Friday 22nd - Tuesday 26th August 2003
Friday 22 August: 15 of us met at CSG at 11am for
the short under Thames upDogs over Lea to Canning Town ride to pick up the
minibus and transit van. Loading was easy. The van was a bit more impatient
than the bus but by about 7pm that evening we'd all settled into our £20 a
night B&B rooms in Bala's very central White Lion Royal Hotel and locked our
bikes in the big shed atthe back. The hotel was nicely scruffy, tired, quirky
and creaky - all sloping floors and grassy guttered, the 20 resident jackdaws
on the roof made a wonderful racket each morning. After a couple of drinks in
the hotel bar we all ate upstairs at the restaurant a few doors down. Dietary
Saturday: Big cooked breakfast. We all left together at 10.30am for a ridealong the quiet south side of Lake Bala alongside the tiny steam railway. We took a left at the end at headed uphill to see Lake Vrynwy. We soon left thelakeside woods and were in moorland, and the clouds Wonderful steep valley roads with sheep and streams everywhere, and hardly any cars at all At the top of the hill was a sign showing 550 meters. The highest pass in north Wales. We'd climbed from 162 to 545 metres and were in low cloud. The spectacular descent towards the lake went on forever. It's a reservoir dammed gothically around 1890 to supply Liverpool and is for me the most beautiful lake in the UK. Despite so little rain recently the reservoir was full, and everywhere very very green. A flat road runs about 12 miles round it. We had coffee by the dam, I loved the new bird hide: within several minutes I've seen siskin, nuthatch, bearded tit, pied woodpecker, greenfinch...we were sent off to a recommended cafe several miles away. Nothing. Back at the reservoir we found the isolated and very friendly Lakeview Cafe for lunch. Then back to the east end of the reservoir and a huge climb out of the valley and over a different pass out into a stunning dramatic valley that made me gasp, a huge space with not a building in site. Back to Bala after a good 50 miles we went straight to the lake...and 12 of us swam. The biggest Greenwich swim ever. The lake was clean and cool, a great way to freshen up after a big ride. All agreed that the ride had been a great warm up for the big one tomorrow....we just managed to book a big table at the nearby bistro for 9.30pm, and ate and drank perhaps too well.
Sunday: The Wild Wales challenge: We breakfasted around 7.30am and a couple of us were first in the queue to register all for the big ride. Hundreds of very nearly all male cyclists who all seem to have driven there from Liverpool ,Manchester and Macclesfield. Mostly very stripped down road bikes and no luggage. A few more flatbars than last year. 14 of us started off together at 8.40am. Half of us were women. We were told later than bout 510 people started of the 600 registered. It seemed as if half the women there were from our group. Excellent, sad too. It's a very tough ride that goes into the big hills almost at once. There were some stretches of estuary flatness, but most of the 83 miles went up or down steeply. Loads of gears and fine brakes were needed. Most of us rode together in small bunches. The 4 control points had water and free tea etc. We lunched nearly all together in gruesome Porthmadog...too many seasiders. Most of us got back to the Bala start around 5.30pm. Tired but really happy that we all finished and got the specially made slate coaster souvenirs. We hung around till 7.30pm for our last finisher, drank champagne, and went off to eat at 9ish in the very odd Old School House restaurant. Big panelled barn of a class room where the service and mushy veg was like school. And then beers. Bala was buzzing with kids from the hills.
At the end of the challenge
Monday: A tired breakfast. We'd agreed the night
before to ride round the lakeand then drive to seaside Barmouth in the
afternoon. We rode to the stamrailway cafe at the west end of the lake to wait
for one of us whose bike wasbeing fixed in the amazingly cheap local bike shop
Three of us got jobs donethere on demand. And then we split up. Some of us
headed up the valley for aleisurely 40 mile circle, some stopped at the Bala
Lake hotel for beer and apool swim, others got the steam train. One cycled to
Barmouth. We had our bestmeal in the pub opposite the hotel thatevening. Then
wine back at the hoteltill late
Tuesday: 6 of us met at 7am and went for a lake swim that really set us up foryet another full breakfast. Our little convoy leftBala around 9.30am for the 20 mile drive to Ruabon station. 3 of us were heading to Glasgow for more riding. The rest of us had an amazingly smooth drive back to Canning Town by 3pm. Then beers in the garden of the Watermans arms on the Isle of Dogs, andmore in the Dog and Bell after a quick detour round the rarely open Shipwrights Palace. Then home.
So, a great weekend away that was not without romantic interlude around a great ride that's perhaps CTC's toughest. We're going next year. Bala will see changes though, the bistro is going Indian and the White Lion is being refurbished this winter. But it'll remain a small Welsh-speaking market town surrounded by bi-lingual roadsigns with the English bits painted over and a great touring base.
The cast: Barry, Che, Cheryl, Chris, Gareth, Hilary, Karen M, Karen P, Karen S, Peter, Richard, Roger, Sabine, Tim, Tom.
Thanks to those who handled the hotel, booked the transport, drove it, found the restaurants etc etc. And to CTC Merseyside for great WWC organisation. We go again next year.