A rare calendar clash this weekend meant I was kid free and Sally was working so I took the opportunity to pop up to North Wales to see my folks straight from work last night and bag a ride on some new gravel today.
I’ve had Llyn Brenig on my radar for a while since I last went there with Dan and Sally a few years ago. The plan was simple. Use the visitors centre there as a base and do a lap of Brenig, pop down the road to Llyn Alwen for a lap of that then out into the Clocaenog Forest for some fire roads. A sort of game of three halves lol.
I got up and it was cloudy but it didn’t take long to start to rain. The forecast 12 hrs earlier promised no rain until PM. Standard shit weather forecasting again. I don’t know why we bother with them to be honest. The issue was that because of the forecast I omitted to bring my cape and I didn’t want to let a bit of water ruin my ride. The local bike shop was closed so I had to pop into Halfrauds for a Boardman (cough) waterproof jacket. £45 lighter it meant I could ride at least.
Back home I got changed and loaded up and got on the road only to get stuck behind a motorhome chugging along at no more than 30mph. As I climbed out of the Conwy Valley up onto the Denbigh Moors the cloud was really low and the rain began to fall. Not to be put off I decided to do a lap of the reservoir anyway and just see what happens.
Parked up I bought my ticket and rolled out. It was quiet due to the weather. Not many about. Probably more fishermen on the water than walkers. No cyclists at all. Was that an omen?
The first couple of km are flat and easy. They follow the water’s edge after traversing the top of the dam. It was cool but not cold but I soon warmed up as the road kicked up and into the mist of the low lying cloud. At the far end of the reservoir the road leaves the waters edge and kicks upto the main road. Here you take a purpose built gravel singletrack which is pretty cool. It follows the road edge and winds its way back towards the visitors centre. A bad plot on the map saw me have to go up a one-way exit road the wrong way for a few yards to get back to the car park.
I had no intention of bailing as I passed the van. It had actually stopped raining and I was warm. Back onto the main road for a km and I was at Llyn Alwen and begun the anti-clockwise loop on big wide fire roads.
Except a brief foray off course with the Garmin protesting, I was quickly back on track and crossing a small bridge and beginning a great climb in a dense forest in what looked like an avenue of trees. Out of the tree cover the route dropped briefly to cross the main bridge at the far end of the reservoir and then the main climb which is another purpose built singletrack up and over the moorland. This gave way to a testing, loose gravel descent back to the waters edge and the dam. I took a quick photo and then headed off for the third half into the Clocaenog Forest.
After the briefest bit of tarmac and I was back onto forestry commission roads. Gravel heaven. After a gentle descent, tracking a stream on my right, I took a hairpin back on myself and began a long climb back up into the heart of the forest and the low clouds. This was real escapism. There was nobody about. No one and eerily silent too. My route seemed to take me everywhere and the lack of visbility meant I completely lost my bearings. I was solely reliant on my Garmin. For once it was performing impeccably considering how wet it was. The only map issue I had was my fault. I’d somehow plotted a route on a path which was impassable on my bike. It was really boggy and my front wheel nearly sank to the hub. I hiked the few yards back onto the fire road and worked out a diversion around it.
Back on course I briefly lost my bearings with the mist hiding the biggest fire road behind a hedge I’d ever seen. It must have been 40 metres wide. I rode it for a bit and then saw a sign mentioning turbines which was a clue. Then there it was. This huge wind turbine slowly turning but just a silhouette in the mist. It was quite eery being so big and silent. I worked out the fire roads had been built to take the size and weight of the vehicles bringing them to site. The slate-grey hardcore they had used was pretty big and hard work to ride on. The roads must have been 3 or 4 ft thick with the stuff in places. Must have been some project to get them there. Luckily most of my riding on them was down now past a couple more. Eventually I popped out onto a narrow lane. The tarmac was welcome now and a quick way to get some more km under my belt.
The weather had really closed in now. Pouring rain so no more pics and I was on a mission to finish the last 10km as quickly as possible. At the bottom of the descent I was at the lowest point of the ride now and riding back towards Llyn Brenig tracking a stream before the road kicked up and it looked like I wasn’t far away. I could even see the dam up to my left. Then the road dropped down to the right and I lost all the height I’d just worked hard to get.
I briefly retraced a forestry commission track I’d ridden earlier. I could see my tracks in the mud and then it was up but I lost my bearings again. Luckily a farmer was walking down the road with his dogs and directed me into the forest again and left to the reservoir. The climb was a stinger. I was over 3hrs in now and my legs were smarting. Eventually I popped out on the side of the lake and retraced back over the head of the dam and I was done.