04/07/015 Holyhead − Bangor
Arrived at Bangor station around 3.30 pm, rode to the marina area to try and find the official start of NCN 8; nothing obvious, just a few bike signs with something else on them. Tried to get a sandwich in a pub but they had stopped serving 10 minutes previously. Several cafes closed, found one still open but which had also stopped doing food, so settled for coffee and a sandwich from the Co-op.
Stuck to the A5 rather than try and follow NCN 8/5 here; with the A55 running parallel it was pretty quiet. Good weather, fairly flat and a light wind. There was a nice path/cycle track over the causeway from Holy Island, the tide rushing through a channel in what looked otherwise solid.
Over the Menai Bridge, which is quite narrow so difficult for cars to overtake but it’s not very long. The campsite at Treborth Farm was just over the bridge, nice place but quite expensive at £16 plus £1 for the shower. Not a quiet evening, first some nocturnal activities from a couple in a nearby tent who had perhaps overestimated the sound proof properties of nylon, then fireworks (independence day?).
05/07/15 Bangor − Porthmadog
Weather good and ready to leave at 9 am, at which point there was a sudden downpour. It seemed like an odd shower until later when the rain set in properly. Followed route 8 signs on and off to Caernarfon, the usual daftness of avoiding the road in places, although useful to find my way out of Caernarfon, my coffee and bara brith stop.
Going south the route goes off-road, following a narrow gauge railway. There were a few groups of blokes working on the line including some around a very rusty old engine. It looks like the line goes all the way to Porthmadog but goes east inland at Dinas whereas the cycle path continues south along what looks like another old train route, a very nice section.
The ride became a bit of a drag, into the wind and the sort of gradient that you can’t tell if it’s up or down, and then the rain started. The route joins the ‘road’ – which is a very steep concrete section with lateral lumps in, through a farm. I had already planned to divert to the more sensible B road here, which I followed to Criccieth. I found a great tea room with a waitress sympathetic to my dripping. Welsh very widely spoken here.
Stuck to the main road to Porthmadog as it was still unpleasant, and found the campsite at Tyddyn Llwyn fairly early. A big place equipped with very welcome tumble driers, and a pub/restaurant on site. Mostly static caravans, and my only complaint was that the tent pitches were not on very flat areas.
06/07/15 Porthmadog − Dolgellau
Rained all day. As advised the bridge from Minffordd to Clifor was closed (due to reopen the following week) so I took the detour up the Vale of Ffestiniog to Maentwrog and back down the other side. There were road works with traffic lights on the return section and it was only when I got to Clifor that I realised how long they were, and that a large queue of traffic had been at waiting for me to pass. Good job I didn’t stop to take photos.
I decided to stick to the A496 rather than the 20 % gradient on offer on route 8, a B road to Harlech. This turned out to be an excellent choice as most of Harlech is high up and this was a more gradual way to approach it. I stopped for allegedly one of the best scones in town (no complaints) while successfully struggling to resist a full ploughman’s. Seemed quite a well-to-do place, and a UNESCO heritage site. Some building work around the castle looked like a new bridge for visitors.
Continuing along the A road to Llanaber I rejoined NCN 8 where a very steep path takes cyclists and walkers down and along the promenade to Barmouth. Over the Mawddach is a bridge for trains with a board walk for bikes and pedestrians; there was a closed toll office and a few weeks after returning home I saw (and signed) a petition to the local council to keep the bridge open to cyclists.
Once over I failed to find route 8 for a while, at last it appeared by the road at Penmaenpool and I followed it to Dolgellau. Cooked under the tent’s porch in the rain and changing wind.
07/07/15 Dolgellau − Machynlleth
A nice quiet road out of Dolgellau winds uphill before crossing the A road of the Bwlch Llyn Bach and then heads straight up what is not much more than a farm track; a long walk pushing a loaded bike. I met a few D of E-ers coming the other way, complaining about their walk and wishing they had wheels.
At the top was an almost alpine view of the valley down to Aberllefenni, and I could get back in the saddle. Some slate mines in the very steep hillsides just before joining the road to Corris, where I stopped in a very busy little shop/cafe.
Although the weather had been much better today I stopped fairly early in Machynlleth. This was the last place with a train station along route 8, and if I went further I was committed more or less all the way to Cardiff. I had a train booked but no contingency time, and aware that the longer and hillier days of the route were still to come I decided to stop here for a few nights and return home via Manchester.
I camped at a site near the Centre for Alternative Technology, a couple of miles north of town. There was no hot water when I arrived but I think that was the fault of the large D of E group that had arrived before me. It was very windy and the lads group kept having to chase after various bits and pieces to stop them being blown into the river (Dulas) that ran past the campsite. My tent, once up, survived the wind and the rain that passed in the night very well. There was another cyclist called Anna also doing route 8, including a detour to Hereford for a party. She seemed to be travelling fairly light, no front panniers, so I’m not sure where she had secreted her party togs.
08/07/15 Centre for Alternative Technology
09/07/15 Aberystwyth and Borth Sands
Visted the Dyfi Osprey Project, with great timing as the young were expected to fledge in a week or two. They have four cameras for great views of the nest and perch, plus a huge hide with telescopes and binoculars, and very enthusiastic and informed staff/volunteers. The reserve is boggy wetland area, and they keep two water buffallo to help manage it, a strange sight in mid-Wales. Plenty of other birds around (redpolls and siskins plus the usual tits), dragon flies and a bank vole (identified as such by being tiny).
Had quite a chat with one of the volunteers who turned out to be from Cupar, and also worked with Sustrans. He didn’t think that cycle provision was very good in the area, so I didn’t have to pretend to be polite – some of route 8 is great but as usual some is daft and the signage is poor. Another chap was looking at my bike while I was in the gents, he had been quite a serious rider in his younger days but was now looking for a more comfortable machine. He asked me technical questions about gear ratios so I smiled and nodded.
I cycled further along the Dyfi to the coast and the huge dunes at Borth sands, then up a crazy hill (25 %, the road is visible in the photo) and down the other side to Aberystwyth.
Spotted a pair of dolphins in the bay and watched them for a while, getting sunburned in the process even though it was after 6 pm. The train back to Machynlleth.
While waiting for the train to Manchester I attempted to visit the local gallery, but most of it was closed as they were hanging a new exhibition. There were some photographs of birds on display which were good, and I visited the cafe and eavesdropped on some posh ancient locals, who were rather amusing. Then a mooch around the graveyard, which had a huge range of stones from worn slate slabs with barely any visible writing, to large monuments in the more well-to-do area.