Post: This is a classic example of how not to run a website and publish books at the same time ! By any standard this story should have been included in one of my books, but it is the old story that one cannot include everything, so I have failed the test. However, read this page below and you will be back in the position I would have had you had I been more diligent. There were quite a few out on this ‘run’ and I don’t know if it is me or not, but I feel that Charlie has really excelled himself today, both in his descriptive language and his travels, the views he records and the days mileage ! Well done Charlie, and thanks for a very interesting day !
Sunday, September 6 A Welsh Mountain and Three Passes
There was Joe and Bert, his friend, the brothers Pearson and myself – oh and another acquaintance of Joe’s, and we all met just after 4am on St. Helen’s Road, just above where I live. Tom and his pal Bill were to meet us at Mrs Dennison’s at Mickle Trafford, four miles from Chester, at 7.30am, for today, we had great ambitions on that blunt, ruin topped peak, Moel Famau, the guardian sentinel of Ruthin, the highest peak of the range, the oft seen and twice (by me) climbed ‘Hill of Mothers’. Pray the Lord it may be a clear day, for twice before have the rain mists relentlessly laid their impenetrable blanket over the land, repenting only to give us an alluring peep at the broad, fertile Vale of Clwyd and the high jumble of moors around. That momentary glimpse of ‘What Might Be’, had served to make us register a vow that again and again would we scale the shaggy sides until the ‘Reward’ came.
That was Tom Idle and I, and now there were others who knew little of the wonders of northeast Wales, but were well prepared to sacrifice a few hours of bed to see what a long, hard day made possible to see. Cyclists they are to their finger-tips, real cyclists and lads who can ride a hundred and fifty miles, can scramble with their lightweights anywhere, and are unafraid of any inclement weather conditions that may prevail. Those are the lads that have become part of the Greatest Game – and the lads we want for an adventure – a rough and tumble hard-riding jaunt of this description.
We made a start. It was quite dark, a slight breeze blew very chilly, and Joe and his two mates sprinted off in front. We caught them up on Squire’s Brow; one of them had had an accident. His front fork lamp bracket had dropped into the wheel, ripping four spokes out and badly buckling the wheel. We helped him find the scattered bits of lamp, and then examined the wheel, finding that it was hopeless for the day, so he turned back, and we proceeded more steadily through Atherton and Leigh and on to the Winwick road from Lowton.
The dawn of a new day. A light streak across the dark, eastern sky, the darkness giving way to a grey, cold light. Beyond Warrington we found the Chester road, rain-soaked, although it was fine. Near Frodsham the sun rose mistily, but as it mounted higher it broke into a golden blaze, too bright to last. We were all agreed that it was well worth it to get up so soon, if only for the pleasure of the sweet morning air and the beautiful, fresh greenery all around. We got to Mickle Trafford for 7.15am, and later Tom and Bill joined us, all of us sitting down to a merry breakfast. Bill had to return, so we bade him ‘Good morning’, and then started, six of us, for Chester. Just after 9am we had passed through the fair City of Legions and were turning on to the Holywell road, the first five miles of which are straight and flat and monotonous.
We rushed it, turning at Broughton for Mold, and climbed slowly uphill for over two miles, amongst improving scenery. Three of us stood in dire need of cigarettes, but Wales on a Sunday is a desolate land for smokers, and after Pen-y-ffordd was passed, our only hope was Mold. A strong wind was growing and pushing us along, but what gladdened our hearts was that fine mountain view and clear blue skies. The day for Moel Famau. The peak on which we were targeted came into sight more than once, each time in a different posture as is its wont.
Mold for cigarettes! I asked once and was refused, at another place they said they dare not, but there was a Woodbine machine outside! It jammed after two packets, but I managed to buy another, so the three of us ‘whacked’ them. The Cilcain road took us uphill and down dale to Waen, where we called a halt. Our first intention had been to ascend the mountain by a fresh route, the Cilcain track, but it was 10am and we wanted to make Llandegla for lunch, so it was decided to go via the old Bwlch and climb from the Loggerheads side, and, as a side line, we would take the path from here by Cefn Mawr Hall for the sake of the picturesque view of the Leete from the crags. Strangely, we found ourselves on quite a decent road, and then were suddenly on the Ruthin road, just above Loggerheads. We had gone wrong.
From the beautiful Leete valley we climbed uphill to where the old Ruthin road branches off, taking this one now. The road was rough and steep with gates across, but ran between moorland slopes red with heather. Bwlch Pen Barras. About halfway through the pass, we turned along that rough path on the right, and soon the six of us were perspiring up a stony, muddy track. It was beautiful though, with the many shades of heather covering the swelling rippling moorlands. A hard struggle to the top it is; one of our number who is yet a recruit, did not know how to carry his bike to the best advantage, and on the last precipitous stretch just before the junction with the Ruthin route, he fell backwards with it ! No damage was done. Then leaving our bikes by a wall, we scrambled up to the ruined tower. The view was almost perfect, the outlook amazing – it was something to rave over.
Below us stretched the broad Vale of Clwyd, a sweeping patchwork quilt of green fields dotted with tiny-looking farms, hamlets and villages, Ruthin looking for all the world like a toy town. At our feet was a red and brown and gold colour scheme – the autumn moors, sloping in graceful curves and sweeps to the Vale below. Northwards, the Clwydian range of which ours was the loftiest, were in the same variable colours, sunlit, each rounded summit, one behind the other, in an almost even line to the end of the Vale, where was the plain of Morfa Rhuddlan, across which the winding river Clwyd ran, running to the sea, 20 miles away. North by East, the sandy Dee estuary could be traced to Connah’s Quay and Queensferry with their many chimneys, and the Wirral coast. So clear was it that we could see the waves breaking in glistening crescents around Hilbre Island, at least 26 miles distant. The sea beyond was deep blue, with touches of scintillating sunlight playing on the waters and one or two steamships, tiny, infinitesimal objects.
A huge smoke pall over the Mersey coast proclaimed Liverpool and hid from us the Lancashire coast. Chester to the East, the huge wood-dotted green plains with a smoke pall here and there denoting towns – the plain of Cheshire, and the Derbyshire Hills, seventy miles or so away. Nearer, a steadily growing jumble of ground culminated below our peak, where several large pools, reservoirs and llyns appeared like sheets of glass below us. Turning towards the South, the country stretched right away through Shropshire into a haze that might be Worcestershire or Warwickshire, and directly South, the bold moors broke from a jumble to high ridges and were lost to sight.
But it was Westwards where the best was. From the coast to the gradually increasing highs, the more northern eminences being the Carnddau peaks, which were capped by mist. The Glyders were in ragged profile, Snowdon was there, but its topmost peak was hidden, but we got the clean-cut silhouette of some of its spurs. To the left of Snowdonia, in what would be the Ffestiniog district, the very shapely head of Cynicht was reared in the sky, and travelling westwards, our eyes ran along the ragged line that runs south from Trawsfynydd – Llawr Llech, etc, with the Devils Gap clearly outlined. Next came Cader Idris, rather like a table mountain from here, with a cloud bank just clearing the summit ridge. Then moors, high, level ground, behind which peeped out the ‘hump’ of Plinlimmon. It was not by any means a perfect day – Lakeland, the Isle of Man, Anglesey, Ireland and the Black Mountains in South Wales are all visible from here on exceptional days, but it was very clear, and the view that we got more than repaid the climb.
As it was very cold up here, after perspiring freely, we stayed just long enough to take it all in, then returned to the bikes and the Ruthin track. The tower on the summit was formerly 150 ft high, and 60 ft in diameter at the base, but so utterly have gales destroyed it, that the highest point now is not 20 ft high. When it was built to commemorate the Jubilee of George the third, the mountain was thought to be 1,850 ft high, so the tower brought it up to the 2,000 ft mark. Subsequent measurements revealed the exact height at 1,821 ft. The summit is also the spot where two counties and four parishes meet. The tower was built in 1810.
The run down on the Ruthin track – a ‘shelf’ on the hillside, was more exciting than ever. I had a freewheel on for a change, and two calliper brakes, but even they were hardly sufficient for the wet, slippery grass. I, who was in front, turned my head once to see how the others were faring, and found myself over the edge. As I was going very slowly, I fell off and soon regained the path without accident. Another had a similar fall, but on the Bwlch-y-Pane road, I did a really ‘star’ turn. Reaching the end of the path, I stood at the end of the Bwlch, watching them come down. It is very spectacular to see cyclists riding on what seems the steep mountainside. Then as they all arrived safely, I started down the steep, grassy road towards Ruthin, admiring the view along the Vale of Clwyd. I had my front brake on, and in pulling it harder, the wheel stopped and skidded on the grass. I came over the bars and went sliding down the road on my shoulder, suddenly coming to rest in a bed of prickly gorse. I regained my feet – with a speed that did me credit – even if it was a little ungraceful. I was unhurt and the machine undamaged, so we roared with laughter at the undignified dismount.
As soon as I started again, I used the safer rear brake, but all at once the cable snapped, and again I had to resort to the front brake – with more care this time, but not without skidding the wheel. One punctured just on a bend, and I must say that we heartily congratulated him for puncturing in such a delightful spot. I couldn’t have done better myself, and I’ve changed the air in my tyres at a few pretty places in my time – and I suppose I shall do so again. I did my share of assistance by sitting on a gate watching the sun chasing clouds across the brown and red and gold hillsides and picking out the Caernarvonshire and Merioneth peaks. Then another grassy descent, with the front brake making the wheel jazz sideways, and my heart in my mouth. It would have been quite easy to walk – but I would ride. Very soon we reached the main road , and swept down into the valley.
A consultation of the watch told us that it was after 12 noon, but hunger had not assailed us seriously, so we scanned the map, found a way to cut Ruthin out, and climb Nant-y-Garth before dinner. Which was just what we had hoped to do in order to get through Nant-y-Ffrith, for only I had seen this glorious glen, and wanted to do so again. Besides, I had a keen delight in showing others what I have seen. So we took a pleasant meandering lane beneath the slopes of Moel Gyw, through Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd, a singularly picturesque name, typical of Wales, meaning the ‘Church at the Ford in the Vale of Clwyd’. We passed the bylane that we had taken in July 1924, and which led us a merry dance, then beneath a canopy of trees, climbed and dropped jerkily to the hamlet of Pentre Celyn, the ‘Village by the River Bank’, soon afterwards reaching the Ruthin-Llangollen road, just below Ty-isaf, and at the entrance to Nant-y-Garth.
I have explained this sweet sylvan glen before, with its rushing, wandering stream and its tree-clad slopes and mossy banks. The pass is about three miles long, but the wooded portion is less than one and a half miles. It climbs from the Ruthin side, gradually – perhaps a drag – but that is alleviated by the exquisite beauty of everything contained in it. Higher up, the road winds around bare – no, gold and brown and red moors, and leaves one on the Llandegla moors. The name Nant-y-Garth is short, but means much, implying the Valley below the Hill that bends round the Buttress. A series of swoops and climbs brought us to the Crown Hotel at Llandegla, where a wash and lunch was forthcoming.
The time was 2.45pm when we left Llandegla, and with the wind behind climbed up the cwm between Moel Gareggog and Moel-y-brain, to the open moors, where we caught a glimpse behind of the Arenig peak also of Moel Famau again. At Bwlchgwyn we stopped, to admire the fine panoramic view of Cheshire from the ‘shelf’ road. Beeston and the hills of Peckforton looked like molehills from this elevation, the Wrekin and the Shropshire heights east of Church Stretton were visible, whilst the whole of Cheshire lay below us. Then the ‘Dangerous beyond Glascoed’ road soon brought us to our objective, the afternoons ‘piece de resistance’, Nant-y-Ffrith.
The drive that leads down to it is exquisite, first lined with rhododendrons, then with tall old trees, and then giving entrancing glimpses of the lower limestone crags, twisted, cracked, potted with caves, and the river below, first leaping little falls, then flowing into an almost still basin, the clear water giving an almost perfect reflection of rock and trees and sky. On the footpath in the glen proper, it was easy enough to ride in places, but no one attempted to do so; sacrilege is it to pass by such scenery with no more than a cursory glance. Trees gnarled and bent, young saplings, fleeting views of shimmering water, glimpses of limestone bastions, tumbled brown rocks overgrown with satin-like moss, bracken in a dozen shades, sunlight weaving a leafy pattern on the footpath, the voices of the woods – and peace, soothing, strangely contrasting with the harsh town-world, that is Nant-y-Ffrith the Beautiful, as we saw it. From a joking, noisy cycling party, we became silent, wondering, nature worshippers; we go not to churches on Sunday, perhaps, but roam about under a greater dome than that of St Pauls – not in a man-made edifice, but in one that was made and consecrated by God for man, under the greatest Dome and in the cleanest Church. Vagabond cyclists we may be, we are not, as some think, ‘beyond the Pale’, for –
‘Neath cloistered boughs each floral bell that swingeth
And tolls its perfume on the passing air,
Makes Sabbath in the fields, and ever ringeth
A call to prayer.’
At the end of the ravine of the Ffrith, Joe suddenly became alive to more earthly matters and attacked some blackberry bushes on which grew the most luscious fruit, just right for Joe. After trying in vain to stop him, we showed him one with a little white, worm-like grub on – quite common on blackberries, but he just flicked it off and ate the berry with the comment “All I can say is that they are sensible grubs!”
At length we got him away, and traversed many gated lanes to Ffrith, then to Cefn-y-Bedd and so to Rossett. To avoid the motorised main road, we entered Eaton Park, riding swiftly through this wooded paradise, past the Hall, and so to Chester, with tea in old Newgate. Tom left us here, bound for his home in Manchester, and we joined our outward route, now for home. The sun was setting in a blaze of glory behind blunt Moel Famau as we headed for Helsby, singing that well-known verse: “This is the end of a perfect day-“. And a perfect day it was too, as one and all acclaimed. We reached home making odes to Joe – one of which is set down here. 145 miles
A Limerick to ‘Blackberry Joe’
There was a young cyclist named Joe,
Never fed-up with blackberries you know:
When he got on the scent,
To those bushes he went –
He’d show ‘em the way they should go!
Now this here young cyclist named Joe,
Inside him the blackberries could stow:
Till you’d reckon at first,
That he’d jolly soon burst,
If he didn’t cease making them flow.
But a marvellous fellow was Joe,
He always knew where they would grow:
And before you got there
He’d have picked the bush bare,
And would be on to another, I trow!
But disaster was coming on Joe,
His breath came laboriously slow,
He’d packed himself tight –
He ‘clocked off’ that night –
And we buried him near where they grow.
So take heed all ye who would go,
To equal the feats of poor Joe,
In the fruit there’s a grub –
If it gets in your tub –
You’ll hand in your checks and join Joe!