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Coming out of lockdown 3 and completely stir crazy so 3 of us (Felix, Dave and Chris) decided to do this 21-23 May 2021. Not an auspicious start with the 7.32 train from Shrewsbury to Holyhead replaced with a bus service because of flooding at Gobowen; bikes not allowed on the bus. Lots of chat with the station staff, including a very helpful but officious member of staff ("if you'll let me finish!") trying to tell us that, if we caught the 11:50 from Shrewsbury, it will get us to Holyhead (HH) for 11.20! We tried to explain that the train would needed to be fitted with a flux capacitor to achieve this but she wouldn't have it so we went up to the platform and sorted it from there. Got to Crewe and had an hours' wait and needed to change at Chester but then a lovely chap from Avanti West Coast directed us to a different train, direct to HH but getting in at midday. Coffee, cake and a chilled out journey got us there late but very happy - we even gave Niki a piece of home made cake as a thank you.
So... left HH at midday as the rain started, with us following a well marked cycle route 8 to Bangor. Made good time with just one refuelling stop (chocolate); the route though Anglesey is beautiful, quiet and easy to follow and then Bangor for a late lunch on the day that Wales allowed people to eat inside for the first time this century (well, that's what it felt like!). Found a great, large cafe with super helpful staff and delicious soup and ciabatta which was well needed by this time.
Came out of the café as the rain started and didn't stop until the next day. Here we picked up the cycle route 5 headed to Conwy and managed to get lost twice trying to get out of Bangor which was down to our enthusiasm rather than bad signage, the first time for a few hundred metres and the second time for 4 miles in total! This section will be forever known as the Bangor Triangle and we were heading for Snowdon at one point. The rain was biblical at this point too so the map got wet, my phone started doing some really weird things but we are all very experienced navigators so worked out where we had gone wrong and it didn't knock our spirits one bit. Along the coast with the wind behind us but perpetual heavy rain found it's way though every nook and cranny and we were soon soaked though, so much so that one exuberant member of our trio (Chris) went and stood in the sea at Penmaenmawr! I grew up in this area and my first jobs were here too but even my extremely interesting stories were not sufficient for one member of our team to flag a little (sorry Dave). The sting in the tail was booking accommodation at the YHA which is on the just off the road to the Sychnant Pass and up a steep climb. Once we had checked in the room was great, the drying room was fantastic and the people of Conwy were charming, except the people who run the Blue Bell which for reasons known only unto themselves, closed at 8pm on the first day folk were allowed to go in pubs! Managed to get in a fantastic pizza place at Johhny Dough's where lovely wine and a couple of bottles of Snowdon beer got us ready for the slog back up to the YHA and a welcome bed. Chris had tried to lose us and met up with an ex but we ended up in the same restaurant!
Next day was Conwy to Chester and the rain cleared as we were leaving, the sun came out and we picked up the NCN 5 along the coast again. Easy riding out of Llandudno Junction past a vineyard(!) to the golf course at Penrhyn Bay (did it ever tell you I got a hole in one here?) Breakfast with my brother and sister in Coast cafe in Rhos on Sea, lovely company and the people in Coast are lovely too. Then along the sunny prom with a cold wind behind us, the sea to our left and just able to make out the hills (mountains) of the Lake District beyond the myriad or wind turbines. Really easy route again, mostly completely flat all the way to Prestatyn with some diversity in the views from beach to cliffs to caravan parks and even a glimpse of Gwrych Castle (I'm a Celebrity GET ME OUT OF HERE!!!!). Coffee and cake in Prestatyn then heading inland and up the hills which was a shock to the system after all the flat but beautiful country lanes and spectacular views behind to the sea and south west to the mountains of Snowdonia. Dropped down again and this was the only bit of the route that was unpleasant, through Flint and Connah's Quay which was not easy to follow and quite busy roads or through housing estates - we know we are being picky here though! Finally picked up the River Dee Cycle Path with a Pop Up Cafe by Hawarden Bridge raising funds for the renovation of the Steel Works Clock Tower. Lovely lunch and lovely people set us up for a final tootle into Chester with the wind behind us. It was only when we got to the hotel on the racecourse that we realised perhaps some sun cream might have been a good idea! Hey ho, a friend was waiting in the bar with beers ready poured and then another joined us for a night on the tiles in Chester. After quite a few knock backs (sorry, full) we got a table at Hanky Panky which you just have to visit to appreciate, wonderful people, the other patrons were delighful and the food.....the food - just delicious, I am getting hungry just thinking about it - the Curry Bowl is a thing to behold. Proper sozzled heading back to the hotel for a night cap at the bar there. This did mean we were hungover for the last leg.
Heading out of Chester decided not to follow the NCN but use cycle.travel's route which was shorter and less hills, taking us through Ellesmere for lunch. The route was easy to follow having downloaded it onto my phone and the GPS marker showing us exactly where we were and the route clearly marked on the map - have to say well done to you guys at cycle.travel - it worked perfectly. It was a tough but short day with a stonking hangover and a cold head wind but the rain held off (mostly) and we were back in Shrewsbury by 2.30pm. Managed to pick up a puncture about 500 metres from home which was no inconvenience really as it just lasted to get to Dave's front door!
All in all, a fantastic, memorable achievement for 3 blokes with a combined age of over 150. Chris didn't even have a bike and had to borrow one the day before we left - cue panic buying gloves, bags, pump, etc., etc. It sounds worse than it is though - he had ordered a bike but with Brexit and the Suez blockage, his bike is probably in some customs warehouse in the middle east.
Decided to do this on the weekend of 12/13 September 2020, heading west to east to have a lovely warm following wind. The route is absolutely brilliant, well signed but it's definitely worth getting the Sustrans map as it not only shows the route, turns, towns etc but also the upcoming ups and downs which is so important for moral.
Day 1 was Aber to Llanidloes, via the Elan Valley and the route out of Aber is a lovely, gradually increasing old railway line and the views soon start to appear. Following the Ystwyth river for some miles then switching on and off tarmac, old railway line and a bit of forest downhill for some variety. Due to Covid 19 fallout the Miners Stores and the Gallery in Pont Rhyd Y Groes (16 miles in) were shut so it was lucky we had plenty of snacks and drinks to get through to the Elan Valley, about 20 miles and lots of climb later.
The Elan Valley did not disappoint and it was a welcome few miles of almost all downhill and the choice of places to eat and drink is brilliant; we chose to eat at Penbont House which was perfect. Nice food, great prices, wifi (after many hours on no signal in the Welsh hills!) and great staff too.
A nice tootle down to Rhayader then turn left for Llangurig - this 10 mile stretch felt like 100 miles after the long lunch stop and then languid miles of downhill but the 5 miles from Llangurig to Llanidloes went by quickly with lots of little ups and downs to make us work a bit but then love the downs. We stayed at the Whistling Badger in Llanidloes and ate out at the Angel; both places great with friendly staff and lovely food.
Day 2 was lots of quiet B roads with a bit of quiet riverside and canal path around Newtown where we had a late breakfast (Greggs!) and pushed on to Welshpool for a pub stop and to grab a picnic lunch from a supermarket there. There are some pretty big climbs during day 2 and the weather was stunning so lots of fluids and stopping in the shade to mop up the sweat.
Getting to the top of Long Mountain was such a relief as it is a tough climb and the panniers on the bikes make it feel as though someone deploys a parachute every time you get to an uphill bit, normally inertia and a bit of grunt gets you up quite a way but the panniers say "not this time sunshine!". Anyway, from the top of Long Mountain it's pretty well 5 miles of almost continual downhill, some wide and straight so we were able to let Newton do his stuff!
An easy finish and felt remarkably good reaching the outskirts of Shrewsbury, getting in an hour or so earlier than planned for a welcome beer or 2.
The only slight down points were coming out of Pont Rhyd Y Groes the turning to leave the B4343 was not there and it looked as though the landowner had put a no entry sign up, this meant a tarmac slog up a hill but after 1km we found a forest track which we nipped down to rejoin the wide, off road track. The other bit was a closure of the off road section from the top dam at Elan which we hadn't see from the Sustrans website and went on a bit of a detour; these are very minor disappointments only.
Our verdict of the route in 2 days - hard work but doable with a bit of prepping and absolutely brilliant; we started at about 8.40 am both days and were in Llanidloes for 5.20 with some long comfortable stops and got to the outskirts of Shrewsbury an hour earlier than that, again with long, comfortable stops.
The cycle.travel website was absolutely invaluable and I have recommended it to lots of people - thank you whoever is responsible for the site.
An alternative finish to Bayston Hill rather than Shrewsbury