Sunny Criccieth


The view across Criccieth beach, looking East. I would have shot towards the castle, but the sun was too bright to obtain a decent image.
The view across Criccieth beach, looking East. I would have shot towards the castle, but the sun was too bright to obtain a decent image.

Well yesterday was a turn up for the books, that’s for sure. Something strange and yellow was glowing in the sky, and it was even giving off heat! Can you believe that?

Seriously, non-UK readers probably don’t realise that since December, we have had nothing but rain, rain and yet more rain. Did I mention we’ve had rain? Now, living in the west of the country, this can be expected as the brunt of the jet stream hits us, but this winter, that little bugger has caused the UK no end of strife, especially in the south west, where it has caused untold damage and even loss of life due to flooding; it has been our wettest winter on record.

But, there is always a silver lining, right? Of course there is, and that silver lining appeared yesterday in the form of beautiful blue skies, a light breeze, fluffy clouds and even warmth giving sunshine. And we all need our sunshine. So this was all the motivation I needed to get out on my bike, and to get some decent mileage under my belt. Check out my route here.

I really wanted to get up to 70 miles on this ride, as I’m not far off getting my form back after suffering with back injury again, which put me off the bike for a few months. It’s easy to lose your higher level of fitness when you obtain an injury, but you’ll generally keep your ‘base’ fitness, so it’s taken me a couple of months to get back up to this sort of mileage without it actually killing me afterwards. Which is nice.

So off I went up towards Ogwen Valley, which for once was bathed in sunshine. Also, there was a gentle easterly blowing which is a rarity up here, so it impeded my progress a little across to Capel Curig, even on the descent. I was actually trying to catch up with a cyclist in front of me, as he was always looking over his shoulder at me to see if I’d reached him yet. He had a lucky escape as I was caught at road works! I carried on at the green light and I eventually caught him and showed him my back wheel, of course after wishing him a nice day as I past him. I reached Capel and turned right and watched as the other cyclist headed off to Betws y Coed.

Usually I don’t relish the prospect of riding on this stretch of road to Pen y Gwryd, due to its open-ness and usually wind blasted environment. But today I really enjoyed it. The views were stunning as the sun was still behind me, so it was lighting up the Snowdon Massif wonderfully.

The view west towards the Snowdon Massif from Capel Curig
The view west towards the Snowdon Massif from Capel Curig

And I had that gentle breeze behind me, so the going was much easier than it usually is, even on the drag up towards the end, so I made sure I remained in my big ring (large chainring on the front) all the way across. Plenty of people stopping in the lay-bys today for photos, and who could blame them, look at the place that I live in!

I took this whilst moving so it's out of focus, but still one of the best views around here...
I took this whilst moving so it’s out of focus, but still one of the best views around here…

I carried on from the Pen y Gwryd turn-off and started my descent down to Nant Gwynant, but despite the lovely speed I was gaining, I wanted to stop and take a number of portrait shots to stitch together to create the following panorama. I didn’t take it from the ‘official’ viewpoint,  as too many tourists clouding the view:

The stunning view across the east end of the Gwynant valley to the Snowdon Horseshoe. Quite possibly one of the best mountain walks you could have in the UK, if it wasn't for the hordes of people that is....
The stunning view across the east end of the Gwynant valley to the Snowdon Horseshoe. Quite possibly one of the best mountain walks you could have in the UK, if it wasn’t for the hordes of people that is….

Anyway, I snapped this as quickly as possible so I could carry on; a long way to go yet. The descent down into Nant Gwynant was a little tetchy due to wet roads with greasy corners, but I got down in one piece; always a fun descent! I reached Beddgelert and headed straight through towards the Aberglaslyn Pass turn-off. I could have carried on past this bridge, but I wanted to extend the mileage to carry on south to Penrhyndeudraeth; not an easy one to pronounce, sorry! Here is the view down into the gorge from the bridge; this is one of my favourite places here, as I can just stand and watch the water cascading down for ages. The riverside walk is really nice and if you’re feeling fit, you can carry on around up into Cwm Bychan arriving a few miles later at Llyn Dinas (that I’d already passed). I love the colour of the water at this time of year, as it has that wonderful jade tinge from the snow-melt and it just looks so clean and fresh. Beautiful, always:

The Afon Glaslyn
The Afon Glaslyn

I had a quick drink and carried on, only to be stopped within seconds by more road works. Do I chance it and jump the lights? I decided against it as knowing my luck, there’d be a car coming through. Took ages for them to change!
This stretch of road I always enjoy. I ride from the parish of Dwyfor into Meirionydd along here, and it’s along here where you can get the classic view of Cnicht, (the mountain I climbed a few weeks back) and the reason why it’s known as the ‘Welsh Matterhorn’. It’s really a wonderful view from here:

Cnicht on the left, with Moelwyn Mawr at right. And naturally in Wales, a sheep.
Cnicht on the left, with Moelwyn Mawr at right. And naturally in Wales, some sheep.

The road just rolls along merrily, through the charming tiny village of Garreg Llanfrothen and on to Penrhyndeudraeth. I knew I had a bit of a climb into this village, but it’s nothing major, so I just put it in an easier gear and just ‘span’ up it (pedalling at quite a high revolution). It’s OK though, as there’s a nice descent from the top with a 17% gradient to spit you out towards the main road. It always makes me a little nervous though as there’s a crossroad at the bottom of said 17% hill, and as the hill trends left, it’s blind so it’s prudent to reserve the throttle a little.

I stopped to fill up my bottle then turned right onto the Porthmadog road, which runs past Port Meirion, famous for its role in The Prisoner series and for also being quite possibly the most expensive touristy place in Wales…still, it’s quite a pretty place and very photogenic.

I decided at this point that I wasn’t going to go like a bat out of hell and ride straight across The Cob like I usually do, but to to go along the cycle path and get a panorama of quite possibly one of the best views of Snowdonia from the west at sea level, and as the sun was shining down on us today, it would be rude not to:

Entrance to the cycle path across the mile long Cob
Entrance to the cycle path across the mile long Cob
The gob-smackingly stunning view from The Cob in Porthmadog. Snowdon is slightly left of centre, with Cnicht centre right.
The gob-smackingly stunning view from The Cob in Porthmadog. Snowdon is slightly left of centre, with Cnicht centre right.

You can’t say that isn’t stunning. Come and see for yourself. May is the best time of year…

Anyway, time was pressing on so I figured it wise to make a bee-line to Criccieth via Tremadog. Just what the hell is a ‘bee-line’?

As you arrive in Criccieth you are greeted with quite an amazing view. You reach the brow of the hill and spread out in front and to your left, is the Irish sea, Castell Criccieth and the stunning mid-Wales coastline as far as the eye can see. I decided not to take a panorama from here as I’d be shooting into the sun with my point ‘n’ click Fuji; a pointless exercise. So I waited until I got to the west end of the beach and took the panorama at the top of the post. It was so clear today that even Cadair Idris could be seen with no problem, and Harlech, Barmouth and beyond down to Cardigan Bay. It’s days like this that make me truly appreciate the beautiful country that I live in.

Well I was looking forward to a sit down in nice surroundings and a big fat cappucino; I’m not one for riding these distances at silly speeds. I like to ride at a pace that’s still fast enough to keep me fit and strong, but I like to enjoy the scenery and stop now and again and to take photos to document my ride, so although my actual riding time was around 4 hours 15 minutes, I was out for over five hours.

I stopped in the recently re-furbished Swn y Mor. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, just being a fairly nondescript light blue building at the western end of the beach front, but inside I thought it was really nice and I enjoyed a well deserved jam scone and a cappucino.

Took me ages to realise that the cup, saucer and spoon were actually a separate entity to the rest of the image!
Took me ages to realise that the cup, saucer and spoon were actually a separate entity to the rest of the image!

I enjoyed a quick chat with the proprietress as she asked where I’d come from (she was surprised I’d cycled so far from Bethesda) “oooohh very hilly from there” she cooed, only for me to tell her I was cycling back via Pen y Groes and up the King’s Road to get to Waunfawr…no easy task. “Rather you than me” she said. Quite.
So I donned my helmet and now damp gloves and set off for the 30 mile stretch home, knowing full well that this would be the more difficult part of the ride.

A quick spin west along the A497, I turned right at Llanystumdwy (browser spell check is going crazy here, hehe), steeling myself for the gradual uphill climb to Rhoslan. I remained in big ring however, still feeling strong. I arrived back on to the Caernarfon road and wished pretty quickly that I wasn’t on it as it’s quite a busy road. Thankfully I was only on it for a couple of miles before I turned right onto the old and mostly uphill road that would eventually bring me to Llanllyfni. This is a hard road from both directions to be honest, but you’re rewarded with a fun descent either direction. It was on here that I stopped after doing most of the climbing so I could get a shot of my bike and I, with the outlying mountain of  Mynydd Graig Goch (610 metres) behind me. This is the most westerly 2,000ft mountain in Wales, that sits at the end of the beautiful Nantlle Ridge. I also thought that a nice black and white image with the graveyard in the foreground would be nice:

Unknown cemetery with Mynydd Graig Goch rear.
Unknown cemetery with Mynydd Graig Goch rear.
Yours truly
Yours truly

It was after I’d stopped here that I realised my back tyre was a little soft. Bugger. The dreaded ‘P’ word. Well, the air wasn’t escaping very quickly so instead of replacing the tube, I just blasted some air into the tyre to see how it’d hold up. I rarely get punctures. Guess I’m just lucky. I rarely get technical problems. Guess I’m about to curse myself. In about 10 miles from this point. Bugger x 2.

As I flew down into Llanllyni trying not to go so fast I ended up through the rear screen of a Ford Focus, I still felt pretty strong and I was feeling great to be honest; really felt like my old form was returning. I carried on through Pen y Groes and turned right onto the Nantlle road and turned left before leaving the village on to the King’s Road and up to Clogwyn Melyn. Now this is a hard climb, but I’m happy to say I didn’t use my easiest gear, just pushed harder instead which may have contributed to my nausea before I topped out. There’s a point where I could have turned right up past a refuse site, and a tremendous view of the Nantlle Ridge but I really didn’t fancy it as I knew this was a tough climb; I much prefer flying down this. So I carried on spinning up the hill. Eventually I arrived in Carmel and it levels out a little making you think the climbing is over if you’d never cycled this way before. It doesn’t. After Rhosgadfan it carries on climbing to open moorland.

It was here I experienced aforementioned ‘bugger x 2’. You know, because I never get technicals. I changed down to an easier gear but it sounded a bit weird. I’m running an SRAM chain as I have done for years as they are so reliable. It seemed as I changed down, my chain somehow got caught and half crushed a link together, creating a ‘stiff link’. Usually, you can eradicate this problem by applying pressure with your thumbs either side of the link to bend it away from you, as it helps to release the stiffness. I jumped off and tried this method first. No go. So I had to break the chain either side of this link, remove offending link, and rejoin. Voila! Job done in less than five minutes. Off I go again.

I reached the top, had a breather and refilled my water bottle for the last time and took a couple of photos.

West to the mouth of the Menai Straits. It's also possible to see where my wife and I were married, just left of centre on the spit of land. Fort Belan, happiest memories....
West to the mouth of the Menai Straits. It’s also possible to see where my wife and I were married, just left of centre on the spit of land. Fort Belan, happiest memories….
The sun casts shadow on Moel Eilio (right) with Elidir Fawr at left.
The sun casts shadow on Moel Eilio (right) with Elidir Fawr at left.

I jumped back on the bike and headed down the steep-assed descent to Waunfawr. I must say, I’ve only been up this hill twice, as I would prefer not to have a heart-attack; it is very steep in places and has you grovelling over your handlebars. That said, last time I came up it, I was using harder gears. Eee by ‘eck I was a fit lad back then. Three years ago. Now I run easier gears, but I blame old age (almost 38) and back injury. Hah! That’s rubbish. Some cycling friends I know are old enough to be my Dad (no offence guys!) and they are still very fast and strong. Guess I’m just fat. Can I at least blame my back injury?

After Waunfawr that’s pretty much it. I consider myself home arriving here after a long ride, despite having around 10 miles left to cycle. I did see something disturbing though. Coming down the hill in a car, was a Jack Russel terrier driving a Ford Focus. Really. This guy had his pet dog sat on his lap with its paws on the steering wheel with its tongue hanging out. It takes all sorts I guess.

I just hope the dog had insurance.

Cheers

Elton

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