WELSH TRAINS RIDEWelsh Trains Ride - Tywyn

8 - 9 September 2001

During the Llangollen Ride which I did with John Pinkerton a couple of years ago, it struck me that it would be rather nice to have a cycle ride linking together some of the preserved railways in Wales, and take a ride on them. Unfortunately my enthusiasm and available time did not extend to working out a route and organising a ride, but I mentioned it to a number of people in the hope that someone else would develop the idea. Happily this happened earlier this year, and Paul Evans spent a lot of time and effort working the route for a ride spread over a weekend.

We chose the weekend 8-9 September 2001 for the ride, the idea being to miss school holidays etc, so that accommodation would be easier to obtain, but still early enough in the year for the preserved railways to be operating a full service, and the weather is usually quite good at this time of year. Quite a lot of people showed an interest when we advertised the ride in Folding Society News, but in the end, due to other commitments etc, only 5 of us were able to take part. However, quite a lot of those who contacted Paul and obtained his information pack have indicated that they may well repeat our journey at some other time using the detailed route information which Paul put together.

The journey was planned to combine cycling, main line railways, and preserved railways, with one bus ride as well, so it really was only suitable for folders. Paul himself, Dick Hanson and Susan Barlow opted for Bromptons, while Dave Minter rather daringly chose a two-speed Moulton Stowaway - only two gears makes it hard work cycling, and a Stowaway is not the most compact or most portable of machines when it comes to putting it on a train or bus! I originally planned to use my Brompton SP, but as the route contained a certain amount of off-road riding (only towpaths and cycle paths), and I had just acquired a Birdy Red, it seemed logical to use that instead: it may not be as portable as the Brompton, but the gears and suspension would be a significant advantage, especially if I opted to ride some of the sections which were designated for bus or main line train travel, which I was considering.

Paul had done an enormous amount of preparation, and with only one night to be spent away, and all details of B&B provided by Paul, the rest of us did not need to do much preparation. I simply put a few things in my Carradice SQR bag, and I was ready to go!

We met at New Street on Saturday, parked our folded bicycles (or unfolded in the case f the Stowaway), and settled down to enjoy the first stage of the journey. This was uneventful, and we arrived at Tywyn more or less on time, and the bikes were re-assembled and we took the short ride over to the Tallylyn railway terminus (see photograph at the top of the article). Here the bikes were folded again and stowed in the Guard's van for the trip to Abergynolwyn and Nant Gwernol. During the first phase of the journey we had discussed this stage, and while Paul, Susan and Dave had decided to stick to the original plan of returning on the train to Tywyn and then catch a later main line train to Morfa Mawddach, Dick and I opted to get out at Nant Gwernol and cycle from there. Dick was keen to take a road over the top of the hills to Arthog, while I was inclined to prefer the low road - following the main road along the coast and near the main line rail route. I decided to ride with Dick to the point where he turned right up hill after about 5 miles, but somehow I got side-tracked, and absent mindedly turned off with him. 
WTR - Over the TopBy the time I realised my mistake, we were part of the way up the hill, and I decided I might as well continue with him. On the OS map the road is shown as a yellow, although unfenced for part of the way, and at the start of the road there was a cycle route sign. It turned out to be quite a long and steep climb, and I had to stop and push a number of times. Dick evidently found it less hard going than I did, despite only having tree gears on his Brompton against the 8 on the Birdy, which just goes to show that in terms of overall performance, the rider is more important than the bike! Incidentally, that's not to say the bike does not matter - as if I had been on a three-speed Brompton I think I should have had to walk the whole of the hill, rather than just the steepest parts. At the top of the hill, the road rapidly deteriorated into a very rough track, not tarmac, and stayed this way for 4 miles or so. The map is definitely misleading! Dick's Brompton coped very well with the rough conditions, though the wide tyres and suspension, not to mention the extra gears, certainly gave me the advantage over this stage.

Eventually we descended via a very steep rough section, where we were considerably confused by the fact that the roads did not seem to match the junctions shown on the map. After an unintentional diversion, we concluded that somewhere near the end of the track we must have gone right where we should not have done, though neither of us remembered seeing any sort of side turn, fork or anything else in the track. We had noted, though, when we reached the end of the track that it was signed as being unsuitable for motor vehicles.

We were planning to meet the others at Arthog to ride along the old railway track to Dolgellau. We arrived just before 6:00pm, and were getting a little worried when the others had not arrived by 6:15, so we started riding back to Morfa Mawddach. We met them part of the way there, and then turned back to ride along the path all the way to Dolgellau. The light was superb as we rode this section, and although there was not much wild life to see, the views were superb. I'm afraid I slowed down the pace for this section as I wanted to enjoy the atmosphere to the full. On arrival at Dolgellau we quickly found our accommodation, and the bikes were quickly folded and stowed in the bar for the night. As 8:00pm was now approaching, we quickly made our way to a local hostelry to partake of some well deserved food and drink.

BalaDuring the meal, we discussed the plans for the next day. Paul had programmed a bus ride at 9:45 to Llanuwchllyn, but Dick and I again felt like doing some more riding, so we agreed to ride this section, though Paul had warned us that it was not an especially nice road to cycle, due to traffic and stone walls leaving nowhere for a cyclist to escape. Dave also decided that putting the Stowaway on a bus was tempting providence, and opted to ride. In the event we did not communicate our timing plans very well, so that in the morning Dick and I left at about 9:00, while Dave, who had thought we were all breakfasting together at 8:30, left later. Dick and I had a pleasant ride - steady gentle uphill for the first 2/3 of the ride, and then enjoyably down hill for the remainder. At this time on a Sunday there was not much traffic, but although the stone walled section was not very long, we could understand Paul's warning about its suitability for cycling (or lack of it) at busier times. We arrived at the Llanuwchllyn station on the Bala Lake Railway about 5 minutes before Paul and Susan, and Dave arrived only a few minutes later - he must have really flown along on the Stowaway to get there so quickly.
Photograph: Preparing to board the train at Llanuwchllyn.

BalaThe folded bikes fitted neatly into the luggage space on the train (fortunately seats had been removed here to allow space for wheelchairs), and we enjoyed a gentle ride along the edge of Lake Bala to Bala itself, where we disembarked and reassembled the bikes.

For our ride over to Corwen we followed the same route for most of the way as I had ridden a couple of year's ago with John Pinkerton. Curiously, it did not seem nearly as hilly as I remembered it from that previous trip. Paul has recently fitted a second, 34 tooth, chainring to his Brompton, changed over by had, so for this phase he switched to the smaller ring - his "Welsh gears". Thus suitably geared we were able to manage almost all the hills on this section on the bikes, with no pushing. On my ride with John we had stayed on the minor road all the way into Corwen, but to avoid some hills, this time we branched off to the left near the end, and used the A5 for the final part of the ride into Corwen - fortunately it was not too busy at this time on a Sunday. After a brief discussion, we decided not to lunch here, but instead to go on the few extra kilometres to Carrog, where we would be catching the Llangollen Railway train to Llangollen - that way we could relax over lunch, and not have any worries about possible problems on the road over the final stage.

CarrogOn arrival at Carrog we discovered that the train we planned to catch would be 30 minutes late, so we had plenty of time to eat and to look around. In fact the train lost a further 3 minutes due to a cow on the line, and our journey to Llangollen was further delayed slightly by another (or perhaps the same) cow on the line, and a sheep on the line. After the narrow-gauge trains, the standard gauge train seemed to be going really fast, despite the punctuation of the journey caused by the livestock.

As we were just over 30 minutes behind schedule by the time we reached Llangollen, we needed to press on, so it was straight over to the canal and then along the towpath towards Chirk. The first part of the towpath was well surfaced, but deteriorated later. The Birdy certainly made easy work of this, though none of the others had any problems either.

When we reached Pont Cysyllte Aqueduct I had a problem, as my vertigo ruled out any possibility of going over the top, and Paul had warned me that the normal road bridge on the road underneath was reportedly closed for road work. The others started across the aqueduct, while I made my way to the road. It seemed unlikely that the bridge would be completely closed to pedestrians and cyclist, and as there were no signs warning that the bridge was closed, I made the steep descent to the bridge, only to find that it was completely impassable. This was bad news, as I now not only had to go back up a steep hill, but the other alternative road route was much longer, and more complicated. To cut a longish story short, by some hard riding (by my standards) and some luck in my navigation, I reached our meeting point at Pentre only 5 minutes after the others arrived by the direct route. 

The final stage to Chirk had a number of options to the route, but in view of the time and other factors we all chose to take the road option, and we arrived at Chirk with a comfortable 20 minutes to spare before our train back to Birmingham arrived, on time. 

The train ride back from Chirk was a relaxed affair; I decided to get out at Wolverhampton, and was fortunate enough to find a local train waiting, and due to leave in only 10 minutes, so I was able to get home at a reasonable time in the evening.

All the bikes had performed faultlessly, and we didn't even have a single puncture. This was a most enjoyable outing, and one which by combining several preserved railways, main line railways and buses we could not have done without folders, at least not as a group. With only one night spent away, the luggage capacity of the bikes was not a problem - although Paul managed to completely fill a Brompton touring bag. I got by with just a Carradice SQR bag. Dick's performance with the 3-speed Brompton (with low gearing) proved that even quite a basic, standard Brompton can handle this type of ride, even with some hills. For me, I think the Birdy made an even better choice, with the slightly wider range of more closely spaced gears, the comfortable ride, with only a fairly minor penalty in ease of folding and folded size. Not being as strong and fit as Dick, I think it would have been a struggle for me on even my 5-speed Brompton, let alone a 3-speed. However, it's worth noting that in effect I probably only had one more low gear and one more high gear than Dick, and at Birdy (close spacing) - the gaps between the ratios on a 3-speed hub mean that at least the range is not as far short of that of an 8-speed derailleur as one might think.

I can't speak too highly of the standard of Paul's preparation - detailed routes, times, a printed itinerary, details of availability of B&B, contact with the train and bus companies, a recce of the route, were all carried out. Thank you Paul from all of us who took part. Although train times etc may vary in the future, I'm sure a lot more people will be able make use of your route plan, not just those of who were present over this weekend. The ride was such a success that we hope to do another one next year, but rather further north, taking in the Ffestiniog Railway.

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Last updated: 23 September 2001