At the tail end of 2012, a small group of wandering Moles visited North Wales to ride Llandegla, Penmachno and Antur Stiniog. This weekend, a similar sized group returned to North Wales to taunt the weather gods once more, with a second visit to Llandegla and a bit of Welsh ‘XC’ on the menu.
Unlike our previous visit, we were attempting to cram the travel and the riding into the weekend rather than take the more leisurely option of driving up Friday night. This resulted in a very exhausting couple of days but with such great riding on offer everyone thought it was worth the pain. So it was that D’andy, Elliot and myself left on Saturday to head up the M40 at 6:30 in the morning, with a very early start to allow for the ritual ‘placing of the bikes’ on the car rack.
This is a task not dissimilar to a logic game on the Krypton Factor. Three bikes will fit, but not in any order. A precise exercise in placement, forward planning and patience is required to conjure a configuration that allows one enormous bike (Elliot’s), one large wheeled bike with a teeny tiny front triangle (D’Andy’s) and my ever-practical Five onto the car rack without conflicting with each other. By the end of the weekend we had it pretty well worked out…
Aside from this task, there is also the necessary appeasement to be made with the weather gods. So far, Wales has treated us pretty good in terms of weather and this weekend was no exception despite an initial thick mist which managed to veil the true size of the hills we would be riding until we were actually on them. This benign weather window was no doubt helped in no small part by our resident ‘lucky’ weather gnome, Kev, who ‘paid it forward’ last week by crashing hard enough to knock himself unconscious for several minutes, resulting in a trip to A&E and sharp uptick in the share price of manufacturers of codeine-based painkillers. Allegedly.
Kev’s loss was Elliot’s gain however as he stepped in to take his place. In addition, our three-strong carload was due to meet up with Colin, Jem and Unreliable Simon at the start of our days’ riding to make a small group of six riders in all.
But where were we going to ride? The Cadair Berwyn Loop
Saturday was to be our XC day. By which I mean a long, non-technical but very scenic ride around Cadair Berwyn. This is the highest summit in the Berwyn Hills and was uncovered by D’Andy and Jem’s Google-fu, which found a MBR route we could follow.
Anyone who has experience of routes posted on the internet knows what to expect, namely that not all the route is precisely as described. However, with the route programmed into D’Andy’s venerable Satmap GPS we managed to follow it pretty accurately and ultimately the information we found online was better than anticipated. In particular, The Edge Cycleworks have a decent write up.
We chose to start the route from Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant due to the fact it had better parking facilities for the day. The suggested route puts your start point in Llandrillo but quite honestly I think we chose rather well. Llanarmon would have given a brutal start to the day…
As it was, heading off in a westerly clockwise direction meant within a mile or two we we climbing tortuously out of the village, heading for the hills. At this stage, around 11:30 in the morning, the hills themselves were still being coy, shrouded in a heavy mist. What couldn’t be disguised was the gradient which soon had us all overheating after a chilly start.
I was experimenting with Intrepid’s Gravity jacket which soon became uncomfortably hot. XC grinds up steep hills in 14° temperatures are not really it’s thing. My reasoning was it was a tough jacket that might be useful if the weather got worse but as it was it proved unnecessary. So I was hot, we all were hot and the road continued upward, even when D’Andy claimed we were contouring toward Llangynog.
Once we hit the bridleway, which for much of the ride was rocky doubletrack in pretty decent condition, we started to feel much more ‘in the hills’. Soon the mist started to thin and shift to reveal some truly impressive scenery. We were still on the first third of the ride but could see it was going to be a great day.
In a couple of places we found ourselves negotiating hill bogs but having ridden the Welsh landscape a few times I wasn’t too bothered despite a couple of wet feet. I was thinking at one point that Jem’s 50lbs monster eBike was going to disappear but all was well, as for the most part we surfed the tussocks.
After four miles we reached our first peak and set off down the y Clogydd descent. This was probably the most technical descent of the day, but really it just demanded a lot of respect. The surface was grassy and very lumpy and all you needed to do was keep your speed under control, which was easier said that done. And dropper posts help!
Despite a couple of us cooking our brakes we all made it down safely to much laughter and continued on our way to Llangynog, dumping some 1000 feet of height in the process through some lovely deciduous woodland below Craig Rhiwarth. The only downside was we needed all that height back and more as we dug into a four mile climb up Cwm Rhiwarth via the B4391. If ever I wanted a road bike, this was it! It’s a pretty climb but sits at a consistent ‘troubling’ level on my grade-o-meter. We just ground, and ground and ground, with a brief stop for snackage followed by more grinding until, eventually, we reached the top and the start of more rocky bridleway.
By now the mist was largely gone and the rugged beauty made itself known. The rocky track trended magically downhill for nearly five miles, with a wild and wayward plunge in the middle down loose rock to the ford at Blaen y Cwm.
My Five was pretty much outclassed by D’andy’s 29er Superlight and Jem’s monster Cube who both disappeared out of sight, with Colin on his Ti-framed Stanton hardtail looking very comfortable in pursuit. I was just letting my Five find it’s own way down, making sure not to turn and brake at the same time on corners as the trail was strewn with the kind of large loose rocks you’d expect of Welsh mountain riding. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, just that I couldn’t go as quick!
After the ford we picked up more tarmac which brought us into Llandrillo for a much needed lunch stop. This is a genuinely pretty village where we were able to pick up sufficient saturated fat from the village store to energise us for the remainder of the ride, while watching two dogs wee on each other (!) by the pretty banks of the Afon Ceidiog river. Idyllic.
However, time was getting on and we were only halfway round. Perhaps unwisely it was 3 o’clock by the time we left Llandrillo and I think we suspected we were cutting things fine. The climb out of Llandrillo is frankly brutal, all off-road but steep enough for our 1×10 equipped legs to need to walk in many places (unless you’re Elliot!). It took us an hour and forty minutes to ride three and a half miles to the summit of Pen-Bwlch Llandrillo, otherwise known as the Wayfarer descent/climb.
It’s actually an easy climb technically apart from the gradient itself and the multiple gates to negotiate. It’s all about fitness and willingness not to give up and I quite enjoyed it!. Not all of us did though, but their slack-angled bikes soon came into their own. Topping out at just over 2000 feet we were able to look back down the valley we’d just negotiated while looking forward to the Wayfarer descent to come.
It was excellent! Again, I’m not going to set speed records but the trail has a nice flow to it, far more enjoyable than the Gap Road descent I’ve ridden in the past. It needs concentration as there’s lots of big rocks and even a long section laid with railway sleepers but settle in and let the bike do the work and it’s a great blast.
The only problem was when we reached the bottom, neither Colin, nor Jem, nor Simon were with us. Ominously D’Andy, Elliot and myself waited. And waited. Eventually Colin appeared to say Jem had punctured big time and both his tubeless tyres were in the process of being converted back to tubed again due to multiple cuts. In all we lost over half an hour while this transition occurred and that was plenty long enough to realise it was getting dark and cold.
Fortunately it wasn’t long before we picked up the tarmac again for the ride into Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog and decided it was time to lop off at least a little of the remaining route. We probably ditched a couple of miles but even the tarmac climb out of the village was a struggle by now. It was getting darker all the time and becoming a serious possibility we’d need lights for the final miles. Which we didn’t have.
As it turned out however, the final six miles passed quite quickly as they were all on tarmac, so despite our legs, backsides, backs and shoulders complaining the whole way we got back to the sanctuary of our vehicles with enough time to clean our bikes for their stay in Wrexham’s Premier Inn by the station. After driving there, our arrival wasn’t until 7:30 at night! A very long day but a genuinely enjoyable big day out in the hills.
Some photos of our weekend in the Berwyn Hills are on Flickr.