Llandegla on the First Day of Spring

After what felt like weeks of snow and horrible weather, spring finally decided to show its face, as the UK changed our clocks to British Summer Time. Fortunately this coincided with a day I’d set aside for mountain biking. Llandegla was a last minute decision, mainly based on having a good weather forecast and the cafe posting some tasty looking burgers on their social media. With the clocks changing, and my usual faffing at home it was 10:00 before I set off (I really need to get better at getting out the house!), meaning I didn’t arrive in North Wales until lunchtime.

I didn’t hang around getting onto the trails, as I wanted to get a lap of the red trail done before lunch, although I did find time to buy some new gloves from the shop. Without even realising it, I made it most of the way up the 5km long first climb that I’d struggled with last summer, and my legs still felt fine! I continued to the top of the trail, barely believing how much my fitness had improved since last summer!

The first section of the trail was pretty muddy – when I stopped at the end to tweak my suspension, I was covered head to toe in mud including my 30 minute old gloves. Whilst I was stopped I had a chat with a couple of other riders, it turned out one of them lives less than a mile from me in Coventry.

Happier with my suspension settings, I carried on down the trail to the Snowdon viewpoint. I remember having to stop for a breather a couple of times on this section on my last visit, as even though it was down hill, it was still tough going. However this time, I was able to keep going and faster than before too. As it was a clear day I had a good view of Snowdon, which had a dusting of snow on the top. It was at this point I went to get some jelly babies from my bag, annoyingly they had vanished – possibly a sign that I need to buy a new bag, rather than taping up the holes with gaffer tape…

There was a diversion on the next section, I was hoping that it would miss out the Double Steep Climb section, unfortunately it didn’t. After feeling good about my fitness, the short but steep climb put me back in my place – I had to get off and push. The next section was fast and downhill up to the decision point to B Line, there were only a few other riders on the trail, and I was seriously enjoying myself. There had been a lot of forestry work since my last visit, so even though I’d ridden the trail before it all felt new.

I decided against riding B Line, as I’d ridden it on my previous visit, it was at the top of my abilities and I wanted to ride the full red trail. This section of trail had a few line choices, with various jumps and drop offs, I wasn’t expecting to have to choose obstacles, but made my way through without any mishaps. I like the idea of different lines that don’t necessarily increase in difficulty. Back on the main trail I joined a group of ten or so riders and felt like both myself and my bike were coping well with the steep, rough downhill sections, but in the back of my mind was the brutal climb back up to the reservoir. The whole group seemed to be riding at roughly the same pace, and struggling on the same climbs, so I didn’t feel so bad on the few occasions where I had to get off and push – as I wasn’t on my own.

For some reason I had forgotten about the climb after the reservoir on Julia’s Trail, I was expecting it to be all downhill from there – it probably didn’t help that I was getting hungry by this point! I also managed to get caught behind an e-biker, she was able to pull away from me on the climbs, but held me up on the downhills, until she eventually let me past. It reminded me a bit of the “fast car” on a trackday scenario – my little MR2 is slow on the straights, but can carry a lot of speed through the corners, so I am sometimes held up in corners, but not fast enough to pass on the straights. Without anyone in front of me, the ride back to the trailhead – and my lunch – was fast and fun!

The special burger that had been shared on social media wasn’t on the menu, but after a tough ride the standard burger went down well, washed down with a can of Irn Bru. As the sun was out, it was nice to be able to sit outside to eat my lunch.

With a full belly, I set off back up the hill to ride the blue trail, once again making it up to the top of the hill in in one hit. The blue trail is much flowier, with smoother trails and fewer climbs it is so much fun to ride! The blue trail starts after the muddy section of the red trail, with a bermed hairpin sending you back through a cleared part of the forest, which is quite an eerie landscape. The only problem is that this part of the trail is too fun for photo stops! I finally pulled up at the end of the section for the photo at the top of this post.

I followed the blue trail back down the hill, mostly on my own, other than passing a few dads out with their boys, which made me miss Owen, and look forward to being able to ride with him one day. Close to the bottom of the hill I took a diversion off the trail to visit the pump track. I did a few laps, alternating with a little boy, probably only a few months older than Owen, on his balance bike and his Dad. They were having so much fun, going round the trail together – that should be me and Owen by the end of the summer and I can’t wait!

I hadn’t ridden the last section of the blue trail from the pump track to the car park previously and it has so much fun, a perfect end to the ride!


Llandegla

Last weekend I took a trip up to Llandegla, for what was probably my toughest day on a mountain bike. Llandegla is the nearest Welsh trail centre to Coventry, and had been top of my list of places to ride for a while. It also meant I could tick off one of my 2017 goals.

I left a grey and rainy Coventry, hoping that the forecast for sun in North Wales would be correct. Fortunately it was, with the rain clearing before I got to the end of the M54. I met my friend Andrew and his friend James at the visitor centre. We set off up the five kilometre climb, which is the start to all the trails at Llandegla. It is a fairly gentle climb, but felt relentless. My legs, and lungs, are used to much shorter climbs, so I struggled, eventually catching up with the guys at the top.

The ride down the hill was almost as punishing, mountain bike trails are graded like ski pistes: green, blue, red and black, increasing in difficulty. We took the red trail, but included one of the black loops off the main trail – my first time riding a black trail. After the long climb I was expecting it to be downhill all the way back to the trailhead, but the trail was peppered with steep climbs. The downhill sections didn’t offer much chance to recover, they were rough and bumpy, with raised wooden sections and plenty of jumps. I was struggling due to being at my limits of fitness and bike handling skills. The guys had to wait for me to catch up quite a few times, but I eventually made it to the end in one piece, still buzzing from the ride down. As it was such a lovely afternoon we chilled out on the terrace outside the amazing cafe and I really felt like I’d earned my bacon sandwich and slice of cake.

Suitably refuelled and aware that I needed to work on my fitness, I decided to do a solo loop of the blue trail. I took my time on the climb, with a few stops to catch my breath and take photos. I made it to the top without having to push the bike, despite it actually taking longer than the same climb in the morning. Dropping in to the blue trail I was back in my comfort zone, the trail was much smoother and only had a few gentle climbs as it twisted back down the hill. It was also much quieter, I only saw a handful of other riders. After struggling on the red/black loop in the morning, the blue felt like the perfect place to concentrate on my technique and have some fun.

Both loops were enjoyable in their own ways. The red/black trails challenged both my skill and fitness, but the whole point of a sport like mountain biking is to push yourself. The blue trail was easier and flattered my riding. I was glad I went back to the top again. At two hours door to door, Llandegla won’t be replacing Cannock Chase as my usual trail centre – it is a full day out, rather than just a morning. However, I am looking forward to a return visit, hopefully my fitness will have improved by then too!

Chester – Via North Wales

MR2

Since our trip to North Wales last year, I had wanted to drive my MR2 on the Welsh Mountain roads, so as we were heading up to Chester for the weekend I thought a detour would be in order! This photo was taken at the top of the Horseshoe pass, where we stopped for a picnic, before continuing towards Ruthin and eventually Chester. The MR2 was perfect on the Welsh mountain roads, with the roof down in the spring sunshine I was a very happy Lewis.

We spent the afternoon in Chester doing touristy things, walking along the walls, checking out the shops etc, before meeting some friends at Hickory’s BBQ restaurant – which is one of my favourite restaurants anywhere. My aim for the year is to learn how to cook pulled pork on the BBQ, if mine is anywhere near as nice as Hickory’s I will be very proud of myself.

We stayed overnight at the Village Hotel, just over the Welsh border at St Davids, and called in at Cheshire Ice Cream Farm on the way back home the next morning. I’d heard good things about it and wasn’t disappointed, it was just a shame we couldn’t take any home with us!

In all it was a great weekend, combining three of my favourite things, BBQ’d meat, ice cream and road tripping!

A day out in North Wales

Horseshoe Pass

This was one of those trips where lots of separate things lined up making for a brilliant bank holiday Monday!

For years I have wanted to drive the Evo triangle, a notorious route in North Wales, which regularly features in Evo magazine. So, when I found out I had to put some miles on a test car from work over the bank holiday weekend the Evo triangle was my first thought! Jen’s parents had also bought us an “Afternoon Tea” voucher for Christmas, which we were running out of time to use. One of the places we could redeem it was St Georges Hotel in Llandudno – just north of the Evo triangle. The next thing that lined up for us was the bank holiday weather, it was warm and sunny – perfect!

The drive up the A5 to the Evo triangle wasn’t too bad and we were there by mid morning, on the first (anticlockwise) sighting lap we were following a farmer’s Land Rover, so taking it easy, when the police helicopter flew directly above us at low level, as if to give us a “Don’t even think about it” warning. So, I pulled up at the lay by at the top of the triangle to take some photos and wait for a bit. Finishing the first lap, with no traffic in front of us was brilliant, the road more than lived up to the hype and would have been perfect in my MR2 (which was tucked up at work). At the end of the lap, we turned round and did another lap clockwise this time, there wasn’t traffic on either the A543 or the more open B4501, where I was able to really put the test car through its paces.

After the fun of the Evo triangle, it was on to Llandudno for afternoon tea. Despite the detour, we actually managed to get there early, so spent an hour or so exploring the promenade and the pier. Both Jen and I were pleasantly surprised by Llandudno, the town itself was nice and the pier had all the tacky seaside amusements you expect. After playing on the 2p machines it was time for afternoon tea, our table was at the front of the hotel, so had a good view over the beach, which was only obscured by the mountain of sandwiches and cakes put in front of us!

After struggling to finish all the cake it was time to get back in the car and head back to the shire. I’d heard about some tunnels on the A55, but either we missed them, or they were over hyped, but they were soon forgotten when we hit the Horseshoe Pass on the A542 (the panorama at the top of this post – click to see full-size), a great bit of road, with stunning scenery!

It was only a brief visit, but North Wales is certainly somewhere I’d like to visit again, the roads are almost as good as in Scotland but it is day-tripable from the shire!