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Brilliant Wild Wales Ride

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  • masonb
    This was the third August Bank Holiday long weekend riding that a few of us have been to Bala in North Wales to do CTC Merseyside s Wild Wales Challenge ride.
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 31, 2004
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      This was the third August Bank Holiday long weekend riding that a few of us have been to Bala in North Wales to do CTC Merseyside's Wild Wales Challenge ride. I had a truly lovely weekend of it, and I think everyone else did too. Richard's idea. Thanks so much to all who took part and made it such a fine time. Great team.    
      Friday 27 August: 19 of us met at 11.30am Thrifty Van Hire on Tower Bridge Road to fill a 17 person minibus and the Renault snap of a stretched Transit van. (In 2002 we trained it to Ruabon and rode the 25 miles to Bala....but Virgin wrecked that later that year by limiting bikes on trains). We got to Bala about 7pm and 250 miles later. KarenM's solid driving flawed only once, and that kerb holed a tyre that we didn't spot till we stopped. (£65). Roger was waiting for us, having cycled all the way. Hero. A couple had driven up in their car. (I feel guilty about creating antisocial traffic). And suddenly there were 22 of us. 3 camping, and the rest in the Royal White Lion Hotel, central Bala, at a specially done £20 a night B&B. Fine value in a shaky hotel on the cusp of expensive restoration or ruin. The jackdaws are still there. Unpacked, we split to eat. There's little serving after 9pm but most of us found the good little pizza restaurant.
      Saturday: two of us had a wakeup swim in Bala lake before breakfast. Most left at 10am to ride the lane on the south side of the lake and the big big hill up to Bwlch y Groes. It's Wales's highest pass at 545 metres. High moorland with sheep and cattle-grids and wonderful brown peaty streams, waterfalls, sheep and no buildings at all. And then the huge descent to hidden Lake Vyrnwy. The 12 mile road round it is dead flat, the reservoir was dammed in 1890 and is tree-lined gorgeous. We coffee'd at the dam and had a quick look at the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel, built for the dam engineers, its views still tremendous, its glory a tad faded, and I thought of The Shining hotel and other Jack doors. At the back there are decayed Edwardian gardens and a lovely little church where the 80 or so too expendable abourers who died building the dam rest. We lunched and fed chaffinches at the lonely Lakeview Tearoom...they remembered us from last year. The woods on the way back to Bala drip with lichen. After a huge climb up, the descent back to Bala was massive. A lovely 40 mile circle. Most of us ate well in a bistro place.
      Sunday: The Wild Wales Challenge. Registration started at 8.30am at the recreation ground behind our hotel. Karen volunteered to mass register to save us all standing in huge line with 530 blokes on skinny bikes who'd all driven up from Macclesfield/Birkenhead/Wolverhampton and had been training all year. (Organiser Dennis said that 640 registered and 90 didn't show). We left together at 9am. A very mostly-untrained motley crew.
      The 21st Wild Wales Challenge and the longest yet: 89.2 miles.
      Dennis says he wanted to design a classic this year with a kick at the end. He succeeded. It was a huge Welsh of course mix of hills, lanes, moors, woods, cattle-grids, villages, woods, forests, sheep, grassy-asphalt and rain. Within a minute of the start, the westerly was whipping Lake Bala into waves, a technicolour rainbow you could almost touch had both ends in the water. As we headed south down a tiny track on Tremadog Bay the awesome views across to the LLeyn Peninsula were shot-blasted away by vicious horizontal rain that felt and stung like hail. But the rain stopped in time for the third, and secret, control, where we got our passports stamped by volunteers who didn't even get out of their car. So CTC. Bless. (ed: steady. Be nice).
      The lunch control point in seaside Tywyn got moved to the outskirts because of a carnival so there was no tea, coffee, food, loos, nothing. Loads of cyclists then descended on the next open village shop for supplies. And Madam was Grumpy. Queues of bikers scooped up all her bottled water, bread rolls, and watery ham. So did the six I was with. And then she simply shut up shop. Chapel? And turned down loads of takings. And then through the forests, it felt like The Alps....fir trees, cottages, villages below, mountain streams, my bald back-tyre span on the steep, wet, gravelly, sheepshitslipperies. And there it was....the huge valley view at the back of that 545 metre pass again. We'd done around 75 miles, we hadn't eaten sensibly, my legs had gone, (I was so glad to have borrowed an asthma inhallers to rid my wheezy and get more air), my feet were soaked from the earlier blasting rain, the sight of that endless incline simply drained. And I've never seen so many fine cyclists walk up a hill before. 80% walked up the 20%. But we made it and felt very fine. My newly-serviced bike had brakes that worked so I was much better on the swooping descents this year and loved them, and there weren't many cars at all but somehow I got sandwiched between a couple of stinkers and I hated them all the way to Bala. Most of us got back to the start at 6.30pm. The tacky slate prizes have a pic of Tel-y-Llyn pass and lake on them and are treasures. Poncho Pete and Cathie got the bubbly in and Greenwich Cyclists - for so we were for the day - had silly fun. And all piled back to the hotel's Residents Lounge for takeaway chinese/pizza/f&c and loads of wine.  
      The damage: 20 of us started the Wild Wales Challenge. 16 of us finished. 7 women and 9 men. Macclesfield Wheelers won the most finishers prize: 32 of them. All in the same clothing. 98% blokes. I so loved/preferred the variety of us. I loved the ride. I started the day a bit hungover but my bike was in great shape. The ride was very tough, I walked up 4 (?) hills but was in fine company almost all day. Cheryl kept me going. That last massive mountain intimidated but I knew I could walk up it. With stops. And the site of a pair of peregrine falcons working the moor - one buzzing low to flush out prey, the other high up to hit it at 150 mph, saw me through. 
      Monday: on the A4212 round the north edge of Llyn Cwlyn, a plainer reservoir, past the national wild water centre (9 tons of water a second on dam-release days) and up big B hills to the Pont y Glen cafe. It's a little piece of home(ish) very high and alone on the moors. Grilled chicken on cous-cous salad? Last year it was labelled the Cafe with Altitude, and that fitted. But its branding has gone Welsh, probably wisely. Oasis. There were 16 of us. 6 hadn't planned to go further so settled into the leather sofas and papers while the rest of us headed on up and up past a huge waterfall to Blaenau Ffestiniog...a big lonely village with hundreds of terraced cottages dominated by mountains, scree and quarries. We went through to the Llechwedd Slate Cavern and the 12 of us got the group discount into the cavern train ride. Slate was only discovered here in 1849 but soon there were 16 levels of workings each 200 feet deep, in candlelight and lung-clogging dust. A good tour, but the other deep mine one might have been better. We lunched in the cafe. And the hill out was nowhere near as fearsome as it felt swooping down earlier. The lane back to Bala on the other side of the lake is tiny, the sunshine hot. All of us ate that night precooked into the pub across the road. 
      Tuesday: only 2 did the 7am ride round the lake. I tried to look after Cheryl who been ill since 2am and overslept and only managed a swim. But the lake was totally calm with a mist hanging everywhere, cold water, warm sun. Little grebes trying to lead me away from ready nests. The poor cooked breakfast was a treat. Camping Neil had driven back to Bristol the night before. Cheryl, Che and Roger cycled off towards Borth on the coast, the rest of us got back to Tower Bridge Road around 5pm. And most had several outside the Horseshoe pub off London Bridge.
      Summary: great great weekend. Excellent mix of rides and people. Flakey hotel, but good value and very bearable in the middle of it all.       
      (Newsflash: from the local daily today: the new English manager of the local high-street Bala Somerfield shop yesterday told one of his staff to stop talking to customers and colleagues in Welsh. "It's a silly language". Local demonstrators (No Colonization) have closed the shop and Somerfield refuse to suspend their manager). 
      We go again next year.
      Best birds: choughs, siskin, those peregrines, and what I thought were Black Kites until I got back to my Collins Guide that says they were Marsh Harriers. Rare there.  
      Thanks to Karen M for the fleet and driving, Karen S for the rooms. Peter and Stuart for driving too.
      The cast: Cathie, Che, Cheryl, Clarissa, Daniel, David, Denise, Gareth, Geraldine, Hilary, Karen M, Karen P, Karen S, Mark, Peter, Richard, Roger, Sabine, Stuart, Tess, Tim. 
      And as we came back into London down (to me) unknown Bruce Grove, Haringey, there was a blue plaque to Thomas Lord, namer of the clouds. We'd seen loads. 
      Great time.
      Book for next year.
      07905 889 005
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