West Glos & Dean Forest
Motor Cycle Club

Celebrating 71 Years of Motor Cycling 1953 - 2024

Xmas Trail Ride 09

Words: Matt. Day 1, Day 2.

Day One

Back in about October Drew decided to be organised and think about the traditional Christmas trail ride. Some investigation pointed towards the Lake District and he even went as far as ordering a marked map. This didn't turn up so we went to North Wales without him.

Lack of imagination meant that we went for familiar territory with an optimistic idea of adding a few lanes that we rarely get to as well as old favourites. At club meeting prior to Christmas all sort of people expressed an interest for both or just one day but as Boxing Day came and went it was down to four of the usual suspects. Pete, Anth, Mike and me. The family room at the White Lion in Machynlleth was booked and we were ready to go. On about the 27th Ben B crawled out of the family environment and joined in. We left him to find his own bed. Not surprisingly the pub had a room or two spare.

Did you know that there is also a 5 o'clock in the morning? Hmm. Anyway 6'ish saw us on our way. Pete and I in his 90 and the others in Transit Moore. The weather forecast had been dire. Deep snow all the way up the Welsh borders was predicted. It rained a bit. Disappointing really. Our predicted 3 hour trip to Bala was just that. Pity we started 25 minutes late. Transit Moore was ready though. Indeed Pete fitted a battery to his bike and I made use of the facilities in the car park and we were still ready before them Anth had a 400 Gas Gas to play with and its starting habits were known to be unenthusiastic. All sorts of rituals were needed but it did go. Better than Ben's 250 KTM which seemed to have no start button, or at least one that worked. Much fuss was made about what to wear. It was raining so plenty of gear was installed. Ben's kit looked familiar. We have seen it on many occasions on Julian. Pete used the last 3rd of a role of duct tape around 1 trouser leg and about half a turn on the other and Anth donned some CCM trousers that he has had for years and pre-empted the current CCM manufacturing quality. At Anth's suggestion I went for some fine trews which he had sold me many years ago and didn't bother with the Goretex. Git! It was Mike who produce, somewhat shyly, the ultimate in consumer motorcycling kit. Imported from the States, at a cost yet to be divulged, but apparently at lots less than any UK option, was a garment that looked as if he had picked it up whilst delivering biros to the SAS camp in Hereford. Either that or he was planning on a suicide bombing campaign on the public toilets in Capel Curig. Vaguely waistcoat in design with a variety of pockets front and back that were supposedly designed to carry every motorcycling need. It looked more like he was planning on night operations (it was black) against some third world embassy. With an Alpine Stars mac over it he looked, as Anth put it last night, like some over weight rally rider. More like a Ninja Turtle if you ask me.

The route is familiar and leads out of Bala on the main road roughly north then turns onto a slightly less main road even more north. On reaching our next turn onto a single track road the speeds dropped somewhat. The thing was white. And icy. And nasty. All part of the fun really. This road leads up and down a bit to the first 'green' lane of the day. Actually none of them were green. Mostly white with bits of brown here and there. Just before a cattle grid across the road Ben set the mood for the day. One moment he was upright , the next flat on his arse. If he was going down it didn't look good for the rest of us. Round the corner we met a quad in the road. I didn't stop. Well I couldn't actually and was glad of an excuse not to face a moan. Actually all the farmer wanted was to ask us to close gates as other before us hadn't. This was the first time that I have ever seen any signs of other users of this lane. It's always been, and still is very undamaged. (Which is why I never say where these lanes are!) The steep field down to the mud hole has caused us problems in the past when we return this way, usually in the dark and so several inches of snow promised fun. Ben isn't used to our little ways and didn't know the lane. Possibly this is why he ended up closing the gate with a monster puddle. Out the end of this lane and onto white roads. I was leading and the pace was glacial. We soon reached the next lane. By the way, the word lane means green lane or white lane or brown lane but not tarmac. The word road is reserved for that stuff, snow covered or not.) Through a gate and tar turns to gravel, not so you would notice. This lane has always been tricky. Its sunken into a bleak hillside and full of reeds. Riding the pure line is rather hard. Bog 2 feet deep isn't easy. Normally we teeter along the bank trying to avoid slipping off into the bog or down the hill side. Today however all was easy. I think some one has shoved a bulldozer through it. Still fun but actually rideable. At the bottom there are several stream crossings with big boulders to skate on. Crossing through a rather bleak farm with lots of dogs, but never any people, was easier today. All the gates were open so we could clear off without the fear of meeting a shotgun wielding, banjo playing local. pic

More skating on white tarmac down a nasty road into Ysbyty Ifan. From here we have a great out and back lane. It changes status at the top of a hill where there is some sort of boundary. It's a very old road with deep wheel marks in the rock. Lots of water was running down it but there was plenty of snow and ice to keep us on our toes. Quite a few gates meant that we were getting spread out a bit. I took advantage of this to drop the model on a piece of icy granite. I was looking for it as I knew it existed. Was looking in the wrong place though. I hoped my error wasn't seen but the hole in the snow drift and muddy stains meant that my hopes were unfounded. The others caught me up after a minute or two. I was beginning to hope that my poor riding ability was disappearing and that they couldn't keep up. Nope, Pete had been down as well and they had all got together for a collective laugh.

There was definitely a 'them and us' approach to bike preparation where weather proofing was concerned. I had fitted my elephant ear handguards, guaranteed to keep the rain off and also 10 mpg. Pete had used a whole roll of duct tape to create buckets round his hands. The others were using trendy race spec things that looked like mouse ears. By now they were using any feeble excuse to stop and gain a seconds warm by snuggling up to their tail pipes. Over the next two days they spent more time doing this than riding their bikes whilst Pete and I made good use of our prior planning. We usually end this lane at a well wired up gate in the middle of a big and cold stream. It's too much hassle to undo it for the last half mile up an open hillside. It was open for a change so we made full use of this. A snow covered hill made up of bare grass is brilliant and the turn around point, in the middle of now where was a bit of a disappointment. The run back down the hill was less enthusiastic by the more intelligent (cautious) of us. Back we went. A mile plus of rock, ice and snow. The now falling snow meant that the road up out of the village was now a rather precarious descent. Through Y I and on to the next lane.

This has some nice slatey slabs half way up , just where you need to open things up a bit and just where you have actually backed off to cross a gully. I was following Ben who made it look easy. My problem was forgetting that a 230 hasn't the pulling power of a 600 CCM and 4th gear was a touch high. (Been forgetting that for 3 years now!) Scrabbling for 2nd wasn't dignified and spoilt a perfect run. Never mind. Ben's speed meant that yet again he had to open the gate. He didn't learn. I made the most of it and collected the booty left by a previous traveller. What does a # 50 torx bit fit? Half inch drive so it must be something big. We finish this lane by coming onto narrow steeply sloping tar at an acute angle. In the past we have had all sorts of antics here. Jammer usually features. Someone went down at this point through over use of the right hand but it wasn't me. On we went, white tar turning into another lane. Usually shale and gravel with some nice little drops, today it was covered in white stuff which hid the drops until you found them. The last few yards are grass to a steel gate. Judging by the skid marks one of the others had failed to realise this. I'll blame Ben as the rest have been here before and should really know. I was leading from the back again.

The drop into Penmachno was rather fun. Perhaps we have invented a new sport for the winter Olympics. As usual the snow left the roads in the valleys/villages giving the impression that it was only to be found on the tops. How we were to be found out wrong. Out of P we go up a hill which got slipperier by the yard. At a particular corner we gathered and pointed innocent Ben at a hole in the trees. 'You first' . That was the last we saw of him for a mile when he came walked back to help us! This is the best lane in the country. I always liken it to the Monk's Trod with trees and on a hill. CRF 230 footpegs are low and wide which is why I got stuck a lot. Dunno why Pete didn't. By now the fact that I hadn't ridden off road since the Wyegate was showing. Having said all that we agreed that this was the easiest crossing of this lane we have had despite heavy snow and rain. I reckon we averaged about 1 mile an hour which we were very proud of.pic

We met Ben at the bottom of a steep section. Roots, rocks, ruts and snow meant that team work was needed. Pete and Mike went one way and Anth and me went the other. Nether worked and it was much pushing and shoving to get to where Ben had left his Bike. I assume that he had met some walkers or something like that. Can't se how else he got his bike up there. It was now time for Anth to have an unplanned dismount. To get to the flat area took some commitment and very little caution. The 400 gripped well. Too well and he shot up the bank, bounced off a lump and took a sharp 90 degree turn in mid air. There was no body contact at this point but the bike looked like it was part of one of these freestyle moto-cross events. He just rolled around in snow covered heather. Puffing and panting over to some extent we moved on. Slipping on an icy stick I tried to go for a dab. My legs are only little and ground was down hill and a good foot below my wheels. Oops. Even when I hit the ground my troubles were not over as said ground was as hard as treacle and I went in past my knees. The bike was now about a yard above my boots, upside down and very heavy. Mike was no use at all.

Ben found the wrong hole in the wall and all of those who knew the lane followed him anyway and then blamed him for wasting our effort. For a few minutes things went smoothly until we came to the next significant and well dreaded feature. A deep wet area with rutted bog leading to it and a steep narrow path leading out between the trees. This path has a bottomless groove in it so the only option is to close your eyes and ride through the snow covered branch. Again Ben paid the penalty for a) being at the front and b) being the new boy. Not enough tree meant too much hole. How we commiserated! Never mind he is young and fit. Age and wisdom meant that the rest of us merely fought our way through the tree. Anth coming last should have had less snow collapse onto his head but his head is higher than the rest of us and so he had his own private shower.

Nearly over. 1 last obstacle before we can go down. A deep bog with a water filled trench in it. Helpfully Mike told leader Ben to go for it as there was a bottom and not to try to go round. For once he was telling the truth although Ben looked sceptical. Fair enough I suppose. He hadn't been told the truth so far.

Whilst those two were playing those games I decided to carefully push my bike between two deep ruts where they had bottomed out. What I didn't see was the even deeper rut between them as it was covered in snow. Progress stopped as the wheels left the ground leaving the bike suspended form foot pegs and forks. The obvious solution was to give it a handful to see what would happen. Something did. The chain came off and wrapped itself around the front sprocket. Or so we assumed as it was under a lot of frozen bog at the time. Pete was helpful as usual. 'Mine did that at the Welsh' he said. ' I houred out' Hmmm. 'Lets be logical here' I thought so I immediately spread all my tools over the bog, snow and anywhere else inconvenient. Pete took the opportunity to ask to borrow an allen key as my kit was out. Of he trekked with a little kit of bits only to come back for the holder. I was using it. Well he didn't ask for that. Surprisingly, after removing the sprocket cover and applying much brute force everything fell back into place.

By now Ben and Mike had crossed the bog and were wondering where we were. They even made attempts to walk back to see. Mike, benefiting from experience, squelched about a bit and deciding that he was near to disappearing and retreated. Ben who is a touch more sylph like (well more like a good thump actually) splashed back just as we arrived so had to go back the way he had come. Waste of time as knowing that the water was deep but with a solid bottom I dived in with less care than needed, snagged a foot peg and fell off with the bike on me and a leg behind the front wheel. Having only minimal energy and I lay back and pushed the bike with my other foot to free myself. What I actually pushed was the starter button! The bike being in gear now moved forward several feet, dragging my leg with it and completely screwed up any chances of an un-aided escape. Poor old Ben had to make yet another trip across the bog.

At least by now we were at the high point of the lane and all we needed to do was drop about a mile over snow covered boggy hill side and hope that there were no cars blocking the single gate onto the road. After a few stickings, we made it. It was good to pull Pete out of a hole that poor navigation had put before him as it's usually me. pic

We now had just one set of hills between us and lunch. A choice of routes, one over and the other back. We went the opposite way to usual as it was quicker and warmth was high on our list of priorities. A fast blast up through forest tracks led us to a stony drop to Capel Curig. We had planned lunch at the café in the middle and fuel at the petrol station just before. Pulling in revealed that fuel wasn't on the menu any more but the café had reopened. As we remembered that the seats were plastic and hence more suitable for our state of dress and that the staff were more attractive we stopped. I stuck my head around the door and doing my best to look hypothermic asked if we could come in. The answer was the correct one as long as we didn't touch anything. Gear was discarded all over the tables outside and in we went. 5 brunches (breakfast plus chips) and coffees were ordered. We did offer to help cook as it would get us nearer to a heat source but nothing doing. I suppose we were lucky to be indoors. Various re-orders were done to delay leaving but eventually we had to go. Pete added one of several condom like garments to his layering system, I donned a balaclava that added to the ninja turtle image of the group and Mike covered his bomber jacket with another mac. Dry gloves for those of us clever enough and off we went down the road to Betws. As we pulled in at the entrance to the next lane Ben pointed out that he had gone onto reserve. As our route back consisted of open hill side, very closed villages and at least one hour of darkness we let him op into Betws to top up. Mike and Anth went as well and Pete and I waited, feeling smug because we could avoid shivering for the few extra miles and because our bikes didn't drink fuel. This lane is the Sarn Helen. Its starts in the woods and get rocky and slippery. We know this because Mike found out the hard way. Shame. He was, up until now; all smug as he was the only one who had not been down. That will teach him. I bet it was hard. We were now in a way of thinking familiar to all who have been winter trail riding with me leading the way. Head down, pretend the weather isn't there, don't wait for others but keep on leap-frogging through at gates and don't complain for fear of being given the map. We avoided Superlane and followed a very cold road round to Penmachno. The road up the hill had seriously changed and was a challenge in itself. Stopping only for gate opening for me and hand warm for the enduro boys we went back over this lane to Jammer's bend. It wasn't just the corner that was icy now but the whole road with much more snow. Light was going and it was obvious that we were going to be finishing in the dark. Excellent!

Down through torx bit lane, skating about on the slabs and skating even more on the tarmac into Ysbyty Ifan. Dunno what happened to the mob here. One moment they were right behind me the next thing I knew was that I was sitting just out of the village looking up a minor road to see a reversing light coming down the hill rather erratically. Discretion being the better part of being squashed I cleared off, back down the road to find the missing hand warmers. And Pete. Back at the junction the reversing lights hadn't got there yet so I indicated but hung back. Can't remember who went round the corner but they soon stopped and backed up rather rapidly. The driver of the Focus appeared to have about the same amount of control over their direction as Anth did in Superlane. Nowt.

On we slid. Everything was white, except for the darkening sky. I love this time of day in heavy snow. The atmosphere is spooky, it's getting cold and even civilisation feels wild. Welsh villages appear wilder still and the hills definitely have that feeling of desolation. We headed through the dog strewn farm yard. No banjos playing today. Up into the hills for the final time on the penultimate lane. Boy was this fun. Its just about dark enough to need lights to see. Good job there is snow every where other wise it would have been awkward. The lane gradually turns into tar going this way and that slowed things down. Onto the white and now deeply covered road and nearly there. There is a sharp junction down a very steep hill. I virtually stopped engaged bottom gear and pussy footed down. Anth shrieked like a loony and opened the throttle. Dimwit. He could have frightened me!.

The last lane, the boggy first one appeared. Less fuss was made about the bootless puddle by the middle gate. I see why people might not close it, it means wading in knee deep water. We did. Well Ben did. This time he was so far ahead that he opened the gate, got though and was waiting by the time we got there. It wouldn't be kind for me to suggest that I was avoiding this situation or that Ben doesn't learn very quickly so lets just say that he is young and enthusiastic. Mike and Anth shot on ahead. I was happily blocking the others as I didn't want filling in with snow and mud when forward motion stopped. Depression stared though when I realised that the chain as off again. This wasn't the place for getting the spanners out. Boot top deep mud and reeds, snow and darkness would have been the ideal workshop. Luckily my laziness had for once paid off. My sprocket guard was in my pocket not back on the bike so we easily saw that an bit of rocking would sort things out. The need for speed meant that there was instant cooperation for a change and the two up front didn't realise the problem. The next gate was open and patrolled by Mike so there was nothing between us and the road gate except ¼ mile of steep open field covered in 6' of snow. This hill can be a pig in the damp so it had the potential to be a problem. Flat out in 2nd sitting on the back mudguard seemed to work although my bike and trouser were so icy that I struggled not to slide off the back. Out onto the road led to a surprise. What was an icy road with 2' of snow was now an impassable drift. I could even stand up on the ice and decided to rest my bike by lying it down. Mike arrived cursing. No one had shut a gate and he had gone back to do it, having to try the hill twice. Anth arrived and with the concern for his fellow man that has made him a successful business man, didn't stop but buggered off up the verge, correctly realising that this was the only place grip was to be found. Sort of. Up to a foot of snow and ice. We all got going as and is often the case when we near the end it was each to their own. Anth and Mike only had 1 filament in their lights running and seemed to be keen to be off. I don't know about Ben but I am sure his electrical system was too clever. Pete and I were also on 1 filament. Mine was main beam and I woke several owls whilst Pets dip showed him how clean his front mudguard was. His must have been worse than mine as I soon left him behind. It definitely wasn't superior riding ability. Every half mile or so I let him catch up but didn't let him get into speaking range in case he had a problem that I would have to join in with solving. Eventually we reached the sort of main road only to be severly gritted and blinded by an ambulance with all lights going. On to the main main road and it was now raining. A few cold and hairy miles later the dim glow of Bala's car park welcomed us. The transit team should have been ready by now but getting changed under cover was obviously too complicated for them as there was a rather sad threesome tangled in wet gear in the van and the bikes outside. Not having the luxury of a roof, Pete and I started the Landrover, bunged the bikes onto the trailer, dragged off our damp over gear and piled in. The heater is very un-Landrover like. It works. Well. Too well. With a few miles we were too hot. Dry though.

Machynlleth here we coming. Despite the Transit being used to being thrashed within an inch of its life it struggled to hand on to the rather erratic and variable tail lights of Pete's trailer and the dimming glow of my bikes tail light, some how still on despite the engine being off. The battery must be good, it was still on and bike starting in the morning.

As usual the White Lion was welcoming. A race for the best bed prevented any dignity. Anth and Mike were distinctly self motivated in their use of the one radiator. They shed layers of thermal underwear all over it. I did quietly point out to Pete that this meant that their gloves etc were in the boiler room where they probably wouldn't dry. As predicted the vests dried quickly leaving us to claim the rads for our gloves etc. Our vests were happily festering in a bag in the Landy. The boiler room was a mess. Gear everywhere. It's always hard to decide a strategy in this situation. Do you rush to be first a get the least cold pipes or do you hang back and wait until every one has gone before substituting your own gear and leaving the other stuff in a heap on the floor. I subscribe to the 2nd method nowadays and consequently the next morning all my gear was toasty.

I shall gloss over the evening. Steaks for the Neale's. Poncy lasagne for the rest. 5 rounds of real ale and by 10:30 we were in bed. Anth lost his duvet and went to sleep without it. Some criminal thieved a pillow of mine and was thus responsible for all my riding errors the next day and the window ran with condensation but on the whole it was a good night.

Day Two

Day two saw us down to breakfast for 8 am and it was still near dark. Ben was first there. Having been left to sort his own accommodation he was now benefiting from a single room. He was awake and ready to go rather than suffering from the effects of a less than optimum amount of oxygen in his room as the rest of us were. The combined effects of many drying vests and other noxious gases had left us less than lively. Bills paid, we geared up for the day. Gore-Tex sock and gloves were crispy but dry. Having had the good sense to bring a complete spare set of gear I wasn't worried about yesterdays soaking. Not sure about the boots of other people though. I knew that the lanes would be less tough than yesterday and layered up accordingly. Looking behind wasn't easy though. Pete filled up from cans from the Landy and I took one and wandered around the corner to fill it. Possibly so did Ben and Mike. Whilst I was busy levering a lump of rock out of my eye Anth was muttering incantations, performing magic spells and rituals and finally getting the battery booster out of the van. The rest of us warmed up our bikes, fitted goggles and rode around the car park until the 400 coughed and spluttered into something approaching a coma. It would be too much to say life. Anyway a quick trip round the corner would see him ready. Nope. The garage had a power cut!! Luckily there is another petrol station just around the corner. The thing is this would mean stopping and starting a cold bike again. Not a happy chappy! More incantations later we were off down the road to lane one.

As we climbed snow started to cover the lane and by the time tarmac was left behind everything was white. This lane has some nice bare rock and some slippery ruts. We were warming up now. Onto a high and narrow tarmac road with lots of white stuff overlooking the Happy Valley. A really steep and curving lane drops though a stream and a farm to tarmac and a road back towards Mach. By now the snow was coming down hard and fast. Off this road onto a favourite lane. A stony climb leads to a long and rocky lane. Half way up the hill we came across a lot of agricultural looking chaps with dogs and shot guns. Not a lot was said but they did move their truck. There is a very deep puddle astride a gate along here. Prior knowledge meant that I wasn't at the front to open or close it. Good old Ben. By now things were getting evil but we were dropping now and eventually came out onto the main coast road a few miles north of Towyn. After a few very windy miles on slush covered roads were shot up a stony lane and onto the open grassy hills. Anth was a touch wary here as he was wearing some desperately expensive Gore-Tex trousers. Not the best place to take them. Across these fields it was desperately slippery. The wind was making it hard to stay upright and so was the snowy, muddy surface. Ben, Pete and Mike came past me sideways. I crabbed up a bank and bailed out. Whilst I was righting myself Anth came by. Muddy. Apparently he had tried Ben's method of going like a loony. This works most of the time. The posh trews were rather mucky now. Round the corner we have Sheeps**t alley. A short section of lane between walls, gated at each end is used by farmers to gather sheep. You do not want to lick your lips here or pull up behind some one else when they are about to pull off.

This lane runs around Cader Idris and is often used in place by locals taking a short cut in their cars. Not today though just a pick up full of dogs. Didn't see a driver but as a driving test doesn't appear to be required around here maybe Rover was behind the wheel. To some this is known as Bomber lane after the crashed WW2 one that lies hear about. Must admit to have never seen the memorial. The view north to Barmouth and the Rhinogs starts to show. Brilliant but worrying. The hills were white where they could be seen. The road around the north of Cader was sign posted closed, but working on the principle that no one in their right mind would be out and about today, we didn't worry about that. At one point Ben shouted for a comfort stop! By now a certain contingent were warming their hands again. As long as that was all Ben wanted to warm we weren't worried. We didn't look too closely. 5 blokes all with their backs turned on each other. Well it was cold. Skating down the 1 in nothing hill to the youth hostel and up the other side I made sure that I was mid group for the gate in the farm yard. I don't like being the gate closer in farm yards.

This lane runs between two walls for ages. In places the walls have dropped into the lane and this makes for fun. The also-rans just stick out their legs but Ben tries feet up. Annoyingly that often works. Must be Julian's over trousers or at least his genes.

The petrol station n Dolgellau was closed. Pete and I didn't care but the other were wondering.

Down the road toward Barmouth and more favourite lanes. We always talk about the farmer who met us once and regaled us with tales of how the National Park authority won't let him do anything on his own land and how he once got a Ford Capri to the top of a whopping great mountain. We went round the mountain and passing along Jammer's clutch losing lane we dropped to the road again and into Barmouth for fuel. Anth tried to shove a sarny through a full face lid as the leaders didn't wait. The chip shop in town was tempting but the trips motto was as usual, "no lunch 'til tea time". pic

North of Barmouth is another favourite lane. It climbs steeply from sea level between walls. It's always fun to watch new comers to the lane. Ben was leading but as usually happens, rounded the first corner and cocked it up. Looking up the chimney like lane is intimidating. Its grass covered stones and can be very slippery. Stopping is not to be recommended as Drew found out a few years ago. I was first to the top of the initial steep half a mile or so and was startled to see two fluorescent clad ladies in the way. They happily moved, into the path of a chap on a quad. Still he smiled and all were happy. Thinking he might be the landowner and not especially keen on us I rapidly opened the gate and buggered of out of the way. No comments from the others so I assume he didn't care. Just round the corner I met another quad. He smiled and we dodged each other. I did wonder about the others who were bound to be coming on rapidly!

This lane was desperately windy. It's very steep and allows no mistakes. There is a section that's basically 6 feet wide hairpins on grass covered slate. Ride the berms and don't back off and it's great. Mess it up and it's back for another go. Throw in wind that was hard to stand up in and things were (as we say in the teaching world) challenging. That's a euphemism for a right bast****! This lane must be something to do with the bits of quarry about as in places its cut out of the hill with walls dropping away on one side. Not a place to overshoot. The tarmac at the end is really steep. Good job the snow line ended about here. Again fantastic views, this time to the south to Cader and the stack line of Bomber lane cutting across it.

We moved on to another flat gravelled open lane through a farm and onto the hills. We actually just touch Jammer's clutch lane again thus creating a cross roads of sorts. This lane changes to a narrow stony path, covered in snow. Tricky and another one not to mess up unless you want to go back about a mile and try again. We passed through a rally narrow col, like something out of Carry on up the Kyber. It did seem strange to see a fully winter kitted walker by us. I really struggled on the next bit. It's a stony gully/hillside that drops steeply for about half a mile. It then crosses a stream on big rock slabs that are just waiting to tip you into bottomless holes filled with icy water. This is followed by open but rutted grass, again covered in snow. This is tricky in the dry but today was really showing how poorly I was riding. Eventually tar was reached at a gate where we always remember the female cyclist that we had shared a bunkhouse with a few years back and later met at this point. Today there was no view at this point due to blizzard conditions developing on the tops, but it was the view that day that we remember.pic

A mile of road saw us at the lunch stop. A Spar with built in butcher always produces an interesting lunch and another tradition allows us to wonder on the continued existence of the Mitsubishi garage across the road. Bitterly cold winds, even here at sea level saw a swifter than usual lunch. We also realised that at 2pm we were running out of time. We had one huge and high lane to go then 5 miles of road before retracing our steps from Dolgellau along Youth hostel, Bomber, Sheep, s** lane and hunting farmers to 5 miles of road to Mach. Better get going then We had sort of resigned ourselves to a road ride from Dolgellau.

We missed one of our usual short lanes as it isn't really that good and has a lot of gates and set out into blinding snow and buffeting winds across the hills. A barely worn old lane across the moors was hard to ride. Puddles, snow and rock were hard to deal with as my goggles were constantly steaming up. Just how were the others managing to see I didn't know. I do now. We eventually slide onto a roughly gravelled track that runs up from the cyclists' gate. A few hundred yards along we have to drift off to the right across the moors again.

We sometime miss this in the dry and unfortunately I was in my usual place, at the back. I knew we would miss it so was looking out for it and just where I thought it should be it appeared. Mike was just in front and saw me stop but the others were long gone. They can't go too far as the gravel ends about 2 miles away at a dam and eventually they came back. Mike was sitting on a hill top, trying not to be blown of his bike and looked as if he was part of Hitler's retreat from Russia. Wild. I have spent a lot of time in the hills in winter and although my memory may be corrupted by time I reckon this was a foul as I have seen. Back together we slithered across bog and rock, all covered in snow and ice. We cross an ancient bridge and start to climb. The route is now "paved" with huge slabs. Falling off these into the bogs is to be avoided, something I know from bitter experience.

It must be admitted that it was at this point that our team work started to fall apart. Stopping and waiting wasn't a good idea and so using the normal Wednesday evening cycling technique we moved at the speed of the fastest and bugger the slowest. Being in that position I felt a trifle miffed when I reached the stone slab bridge which is desperately slippery to find that everyone else had gone into the mist. Discretion being the better part of not having an epic I pushed across. Nearly. The back end kicked out and to avoid being pushed down a 4 foot drop and trapped in the stream by the bike I let it go. "Oh dear" didn't come to mind. Two choices here. Question the parentage of my mate's then cry or do the questioning then try. I did the latter and very much to my surprise the bike dragged itself up a 4 foot vertical bank. Good bikes these 230's! Slithering up into thicker mist and evil spindrift the rest came into site spread over about a hundred yards of hill side. The route steepens and crosses a rocky off camber stretch as it climbs. The flattish bottom of the hill is now disappearing rapidly into the weather.. By now a few hundred yards separates us and we are lucky if we can see one other person. The spindrift is making it impossible to see, even with goggles and we are struggling to stay up right let alone on the hill. Being blown over the edge now would not be healthy. It wouldn't even earn a ride in a paraffin budgie as the visibility was too poor. Poor old mountain rescue boys would be carrying the corpse out.

Occasionally miracles happen. I passed Anth! Well there was no stopping unless forced to. The view to the right was minimal and we were being blown that way. I know what the drop is like. Near vertical grass for several hundred feet. Pete came into view. Stuck and back wheel skating towards the edge. Needless to say he got off. He moved on out of sight, about 50 yards, into the snow. His stopping had stopped me and I was worrying close to the edge. Lying the bike down kept it on the track but I had to wait until Pete came back to get it upright. A few sharp words were said when he went to give it back to me when I was most definitely not ready. Anth was in a heap just below and I was definitely not going anywhere. Mike and Ben appeared out of the mist. By now I had definitely had enough and made the decision I should have done much earlier. Back. That's a smart bike 2nd from front.  Where can I buy it? (Clue: www.hainesmc.co.uk)

There was no arguing. By the time I had turned round Ben and Mike had come back, Ben pushing. It was a hard push for him down into the wind and through deep snow. Pete's bike wasn't starting either but a 230 will bump on ice. Down we went, over all the slippery stones and the slab bridge. Ben dropped his bike in this time and had no engine to help him out with it. Good job he is fit. Back at the bridge we started to wonder how to fix it. Was it an iced carb? Memories of Xmas 95 came back to some of us, crossing the Monks Trod with freezing carb's and brakes. A quick look around the bike solved the problem. The petrol was switched off. Hee hee. Now the wind was behind us. We were still struggling to stay upright but at least we could see. Back to the gravel and then to the first nasty rutted section. Here I told the others we could gamble. It was obvious that we were going to have to go home by road and we were unlikely to make it before dark. Returning by our route out would take us back to the Spar in 20 minutes plus. Shooting down the gravel would bring us to the cyclists' gate in a few minutes and if it was open the Spar in a few more. A locked gate meant a mile back to the junction against the wind then the same 20 minutes. The gate was open. Phew.

A quick change of gloves was now in order and for the others goggles cleaned. Mine fell apart. Ah well 30 miles on the road in the pouring rain. The road south to Barmouth was rather windy. I was leading. At one point I was riding in the gutter with a foot hovering above the kerb, leaning into the wind. The next moment I was over the white line. Pete said he did the same and I reckon we all did. No goggles meant that 40mph into the wind was my maximum speed. After a bit I waved the others through. 10 or so miles later I spotted, in the distance, a strange shaped little group. It was the others in their usual, hand warming position, crouched over their engines. With a regal wave and a jaunty little toot on the horn I passed them and trundled on my merry way. I assumed they were being sociable and waiting for me (breaking the habit of the day!) and that they didn't have a problem. If they did they were big boys and could either fix it or catch me up if I had to wait. Up the hill out of Dolgellau there is a petrol station. With no need to fill up I ignored it and being unable to turn my head didn't bother to look behind me. I was conscious that there was less engine noise behind me so assumed that the others had paused for fuel. I was right enough as eventually I could hear another engine that sounded very much like a Honda. Pete had ridden by as well.

Up to now I wasn't particularly cold. I had put some dry gloves on before we started and these were still mostly dry. I had a lot of clothes on and had been cursing most of the day until now. I can't say that I was toasty on the way back but never really cold. Bored yes. A significant section of our route followed the main road over the flanks of Cader and I was keen to get over the top before dark, knowing that the road would be snow covered. Snow flakes in the eyes slowed things down a bit but thankfully the slush wasn't too bad and I cautiously crept down the other side. Up and over to Corris, hoping that the light would last. Rain and snow on dark roads would not be fun with my lights. Eventually the lights of Mach appeared. In just about enough daylight to see the way I pulled into the White Lion car park. It was Pete right behind me.

We didn't hang about. Landrover engine warming up we slung the bikes on the trailer whilst still wrapped up in dirty wet gear and set about ditching wet outer gear. Surprisingly my layers of fleece underneath were dry. It was just about not raining now which was great and we were quickly ready. The other rolled in. conversation was limited to brave comments about how it wasn't really as bad as it could have been and shall we do it all again. Hmmm. Pete wanted to be home so gallantly ignoring the best kebab shop there is I crawled into the navigators seat demisted the windows and set course for home.

Lessons to be learnt:

  1. Make the most of personal experience. I knew the weather was going to be foul long before we found it on the last lane. Wishful thinking kept me going, and I had the map, when common sense would have turned us round earlier. Having said that I love wild conditions and if I had been walking with better gear and mentally ready for it I would have happily spent all day fighting the blizzard.

  2. Know where you are. Being aware of the gravel track to the cyclists gate saved us from spending 20 minutes on the road in the dark and that's when accident happen.

  3. Take plenty of kit. My hands were not really cold throughout the two days. People laugh at my full rucksack but I had a spare fleece and two extra pairs of gloves with me. I used them. Pity my goggles fell apart. Teach me to check which ones I pick up.