Post: Like the ride of two days ago, this was another ‘biggy’ with a similar mileage to the three passes day. It is difficult to remember that only six months ago Charlie took delivery of his new bike, after a wait of over five years, and boy, has he had his moneys-worth already. Today we visit one of the highest waterfalls in the British Isles, one Charlie has had on his ‘to do’ list for a few years, so get reading.
Tuesday, September 8 The Glyn Valley
Ever since I had heard of it, I had determined at some opportune time, to visit Pistyll Rhaiadr, the highest single leap waterfall in Wales, lying off the beaten track, just four miles from Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant. I had asked ‘Wayfarer’ of the ‘Cycling’ magazine for the best, but not necessarily the shortest or easiest way, to it from Chirk, and he had sent me, amongst other ‘Over the Top’ routes, the routes via the Glyn Valley to Llantsantffraid – Glyn-Ceiriog, Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog, and over the top via Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant etc. Now I was decided to try it. as the Rhaiadr is about 80 miles away, I proposed a 6.30am start, visit the falls, then go over the Milltir Cerig if daylight permitted, returning from the Vale of Edeyrnion by night – a round of about 190 miles. Joe and his friend promised to come, so arrangements were made, and a route via the Cheshire lanes to Ruabon was fixed. Alas for Pistyll Rhaiadr!
The alarm clock woke me at 5am, but I stopped the infernal racket and got back in bed for a few minutes. The minutes, in some mysterious and uncontrollable way, developed into two hours! I made a hurried breakfast, and was just packing some ‘tommy’ up, when Joe and his pal Bert came. They too had overslept! So all came off as a joke – it only meant two or three more hours riding in darkness, we thought. It got 9am when we started, and then we did pretty bad – we could not get into our stride, besides which ‘Blackberry Joe’ further consolidated his title by stopping to pick the fruit on the road to Great Budworth, and beyond Whitegate on the Beeston bylane. When once Joe gets on the scent, wild horses will not drag him away. We made our way at little more than a potter from High Legh to a pump near Great Budworth, where I made the alarming discovery that my only remaining brake was almost gone – the cable was going strand by strand and was already half broken. In all probability the next time I used it with pressure, it would snap altogether, so I turned my wheel round to the fixed sprocket, deciding not to use the brake except lightly.
Our way lay by the well-used bylanes via Comberbach, Hartford, the Chester road to just above Sandiway, then the lanes again through Whitegate, the brief but exquisite Oulton Park, flowery, sleepy Eaton, and then Tiverton Lane Ends, dropping to Beeston Brook with the ever-inspiring view of the castle and Peckforton before us. Climbing from the Whitchurch road, we came to Beeston Smithy for lunch. Rain had fallen heavily earlier in the day, and in consequence the lanes were in an awful mess, transferring the sticky, brown mud to our machines and shoes. We later discovered that we had been for all the morning travelling between rain clouds, though for us the sun had mostly been shining.
The more I traverse that sunken lane at the foot of the ‘old red hills’, the more I realise the supreme beauty of this part of Cheshire. The wooded slopes, the winding, dirty, rough lane, the slumbering villages and neat ‘black and white’ cottages with their flower-decked gardens hold me entranced with the peaceful nature of everything. There is no harsh note, no motors – nothing to mar the even tranquillity of this part of the English Wonderland. Peckforton, then Bickerton, now downhill swiftly across the Chester-Whitchurch road and Malpas, an old Cheshire market town. As expected, we romped downhill now, for nigh on seven miles through Worthenbury to Bangor-is-y-coed, where we stopped by the old River Dee bridge. We were all in far better form now.
On the subsequent climb to Ruabon, through not so good scenery, the wind harassed us more than a little, and I, for one began to think that the run was not panning out as I had hoped, but the fact that another few miles would bring us to something worthwhile kept me in good spirits. After the squalid Cefn Mawr district was passed, and Newbridge, from which the Dee is seen to fine advantage, and from above which one gets a comprehensive view of the beautiful Vale of Llangollen, we came to the Holyhead road and were soon in Chirk, then in a moment we were swooping joyously downhill past the two Aqueducts, and into ever beautiful Vale of Ceiriog.
Our earlier lethargy – boredom if you want – was forgotten, for six miles we rode in a beautiful Welsh valley, for six miles we trod a fairyland. Woods, green fields, high, swelling hills of green and red and brown and gold locked us in, a chattering river with shady banks and stony bed wandered across and twisted through this valley. The road was good, it had apparently been forgotten by the mechanical world – no, a narrow gauge railway line kept us close company, and once we saw a quaint, fussy engine with some equally ancient carriages and wagons panting along proudly – that was all. As the road is a ‘dead end’ at Llanarmon DC, it is unpopular, and little known, becoming therefore, all the more beautiful for its isolation. I knew now that it was useless – even foolhardy to attempt to reach Pistyll Rhaiadr that night – it was 5.45pm when we reached Glyn Ceiriog after lingering in this valley (no one can rush the Glyn Valley). Pistyll Rhaiadr lay about 18 miles away, and most of the distance would be on rough mountain tracks – very dangerous at night, so with reluctance we gave it up. It needs a weekend – and I shall have it too, if I can help it.
A teas notice attracted us to a cottage garden in Wynne Terrace, so we called. “Come inside”, said the genial lady of the house, “It is a washing day, and I have nothing in except eggs”, – then eggs will do with jam and bread and butter, we agreed. We asked for a wash, then we were given – or offered – brushes and boot polish for our shoes. Bert used them, but my shoes turn at cleaning, and when I brushed the day’s mud from them, another layer was revealed beneath – so I left it at that. Lumps of road from eight or nine counties cling tenaciously to my cycling shoes, and then again, the cyclists superstition that if shoes are cleaned it is a sure sign of rain, asserted itself. Joe has got the same habit too, but Bert, our ‘recruit’ is not learned in these things. I would like to call on Mrs Robert’s when she has something in the house; as it was, the ‘nothing’ developed into two eggs each, a dish full of tomatoes (I have a weakness for tomatoes), lettuce, a huge lump of sweet cake with icing all over it half an inch thick (Bert is keen on that kind of stuff, while neither Joe nor I exactly disdain it! – Jam (Oh Joe, it was blackberry) and beautiful bread and butter and, of course tea. We were immensely hungry, but Mrs Robert’s, who kept bringing fresh supplies, stowed us. Our meal cost 1/6d each – jolly decent considering the thoughtfulness of Mrs Robert’s who made us feel quite at home.
I have sent the place in as a recommended house for inclusion in the CTC Handbook, and also Beeston Smithy. It was 7.15pm when we walked through Glyn Ceiriog on the Llangollen route. This road is the one we traversed on March 15, and to all who get the chance, I say, take it. Quaintly expressed by the Welsh girl that day as a ‘Mile up, mile straight, mile down’, it approaches the category of a track – is steeper than some, un-motorable, and perfectly glorious for views. Past the church we stopped and sat down on a fence to admire the view that was laid out below us – not very extensive, just the valley and its enclosing hills.
Have you ever lingered in a lane or wood or on a brown hillside on a summer night, when the sun has gone, the sky is of a perfect hue, the hush of evening has fallen, even the birds are silent and all the world is at peace? Add to that the inimitable charm of a Welsh Valley, and you will get a slight idea of what the Glyn Valley seemed to us on that night. And on the summit from Rhyd-y-Groes (the cross roads), the same peace and calm was evident. Had we been able to ride down to Llangollen, I thing we should have preferred to walk, for in the gathering twilight, the Vale and the hillsides were superbly beautiful. Across, the scattered ruin on Dinas Bran seemed like sharp fangs on the hill top, Creigiau Eglwyseg was a broad white line round the hillside, the brown moors left of the Bwlch Rhiwfelin depression were turning black, and Moel-y-Geraint cast a shadow over Llangollen. The descent was more of a slide down than a walk, the rock outcropping on the stony bed that is called a road. Nearer the town, careful riding was possible, and we halted to look at the neat timber-work of Plas Newydd. Then Llangollen was reached. I got some lamp oil, Bert some Judges Little Pictures, then we met on the Dee Bridge and discussed our route for the homeward run. It was 8.30pm, and quite dark in the town. Bert wanted to go home by Ruabon, Joe and I rebelled and cast our votes for the Horseshoe Pass, and we won. It would be an experience over the mountains at night – especially for me with a brake on the last strand and only my pedals to rely upon, but that did not deter me in the least, for there were no particularly severe patches on the route.
We started, singing songs and stanzas to the glories of night riding, kind of imbibing the night air and oozing enthusiasm. Already darkness had fallen and the roadside dwellings and hillside farms were lit up. Still we rode lightless, over the canal and onto the heathery, rocky hillside, past the darksome ruins of the Abbey of the Valley of the Cross. At the Britannia Inn, we lit up, then our road lay beneath a thick, heavy canopy of leaves – beautiful woods even in the dark. A ‘pit-a-pat’ on the leaves, then a heavy, sudden pattering told us rain, so we put our capes on, and left the shelter of the woods, emerging on the open moors. Fickle climate!
The rain came down in torrents, the gradient soon got too much for us, so we walked, turning onto the Horseshoe. Down in the valley were the lights of Pentre Dwr, twinkling lights here and there betrayed lonely farmhouses, someone on the opposite side was wandering about with a bright storm lantern; the difference between hill and sky was black and black – nil, everything was mystical, unreal, even with very real rain coming down. A long tramp then the ‘turn back’ at Oernant and we simply swept up the hill to the summit. 1,351 ft above the sea, the lights of Llangollen deep down in the valley twinkling in the distance, before us, around us, blackness, pricked here and there by a solitary glimmer.
The rain ceased as suddenly as it came, we packed away our capes, then crept carefully down the open hillside guided by the feeble rays from our oil lamps, tiny, infinitesimal things in this great black world. Slowly we dropped – I was only holding back by the pedals, I dare not use the brake, where the wind sighed through a belt of trees, where water tinkled musically, where a blacker shadow would rise by our side, until an upward pull, then down and up again, and the lights of the Crown Hotel at Llandegla stayed us.
In front was darkness except for an upper window which glimmering panes guided us to the Inn. It was 10pm. Would they make us a pot of tea? We knocked, and after a while a voice came from behind the door “Who’s there?’ Joe gave our request, then came a pause, and “I’m sorry, they’ve all gone to bed and the fires out”. Oh, worn, ancient tale – we’d seen the lights at the rear, from one room came the flicker from a fire! “Oh alright, sorry to trouble” we answered. Perhaps they were afraid of robbers – it is a common fear in these quiet parts, for it was so unlike the people at the Crown to refuse cyclists. We did not blame them, however, for it is a queer request at 10pm. We got a drink of water at a cottage higher up, then started once more on that rough and tumble road to Chester, 18 miles away.
Rain, a road that was terribly mutilated, a falling gradient and the encumbrance of capes, feeble oil lamps and intense darkness – it sounds undesirable, but to us three mudlarks it was thoroughly enjoyable. At Tryddyn the rain ceased and away went the capes. In the deep wooded glen before Pen-y-ffordd we ate our lunch and for drink had an unlimited supply of clear cold water, using a bell dome as a drinking cup. What more could we wish for? I had put a couple of eggs in boiling water before I started , but forgot them for nearly 20 minutes. It was “lend me your jack-knife, Joe!” when I came to eat them. Then the rain came down again, and Joe had a puncture. Messy job fiddling with tyres on a dark wet night! We reached Chester at 1am, beneath a starry sky, seeing the city as a dead, forgotten town, quaintly glamorous.
Chester road, and the miles sliding by as we blinded along for all we were worth. At Helsby the rain reasserted itself and swept down with grim determination to wash us off the map. Surely the solitary policeman in Frodsham thought us mad to see us singing and joking and laughing as our shoes became filled and the water found its way ‘in’ via the back of our necks? Perhaps he smiled and said ‘Cyclists!’ But when we reached Warrington, we saw a change coming over. The novelty, the glamour, was wearing off, Bert was yawning, I did not feel like singing, noisy Joe had gone quiet. Another 18 miles, during which my eyes constantly tried to close, and during which Joe and I had a startling experience, then we reached home, tired out, but happy in the memory of a ride worthwhile, at 5am. 148 miles