Opportunity Knocks

These days I don’t get many opportunities to be a bit selfish and go for a ride on my own, where I want. This weekend came about and I realised I had a chance of ticking a couple of North Wales climbs off my list. The Crimea Pass and Stwlan Dam. I was staying at my folks for a long weekend with Dan. Dan went out all morning with them to Caernarfon so it was on.

The plan was a circa 100km ride straight to the Blaenau Ffestiniog with a ride back via Penmachno. Route dialled in, my initial reaction was surprise. The Crimea Pass was bloody big n long. Stwlan Dam was what I expected and then the route to Penmachno was another climb just as big as the first two I wasn’t expecting.

I left just before 9am and the skies looked what I would call moody. Relatively low cloud were blowing up the Conwy Valley towards me so the expected first-half headwind was to be expected.

Moody skies down the Conwy Valley on the Tal-y-Cafn bridge

I climbed the first miserable mile (its narrow and I usually get abuse and/or a face full of car fumes) up the A470 and dropped down onto the wider road next to the estuary. Right over the Tal-y-Cafn bridge and the drag up to Tyn-y-Groes. My legs were a bit tired from yesterdays blast around Llandudno.

As the road opened up on the descent to Tal-y-Bont and onwards through Dolgarrog, the headwind was quite stiff. I picked off a couple of sets of club riders out for a ride and pushed on through Trefriw before a right just outside Llanwrst on the back road to Betws-y-coed. Traffic was very light so far which was refreshing. Into Betws and the town was waking up with the first few visitors walking into town. I took a right onto a new road/lane that links up with the A470 without navigating the A5/A470 junction. I stopped for a photo next to the river and then right onto the A470 and the Crimea pass.

Nice spot by the river

As I rode the initial drags on the A470, the rain started. It looked a bit grim with low cloud up above. I decided to just dig in and get on with it.

The Crimea Pass is a bit of a brute. It initially kicks up 10% straight up. Eases a touch and then you see a car head light glistening in the distance which serves to remind you just how long and how hard the climb actually is. Throw in a headwind and some driving rain and everything was dandy. I stopped for a pic on what I thought was the summit and then rolled over the top to see the actual summit a few hundred metres ahead. Damn!

the fake summit and I need a shave

The descent of the Crimea is steep and fast. Amongst the slag heaps and mountains of slate my next climb beckoned. As I dropped into Blaenau you could feel the warmth in the valley. The rain had stopped too and the sun was trying to pop through the clouds. Game on.

The entrance to Stwlan Dam looks like a private road to the power station. Its not. You pass an inviting cafe and then you take a right hairpin and begin the climb until you reach a locked gate. Bike over the gate I had the road to myself. I popped it in my lowest gear and set about twiddling so I could enjoy the view. I managed to take some video on the phone too.

The climb kicks straight up the side of the mountain. You gain height quickly. A couple of hairpins out of the way and you have time to soak up the amazing view. Into more hairpins, these don’t let up now until the top and they get steeper. The road surface is worth a mention. From about half way up, its has been resurfaced. Its like riding on carpet. Brand new, dark, black and smooth. At the top I was nearly in the clouds and it started spitting again so I only took long enough for a few photos

With the road to myself, the descent was fun. I didn’t push it though and I have to say disc brakes are way, way better than rim brakes.

Stwlan Dam is as close to the Alps that North Wales can give you. Its sublime and well worth a visit

Back in the valley it was warm again. I was keen to get a tailwind now. A quick scoot back onto the A496 and then left to cut across to the A470. Onto the main road then left again and the climb to Isbyty Ifan. What a road this is. Civilisation just disappears. You keep climbing gradually until you are literally in the middle of nowhere on top of the mountains.

the road to nowhere

Ahead I caught a glimpse of 3 riders. The carrot I needed! As I was nearing the summit a turn for Penmachno beckoned. I got over the top and I couldn’t see them bear right so they must have taken my route. Round the corner and there they were. As the road began to dip down, they slowed as sheep got out of the way which allowed me to gain on them. As we hit the long steep descent to Penmachno they were strung out. I went flying past them all descending smugly on disc brakes while they were heating up their rims. We hit the bottom and I rolled into Penmachno, middle of nowhere, with a Bus up my arse that mysteriously appeared out of nowhere. Weird.

Rolling back towards Betws-y-coed and I was enjoying the tailwind. I took a shortcut back to the A470 which cut out the A5. It was a superb single-track lane with a great, technical descent back to the main road.

Back into Betws and the crowds had arrived now, crossing the road without looking and cars parked everywhere. Its a bit shit when its busy. Back onto the back road to Llanwrst and the legs were still good considering all the climbing. The bridge at Llanwrst played host to an idiot van driver who had ignored the lights indicating if a vehicle was on the bridge on the other side. As I approached to go round him, he just reversed without checking and nearly hit me.

Left now and the 8 mile tailwind blast up the A470. The first couple of miles I opted for the useful cycle path. Its decent and fast but just stops sadly. I emptied the tank and finished the ride off with the final climb up past Bodnant Gardens and then the mile descent home.

Just shy of 100km on the clock. Wet, dry, hot cold. It had it all.


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