Wild Wales Revisited – August 2002

After last year’s trial of strength (and endurance), in true ‘glutton for punishment’ style a number of members began, as August approached, to think about a bash in this year’s event.

We were especially heartened to hear rumours that the route for The Wild Wales Challenge this year was easier than last.

Chief protagonist Rob Sharpe was, of course, as keen as ever and all last year’s ‘domestiques’ expressed an interest. An additional member, Ray McCarthy, had foolishly showed a mild interest and finally succumbed under intense pressure from certain quarters.

Pete Levene offered to find some accommodation nearer to Bala than the ‘minus two star’ digs used last year and finally tracked down the Bala Lake Hotel, which sounded splendid. Rob, Ray and Pete were backed up by Phil and Pam Fern, Fred Potter and Bob Grainger, making a total of seven. Not bad, but a long way short of the Macclesfield Wheelers contingent which totaled 19!

Plans were made for a lunch-time rendezvous at the hotel in Bala to allow for an afternoon ‘warm up’ ride on the Saturday. Bob (the writer) however headed for an overnight at friends in the Welshpool area on the Friday with a plan to ride over to Bala the next day.

On the Saturday morning the weather was fine and sunny as I travelled a very twisty back lane route, using part of the Glyndwr Way long distance path. Perhaps it was an augur of things to come next day, but not a bit of my route was flat, being a constant switch-back, as I made my way to Meifod in the valley of the Vyrnwy and then over the tops again to Llanfyllin, where lunch was taken in the pub in the main street.

My route now took me to Llangynog, in the Tanat Valley, where I can recall spending a ‘Chesh’ Easter Tour some 50 years ago. After lunch the sky had clouded over and began to look quite ominous. True to form, the elements unleashed themselves just as I began the climb of the Milltir Cerrig where there was no chance of any shelter. I was soaked through before I could don my rain jacket and a very wet and unpleasant climb up to 486 meters was followed by an even worse descent as the road became a river and the inevitable chill set in.

It was with great relief that I arrived at our lakeside hotel to shower and change and then partake of afternoon tea whilst awaiting the arrival of the other ‘unfortunates’. When they arrived, they also had a tale of being caught by the downpour after a nice morning trip over to Lake Vyrnwy. However, all was well with the world, when a very pleasant evening was spent over an excellent meal. Good preparation for the next day’s demands.

On Sunday morning, at Rob’s instigation, we decided that a not too late start was required, with an aim to be away, after check-in, soon after 9 am. Our plans were thwarted a little when Rob had a puncture within the first the first 200metres, thus delaying us a little.

Despite this, however, we were under way by 9.10am. on a coolish, dry morning which had the makings of a good day. A leisurely start out of Bala on the approach to the Milltir Cerrig was soon shattered as we took a left in the direction of Llanderfel past the Pale Hall Hotel and then a sharp right up a vicious 1 in 4 which took us all by surprise. The general concensus was that the organisers had taken a masochistic delight in throwing this climb in as it was an unnecessary short detour which only took us back on to our original route.

All was forgotten (and forgiven), however, as we then enjoyed the moderate climb of the Milltir Cerrig in slowly warming temperatures. On the fast descent to Llangynog our group inevitably became split with Fred and myself arriving at the tricky left turn before the village to await the others. They were a long time coming and it turned out that Rob’s tyre, which had punctured earlier on in the day, had developed a bad split in the side wall and was unrideable. Fortunately one of the Fern duo was carrying a spare ‘folder’ so they were able to get Rob on his way again.

The earlier 1 in 4 had certainly been a precursor as we now followed a circuitous and very up and down route along narrow, but superbly quiet lanes through Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant to Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog. It was along this stretch that we came to the conclusion that, in no way, was this route any easier than last year’s. It was different,and, in many ways, harder.

From Llanarmon D. C. there followed a brief breather as we followed the Afon Ceiriog downstream to Glyn Ceiriog to be met by the horrendous climb of Church Hill which rises like a wall from the top end of the village (two lots of double arrows on the O. S. map.

This bit of torture saw about 95% of the rider resorting to Shank’s Pony at some point or other (the exception amongst the Chesh being super fit Rob). It even led to Fred, not only walking, but staggering up with shoes in hand and a look of agony on his face as he was attacked by spasms of cramp in various parts of his anatomy.

Bob Grainger

Fred Potter

A few more sharp climbs were in store before we dropped down to the Vale of Llangollen at Berwyn and made our way to Llangollen to find some lunch. Fortunately, although the town was heaving with people, we were served fairly quickly and were under way after an hour or so. At this point we still had nearly 40 miles to cover and it was close on 3 o’clock, so time was pressing.

Immediately after lunch another hard climb took us up to Castel Dinas and the road which, had we turned westwards would have taken us to World’s End. But no, we had to take the longer route via Penycae and Minera to tackle the long drag over Esclushan Mountain to drop down to World’s End from the north-west.

By this time we were ‘hanging on’ and wondering whether we would better the 10 hours needed to complete the course last year. The back road on the north side of the Dee provided a bit of relief with only one short steep climb after Rhewl as we headed for Carrog and our last check point.

Crossing the River Dee at Corwen, and then back over it at Cynwyd we had several nasty ‘stings in the tail’ to climb as we did the Cwm Main loop before finally dropping into Bala at the end of a very testing 88 miles.

Roughly 10 hours again! Allowing for enforced stoppages it was probably better than last year and we felt that we had earned another of those attractive slate plaques which are presented to all finishers.

Even Ray McCarthy enjoyed it after all. I am not sure about ‘crampy’ Fred but suspect that he will be back again next year. Hats off also to our lady member, Pam, who took it all in her stride (and to hubby Phil who got round on his mountain bike nursing a troublesome knee).

Got the entry forms for 2003 yet Rob?

Bob Grainger