Thursday, 14 June 2012

Tour de Wales - Day 2

Having arrived at our luxurious authentic Tudor B&B in Ruthin the night before, and carbo-loading (read ‘stuffing our faces on some good pub grub’), Selene and I woke up the sound of heavy rain tapping at the window. We had both seen the weather forecast, and to be honest a holiday in Wales comes with its own pre-conceptions, so there was no massive surprise to be woken by precipitation. With cycling, the weather always seems so much worse when you wake from your slumber at 6a.m. and in the comfort of your warm duvet, than it does when you’re actually out there in the worst of it and actually having a ball (there’s a deep life message in there somewhere). Trying to keep this in mind, we went for a second round of carbo-loading (read ‘stuffing our faces on a full Welsh breakfast’) and got the bikes ready to go. As an aside aside, I’m still no clearer on how a Welsh breakfast distinguishes itself from an English breakfast – there were certainly no lamb, leeks or daffodils in play as far as I could tell – but it did the trick of getting the stomach, legs and head aligned and in the mood for riding.

Ruthin is something of a hub for the 100 climbs book, with three climbs within spitting distance of the town itself, and another two in the surrounding area, so I had plotted an ambitious route taking in all of these ascents starting off with a series of loops up and down The Shelf, Penbarra, and Moel Arthur. Selene had, quite wisely, opted out the first two ‘unnecessary’ (her words!) climbs and we had agreed to meet at the top of Moel Arthur.

The ride started pretty incongruously as we struggled to find the start point, before realising that we actually needed to head out in opposite directions. The rain was still coming down, but seemed to be easing – although this could have been little more than optimistic posturing on our part…After getting lost for a second time (Garmin doesn’t like circular routes), I eventually found the small roads leading up to The Shelf. The road up was pretty broken, covered in debris from the rainstorms, but thankfully also covered by overhanding trees most of the way up so was at least sheltered from the worst of the elements. Having said that, it wasn’t much of a climb to write home about – not too steep, not too long, and not particularly scenic and I can’t help but think that there must be better roads around this area. Looking out from the top reminded me very much of the film Gorillas in the Mist, except for the lack of gorillas and inclusion of lots more sheep and one steaming cyclist.

Fortunately, it wasn’t long until I found one. The road up to the Welsh fortress on top of Moel Famau is known as Penbarra and includes what Simon Warren describes as ‘the perfect hairpin’. It also happens to be directly into the direction of the howling gale that had been increasing in strength ever since leaving Ruthin. After crossing a couple of speedbumps and the ever-present cattlegrid (probably more accurately known as a sheepgrid), the road ahead rose up at around 20% and something closer to 30% on the hairpin. This is probably my ‘sweet spot’ when it comes to climbing, but with the weather as it was, it was definitely not a pleasurable experience making it up this one. Rounding the second corner, the road levelled off into a more manageable 5/6%, but also losing any pretence of shelter from the wind, which actually picked up as it funnelled down the valley. Horizontal rain and a block headwind aren’t exactly the conditions that make the word “holiday” spring to mind, and I didn’t linger long at the top.

The 'View' from Penbarra

Start of the perfect hairpin

After a few more very wet country lanes, the next hill on the list was Moel Arthur. For a tiny road to the top of a hill, it was surprisingly busy, and with almost no room to squeeze past, there wasn’t much that I could do other than give the drivers behind a lesson in how to use the clutch and drive a car up a hill very slowly. Still, at least they had some entertainment as they sat in their warm air-conditioned cars bemusedly watching a cyclist struggle up a steep road in the pouring rain! The climb itself is tough, rolling in gradient and on difficult roads. The views are supposed to be stunning, and take your mind off the task ahead, but unfortunately with the cloud so low I had no such benefit. At the top, there was no sign of Selene – not surprising considering the weather and the fact I had been delayed getting lost – and also no sign of the castle that is referenced in the book: I can only assume it was there in the mist up there somewhere. On the way down, I got a message saying that Selene was soaked through, and had bumped into some local riders who were showing her the shortcut home. As tempting as this sounded to join (my waterproofs had also been overwhelmed by the sheer amount of rain being thrown at them), I knew that I was here for one reason and that was to notch up a few more climbs.

Fortunately the next leg of the route was a series of very flat roads to Denbigh, complete with a roaring tailwind and my spirits were lifted by sailing along at 25mph – a stark contrast to the previous 20 miles of suffering uphill. Out of Denbigh was the ominously named ‘Road to Hell’ – a long slog back up to the tops of the mountain range. Apart from a few steep kicks at the start, this was a great climb and really enjoyable all of the way up. The roads were perfectly quiet, smooth and wide, and the views under the cloud-cover were stunning. This combined with a long but not too challenging ride up made it my favourite climb of the day and one that presented a real feeling of achievement having made it to the top.

The view from Hell

The rain had, however, set back in and after taking in a few more lumps the cold really started to seep through. The ‘just get it done’ mindset from earlier vanished when I checked the map and saw that I’d need to cover another 30 miles of undulating terrain to get round to the Horseshoe Pass, before then having to climb back over the first set of hills to get back to Ruthin. On a normal day this would have been eminently possible – however on an exposed hilltop in soaking clothes and black clouds all around, the crossroads with the sign saying “Ruthin 10 miles” had a magnetic pull to it. With that resolved, I pedalled back to the B&B to regroup, reclean the bike and finally jump into a steaming hot shower to get back the feeling in my extremities.
Even the camera was shooting blurry
by this point

And our reward for slogging it out in the rain? £5 each to spend at Llandudno arcades and a 3-course slap-up meal (paid for by the loser) at Ruthin Castle to finish. Now this is living!
Weather wasn't much cop on the coast either

Guess who just lost

Prize cupboard of dreams!

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