Bala Trail Riding
Words by Matt Neale Photos By Ian Vessey and Anthony Moore
Over the weekend following Christmas 03 a selection of club members ventured into the hitherto unexplored wastelands of North Wales for a spot of trail riding. The morning of the 27th saw an advance party of The Chairman and Moore Major trekking of into the unknown, armed only with a vague description of the accommodation for the night (The White Lion Royal Inn in Bala) and some ancient maps with a selection of squiggly lines drawn on them in marker pen. Apparently all of this got them the correct place whereby they unloaded and set off into the unknown. Two lanes were attempted. On one, they were fobbed of by the farmer with some feeble excuse, which they fell for. The other lane proved to be an old sunken road in virgin condition. Not a tyre mark was to be seen. Ruts were spectacular by their non-existence and all was good with the world. Some high speed and low temperature saw them back at the pub feasting and drinking and awaiting the rest of their fellow adventurers.
Early evening saw more arrivals. The Monmouth crowd were the first. Ginger (Tally Ho chaps) and The Welsh Corgi (well Rod is small, energetic and at times rather aggressive) were followed by Nigel "that pond is bottomless " Morgan. Neale's Major (the illustrious leader and author of this epic tale) and Minor (the Blacksmith). 5 steaks of differing preparation were ordered and 5 identical steaks arrived. At least there were several dishes of chips! An extensive tour of the local nightlife, enlivened by what must have been the local round of Miss World, cough, splutter, where? resulted in an early night with Ovaltine all round and meant that every one was off to the land of nod in readiness for the morning.
Breakfast was calorific rather than pleasurable. Apparently Neale Minor doesn't like beans in the morning. There were lots of beans! The breakfast was all there, just a bit third world in its preparation. As the party was wiping the last crumbs from its metaphorical lips the balance of the expedition arrived. On time! The trip up in The Stationers van was obviously so traumatic that the Bream Builder, (noisy not bionic), failed to attempt to mate with his comrades as a fraternal greeting. In a few minutes the party was ready for the off. Well almost. Apparently the Dealer, Moore Minor, had been so busy purveying his motorcycling goods to all and sundry that his own trust steed was incorrectly garbed and was in need of a substitute tank before we could start. Mutterings about " the next owner will never know" were heard amongst the frantic spanner wielding crashes. Never mind. Roughly on time the party set out. One minor condition was obviously going to affect the overall nature of the day. A dusting of snow in Bala soon revealed itself to be 6 inches worth up in the hills.
Navigation could have been awkward. Spotting the difference between tarmac and gravel etc was impossible. Luckily The Leader had planned the route with GPS and Touratech software and was able to get from A to B without going to C too often. A minor deviation from the route occurred when the "enter" button was pressed at the wrong moment and the GPS registered a man overboard thus insisting on displaying this point only rather than the route. Much fiddling and switching the bloody thing off sorted it out. Just when the snow was getting deep the first mechanical problem occurred. Ginger's chain exploded. The combined skills of a black smith, motorcycle sales person, engineering director and a builder helped to butcher what was left, bung in a split link and away the party went. The Stationer chose this point to roll in the snow a bit. We don't know why.
Several lanes followed. Some of them might have had tarmac on them, but it didn't really matter. Eventually the famous "Wayfarers" lane was found. Several miles of snow up to a pass that would have done justice to Scott's last expedition saw much sliding about and rather competitive riding. The logbook at the top was signed and the descent of the other side was made. Odd Landrovers kept appearing just at the narrow spots just to keep every body on their toes.
The village at the end of the lane, LDC for short, saw some discussion. Apparently the rider with the biggest fuel tank was about to run dry. Discussions centred on whether a fuel stop could be reached or not. This would probably have seriously cut short the days riding so the owner who shall be nameless if not guiltless (fill it up next time) was persuaded to continue with the promise of donations from other if the worst happened. Three miles further on it did. It took a while to help him out as the group was spread over the side of a steep, probably tarmaced and definitely snow covered hill. The fact that the Chairman was carrying a gallon can make life slightly easier. The white out at the top proved interesting. Sympathy prevailed and retreat was started but before the groups managed to become one again Ginger had another occurrence. Much pratting about changing plugs along with helpful suggestions along the lines of "try choke", "get a four stroke" and "press the button" eventually got things going. The lethal lanes, nasty weather and general lack of enthusiasm as the party made its way to Llangollen are best glossed over. The petrol station with a supply of pasties was very welcome. The lack of toilet facilities was not so popular. Llangollen has to be recommended for it's large amount of totty patrolling the streets on a wet winters Sunday afternoon. Short skirts more than made up for the manky weather and quite took peoples minds of soggy gloves.
Time was getting on, hail was falling and so the decision was made to follow the crow via a few lanes back to LDC and the "Wayfarers" and then the pub. A good plan, approved of by all except apparently the Chairman who somehow managed to avoid it all by running out of sparks several miles up the lane and a good way from tarmac. He made a heroic retreat, pushing all the way to the pub where he waited, and no doubt telling tales of great daring to admiring locals. His travelling mate, Moore Major travelled through the night to find him and then as planned they made their weary way home.
Back in Bala the noble survivors took advantage of deep baths, lots of hot water and the bar. Food was eaten, much more drink was drunk and every body got very happy. The local beauties were particularly happy, especially when the Builder started to demonstrate how charming he can be when pissed out of his mind. Corgi was doing his best to sound local but to everyone else he just sounded rat arsed. Ginger realised that he could put drinks on his room bill and the brandies flowed! Apparently it tastes better out of the correct glass or so he tried to tell the poor bemused barman. It must be wondered how they hell he could tell. Moore Minor was the first to give in, followed at various stages by the rest of the party.
Monday morning was the old cliché, bright and sunny. By god it was cold. The main concern was obviously going to be ice rather than snow on the roads. After some maintenance by the KTM owners Ginger and Pond man, clutch fluid needed for both of them, the party was ready. The first lane, after some slithering (no this isn't a Harry potter story) about on the tarmac, was the one that the chairman and Moore Major had been conned out of on Saturday but from the other end. Perhaps it wasn't such a con after all as 1/4 mile into it all came to and end in a fence and bank that looked as if the Druids had put them there. Never mind.
The lane following this was a classic. The advance party had also tried this one and reckoned that it was in a virgin state before they got to it. An obviously sunken road dropped down through field then followed the line of a stream, very wet and muddy, to tarmac. Several riders wimped out on the entire length, preferring to ride along the bank instead. They shall be nameless. Their conscience shall be their punishment.
A short tarmac section led to a long gravely/snowy track which then changed into another sunken lane crossing open hillside. Wimps rode along the bank. Heroes rode the proper route. The leader being both heroic and in the lead found the point where thick reeds, deep mud and lack of foresight meant that the wimps had to be joined. A few yards further on the lane was rejoined and eventually tarmac, via the muddiest, sh*******est , dog ridden farmyard in the whole of Wales, and that's saying something, was traversed. Luckily the dogs were noisy but friendly (like the ones in the pub that the Builder chatted up).
Much more of the Harry Potter stuff led to yet another long twin rutted lane. This, via mud, slush, stones and grass lead to a steep drop off over some ice covered sloping steps. The builder, in the lead, found them first. Much to the Leaders surprise, he heard the yelps of fear, the builder cleaned the lot. They were remembered; especially later on when the lane was reversed. By now the sprawling metropolis of Ysbyty Ifan was reached. There is b***** all there apart from a good lane or two. The next venture of tarmac was to be an out and back job. The OS map has it ending on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere at a parish boundary. More of the same really. Twin ruts, stones, mud, ice water. A deep puddle was followed by a wonderful blast up an open hillside. Vague wheel tracks showed the route but really it was flat out grass, covered in snow, and a foot high. Grip was non-existent if you stopped, but great if you nailed it. All this miles from anywhere with not a cloud in the sky.
Returning to tarmac saw a quick blast to Penmachno which is a really exciting place. Not. So much so that we came back this way. There now followed some fun. The route was tarmaced. Well it was under the snow and ice. It went up the hill, down it and back up aging. Several times! Eventually civilisation was reached. Or so it was thought. How many gates to get here? That's both ways. How much ice? And how did the parcel force van (with driver) get on top of that hill? Flat bits had a habit of suddenly turning left and plummeting to a river with a huge drop on one side and a precipice towering overhead on the other. At one point the leader decided to liven things up by trying to cross a 45-degree slope that was covered in ice. When at right angles to the road everything started to slide. A whopping high side was on the cards when the front wheel found the verge and then a hole. Artistic or what? (See picture elsewhere for the aftermath) All the other boring gits pussyfooted down. Eventually non slippy tarmac, the A470 was reached and it was time to use the main jet again.
The next lane lead over the hills to lunch and petrol at Capel Curig. Forestry going can be confusing, especially when new tracks have been bulldozed that don't appear on the map. In this case it wasn't too bad. By ignoring most of the tracks and believing the GPS an incident free passage was made through the forestry where the ancient road was met. More fast stony going with mud to make it interesting was the format here. In the summer this track can be littered with walkers but today it was empty. All too soon the main A5 was in site and the petrol station at Capel was to become the scene of much gluttony, adjusting of braces and trousers and looking for cold bits of the anatomy to pass water through.
Lunch done and dusted it was time for the party to work its way back to Bala. The old Roman road south from Betws-Y-Coed is really great. You can really feel the history there. The route on the map is not really practical or sociable but it can easily be by passed. The views to the south are wonderful. From the road at Dolwydellan, not far from the start of the route over to Capel Curig a short blast lead to the A5 at Betws and east. The tight bends soon lead to the turn of to Penmachno. Now the out route was mostly reversed. The out and back lane to the middle of nowhere was ignored so the track back to the icy steps was next. See the photo of The Stationer and his fancy legwork elsewhere on the site. The steps were not as easy this way and much bad language was used.
Familiarity was now helping navigation as well as speed and soon the "dogs yard" was reached. By now the sun was dropping below the hills and the tarmac was getting icy. The leader avoided the reedy bog this time. The farmer on a quad at the east end was quite happy to see everybody. A minor deviation up a driveway (well these welsh lanes all look the same) led back to the old sunken road. It had not got any drier. Several members of the party got a bit girly here, being worried that their transport home would be full of paper clips on the morrow. The last bit of narrow tarmac was by now an ice rink. It was nice to get back on to the main road, although even this provided a moment of wintry excitement for several people. The long straights into Bala showed that partially run in CCM 404's can do 90 + on off road gearing if ridden by builders.
The hotel and vans were reached in time to load up in daylight. A smooth journey home was promised. Unfortunately several pile-ups around the crucial junctions near Shrewsbury meant substantial diversions for all. Oh well you can't have everything.
The lanes around the Berwyns are great. They are probably not as overridden as most of mid Wales. The journey there may be a bit longer but the roads are good and there are plenty of places to base yourself. The route used on this trip was based solely on information gained from new OS maps. A few obscure lanes may have been missed and the UCR over the Bwlch-Y-Groes was a lane too far for the winter. A return in more hospitable weather is on the cards.