A quick search of the internet and it was easy to see that the parking on the large carpark (£3.50) would leave my car vulnerable overnight, so I parked on the smaller car park by the police station. This was free to park and it looked like most of the local residents used this carpark. As always I started early at 04:40 am in the morning so that I could be home in for tea time but I had to factor in the four hours of traveling this time.
I only needed to use my front lights for the first section and by the time I arrived at Dolhendre (20 miles) I had switched my lights to flashing mode. The ride to Bala and the first control (Llanuwchllyn) was fast and easy, although there are sections with potholes and a descent which had just been resurfaced with loose gravel. The climb starts just after the campsite at Dolhendre. The climb levels out after the yellow salt/ gavel bin, so keep going. Note the 17% gradient road sign as you ride past it, you will see a lot of these 17% road signs during this ride!
The road continues to gradually climb upwards over the ridge, where you are greeted with an amazing view of the valley (about 21miles) just after another yellow salt bin and a small section of stonewalling, see the following photos.
As you move around the tree line, the valley opens out and you can see the road which you are following, snaking its way through the moorlands and over the summit (see photo below).
Although the climb is long and steep, in places it is actually a very pleasant climb and I would definitely go back and do it again, especially with views like these. One of the reasons for this, is that when you arrive at the top you are rewarded with wonderful vistas and even enough you continue to decend and climb the views are continuously outstanding (see photos below).
This road leads to an excellent descent into a lovely valley at the back of Coed y Brenin Forest and out onto the main road which takes you past a large lake, (which I initially thought was the sea) Llyn Trawsfynydd with a concrete castle (nuclear power station) at the head of the valley. However, you do finally see the sea, well the estuary which runs into Porthmadog as you travel down the A496 which merges with the Afon Dwyryn. When I traveled along this road there was very little traffic. I am assuming that the traffic was on the A487 on the other side of the valley.
As you turn towards Talsarnau leaving the estuary behind you, you can see Harlech Castle (see below) in the distance perched on the headland, which looks spectacular. I chose not to leave the main road to take a photo as I was behind schedule but I did notice a sitting area on the right as you leave town (52.857195, -4.110536). Looking on Google images that would have been an excellent place to take a photo from but I suspect that on my ActionCam the castle will be a tiny dot in the distance.
Breakfast at Barmouth was not far now but I did consider stopping at Norbar on the left a couple of miles from Barmouth. However, I promised myself breakfast at the seaside so I pushed on. I nearly missed the short and steep cycle path off the main road which takes you over the train line and on to Barmouth concrete sea defenses leading to the town centre and the cafes.
Riding along the parade looking for a cafe which had space to sit next to my bike, I spotted Isis Pizzarea overlooking the harbour. It was 10am and I was 60miles into the ride, I was ready for my breakfast; beans on toast and a cup of tea for £4:90 (cash or I had to spend £15 to put it on my card). I hate selfies but I have been told by many fellow riders that I should include one…. welcome to the selfie club (see photo below).
What a great first half, full of excellent views and excellent climbs even if the wind was constantly working against me.
With just 70 miles back to the car, I set off at a steady pace but to be honest I did not have much choice as every family within 100miles were crossing the Barmouth estuary. However, I did have a little smile at the sign reminding me ‘don’t forget to pay the troll!’ The bridge did remind me of another bridge which I had crossed earlier in the year when participating in the 3 Coasts Audax. It was constructed of wooden train sleepers which rattled as you rode over them.
Leaving the cycle path and joining the A493 I left the madness of families trying to have a stress free time! Passing through the village of Llwyngwril, I had to stop and look at the street decorations. It was very clear that many of the villagers had committed a lot of time to create these artifacts (see photos below).
The ride around to Abergynolwyn seemed to take a while and there where a few climbs along the way but nothing compared to the climbing in the first 60 miles of the ride. The final approach to Abergynolwyn takes you through Llanegryn valley, see photo below, and as you approach the head of the valley you turn right and pop out on the main road which takes you into Abergynolwyn. I was a little surprised how easy it was to exit the valley.
Tal-y-Llyn (the lake) signals the lead into the next stage of big climbs and as you travel along this road you become aware of a road climbing out of the valley in the distance. However, you turn right instead of left when you hit the main road but don’t be fooled, it is equally as steep!
Climbing the A487 to Corris was a warm up ready for the forest section between Corris and Aberangell. In my mind, this is the hardest section of the ride which was due to the enclosed nature of the forest and the constant gradient signs reminding you that you are climbing 17% and 20% hills.
I finally made it to the top (87 miles) and I was looking forward to a vista of the Welsh mountains as a reward for all the climbing but I just got more trees. The descent was fast and easy but steep in places. The route joins the A470 at Mallwyd roundabout, where there are a little petrol station and a very small cafe which I did not notice until I was sitting eating my sausage sandwich from the service station (£4.70 on a sandwich, small milk and a chocolate bar). I opted to save one sandwich and half of the chocolate bar until I reached Bala lake as a little reward.
Setting off at a steady pace as I knew that I had the last big climb ahead of me but I knew, once I had reached the top it was easy riding to Bala. My legs were tried and I was dreaming of what I may have for tea, it often included meat… I have the best wife ever. Then I saw the 20% gradient sign and I knew it was going to be hard. In fact, it reminded me of the Llanberis pass climb in North Wales but without all the rocks and a little harder.
After three rest stops to allow my lungs to catch up I finally made it over the top. I took a minute in the small carpark at the top before descending towards Bala. Once over the top, the momentum carries you all the way to Bala Lake, so tuck in and enjoy the ride. I stopped at Llanuwchllyn garage on the left for a quick rest and some water. I also took the opportunity to have my remaining sandwich and chocolate (£4.65 on a bottle of water, small milk and a ice pop).
Pushing on for Corwen and the car I set myself a challenge to complete the final 20 miles in about one hour twenty minutes which would mean that I would complete the ride within thirteen hours. I mustered all of the energy which I had left and I applied my rather poor time trialing skills to the task. The final 20 miles were not difficult and I was surprised by the volume of time I spent rolling at speeds greater than 20mph.
Arriving back at the Corwen and the car I check the total time on my Wahoo Bolt to see if I made it within the thirteen hours…. just 12:58:20! The second half of the ride felt much more enclosed due to the tree-lined roads and forest sections, the climbs also felt much more server. Personally, I preferred the first half of the ride because of the views.
What next: I have seen a 200km ride in the Peak District which is worth 4.5AAA points (Dark and White Peak: http://www.delphcyclist.info/DarkWhitePerm.html), so this may be my last challenge for this Audax year.
Organisor: David Matthews
Audax List: Audax Ride List