Sunday 8 October 2017

Team Super Six’s Tour of Snowdonia - Day 2 The Dolgellau Loop (LGD - 217 Days)
Sunday 8 October 2017, 62 Miles

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Today was going to be rather special – for me at least – as we would be heading into an area where I lived and worked in the early 1980’s at what is best described as a formative time of my life. I have many, many happy memories of the area and countless fabulous rides there so I was looking forward to a day of nostalgia and also to sharing some of my memories with some great friends. Whether their anticipation was similarly heightened is not for me to say.

At exactly the same time as yesterday (to the minute) we rolled away from the Royal Sportsman and across the Cob. The causeway opened in 1811 that crosses the estuary connecting the old counties of Caernarfonshire and Meirionydd. It used to be a toll crossing until 2003 and the Ffestiniog Railway runs along the seaward side. On a clear day the view inland is one of the most spectacular in Snowdonia as I explained to the Team. Today, low cloud meant I had to use the full extent of my descriptive vocabulary and the team had to exercise the full powers of their imagination. I suspect they may have tuned out as I waxed lyrical; but they tuned out politely!

Where's Vincenzo?
We made our way up the valley towards Maentwrog where we turned off the surprisingly busy main road and headed up to Llan Ffestiniog. I say headed up quite intentionally as this was another of those classic Welsh climbs – steep at the start and getting steeper the higher you ride. The climb averages 4% over 2.5 miles, peaking at around 15%. We paused to regroup in the village square and discovered that Vincenzo had decided to hold on to his lanterne rouge title for the day. When asked he said that he felt fine – his head and heart were willing but his legs weren’t.

From Llan Ffestiniog we headed back across rolling terrain to re-join the main road at Trawsfynydd for a short stretch before turning on to a minor lane which looked like it had been surfaced with sheep droppings instead of stone chips. Within 5 minutes we were riding in a wilderness where, when we stopped not a sound could be heard. The stillness was uncanny; there are few places in Britain where it so quiet. Not a car engine, not a sheep’s bleat, not a bird’s song and not a puff of wind. Bliss.

It's all downhill now boyos...
We rolled along a succession of short sharp ascents and descents. I had promised the team that we would enjoy a long (c10 mile) downhill run but they gave up believing my “this is the last climb” claims. Clearly my memory was not as good as I thought. Eventually we entered the top end of Coed-y-Brenin Forest passing sites that I had worked on back in the day. I spotted a stand of larch trees that I had helped to plant over 30 years ago and they looked in good shape, ready for some thinning. From the top of the forest it really was all downhill through an ever-deepening valley alongside a briskly flowing stream. Some of the more mature trees (Douglas Fir) had been planted in 1926 so they are nearly a century old. Quite a humbling feeling.

Hmmm, what shall I have?
A nice little climb through Llanfachreth which peaked at over 16% was the final test of the morning and a fast descent where I got over the 40mph threshold brought us to Dolgellau and the day’s café stop. The Crasdy’r Gader was open, ready and waiting for us. Hot food, pies, pasties and tea were the order of the day and hit the spot exactly. I decided the time was right to introduce the team to another Welsh culinary delicacy, bara brith. The café had their own secret recipe and freshly baked slices were soon being consumed with gusto.

Parlwr Bach - my former home
The centre of Dolgellau hasn’t changed much since I lived there. A few of the shops have come and gone but the rest of the town is largely as I remember it. With time to spare we popped round to see my old cottage and I was delighted to pose in front of it with the Infinito. With my reminiscing over it was time to get underway again with a ride down the southern side of the Mawddach estuary to Fairbourne before crossing over to Barmouth on the wooden train bridge. This was a re-run of one of my standard after work rides of old – down one side of the estuary, across the bridge and back up the other side. Roughly a 20-mile loop, which on a summer’s evening after work was the perfect fuel for recharging my batteries. The views are just stunning.  Sadly, for me at least, we had an appointment with a hill so we had to turn away and follow the coast to Harlech. The team were impressed by the view especially the vast expanses of sandy beaches totally devoid of people. Away in the distance we could just pick out Bardsey Island off the end of the Llyn Peninsula.

Last year’s Tour of the Lakes was notable for many things. We had faced and overcome some severe weather and we had also faced some severe hills which we had mostly overcome. I felt that Wales had given the Lakes a reasonable run for the money in the weather stakes but what about the hills? Well, I had kept the best until last. Fford Penllech. Simon Warren says: “Forget Rosedale, forget Hardknott – Fford Penllech is the steepest hill in the land.” Its average gradient is 20% and it rises to 40% at its steepest point. It’s a one-way road – downhill. The sign at the top says ‘Unsuitable for Motor Vehicles’ so oncoming traffic was unlikely to be an issue. The challenge was on, if anyone was brave enough to try it. Michael was the only one who did and he succeeded – in style. The rest of us found just the descent challenging enough. The steepness of the slope, a wet, greasy, leaf covered surface and slick tyres were not the best conditions. I did have a go, but within just a few yards the combination of a front wheel trying to take off and a back wheel spinning wildly meant it just wasn’t going to be possible. And in any event I doubt I have the strength in my legs to carry me to anywhere near the top. Michael totally earned and enjoyed his moment of glory. The rest of us were content to bask in his reflection.

Post-ride fuel
After our mid-afternoon’s ‘sport’ we headed back to Porthmadoc via Penrhyndeudraeth. Although today had been overcast, it hadn’t rained and there was little wind. Everyone agreed that the two rides had been great and gave the team a real insight to Snowdonia. After a shower we adjourned to The Australia for some more of the Purple Moose’s finest fluids where we relived some of the highlights of the weekend. I can’t wait to come back – riding up here is some of the best available in Britain. Meanwhile we are all looking forward to next year’s Tour of Tuscany and Umbria. Hopefully Andy will have laid the man flu to rest and the Famous Five will be the Super Six once again.

Saturday 7 October 2017

Team Super Six’s Tour of Snowdonia - Day 1 The Snowdon Circuit (LGD - 218 Days)
Saturday 7 October 2017, 64 Miles

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Poking our noses out of the front of the hotel at what should have been sunrise we realised that we were going to have the first taste of Welsh weather – grey skies, damp roads, wind and possibly rain. The mountain tops that were visible last night were now shrouded in thick, low cloud. But in no way were we deterred – the remedy was an extra slice of toast and tea. By 9:30 am we were at the roadside and ready to go.

Ginseng gel - no thanks!
With a quick shout of Gadewch I ni fynd (that’s Welsh for ‘Andiamo’ – get your head around that if you can!) we left Porthmadoc heading along the coast for Criccieth before turning inland to cross the Llyn Peninsula above Pwllheli and ride along the coast as far as Penygroes. The route today was a sort of large circle around Snowdon which I hoped would give the team a good glimpse of northern Snowdonia on roads that I knew from the first time I lived and rode in the area when I was a student in Bangor in the mid 1970’s. A nice little uphill pull gave us a taste of what lay ahead. Vincenzo recuperated with a ginseng flavoured gel – out of date of course. The rest of us happily restored our sugar levels courtesy of Geoff’s jelly babies.

Summit of Drws-y-Coed
From Penygroes we turned inland for the first main event of the day – the climb of Drws-y-Coed. This is a climb that I know well as it features in the Etape Eryri as a timed hill climb. It’s four miles long at an average gradient of 2% with a maximum near the top of around 12%. Enough to raise the pulse rate! Reaching the top above Rhyd-Ddu we should have been rewarded with a great view of the western flank of Snowdon. Sadly the low cloud meant that all we could see was a wall of grey and the team had to take my word for the quality of the view they were missing.

Where are the Welsh Cakes Mark?
Once we were all together again we headed west to Waunfawr and a nice little pre-lunch ascent over a ridge before dropping down to the Llanberis for a café stop. Our café of choice was Pete’s Eats which in these parts has acquired legendary status. We weren’t disappointed and mugs of tea and assorted toasties soon restored our energy levels. As the ‘host’ I just had to introduce the team to a Welsh delicacy – fresh, homemade Welsh Cakes. They seemed to be a big hit – we pretty well cleared the cake cabinet!

Geoff has a 'moment' at the top of Pen-y-Pass
As we finished lunch we could see that the weather had taken a turn for the worse and rain had started falling. So we simply donned our gilet’s or capes and set off for the climb of Llanberis Pass which features in Simon Warren’s book – Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs. Here’s what he has to say about it: “So stunning is this road you half expect Gandalf the White, staff aloft, to come charging down the valley on a horse. This is truly awe-inspiring scenery.”

Michael was first to the top and I completed the 3 miles about a minute after him with a time close to 18 minutes. Waiting at the top in the wind and driving rain was a bleak affair but the group’s humour kept us all warm. Vincenzo, who had adopted the lanterne rouge position today, was last up and asked how long we had been waiting. He didn’t seem very convinced when we claimed it was only a couple of minutes.

From Pen-y-Pass we then had a long, fast descent over the next several miles to Beddgelert and the Pass of Aberglaslyn. The descent was pure joy. Fast enough to beat the car traffic even though the road surface was wet which slowed things down a bit. Aberglaslyn Valley is my favourite area in Snowdonia and weather notwithstanding, was at its best today. The autumn colours, steep gorge-like rock faces, tumbling rapids and waterfalls, the adjacent Welsh Highland Railway (steam) and a sweeping road make this simply one of the best routes available to ride.

Not a café stop
The only downside is that it’s quite short so all too soon we were onto the estuary, through Tremadoc and back at the Royal Sportsman. We were all wet through with soggy, squelchy socks and shoes (which I hate) but we were all happy riders and had enjoyed a great day out in the hills. With a shower, lycra washed, shoes drying and quick wipe of the bike, all that was left was a walk up to The Australia to imbibe some of the Purple Moose Brewery’s finest.