Three Welsh Nocturnals Part Three

Here is the ride of April 24-25, 1926.

During the last run, Tom and I had tried to get the Seveners to support a proposed all-nighter, said ride to be somewhere about Betws-y-coed, but a strange apathy seized them, and vague references to certain unavoidable appointments were made.  Notwithstanding this, we were determined on the ride, which we said would be a ‘strainer’ for Meriden, three weeks hence.  Our meeting place was Mrs Littler’s, Frodsham at 7pm for supper.  The intervening 26 miles were covered in the leisured style demanded for such occasions, the two of us reaching Frodsham at the appointed time.  Joe was there, too, not to join us, but gaze upon the alleged beauty of one Maid Marion, to whom he hopes to press his suit.  Joe’s flirtations are many and always terminate suspiciously abruptly.

It had gone 8pm when Tom and I left Joe making eyes and sped along the darkening Chester road.  Efforts to obtain bitter chocolate, an excellent stimulus, failed everywhere, so that we had to make a dash to the City of Legions before closing time.  We managed it.  Then, not really knowing where we were going, we crossed the Dee bridge and turned our wheels towards Holywell.  Saltney and its dismal flats were put behind, and in growing moonlight we passed through quiet Hawarden and by moonlit meadows and parklands steadily forged our way to Northop, and at length fled down to Holywell.  After that we struck a barren stretch, up and down with a long line of telegraph poles always in front, but even the worst has an end, and that was reached when a glaring disc announced that we were about to descend a ‘Shell Famous Hill’.  We stopped for a snack before descending, for a cold-looking mist overhung the lowlands.  A cyclist went blinding past, fled out of night, then we heard a curious crack, and a minute later he came back to us with a broken chain.  He had no brake; how on earth he managed to stop I don’t know, but by his bombastic talk we soon formed opinions of him – as a cyclist at any rate.  As he only lived a few hundred yards away we didn’t need to help him.

From the foot of the ‘Shell’ hill we had a short run through agricultural country to the tiny city of St Asaph.  With hardly a pause we were out and in the country again.  At half past midnight, half light and warm, and I was wide awake, a surprise to me for I anticipated a bad night – I had been working all morning.  Soon the country became level, again, almost monotonous, and we reached the site of a great camp.  Eight years ago the countryside here was teeming with khaki-clad figures; there on the left was a town, a wooden town that housed them.  I had the privilege of visiting this huge camp ten years ago, though, as I was only 12 years of age, the only things I can remember clearly are rows and rows, endless rows of identical wooden huts, wooden post offices, wooden libraries, wooden canteens, even wooden roadways, a continual mud bath (I had to clean my shoes in those days) and the constantly recurring khaki of the inhabitants.  Before the end of the long rough fields and tottering remains of the timber houses was reached, the slender spire of Bodelwyddan marble church emerged from the half-light of the evening, and as we drew nearer to it, the great contrast it provided to the depopulated ramshackles there on the left that 8 years ago housed men, struck me forcibly.

In the neat little churchyard, looking out towards the remnants of the camp are rows of little wooden crosses, the burial places of Dominion soldiers who fell victim to the influenza epidemic which, in 1917 swept through the camp like a plague and carried off so many men.  How many more, trained at the camp, went out, and now lie on foreign soil ?  The war to end war, the hope of those who fought – and died……. what would they think now ?  Now on the very eve of the greatest struggle in industrial history, when their comrades are about to fight again – for the right to live in decency.  Despite all the pious resolutions, despite all the promises, despite all the hopes, we are heading for another great catastrophe.  And the verse:


“If ye break faith with us who died,

We shall not sleep, tho’ poppies grow

In Flanders fields…..”

is proving to be nothing more than one more hollow sham.  What would the dead army of Britain say to their comrades who fought and lived – to fight to live ?  “Fight on !”  Such thoughts are bound to come to the man who thinks, when he passes such a symbol of ugly war as Kinmel Camp, and comes upon the pure white symbol of peace, as represented by the Marble Church of Bodelwyddan, at a time when the rest of the world sleeps.

A perfect road, though level and dismal enough carried us over the marshlands of Morfa Rhuddlan to Abergele, where we had decided to try the road to Llanrwst, which neither of us knew.  Tom went in front while I adjusted my lamp, and before I followed I was treated to a series of double-bass snores, extremely loud and trumpety, issuing from one of the upper windows in the quiet street.  I’ll never forget Abergele at 1.15am if only for that !  After a level run in park-like country, the road got on its hind legs, and we had to shank it for a mile or so, into an upland plain, which we crossed on a switchback road and found ourselves running down into a valley flanked by hills not very high, but continuous enough to give us the idea that the only outlet would be ‘over the top’.  We felt the old glamour returning of cycling on unknown roads in unknown country, the glamour that so marks the first tour and is never quite regained.  We wondered what lay round the next bend – over the hill, where this lane or that lane led to; in our pockets was the complete answer embodied in a map, but just then we wanted no map; we would find out for ourselves and keep ourselves on the tip-toe of expectation.  Down the side of a wooded hill we sped, in and out, round and round, through a veritable pass until we found ourselves beside the stony Elwy, where a stone-built village lies across a stone bridge.  I hear that Llanfair Talhaiarn is an interesting little place, but 2am in the morning is no time to scrounge in and out of a narrow-streeted village, is it ?  The road was good and level, winding below the hillside, so, having been imbibed all night with a very energetic feeling, we ‘slipped it’, coming at length to Llangernyw, which village was kind enough to supply us with water on tap and stone steps to recline on whilst we ate our ration.

To judge by the row we made one way and another its perhaps all to the good that we went when we did.  Then, as we were peacefully blinding along, the very devil loomed up from a field on the right, a big black body with waving arms and clawlike hands stretched out in silhouette as if to grab us.  Our hearts leapt in terror.  A second timorous glance revealed a dead tree – our flickering eyes supplied the rest !  A gradual climb now came which got us down more than once, but surely enough the country on each side was opening out, until we reached the summit from whence we got a peculiarly fine view of ranges of misty peaks across the deep gap into which we started to descend, and which resolved itself into the Conway Valley.

As we pounced downhill the misty peaks dropped behind the lower heights on the western side of the valley which, in the dim light, made a glorious picture.  Rather recklessly we plunged into Llanrwst, promptly getting mixed up and playing ring-o’-roses round what does for the village hall.  After a glance at Inigo Jones’ bridge, we blinded along the Llanrwst side of the river to Betws-y-coed where, at the Waterloo Bridge, a powerful electric light robed the woods, the river Conway, and a pretty little cascade in golden glamour.  Childs play was made of the drag up to the Swallow Falls, where, by the hotel, we discovered another tap over a tub of clear water, whilst behind the wall was a bath should we want it.  We didn’t !  Here also was a natural lamp-bracket, just in the right place, a towel rock (natural) and a natural mirror (water).  We had soap and a towel with us and the proverbial half-comb with most of the railings missing, so, in plain lingo, we were ‘quids in’.  We had a jolly good tub, then, fit to enter a palace, we shinned over the turnstile and went down to take the customary peep at Swallow Falls.

Riding again, we soon came in sight of Moel Siabod, in my eyes like an old friend greeting us once more.  Some call this a dull mountain on the Capel Curig side, but I love Moel Siabod, and would hail it as I would our old friends Snowdon, Trifan, Arenig and Cader Idris.  As a matter of fact all these grey old mountains of the Wonderland of Wales are old friends to me.  Very soon, we stood at the familiar fork-roads at Capel Curig; the time was 4.30am.

Should we make for Beddgelert or Bangor, was the problem, but we favoured Beddgelert, as providing the better homeward route.  So we passed the twin Llyn Mymbyr which gave a perfect reflection of the mountain sides, and headed up the wild Gwryd Valley, with the first streaks of dawn crossing the eastern sky and the dusky outline of Snowdon away in front.  Pen-y-Gwryd was an impressive spot when we got there at 5am.  Above us towered the graceful form of Eryre, partly snow-clad, above a semi-circle of great, silent cliffs; above the long, broken screes; above the chaos of earth and rock that supports it.  A tousled, sleepy head peered down at us from a hotel window, and Tom, just to let him know we had seen him, shouted a cheery good morning, to which came a sleepy answer and the head withdrew.  Simultaneously I started to munch an iron ration in the shape of a crust as we started towards Beddgelert.  Iron ration is the right phrase for it, for I had a great tussle with that crust.

They say a crust is a good thing to eat whilst cycling, and I heard of chaps who put up long rides on a crust, but all I can say is that they don’t know what a good feed is !  A taste of real Wales again fell to us on that long descent to Beddgelert.  The soft light of early morning between dawn and sunrise put a wonderful freshness into the greenery of Gwynant and toned the great cliffs and boulder slopes of Snowdon down to something above mere grandeur.  Ever and anon we would stop that we might take in the views more fully, pay fuller homage to the Queen Peak and this loveliest of Welsh valleys.  Llyn Gwynant formed a most perfect mirror, reproducing topsy-turvy, in minute detail, every overhanging rock, every branch and leaf, every blade of grass – in colour.  The scenery was a continually moving panorama of mountain views and woodland and water scenes, holding us spellbound at every turn, making us gasp in sheer delight at being there at such an hour.  Everything was familiar to us, for we oft had passed along this Valley of Waters, but everything was new…. old but new.  Llyn-y-Dinas was another great mirror, lapping the roadway, and doubling the lakesides perfectly.

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We entered glorious little Beddgelert, stopping there on the bridge for a moment before pushing on into the Pass of Aberglaslyn – and Pont Aberglaslyn.  Aberglaslyn at 6am, just before the sun tinged the mountain tops with his golden light, just when the life of the woods was stirring and singing the joys of the new day accompanied by the musical chatter of the river.  That was Aberglaslyn at its best.  I fancy the first effects of our hard-riding was becoming felt just then, for Tom swore he saw a man hewing trees down by the dozen with amazing energy – and when I was shown, I saw the same thing.  Of course, it was a fantasy aided by vapour rising from the ground.  I saw the trees shaking and the cliffs bobbing up and down, and wondered at it all in a dull uncomprehending way until Tom, in a distant voice, said that we had best get along.  Then as I started to ride, my sleepiness dropped off like a cloak.  Riding along the edge of the Glaslyn marsh, we beheld many natural glories, and from the War Memorial at Garreg the most magnificent view of Snowdonia I have ever seen was laid before us.  The great peaks, from sea level, looked higher than ever, and the great ridges culminating in the central peak were touched with silvery bars of snow, whilst on the right of us stood the splendid peaks of Cricht, and rugged Moelwyn Mawr, just below which the route we had decided to take, lay.

Once again the superb attraction of Ffestiniog proved too strong for us.  On that steep, narrow pass from Garreg to Tan-y-Bwlch, I started to feel the ride again, and ere the tiny hamlet of Rhyd was reached I yearned for a mattress and a pillows.  Superb mountain views rewarded us, and from Rhyd, where a gap occurs in the hills on the right, we saw the coastline from Penrhyndeudraeth southward with the profile of Harlech and its sheer rock standing out.  Again luck was with us, for we found a little waterfall and a bucket.  Another wash, and another temporary relief from sleepiness.  Passing through stony, tiny Bwlch-y-Maen, (which means Pass of the Stone), we got a beautiful view down into the Vale of Ffestiniog, then descended to Llyn Mair.  If anyone asked which was the most gorgeously pretty lake, irrespective of size in Wales, I think I should answer Llyn Mair.  I cannot recall a more charming picture than that which Llyn Mair presented that morning with its amazingly clear reflections.  The descent through woods to Tan-y-Bwlch was as in a fairy-land; Spring was at her best, and in the Vale of Maentwrog the freshness of everything green struck me – that is, everything except myself.  On the climb to Ffestiniog I went to pieces, and fairly shouted with relief when Tom punctured.  I dragged myself into Ffestiniog to order breakfast, but had to knock Mrs Jones up; Tom arrived just as I sank into the armchair.  It was 8am and a rapid calculation showed that since 5pm last night we had placed 130 miles of road behind us.

I made a poor show at breakfast, and even when Jennie, pretty and sly as ever, came down, I paid little heed – so I must have been in a bad way !  In a sleepy way I became aware that my leg was being pulled, but I was past caring about it; I’ll get my own back next time.  After I had managed to drag my bones into the parlour, Jennie gave us a selection or two on the organ, and what with one thing and another it got 11am before we made a move to go.  There was well over a hundred miles to go, and a strong headwind to face, so we had something before us.  We started after the usual lingering farewell at the usual brave pace uphill and got off round the corner – as usual.  The long climb, half walking, knocked the sleepiness away from me, and I began to sit up and take notice.  It was a beautiful morning, clear and breezy, and the dear old line of peaks stood clear and sharp above the winding Vale of Meantwrog which stretched out green below us to the coast.  Rhaiadr Cwms steady road greeted us as we neared Pont-ar-afon-Garn, and to renew acquaintances we peered over the stone wall at the cliffs and the ‘Cataract in the Hollow’.

From Pont-ar-afon-Garn the going was easier, but we struck the ‘newly repaired’ portion, and for four miles spent a lively time alternating between sharp stones and deep ruts.  Especially after we had topped the breezy summit and seen the bulky form of Arenig grow larger in front and the Ffestiniog mountains drop behind the summit ridge, we experienced the vilest stretch of road in Wales – and that is saying a lot.  From Rhyd-y-Fen we left the worst behind finding it positively smooth going over the rocky outcrop in comparison.   From Capel Celyn we romped down to Fron Goch and Bala from where the Corwen road bore us on its glossy hide uphill to Bethel.  I ‘conked’ again on that grind uphill, and the eleven miles to Corwen were more like a hundred and eleven.  Near here, on the Holyhead road, Tom went on to Llangollen to order lunch while I had a rest and a snack, improving afterwards.  The Dee valley is very beautiful, but when the road is one long string of motorists, it loses much of its attraction, so I hailed Llangollen, and, incidentally ‘Bronant’ with delight at 3pm.  During lunch and the usual ‘chatting up’ after, I was nodding, and would surely have gone to sleep if I had been left to my own devices.  As it was it got to 4.30pm before we got away.

It was very hard against the wind, but by pacing each other we got along fairly well; moreover I felt myself gradually improving.  The setts of Wrexham are enough, however, to rouse anybody.  We parted at Chester, Tom taking the Northwich road and I the Warrington road.  Now I was in better form, having gained the proverbial second wind and did good time to Frodsham where I stopped for tea at 7.45pm.  I could not help but reflect on the things that had passed since we were here 24 hours ago and the huge circle we had undertaken.  At 8.30 I was back on the road, in my old form, still against the wind, and on familiar roads reached home at 10.30pm.

In September 1922, I had a three day tour of 230 miles, and the following Easter, a four day tour of 290 miles.  On this all-night ride of 29 hours (which includes at least seven hours in cafes at Ffestiniog, Llangollen and Frodsham), we covered about 245 miles, 155 of which were in Wales.  But more than mere mileage was the inference one can draw from this ride.  No doubt I was in a bad condition, owing to the lack of sleep, but that could be minimised by better preparation or a morning free.  It has opened the door to greater things.  We have proved the possibility of reaching Snowdonia and returning in a night and a day, we have visited Beddgelert and Ffestiniog, hitherto undreamed of – so why not farther ?  Why not the peak of Snowdon itself, why not the circuit of Snowdon, why not the fascinating regions of Dyfy and Dyssinni, nay, even the Aberystwyth country is not beyond our reach !

So has gone down three of our Welsh nocturnals; the rest I will describe in some further article, for a continuous description of the similar kind of ride is apt to get monotonous, especially from a pen like mine !                                                      December 1926

Three Welsh Nocturnals Part Two

Our next all-nighter was a different kind, a ‘night after the day’ ride, and our experience was directly opposite to the midsummer ride above stated.  It was in the September holiday of 1925, and here it is:

It was one of those occasions when everything seemed to go awry.  In the first place, Joe, his friend Bert and I decided to meet at 6.30am, and visit that obscure but magnificent waterfall, Pistyll Rhaiadr, returning home through the night.  Strangely enough, all of us overslept, and when we did meet, it was 9am instead of 6.30 !  It had rained all the night, so in consequence the lane route we had chosen was in a messy condition, whilst we were in poor form, and heckled by a headwind.  We had barely covered the first 24 miles when I was left brakeless through the cable of the front calliper snapping; the rear one had broken on Sunday.  I had ‘fixed’ on, however.  We traversed the ‘same old road’ to Beeston, a road that demands a eulogy to itself, but progress, slow as it was, was often brought to a standstill by Joe’s almost fanatical attachment to blackberry bushes; that voluptuous attachment, two days earlier, having earned for him the title of ‘Blackberry Joe’, and immortalised him in certain stanza’s and poems by the Bard of the We are Seven cycling club.

After lunch at Beeston, it was perhaps natural that our form should improve, owing to the downward tendency of the road, so that in good time we found ourselves at Bangor Iscoed, but an upward tendency following convinced us that our return to form was only temporary, and the wind blew as hard as ever.  Ruabon was followed by the hideous road through Cefn, the rather pretty ‘bit’ over the Dee at Newbridge, and the dismal Holyhead road to Chirk.  Then with a sharp descent, one finds oneself on the bed of the Vale of Ceiriog.  So, for six miles we wormed our way beneath autumn-clad hills, beside the rapid-flowing Ceiriog to Glyn, where we decided to adjourn for tea.  We found a place where the fare was just our heart’s desire, and where the people were a direct contravention of the bigoted English idea of Welsh folks.  Pistyll Rhaiadar lay 16 miles away, over country that was unfit for night riding, and on roads that made riding brakeless suicidal, so we threw the idea overboard, tackling the fierce 3 miles of Allt-y-Bady instead.

By the time we reached the summit, Joe and Bert had given All-y-Bady a selection of euphonious titles, and incidentally had re-christened me at the same time.  But we lingered long over the view down towards Llanarmon for it was one of those nights when the hush of twilight casts a glamour over the hills and valleys, and robes the distance with its mystical purple curtain.  On the Llangollen side the same superb beauty was evident, the beauty of summer twilight over an inimitable Welsh valley.

Already Llangollen was lamplit when we reached the town, so pausing only for oil, we made our way into the mountains again.  We were now in form, and started singing appropriate songs to the glory of night, speedily making our way by the heathery hillsides past the Abbey of the Valley of the Cross.  At the Britannia Inn we lit up, then our road lay beneath a heavy carpet of leaves, beautiful even in the dark.  A pit-a-pat on the leafy roof, then a sudden pattering told us rain, so we put on our capes, leaving the shelter and emerging on the open moors.  Fickle climate !  The rain came down in torrents; the gradient got too much for us on the horseshoe.  Right down in the valley were the lights of Pentre Dwr, twinkling points of light betrayed the hillside farms here and there, and someone on the opposite slope was wandering about with a storm lantern.  So black was the night that we could barely distinguish the difference between mountain and sky.  At the Oernant corner, we mounted and flew up the opposite side to the summit, 1,351 feet above the sea.  Away down the deep cwm the lights of Llangollen twinkled, and before us – around us, blackness pricked here and there by a solitary glimmer.

The rain ceased as suddenly as it came, and free from capes, we crept slowly down Bwlch Rhiwfelin, guided by the feeble rays from our oil lamps.  From the open moors, holding back only by pedal pressure, we dropped 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 dark bulk of the Crown at Llandegla, at the back of which glimmered from the window, a fire.  At the front the glimmering panes of a lamp-lit room guided us to the Inn.  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 a pause ensued, and the voice replied: “I’m sorry, they’ve all gone to bed and the fires out”.  Oh, worn, ancient tale – had we not seen the flicker ?  “All right, sorry to trouble”, we answered.  Perhaps they were afraid of robbers, it is a common fear in these lonely places, for it is unlike mine host of Ypento to refuse cyclists.

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We did not blame them however, for it is a queer request at 10pm.  We got a drink at a cottage up the road, then started on the rough and tumble Treuddyn road.  Rain again, a road that was fearfully mutilated, a falling gradient, and the encumbrance of capes, feeble oil lamps and intense darkness; it sounds undesirable enough, but to we three mudlarks it was thoroughly enjoyable.  At Treuddyn away went the capes.  In the deep wooded glen before Pen-y-Ffordd we ate our supper, and for drink had unlimited supplies of clear, cold water, using bell-domes as drinking cups.  What more can one wish for ?  I had boiled a couple of eggs at the start, and now we had to use a jack knife and stone to open them !  After that the rain soused us again and Joe had a puncture – a messy job on a dark wet night.  We reached Chester at 1am with a starry sky above, seeing the city as a dead forgotten place, quaint and glamorous.

Warrington road, and the miles sliding back as we blinded for all we were worth.  At Helsby the rain re-asserted itself and swept down with grim determination to wash us off the map.  Surely the solitary policeman in Frodsham thought us mad to hear us singing and laughing and joking as our shoes became filled and the water found its way ‘in’ via the back of our necks !  Perhaps he smiled and tapping his head, said “Cyclists!”  When Warrington was reached a change came over us.  The novelty was wearing off, for we were on familiar roads; Bert was yawning; Joe was no longer noisy and I felt a bit jaded.  Another 18 miles during which match-stalks were in big demand as eye-props, and Joe and I had a startling experience each, and home was reached, tired out, but happy in the memory of 148 miles that, despite things being ‘all against’, were well worth-while.

If anyone two years ago had said that Snowdonia and Aberglaslyn was accessible in a night ride, we should have disbelieved – derided him.  To us, that rare district was only within reach on a tour, and to many, it still is a long journey of two days away.  Yet in April this year, Tom and I thrust deep into the heart of it, and really amazed ourselves at the ease which we did it, convincing ourselves that there is practically no limit to the scope of the hard-riding cyclist on a modern mount.

Three Welsh Nocturnals Part One

Some Welsh Nocturnals001 Unlike many pastimes, it is not only possible to cycle in the dark hours, but indeed, the night time forms a popular and attractive phase to the energies of the true devotee of the wheel.  It is admitted there are drawbacks to all-night riding, but there are also advantages, overwhelming advantages, and then, after all, what is the use of a game that possesses no drawbacks ?  The difficulties encountered are made to be overcome, and so, in overcoming them, we find a fierce joy.  So here I set about trying to tell of my own experience of all-night riding, and the disadvantages and advantages, and the lesson of one on the aspect of the next.  I call them Welsh nocturnals, for it is in Wales that our all-nighters have been most successful.  As a matter of fact, apart from two early ones in Cheshire, and two on the road to Meriden, my other earlier all-nighters have been merely fiasco’s as compared with the later ones.

It will be recognised that a successful nocturnal is a study in itself, and each ride serves to show just what is lacking, whilst the conditions, varying from those of the day, demand some special consideration.  The big question, of course, is the right food to carry, a point that, varying according to the special tastes of the individual, would be best settled in detail by the individual, though a general rule might be followed with success.  For my part, I take plenty of fruit, fruit containing juice being preferred on account of the difficulty of obtaining drink – warm drink, I mean.  The golden rule is to eat little and often, but not to stop by the wayside for a long spell to feed, or the cold night soon chills you, and sleepiness that is hard to shake off, often creeps over you.  I do not ‘blind’, but take things evenly all along, and – here is a tip that stands good on other occasions, walk the hills that pull, especially for the first 60 miles or so.  Clothing is another matter, though I have ridden through the night with the lightest of summer touring clothes and not felt unduly cold.  I think that for summertime, a silken or woolly scarf and a pair of gloves are ample – with the addition of a cap if one is inclined to feel a chill from the head.  Personally, I would not be found dead with a cap on.  It is a matter of course that the bike and lamp should be in a fit condition.  There is one very important thing about night-riding which I soon discovered.  In country like Cheshire and the Midlands and – in fact any type of fairly even country, an all-nighter is apt to pall, so I would strongly advise cyclists to choose a mountain land; the Lakes, the Yorkshire or Derbyshire hill-country, or Wales, are the best.  The more mountainous, the better.

In following the above code, and being in a fit condition, I attribute the following mileages and rides – nocturnals of course, during 1926 alone.

April 24-25    The Vale of Gwynant                   245 miles

May 29         Llanberis and back                      110 miles

June 26-27   Pistyll Rhaiadr and Milltir Cerig     180 miles

July 8-9        From Somerset to North Wales    238 miles

Sept 24-25    Ffestiniog                                    210 miles

It is of these, and an outstanding ride or two at other times that I am writing…..  just to show the disadvantages and advantages.

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It was Midsummer Day, June 21 1924.  Tom and I had arranged an all-night ride ‘somewhere in Wales’, meet on the Chester Road at a point 2 miles wide of Warrington.  All day it rained heavily, and the general outlook at teatime convinced me that we were ‘for it’, but miraculously it cleared up just as I was starting, and before I reached the town of Many Smells (Warrington) this Midsummer Night was all that its name implies, and a hot sun caused me to cast off superfluous clothing.

Tom was waiting at the rendezvous, and soon we were pottering along Chester Road.  The oft-maligned Warrington-Chester road was really gorgeous that evening, with the gardens all aflame and the villages peaceful and quaint.  Helsby Point was a mass of colour, and on the road beyond, the rich pasturage and great shady trees painted rural Cheshire to perfection.  Before 9pm we were having supper in a quiet farm-house, 34 miles from home, and by 10pm we had passed the City of Legions, and were rolling along the long Dee flats to Hawarden.  It was all but dark when we passed by ‘Harden’ Castle to the village, where we stopped to look at the quaint old village lock-up, now long passed out of service, but retained as a curio.  A byroad rushed us down to the Dee at Queensferry, then the estuary road to Connah’s Quay and beyond, with the road filled with the usual Saturday night crowds.  Night had come; our lamps were lit; all along the right hand side were the sandy reaches of the Dee, and between the banks the water gleamed in thin long streaks.  The sky was light – a transparent light, the wisps of black cloud forming islets in a sea of vastness illimitable.  And it was nearly midnight !  Another industrial town hove in view; coast-wards a black ruin in silhouette proclaimed this as Flint, then once more the road and the hush of night.  It was a long, level road this estuary road, with the gigantic monoliths of Industry ever and anon looming ahead, it was a road that no tourist would wish to traverse in daylight – but in darkness a road that held some romance, some glamour.

Once a red glare shot out skywards, and the hissing of steam and clanging of metal betrayed the proximity of the god, Iron.  We sat astride a wall, looking across a maze of railway lines at two great blast furnaces, from one of which ran a stream of liquid fire.  I work in a foundry, I handle this molten metal, but think nothing of it, yet when I watched that fascinating liquid run down the spout and in a white-hot fall, drop into the bogey in a halo of sparks, and watched the men toiling, filling this capacious monster that the liquid might be kept running, hurrying here and there regardless of the flying pellets each white hot that fell like hail about, the romance of these Workers in Iron was borne upon me.  From the ceaseless, seemingly meaningless clanging and grating, hurrying, sweating, toiling, which was illuminated by the blinding liquid iron comes the production of half the industry of Britain.    Would that it were better arranged for those stalwart Workers in Iron !  In fascination we watched the burning stream cease, an engine couple the bogey up, and bear it away, a great cup of light, until distance robbed us of further sight.

From Ffynnongroew we drew inland and the scenery assumed a more pastural character.  At Gronant we got lost, and after wandering along an obviously new, unfinished road, came to Prestatyn where we solicited the aid of a lonely policeman, and were put right again.  A narrow hilly road took us through Meliden to Rhuddlan, where on the bridge over the Clwyd we stopped to look at the ivy-clad round towers of the historical castle just above the river bank.  The moon came from behind the humpy guardians of the Vale of Clwyd, but bright though it was, it was robbed of half its glory by the lightness of the night.  It is a long drag for four miles over that perfectly level waste, Morfa Rhuddlan, with nothing to stimulate interest except the historical books that tell us here was fought, in the year 796, between the Saxon invaders and the Cymric people a great ‘battle’  The Saxons drove the Welshmen into the sea, and over 10,000 of them perished.  This gave rise to that plaintive national air, ‘Morfa Rhuddlan’.  Abergele ended the marsh for us, and the quietness too for that matter, for a belated charabanc party was just unloading.  From Abergele, the left hand side is overshadowed by the great, medieval-looking walls of Gwrych Castle.  The style of the massive gateways is 13th century, but the building is quite modern.

We had lunch under the shadow of one such gateway just beyond Llandulas, with a view of the sea, white and blue, a perfect replica of the sky.  Far away beyond our horizon we saw the periodical lights of distant buoys, sending their danger signals out to approaching vessels.  A ‘man’ was stood by the water, and ‘he’ seemed to behave in an uncanny fashion, stooping, jumping, running backwards and forwards, yet never leaving the same spot !  We both saw ‘him’.  After rubbing the sleepiness out of our eyes, we found ‘he’ was a stump driven into the ground !  That is one of the hallucinations the cyclist who rides all night is liable to.

Daylight was coming, slowly, and almost without our knowledge, though we turned our lights out, after they had burned for 3 and a half hours.  An uphill ride took us to Penmaenrhos, where Tom led me through a gateway, from where we had an amazingly beautiful view of Colwyn Bay and Little Orme.  There was that transparent sky and equally transparent sea, an arc of golden sands at the end of which rose the low cliffs of Little Orme.  Even the town behind and Old Colwyn below looked beautiful in the soft light – just at dawn.  We fled down on a tram-lined road into Colwyn Bay, endured the rough jolting, and came to Rhos-on-Sea and the junction of the Conway- Colwyn-Llandudno roads.  Four years before, I was in camp with the Church Lads Brigade on that field where now stood a fully peopled modern housing scheme.  I remembered a party of us exploring a cave in yonder woods at the unearthly hour of 2.30am on the ‘first night’ four years and five days ago exactly.  For the sake of a four year old memory, Tom and I went to look for that cave – and we found it.  A little later we came in sight of Penmaenmawr Mountain, with Conway mountain in front, then the sandy river Conway.  From the cross-roads we took the Llanrwst road, pausing to eye that noble ruin, Conway Castle, which lay just across the river, behind the suspension bridge.  Conway Castle is always an imposing picture, but see it at early morning when the mists are rising from the river to see it at its best.  The ride that followed down the Conway Valley is one of those precious memories that I still look to with the keenest of pleasure.

Across the valley, the mountain sides rose almost from the water, in great slopes full of colour, with a village clinging almost insecurely here and there, for all the world like the Alpine village pictures we see.  Above, the gleaming grey precipice of Drum caught the first rays of the sun, and behind that the ridges of Carnedd-y-Filiast struck a perfect contour in a faultless sky.  All the miles down to Llanrwst gave us such views of the mountains, whilst in the valley itself we rode by the river and by a woodland bank.  Near Llanrwst we looked across to the ravines running up to Llyn Crafnant and Llyn Eigiau, lying behind Trefriw and Dolgarrog, and leading to a hollow, behind which was a fine rock peak coloured red; the infinite variety of colour in that view must be seen before it can be realised.  How wonderful and quiet that wooded ravine directly above Porthllwyd seemed, how safely was Llyn Eigiau imprisoned – for another year….. then, well, everyone knows of the Eigiau Dam burst and the story of the destruction of Porthllwyd and its people in 1925.

Llanrwst is just like so many tiny Welsh towns, built compact and anyhow, yet clean and a bit quaint.  We crossed the high-spanned bridge that Inigo Jones built in 1636, passed the rock on which Gwydir Castle, a 16th century residential mansion containing many art treasures, and joined the road that takes the west bank of the river.  On our left, the river gleamed through the trees, on the right was the steep bank called Coed-yr-Allt-Goch, which means the ‘Red Height in the Wood’, ablaze with wild flowers.  The sun was weaving a leafy pattern on the road when we came to Pont-y-Pair at Betws-y-coed, stopping a moment, as is our wont to watch the ever-hurrying Llugwy, hurrying to meet the Conway.  The last time Tom and I leaned over that creeper-clad old parapet, was on the night of our first meeting at Easter, 1923.  How often since have we watched the river from that point !  The surroundings of Betws-y-coed grow more charming with each successive visit, and on that morning, soon after sunrise, they were magnificent.  Lunch beside a pretty cascade behind the Waterloo Bridge at 5.20am, afterwards essaying the ascent of Dinas Hill on the Holyhead road.  On the right the Ffestiniog road threaded its way like a grey ribbon through the fair Lledr valley, at the head of which, standing proud and clear was the gleaming precipice of Moel Siabod.  A slight sleepiness was warded off by a soapless wash with handkerchiefs for towels.  Higher up we caught the first view of Snowdon, sharp and clear, and after leaving the woods behind and embarking on the wild moorlands beyond Pentrefoelas, a turn about revealed the whole mass of mountains called Snowdonia, Llechog, Llywedd, Wyddfa and Crib Goch as clear as though they were within our grasp.  Then to Cerrigydruidion on a hard featureless road, with reaction setting in and the expected listlessness which often comes at that time after night riding.  Between Cerrig and Corwen the road is mostly of a downward tendency, but we were far to gone to notice it.  A cuckoo seemed to mock us with its ‘…silly…fools…cuck..oo….sleepy..fools…cuck..oo’.  At least that is what it sounded like !  At last we sat down and ate some fruit and I had a smoke – and the way we woke up after that was amazing.  We sprinted to Corwen with alacrity, pausing just a moment on the Dee Bridge.  In Corwen we found a place for a pot of tea, the landlady of which regarded us as vagabonds and our expedition as nothing short of criminal.

So it was in a jocular mood beneath the tropical hat of a June sun that we pottered down the ‘Glen of the Sacred Dee’ to Carrog, with many a wonderful view to Llangollen.  Industrialism presided on the road to Wrexham, but beyond, at Pulford, we entered the grounds of Eaton Hall, and pottered through the woodland glade to Bruera, whence intricate bylanes to Saighton, Egg Bridge, and Kelsall, brought us onto the infested Chester road.  After lunch at a little farmhouse near Tarvin, we sped with the flowing tide of traffic to Northwich, Altrincham and Sale, where we parted.  At 7.30 pm I reached home.  So went down our first all-night ride into the land of the Leek, a ride of 212 miles and a ride never to be forgotten.


In Derbyshire Dales Part Two

Sunday: February 8, 1925.

Monsal Dale:  The road (in Miller’s Dale) ended at Litton Mill, the beginning of wonderful Cressbrook Dale.  From a notice board we learned that pedestrians only could continue at a toll of six pence.  Now if there is anything that maddens me, it is the commercialisation of natural beauty.  There is far too much of it.  As soon as anything such as a glen, waterfall, or natural curiosity becomes known, a padlock is put near it, and a man forthwith haunts the spot with a roll of tickets.  It is not the price, that is negligible, but the principle of it.  If that particular ‘sight’ had been made accessible, I would not grumble, but when, like Cornbrook Dale, it has just been looked up, it is a bit too bad.  We decided not to pay, and joined a narrow road leading of the dales instead.  Once could almost lean on the wind when we left the shelter of the valley.  A splendid view of Miller’s Dale and Cressbrook Dale were ample repayment for the barrier.  Soon we joined a road that immediately dropped us at the end of Raven’s Dale, another pretty little scar.  Then the village of Cressbrook and a small section of Cressbrook Dale to Monsal Dale.

We left the road again, embarking on a squelchy field, and crossing the Wye by a stout footbridge, we passed under the railway and so entered the Dale.  Simultaneously heavy rains came down, but we continued without capes.  The path was wet and muddy but quite good, and ran on the fringe of the wooded right escarpment, often making little detours to the flooded river, which broke into many fierce little falls or noisy rapids, the steep slopes on both sides being well wooded and overlooked by fantastically shaped masses of rain-washed limestone.  One could picture familiar shapes in these pinnacles and slabs.  Here a resemblance to some church steeple or spire, there the profile of some animal, and high above were the walls and towers of some legendary town of Arthurian days.  The rain was quite forgotten during that all too short tramp through this little earthly paradise.  At length, a ‘teas’ hut hove into sight; a strange familiarity seemed to hang over, then we struck a main road which we recognised as the Buxton-Bakewell road, at the foot of Taddington Dale.

The ‘Ravine of the Wye’ is comprised of six dales, namely, Ashwood Dale, Wye Dale, Chee Dale, Miller’s Dale, Cressbrook Dale and Monsal Dale, through which runs the Derbyshire Wye on its way to the Derwent at Rowsley, two miles beyond Bakewell, and into it run many other dales from each side, all of them interesting, and some of them very beautiful.  On the left are Cunning Dale, Woo Dale, Great Rocks Dale, Monk’s Dale, Tideswell Dale, Littonfrith Dale and Raven’s Dale, the right being fed from Cow Dale, Kingsterndale, Deep Dale, Buck Dale, Horseshoe Dale and Taddington Dale, another Deep Dale and Kirkdale, excluding many nameless little chasms such as Lovers Leap.  Then there are the dales joining the Hope Valley, such as Otter Dale, Bradwell Dale (already mentioned), tiny Pin Dale, a fine example of limestone formation, Cave Dale, in which is situated Peak Cavern, and the Winnats Pass, the best of them all.

Derbyshire Dales002


The following is an extract for June 7, 1925.

Here, (from Castleton) we had two routes to choose from, for this is a cul-de-sac (the Hope Valley) the outlet being either by a long climb round the hairpins of Mam Tor or the steep ascent of the Winnats.  We chose the Winnats in preference, for if it does not yield the same view of the valley or give a glimpse of the scaly sides of the ‘shivering mountain’, it is grander and more awe-inspiring – and a jolly sight steeper and rougher too.  We generally, intentionally or otherwise, pick the harder and rougher way.  The Winnats is the old coach road; being once an adventure for the traveller, for on days when a gale is blowing, the formation of the pass turns the wind down the gorge with amazing velocity, and has been known to cause death by suffocation.  Then again, it was a popular haunt of highwaymen, the story being told of a bridal pair being murdered here on their way to their honeymoon.  And when one stands at the summit and looks upon that tortuous descent and upon those great walls of limestone on each side, one can quite believe what terror it caused in the ‘bad old days’.

Again on October 4, 1926.

We left the main road and made for the Winnats, past the entrance to Speedwell Cavern, but we did not see the pass until we were in it, so thick was the mist becoming.  As we climbed higher up the gorge, the pass became awesome.  Seeing only the base, and the rising, tottering crags, we could easily imagine ourselves somewhere in the dark clefts of the Caucasus or the fearsome chasms of the Himalayas, an imagination that grew upon us as we scrambled hotly through the mist.

Derbyshire Dales003


Middleton Dale, opening to the Derwent about midway between the Hope Valley and Monsal Head, is another excellent gorge, though halfway down it is marred by quarries.  At the foot of the dale lies the village of Stoney Middleton, and on the left hand side of the road the houses are built right beneath the cliffs which overhang the roofs.  One bulging mass of rock is called ‘Lover’s Leap’ to which an interesting but suspiciously common legend is attributed – with variations.  The limestone in Middleton Dale is known to be a solid thickness of 5,000 feet, except for the possible caverns, which have not been discovered.  Just where the quarries spoil the effect of the dale, one of the sweetest little dales in Derbyshire opens out.  It is Eyam Dale, and through it runs the road to Eyam, a beautiful little village with a terrible history; the Plague village it is called – of which more anon.  Though only half a mile long, Eyam Dale is possessed of the richest beauty.  The left hand side (on the way into Eyam) is deeply wooded, with the limestone bastions either gleaming grey through the trees or covered with ivy and creeper, whilst on the right the cliffs rise in fantastic masses with, just near Eyam, some picturesque cottage stuck here and there beneath the bulges on ledges above the road.  In Spring the ground is carpeted with flowers and far into the Autumn the gardens display a rich variety of colour.  Autumn Glory in Eyam Dale in November is a scene never forgotten.

Derbyshire rivers and Derbyshire Dales are in the foremost class for beauty, one river and dale ranks above them all, however that sweet ‘Valley of Rasselas’, Dovedale, and its river.  What did Cotton say ! :-

“Oh, my beloved nymph !  fair Dove

Princess of rivers……… “

And Cotton was right – it is a princess of rivers.  Yet I have only once been to Dovedale; my excuse must be the big mileage in hard, often uninteresting country that is necessary, the very early start which must be made to give one time to see the Dale, and our experience of the dismal ups and downs against a headwind of the Buxton-Ashbourne road, and a ‘big’ dinner, an exorbitant charge, and the after effects of the dinner on that “‘ard ‘igh road” from Milldale to Leek.  But for a’that, as Burns has it, Dovedale is worth it.  Here is the entry in my diary.

Sunday, May 3, 1925.

Returning to Thorpe, we turned left by the ‘Dog and Partridge’, dipping suddenly downhill past the entrance to the ‘Peveril of the Peak’ hotel, and across the river Dove to Thorpe Cloud, a village below a bold hill which bears the same name and guards the entrance to Dovedale.  Up again, and a rough, steep pitch brought us back to the river and the entrance the Dale.  A little farther on the road ended suddenly where a crowd of motors were drawn up and the hillside was thickly peopled.  The track into the gorge lay across the river, and at first we feared we should have to retrace our steps for half a mile, but Tom discovered some stepping stones, so hoisting the bikes on our shoulders we crossed quite easily – to the obvious surprise of the crowd.  There, the real glories of this ‘Valley of Rasselas’ started, and there lay the most wonderful three and a half miles in the world (it is said).

                    From Thorpe Cloud to Dove Holes the scenery is as though carried out by a giant artist from a fairy design.  Everything is on so magnificent a scale, yet so exquisitely beautiful in all its detail.  Trees, bushes, undergrowth, elfin dells and goblin rocks are everywhere; the path along which we tugged our bikes was at first along fairly open ground though rocky and uneven, but across the river the hills were a mass of foliage of every conceivable shade of green, for now Spring is at her best.  On the Derbyshire side the limestone had weathered into rugged cliffs and fantastic pinnacles, and a little further on we crossed Sharplow Dale.  Near here we started to spend money like water, paying one penny to visit the Reynard Caves, ‘Hill’ and ‘Kitchen’.  Scrambling up a rocky slope to the high, bare cliffs and, above, the natural arch in a great rib of rock that marks the opening to the two caves.  These caves are not deep, but inside them prehistoric and other remains have been discovered, and the name was given because they were the retreat of Reynard the fox.  From the top of this rocky curtain we obtained a fine view of the dale.

On returning to our machines we were persuaded into buying some picture postcards, and were shown one – a real photo, on which the shadow of Reynard darkened the cave entrance.  This phenomenon occurs only at very rare intervals and is caused by the sun’s rays falling across the cave mouth from a certain position.  Owing to the (supposed) rarity of the picture, the old lady in charge of the stall wouldn’t sell, although I fancy that had we cared to pay the price, it would have been ours; probably more would be forthcoming for some other gullible tourist.  Tissington Spires, an array of needle-like pinnacles could be seen from below the caves, and across the water, half-hidden by trees, we could see the limestone spires of Dovedale church.  This, of course, is not a church, but just a name given, such as abound in Dovedale, to the masses of limestone, and which have a fanciful resemblance to the buildings so named.

A little farther, we came to the Straits, where the river narrows between the tree-clad banks, and where we could only just scramble along the path.  On the far side of the Straits we passed a little wood to where the cliff comes down to the water, and where the ‘Lion’s Head’, a rock which has weathered to a remarkably close resemblance to the head of a lion, juts out.  Here we were at Pickering Tors, a great round bastion of limestone with five distinct points, the Lions rock being on the right, and a huge Tor with a cave at its base being on the left.  There also we saw Ilam rock standing up like a needle out of a deep pool in the Dove.  There was no doubt that the scenery was hypnotizing us.  We could have scrambled and climbed along this wondrous dale for hours, but the time was getting late (3.30pm) and there was more dale work yet and then over 60 miles of hard country to cover, so resolutely turning our faces ahead, we tramped, scrambled, and carried the bikes onwards.  Passing the big hill with its serrated and weather-worn outlines called ‘The Nabs’, we came to those two natural arched recesses in the rocky hillsides called the ‘Dove Holes’.  The larger arch has a span of over 50 feet, and rises to a height of 30 feet, but the other is not so majestic.  From here the dale became barren, and a very rough passage for half a mile took us to Milldale, a quiet little hamlet at the end of the dale so named, and where the Alstonfield road led us away from the limestone and Spring beauty of Dovedale onto the high green-brown moors.

Of the other dales in the district I know nothing, except that they are worth a visit, and a weekend is demanded to traverse Lathkill Dale, Beresford Dale, Milldale and the Manifold Valley.  Many more dales, too, I am almost ignorant of , as Darley Dale and the whole Matlock district, including Matlock Dale and Matlock Bath.  The valley of the Derwent to Rowsley I am acquainted with, the Hope Valley, and the North Derbyshire and Cheshire border ‘cloughs’, as Ladyclough, William Clough, Woodland Dale, Ashop Dale, Barmoor Clough, of the Kinder Scout, Wildboarclough (really a Cheshire valley) and beautiful Goyt Dale which is as much Cheshire, I know very well.

From the Derbyshire I have seen I gather that I have many rich treats and pleasant surprises in store when I start out to explore still more of that beautiful county.  And this story of the Derbyshire Dales does not end there, for folk-lore and legends, the wonderful story of the limestone and water, the netherworld of Derbyshire, its moors and its paths yet remain to form another theme somewhere in these pages.

November 27, 1926


In Derbyshire Dales 1926

Derbyshire Dales001Post:        Charlie compiled a miscellany of tales detailing several excursions into Derbyshire, together they are too long, so here is the first offering.

I was bound like a child, by some magical story,

Forgetting the South and Ionian Vales,

And thought that dear England had temples of Glory,

Where any might worship in Derbyshire Dales.

One of the happy hunting grounds for we Lancashire cyclists, is that section of the North Midlands that is deeply indented with cliff-bound, narrow ravines known as the Derbyshire Dales.  Here nature has bestowed her gifts of greenery lavishly, and time has made its impression in the limestone rock by weathering it into the most fantastic shapes or creating great bulging precipice, beneath which run the crystal waters of the Derbyshire streams.  Many times have we turned our wheels into the these glorious dales, sometimes following their courses by road, and sometimes by path, in all the seasons of the year, and never have we failed to find something new, something different on each occasion.

My first visit to the Derbyshire Dales was made nearly four years ago (1923), when Tom and I left Manchester at an early hour and found ourselves in Buxton before 11am.  From that fashionable spa, the Bakewell road took us into Ashwood Dale, woefully ruined by the appropriation of the dale for sewage and gas purposes.  Here and there one sees, in little, undefiled spots, what Ashwood Dale was before Buxton laid its ruthless hands upon it, and in one place, the much visited Lover’s Leap runs into it.  This is a sheer-sided gorge, down which a little stream finds a course, and seen as we once saw it, when melting snows sent the stream into the gorge in a fine little fall, and filled the bed of the ravine with surging water, is to see it at its best.  Two miles from Buxton, Wye Dale takes the place of Ashwood Dale, and one sees the limestone cliffs go higher, and the river Wye loosened from its paved bed to take a more natural course.  Here again its proximity to a town and its limestone formation have been its undoing, for in the most part, it has been hopelessly despoiled by quarrying on a large scale.

The Bakewell road climbs out of the dales at the end of Wye Dale, returning into this ‘Ravine’ of the Wye in Taddington Dale.  From the road summit, above Wye Dale, Tom and I were able to take a bird’s eye view down to the gorge below, but the view is spoiled by quarrying.  Right across, a sweeping valley has been turned into one huge quarrying concern, making Great Rocks Dale into an eyesore rather than a scene of natural grandeur.  Still, I suppose it is necessary that certain beauty spots shall be given up to the hand of ‘civilisation’, and it is a matter to be thankful over that the best have been left intact.  So to get back to our ride.  A byway led us downhill between the crags of limestone into Miller’s Dale.  This is perhaps the most popular of the Dales with the exception of Dovedale, on account of its accessibility.  The river opens out into a kind of lake, upon which is always an assortment of ducks, usually ravenously hungry.  On the hillside lies the village of Miller’s Dale, and then farther down, the dale takes on a more characteristic appearance, and shows some magnificent cliffs.  From Miller’s Dale, we took the tiny, barren Tideswell Dale, to Tideswell, a rather quaint little town possessing a fine old church that is often termed the ‘Cathedral of the Peak’.

Thence our way lay across a tract of grassy moorland into the dusty, broken Bradwell Dale, in which is located Bagshawe Cavern, the most wonderful stalactitic cavern yet discovered in Derbyshire.  Bradwell Dale gives access to the Hope Valley, not a dale in the Derbyshire sense of the word, but an open valley, very much like the Welsh Vale of Clwyd or the Tanat Valley.  From Hope, our way lay along a winding, narrow lane by the railway and the river Noe into the Vale of Edale.  Edale is magnificent; it is more Welsh than Derbyshire – perhaps more Lakeland than Welsh, as it is deep-seated amid the moorlands, and ends in a cul-de-sac.  From Edale village the road climbs up to Rushup Edge in many a sharp upward lurch and many a hairpin bend, and from the summit one sees the dale below in all its beauty.  The best time for Edale is late Autumn, when the moors around are ablaze with bracken, and the valley is tinted with russet and green admirably blended.  The end of Edale was the end of the Derbyshire Dales for us that day, but the beginning of numerous visits into that region, each one proving more ambitious than the rest.

So now I propose to give a few extracts from my diary, and as befits, I will start with the Ravine of the Wye, when we followed the footpath from the end of Wye Dale to Miller’s Dale, in that wonderful glen, Chee Dale.  It was our second visit to Chee Dale, but the first successful one, as on the first occasion, heavy floods made it impassable.

Sunday: October 4, 1925.

Just as the road tilts upwards to leave the Ravine (of the Wye) and climb Topley Pike, we abandoned it, passing through a gateway and traversing a cart track which was strewn plentifully with flinty stones and led to a small lime works, from where we reached the row of cottages at the commencement of Chee Dale.  It was raining heavily, and the atmosphere was stuffy and misty, whilst the paths were heaving in mud.  The limestone cliffs were taller and sheerer here than hitherto, and the path deteriorated to a mere track.  A youngster informed us that the Stepping Stones would probably be submerged but that did not deter us.  One or two stiles and a rough crossing of broken rock and flinty outcrop brought us to where we had been finally checked last time.

The river was lower and we perceived that though it ran flush with the bulging cliffs, stones had been placed at regular – or rather irregular intervals to enable one to get round, so we shouldered the bikes and stepped out to them.  We found that we weren’t traversing a bed of roses however, for these stepping stones either came to a point, or rocked, or were partially submerged, each stone possessing its own peculiarity calculated to inconvenience the ‘stepper’.  Besides this, they were too near the side, and the overhanging rock caused us to bend down here, or lean outwards there, the while we poised artistically with the bikes on our shoulders on some wobbling stone.  Half-way along was a little beach on which we rested and sheltered.  Oh, but the scenery was magnificent, the great rock bastions, the swirling river, and the delicate shades that autumn had given to the woods.  White and grey were the cliffs, green and clear was the water, which leapt in many little cascades, turning to creamy white; brown and gold and green in an infinite variety of shades decked the trees, and grass and undergrowth, nettle and bramble put a finishing touch to the pageantry of colour.

We managed to get across the stepping stones alright, though as a matter of course we got our feet rather waterlogged, a regular Sunday happening that is liable to obtain even during a heatwave !  In comparison with the route that followed, the stepping stones faded into insignificance.  The general surface was composed of clay set on a camber steep enough to make us slip continually into a morass, in which grew dense masses of nettles.  Then here and there was a little crag of limestone to be surmounted, and only Chee Dale clay is slippier than Chee Dale limestone.  The best way to get along – and by far the easiest – was by carrying the bike all the time.  A huge bastion of sheer rock towered over the river, Chee Tor, whilst a backward glance revealed the bulging cliffs overhanging the Stepping Stones.  Then the dale narrowed, and the Wye flowed swiftly into a deep, silent pool hemmed by an impassable precipice, over the edge of which leaned stately trees.  Longfellow might have had this in mind when he wrote:

“Reflected in the tide the grey rocks stand

And trembling shadows throw;

And the fair trees lean over side by side,

And see themselves below”.

A long narrow plank, half-rotted, crossed the river, and as we trod warily across we could feel it bend and creak before our weight, then on the other side the path climbed to the top of the cliffs, so near the edge that a slip on the clay or rock would ensure an impromptu dive into the pool.  Then it descended to the river again beyond the channel, and a stouter plank bore us back across the river, where we came up against the toughest problem we had ever faced.  We had to scale a 10 foot crag, across the top of which had fallen a great tree, with two fork branches entirely blocking the way.  On the right the crag dropped sheer to the river, and to the left the roots of the tree were like a wall, whilst on the other side a steep slope of clay ended over the cliff.

We tried different methods without success, until we hit on the plan of holding the bike as high as possible from a little ledge, and Tom, leaning over the tree, managed to hoist it to the other side.  As soon as he left the tree with it, he started to slide down the clay slope despite vigorous efforts to keep a foothold.  Things got desperate; meanwhile I tried to get round the roots to help, arriving on the scene just as he was nearing the edge.  Relieved of the bike, he soon gained a firm foothold.  So much for one, but obviously that plan would not do again, so with a change of tactics, I got astride the tree trunk, Tom lifted the bike over his head, I leaned over and grasped it, pulling it over to the other side, then Tom regained the treacherous clay and ‘dug himself in’ by his heels, carefully drawing the bike across.  Then I found that I could not get off the tree, and had to work my way backwards to where I could get a hold.  It had taken us over half an hour to get our bikes over a tree trunk !   Our clothing was full of clay; it showed in big, yellow-brown patches all over my black alpaca jacket, and our sodden shoes were thick with it, but the wonderful scenery around made up for the discomfort; if not, why the very fun of dragging a bike over the obstacles made us satisfied.  After that we had a long walk by the river, through mud and over crags in the beautiful woods, carrying the bikes nearly all the time.  Skirting a sinister-looking morass, we passed the end of another dale, and then, progress being more or less easy, we came to Miller’s Dale.  The two and a half miles of Chee Dale had taken over three hours, and we recorded it as the hardest scramble with bikes we had ever had – and one of the loveliest.