-coed, or, the way we went, heading first east and onto Blaenau Ffestiniog via the A470, a much less scenic route. But Bev wanted to check out the terrain for another ride – Blaenau Ffestiniog it was.
The topology was certainly impressive, and although the hills weren’t uber-steep, combined with the distances involved it would have made for a very challenging ride. The drive via Blaenau Ffestiniog was worth it just for the spectacle of the slate works there, and slate everywhere on the surrounding hills.
Industrial Wales, I have a soft spot for it. My mother’s side of the family were from the valleys, before my widowed grandmother moved with her daughters to the home counties, courtesy of a mining company pay out for the negligence that killed my grandfather. Many a Sunday morning in Welwyn Garden City, before church, I sat listening to my grandmother’s stories of the hard, but community-centred life of the welsh valleys.
As I was driving, I don’t have any photos of Blaenau Ffestiniog – guess I’ll have to return sometime to rectify that.
We arrived in Bettws-y-coed with 20 minutes to spare so rather than pay car parking fees we scouted around for a free parking space getting lucky on the railway station approach road. Ideal as a departure point.
I got busy getting the bikes out from the back of the car and Bev did what she does best – crossed the road to make a fuss of a staffordshire bull terrier and engage the owner in a conversation about how wonderful their dog is, and the owners never seem to mind.
Bikes ready, tools checked, water bottles inserted in bottle cages and GPS devices attached to handlebars we were good to go. Bev called Andy who was 5 minutes away.
Introductions made, we set off, turning right to ascend out of Bettws-y-coed on the A5 towards Bangor with gradients between 2 and 8%, nothing too severe. Andy took the lead, unsurprisingly, as Bev had said he was very competitive, which made me wonder what sort of ride we were in for. He certainly looked very fit for a forty year-old. But why the back pack? “Was he really a serious roadie?”, I had to ask myself.
Not long after that I realised my GPS device (Mio Cyclo 200) wasn’t switched on, damn it. I’ve recently switched from Garmins, well, three defunct garmins – all just out of warranty – which is going to be the subject of another post. And whilst, in general, I’m preferring the Mio it does have it’s foibles – that or pilot ineptitude, one of which being if the rider is stationary for more than a few minutes the route recorder has to be restarted, which I constantly forget to do!
Turning left at Capel Curig we swooped down the A4086, passing Llynnau Mymbyr, a large lake, on our left and eventually turning right to take the Llanberis Pass road, immediately climbing up to Pen-y-Pass. A gradient of 4-8%. My kind of climb.
Sitting in the saddle, bum slightly further back, finding the right gear, where, with the slightest of pressure, the crank floats past the 12 O’clock position and on down to complete another revolution with almost minimal effort. Except for the fact that I can’t resist turning the wick up, so that my lungs have to start stretching a bit. Ah, the stuff of cycling.
On reaching the car park at Pen-y-Pass, I whipped out my camera to record Bev’s effort to reach the top, then snapped a couple of shots of her and Andy.
And this is where both Bev and Andy left me, on the descent to Nant Peris. It happens every time. I’m no match for Bev’s descending skills. For me the experience involved keeping a wary eye on the foot wide, deep gutter, as I nervously kept more to the centre of the road. Even a cyclist who looked to be in his 70’s came past, seemingly without a care in the world.
At least I overtook him before I caught up with the other two, patiently waiting at the side of the road. For a while we played cat and mouse with our 70yo before going separate ways with a cheery shout and wave.
We were stopping at the famous Pete’s Eats cafe in Llanberis, but at only 18 miles in I thought this was too soon, but so glad we did – if only to see the gigantic portions the cafe serves to its clientele, the climbers and walkers primarily and us weirdos, the cyclists.
Of course, it will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I ordered a huge piece of chocolate cake and mug of coffee before partaking of the ‘small’ breafast, haha – couldn’t manage it all. And before you say I shouldn’t have had the cake – don’t be so bloody ridiculous!
Having stuffed ourselves and taken a good look at the mountaineering photos covering every available bit of wall space – a few famous names there – we made a move. Another 32 miles to cover.
And this turned out to be my favourite part of the ride. Having left Llanberis in a north westerly direction, 3 miles further down the road we turned left onto a lumpy minor road with very little traffic. The climbs were much, much shorter but most definitely steeper, and coming at quicker intervals – just the sort of terrain to take it out of your legs.
Another few miles and we’d reached Y Waunfawr and were heading south west on the A4085 through a gently rolling valley with Llyn Gwellyn to our right and Snowdon on our left. The valley floor took us to Beddgelert Forest, and the start of a long downhill section, -9.2% in places, that took us into Beddgelert.
And now the long 11.5 mile ascent back up to Capel Curig. 3 miles in we hit a 16% section, and a few miles further on a section that tipped 17%, but the gradient was normally between 4-8% so taken at a moderate pace we all survived, Andy leading the way and me keeping Bev company, which meant I could take it easy.
Once back on the A5 at Capel Curig the final 10 miles were all downhill. We made one stop, crossed the road, so Bev and Andy could reminisce about the time they kayaked at that spot, way back when.
In the last mile it began to spit, so we had a few minutes of the damp stuff, but I think it’s fair to say the weather gods were on our side that day.
Andy stayed overnight, giving us the opportunity for a very pleasant meal at The Australia in Porthmadog.