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North Wales

Tour summary


This trip was conjured up as a means of getting away from the hustle and bustle of the work week. The route was a circular clockwise tour from Lake Vyrnwy through Dolgellau, Barmouth, Bala and returning to Lake Vyrnwy. As one would expect for this area there was no shortage of hills - and it certainly took our minds off work!





Commentary & Photos

We departed from Worcester at 4 pm on Friday afternoon and after a 2 hour drive parked up in the Lake Vyrnwy visitor centre car park. The plan was to leave the car park that evening and camp at the top of Bwlch y Groes - the highest pass in Wales and infamous on the old Milk race. It was a cool, bright summer's evening as we flew around the flat, fast round skirting the edge of the lake. The climb from Pont Eunant was 280m to the summit at 545m - never an easy undertaking with a fully loaded touring bike. As we reached the top the views open out in three directions where the mountain valleys converge on Bwlch y Groes.

isa at the top of bwlch y groes
campsite on top bwlch y groes

We set up camp just to the North East of the road junction towards the summit of Moel y Cerrig Duon on a small patch of relatively flat ground. Even in June the temperature at this height dipped rapidly as the sun disappeared behind us.

One of the highlights of this small area of mountains is the reintroduction of Hen Harriers. They can be seen soaring and hovering all around this area. They are slightly larger than a buzzard with a wingspan approaching 120cm. They can be distinguished from Buzzards by their hovering (Buzzards never hover) and the slightly forward pointing "V" of the wings.

As usual with camping and cooking on camping appliances the choices are somewhat limited. A favourite of ours is always sausages and rice - and if you smother the rice in cheese then all the better. As much as I dislike quick cook rice from a culinary perspective - it's unbeatable when you're hungry, tired and need some warming sustenance.
sunset behind tent on bwlch y groes
campsite on top of bwlch y groes

The next morning we were greeted by blue skies and wispy white clouds - it could so easily have been grey, wet and the view of the inside of a cloud.

A relaxed breakfast of muesli and fruit was followed by the hard slog of pushing the loaded bikes back onto the road before the unbelievable descent into Dinas Mawddwy. This route is traditionally used in the uphill direction in road races to sort out the men from the boys. The first section of road drops 340m in just 2 km - that's an average of 17%! Good job we were coming back from the opposite direction.


The valley floor towards Dinas Mawddwy is a delightful route. Quiet roads, with an option to go on either side of the valley floor. The mountain scenery is some of the finest in all of Wales and is recommended for any to visit.

Our route then followed to one side of the A470 on a small lane from Dinas Mawddwy to Aberangl before the next challenge awaited us. The climb up from Aberangl through the Dyffi forest was 200m, with short stretches at 20% (1:5). This was very difficult. Any hill up to 15% is achievable on a low geared touring bike - but a 20% hill causes expletives and perspiration to abound.

cycling through the woods

But what goes up must come down and the rapid descent through the pine trees was a joy. So much so that I gave up paying proper attention to the map and took to subconsciously guessing the correct turning - big mistake.

We turned off from the road far too soon and ended up on a forest fire road - very pleasant cycling but there was a slight feeling of uneasiness building within the team. The best thing to do in this situation? Well it's to turn back, retrace your steps, eat humble pie etc - but no, I thought, we can find a way out of this predicament. We followed a section of single track which then ended in a an area of woodland that had just been attacked by the monster harvesting machines. We ended up pushing the bikes straight down a mountain side, slipping and sliding and cursing - quite difficult when you have your head up where the sun don't shine.



The slope became so steep that the we could not push across it anymore- the panniers would catch on the ground, unweight the bike and send us sliding down the slope fully out of control.

We regained the road and then a section of National Cycleway 8. This route goes over a very steep section called Waenllefaen - it is not marked as a road on any of my maps but was in fact tarmac all the way to Dolgellau.

As this section glided by we made the small detour to the top of the ridge by foot to catch a view of the valley and the mighty Cader Idris towering above everything around. It really is a dark overpowering presence in the valley - especially as the sky was darkening and wisps of cloud were beginning to hide the summit cliffs.

Dolgellau is a lovely riverside town where the weary cyclist can find tea and cakes and relax. The next section of national cycleway 8 followed the old railway all the way along the Afon Mawddach estuary to Barmouth bay. It is a wonderful traffic free route - and if you leave it late enough in the day the toll collectors over the footbridge will have gone home. There is a great collection of wildlife along the estuary with birds such as herons, oystercatchers, guillemots and bog standard ducks.

lost on a welsh hillside
barnouth towards Cader Idris

We camped in the large touring park in the centre of Barmouth - and amazingly found a quiet spot to call our own for the evening. The stroll into Barmouth to find something nutritious to eat left us wishing we had stopped to buy provisions and cook for ourselves. The next morning we took the train from Barmouth station up to Harlech and continued our journey from there. We followed the A496 into the vale of Ffestiniog and then climbed up to Ffestiniog for a well erned cuppa.

As with many mountainous areas the lack of routes can sometimes force the cyclist onto the busier routes - in this case the A496 wasn't too busy - and as it was a Sunday everybody seemed to be driving more sedately.


The route from Ffestiniog followed one of the classic mountain roads in North Wales. The B4391 rises from Ffestiniog acoss the open mountain landscape before dropping down towards the lakeside town of Bala. The descent into Bala was nearly thwarted by a radar gun-toting policeman - but luckily he was catching people going uphill out of Bala - there must be some logic there somewhere?


The route from Bala after two days cycling was straight back up Bwlch y Groes. The road climbed very gradually through a tight wooded valley. As the height is gradually gained the trees begin to thin out until a wide glaciated U shaped valley appears. At the end of the valley is a hill that looks impossible to ride on a touring bike.

We stood and looked at the hill contemplating our options - a twenty five mile detour or a short, sharp sprint back up to the top. The sprint took about 20 minutes as struggled trying to find extra gears that just weren't there.

The view at the top was still fantastic even though we camped here only two nights before.

The steep descent back to Lake Vwrnwy lead us to the lovely flat, picturesque route along the lake and back to the car.


The climb from Bala to Bwlch Y Groes




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