Thursday night – Friday
The road was smooth and slightly uphill, and in anticipation of the journey before me, I took things easy. There were one or two short, stiff hills by some large reservoirs surrounded by dark moorlands. As I neared the summit I ran into a mist which came and went ethereally, whilst the steep hillsides on the right were clothed in a pea-soupy fog. I got the surprise of my life when, on the high moors on the left, a great searchlight played, then a little later a broad beam of light came down the moors, making a striking picture. It was a motor car with powerful headlights, and I was unaware that a road existed at all up there. But when I reached the summit, 1,400 feet, all was darkness, all was silence. On the subsequent descent I saw wonder pictures in mist, closing and breaking over the great peaks of the Brecon Beacons, just below which I had passed, then, as I got lower, the full glory of a starry evening and velvet sky burst upon me. Joining the Usk valley I came into Brecon, a quaint old market town and the county town of Brecknock. Then an undulating road through beautiful country, with thick, deep hedges and fields of newly mown hay, heavily scented. Watching the map (I was a stranger here), I took a short cut along a steep lane.
Wondering along a strange byway in unknown country after midnight is a great adventure. In one place I was placidly pottering downhill when something went crashing through the hedges. I got a shock, as it was too big for a rabbit or any ordinary animal, and I could only come to the conclusion that it was a fox. I had just regained my composure when, from nowhere it seemed, a dog came at me like a whirlwind with a noise like all the furies of the nether regions let loose. Didn’t I just blind ! Soon after that I reached the Wye valley at Three Cocks. Though it was night-time I found myself in the valley I had so often wanted to see, of which I had heard so much. Now I was to traverse some of its most beautiful stretches, from Three Cocks (near Hay on Wye) to the source. I think it was Wordsworth, the Lakeland poet who wrote in retrospective mood:
‘How oft in spirit have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! Thou wanderer through the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee’.
Immediately the rich beauty of the valley asserted itself. All the 14 miles to Builth Wells I rode through woodlands or by the gleaming river, now placid, now breaking into cataract, now overhung by foliage, now studded with slabs of rock that glistened grey. And the villages and hamlets. Sweetly decked with flowers, neatly built in grey stone or part-timbered, they fitted in with country round, and shared with the hedgerows and grassy borders in making the road an example of the ordered style of the English countryside. I got lost in Builth, then spent an idyllic ten minutes on the old bridge. Builth is just an attractive, stone built town of the quiet style of Brecon and, indeed, most old Welsh towns. If possible, from Builth the scenery becomes even more beautiful, as the valley gradually narrows and the hills on each side become higher. Newbridge on Wye, then, with the river becoming more rapid and musical, and less, and the road going for miles through the deepest of pine woods, I went through Llanwrthwl to Rhayader, just as day was breaking.
With my exit from Rhayader (where I had my lunch) there came a sudden downpour of rain, driving me into my cape. I now made my way (with the Wye) through a narrow pass called Bwlch-gwyn-isaf, leaving all trees behind and gaining open moorlands. When the rain ceased I decided on a bathe, but, as I pulled my shoes and stockings off, a million tiny, winged insects got busy with the result that I packed up and beat a hasty retreat. Then the rain came down again and stuck for the remaining six miles to Llangurig and for six miles beyond. The Wye was now only a tiny stream; soon I would see it like a hundred others, coming down a moorland ravine from its source.
It was all climbing now, on the wildest of moors, the brown wastes of Plynlimon Fawr, then I came into the wild upland depression called by English people Plynlimon Pass, but better called the Steddfa. And I got a rude introduction to it too! When the rain ceased I had a partial bath – a ‘paddle’ – as a compromise, for it was now chilly, then entered the two mile Steddfa, meeting therein a high wind. It was cold, wet, and I had reached that stage better known as ‘half-baked’, so I struggled along to the summit at an altitude of 1,350 feet. When on the down gradient, on the long slopes from Dyffryn Castell, I could make no headway, and had to fight for every inch of the way. It had been my intention to breakfast at Llanbadarn Fawr near Aberystwyth, but when I saw smoke issuing from the chimney of an Inn at Pont Erwydd, I could not resist the temptation. I got a good breakfast there.
Being inwardly fortified, but outwardly sore and cold, I continued the descent after viewing the pretty little falls at Erwydd. Had I been in better condition I should have gone to Devils Bridge, for of all the times I have been in the vicinity I have never been there. When I reached the valley the wind dropped and the air was warmer, until, at Cwmmwythyg, where I took a short cut to avoid Aberystwyth, I became more like my normal self again. By the time Bow Street, on the Machynlleth road was reached I was on my old form and ding donging away at the old pace – until it occurred to me that I had plenty of time, so I pottered.
Of course I was now on very familiar ground, old ground that grows more delightful with each visit. At Tre-Taliesin I once more shirked the two pilgrimages I had once vowed to accomplish; the visit to Llyfnant valley and to the grave of the half-mythical bard around whom, in Welsh literature, such a web of romance is woven, Taliesin. The dimpling road bore me along the beautiful Vale of Dyfi to Machynlleth, where I joined the winding road that climbs through the woods to Corris. A narrow gauge railway accompanies the road, but, owing to the coal shortage the vastly amusing, snorting little engines have been substituted by ponies. The last few yards to the summit got the better of me, but I had barely mounted again when I found myself staring in appreciation across a deep little valley at the precipices of Cader Idris, about which the greyest of mists was swirling, reminding me of a great whirlpool of water, and adding to the ridges an imaginary height that was awesome in its wild grandeur. Yet a little farther on, my eyes met a feast of loveliness, in a green valley and the mirror-like Tal-y-Llyn. A sudden descent brought me to the valley, and in the little Inn of Minffordd beneath the whirlpool-crested cliffs I lunched… and dozed.The high wind of earlier had returned again when I resumed my journey; the misty wraith above had gone, and in its stead the hot sunshine beat down on the rocks and sent back from them an uncomfortable heat. With the wind now behind, the heat, on the climb up the pass, became unbearable and I was glad to turn and let the wind blow in my face, or hold my head under some shrunken cascade that came bounding down the rocks. But even the wind and the water became warm – or had my open air habit made me immune from cold? I always was susceptible to heat. So far as riding was concerned, Tal-y-Llyn Pass was easy except for a bit here and there, and the characteristic view down to the Llyn and beyond was as clear and perfect as ever it had been. It is interesting to record that nine days later heavy rains washed down the whole mountainside and swept away the road. A new road is now being constructed, but for what I can gather, Tal-y-Llyn Pass will not be the pass of old.
On the other side I went bounding down, first over pot-holes, then on a perfect surface, instinctively pulling up at Cross Foxes to gaze meditatively over to where a ribbon of white road led into the mountains eastwards. I should have needed but little persuasion to turn my wheel east and sample once more the wonderful country that lies beyond Cold Door Pass. But not this time, and my brake was released, and I skimmed down into the woods, emerging in grey old Dolgellau. I traversed only a mile of the Barmouth road – that glorious example of the British wonderland, but that mile took me half an hour or more for I often stopped to gaze across the river at the shining ridge of Cader, and to admire the effects through my sunglasses. The yellow tinted ones bring out the cloud effects in a manner that the eyes do not suspect.
With my face set northward I headed up the gorgeously wooded valley of the Eden – truly a little Eden, and with the wind behind again, drew onto the moors, from where one gets a photographic view over woods and water to Cader’s ridge. On the left a line of great saw edged peaks provided the only interest now until Trawsfynydd was behind, and below, the bountiful Vale of Maentwrog. I had a great struggle against the temptation to return to Ffestiniog, but, well, Llanberis was my destination, so I flew down to Maentwrog, crossed the valley, and joined the old road from Tan-y-Bwlch. From the ‘encrusted’ little Llyn Mair I enjoyed the view over the valley; of the moorland ridges and painted peaks of Ardudwy, then soon passed through little Bwlch-y-Maen. A hunt for tea at the tiny hamlet of Rhyd beneath the bulk of Moelwyn put me onto a nearby farm.
They said they had nothing in, invited me inside, and proceeded to show me what ‘nothing’ is. I never knew it was so much ! After a feast of the gods and another doze by the fire, I fled down to the lowlands, rode along the border of the reclaimed Glaslyn estuary to Pont Aberglaslyn, stopped a moment to pay my tribute to this manhandled masterpiece of nature, and came into Beddgelert. Here I was amidst Wales’ grandest scenery, in the Vale of Gwynant where the beauty of everything green mingles with the wild grandeur of peak and precipice. Whether to my credit or not, I rode all the way up to Pen-y-Gwryd, pausing here to watch a swift transfusion – so common where high mountains are concerned – from sunshine to clouds, from crystal atmosphere to jade, until, when the utmost heights of Snowdon were lost in a dark blanket, I rode on and completed my triumph by riding from Beddgelert to Gorphwysfa.
Torrential rain came down then, and I rode as in a river down the Pass of Llanberis, stopping once to watch a sheep dog getting the flock away from the crags with marvellous dexterity. With black storm-clouds scudding across the tottering cliffs, the Pass was more awe-inspiring than ever I had before seen it. At the bottom the wind slewed round and buffeted me all over the road. Some enterprising missionary had been posting bills on the rock at bends in the road. I was down on the ‘drops’, fighting might and main against rain and wind, when I happened to glance up and was confronted with the big black words “Prepare to meet they God”. The next time I looked up I was informed in bullying blue words that “The evil shall surely perish”, and again some monster red type warned me that “Death is at Hand”. They made me feel quite chirpy ! But all the same it is a silly idea shoving posters up at sharp bends, distracting the attention of road users and spoiling the natural beauty too, besides being directly opposite to the true teaching of religion.
I reached Llanberis at 8.30pm, just half an hour late – not bad judging in a 250 mile run, and there I met my uncle and two London cyclists. After supper, one Violet, a pretty lass who keeps a tobacconists shop nearby, helped us pass a merry evening, and it was nigh on midnight when we turned in. To say that I slept soundly is merely superfluous, after a 36 hour ride from Somerset to Snowdonia, but never shall I forget that night ride and the day that followed, the ride through the Wye valley and over eight Welsh passes, Brecon Beacons, Bwlch-gwn-isaf (which means the high white pass), the Steddfa, Tal-y-Llyn Pass, Bwlch-y-Maen (Pass of the Stone), Aberglaslyn Pass, Bwlch Gwyddel (Pen-y-Guryd), and the Pass of Llanberis, surely a good day’s “Bag” for the Pass collector !