Barbondale

Barbondale Valley is quite probably one of the greatest roads to cycle on. Located in south Cumbria it climbs gently from the Village of Barbon with spectacular views until a steep drop down into Dentdale.

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This photo of my lovely wife doesn’t really do it justice, especially as it was dull and overcast last weekend, but even then it was amazing. I’ve written about this valley a couple of times in the past, once on a 212km Audax, where the guys I was riding with had never been there (read about it here). The annual Coal Road challenge also uses this road, but in the other direction, with the steep climb out of Gawthorpe and the long gentle descent. This climb is mentioned in Simon Warren’s book ‘cycling climbs of the north-west’, although it only gets a 7/10, and is called Stone Rigg Outrake, which no one ever calls it. I’ve also blogged about the Coal Road challenge (read about it here).

If you are ever in the area there are so many great roads, but this is one that is often overlooked, which is a shame.

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Cycling down Snowdon

Last weekend the three of us hiked up and down Snowden and really enjoyed it. You can read about it here. Near the bottom, as you leave the road and start on the path there is a sign.

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Imagine my surprise as four mountain bikers sailed on through the gate. A bit later we had to step to the side so that another two could pass, and then later on another two, although I stopped to talk with one of them. I mentioned the sign that said there is a ban on cycling from May to September. He said that it was a voluntary ban. That’s a new oxymoron, one I’ve not heard before.

What a load of rubbish I thought.

Back home a few days later and my wife google’d cycling Snowdon, and fair enough there is a voluntary ban, although all cyclists must be off the path by 10am. The last two we saw most definitely were not.

What got me though, is why would you want to cycle Snowdon on a Saturday in the middle of the summer when there are many hundreds of people walking up the mountain. Trying to cycle through people is an absolute pain, I want to be able to go fast, and not have to stop every couple of seconds for walkers. The voluntary ban could be revoked at any time if cyclists don’t slow down or move out of the way.

As a cyclist, I think Snowdon should be for walkers only in the summer, definitely at a weekend, especially as there are so many other really great places to cycle in North Wales.

Walking Snowdon

A long weekend away camping in north Wales, what could possibly go wrong. The two hour journey took nearly five because of accidents, I forgot the inflatable mattress and the campsite was horrible. We stayed one night, ignored the festival toilets and the scary fight at 3am, packed up and drove to Llanberis.

Even though one of the biggest triathlons in Wales is based there, and the Brutal, I’ve never been. Looked like a nice little town, dominated by the mountain railway, which was completely sold out for the whole of August, even at nearly £40 for a return ticket. We wisely decided to walk up instead, along with hundreds of others. The weather was perfect, clear sky, no rain and not too warm.

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Walking from Llanberis is the most popular route, but not the shortest. It wasn’t like when I hiked up Scafell on a foggy day and didn’t see a single person. Snowdon was busy. Too busy to go to the actual summit, which was a teeming mass of people, with a queue almost down to the summit cafe, most of them taking selfies.

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Nelly enjoyed it as well, although she did want to know what the hell that train was. Nelly is the English Pointer.

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Helen, my beautiful wife, also enjoyed the walk. Just under 9 miles which took us about four and a half hours. We stopped often and took our time, although all three of us were tired as we walked back into Llanberis.

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I would definitely like to go back to the area, hopefully with a bike and explore some of the great hills. Also, at some point I need to walk up Ben Nevis so that I have the full set. We’ve cycled through Fort William and looked up into the mist where Ben Nevis probably was, but we didn’t have the time to walk up. Next time.

Le Tour De Bolton

Yesterday me and my beautiful wife took part in the Le Tour De Bolton Sportive, organised by Epic Events. You might think that a bike ride around Bolton might not be too much fun, but it’s not an area that we cycle around very often. In fact, Helen hadn’t previously cycled a single segment over the whole 60 miles. We arrived nice and early so that we could be off first, as we didn’t want to be out too long. H was also worried about the hills, especially The Rake, which is described by Simon Warren in his iconic climbing books thus – catch your breath if you can and turn right into the almost impossible 25% stretch to the top. If that wasn’t enough, we also had to climb Crown Point, Anglezarke and Sheep House Lane, along with a fair number of less spectacular climbs, adding up to over 1600m of climbing.

The route and profile can be found here.

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The start/finish was at a local school and as we set off out through the gates and onto the road I noticed a group of about a dozen cyclists off to one side who joined us as the moment we started. I know that some people like to ride sportives without paying, but at least don’t do it blatantly. Maybe wait a day or two, or even the following week. The event wasn’t that expensive and the organisers have spent many hours putting out all of the directional arrows, so don’t be a complete d*ck. Rant over.

The first few miles were busy with other riders, but fortunately very little traffic, so it was generally plain sailing until we hit The Rake. Although there was one guy riding a TT bike who was a bit wobbly. Not the bike for the course thought I. When we hit The Rake there were plenty of people walking near the bottom. H felt a bit trapped in and put on a burst to get some room, before reaching the very steep section. She didn’t quite manage all the way up without getting off, but made it far higher than many others. With a grin we continued, passing that one guy who hates to be chicked and just had to try to overtake us at any opportunity.

The feed stop was located in Oswaldthistle, and was busy but fully stocked with everything you could want, manned brilliantly by some local cubs and scouts. My brother-in-law was doing Velo Birmingham on the same day, and the first feed station had nothing left when he reached it.

We didn’t stop long, although I had the bright idea to tip my black coffee into my half empty water bottle. Lemon hydro plus coffee – not a good taste. Unfortunately the roads were now starting to get busy with cars and we also had to negotiate a couple of main roads, so it wasn’t until we hit the lower slopes of Anglezarke that we could relax again. Amazingly this was the first time that I had ridden the whole climb, and what a place for the official photographer.

We then turned onto Sheep House Lane for the last big climb of the day, although H nearly missed the turn. The Lane was also very busy with cars and motorbikes, combined with some very narrow sections of road. You can see why Ironman UK has such a fearsome reputation, as this Lane has to be climbed twice. We zipped down into Belmont, avoided a prat in a crap car, and made it back to the finish area with big smiles.

Epic Events put on some great events, including the Howgills Triathlon which I did last month (here), and it’s always good to be able to download the photos for free. We probably wouldn’t do this particular sportive again, but H does want to return to have another crack at The Rake. Finally, even though it wasn’t a race, my fit wife did manage to win her age group.

Checking out the Quantocks

The Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is without doubt one of the best places to cycle in the country. You should go there… now. In fact, every AONB that I’ve cycled through has been brilliant, so when work sent me to Taunton I took the chance to load up my commuting bike and check out the Quantocks. The hills were not as large as in Bowland, but I still managed 450m of climbing in 28km.

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I didn’t find the steepest climb, and I also found it hard to take a good photo as every lane seemed to have hedges big enough to hide giraffes. I only skirted the southern area of the Quantocks, as can be seen in my route, but next time I want to explore further.

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Another reason that I was excited about seeing the Quantocks is that they get a mention in a song by my favourite band. And not just any song either, but probably the best song that they have written. Joy Division Oven Gloves by Half Man Half Biscuit from their Achtung Bono album. The song also became the unofficial anthem of the save the 6 music campaign back in 2010. How can you not smile at a song that mentions the Quantocks.

The Beards of Bowland search for Botton Head

Another Beards of Bowland outing, although it was only myself and the Prof. Our route was devised by the Prof as he wanted to look for some dead ends near to the Cross of Greet. We set off and leisurely made our way to the bottom of Bowland Knotts with a hefty head wind, where prof insisted on our first photo of the day. What is the difference between a headwind and a block headwind?

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From Bowland Knotts we returned the way we came, looking for dead ends. A couple of gravel roads were found that will be saved for another ride. Disappointingly there was only one other small dead end so we set off up the Cross of Greet, whereupon I got a puncture.

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This was the first puncture that I’d had on my road bike for over a year. My front tyre has now done 8640km, which isn’t too bad. I reviewed it a while ago here.

Once I’d swapped tubes Prof set off across the grass to climb a stone. You’re probably not allowed to do that.

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Once back on the road the serious business of finding Botton Head began. We were both sure that there was a sign post, but we couldn’t find it as we crisscrossed some more back roads, until there it was.

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There wasn’t much to see at Botton Head except for a small farm, although the farmer was surprised to see two cyclists and was happy to chat for a few minutes.

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We then headed back to Wray for a cafe stop. I’ve never been to the cafe in Wray, but others have said that it isn’t very good. £2.40 for a scone without any jam or cream. I won’t be going back.

During our ride we had discussed the relative merits of flat bars and how much better they are for descending. The Prof has flat bars on most of his bikes, while I have drops on my mountain bike. We also discussed close passes. I had had a very scary pass the other week (read about it here), while the Prof recounted an encounter he’d had that week. Coming to a traffic island he’d pulled out to take the lane much to the annoyance of a driver towing a trailer. If he’d gone through the gap he would have taken out the Prof, as the trailer was much wider than the car. At the next set of traffic lights the Prof shouted at the driver, who shouted back, before they both went on their merry ways. I’m not one for arguments.

It was then time for me to head home as I was meeting a real Prof from the Uni to discuss air quality, while the other Prof detoured up Roeburndale, getting himself a couple of KOM’s. I was obviously holding him up.

Another great day out with the Beards of Bowland, both of us. Next time will be my choice of dead ends. Previous Beards of Bowland rides can be found here, here and here.

Abersoch

Last weekend me and wife, along with most of her family, spent a great weekend on the Llyn Peninsula near Abersoch. We stayed in two lovely farmhouses next to Hell’s Mouth (here). My beautiful wife had been there many times, but it was the first time that I’d been anywhere near the area since I was about five, and had a holiday in Pwllheli.

It took less than four hours to get there, and we did stop for a reasonably priced and surprisingly pleasant coffee from a McDonalds. We also swapped driving. As soon as we got there we took Nelly to the beach. Have you ever seen a happier dog.

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Back at the cottage and soon Helen’s family arrived and did what families do, eating, drinking and talking loudly.

The next morning three of us (myself, Helen, and her brother Phil) set off to explore the peninsula. I had plotted a route that would take us around the coast before heading inland and back to Abersoch. Unfortunately I’m not very good at noticing hills on a map, so after five miles we found ourselves at the bottom of a wall.

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It kind of went on and on, but the views from the top were amazing.

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Once back at the cottages eating and drinking commenced.

The next morning me and Phil went out for a gentle 20 miler out to Aberdaron, and over the same hill as the day before, but up the easier side, which wasn’t much easier.

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In the afternoon Phil lent his bike to Helen’s eldest, so myself Dan (Helen’s youngest) and Tom went out for a gentle six miles, without any hills. I think Tom was hooked, so he should be joining us on rides in the future.

More eating and drinking followed.

The final morning, Dan was keen for a quick spin, so we returned to the big hill, which was a bit of a shock to Dan as he lives on the flat lands of the Fylde coast. We then found a different route back with a great gentle descent. Back at the cottages it was time to pack up and head home. The weather had been fantastic as had the cycling, and I would definitely recommend it.

Strava routes from the weekend are here, here, here and here.