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Just completed a North Wales Circuit comprising bits of Border Raid, North Wales Cycleway, Lon Las Cymru and Lon Cambria. Have linked the write up to your main Border Raid description (but is there an option to link the write up to the other routes we used as well?).
Ps. Northern part of Border Route (Welshpool to Rhyl), fantastic! Well done. Deserves to be an official route.
A four-day, 270-mile, 5000m route round North Wales, combining the northern parts of the Border Raid and Lon Las Cymru with the North Wales Cycleway and a short stretch of Lon Cambria.
By car to Welshpool, parking near the tourist information. North out of town on the Border Raid route through rolling country in 35-degree temperatures, pacing it for the heat. First stop at Abertridwr, where the local shop supplied fresh cold water and Cornettoes, and the lady owner was charming, chatty and slightly concerned about our mental state given the heat. Up to Lake Vyrynwy and across the dam, coffees at the café at Lanwyddyn. The scenic road along the west side of the lake, mingling with day cyclists who had hired from the café. At the north end of the lake they turned south along the east side, we carried on up to the Bwch Y Groes, a cycling highlight of the trip, quiet climb to the summit, fast descent along the scree-backed road. On to Bala, where all the cafes were closed because the heat was too much for the chefs, and the Co-Op had sold out of bottled water. We topped up bidons with ice, ate Co-Op Sushi boxes for lunch, and headed north again. The initial A-road stretch was a bit wearying, but at Y Frongoch it turns into a good B-road pass, over to Dinmael and a last steep stage at Melin Y Wig (where a friendly farmer’s wife provided much needed top-ups as we were dry), and then to Clawddnewydd for the pub/community shop for lime and sodas and a further top up. Then down quiet lanes to Ruthin and the Castle Hotel (a Wetherspoons on the main square, and the social hub of Ruthin on a hot Friday night). At least seven litres of water drunk per man on what was one of the hottest days of the year, and few options other than farmers’ charity between Bala and Ruthin.
Day 2 fast lanes to Denbigh and St Asaph, hitting the first of the castles at Rhuddlan, and then the coast at Rhyl, where we joined the North Wales Cycleway. Along the coastal cycle path all the way to Penrhyn Bay, where the Beach Bar and Café provided lunch and “the full shazam” (jam, cream, butter and warm home-made scones). Along to Llandudno and we took the optional and beautiful Marine Road route around Great Orme, hot and hazy, with the Irish Sea looking uncharacteristically Mediterranean. Back on the main route, stay on the road between Llandudno and Conwy, as the beach path option has been completely eroded away, and is now just beach. Across the bridges at Conwy (second castle) and west on the cycle path again, varied by the weird switchbacks and cycle-flyovers which keep it clear of (and even above) the A55, and then onto lovely cycling lanes from Llanfairfechan below the Carneddau, taking us into Bangor under the watchful Victorian towers of Penrhyn and into the Eryl Mor Hotel (bikes into the beer cellar) for great showers, a good dinner, and some well-earned cold beers watching the tide run out from Menai.
Day 3 a quiet early morning through university Bangor, then onto cycle paths, joining Lon Las Cymru to Caernarfon (Castle 3), and across the foot of the Llyn Peninsula. Strangely slow going on the paths, surface, slope or heat making it hard to cruise at more than 13 mph. So a coffee and cake stop in Pen y Groes, where Café Ceri (and the eponymous owner) proved a super stop in an otherwise Sunday-sleepy North Welsh town, just off the main route, also well-placed on a corner of the Brailsford Way, coffee, cakes and fresh water. On to Criccieth for lunch, then a circuitous route with fabulous views of Snowdon down to Porthmadog, Behind Harlech (Castle 4) a murderous climb up from sea level (a car ahead abandoned with a burnt out clutch), followed by a long drag and another steep ascent to the highest point, where a father and son with a camper van watching the view shimmer handed out a couple of ice cold beers, before we zoomed down to Llanbedr and raced along the A-Road to Barmouth. Sadly, Barmouth on the hottest Sunday of the year was a scrum, with the roads gridlocked and the pavements likewise. A quick stop for fluids, then across the amazing railway wooden bridge (be warned, the planks on the pathway are not nailed down!), to join the exquisite gravel-pathed railway line all the way to Dolgellau. Into town too late on a Sunday for a sit-down meal so a couple of beers at the Royal Ship, and then recourse to the ever-reliable Chinese Restaurant on Smithfield St. for street food before overnighting at the very friendly Ivy House B&B, with space for bikes in the cellar.
Day 4 a fine breakfast, then out of town to the South and immediately climbing over the eastern end of Cader, on gradually smaller and smaller roads until a paved (and sheep-poo-littered) track took us to cross the A487, then back onto a small farm road with gates, climbing steadily all the way with fabulous views back down to Snowdon and the “Mach Loop”. Down to Aberllefenni, Corris and ultimately Machynlleth, where the pillars for the new road bridge looked like a Welsh Luxor standing in a field. Coffees at Glyndwr’s Parliament House, and then the Mountain Road. Steady climbing for most of the way, then a long hard pull to the summit, eight miles in total. Reward is dropping down on the south side through lovely, quiet fields, woods and valleys to Llanidloes for lunch at the Great Oak Café. Onto Lon Cambria east to Newtown through some rolling hills, and then fifteen miles of narrow canal path to Welshpool to finish.
A two-day circular started with an overnight in the brilliant camping pods at Grinton YHA, and a walk to the Black Bull in Reeth for Theakstons and a great pub supper (after which the landlord drove us back to the hostel!). Up in the morning, and up it was, south over the moor to Wensley, then up again over the moor to Coverdale, and then SW up Coverdale and down Park Rash into Kettlewell. From Kettlewell NW to Arncliffe, where the Falcon (aka the original WoolPack), opened up for lunch just as we arrived, massive plates of sandwiches in the sunshine on the green. Then the high and wild road behind Malham, dropping down to Stainforth, excellent coffees from “Sew Hands On” in Horton, up to Ribblehead through crowds of Three Peakers, and then the fast descent (famous for Paddy McGuinness’ Lamborghini “off”) into Hawes. Bikes into the Hostel, lads into the deservedly famous Wensleydale Pantry (hidden upstairs off Hawes main street) for massive calorific intake of lasagne and sticky desserts.
Great breakfast in the hostel, then over the Buttertubs Pass from the South side for an early warm up in gentle mist. Down to Swaledale, and up and over west through Birkdale to Kirkby Stephen, narrowly avoiding kamikaze sheep on the 40 mph descent! Lunch at the White Hare Café, great chili and super friendly, track pump on hand should cyclists need it. Then eastwards to the Tan Hill Pub, steady climbing, with the pub visible long before we reached it. East again, across the top of the dales, and then fast down through Arkengarthdale, Swaledale, and a last niggler of a climb back up to the hostel. 100 miles and 3000 meters of climbing, through some of the most glorious cycling country in the UK. Do it.
Canterbury to Canterbury via Sandwich (not Dover!)
Tempted by a Nicholas Crane write up in the Telegraph, four of us tried a Kent circuit in early March, gambling with the weather. Parked up in Canterbury and cycled north through the town early Sat morning, up the long hard hill of the Whitstable Road before turning onto the Crab and Winkle way to take us to the coast. Post the first hill, good easy cycling all the way to Whitstable on a combination of well laid tracks and tarmac. Into Whitstable and east to Herne Bay, then to Reculver, where we picked up our fifth man, Dave the local, and stopped for coffee and cakes at the coffee stop looking out to sea. Girls behind the counter charming, but considered us mad to be cycling from Canterbury, even madder to be going to Sandwich. But great coffee and brownies, and so, refreshed, we headed on past the Reculver Towers, (maintained by Trinity House as a navigation point) across sea wall above the marshes to Margate. Views to the north of windfarms, Maunsell Forts and occasional large ships. Inland, the odd bump of Thanet, once an island, now joined to the mainland by silting.
Lunch at the BeBeached Café on the mole at Margate, just along from the Turner and the Little Ships monument, 5x Eggs Benedict and Whitstable Bay Pale Ale. Excellent food and cheery staff. Then along seawalls and coastal roads to North Foreland, turning south at the Captain Digby past pleasant rows of fine twenties houses built for fine channel views. Through Broadstairs, and down to Ramsgate, for coffee below the harbour ramp, where our fifth man turned inland again. Back at four, we rolled out of Ramsgate to the south, skirting Pugin’s rectory (now Landmark Trust and looking fine), then round to Pegwell Bay (sadly no view of the old hovercraft terminal from the route, but at least it runs straight past the Viking longship) and then the sadly light industrial route along the 256 into Sandwich from the North. Stowed the bikes in the beer cellar of the New Inn where we were staying, out on the town for Thai and beers. Fine town, good beer in the Admiral Owen by the old gate, and a great live band in the Fleur de Lys knocking out heavy metal covers with good humour and some aplomb. Definite impression that Sandwich makes its own fun.
Breakfast in the New Inn, hearty fry up, but weather had turned vicious overnight, with Storm Freya blowing up the channel and making landfall right at Dover. Eighty mph gusts made our planned route, down to Walmer then across the back of the White Cliffs, into Dover and then Folkestone, look very unwise, so we swung onto Route One, and diverted back into Canterbury via Fordwich. Lovely countryside, but hard going in the teeth of gale, each break in the hedge resulted in a sharp swerve as the wind took the bikes and panniers, and we were happy to get into Canterbury for an early lunch at Café St Pierre, who stored our muddy bikes in their cheerful garden , and welcomed us steaming gently into their genteel coffee shop for open sandwiches and mugs of coffee.
Took another year before finally covered the Dover leg, starting at Brighton and coming the other way around, to complete the full Kent Coastal just before Covid-19 closed down the touring.
Kings Lynn to Barnet via Cambridge
Trains to Kings Lynn (changing at Cambridge), on a fine sunny summer July morning. Offloaded at the station in Kings Lynn, and down to the old town to the Market Bistro for some excellent coffee and ham croissants to start the day. Then south out of town and along the river bank as far as Watlington, before cutting inland to Downham Market, with the day warming up. Dogleg to the New Bedford River where a narrowboat had misjudged the sluice and was well aground, waiting for the tide to lift. Followed the river to Ten Mile Bank, but went astray, turning west too soon and running along a concrete farm track with joints every twenty feet for several miles of steppe-flat cabbage fields, arriving back at the New Bedford River very grumpy to find we had paralleled a perfectly good road for several miles of purgatory. Followed the river again to Pymoor, then Little Downham and a stretch of B-Road to Ely, sun now high, tarmac hot and dusty and the Cathedral teasing us for miles, never seeming to get any closer as we wove indirectly towards it. Into Ely for lunch, and, critically, somewhere to watch England vs Sweden. Pubs already full to bursting, but cue a charming girl outside WildWood on the High Street, offering tasters of Mint Lemonade and pizza bread, unfazed by three sweaty cyclists. D asked for a suggestion for somewhere to watch the match – “we have a cinema upstairs and we’re screening it there, store your bikes at the back of the restaurant”. Result. Excellent pizzas and fudge desserts, and much more mint lemonade, so much so that M and I only made the second half, but the result was good (well fed, and England 2-0). Back on the road.
South out of Ely towards Wicken. Quiet roads, cycleways and Sustrans bridges, slow and warm going along dykes and farm roads, but no cars and lots of small wildlife about, easygoing summer cycling. Suddenly hit the A1303 east of Cambridge, and into the city centre, cyclists everywhere, walkers and sunbathers also as we gingerly followed the Cam to the middle. Stowed the bikes at the friendly Centennial Hotel and hit the Flying Pig for a couple of pints of Adnams Freewheel (a cyclists beer the Southwolders only seem to have made for a couple of years, much missed). Maison du Steak for steak frites, bed.
A good Sunday fried breakfast at the Centennial before weaving through quiet Sunday streets out of town past Addenbrookes, the biosciences labs, and along the DNA cycleway. South through the string of villages towards Duxford, joining forces with an organized Cambs-London ride for a couple of miles, before we turned away across the treacherous ford between Duxford and Hinxton (one man down with a tremendous splash), then Ickleton, and across the M11, climbing gently into the rolling hills to the west of the motorway, tricky going in places as the roads had just been resurfaced, and there were loose chippings everywhere, but the weather was fine and bright, and the roads quiet. To Clavering for ice cream at the Nisa, and a bidon top up, as the heat was telling. Lots of attractive little hamlets basking quietly in the sun, occasional churches punctuating the route. Finally swung off route N11 to tract west heading to Pelham and the tricky junction at Little Hadham, before arriving at the Chequers at Wareside for massive ploughmans lunches. Fast run down to Ware, and onto the River Lee Navigation towpath. West to Hertford to join the lovely Cole Green Way (old railway line) to Welwyn, and then wove through Welwyn and Hatfield to join Route 12 running south paralleling the A1 to South Mimms. Under the M25 through the famous culvert, up the long haul of Kitts End Road to Barnet, down the hill to the cinema and disperse.
Old Kings Lynn lovely, fens flat, dry and dusty, occasional oases of tree lined towns. Ely beautiful but tantalizing across the miles. Ely to Cambs easy riding, Cambs a cycling mecca so long as you go slow. Surprisingly attractive rolling country just west of the M11 probably the scenic high point of the trip, felt more like France than Cam’shire, then busying up along the family routes around Ware and Hertford, before ducking and weaving into London on the carefully crafted but fundamentally irritating route 11 – like most city approaches, safe routing strips it of any pizzazz, and it weaves about a bit.