The blossom in the garden and the weather reports all suggested that spring and warmer weather was on the way. The ice warning light on my dash suggested otherwise.
The snowflake on the display and the flashing 2ºC had me reaching for the heated grip button. Despite the bright sunshine the wind was strong and bitterly cold. Even as I arrived at my Chester meeting spot the temperature was struggling to hit 4ºC. I got off the bike rubbing my hands furiously trying to revive my pinky finger.
Today’s route was heavily influenced by a previous trip which took in two of my favourite valley passes. These were the Bwlch Pen Barras overlooking Ruthin and Bwlch y Groes, the second highest in Wales.
The meat in this valley sandwich was the market town and the waters of Bala. A popular destination for bikes with good routes around what is the largest natural lake in Wales.
We made good time out of Chester and after a warming coffee and a brief fuel stop we made progress into Wales. It wasn’t long before we pealed off the A494 to the road that lead up to the highest point of the Bwlch Pen Barras, the Moel Famau.
On our previous visit we had ridden through without stopping so we took the opportunity to pull off into the parking area with its vista over the Clwydian Range overlooking Ruthin. The exposed location didn’t offer any shelter from the icy wind so we quickly moved on.
On to Bala
The road from Ruthin to Bala gave the bikes a chance to stretch their legs after the single track of the valley pass. Its a good fast run and by 10am we were in Bala looking for a breakfast. We headed into the centre of Bala and found the Y Badell Aur cafe. Nick ordered a traditional breakfast while I pushed the boat out with a ‘Bala Breakfast’ which only differed by the addition of mushrooms. Maybe Bala has some international recognition for mushrooms that I was unaware of?
The high point – Bwlch y Groes
With our stomachs full we were back on the bikes. We headed over the easterly side of the lake picking up the road that lead to Bwlch y Groes. As single tracks go, this was certainly single track, with a centre strip of loose gravel left by the occasional car. The path snakes through tall vegetation on either side which limits visibility of oncoming vehicles. This together with the aforementioned gravel keeps you on your toes. More so if you are following a GS, which has a tendency to flick gravel on the rider behind, much to Nick’s annoyance.
The single track leads to a steep open hillside before becoming two lanes. As you ride over the crest of the Bwlch y Groes the valley opens before you. It can be a fast ride down but a low gear is advisable, as is avoiding the purple faced cyclists who torture themselves up the steep climb.
Back to Bala
Picking up the A494 back towards Bala, and along the westerly side of the lake, the pace picks up once again. We soon found ourself back in Bala and heading out of the other side of the town.
When I put the route together I had expected us to be an hour later than we found ourselves. We were on the return leg but there was still time for a detour. Finding ourselves on the crossing of the A5104 and A542 towards the horseshoe pass we turned towards the Ponderosa Cafe.
The Ponderosa and Horseshoe Pass
We found the Ponderosa Cafe packed with all shapes and sizes of bikes. The same could also be said for the owners of the bikes. Amid the (un)healthy options of chips and pies, we grabbed a coffee and KitKat while shivering in the cold breeze.
It would be very easy to adapt this route to take it other roads in the surrounding area. This is a run that certainly delivers everything and will be revisited many times.