Tom and I had arranged an all night run into Wales. After our experience to Meriden in May, we had taken a fancy to ‘all-nighters’, and given a moderate evening, we felt assured of a good run. Anticipation is said to be better than realisation, but in this instance, realisation exceeded our wildest hopes, and we are no mean critics of scenery. All afternoon, torrents of rain fell, and I began to think of a night mud-plugging, but at tea time it eased off, and at 6.20, when I ‘kicked off’, the sun was shining and the sky clear. I crashed through Atherton and over the Leigh setts to Lowton, where a smoother bylane led me to Winwick, and the excellent main road to the sordid streets of Warrington. The famous ‘bottle-neck’ is something of a problem on Saturday night for cyclists, but I got through all right, and soon I was joining Tom at that little canal bridge over the Chester road. He had doffed his sweater, so I did likewise, then he filled my pocket with sultanas from a huge box, and then we sailed away towards Chester at 8pm. We took things easily, walking the hills that pulled. Daresbury and Sutton Weaver fell behind, the broad main street of Frodsham, Helsby, with its jagged landmark a mass of colour, the climb up Dunham Hill, and then the little farmhouse at Mickle Trafford for supper at 8.50. At 9.40, we were on the road again, the last four miles to Chester, and the narrow, ancient streets being traversed in the gathering dark.
Crossing the Dee, we joined that weary six mile stretch to Broughton, increasing our pace to get it over. The great trees of Hawarden park overshadowed the road, which, climbing, brought us out of the saddle. The village was all but asleep when we entered, stopping a moment to view the quaint little lockup, and ascertain the route, then rushing downhill on the Birkenhead road, we came to Queensferry. The town was crowded when we passed through to Connahs Quay, where, feeling the chill of night, we added some clothing, and lit our lamps, for it was already 30 minutes after time!
The tide was out on the Dee, leaving it a broad stretch of sandbanks, between which the water gleamed. The sky was light – a transparent light, the wisps of black clouds forming islands in the sea of vastness incalculable, while over in the west, was a bright streak. Yet it was nearly midnight! Another industrial looking town hove in view, and a black silhouetted ruin proclaimed Flint, a few moments of streets, and the silent road again. Across the river were the low hills of the Wirral, below which some lighthouse periodically flashed its warning across the treacherous sands. There was plenty to see, plenty to think about, and the miles rolled away into oblivion. Bagillt, then Greenfield, and later, as we neared Mostyn, a red glare, and the hissing of steam, betrayed the proximity of some furnaces. Then some funnel would send a shower of sparks, the sky would suddenly light up, a dull explosion, the clanging of metal… we pushed into Mostyn, climbed a wall, and looked across the railway at this hive of industry. Issuing from two immense furnaces, were two steady streams of molten metal, which ran along troughs and plunged into a couple of bogies on the railway line, at times sending our showers of red hot metal. Everything around was intensely bright, and the furnaces gave out of a blow hole in the side, a solid sheet of flame. We sat watching this for about ten minutes, until the nearest was damped down, the metal ceased running and an engine backed to the bogy, coupled it up, and bore it away. We watched the halo of sparks and light, until they disappeared from sight, then jumping down, we made off.
From Ffynnongroyw, we drew inland, and the scenery improved as we neared the hills, coming at length to Gronant, where we missed the road, and wandered on an avenue with a terribly stony surface. It improved a little later, however, and a rabbit got into the ring of light made by Tom’s lamp. For a little way it ran before us, not knowing which way to go, but the light was too weak, and it got away. A little later we joined the main road, and entered Prestatyn. A policeman put us right, and soon we were on a narrow, hilly winding road which took us through Meliden to Rhuddlan. We stayed a moment on the bridge over the river Clwyd, looking into the water, and noting the ivy-clad round towers of the historical castle. The moon had just appeared from behind the hills, but bright though it was, it was robbed of half its glories by the lightness of the night. Now we were feeling just a little bit sleepy, and increased our speed to drive it away, and to get across that dreary, marshy waste, Morfa Rhuddlan. There is some interest in it, however, for in the year 795, a great battle was fought here between the Saxon invaders, and the Cymric populace. It was more of a massacre than a battle, for the Saxons drove the Welshmen into the sea, and over 10,000 of them perished. This gave rise to the plaintive national air; ‘Morfa Rhuddlan’. Over the very ground that we rode, men had fought, and hundreds died. Soon we entered Abergele, where a chara party, unloading noisily, disturbed the peaceful quiet of the night, then we came to a great, medieval-looking gateway, and the walls of Gwrych Castle kept us company.
It is known as Abergele Castle, and though built in the style of Edward I (about 1290), is quite modern. As we climbed we got fine views of the sea immediately below us. Then we dropped slightly to Llandulas, only to climb again until we stopped for lunch opposite the main gateway, a fine, massive, castellated structure. Upon a wall we sat eating bread and butter and fruit. The transparent sky changed near the horizon to a deep hued blue, a light blue – indeed it embodied every shade of blue, ending on the horizon in a black line. The sea reflected the same shades, showing near the shores in light and not-so-light, the shallows, whilst it rippled with only the merest sign of movement. By straining our ears we could just catch the sound of wavelets breaking on the shore, a ‘man’ was stood by the water, and ‘he’ seemed to behave in an uncanny way. First ‘he’ would stoop, then jump up, then run a few feet, turning back again, yet ‘he’ did not seem to leave the same spot. ‘He’ at last turned out to be a stump driven into the earth! When we found this out, we decided that it was a few hours in bed that we needed! On the black line that marked the horizon, a light would flash three times, an interval, and again three times. A little to the right we located another. Our map gave us the West Rhyl Buoy, and the North West Patch Buoy. Repacking our saddlebags, we started again, uphill for three quarters of a mile to Penmaenrhos, where we stopped, and Tom led me through a gateway, from where we had an amazing view of Rhos Bay, Colwyn Bay and Little Orme’s Head, spread below us like a huge map. It was almost 3am by now, and light, but not broad daylight – better than daylight. That glorious sky and equally wonderful sea, the half circle of golden sands, the green hillside with cottages and villas, nestling beneath the lichen-covered outcrop of rock – Old Colwyn.
The hills behind rose a thousand feet, but were more like downs than mountains or moorlands. Right across the bay was the more modern, more orderly, less charming, Colwyn Bay, with its long promenade and railway. Behind the resort, the low cliffs of Little Orme rose from the blue-white waters, the headland making a most effective backing. The whole view was one of wonderful peace, marred in no way by human habitation. A railway engine could be seen crossing the bay by the shore, its long line of carriages looking for all the world like a child’s toy. We found a seat on the rocky outcrop, and enjoyed the view at leisure. At last we tore ourselves away, and rushing downhill, we reached Old Colwyn, then a bumpy ten minutes of tram-car lines brought us to Colwyn Bay. At Rhos-on-Sea, we joined the Conway road. At these fork roads, I had a camping holiday in 1920. Then all around was green fields, but now, only four years later, the whole district including the very field itself, has been transformed into a big garden city, and is threatening old Bryn Euryn itself. Our road ran in a valley from here, and after some searching, we found the cave, which, four years ago (whilst on summer camp with the Bolton Boys Brigade) a party of us had explored at 2.30 in the morning. That first night at camp feeling! We were only an hour later now! A little later the great mass of Penmaenmawr mountain rose before us, with the lesser Conway Mountain below it, then the sandy river Conway. A few moments brought us to the cross roads, and we turned off for Llanrwst. The next 30 miles stand on record as the finest 30 miles I have ever traversed.
Daylight had fully come now, and our sleepiness had worn off. There was far too much to see to be tired out or weary. We had only traversed a few yards when a halt was called to look around. Across the river, the walled town of Conway, with its fine picturesque Edwardian castle stood sentinel, a proud guardian of the coast. To me, it seemed the famous outpost yet, that it was over 600 years old, garrisoned and prepared, always ready, for they were troublous times then, when man never knew enemy from friend. Again the soldiers paced the walls or horsemen in gleaming armour forded the river to demand entrance at the gates, or rough half-savage hillmen made their approach. From here, the first King Edward overawed the turbulent Welsh. Here, Glyndwr hurled his mighty forces fruitlessly against the English. The wars of the Roses penetrated to Conway, for was not the castle held for the Lancastrians against York? Then proud Royalist takes possession, to be hurled off by stalwart Parlimentarian, only to return again. So, through the Pageant of War, the time honoured ruins have passed, to spend their old age in British peace, though today the steps echo with the tramp of many feet, and the crumbling walls and towers resound as of old, for no more shall bloody battle rage around its crowded walls, or kingly tournament hold sway within, or its cells hold chained wretches and breathe tragedy. Could these massive weather-worn towers speak, what stories would they tell! Of war incarnate, savage cruelty, pathos, joy and merriment, yes, every human – and inhuman – emotion have those ruins witnessed. But still, as 600 years ago, as 10,000 years ago, the river runs by the rocky base, and rough mountains overlook it:
‘For man may come, and man may go, But I go on for ever:’-
We remounted and a little farther on halted again, for we must miss nothing. Looking down the valley, across the river, the huge sides of Tal-y-Fan rose almost from the water’s edge in a steep precipitous slope to its rocky 2,000 ft summit. A little southwest, the gleaming precipices of Drum (2,528 ft) caught the first golden rays of sunshine which gave it a wealth of rugged colour. On the lower slopes, the village of Llanbedr-y-cennin seemed to cling tenaciously to its seeming insecure hold. Still farther south were the lesser peaks, behind which was the bulky summit of Wales’ second highest, Carnedd Llywelyn, its 3,484 ft summit half covered by fleecy white clouds which hesitatingly floated about it. The morn was wondrously clear and fine, ideal for long distance views.
We were soon walking, a hill of large proportions having got in the way. The resultant drop, down to Tal-y-Cafn made Tom change to freewheel, whilst I got on a gate to gain the better vantage point, for the views around us were ever changing. The miles that followed to Llanrwst were like a fairyland. The road ran by the clear river, and the views across, and the wooded land and silvery streams around us gave us much to think about. One cannot pass along such roads at any speed, and we were constantly stopping, fearful lest we should miss something. At one point we disturbed a tramp, who was asleep by the roadside, and except for a farmer, we saw no-one else. We could turn sharp bends without fear of accident.
Near Llanrwst, a new scene of wondrous beauty unveiled itself to us. Trefriw lay across the river, with the well wooded Crafnant valley running between Cefn Cyfarwydd, and Clunllom. Behind the broad shoulders of Cefn climbed an abrupt, serrated precipice, coloured red. The grey slopes and white ridges of Cefn, coupled with the green valley, threw the glorious red summit into bold relief against the light-blue sky – the transparent sky – giving an infinite variety of colour that must be witnessed to be appreciated. The sun’s rays had crept down the mountainsides almost to the river by now. Well, we entered Llanrwst, a neat, compact little place, stopping near the town – or village – hall, where a large board bears the names and distances of all the places around, then turning right we crossed the Conway, by an old bridge. This is an ancient structure, having been built in 1636 by Inigo Jones, the then eminent architect, it is rather high-pitched, narrow, and seems rather inconvenient, yet in keeping with the scenery. Before us, at the foot of a majestic rock, stood Gwydir Castle, the 16th century home of the famous Wynne family. Then we joined the road that runs along the other side of the river. The bank on the right of us was ablaze with beautiful flowers, and the road ran through a glorious wood, with the sunlight weaving a leafy pattern on the road. Our right was steep and well wooded – Coed-yr-Allt-Goch – the left was also wooded with the river gleaming through the trees. Then lamp posts came into being, and soon we entered that painters paradise, Bettws-y-Coed.
We stopped on Pont-y-Pair, beneath which, the turbulent Llugwy boils and foams over the jumbled masses of rock that forms its bed. The bridge is old – 15th century, and is very picturesque, its foundations having become as part of the rock itself, and the whole is densely overgrown with lichen and creepers. I well remembered – and so did Tom – the Easter of 1923, when Tom and I first met. The little B & B cottage there, was the place where we first made each others acquaintance. We little dreamt at that time how a casual touring companion could become such a firm friendship that seems to grow greater each week. [This was to be the early beginning of the We.R.7 Cycling Club, all hard-riders to a man, and whose activities constantly crop up in the later narratives – Ed]. Although we have only known each other about 16 months, our runs have thrown us into strange places, and that penchant for more, that wish for ‘a little further afield’, that desire to ‘get off the beaten track’, that way which (I think) possess of turning misfortune into fortune, of laughing at the worst, which we both share in common, has cemented our relationship so firmly, that, I hope, it will never be broken. September of 1922 saw me at Bettws, in the first stages of my becoming a ‘real’ cyclist, and I discovered the cottage B & B, and, finding it to be a good place, I put it in the CTC Handbook. Tom came to this place, having taken it from the Handbook, I, of course, called again, and – well, we met.
We lingered on Pont-y-Pair for a moment, then joining the Holyhead road, Telford’s famous highway, we ran through the village and across the fine looking Waterloo Bridge. On the arch (the bridge is a single span), are the words: ‘This Bridge was built in the same year that the Battle of Waterloo was fought’.
On the other side we stopped by a series of pretty cascades for ‘lunch’, 5.20am. Half an hour later we were on the road again, climbing steadily up Dinas Hill, with beautiful Bettws-y-Coed behind us, and the fair Lledr valley below on our right, through which threaded the Dolwyddelan to Ffestiniog road like a grey ribbon. The river Conway lay in the valley below. Near the summit (vide ‘Shell’ notice), we had a soapless wash in a trough, drying ourselves with handkerchiefs. The climb still continued, despite the notice, and a little higher up we got a fine view of Moel Siabod at the head of the Lledr valley. Its knife-like ridge, and semi-circular precipice, broken in innumerable places by deep cut defiles, stood clearly in the sunlight. We had not proceeded much farther, when, right behind us, clear at first, then frilled by fleecy white clouds, stood the unmistakeable queen of all, Snowdon itself. The clouds, summery and ethereal, coming and going, only served to show its height to greater advantage. After a while we moved slowly – we still climbed – towards Pentrefoelas. Near the latter place we lost the bubbling, happy, splashing company of the young River Conway.
Beyond Pentre, we still climbed, and the surface was not all that could be desired. But we could hardly be critical, for until now we had experienced excellent roads. Then we turned about, and faced an inconceivable view of mighty mountain masses. Although at least 15 miles away in a direct line, the stupendous cliffs and peaks of Snowdonia are as clear as daylight. Its long tentacles including Crib Goch, Yolliwedd, Llechog, and the sheer 1,000 ft precipice of Cwm Clogwyn, spread their jagged arms out in all directions, a tumbled mass of clefts and chasms, a veritable inferno of wild, rugged, gleaming white and grey rock, not only confined to Snowdon itself, but stretching out to the Glyders ‘the roughest mountain in Wales’ and Yr Aran, with Moel Siabod in the near distance. Before us stretched the principal heights of Wales, almost all over the 3,000 ft mark. It was a grand, awe-inspiring sight, unlooked for, and as a surprise, all the more delightful. Even after we had feasted our eyes to the utmost, and continued our journey, we made our necks ache, and wandered all over the deserted road through looking backwards.
As we neared Cerrig-y-Drudion, the mountains behind disappeared from view, and our attention was turned to the road before us, which was hard going. At least 8 of the last 12 miles were uphill, and the other four certainly weren’t down! The road just skirts the village, and immediately changes. The going is more downhill, and the surface – just now – is excellent, but again a sleepiness had crept over us, and we started yawning. A Cuckoo at the roadside seemed to mock us, with its ‘Cuckoo…Silly fools…Cuckoo…Sleepy fools. Cuckoo.. we had to laugh! Towards Maerdy we passed a club sprinting along towards Cerrig, and then we sat down, I for a smoke, Tom to eat some fruit. The way we woke up afterwards was wonderful. We sprinted along through Druid with alacrity. The excellent surface ended suddenly, just when a sign post proclaimed the juncture of Denbigh and Merioneth. We entered Merioneth, and for two miles we were thudded and bumped about unmercifully. On the bridge over the Dee, we halted, and got into conversation with a man who gave us a good place for a pot of tea, for it was now almost 9am. I am afraid we soon forgot his directions! The river Dee towards Bala was very pretty hereabouts, lined with trees that bent their branches into the water.
Remounting, we jogged along, past the Bala turning (memories of two tours), into Corwen, which was all but asleep. After some difficulty we found a place for a pot of tea, for we had plenty of food left. The housekeeper was none too kindly disposed, owing, no doubt, to our small needs. She seemed to think it was a crime being out all night and made us uncomfortable over it to such an extent that she almost pushed us outside when we had finished, not even giving us the chance of a wash! We got away, and stopped a little further on beneath the shade of some trees, where we divested all our superfluous clothing, and packed it up behind, thereby feeling much cooler, and ready for the 80 miles before us. The Dee valley was very beautiful and the road was good. We maintained a steady, even pace, although at times the gradient favoured a dismount. Glyndyfrdwy was passed, and we approached the richly wooded hillsides of the Berwyns. Across the valley, Llantysilio Mountain was more barren, but below, in the Vale itself, there was a riot of colour, through which, describing semi-circles and graceful bends, the gleaming river ran. A great, tree-clad hill got in the way, and for a time it seemed doubtful where the road went, but later we started climbing round, halfway up the slope, with the dense foliage screening us from the sun. At a point where the road swings right in a sharp horseshoe, we dismounted, and entering a field gained a comprehensive view of the valley towards Corwen. The brown mountainside on the left bank, the wooded escarpment on the right, and before us the river and its rich vale made a fine picture.
After some time we remounted our machines, and two swift downhill miles brought us to Llangollen. Turning down the main street, we crossed the Dee by the old bridge, and immediately left the town on the Ruabon road. Now we were in the Vale of Llangollen, in very pretty surroundings, and above us, perched on its conical hill, was the scanty fragment of Castell Dinas Bran. All too soon, we started to climb out of the valley through Trevor, then a slight dip with the Chirk aqueduct on our right, and we rose again through the rather squalid village of Acrefair and then slag heaps and tips appeared. Ruabon, tramcar lines, six ugly miles. And Wrexham. Then clear of the town boundaries things again took a natural aspect. Round a bend in the road at Gresford, we got a fine view of the Cheshire Plains, with the low Peckforton Hills in the nearer distance, and rising from the plain abruptly was wonderful old Beeston, castle crowned. Beyond Gresford we dipped down to Rossett, near where we exchanged greetings with Mr W P Cook, the Anfield veteran. At Pulford we turned right, into the Eaton Hall estate, which is debarred to all motor vehicles, and thus by pleasant, quiet byways towards the Hall. Thus we passed from Wales into Cheshire, but only passed out of one paradise to enter another.
The hot sun blazed upon us, so we sat under the shade of a massive tree for a while. Before continuing, we pulled our jackets off and tied them over the handlebars, travelling for some miles at least in cool, comfortable freedom. The hedgerows in Eaton Park were magnificent, and the Hall itself looked fine. Just beyond, we crossed the Dee again, by a neat looking iron bridge on which we lingered, looking down the beautiful river. A boathouse on the left bank in neat black and white work seems to add to the picturesque aspect. Another two miles through the grounds brought us to Bruera, a picture in old English village life, then Buerton, near where we had a drink of cold water, clear as crystal, from a pump. Crossing the Chester-Whitchurch road at Waverton, plunged into a series of narrow bylanes, intricate, but known to us which led us via Egg Bridge to the Tarporley road at Tarvin. Then we struck Watling Street, and a run of a mile or so brought us to a little cottage for lunch. After a wash and clean up, we commenced to attack such a lunch that only a cyclists’ appetite could conquer. Then a pleasant languid hour, and we sallied forth once more on to the motor stricken highway, walking the long Kelsall hill, then a switchback down through pretty Delamere, Sandiway, and down Castle Hill into Northwich. The awkward, sinking streets were negotiated, and soon we were beyond Lostock Gralam. It was a departure from our normal custom to traverse 30 miles of one main road, but we intended to get home now. The road is good however, and the scenery of a high standard. Tabley, then Mere, and the walk up to Altrincham, then four miles of tram-car lines to Stretford, where, after a few moments we left each other. The ride was now over, theoretically, and at 7.30 I reached Bolton.
What a ride it has been! Although I am accustomed to cycling every weekend, and in all weathers, I have no hesitation in placing this first and foremost, and as a rule it is hard to place one – all are so good. There is no doubt that it was a hard run, we covered 212 miles, of which 115 were in Wales alone, 80 in Cheshire and the rest in Lancashire. Six counties, in order Lancashire, Cheshire, Flint, Denbigh, Carnarvon and Merionith, were visited, and we ran from one county into another no less that ten times. The roads on the whole were not severe, the hardest stretch between Abergele and Cerrig-y-Drudion, and the surfaces were excellent. When I reached home, I felt fit for another fifty miles – but what had we seen! The splendour, glory and beauty of the whole run, will mark itself indelibly on my memory. Once more is shown the wondrous possibilities of a bicycle, and the supreme glories of the Open Road. 212 miles