Post: Well, well, how many of us get up early for a long ride, and have to get breakfast and all our stuff together by candlelight ? We oldsters tend to forget that electric light only came along for many houses during our infancy, which is true, we, parents and I, moved into a better house than the one we were currently living in, and that had gas lighting in every room. But my father soon had the electric wiring in place and we joined the modern age ! That was in the 1940’s. No mention of Charlie’s saddle today, but the problem still has to be resolved.
It seems to me that Charlie is enduring a spell of working full time, as there have been no midweek excursions for some time, and if it helps to pay off the bill for his new bike we can congratulate him into the bargain.
Sunday, May 17 Moel Famau and Nant-y-Garth
Arrangements had been made for another long run into Wales, our intention, if the visibility warranted it, being to make the ascent of Moel Famau. The run would serve a dual purpose by getting us fit for the all-night pilgrimage to Meriden next weekend. Therefore we proposed to meet at Dennison’s, Mickle Trafford, at 7.30am, the first there to order a pot of tea. The weather just recently has become quite stifling, if hardly sunny, and rain has been conspicuous by its absence.
I was up before 3am, stealthily making preparations by candle light, and at 4.15am, the door was quietly closed and I was off. I had started rather early, giving myself a good three hours to cover the 34 miles, because a run of this length demands a careful beginning. I started with my lamp lit, but soon put it out, when, as Shakespeare says:
The morning steals upon the night
Melting the darkness……….
Atherton and Leigh soon slipped by, and I came to Pennington Station, where the railway crosses the swamps and stagnant morass of that part of Chat Moss that has not been reclaimed, and over which I saw billions of little greenfly. There were so many that the air was hazy with them, and I was glad to see that the road itself had not been invaded. At Lowton I joined the lane route to Winwick, and then downhill into the dirty streets of Warrington at 5.50.
None too soon was Chester road reached. How beautiful everything was on that sweet May morning, how green the fields and hedgerows were, how pretty the gardens, with apple blossom and flowers of all hues, how clean the air, and how quiet and free the Open Road.
“Good god! How sweet are all things here,
How beautiful the fields appear!”
The sky too, was wonderful, full of fleecy clouds, white and grey, and in the west, a delicate pink. I pottered along, walking all the stiff little hills, taking in the views, and watching the sunlight slowly spreading over the colourful headlands of Frodsham and Helsby. Would that all could seem as peaceful and lovely every day, as the Chester road was to me that early morn. I reached Mrs Dennison’s first, Tom coming a little later, and before 8am we were having breakfast (the second!), 34 miles from home. Mrs Dennison predicted rain to us, and Tom said to me: “Whatever shall we do if it rains?” (Let it!).
Well we soon got going again, covering the last four miles into ‘Caer Gawr Lleion’ by 8.30. The day hardly warranted the ascent of the ‘Hill of Mothers’, but we decided to carry on to it, by the direct road via Mold. From Chester came five flat, dull miles, until at Bretton we turned and crawled uphill for two and a half miles through fine woodland scenery to Pen-y-Mynnydd. There were some spectacular views, if not very clear, of Caergwrle Castle in the Hope Valley, and Moel Famau in front, rising above in massive bulk, before we dropped into the Vale of Alyn, and speedily came via Llong to Mold at 9.30am. Very soon it was ‘shanks’ from Maes-y-Ffynnon, and the scenery was nothing to shout about until we reached the summit at Gwern-y-mynydd, the ‘Swamp on the Moors’, but the subsequent drop into the Leete Valley at Cat Hole revealed some gorgeous wood, rock and water scenery.
From the Loggerheads (where is an old water mill), we tramped up to Tafarn-y-Gelyn, picking primroses and violets which grew profusely by the wayside. At the latter place, the old Ruthin road over Bwlch Pen Barras was joined, a rough, steep, disused track, but, withal, in fine scenery, though wild and barren enough farther along. The Bwlch (pass) runs between Fron hen(?) and Moel Famau, and just beyond the farm of Ty-fy-nain, the well defined path to the summit of the latter starts.
We had not got far along before it developed into a scramble of the first magnitude. In addition, the air was sweltering, so that the stops for ‘breathers’ were many, and varied by the awkward poses necessary to keep us from going backwards. Then a level mile or so, where we could snatch a ride, and up again over slippery turf, and clay, and stones, with a diversion climbing over fallen trees, and networks of bracken. Again level with the peak now only just above us, then clambering over a stile, we left the bikes and ran up the remaining few feet to the ruined Jubilee Tower, 1,821 ft above sea level. Only in one direction was there a view, and that was overlooking the Vale of Clwyd, which lay below, a huge expanse of fields, with Ruthin in the centre, the buildings only just discernible.
Beyond that lay a wild expanse of moorland peaks, above which, in the far distance stood two twin peaks with a kind of bridge between them. To our minds they seemed to be the Carneddau Dafydd and Llewellyn, on the threshold of Snowdonia, both of them being over 3,400 ft high. For the rest, all was enclosed in a blanket of rain-mist, which was slowly creeping over the valley. Tom got his camera going, and none too soon was he either, for in a few moments a cloud of the pea-soup variety came over, and blotted everything out. The mist came about us until we seemed to stand amidst escaping steam. Then the sun, a weak watery affair, would come out, and for a moment the vale would open out to us, closing up again immediately. The sea at Rhyl was not 12 miles away, but we never saw it.
It is possible to ride down on the Ruthin track, and we tried it. Let me say emphatically it is not a ride for a nervous person. For the first mile it is a test of steering skill, for the path abounds in boulders and a false move may easily snap off a pedal. This part passed, we embarked on a grassy way winding down the hillside. Above on the left, the moors climb steeply, the path is about two feet wide, sloping towards the right, where is an almost sheer drop of 150 ft. The grass was slippery, the gradient easy, but the heart thumps as we skidded towards that hollow, were many. More than once, we found ourselves looking over the edge as we rode along, our wheels being inches away. But we were far from being the biggest fools, for we saw two motor-cycles coming up, and we just managed to climb the slope and let them pass. They had one person on the pillion too, and made our tubbies ache as we saw them jolting from one side to the other. Nerves!
This lasted about a mile, until it comes to Bwlch-y-Pare – and a road that is more precipitous and rough, though a little safer. At length it got too steep to ride, so dismounting, we walked down to a farmyard, round a field, and over a stile into a wood where the ground was thick with bluebells and we trampled primroses under foot, so numerous were they. Crossing a stream by means of a rickety wooden footbridge, we gained a road of doubtful pretensions, and then soon came to the main road at Rhiwysg. We were now in the wonderful Vale of Clwyd, and very soon reached the quaint, anyhow-built town of Ruthin.
We made for Parkinson’s in Clwyd street for lunch, a place we had called at before and found ‘tres-bon’, neither were we disappointed this time. The old gent knew us, after all this time (July 20 last), and recalled that last time it was my birthday, a thing I had forgotten! He also remembered that we had ascended Moel Famau, and that it was raining (we had twelve hours of it that day). After a pleasant chat we left at 2pm, through Ruthin, and catching a glimpse of its castle, from which the town is named. ‘Rhudd-ddin’ was the original name, and means the ‘Red Fortress’. It is quite easy to see how it has been corrupted into Ruthin, for the ‘dd’ is always pronounced as ‘th’ as in ‘thus’, ‘the’, etc, thus being spoken of as Ruth-thin. The castle was built by Lord de Grey in the 14th century, and has undergone some hard knocks until, in 1646 it was dismantled by order of Parliament. Old Churchyard, the poet, says of it:
“The Castle stands on rocke much like red brick,
The dykes are cut with toole through stony crags,
The towers are hye, the walls are large and thicke,
The work itself would shake a subject’s bagge”.
After getting out of the narrow streets, we regained the open country, and headed for Llanfair-Dyffryn-Clwyd – and the hills. From this place there seemed to be no way out for us but the mountains which rose in blunt peaks, all arrayed in a line before us. It was only when we got right under the shadow of one giant that we discovered the road running into a narrow, wooded defile.
At first it was rather open, and densely wooded, then it closed in, climbing slightly, with a noisy stream running beside us – a boulder strewn stream, with the rock-banks interwoven with lichen and ferns, a stream that was a succession of little, crystal waterfalls and rapids and dancing light, a stream that meandered restlessly from one side of the pass to the other, constantly crossing the road above it. Higher up, when the road became steeper and we got warmer, we stopped, and bathed our hands in the rushing water, and drank of it. Ah! How cold and sweet it tasted. The exquisite blending of wood and rock and water was only such as a Welsh valley can show, it was a pity not to linger here awhile and get full measure of enjoyment from the scenery, but home was a long way off (70 miles) and we were in a hard district for speed. So we kept on, until the quiet sylvan beauty gave way to bare rocks and moorland slopes, and the steepening gradient forced us out of the saddle. Then we reached the summit, and paused a moment to remark on the two-mile loveliness of this pass, Nant-y-Garth.
The high road claimed us now, and with increasing velocity we sped towards Llandegla. At the Crown Hotel we stifled a strong desire to add yet another pass to the day’s bit by going over the Horseshoe; perhaps the thought of that dismal Ruabon-Wrexham road prevented us, so we wormed our way into the moorland col that leads to Bwlchgwyn. Along here we saw a sheep that had been shorn of its wool on its body, whilst the neck and head was covered, looking just as if it were a ruff! Perhaps the shearer had ‘knocked off’ on the stroke of the hour according to trade union regulations! At Bwlchgwyn it started to rain, and this we attributed to our being in the vicinity of Llandegla.
It always rains when we visit Llandegla. I see that a notice has been placed at each end of the Nant-y-Ffrith pass road, stating that the said road is in a dangerous condition. We always thought it would prove a bit arduous for motors. Thank goodness for that! We joined this route, and almost immediately Tom punctured. We repaired it leisurely beneath some trees whilst the rain poured down, and when it began to come through we got inside our capes and rode off. The road certainly is in a terrible condition, full of loose stones, and demanding extreme care on the hairpin bends leading to the tumbledown bridge in the Ffrith. I still wonder how Tom managed to escape even more punctures with that worn open-sided tyre he had on.
A stiff climb brought us to the better road, from where we crashed downhill to Ffrwd and through the pretty little vale to Cefn-y-bedd, the ‘Ridge of the Grave’. Here the rain ceased, but started again immediately capes were packed away, and after a while we replaced them, and so reached Rossett on the Chester road. A mile of the main road was enough; we were glad to turn into one of the lanes of the Eaton Hall estate and escape from the featureless highway to the beautiful foliage of the Park. Violets and other delicate-hued flowers lined the wayside, whilst nearer the hall, the ground was a yellow carpet of primroses. Tom contrived to take a photograph of the Hall, then passing the studs of the Duke of Westminster’s famous racehorses, we rode in view of the beautiful River Dee to Eccleston, where we passed out of the Estate – and put our capes away.
It was but a short run to Chester, where we passed the Dee Mills famous in song and story – which, although they are so old that William the Conqueror drew revenue from them, look modern enough now, crossed the old Dee bridge, passed under the historical walls and walked up Bridge street, a street that I will lay against any I have seen for richness of medieval architecture in houses; Some buildings are old and bulge forward, others stand to the edge of the pavement, others show some beautiful timbering in trefoils, quatrefoils and gables, with latticed windows, mullioned windows, cross-beams and old oaken stanchions. Were it not for the present day dresses and clothing, and motor-cars, one could easily persuade oneself that he was living in the 16th and 17th century. Tea was calling, so we did not linger, but rushed through this City of Legions as is, I am afraid, our wont. If Chester were a hundred miles or more away, we should appreciate it far better. After a gradual climb through Hoole, we started dropping slightly, until, four miles past Chester, we stopped for tea at the little farmhouse at Mickle Trafford.
On the road again, in company with hordes of motor-cars – the same road that 12 hours ago seemed so pretty and quiet – a road that we now wanted to cover as quickly as possible. Helsby and its prominent rocky headland, Frodsham with its wide main street, a drop to the canal-river – the Weaver, and a long drag up to Sutton Weaver, then an undulating, slightly favourable road through Daresbury and Warrington was in sight. We skirted the town by taking the suburban road through Stockton Heath and Thelwall, then a narrow bypass into Lymm with its old market place, cobbled, and its sandstone sundial and stocks. At Heatley, we stood planning the next ride – the pilgrimage to Meriden, and came to a last minute decision to make a weekend of it instead of an all-nighter. Thus we left each other, I crossing Warburton Bridge, and facing a steady breeze across unsheltered Chat Moss. I reached home before 10pm. Another splendid day in Wales, with a mountain of 1,820 ft to our credit and three passes –Bwlch Pen Barras, Nant-y-Garth, and Nant-y-Ffrith. Is it worth it ? there is little need to answer that, we knew before we started. 140 miles
‘Proud of her ancient race, Britannia shows
Where, in her Wales, another Eden glows,
And all her sons, to truth and honour dear,
Prove they deserve the Paradise they share’.