Yesterday the car journey from Chesterfield to Porthmadog entailed both snow blizzards and sunshine. Before I set off I checked the weather and since almost the only clear main road through the Peak District was the A623 to Manchester I decided on that route.
Once beyond Baslow conditions deteriorated quite rapidly and although the opposite carriageway was a lot worse in places, sporadic blizzards reduced visibility to a matter of yards: these were mainly at points in the road where the wind was funnelly the snow through gaps in hedges or stone walls. At these points snow settled on the road and traffic compacted it turning it into an ice rink. Fortunately, I could see the blizzard sections well in advance and slowed down, allowing me to avoid braking for the 50-100yds of virtual blindness.
From the A6, near Buxton, conditions improved dramatically and that was the last of the bad weather behind me. Cutting across suburban Manchester, through Wilmslow, once onto the M56 the sun started to peep through and the journey only ended up taking 15 minutes longer than expected (4hrs, 15mins).
It must be a good 20yrs since I last took the A55 coast road to Bangor and had forgotten how beautiful it is, particularly Abergale, Colwyn Bay and Conwy where the views out to sea were amazing, with the sun glinting off the huge expanse of water.
I arrived about 5.30pm at the cottage, adjacent to the harbour in Porthmadog, where Bev and I are staying and unloaded. Truth be told it was a little chilly inside, but once I discovered Bev had turned the heating down by mistake I adjusted the thermostat and the place soon warmed up.
The cottage is quite cosy, with the entrance on the ground floor, which would have been an ideal place to store the bikes, except for the fact that there are two glass-panelled doors, making it very easy to see what’s inside – so the bikes are living in the kitchen. But they don’t seem to mind. The first floor also has a bedroom with double/single bunks and a spacious toilet and shower room.
The second floor has another bedroom, mine for the duration, and the bed is firm but comfortable. The sitting room is on the same floor, with a sofa and armchairs and a television.
Being on holiday gave us the opportunity for a leisurely breakfast and we didn’t set off ’til nearly 11.30am, in bright sunshine. The route plan was to head south for 12 miles (mainly climbing) to Trawsfynydd, then east to Bala. This is where we hit The Beast from the East – for 17 miles. I would have expected to average 15mph on this section (A4202) but we could only manage a bit over 10mph.
On one 10% climb I only managed 4mph while the wind battered and buffeted me all over the place, Bev said I looked liked a drunk on a bike weaving about as the wind played with me.
But we were amply compensated for our struggles with glorious views of the surrounding hills. Now the Peak District has wonderful views, but they aren’t on the scale of the Snowdonia National Park. And unlike the Peak District right now, the snow wasn’t a problem, the roads were clear.
For the first half between Trawsfynydd and Bala it was all climbing, but then we were rewarded with a long descent into Bala. But before we got there we stopped at the National Watersports Centre below Bala Dam. Bev had canoed there years ago and explained the schedule for regulating the flow from the dam, which is all part of a bigger scheme for hydro-powered energy resource management in the UK.
As we entered Bala there was an inviting cafe on the right but we continued, mainly for my benefit, ’til the shops petered out before the route turned back to countryside – I just wanted to see what this little town was like. I t was good to see lots of independent businesses with quite an eclectic range of goods and services on offer. It looked like a thriving community, which can’t said of most welsh rural areas, I would imagine.
Anyway, we returned to Ty Coffi, the cafe we spotted earlier, and ordered cake and coffee. And for the next hour we chatted about all manner of things, but mainly bikes. Although, from where I was sitting I was also entertained by the traffic outside. Opposite the cafe were two petrol pumps mounted on the pavement, and motorists would pull up, get out of their cars, and start filling up. This caused quite a bit of disruption to the traffic flow and motorists often took unnecessary risks to overtake in the face of oncoming traffic on what was a very narrow street.
That hour-long break was soon over, but with sufficient time for our legs to give us some back chat as we got up to go. I’d obviously got too comfortable in the cafe, because I certainly noticed the nip in the air as we climbed on our bikes and set off, but not before a took a photo of the local chapel.
Now we had an 8 mile climb out of Bala back towards Trawsfynydd, but with the wind behind us we made relatively light work of it, and once we’d breached the main summit we had a fantastic descent to the junction with the A470. It was here Bev managed 54.8mph to my measly 45.6mph, which meant up the following ascent I was averaging 37.6mph with a dip to 29.2mph at my slowest before I caught her – I was well impressed with that!
Once at the junction with the A470 we turned right and headed back to Portmadog. Although this was a main A road, being quite wide (unlike Peak District main roads) we didn’t tend to get squeezed by cars, which makes a pleasant change.
A few miles out from Porthmadog I spotted a sign for Portmerrion (remember “The Prisoner” TV series?) and made a mental note to pay a visit.
One of the pleasures I associate with a long bike ride (this one was 63 miles) is the shower/soak afterwards and the shower at the cottage really put the ‘power’ in power shower.
I had a curry afterwards to replenish my energy stores, along with a beer, then settled in to watch a film before bed.
Not sure where we’re going tomorrow, decisions can wait ’til then.