Welsh Spine #2 – The good

You have to take the good with the bad…
Welsh lady from Trefriw

     After unzipping our vestibules on a Monday morning, our eyes catch a glimpse of the clear, blue skies, occasionally interrupted by white clouds. Some 500 meters in front of us are the sandy beaches of Colwyn Bay and just behind our back, shooting in the air are the eroded walls of Penmean-bach. A carpet of violet flowers covering the hill’s lower parts seems to contradict it’s otherwise raw character.  
Why ponder? We stuff breakfast into our bellies and gear onto our bikes and move on… slooowlyy starting our trip with the climb up the Sychnant Pass. It’s much easier now after yesterday’s training, Pavel on his Agent Orange rushes ahead, and I – using the advantage gained – lurk at the roadside to take a picture of Radek riding out of Dwygyfychli.
Hills surrounding Dwygyfychli  are situated just at the shore.
It’s hard to imagine the views one could enjoy standing on their summits on a clear day.
A tarmac road leads us to the town of Trefriw, where we stop for a satisfying Full English breakfast. It’s 10 a.m. but life here seems to be just starting. As the food vanishes from our plates more and more people begin orbiting our cafe, most of them are women preparing for the Queen’s jubilee party – the whole street is adorned with Union Jack flags. Running between the cafe and a car parked at the roadside they’re stuffing it’s boot with all kinds of  sweetmeat, probably meant for the jubilee picnic advertised by homemade posters. The crooked marker painted letters are cute and unpretentious. We give ourselves up to the atmosphere of this place and enjoy our breakfast in a slowpoke manner.

Radek organizing his bags on the empty Monday streets of Trefriw.

The lazy morning favours chatting with the local people, the usual stuff: Where are we from? Where are we heading? How do we like Wales…

– … I love it! – was my keen answer,
But an afterthought made me add :
– …yet I have huge difficulties with the climate…
An elderly coupe, sitting at a plastic table right next to us, laughed sincerely, nearly dearly and the woman, to answer my ills, added:
– We love living here, you have to take the good with the bad!
I felt that by saying this she marked us for the rest of our trip, and whatever was ahead of us, we’ll be able to get pleasure out of it, even if pleasure itself would drip straight onto our heads.
We thanked for the friendly chat and accepted best wishes for the road with gratitude. Just around the corner of our cafe Snowdonia was waiting for us and with that, the second real climb for today.
We head down up a tarmac road along the river Crafnant. Leaving the Grinllwm hill on our left side we enter the Gwydyr forest, where we are welcomed by the first gravel roads climbing the slopes of Mynydd Deulyn. With every crank revelation the panorama of the mountains, timidly peeping at us from behind the trees, grows bigger and bigger. Uuuuuuupppppppp, down! – we lose vertical meters apace. The tracks are of good quality and loosing traction on curves is our least concern. If Pavel and Radek have the same grin as I do, we’ll all have sore cheeks tomorrow.

The fun is spoiled by my rear derailleur that decides to pick and choose going down the gears. Every time I want the chain to drop to a smaller cog I have to pull the cable with my finger. As if this wouldn’t be bad enough the chain seems to catch and jump on certain gears. Finally after passing Betws-y-Coed and taking advantage of a shaded area I decide to have a closer look at things, and put my bike upside down on the roadside. Once Pavel, dealing with bicycles day to day as a professional, sees the chance to touch a broken bicycle he happily joins me. It turns out my derailleur springs back rather sluggishly and a tooth on one of the cogs is bent – this caused all the chain jumping. Using a couple of simple tools and Pavel’s tooth-fairy powers we deal with the crocked little rascal, the other issue doesn’t go that well. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts I decide to continue like that. Most important is that I can shift on the uphills, going down I would just have to slap and pop the bass and the gears would just shift somehow.

Welsh countryside is full with byways of different categories.
Cyclist are allowed to used horse paths known as Bridleway.
This doesn’t automatically mean that these are negotiable by bike –
it’s better to consult a map three times than end up in the middle of a moor.

Tarmac sections joining the different hill crossings are thankfully short and soon we find ourselves facing another climb. We swiftly pass a group of ramblers, who’s mastodonic backpacks cause a fresh sensation running down my back, and start a steep stony climb along the east base of Moel Siabod. It doesn’t take long for me and Pavel to realize that pushing is the only option, Radek comes to the same conclusion a second later. Nonetheless we’re still doing better than our two-legged companions and so the distance between us grows constantly and finally we lose sight of them. After peaking our heads above the tree line we gain a view on the northern face of Moel Siabod and a wonderful, well beaten track.

We were slowly pedalling ahead of us when suddenly Pavel felt like daydreaming:
– Fording a stream, that would be nice! – he said.
– I suppose we’ll have many opportunities along the way… – not waisting a second I assured him that he’ll have a chance to fulfil his dream.
How many, this we didn’t realise yet, the other thing we didn’t know at that time, was that these wouldn’t be regular streams. Now though, Ystumiau turned out to be just a little stream and made us a happy bunch of kids grinning at cutting through the water puddles. So happy, so naive.
The sun was smiling at us as we were crawling up another off-road section leading us into the valley of the river Lledr. Definitely the most stunning place of the day, maybe even of the whole trip. Old and tired with erosion mountains were surrounding us from three sides;  the rocky Yr Arddu i Meol Fleiddiau on our right, in front of us the mighty Moel Druman was rising into the skies, and the defiant Moel Druman was hugging our left side. The track steadily deteriorated and eventually turned into a wet path – only the stone foundations seen here and there reminded us of it’s former glorious times.

We pass by some old ruins. They’re not even marked on the map, but something big must have been here. The hill is scattered with towers and the large flat ground is occupied by a large rubble strangely organised in straight, parallel lines – as if someone combed them. Truly eerie scenery.
The traverse around Moel Dyrnogyd allows us to catch the last glimpse of the southern side of Moel Siabod and then it leads us along a ledge to the Crimean Pass. Here we take an insanely fast downhill down the A470 leading to Blaenau Ffestiniog.

It’s quite late so we decide to have some warm supper in the town. There are bananas, coke, tee and hot Chinese food. Radek has lots of ginger in his dish – good, he wont be sick. As a matter of fact neither will I, since I’m pilfering pieces from his plate whenever I get the occasion.
We leave the town on a tarmac road and head for Llan Ffestiniog where we’ll turn left for some more cross-country action. A well preserved road leads us up to  Mynydd Meantwrog overlooking the town of Trawsfynydd. What we see, once we leave the Hafod forest and look behind our backs, is a magnificent panorama of West Snowdonia shortly before the sunset. Exactly for these moments it pays of to be.

Shortly after the tarmac ends and we’re back on a gravel road idling it’s way through open moorland.  It’s time to look for an overnight spot, when we find ruins of something that reassembled housing we chase the sheep away and begin our evening chores.

We were considering setting up camp inside for a brief moment,
this would give us some shelter from possible winds.
Unfortunately sheep have done their work and so
we ended up sleeping behind the ruins.

We couldn’t have dreamed of a better start into our adventure. Views, sun, lack of wind – everything was like a piece of a perfect puzzle. Yet heavy clouds slowly gathering above our heads were a source of concern… this, and a strange creature hovering in the sky with it’s hou!hou!hou!hou!hou!hou!hou!hou!hou!hou!hou!hou!hou!hou!.
Are we going to wake up with two bite marks on our necks?



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