Post: You almost have to take a reality check today, Charlie’s description of his lunch and village surroundings read almost as if from another world. We also get an unusual illustration today, a view of Llangollen from 23 years before this piece was written. I can only assume Charlie has come across this pic somewhere and faithfully copied it, because there it is in his journal as large as life. On green feint lined paper as ever.
Llansantffraidd Glyn Ceiriog
Sounds Welsh doesn’t it! Tom and I had planned a thrust into Wales, but had made no arrangements whatever as to destination, leaving that for the weather to decide. Should it be clear, we might climb Moel Famau – then again we might not, if it were wet we might go over the Horseshoe – then again we might not, if it was dull and hazy, we may go to the Vale of Clwyd – then again we may not. In short, we did not know where we would get to. Our meeting place was the Dee Bridge in Chester, 9.30am.
I was up at 5.45am, and at 6.30, with my saddlebag full of ‘snacks’, I made a start. It was quite light, but a heavy mist clung to the ground, which I took for a good sign. The sun would soon disperse that, I thought. Crashing over the Leigh setts, I made good progress via Winwick to Warrington and on to the Chester road. Signs of spring were not wanting, for the trees were budding, and early flowers were breaking forth, the heavy rains of Friday and Saturday freshening up the foliage. I kept a steady pace up through Daresbury and Preston Brook to Sutton Weaver, then the climb to Frodsham and the run to Helsby, with the bold headlands on the left entirely blotted out. After Dunham, and old world Mickle Trafford, Hoole, a residential suburb of Chester came into being, then I entered Deva.
In the morning mist, Northgate Street with its timbered and gabled old buildings, seemed to give me a peep into the past, and it needed but little imagination to people the city with jaunty cavaliers, be-smocked labourers, and crinoline. From the castle gates came the music of a military band, and just as I met Tom, a regiment came swinging into the street, headed by the aforesaid band. It sent my mind scurrying back to the dark days of the War. One does not hear a band of this kind so often nowadays.
We left Chester then, heading for Wrexham. I had a peep into my saddlebag then, for I had covered 40 miles and was more than a little hungry. The road is passably pretty, skirting the Eaton Hall Estate, and at Pulford, entering Wales, Flintshire. Just beyond Rossett, Tom photographed an old, timber and brick-built water mill, long disused and very picturesque. The Vale of Gresford was mist-shrouded, and the climb over the shoulder of the hill above Marford did not reveal the usual views, though we obtained a good view of the ‘black and white’ Horsley Hall. Very soon we came to Wrexham, and made a slight detour to see the wonderful old church there, one of the seven wonders of Wales. Now we decided to make directly for ‘Wayfarer’s’ Glyn Valley, and for once, face the weary stretch from Wrexham to Chirk. Tramlines, collieries and a general squalid outlook fell to our lot as we covered the five miles via Rhostyllyn and Johnston to Ruabon.
Then Cefn Mawr, a township built any-old-how fashion, all over a hillside, to Newbridge. The mist had cleared enough, however, to give us a fine view westwards, looking up the beautiful Vale of Llangollen, with the greater heights of Berwyn on one hand and Eglwyseg Mountain on the other, mist capped, whilst the conical peak on which stands Dinas Bran appeared vaguely at the end of the Vale. A drop to Newbridge in the Dee Valley, revealed the river in a pretty, woodland setting, the climb out on the far side giving us a good view of the huge Chirk aqueduct, which carries the Shropshire Union Canal across the Vale of Llangollen. From Plas Offa we had a dull run to Chirk, where we joined the Llanarmon-Dyffryn-Ceiriog road, and immediately started rushing downhill through the beautiful woods into the Vale of Ceiriog. On the left, by the roadside, ran a narrow gauge railway, and on the other side of the line, the River Ceiriog babbled noisily over its stony bed. The mountains in front seemed to lock this glorious valley, and we fell to speculating where it escaped. The road was level, and the surrounds made the drab run from Wrexham well worth while.
Passing the Deer Park of Chirk Castle we reached Herber, just beyond which we discovered a rope bridge, a small replica of the famous rope bridge of Carrick-a-Rede in the north of Ireland. It proved quite a sensation to cross! Pontfadog was the next village, then the mountains became nearer, until we were certain that there was a big climb coming, but at Dol-y-Wern, the road swungright, and entered the wonderful defile of the Glyn Valley. We stopped several times to watch the frolics of young lambs and ewes – there must have been hundreds of them. We soon entered Llansantffraid Glyn Ceiriog, where we decided to have lunch, and as luck would have it, a native made our acquaintance and directed us to a good place.
The kitchen was old fashioned where we had lunch, the fireplace being one of those big open ones with iron pots and accessories hung conveniently around. The people were real Welsh, the old lady understanding little English: “Dim Saesnig”. Once I thought I was learning a little of the interesting Cumraeg tongue, but when I heard them gabbling away at high speed – well – “Dim Cumraeg” – No Welsh! I asked about the road over the mountains to Llangollen, and this was the reply: “A mile up, a mile straight, a mile down, an evil road, barren moors – a terrible road altogether” or words to that effect. The map shows a waterfall just off the road, and I asked the name. “Creigiau Fawr” was the reply. The falls of the great crags. It was nearly 2pm when we got going again, and almost immediately we started on the ‘mile up’.
It was a climb to be remembered, a scramble, but behind, the views were opening out. I feel sorry for the inhabitants having to climb this lot to the church which stands halfway up, and just above the steepest pitch; it must test their religious faith at times. From just below the church, a magnificent view down the Glyn Valley and into the Vale of Ceiriog could be enjoyed, whilst beyond the town, the valley ran narrowly into the mountains, mounting higher, until the mist about Llanarmon DC closed it. It was in the Vale before us that a great battle took place in the year 1165, between the forces of Henry II and the Welsh under Owen Gwynedd. The Welsh drove the English invaders back over the border, and the battle proved significant and important in the struggle for Welsh Independence. Sir Theodore Martin, despite his affection for the adjoining Dee Valley in which he resided, said in praise of the Vale of Ceiriog:
“I have often lingered on in the enjoyment of this beautiful valley and its sparkling streams, and the invigorating air of its mountain slopes. A more delightful retreat for a quiet holiday ‘far from the madding crowd’ I do not know. I feel assured that it only wants to be better known to become the pet resort of the better class of tourist”.
It certainly is very beautiful. Then as we stood there, watching, the mist slowly crept up and obliterated everything before us. We turned and resumed the scramble, the ‘mile up’ to Bryn-y-Groes, a farmstead standing amidst a belt of bare, wind-swept trees. Came the ‘mile straight’, a rough track heaving with mud in places, but quite rideable. The mist had reached us, and made seeing beyond a few yards impossible, so not knowing the lie of the land, we decided to postpone the journey to Rhaiadr Creigiaw Fawr. At the tiny hamlet of Penllan ‘The church on the headland’, the ‘mile down’ started. Simultaneously, the mist cleared, until a little further down, we got a grand view of the Vale of Dee, with Llangollen nestling at the foot of the encircling heights. Behind the town were the silhouetted remains of Dinas Bran – ‘Crow Castle’, on its peak, whilst on each side, the Llantysilio Mountains and Maes-y-Chain were half shrouded. Near the summit of Eglwyseg Mountain, the line of white rocks Creigiou Eglwysegle, made an effective picture. A motor cycle trial was taking place on this road, and we stayed a few minutes watching the struggle of man and machine against gradient and boulders. It is a good thing for tyre makers! Of course, it was far too precipitous to ride down, but the views were double payment.
When we were able to mount, we soon reached Llangollen, and stopped on Dee Bridge to watch the swirling waters below, and the beautiful reaches of this Queen of Rivers, the Welsh Dwynyd and the English Dee. How many times have we stopped on the Dee Bridges? The bridge at Queensferry, the Chester bridges, the Suspension bridge at Chester, the neat little iron bridge at Eaton Hall, the stone structures at Bangor Is-y-coed and Overton, Newbridge near the Chirk Aqueduct, this one at Llangollen, the one at Corwen, and two more in the ‘Sweet Vale of Edeymion’ near Bala. Twelve Dee bridges, and all of them showing the rich beauty of the Dee.
And see the rivers how they run
Through woods and meads, in shade and sun;
Sometimes swift, sometimes slow’
Wave succeeding wave they go
A various journey to the deep,
Like human life, to endless sleep!
After a dreamy ten minutes, we crossed the bridge, and ran along the shady road to Trevor, where, climbing, it brought us out of the saddle and gave us advantageous views of the valley to the Chirk Aqueduct. Soon, however, industry took control, and from Acrefair we had the unwelcome company of colliery slag heaps and tips, until, reaching the main road once more, we came to Ruabon. The time was 3.30pm, and we were 57 miles from home as the crow flies.
The route we proposed was over 70 miles, but we should have been prepared to cover twice as much rather than cover those six weary miles to Wrexham. The 70 miles involved a lot of hard climbing, whilst there was only six comparatively level miles of industrialism to the good scenery beyond, but we were in a fresh – for the day – country, and without a seconds hesitation we plumped for the longer route – via Bangor Is-y-coed. The first few miles were dead easy, a kind of switchback to the flat lands near the Dee. Then we turned north, and for two miles fought a stiff headwind, turning again to Bangor Is-y-coed. The second name is to distinguish it from the other Bangor, in Caernarfonshire, and the name Bangor means ‘Beautiful choir – Ban-choir’. The full translation is ‘Beautiful choir in the wood’, a very picturesque name.
The village is not at all as its name suggests, but its past history is interesting enough. The village was formerly the site of the oldest conventional monastic establishment in the kingdom. It was founded in the 2nd century AD, and in the year 596 numbered no fewer than 2,400 monks. Not long afterwards, in 601, the place was attacked, and 1,200 of its unarmed monks were slain by Elfred, King of Northumbria, who left the place well nigh a ruin. The rest of the monks fled to Bardsey Island. A few monastic remains are still to be seen, after over 1,300 years! Bangor is also held by those learned in these things to be the Roman Bovium of Antoninus. We did not stay one moment longer than was necessary to ride through, heading now for Malpas. Immediately we started to climb, gradually, but with each succeeding mile it grew harder. Just beyond Worthenbury we reached the ‘Frontier House’, then a moment later, ‘Cheshire Cottages’, and so we passed out of Wales.
The scenery was good, but the grind uphill after the days ride was beginning to tell on us. A last steep pitch, after a seven mile climb, brought us into old-world Malpas at 5pm, and then, rushing downhill, we crossed the Chester-Whitchurch road, and faced the glorious Peckforton Hills. The narrow lanes seemed to first lead to them, then go back on its tracks, winding in an alluring manner, but never seeming to get any nearer. We were ravenously hungry, the roads were tilting again, and it is a fact, that however beautiful the scenery, it cannot cure hunger. But all roads go somewhere, and we at length came to Bickerton, and the old familiar foothills road. Peckforton was passed, and proud old Beeston Castle on its rocky knoll came into being. We were not far, now, and from Beeston Smithy, a downhill dash brought us to Beeston Brook at 6.10 for tea.
At 7pm, refreshed, we joined the road in the deepening twilight, walking the hill to Tiverton Lane Ends. The hush of night had fallen, lights were appearing through the latticed windows of the old cottages. Behind us, the hoary ruin stood in ghostly silhouette against a velvet sky; soon the old stone keep and its broken walls would be given over to the spectre of the night, and the knights of old would rise from the dead to rehearse in creepy, unseen silence, and to rebuild the ruin in shuddering imagination. The trees overhead sighed faintly in the breeze, and our lamps threw a dim, yellow light on the roadway. The glamour of night riding was upon us, and we tasted its joys and surprises to the full. Tom had broken the spring of his oil lamp, and at every jog in the road it went out, but a pair of elastic garters, ingeniously fixed, cured the trouble. At Eaton, my light went out, and I found the carbide swamped. Luckily, with the aid of a youth, I managed after some searching, to get a refill, and after that all went well. Now we entered the bylanes.
Complete darkness prevailed, our only means of telling the rise and fall of the road were by the quickening of the pedals, or the extra pressure needed. Oulton Park, with its great shadowy trees was passed, then we turned to avoid Little Budworth and after a silent run, rushed down to Vale Royal. Whitegate now, the road populated, then the Chester road with its glaring lights. Northwich was reached at 8.45pm, and we were not sorry to get out of it. Beyond, few motors troubled us, so, with the wind (now only a slight breeze) and the general gradient in our favour we were able to keep a rapid pace, which inside the hour brought us to Altrincham. After a ‘Horlicks’, we regained the road, and at 10.30 parted at Stretford. I was in fine form, and soon reached Barton Bridge, where starts a grind to Worsley and Walkden, home being reached at 11.30pm.
We were late back – and all because we would not face six miles of industrialism, but by taking this route, we had gained an infinite amount of pleasure bought at the cheap price of being late. And when I got home, and reviewed with satisfaction the days ride, the ‘thrust’ into Wales at a mileage of 145 miles, I thought that I, at least, could honestly say: ‘Something attempted, something done’. 145 miles