It’s been well over a month since I returned from the North Coast 500 and other than the occasional short run there has been nothing worthy of a planned route. With the unprecedented weather giving us an actual summer, it has given me the luxury of being able to plan for a ride without being a slave to the breaks in the rainfall. Time to break out the routing apps with an initial destination of Snowdonia.
Where to go?
Wales is a regular destination offering easy access to some stunning scenery and great roads. Being based in the North West UK its easy to become complacent at the options available with the Peak District to the east, Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District to the North, and of course Wales to the west. I always find that planning a route starts with zooming out on Google Maps and heading for any area on the map that is green. You can’t go wrong.
Planning something different
A trip to Wales usually involves a run to Snowdonia and takes in all the usual suspects of Ruthin, Bala, Betws-y-Coed and Blaenau Ffestiniog. Its easy to get stuck in a routine but as nice as those runs are it lacks the ‘adventure’ element of discovering something new.
To illustrate the point back in 2017 while planning a trip through Ruthin I accidentally drew a route that took us off the A494 onto a single track that eventually opened up to a spectacular vista of a Welsh valley. I since learned that this was the Bwlch Pen Barras after seeing a photograph online of the view that I had enjoyed.
With this in mind I had seen reference to two other well known valleys that despite my numerous rides in the area I had never actually ridden through. In addition to the Bwlch Pen Barras these were Bwlch y Groes to the south of Snowdonia and Want Gwynant to the north. This was going to form the basis of my three valley pass.
I have drawn up a route but at this point I am not sure of the best course to ride the valleys for the best enjoyment so this is very much a scouting mission with the door open for doing the route a second time in the alternative direction. What I can do at this stage is set the scene with a little background information of the areas that will be ridden. A little bit of history always adds to the rich tapestry of the ride.
I look forward to writing up a ride report.
Bwlch Penbarras (4 on the map)
Bwlch Penbarras (also known as Bwlch Pen Barras, or the Old Bwlch) is a mountain pass in the Clwydian Range Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in north-east Wales.
The pass is on an unclassified road between Tafarn-y-Gelyn and Llanbedr-Dyffryn-Clwyd. It crosses the Clwydian Range at an altitude of 360 metres (1181 feet) between the hills of Moel Famau (to the north) and Foel Fenlli (to the south). The Offa’s Dyke Path also crosses Bwlch Penbarras, running north-south.
The notorious climb from the west (Llanbedr-Dyffryn-Clwyd) side: the road gains 260 metres (853 feet) in altitude in just 2.25km (1.4 miles), the first half of which is at a gradient approaching 25%, followed by an even-steeper hairpin bend before the gradient finally eases slightly. In comparison, the east side of the pass has a less severe gradient, but from the summit it is dead-straight for over a mile downhill.
The alternative name of the ‘Old Bwlch’ comes from the fact that this pass used to take the through-road from Mold to Ruthin, until it was superseded by the A494 road, which crosses the Clwydian Range a couple of miles south of Bwlch Penbarras, at Bwlch-y-Parc.
Bwlch y Groes (13 on the map)
Bwlch y Groes (Pass of the Cross) is the second highest public road mountain pass in Wales, with a summit altitude of 545 metres (1,788 ft). Gospel Pass in south Wales is slightly higher. It lies on minor roads linking Dinas Mawddwy (via Llanymawddwy), Llanuwchllyn and Lake Vyrnwy.
The view from the pass encompasses the plain of the Dyfi valley, Cadair Idris and a close view of Aran Fawddwy. The cross, just below the summit at the junction of the roads from Vyrnwy and from Dinas Mawddwy, commemorates the place of the pass on a pilgrim route from north Wales.
Bwlch y Groes is also known as the Hellfire Pass and was used between and after the wars by the Austin Motor Company and the Standard Triumph Motor Company to test prototype cars and their performance during hillclimbing. The British Motorcycle industry which was world beating before the wars also used the pass for testing. In 1926 BSA undertook a continual test resulting in the company being awarded by the Auto-Cycle Union the Maudes Trophy for 60 ascents of the pass. BSA won the award again in 1938 in relation to rides that took place including the Bwlch y Groes. Between 1933 and 1954 the International Six Days Trial passed over the Bwlch y Groes and its neighbouring roads along the Eunant and Cwm Hirnant.
The southern ascent of the Bwlch y Groes, which is approximately 1.7 miles (2.7 km) long has severe gradients throughout (steepest 1 in 4. The ascent is a remorseless ascent of about 350 m (1,150 ft) over a distance of about 3.5 km (2.2 mi).
Nant Gwynant (16 on the map)
Nant Gwynant is a valley in north Wales. The A498 road descends 600 feet (180 m) into the valley in about two miles (3 km) from Pen-y-Gwryd; it follows the Nant Cynnyd, the Afon Glaslyn and alongside Llyn Gwynant, then beside the Nant Gwynant river to Llyn Dinas and passing below Dinas Emrys to Beddgelert. The road continues through the Aberglaslyn Pass to Porthmadog.
The upper section of Nant Gwynant, from the site of the Roman fort and marching camp situated at the junction with the modern A4086 Caernarfon to Capel Curig road, follows the valley of Nant Cynnyd to a viewpoint (in about a mile) overlooking the Cwm Dyli hydro-electric power station, which was built over 100 years ago by the North Wales Power and Traction Company to supply electricity to the Porthmadog, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway that failed before it was completed. The power station however still uses the waters of Llyn Llydaw to generate electricity for the National Grid (UK).
A mile further and the road passes Hafod Lwyfog, the summer homestead built in the 1540s, the birthplace of Sir John Williams, goldsmith to King James I, who in 1610 presented the Church of St Mary in Beddgelert with a fine chalice. In 1938, the then owner, Clough Williams-Ellis presented part of the Hafod Lwyfog land to the National Trust in anticipation of the establishment of the Snowdonia National Park.
Another National Trust property in the valley is Craflwyn. It stands below the hill of Dinas Emrys to which according to tradition, in retreat with his adviser Myrddin Emrys, came an unhappy Vortigern, the Romano-British King who first encountered the Anglo Saxon immigrants.