There’s nothing like a night under canvas (ok nylon), close to nature (but a short walk from the toilets), a gentle breeze playfully tweaking the tent (alright occassionally sounding like an express train) to prepare the body (through aching limbs and lack of sleep) for a long, lumpy, scenic ride….oh wait that last part is bang on. A keen segment of Centreville headed for the cycling heaven that is Llangollen, lush steep sided valleys and heathery hill tops, limestone escarpments and perched castles, the Welsh borders at their best.
Nigel had sorted a 70 hilly mile route on his phone and we were good to go, though when you head south from Llangollen the first long and testingly steep climb comes after only 5 minutes of riding, so pips were squeaking and muscles protesting as every turn brought another uphill stretch. The view at the top was worth it though, more or less, I’m almost sure….Still, this was the hardest section and once it was out of the way and the muscles were warmed up the rest seemed easier. Sort of.
The land opened before us like a well-thumbed copy of Richard’s Bicycle Book, the lane snaking round the contours and across tree-lined streams, until the notoriously steep long descent into Glyn Ceiriog, which appropriately seems to be called Allt Y Badi. It certainly wasn’t goodi for me, as I discovered too late that the feeling I had had last week that my disc brakes weren’t quite right became a very concrete and pressing fact as I realised that no matter how hard I anchored on I would not be stopping this side of doomsday – and we were heading briskly towards a village with junctions and traffic. I started looking for roadside to bail onto, but there was nothing but stones walls and drop-offs. It looked like I would be adding substantially to my experience of road rash and possibly an emergency ward. A childhood memory kicked in, and I swung my left leg over the bike to cross behind my right and scrape on the road as I leaned the bike to the left speedway style, sparks flying and bemused onlookers waiting for disaster. Thank the gods of cycling for MTB shoes is all I can say, as the combination of a rubber sole and what was left of my brakes gradually did the trick and I stumbled off in one piece.
Anyone with a modicum of intelligence or prudence would have sacked the ride. We rode on up the very beautiful Ceirog valley, over multiple smaller climbs and descents on tremendous roads, as I managed the whole brake situation by taking it easy and using Nigel’s advice to use them alternately to avoid heat fade. What could possibly go wrong? After a fine lunch at Lake Vrynwy we took the beautiful road round the back of the scouse water supply which looks nothing like Liverpool, onto the stunning climb and descent through a pass towards Bala.
This one of those descents that makes all the climb worthwhile: long swooping curves, technical twists, snaking slopes through woodland and remote farmland with miles between each house, confirmation that the bicycle is a thing of wonder. We hit the faster rolling roads heading for Corwen, and I made up for my shonky climbing with a bit of overweight rouleuring (they are words if I say so), with calls of ‘Knock one off’ from the back restoring my slightly wilting self-image. I know, I know, most of the group could have dropped me any time, but leave me my illusions, will you?
Corwen offers the unusual pleasure of a cafe in a former workhouse, which makes you feel lucky and guilty at the same time. Mandy took the opportunity to explain her low-carb diet in considerable detail, while Nick tucked into a scone and cream. By contrast, apparently ‘On 25th April, 1842, the Guardians refused to obey a directive from the Poor Law Commissioners that the Workhouse purchase its bread from a particular local baker. A free supply of “heath” collected on the mountainside by the Workhouse children meant that they could bake their own bread more cheaply. Buying-in bread was, they considered, “a waste of this free child labour”.’ Well, efficiency is efficiency.
Perhaps the shade of Owain Glyndŵr, the last native Prince of Wales who led the last war of rebellion against English rule in 1400, declaring it from his gaff near Corwen, watched us leave and wished well rid of us too. Ok, ok, we’re leaving, if it’s any consolation Owain, devolution has led to many a social initiative that many an English person might be jealous of…why only this week the Welsh assembly announced free hospital parking, for example. We don’t get that at Rochdale infirmary.
Another hour or so and undulating valley lanes got us back to Llangollen , to make 70 miles and 7,000 feet of climb, all of it on especially good roads. some hit the supermarket, others Witherspoons, while on the last hill back up to the campsite Nigel, still recovering from broken ribs muttered to Mandy’s disappearing silhouette, “It’s coming to it when she beats me up the last hill….”
The evening was spent in a circle of wind-breaks with a wider circle of purple hills beyond and the castle like a ruined crow above. Food was eaten. Beverages were glugged, the breeze was shot, while the kids did more climbing running to the top of the sloping site and riding down it than we had done all day. The next morning dawned fairer than the forecast. Pauline had been cozy in her dinosaur pyjamas and newly re-sprayed VW camper, but Andy in the back of his white builder’s van said he’d have been more comfortable if his matress hadn’t deflated in the night. What a let down. He was still able to cook me the biggest birthday omlette I have ever seen in my life – thanks mate!
Having lost Pauline, Neil and Adam but gained Katherine We headed off for a leg-loosener down the canal to the Chirk aqueduct….nay, wait a minute I hear you say, it’s actually called the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the Chirk aqueduct is the smaller one tucked behind the railway viaduct down the valley. Ok I say, tell me how to pronounce Pontcysyllte and I’ll say it. It was built in 1805, designed by Telford and Jessop and with the canal it is deservedly a World Heritage Site. It is also somewhat terrifying to those of a nervous disposition due to it’s height. Nigel isn’t of a nervous disposition.
A few miles on undulating roads got us to The Fat Rabbit vegan caff in Oswestry. I tucked into some delicious Japanese dumplings on rice noodles, whilst Andy lead the charge for, you guessed it, full English. Deary me, way to be adventurous, clubmates! it’s only a vegan caff, not Martian food. Now there’s a thought – can we include a Martian caff in a ride? I’m sure they do full English.
More nice lanes took us back towards Chirk, and we re-joined the canal for a traffic-free return and another go over that aqueduct that I still can’t pronounce, now busy with tourists. Meanwhile all morning and all day, Centreville’s Dan Shackleton was upholding another club tradition: racing, with his attack on the BBAR. Today was his 12 hour TT not far away near Wrexham, and he rode a stormer. Well done Dan!
Many thanks to everyone who came, and Nigel for sorting two fine routes out. Our next club trip away will be on 2nd-4th November 2018 to a hostel in the Lincolnshire Wolds. It’ll be a cracker, I’ll have my brakes fixed and everything. There will be caffs. And beds. There will definitely be beds. Why not join us?
To ride or race with Centreville, just get in touch. We’ll make you very welcome (and a teeny bit tired)