Well, what a turn up for the books. Today has been just perfect. I was woken this morning by the sun streaming down onto the campsite, just the remnants of mist clinging to the sides of some of the hills. It had been quite cool overnight and there was heavy dew all over the grass and the tent. I took a leisurely breakfast from the leftovers of the tuck box and enjoyed the early morning sun.
The gobshite family came and took and interest in the bike this morning, even offering to lend a track pump whilst I was checking the tyre pressures, a mere game of one upmanship I think. At least no one was arguing.
So I got to the road early this morning, around 8:30 and set up off the hill towards Pen-y-pass. The climb up was uneventful and quite easy, although 3 gears lower than the night before. Sadly, Snowdon still didn’t want to come out from behind the clouds, so I didn’t linger long for the photo opportunity and carried in up the road.
But it was too early to head down Llanberis Pass, so instead I went straight on to Capel Craig to get some breakfast. A nice hearty fry up.
After breakfast, I still had lots of time so thought I would head down the road a little towards Betws-y-Coed, then up a small hill to a lookout point that I thought might give a view out east across North Wales.
At the foot of the hill I came across a curious house called ‘The Ugly House‘, which was in fact a very charming house. It is made from stone, but these are not the usual building stones, but huge great boulders piled one on top of the other, apparently without mortar. What the Buildings Regulations people would say about it I’ve no idea.
After a quick photo, I headed on up the hill. It was a narrow country lane and steeper than I’d expected from the map. There was no signage, but I would think that some short stretches were 1 in 5 or maybe more. It was on one of these that I lost my balance, the front wheel lifting off the ground and I was forced to stop mid slope. It was too darn steep to get going again, but I have a policy of not pushing, so tried a couple of faltering attempts to restart, and on one of these lost balance and managed to rake the peddle up my shin, just enough to break the skin. So, I gave in and pushed 10 yards till I got onto a slightly lower gradient and then set off again, swearing at the peddle but actually quite thankful that I was not clipped in, or I would have been lying in the road and probably trapped by the weight of the bike.
The view from the lookout point was not remarkable, but pleasant, looking out over forestry land and hills beyond. I sat there for a while and washed my wounds and applied some anti-sceptic. The wound was only a graze, so no need to worry too much about it.
I set off back down the hill again to get back to the Ugly House, and then retraced my steps, albeit slower, back up the hill towards Pen-Y-Pass and the head of the Llanberis Pass. By now the sun was shining strongly pretty much all of the time, with only a few wispy clouds milling about in an otherwise clear blue sky. The road gradient was pretty good, and even once onto the section that hogs the rock face approaching Pen-Y-Pass, it was relatively easy going. Just accept that with the weight, no records are going to be set.
I stopped off for a while and admired the view, and even considered cycling some of the way up to Snowdon, as there is a fairly good path around the east side above Llyn Gwynant (the campsite the night before). Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to cycle it during the summer months, presumably because they don’t want you or the walkers coming into collision and hurtling off the side.
I started the descent at a reasonable pace, and quickly realised a couple of things. a) I would get down far too fast and not get to appreciated it and b) its pretty steep and you could happily get to 40 mph and risk life and limb. I started off keeping it to about 15 mph but that meant the brakes on all the time, and I concluded that they’d probably overheat and I might suffer a blow out, so started pumping them to moderate the speed but give them a chance to cool. But in the end, the sun was out, the scenery was just stunning, and I slowed it to snails pace and just took in the views with great pleasure. I got overtaken by a few cars within the first few hundred metres of the descent, but miraculously they all disappeared, and I got to idle my way down to Llanberis with practically no other cars coming past – it was like someone had decided that I’d earned the joy of the place all by myself.
The only other humans were the rock climbers variously climbing and abseiling the rocky outcrops on either side. It will be my one overriding memory of this trip – the rest of it has been fantastic cycling – but the Pass of Llanberis was an absolute thrill.
On reaching Llanberis town, there is the opportunity to get on the Snowdon Railway, which takes the idle to the top. There is also the usual touristy paraphernalia, none of which tempted me. I was quite keen for a cup of coffee however, but found a more humble cafe on the edge of town. I now had a choice of a quick run down the main road to Caernarfon, or to follow a quieter and more rural run, which would mean a few hills. As it was, they weren’t too bad after the initial climb out of Llanberis, and I enjoyed a single track road winding through the hills, past a couple of slate quarries, leading to some rocky outcrops which gave wonderful views out over the Caernarfon, Bangor and Anglesey, and I could even make out the distant lump of the Isle of Man, some 60-70 miles out into the Irish Sea. On a slightly clearer day, I wondered if you could even see the Irish mainland.
Looking back towards Snowdonia, I was even rewarded with my first view of Snowdon itself without the by now obligatory cloud covering, and a clear view of one of the paths that lead to the summit. I might have to come back and give that a go on foot one day, it looks pretty straightforward!
A gently run down into Caernarfon, its quite a pretty little town dominated by the castle, but strangely you don’t ever seem to get a very photogenic view of it. I think my memories of it from television are often from an aerial shot or from out in the Menai Straight. I decided against going in, and was content to enjoy the sunshine, sitting open air in the square outside the castle and enjoying a coffee.
By now I had tried a couple of times to contact my host for the evening (courtesy of Warmshowers) but was just getting an answerphone. Fortunately Emyr called me and we arranged a time for me to arrive (he was out visiting friends). I had a couple of hours to kill, and figured that if I slowly cycled along the foreshore of the Menai, I’d find a pub to enjoy an early evening pint. Alas, the first one I could find was actually in Emyr’s village of Llandwrog, just around the corner from his house. But a lovely pub it was, and a very enjoyable pint and half of Reverend James was very welcome.
At the appointed hour, I peddled around to Emyr’s for a warm welcome. He and his wife have a lovely home, and his interest in woodworking is evident around the home, and I must admit to being a bit jealous of the workshop! They were kind enough to provide a meal, and I’d provided a couple of bottles of wine to go along with it. it wasn’t a late evening, but we had a good chat about cycling and travel in general, followed by a very restful nights sleep, my first in a bed in a week and very much appreciated.
Emyr joined me in the morning for the return trip to Caernarfon, and navigated me through the town and onto the cycle path leading onwards towards Bangor. Thanks again to Emyr, and Warmshowers for a great stopover.
I didn’t really have a huge amount of time to sightsee across Anglesey, but I couldn’t miss out on a stop at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, officially the longest place name in the United Kindgom, and one of the longest in the world. I’d learnt the pronunciation of the name as kid, but must admit I’d probably not done so quite correctly, always forgetting the ‘drobwillant’ bit in the middle. Also, I’d never known the English translation of the name, which is apparently:
St Mary’s Church (Llanfair) in the hollow (pwll) of the white hazel (gwyngyll) near (goger) the rapid whirlpool (y chwyrndrobwll) and the church of St Tysilio (llantysilio) by the red cave ([a]g ogo goch).
It all seems unnecessarily long and no wonder it gets abbreviated to LlanfairPG. There is nothing there of note apart from the train station and its absurdly long station sign, and the ineviitable tourist coaches and the absurdly large tourist tat shop. I went up the road to the Co-Op and stocked up on some nibbles for the forthcoming train ride.
The cycle route seemed to go awry after that, I ended up heading for the north coast of Anglesey which was more detour than the time allowed, and then the signs evaporated. I headed for Llangefin, and then onto the single track roads for a while until I intercepted the A5, which is not particularly busy these days since the A55 dual-carriageway was built. However, the A5 was no joy for a cyclist, and I decided I would be as well on the smaller lanes for the rest of the way. I rejoined the NCR8 at one point before it decided to take a detour around some lakes, but I wanted to get to Holyhead in enough time for some lunch.
All was well in the end, I stopped on the outskirts of of Holyhead at a chippy, then made my way along the causeway, cycle paths and back streets of Holyhead to the train station. I ignored the Stena ferry to Dublin that was waiting at the port, I was quite tempted by the idea of doing the East Coast of Ireland and returning via Roslair – I’ve no idea why I didn’t think of it when planning this trip, but that might have been pushing it a bit! Definitely one for a future trip.
[Llanfairpwllgwyn- gyllgogerychwyrn- drobwllllantysilio- gogogoch]