A Renascense of Wonder – Easter Touring

Part one:    Over the Hills and Far Away

There were the inseparable five out, beside two out-and-homers and at Chester we met together at 9am.  Good Friday.  The holiday spirit was with us.  Bill’s infectious laugh rang out constantly, and Fred’s jokes came out every minute’ we pedalled down the Wrexham road with a speed that betokened of impatience to fling ourselves clear of modern highways and conventions.  What a perfect morning it was, too!; the sun was strong and all superfluous clothing was thrown off, whilst water was in constant demand, surely a herald of summer?  At Rossett we bade adieu to the highways, climbing out of the Vale of Gresford, and passing one or two outpost collieries at Cefn-y-Bedd, again ascending to Ffrith, where we decided to go through Nant-y-Ffrith instead of the Glaslyn road to Bwlch Gwyn.  This route from Rossett to Llandegla and Corwen is a pet route of ours, a little-known ‘back door’ into Wales, and for scenery, the superior way.  Need I say that our choice of Nant-y-Ffrith was justified?  Spring abounded in the dell; the hard, hot graft of hoisting the bikes over stiles and on the stony path was forgotten in the ecstasy of everything around.  Here a yellow carpet of primrose, the golden glory of gorse, the tender greenery of new leaves and bursting buds, the moss-grown rocks, and near the head of the valley one looked across a little field of clustered daffodils into the Ffrith, and stood on the tiny bridge that has made ‘incomparable’ Pont Aberglaslyn comparable.  Then the drive lined with the loveliest of fir and pine, the high village of Bwlch Gwyn, with its extensive views of the Cheshire plain, and the four miles of moorlands to the upland Vale of Llandegla, and not least to lunch at Ypento.  Before we left we ran into four Bolton CTC-ites, starting thus a strange sequence of meetings.

As we had no definite plans for our tour, we had now to decide on our next move, so to avoid the motors which invade the main roads in hordes at Easter, we joined the Corwen road.  At the Llangollen-Ruthin road the two out-and-homers left us, and on freewheels, we swooped along the switchback 10 miles at evens.  A few yards of the Holyhead road led us to quieter, if rougher ways.  As the heat was intense and we all felt the need for a wash, we joined the footpath leading from Cynwyd to the waterfall.  The fall, which only exists at rainy times, had run dry, but beneath it we found a deep pool of crystal water.  With our shirts, shoes and stockings stripped off, we paddled away to our heart’s content, and to see the linen decked on the rock, one would think that a washing day was in progress.  Ain’t that lovely? (as Billy was wont to exclaim).  Then back to Cynwyd, and a potter, punctuated by several stops for water, down the Vale of Edeyrnion, the beauty of which is very controversial, though for my part I regard it as a gem of the Dee.  From Llandrillo (where they supply ‘crystal water’ on tap) to Llandderfel by a steep bank of rock-slopes amongst which has grown a luxurious foliage, then along the south side of the Vale of Penllyn, another beautiful reach of the Dee, just where it flows out of Bala lake.  I sustained a rather bad gash in my rear tyre, which was a new one, but after all, the bigger punctures are, the easier they are found, and soon we were blithely proceeding again.  On Bala bridge Joe punctured.  What nicer place could one wish for a puncture (if it is someone else’s), than this point where the Dee leaves the lake, and you get a full-length view of the shimmering waters and its encircling hills, with just a touch of grandeur added by the rocky peak of Aron Mawddwy, standing like a saw-edge away to the west.  Billy and Tom and I went to order tea in Bala, discovering there a veritable mare’s nest of cyclists and motorists.  Our favourite place, the ‘Bull Bach’ was overcrowded, so we had to dig ourselves into another place.  Here began the oft-told tale of the trail of famine and desolation, began here the incessant cry for “more”, a cry that, I believe, echoes yet in the ears of many caterers.

Bala town held no charms for us; the sun was sinking, and we should have to put up a bit of hard-riding if we wanted to cross Bwlch-y-Groes before dark.  The Pass of the Cross is no place with a cycle on a moonless night.  The road that undulates along the north shore of Llyn Tegid is very pretty, affording fine views of the Western Berwyns across the lake, but it is where one turns away from the main road and runs through Llanwchllyn (‘Church at end of Lake’) that the best panorama is laid before one.  To the north a wild upland hollow leads into the zig-zag of mountain peaks dominated by bulky Arenig Fawr, and westward the bold contour of Rhinog and Rhobell are only exceeded by striking Aran Mawddwy which lifted its 2,970 ft saw-edge into a sky that was just changing from blue to grey.  Before us was an extraordinary jumble of rough highlands, neither mountain or moorland, and somewhere in there lay the road to Bwlch-y-Groes.  Our speed petered out ignominiously when grey-built Llanwchllyn was passed, and the first of the long (8 miles) series of walks and grinds uphill started.

As we mounted higher, the mountain views opened out until below us like a huge sheet of glass, lay Llyn Tegid, and around, the splendid profiles of a dozen rocky peaks.  For mile after mile we climbed, each mile harder than the last, gradually reducing us to the consistency of butter, and looking for water with the fervidness of a desert wanderer.  Clothing came off gradually to the very last point of decency – but still, we were the only people up there, so what mattered ?  Once when I was in front, a cyclist caught up to me, and we rode and walked together for some time.  He was one of the Manchester District Association CTC and told me that one of his friends had broken his [handle]bars a few miles back, so he was off for some new ones.  I thought it a rather futile mission.  The surface became consistent with the nature of the road, gates appeared, then above the last lone farm of Ty-Isaf, past the last belt of wind-swept trees, the road launched onto a precipice.  On the left rose a wall of crags, sheer from the road for a hundred feet or more, on the right the road crumbled over the edge of the cliff, and one might stand and look down on Ty-Isaf, and think what a skid on one of the loose stones would mean.  Night was coming on apace, the hush of twilight had fallen, across the valley, at the head of a wild cwm rose the dusky cliffs of Aran; in front the darkening moors rose in waves with the brown-white road just discernible here and there.  Awed by the silence brooding over all, and by the immense impression of height, we pushed on, tramping over one moorland ridge to be confronted by yet another, until the road tilted gently down.  The photograph below, taken by me on the Bwlch-y-Groes in 1956 shows three intrepid RSF members on the said track – now regrettably a tarmac road – namely Vic Ginger at the front, H H Willis behind and bringing up the rear my very good friend John Barrow, attending the RSF Easter Meet with me.  I should say that Vic Ginger, who lived in Wrexham, was a real character, and without his help the RSF would have struggled to erect a memorial stone to ‘Wayfarer’ on the well known Berwyn crossing ‘Over the Top’.  Please search the Vic Ginger correspondence on this website and you will see what I mean by a real character.


The summit of Bwlch-y-Groes: seventeen hundred and ninety feet above sea level; and what of it?  It is the highest road pass in Wales, and feels the highest, too; one feels on the roof of the world, moorlands dark and dim, rolling wave upon wave into the dusk; here and there a crag, here and there a low precipice, and above all a great solitude – ‘And all the air a solemn stillness holds’ – Wild?  Yes, wild and magnificent, a reward beyond all measure for the eight mile of uphill toil.

Around the next bend I stopped again and let the others go on.  Here was a grass-grown road branching away into the dusky waves of moorland, a lone finger post pointing towards Lake Vrnwy, and, harsh note, a gaudy tin disc announced ‘Impracticable for Motors’.  So, my curiosity aroused, I made a mental vow that ere long I’ll go over that road.  In front the road descended at an alarming gradient down the mountainside, whilst across the valley a line of crags rose for hundreds of feet.  Shall I tell of the nerve-racking descent on freewheel with only a front calliper?  The ‘road’ drops about a thousand feet in a mile, but it has, on the whole, a surprisingly good surface, so by walking on the steepest pitches (1 in 4.5), I found it rideable.  The others, who were better braked, rode it all, though at the best of times it is a risky job.  A slip on the outside edge would send one to eternity.  Of course I am the ‘chicken’ when it comes to taking risks of any sort, and, therefore, I was last.  When I reached the bottom, where the road makes a fearful hairpin bend, there was all the party, with the exception of Fred, helping Joe to find a puncture.  So I went on to catch Fred and proceed with him to Dinas Mawddwy, where we could find diggings for the night, but lo!, round the next bend there was Fred seeking diligently for a puncture.  Although he avowed that he had heard it go down, we could find no perforation, so we put it back and pumped it up, and it troubled us no more.  The reason is not hard to find.  So hot had the rim become through hard braking, that the solution at the tube joints had softened and let the air out.  On cooling it had automatically sealed again.  The same thing occurred with Joe too, and is, in fact, by no means uncommon.

Easter Tour 1926 Part 1001



Fred and I carried on.  The night was dark, more so because we were in a deep valley, the stars were clouded over, we could not see the clouds but we felt them, we felt the hot, heavy atmosphere as of a brooding storm.  The road was fast and very narrow and winding, and though our flickering oil lamps were but poor light we sped along.  Who says one cannot see anything in the dark?  A bit of woodland, heavily scented, a farmstead or cottage looming up through the night, the dark, bulky mountains just visible on the skyline, a bridge, and the gurgling of a stream, perhaps the glimpse of a cataract in a lonely burn, and ever below, just in front, the yellow glimmer of the oil lamps.  The road surface would entice us to increase our speed, then a lighter patch, showing faintly would rush on us, we would flounder over a patch of stones – then smoothness, silence again.  Once the ring of a cycle bell was followed by a hurrying figure “Hallo, got the handlebars?” we queried.  “Yes, Good night”, and he was gone, heading for Bwlch-y-Groes.  From Llanymawddwy to Aber Cowarch the romantic run continued, then we walked a hill and hailed the lighted streets of Dinas Mawddwy just as heavy rain drops began to fall.

What a time we had then, searching for lodgings !  Nearly all Dinas Mawddwy had gone to a local Eisteddfodd, but patiently we worked the CTC places up, enlisting the aid of the local grocer and general store-keeper.  He was an enterprising chap, was the Dinas Mawddwy grocer, for he stipulated that in payment for his aid, we should just mention, “casual like”, that he had sent us.  The rest of the party came up then, and we set to, in a combined effort.  Where they had not gone to the Eisteddfodd, they were full up, though I fancy they had got the wire that we were coming, and had consequently decided to boycott us.  One old lady was positively terrified !  When we had been to every house in Dinas, it dawned on us that the time was getting late, so off we blinded to Mallwyd, the next village (2 miles) and incidentally the last for 12 miles (Machynlleth).  The listed cottage there, our ‘white hope’, struck us as being just the place, so, summoning to mind all the dodges and bluffs of our tribe, we put our fortunes to the touch.  It came off, and soon we were seated inside waiting for supper, five ravenous wolves, hidden by five saintly, innocent exteriors.

We only intended having a bite at supper time, but – well, one thing leads to another !  Two bedrooms accommodated us, viz: Tom and Fred, one room; Bill, Joe and I in the next, Bill occupying the ‘single’.  Why all the explanation ?  Well, when all had gone quiet, except for a resonant snore from Joe, Bill rose in mighty wrath and pointed to several blisters.  In sympathy I rose too, and soon the two of us were in full cry amid the bedclothes, singing “A Hunting We will Go!”  It was a long exciting chase, over the sheets, under the pillow and round the bedposts, and such was the fury of the hunt that dire threats came from the next room and Joe ceased his snoring to dreamily enquire the trouble.  After that we found peace, and with it came the oblivion of slumber.


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