Watching the sun set over the marina the previous night, it was hard to believe a storm was coming. The sea was flat calm and the air warm and dry as we ambled- in my case ambling in a state or random perambulation after discovering Rhubarb gin – back through the twilight.
7am the following morning confirmed what every weather app had been grimly forecasting for the last 24 hours. Heavy rain driven eastward by string winds mapped closely to our route for the final day. There looked to be a few dry-ish windows mid morning, so we packed bags for the last time, readied waterproofs and watched the rain radar.
At 10am, we abandoned meteorological analysis and fetched bikes into a panorama of steel grey. The low cloud occluded the water in the bay, but delivered almost as much from the sky. Remember my crowing over gear selection earlier in the trip? Now it was my turn to covet both Adam’s expensive and – more importantly – waterproof jacket and neoprene seat pack. My own inventory was at best showerproof – untaped seams on the packs and a five year old cheap jacket retrieved from a dusty corner of a Camelbak.
As whinging over this mismatch failed to improve the inclement conditions, we decided to make a run for it. Adam’s tyres continued to disappoint- the first slick pavement crossing had the rear step out in an alarming/amusing manner. Select option depending if you were riding or following 🙂
Some relief came from yet another disused railway – Lon Las Menai – running to the old slate harbour of Port Dinowig. This one was shaded by mature broadleaf trees granting us respite from the continuing hammering of the rain. Nature’s umbrella lasted four miles before we broke out into the open. Routing through an industrial estate, we were soon crossing and re-crossing the main Bangor road. The old slate harbour is now a rather posh marina which would have been a nice place for a sit had the rain continued to pulse from underneath leaden skies.
The route in and out of Penrhosgarnedd was all a bit frustrating stop/start. It did eventually lead us to the first proper climb of the day on a pavement mirroring the A55. This was neither steep nor long but both of us found it surprisingly tiring. I countered this by the now standard ‘stat check’ this time explaining we’d not be climbing any higher today. Yeah that thing about lies and statistics….
I was looking forward to capturing the Menai Suspension bridge from both sides. Once on this side and one from the Island taking advantage of a railway station with the made up long station name. This proved entirely pointless with the clag and the rain auto-titling both images ‘Unrecognisable grey thing backlit by grey in a grey landscape’
We settled for a couple of quick shots on the bridge before the reality of wet fingers and touch screens had me shouting angrily at the phone. This failed to fix it, so I stowed it for about 20 miles before trying again. That’s not the reason we failed to stop at Llanfair Pwllgwyngll (of -gogogoch fame)- no a) we never actually saw it even through we passed right by it and b) stopping would have given the rain a target to zero in on.
My rain jacket was now just that. It had given up on its primary purpose and pivoted to welcoming moisture straight through and then holding it sweatily against bare skin. Through gritted teeth I checked with Adam on the efficacy of his garment. As expected, I received a cheery reply from the dry and warm person that used to be my friend.
The guidebook encourages a stop here to enjoy ‘expansive views of Snowdonia‘. We pushed onto hoping for an expansive view of cake and coffee, but even in this limited ambition we were to be disappointed. Anglesey – admittedly in our brief experience – seemed to have most of the closed and dilapidated parts of Wales we’d seen, and not much of the open hospitality we’d enjoyed.
Plan for refuelling switched to a quick energy bar by the reed beds of Malltrath Marsh, before heading up the valley to, er, RAF Valley. Nothing quite as uplifting as sodden barracks built in the aesthetic 60s cheap concrete style to raise the spirits.
Nothing like a 30 MPH headwind to knock them right back again. It’s only a straight mile before turning away from the base, but God it was bleak. Took an age as well before finally crossing the bridge, failing to take a picture of the Hawk Trainer (phone dampness ongoing) and passing the runways where nothing was flying.
Finally it stopped raining and we could see both bits of Snowdonia we’re crossed and the Holyhead Mountain we had no intention of climbing. The shared path by the A5 was a welcome relief- shielded from the wind and with an easy gradient to click off the distance. Regardless of improving conditions, we both wanted this done now. Half of me was sad for the trip to be close to finishing, half wanted my own bed and a couple of days of not riding bikes.
First though we had to finish. The Phenros Coastal Park was a fine way to enter the last town on the route. An off road path past the impressive looking Holyhead cricket club had the distance down to less then 3km. Two of those were through uninteresting urban landscape before being pitched out by the railway station. Where the rain started again.
Having followed the GPS for 424km, we decided now would absolutely be the right time to strike out on our own. The result was a heave through the station concourse, a ride over the fantastic if somewhat out of place modern bridge (a cross between a game of Mousetrap and a Waterpark slide), a blast through the centre of Holyhead and a damp descent to the sea.
The GPS pinged we were done. Finished. At rides end. It was – frankly – a bit shit. The town centre was pretty horrible, the weather had turned grim again and we were tired from having ridden 65km/3.5 hours without much of a stop. Or any cake. We were also 4 hours early for our booked train. The original plan had been to ride gently to the lighthouse and take valedictory pictures, basking in the warm sunshine, with all of Wales laid out behind us.
The reality was significantly more underwhelming, A bus shelter held together with peeling paint and a view of a sea being thrown about by a summer storm. After a huddled navigational conference, we struck out for the lighthouse anyway. I was hungry and a bit grumpy and my legs were done with riding. Which made the next 5km to the South Stack the worse part of the whole trip.
Especially as we ended up climbing another 150 metres because the lighthouse was – of course – over the top of Holyhead mountain. The clag increased to the point where I couldn’t see Ad’s rear wheel and barely make out my front one. The prospect of paying £6 each to carry the bikes down a rocky path back to sea level so we could take photos in front of something that might be a lighthouse didn’t appeal. At all.
Hence these images of damp riders and no views. Still, it felt good to have come as far as we could without falling into the sea. Going further could only be countenanced as dogmatic pursuit of purgatory.
So we flipped the bike around and made great time back to town, now with a welcome tailwind. Adam found a great café away from the horror of the high street. It served wholesome food and cold beer. It also hosted a large ground floor toilet serving as a changing room to swap damp riding gear for my last set of dry clothes.
Beers drunk but still feeling slightly deflated we made our weary way to the station. Where we hopped onto the tiny two carriage train, stored our bikes and planned to sleep the 3 hours home. Friday night though this is party train and the minutes passed slowly as shouty happy people got increasingly pissed.
This wasn’t the reason Ads and I didn’t talk much. We’d got good at comfortable silences and – for me anyway – I was thinking of what we’d done and what we might do next. We both knew we’d ridden the route ‘well‘ in terms of navigation, speed and companionship. Clearly this was helped by decent weather for four of the days and great accommodation each night to rest and recuperate.
This left me with both a sense of achievement and a lament for re-engaging with the real world. Most riding holidays don’t finish like this. I’m usually just happy to be alive and not missing any vital organs. This felt very different.
The following day I cleaned the bike before taking it for a very quick test ride. The unloaded bike felt light and I felt fit. It seemed like we both wanted to go somewhere else, discover new places, ride new tracks.
The Lon Las Cymru is an amazing experience but, for me, it’s way more than that. it’s opened up a whole side of cycling I’d previously considered as boring and pointless.
Not a bit of it. Find some stunning scenery and ride into it. Do it for a number of days until you run out of land. In between enjoy the simple pleasure of seeing a beautiful country on the best form of transport ever devised.
Five days that changed my view of cycling. That’ll do as a legacy. Until next time.