Its 640am on Saturday morning and I’m nervous and excited in equal measures, the sky is getting lighter by the minute and the train is approaching, I push my bike on board and strap it in, there’s no one else in the carriage but I still wear my mask.
I’m heading to North Wales to spend a week with people that I haven’t seen for over two years, an annual gathering of folk from all over the country that’s been happening in this location since 2013 but previously mostly in fields of tents since about 2001.
My car had finally died a few weeks earlier and I have no intention of replacing it so I decided to ride to the gathering. Just a few years ago I wouldn’t have batted an eye lid at riding all the way there but my circumstances have changed somewhat and I’ve only got fifty miles on a loaded bike in my legs these days so I entered into the the lottery that is trying to book a bike onto a train!!! The details are boring, all I can say is that it is a deeply unpleasant experience but somehow I had a bike booked onto the second leg of the journey from Chester to Bangor.
Arriving at Bangor brought the first shock to the system, a quite steep hill to get me out of the city and onto the NCN8 trail to Caernarfon, my heart rate was sky high, fighting against the beta blockers quite gamely. I got off and pushed the last hundred yards trying to keep control of my breathing, not the best start to the day. Once away from suburbia the route pleasantly skirted the coast through Caernarfon and all the way to breakfast at Pen Y Groes, I made a mistake here by ordering a full fry up, it was delicious but destined to reappear later in the day!
The NCN8 is a pleasant enough route, mostly away from traffic and also doing a good job of being fairly flat despite being in the hills, after a few hours I pulled into Porthmadog and here things got interesting… Another joyful aspect of getting old, IBS, the fry up had triggered my digestive system and I needed a loo, and quickly, the train station provided the needed relief and also an escape from the forthcoming twenty miles of busy roads, I jumped onto my third train of the day, grateful for the easy ride to Barmouth.
Riding over the bridge from Barmouth to Fairbourne was, as always, an absolute pleasure, the views are epic, the sea to your right and the mountains to your left followed by the Mawdach Trail.
The Mawdach Trail is an old rail to trail conversion, I first rode here over twenty years ago with my family and friends after a weekend at the Fat Tyre Festival at Coed Y Brenin (that first weekend my boy Jack had ended up in hospital and earned his nick name ‘Jack the Stack’) and have enjoyed it many times since, it’s possible that its the most beautiful ride (or walk) that Wales has, views that constantly amaze, wildlife all around, and a strategically placed pub 🙂
The trail has also become the final hurrah after these gatherings, a few hours of autumnal riding, often described by Nicky as slightly melancholic, to end the year of friendships with chips and hot tea sheltering from the Welsh weather.
Today the sun was strong and warm and I literally strolled along here at 8mph, savouring the views that have been missed so much, but eagerly anticipating the welcome at the other end, I was not disappointed, the gang were there and had the beers already chilled, Tim and Tom had driven up a day earlier from the Isle of Wight, they’d blasted around Penmachno on their downhill E bikes in the morning and were still pumped (as I believe is the saying!) Rich had come from Bath and brought a very fine Stooge with 3 inch tyres and suitable gearing for Wales, Nicky and Pete were on their way and Matt had made a vat of chilli that would literally feed twenty people.
Over the next week a few had to leave for work and a few others (Gary and Jonathon) arrived as their schedules allowed, there was lots of riding, paddle boarding and walking done, the amazing weather held until an almighty thunder storm unleashed the rain on Wednesday night, but even then the trails stayed dry-ish and the sea amazingly calm.
We ate and drank well, sharing the cooking and always making certain there was beer in the fridge, one particular highlight was determining the origin of Aperol, the perfect summer’s evening drink, you probably had to be there though…
The other tradition we kept to was the ride out on the back lanes to the mountain bike centre at CyB, a lovely ride that’s not too taxing, we arrived there to find a trail running race just finishing and lots of people milling about, great to see some normalcy returning, the others went out onto one of the mtb trails whilst I returned to base via some forest roads gathering information for when I’m healthy enough to finally get back amongst it, I have a long held desire to explore those forests, watch this space.
I want to say a big thankyou to Nicky for organising the gathering and the rest of the gang for being the best people, it wouldn’t be the same without you.
Words and pictures – Steve Makin