The vague plan was to catch the first train to Bangor, North Wales and then cycle on the fat bikes south to the forest of Coed Y Brenin in mid-Waleshire via one of the best cafes known to man, Café Siabod in Capel Curig. The first train left when it was still dark and we arrived in Bangor just after the sun rose. I would love to say we were treated to a stunning sunrise, but it was overcast and a bit damp. Still, it was mid December, everywhere was quiet, so I wont complain.
The café was two hours cycle away, so we took a mixture of country roads, sustrans routes and old quarry roads to Ogwen and then jumped onto the main A road for a fast descent to the café. Despite it being December, we were riding with our coats open as the sun was lovely and warm. The first section was not trouble free though as Jack’s gears were playing up, the front big ring was working fine but the granny ring was not playing ball. A some fettling, we decided to push on and fix it whilst we waited for our breakfasts to be served (credit to Jack, when we arrived I sat in the warmth and Jack spent some time outside looking at his bike, he came in just as the coffee’s were served with a big grin on his face no more singlespeeding for Jack!).
The next part of the ride was split into two sections, a relatively small push up a hill (1Km worth) followed by a long, shallow descent, then section two, a long climb up through the Penmachno Forests with an even longer descent down the old slate mine roads. Section one went according to plan, section two nearly did not…
We know that the first part from Capel Curig to Dolwyddelan would be a push, we’ve both descended this excellent path from the south. It was quite ‘steppy’ push up but we know that it would not be long until we reached the top and then we would have a long, shallow descent into the small village. We were treated to a stunning rainbow at the top of the climb and then we descended for about ten to fifteen minutes at a leisurely pace setting the world to rights! Once through the village, we started on the second section, a 5Km climb to the top of the old mines.
The forest road was step and we soon warmed up, coats an gloves were packed away. We were riding in jerseys now, not bad considering the winter solstice was next week. We made steady progress up the hill and after 4 Km, we checked the map and GPS to notice that we had gone a little to far up. It was irritating to climb the extra height but we soon corrected our mistake, we dropped down to the turn off point n the trees. It was barely big enough for a hobbit to fit through, so it was easily missed.
Then it hit us, the last part of the climb was steep, more than 1 in 1 in places, so we would have to push. Nevermind, my rides always resulted in pushing, so we were both accustomed it. This was on a different level, the bikes were heavy to push, so I spilt my luggage off and did shuttle runs, whilst Jack pushed his whole bike and luggage in one. The less said about the climb the better, I guess if Jack and I were married, divorce would have been on the cards!
Once summited, we took stock of the situation and did the only thing reasonable, had a Double Decker each. The next section would be easy, a drop into the old mines and then a long road descent into Llan Ffestiniog. We got to the fence and dropped south following the line of the fence, except after a short time, the land fell away. It was too steep to ride! We checked the map again, and realised, we should of followed the second fence down.
We both lost our sense of humour
We pushed back up, and carried onto the second fence. Once again, we checked the map o be on the safe side and dropped down to the slate mines. We had to push on some boggy parts but it was worth it in the end, the slate mines were incredible and the descent into Llan Ffestiniog was awesome. I cooked my front brake (at least I thought I had until I inspected it at the bothy, when Jack realised that my pads just need setting again) mid-descent and had to rely on my rear brake. Our ears were popping on the way down, we just prayed that no-one was coming up!
Once into Llan Ffestiniog, we decided that we would do some road miles until the forest due to the fading light and my poor front light. We climbed out of the village and then set a steady pace for the long road section. As my front brake was not working, I went in front. It was long and dull but once at the forest, we turned off and venture along the fire roads, stopping outside the visitor centre to top up our water.
Half an hour late (probably longer but time stands still when its dark), we reached the bothy. It was a shame, but the previous occupant left it a mess. We set about chopping up wood for the log burner and getting our stoves on the go to cook with. More wood chopping followed after tea and after looking at my front brake, we called it a night and went to bed.
I set my alarm for 7 the next morning, to get a good start on the day Sunrise was past 8AM, so we set about lighting the log burner again for some warmth and studied the map for our return leg. We settled on the Sarn Helen Roman road out of the forest to Blaneau Ffestiniog (we reasoned that if the return journey went to plan, we could catch the train earlier along the journey than planned. We packed our bags and left just after 8AM, just when the heavens opened.
The road was straight, but steep! Those Romans certainly knew how to build roads, I just wished they contoured around the hills a little more. We had several stops along the was back to refuel and to take in the scenery and the amazing bird life. We’re not twitchers, but we both swear that we saw Red Kites circling above us and plenty of Buzzards flew along side us.
At the mid-point, we stopped and had a big Welsh breakfast with a side of chips (Jack – “Ermm, I may of ordered some extra side dishes…!”). Feeling rather full, we plodded back to Blaneau Fffestiniog to see we had an hour to spare before the train left, this spare time was obviously filled with coffee and cake!
Day one (Dawn till past dusk ride)
Distance 80Km plus a further 12Km to the station
Height gained ~2300m
Distance 35km plus a further 12Km from the station
Height gained ~1000m
Total distance 139Km
Total height gain ~3300m
Photo credits; Author (Simon) and Jack at JBLewi