This one had been in the ‘planning’ for a while, since we did a little excursion to Pen y Fan last Autumn half-term which I still have to write up. Easter holidays were late this year so it’d give a good chance of scaling Snowdon. Train tickets booked about 6 weeks before to Betws-y-Coed nestled on the eastern edge of Snowdonia National Park. A few return routes shaped; all had hills, no escaping it, #thisiswales! A campsite south of Snowdon was identified to tie in with the planned ascent on the Watkin Path; no other camping plans made just ideas, we’d see how it goes. Saying that, after R’s 100 miler I did log two distances of 100 & 150km with the regional DIYxGPX audax coordinator, just in case.
DAY 1: Bristol to Betws-y-Coed to Llyn Gwynant
A quick hop to Newport on the train, then the long slog to Llandudno Junction, then another short hop to Betws-y-Coed. Connect4 ensues, I still play to win but R fights back often forcing me to loose once all other options have been played out; 7-6 to me. Alighting the train at our last connection I ask a member of staff which platform for our change, a sharp inhalation of breath occurs. “Bus service, no bikes I’m afraid, it’s been advertised for the last 3 weeks, the track was washed away in the floods.” Well, I bought tickets before that, we have seat reservations for it, and no mention was made of it on the train from Newport otherwise we could have changed for Porthmadog instead. “Nothing I can do sir, you’ll have to make other arrangements.” Seriously? Me & R stare at him.
Outside we head to the bus replacement area, again the train rep there is “no bikes”, I look to the bus driver…
We spot repair works to the track just after Llanrwst as we travel up the Conwy Valley. Whole sections of embankment had gone!
We get to Betws-y-Coed before the train would have as there was no waiting for the connection. Last minute shopping. R needs some new waterproof trousers and I need a lighter for the stove; I get a fire stick so no worrying about wet flints any more. Then off we go. A short ride today with one long climb to Pen-y-Gwryd.
The road splits here climbing higher to Pen-y-Pass, a popular point at which to start the climb to Snowdon’s summit; we descend 300m to Llyn Gwynant campsite. Book in for 2 nights and pitch by the river. Plan was to go to Sygun Copper Mine this evening but by the time the tent is up we’d be close on time so I suggest Wednesday morning as we leave, no go is a go. So I cook up some noodles as an appetiser and wait for the site’s new Pizza Shed to open; winner!
In the mean time we have a little stroll on the other side of the river, spot birds of prey, bugs and butterflies, then wander round the site. There are groups of other kids here and there playing. R says he wants to play too so I tell him to go say hello. “I’m too shy Daddy.” He finds socialising with new faces difficult, I try and help him by giving hints as to what to do but he doesn’t have the courage. Back to the tent we go, R is close to tears, I’m crying inside understanding his struggles, I give him a big hug. We resort to Connect4 as we wait for the Pizza Shed to open.
Nooooooooo…. the member of staff at reception didn’t realise the site’s owners have diversified and Monday nights, as of now, is Pieminister night; shipped in from Bristol…
We’d been waiting for pizza, it’s too late to do any cooking, R is not amused and I have to cajole him with promise of pizza tomorrow.
The microwaved pies are all right, I paid the extra quid for mash, a golf ball scoop that had the texture of Smash, meh! I pass on my disdain the following night. The caterers agree, they are pizza people, the quantities for the pie stuff is set when they had their Pieminister training, even the mash, frozen peas and cheddar is shipped in.
A disappointing evening. I finish off the remaining chapters of ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ then bed ready for tomorrow’s ascent of Snowdon.
🔺s = 19
21km forwards | 340m of up
Snowdon Sygun Copper Mine & Beddgelert
Up early I’m prepping for Snowdon. The forecast had actually been right for several days. Drizzle and cold. Still we were going to go for it hence the new waterproof trousers. Pasta & pesto for breakfast is whipped up, packet stuff we’d used a few times on our LEJOG & Pen y Fan trips. R tucks in then stops, “I don’t like it.” Huh? After to-ing and fro-ing it’s the sauce. I tell R that, and the other flavours, is all I have, he can’t climb Snowdon on an empty stomach. He tries again but wretches. I make up another flavour which he chooses; leek, cheese and ham, this was going to be lunch. I’d have to juggle the flavours for mine. He’s questioning himself as to why he doesn’t like the first and getting worked up asking over and over if we can climb Snowdon. Next flavour done and he tucks in, again a wretch, he doesn’t like this one either. It all escalates as I tell R we can’t climb today if he hasn’t eaten anything. Tears are flowing, R is asking himself over and over “why am I like this? why don’t I like it?”
Not a good evening, not a good morning!
I jump into the tent with him and give him a cuddle. My cogs are whirring. Plan B is forming.
“Do you want to go to the mine today? After we can go into Beddgelert and do some shopping, bacon rolls for breakfast tomorrow and climbing Snowdon? Anyhow the weather is supposed to be sunny tomorrow.”
Things begin to brighten, not the weather but R’s mood as Plan B is approved, it’ll mean another night here and one less day to get back. He has a few cereal bars and we get ready. I box the pasta for my dinner later.
A short ride to the mine, ‘donation’ extorted, hard hats on and in we go!
It’s about a 45 minute trip, starting at the bottom adit and popping out from the ‘Victoria Level’ adit, the most productive and named after HRH; there are 45m of workings further underground that are now flooded and over 125m above that aren’t accessible to the public. Commentary and noticeboards give the background. The mine was the last industrial workings in the Snowdonia region but one of the first in the world to use floatation to separate the ore; which is still the most popular method today.
Back down the path we go passing the panning area to hire a pan from reception. The panning area is a tank of silty sand laced with minerals, crystal flecks and gold (fool’s) that is replenished daily. We set about prospecting. You keep what you collect in the provided vial. This entertains for another half hour and gives me a sore back in the process of the process. We collect quite a lot and it is all shiny with some malachite, amethyst chippings, plenty of iron pyrite along with a mixture of other minerals. By the time we get home something has reacted with something and a black sludge has formed staining everything.
Lunch in the cafe. Swings in the playground. Then the back road to Beddgelert to go looking for a shop. Bacon and rolls acquired. As is packet rice that R wants for future dinners and more noodles for breakfast. Then off to Gelert’s Grave, or Bedd Gelert. A local legend debunked by experts as there are similarities with various stories from other cultures across the world; or perhaps domestic animals go above and beyond and pay the price of their master’s doubt more often than we give credit?
Following the river path we stop to throw stones, attempt a dam and watch a Welsh Highland Railway train pass over the bridge, then return to the village for a pub snack before back to the campsite.
There are fire pits dotted about and I notice others walking back with nets of wood so me and R set off to reception to grab one.
As we wander over there are a few kids playing football, some playing rounders, others just running about. Again R wants to join in but is too shy to say hi. I suggest I say “hi” for him. No, that won’t do. I give him a squeeze, tell him to be brave, give it a go as I head off to get the wood. On returning, R is standing in the middle of the field twirling himself and his hair. I walk over to the 3 boys playing football as R shouts “no Daddy!” and introduce him, tell them R is a little shy but would like to join in. They’re cool. I tell R to get stuck in and go back to the tent to set a fire leaving him to find his feet.
I pop back every so often and peak round the hedge, he’s not the most proficient football player but he was a lot happier! The fire picks up.
Pizza, take 2, for 1!
Wandering back I drag R away from his new friends and we go order. He is all a chatter. He eats half then shoots back to play. There is a convenient shelf under the fire pit where I keep it warm as I tuck into my cold pasta…
Later I go to extract him again, the first group has disbanded and he is now playing with others 😀
But it grows dark so I entice him back and he finishes the pizza, offering me a slice after I beg, as we read a few chapters of the next Chronicle of Narnia ‘The Silver Chair’ in front of the fire, then in the tent, before he’s fast asleep.
🔺s = 13 | Total = 32
20km forwards & back | 290m of up
DAY 3: Snowdon
No rain, bright skies with a Spring haze, perfect. Noodles devoured. Bacon cooked, a roll each for breakfast, the other 6 for the climb; along with bars, apple and plenty of water.
Just after 9 o’clock we head off over the footbridge and follow the path to Hafod-y-llan before the climb really begins. We spot a Peacock butterfly as we climb past waterfalls ( another 2 later) before joining the main path passing old quarry workings. The going is easy and we reach Gladstone’s Rock from whence the PM did give a speech to the inhabitants of Snowdonia, along with MP Sir Edward Watkin who’s path we were scaling.
The air is a buzz with birdsong, a few walking parties dotted here and there; some following the Watkin Path, others splitting off for the South Ridge & Bwlch Main or to cross to Rhyd-Ddu. Steps are set into old quarry piles, we stop for a drink. One of the groups quickly scatters and begins frantically chasing their terrier that they thought was to well behaved to chase the sheep that they’d ignore all the signs saying keep your dog on a lead. This goes on for at least 10 minutes as we watch the distressed sheep and their lambs running over loose stones with the dog jumping at their quarters. Idiots!
More climbing on the graded path, in places marked by cairns, but otherwise very distinct. A few stops for bacon rolls, more water, a bar or two and just a rest before we reach the ridge between Bwlch Ciliau and the final scramble to the summit; Cwm Llan falls away below us with the path clearly visible.
Before the scree we head to the other side of the ridge with views to the PyG and Miner’s Paths on the other side of Glaslyn from atop a sheer drop. It makes our tummies feel a little funny, we stay back from the very edge…
…that feeling doesn’t go so we move on for the last part of the ascent. This is the hardest part; a steep 140m up climb to Bwlch Main just below the summit involving patches of snow, clambering up rocks, a quick stop, and sliding on the scree as we hug the edge of the mountain before eventually reaching path upgrades that are in progress.
R finds this a challenge to begin. We pass another family with two girls, one who is desperately clinging to a rock terrified to go on saying it is too steep. Immediately R is telling me the same. It is a brief doubt as I tell him to look up and put my hand under his foot to help him on and out of ear shot.
Then it is the top, the tourist trap, teeming with them, swamped with guls looking for morsels to eat as we polish off our rolls and take a rest, ravens ripping discarded sandwich bags apart for the last crumbs, disposable BBQs and a queue for the summit…
…which we join for all of 2 seconds then walk round the other side to the highest part of the mountain we can find, not some human construct for a few more feet, and ask someone who has queued for who knows how long to take out photo!
We don’t hang about and set off before the throng decides to descend too. Down the PyG we go forking off onto the Miner’s Path. Hundreds are still ascending; we queue at the pinch points. The Watkin Path is described as one of the tougher routes. Depends what you call tough really. A sparsely populated climb with fantastic scenery and a challenging scramble at the end? Or a well kept path with 300m less climbing but you have to move with the flow of hundreds of others, or not as people constantly stop for photos/food/drink/breath, and surrounded by a cacophony of dialects overshadowing Nature’s symphony of solos? We chose the right path!
The views are spectacular. But if I was ever to come back I’d stick to the south face with the Watkin and path up Bwlch Main and avoid the summit; or if R was older and we were both more experienced perhaps give Crib Goch ago with its knife edge arête, perhaps…
We get back to Pen-y-Pass, we were going to dine here but it is early, we grab a cake each and a drink then set off back to the campsite deciding to pizza again. Did we just see a Red Admiral? Crossing a stream, or Afon Trawsnant to be precise, we mess around by the footbridge building dams. R hands me his tooth, it only became wobbly yesterday. After a bit we continue back on the ‘flat’ to the campsite. “Look Daddy!” R says as I see a badger amble across the path into the bushes, in broad daylight, bold as brass it then pops back out and ambles along ahead of us for a while before popping back in and disappearing. Remember that I Spy book? Well, other than fossils, the badger is R’s last thing to collect, and the highest point scorer there is.
Back at camp R is off playing football and continues as I order pizza, I have to drag him away to eat. This isn’t normal but I smile and let him pop in from time to time for a slice before story and bed as the sky darkens. “Can I put my tooth under my jacket for the Tooth Fairy?” I explain she can’t get in the tent as there are no gaps, save it for home!
🔺s = 1 | Total = 33
24km forwards | 900m of up, 140m straight up, total 1040m
DAY 4: Llyn Gwynant to Machynlleth
It’s an early start, well as early as possible, as we are down a day for our return. R wants to know the distance, I’m giving options and suggesting we just see how the day goes as we’ve just been up Snowdon and there are some lovely Welsh hills ahead of us! Tuesday we’d popped by the Welsh Highland Railway’s ticket office at Beddgelert and I’d enquired as to bikes on the train for an easy start to Porthmadog. As such we arrived in Beddgelert over an hour before the train would depart and Porthmadog was actually about half the distance we would have saved on the train off the route, no way to avoid as getting back onto the route involved a bridge across the Dwyryd estuary. So we just rode.
A fairly easy route. In amongst the mountains of Snowdonia there are some lovely benign valleys with a smattering of short, sharp, steep bits; over quick and you are on your way. We head to Harlech. I suggest we take the low road and try its claim to fame. A killer of a hill recently contesting the steepest signed street in the world; 40%, actually 36%. R declines and we take the high road and stop to look round the castle, the 40% sign winks at me but not today!
Then on round the coast. A long slog on a main road with a steady headwind. I get R to suck my wheel on the flats & ride in front on the hills, only one driver shouts through the passenger window for us to use the ‘cycle path’ opposite, probably more annoyed at all the other courteous drivers holding him up by waiting and giving us space.
But hold on why didn’t we use the ‘cycle path’? Because it wasn’t one, it was a pavement signed as part of the National Cycle Network (NCN). Barely wide enough in places for my laden bike without it overhanging the road into oncoming traffic, not to mention the occasional dog walker on it. Provide proper infrastructure and it will get used. Label unsafe routes as part of the NCN and cyclists get vitriol from motorists for not using!
When it is fit for purpose we do, and drop down to Barmouth promenade for a stretch, then the iconic Barmouth Bridge before following the Mawddach Trail to Dolgellau, an old railway path. This bit is scenic, the next brutal. Climbing out of the town we’re delighted with what must be an old road closed to traffic, crossing the A487 before the final assault into Cwm Hen-gae; it’s steep and narrow, R struggles a few times as his toe-overlap prevents him from zig-zagging effectively (Bamboo Bike post – still to finish). Then we summit and descend through woods to the village of Corris. It is a metalled path with numerous gates. At one point we here a loud roar and I glance back as a fighter jet banks in the valley below us, I shout to R, seconds later another whizzes past. This is part of the Mach Loop, the low altitude training circuit for the RAF. Minutes later we hear the echoing rumble as they return along the Dyfi Valley.
Into Machynlleth we make our way, it is getting late. Stop at a pub for water. Grab some chips, beer and peppermint tea whilst we’re there. Then head back to where the NCN crosses the river to wild camp.
Earlier in the day R had wanted to go further. The climb had put pay to that, and that one was just the beginning…
🔺s = 42 | Total = 75
92km forwards | 1250m of up
DAY 5: Machynlleth to Tyllwyd, Cwmystwyth
I’m up early. R snoozes. Not surprising really. That last hill was tough, he’d only done one similar to that before and we finished at the top. I get cooking breakfast whilst he begins to stir.
Late morning we’re off. Quick stop in the town for water and relief and R does some #drainspotting.
A very short distance away we stop at Cors Dyfi – home to the Osprey Project. I have cycled past here so many times and always wanted to stop, with R in tow we dive in. I hire some binoculars. R is in stitches marching along the broadwalk towards the hide with them stuck to his face. We stop occasionally to read the info boards and try and spot the wildlife; it has more sense to hang about feet from the path when it has acres of marsh land to kick back in unperturbed by noisy people. In the hide though there is a gathering all staring at ‘one’ thing; some through their binoculars, telescopes, cameras, others using those provided. Two osprey and their nest, Monty nesting on the 1st egg and Telyn, more egg(s) expected. This is closely watch not just by us in the hide but web cameras as their every move is live streamed. YouTube channel for all the videos.
One of the wardens is a statistician, he has been collecting data crowd sourced from the live stream. Monty is an atypical male spending more time nesting the eggs and feeding the chicks. Also last year they built a very small nest, it was a scorcher, they’ve done the same this. Do we have a new Punxsutawney Phil?
Back to the main road before we turn left into Llyfnant Valley. This is where the ‘fun’ begins! Yesterday’s climb was tough, but all on metalled roads. Today I wanted to introduce R to a bit of gravel and The Cambrian Mountains. We’d be climbing from pretty much sea level to about 175m on the road, and what a road it was; the valley and the stream within are beautiful. Lots of butterflies too, R spots one with orange tips on its white wings, I don’t know what it is! Then after the road to just over 500m on forest tracks with switch backs in places, drop offs to the sides and stunning views back to Snowdonia. At the top we pass lakes, delve into the depths of forest enclosures and then join the road again north of Nant-y-Moch reservoir.
It was exponentially tough. The gravel took ages. The push bikes lived up to their name. Not sure how much R enjoyed the rough stuff at the time as it took it’s toll physically; but after he ranked it at number 3 of the top 5 things of the trip (climbing Snowdon & the mine were #1 & 2 respectively). It blew me a way. I chose it also to check it as it’ll be an alternative route segment for my planned Super Randonnées 600; a route that is 600km long, has 12,500m climbing, to be completed in 60hrs. All with one aim, to be a constituent of the Audax Club Parisien Randonneur 10,000 award.
Back on the road we enjoy the ‘smoothness’ round Nant-y-Mock reservoir, then cake at Hafod Hotel, Devil’s Bridge, before one final climb to ‘The Arch’ (header photo) and descend into the magical upper end of the Ystwyth Valley passing old mines to camp at Tyllwyd; another location I’d often passed and banked for later. It has swings, R becomes a pendulum as I pitch and cook. We scoff quickly. It has been a long day and is now night. I read to R as he looks out of the tent door with the river metres away. The moon rises over Banc y Wyn (The White Bank) that hides the Elan Valley, tomorrows treat.
🔺s = 2 | Total = 77
62km forwards | 1220m of arduous up
DAY 6: Tyllwyd to Erwood
Today was going to be an ‘easier’ day. One main climb up into the Elan Valley then we’d be cruising down it, later joining the Wye Valley; obviously there will be a few bumps along the way but nothing like the last couple of days. R agrees on about 70km.
R is back on the swings recharging himself. Once packed we set off. Straight into the main climb. There is one short steep bit but other than that it is a fairly easy ascent to the head of the valley. As the river turns to the left you turn right, climb a few more metres and you are then in the Elan Valley; if find this transition from one to the other sublime, it is one of my ‘happy places’.
There quite a few vehicles out today being Easter weekend, I feel sorry for those within as it is a beautiful day; stop, get out, enjoy the sunshine! We are passed by the odd cyclist, some solo & some in groups, who all give a wave or nod. We cross Craig Goch dam, leave the road and join the path on the old railway; built entirely for the construction of the dams. There are some blue water company barriers with a tatty bit of A4 affixed saying the path ahead was closed at a cutting. We risk it.
We get to the obstruction. There is a group of cyclists faffing. I ask if they managed to get past. They say if we go round the fence on the right and push our bikes round the other side of the cutting on the hillside facing the reservoir it is passable. I get to the fence, the right way looks a trek with a loaded bike so I open the ‘gate’ on the left and we lift our bikes the 2m between the cutting edge and rock fall, exit by the further ‘gate’ and continue on our way. Simples!
Safety & Risk. The works sign referred to this section being closed since November, opening latest in late May once a suitable safety inspection had been undertaken before work clearing could commence. I got a few looks for taking the route we did. The rock fall had happened, in all regards the cutting was now probably safer than before or carrying the same risk of a further fall as when it looked ‘normal’. Likelihood unlikely.
A stop for lunch ensued, we sat soaking up the sun looking across the Penygarreg dam, before continuing the long descent to the old junction with the Cambrian Railways just outside Rhayader; the tunnel through the hill and cutting leading up to it was a nature reserve so we had a short sharp climb before the town and the resumption of 🔺 bagging. Then peppermint tea & cake at The Old Swan tea rooms.
We don’t follow the NCN8 south of here to begin. We deal with the main road and it’s holiday traffic. R doesn’t like the loud motorbikes. Why didn’t we use the signed cycle route? 1. We would have back tracked (I’ve noted a ford and footbridge that could be ok for future) 2. Because it routes along an old byway on the side of a hill halfway between Llanwrthwl and Newbridge-on-Wye which from past experience is an awful potholed muddy shite fest where you carry your bikes (that was with an unladen bike too); Sustrans didn’t use their negotiating power to use the old railway track bed running parallel on the valley floor that already has a flat path (farm drive) along it. The same could be said for parts of this railway after Builth Wells as one oscillates along the Wye’s edge viewing the gently inclined path of the railway through the trees and across fields a short distance away. It would be wonderful if all this old railway was a path but most of the bridges over the Wye have been removed.
After Newbridge I decide to fork right once again following NCN8 and avoid the noisy traffic. R appreciates that, plus he spots a few more butterflies. I make a note to ask my dad about the old Collins Gem books we had as kids. Whilst off the main drag it is a slightly hillier and longer route but the final descent into Builth is worth it, plus we actually go through the town rather than next to so R has more #drainspotting to do, and we can stop at a pub quickly…
But I see R is flagging on the hills. Perhaps I’ve finally broken my son? We’d already talked about possibly getting the train back from Abergavenny as we lost a day for Snowdon; this is now the wise choice and R readily agrees, just ‘one’ big hill left tomorrow!
Later, after the aforementioned oscillations, the road switches between the former trackbed and the old road until we reach the former Erwood station. It has been preserved and is now a gallery & tearoom, no moving trains but one sits on a short section of track at the platform. I must incorporate it into a Great Western Randonnées as I’ve heard the cakes are great, it was closed when we got there! From here the road is the old trackbed. We pass over an old bridge and I spot a stile and footpath sign. I call R to stop. Down below is a patch of bare ground by a river, a good place to camp I ask? Now how to get down there. The path here is quite steep, I notice on the map a track runs to the road a bit further on so we go explore there. Sure enough, and it has a gate which makes access easy. We set about looking for a spot as we make our way back. There is a nice patch by the river so we ‘Wye-ldcamp’ there. Later we watch the silhouettes of bats dancing through the trees before bed.
🔺s = 16 | Total = 93
72km forwards | 910m of elegant elevation gain
DAY 7: Erwood to Abergavenny
The final day, not too far now that we’d be getting the train back, but we would be going over Gospel Pass, the highest road in Wales. R had known about this pass for a while as The Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons were where his fascination began.
We gently roll down the Wye Valley in the glorious morning sun with Gospel Pass ahead nestled between Hay Bluff and Lord Hereford’s Knob. Stop at Glasbury for a pre-hill cake. Then begin. This is a signed cycle route. The lower hills are easy and soon there is a flatter section. I spot a Comma and R stops to admire briefly before it flutters by. Onwards and upwards we go then ‘BOOM!’ the wall hits us. Years ago I cycled this part of NCN42 and I walked it. I get off at the bottom and start to push. R makes it further than I did back then before doing the same. We cling to the side of the hill with our toes. I forge ahead to the top then belay back to R to give him a fighting chance. 10 minutes later we’ve done 400m. Short flat bit then repeat. 7 minutes for 300m. 75m going up gained. The funny thing is there is no warning of this hill at the bottom, enticing those on bikes in to the point of no return. From the top though they have put signs; I’ve done 20%ers before and these two feel more!
It is all worth while though as now it levels out more and the road becomes more Alpine when needed. R is enjoying this bit and picks the pace up and soon we are on the final bit with views across the Wye and north into the hazy distance. R nails it to the top and we stop for lunch looking out at the view and spotting buzzards twirling on the thermals. I haven’t broken him it would seem!
The thing about Gospel Pass is it is steep up from the northern side, then a long descent on the southern. We whooooosh down the hill. R calls out “VAN BEHIND!” at the top of his lungs. “Don’t worry” I say, we were going just as quick down and there would be plenty of other vehicles coming up, some too fast, the single lane with passing places to slow them down on the flats. I was right, 12km later it passes with a toot! And that is with a quick stop in Llantony for an interesting drain!
Not far now, a few more little hills, then we descend to Abergavenny where R picks out the 🔺s he’s seen before and another. Then make our way to the station and as luck would have it there is one in 15 minutes; but we’re told it’s a bus from Newport to Bristol Parkway, I’ll have to try our luck again. We get to cross the track, under supervision, as the bridge is being repaired and the temporary one’s steps are a little too awkward to carry. At Newport again I have to resort to asking the bus driver direct…
🔺s = 4 | Total = 97
51km forwards | 720m of up
Riding Total: 319km forwards | 4285m of up