After returning from Nepal I wish I had stopped off in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain for a few weeks, as a stepping-stone back to normal life!
Alas I didn’t, and returning to my little house in Banbury, I found I couldn’t knuckle down into finding a job. The weather in the UK, different from the past three years, where we’ve had sunny weather in the springtime, was a combination of sun and showers, and sometimes cold and rain for days on end.
Around these rainy weather patterns, I meticulously planned a tour of the Highlands of Scotland, camping with my mountain bike, and riding new-to-me trails. Bearing in mind I only have my downhill mountain bike, I had to plan around that also. For instance, there’s no point in going to a forest, that may have beautiful trails, but would involve pedalling. The weight of the downhill bike, and it's geometry makes it very difficult to pedal uphill.
I was keen to ride the Glencoe downhill trails, which was to be my first stop. I knew there was snow higher up in Glencoe, and did think about learning to snowboard whilst there. Unfortunately, I didn’t find out until the morning I was due to leave, Friday the 4th of May, that the Glencoe mountain bike trails wouldn’t be open until mid-June! So, I hadn’t planned so well after all!!
No matter, I loaded the car as I'd decided I would go to Wales instead, riding a couple of downhill parks that I’d ridden before; Antur Stiniog and the Forest of Dean. By now it was lunchtime, a very silly time to set off on a road-trip, the Friday of a Public Holiday weekend!
The traffic was atrocious, with traffic jams, not helped as I hit the rush hour later in the journey. I didn’t arrive at my first campsite, the Llechrwd Riverside Campsite near Blaenau Ffestiniog, until around 7pm, around six hours driving.
This was a new campsite to me, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to find it lived up to its name, being set in a riverside meadow. The only downside to some people could be that there is some road noise, but not enough to bother me. I chose to pitch under a large tree on the river bank.
I’d brought along my new tent, a Marmot Fortress, which was easy to put up, less than ten minutes. And as it turned out perfectly suited my use. It’s a two-man tent, and has two entrances, both with a fly screen, and a decent sized vestibule on each entrance as well. Again, the only complaint I’d have with it is that there is a rooftop vent, but it doesn’t have fly screen. It didn’t rain on my trip, it was mainly sunny, but there was a very heavy mist one morning, with the fly-sheet keeping the inner tent completely dry, so fingers crossed when I use it in the rain.
After a good night’s sleep, not that my sleep in a tent in that good, I tend to wake quite often, I had a leisurely morning chilling by the river. Then the ten-minute drive to Antur Stiniog, a downhill mountain bike park.
I’d seen on Facebook that some riding buddies were there too, as I drove in there they were! Sam, Mark, Tom and Ben, who were on a tour of North Wales with their bikes. Except for Sam, they were on trail bikes so had been riding the forests the day before.
The other guys had booked a day’s uplift, where you pay to have you and your bike taken to the top of the mountain, so you can ride the downhill trails flat-chat! There is no option of a push-up there I believe, although I guess you could if you followed the road out of town, but it would be a bloody long way! So, I went to the park reception and bought an afternoon’s uplift pass, which would be enough for me anyway.
I hadn’t ridden Desmond, my Demo8 Specialized downhill bike, since last August. My first run was very tentative, riding with Tom and Ben, on the Blue trail Jympar. This was my first run of the day, and Tom and Ben’s last, as they were off mid-afternoon to go and climb Mount Snowdon, something I had planned to do the next day.
The guys left for Snowdon, and I got five runs in total, eventually getting running a little more confidently and faster. Really, I could have kept going, but the uplift stops at around 4:30pm. I was tempted to go back the next day, alas I really couldn’t afford it. Half a day was £23.
That Saturday evening was perfect for the lads Snowdon climb, they’d planned to catch the sunset from up there. It was around a 30 to 40 minute drive from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Mount Snowdon. I’m not sure which route they took up, but they have some amazing photos, and the weather was perfect for them.
I returned to the campsite, had a shower and chilled for the evening. A point to note, even though it was sunny, there wasn’t a mosquito or midge problem at this campsite. And it has a decent phone and data signal.
Sunday morning, again another leisurely one, I packed up camp and drove to the Rhyd Ddu (pronounced hrred thee) car park near the pretty tourist town of Beddgelert (pronounced Beth-Galert). There is a campsite at Beddgelert, that I’d stayed at last year, as I remember it, it doesn’t have Wi-Fi or a phone signal at all and does have mozzies! Although a pretty site, with a shop and café.
It’s a proper windy mountain road getting from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Beddgelert, so allow plenty of time, perhaps 40 minutes, as you can come across a motor-home or caravan travelling at one mile an hour!
At the Rhyd Ddu car park, which costs £5 for the day, noting the credit card function wasn’t working when I was there, I just about managed to scrape together five pounds in cash from coins laying about in my messy car! By now being lunch time, I got my camping stove out and made some Super Noodles and had a cup of tea.
I got togged up for the Snowdon hike, it was a warm sunny day with a slight haze, so I decided to go up in shorts and vest top. Being a worrier, I packed my rucksack thus: Rain coat, trousers, gloves, warm hat, 2 litres of water, snacks plus all the electronics! With my hoodie tied around my waist, which I only needed at the summit, once walking I was plenty warm enough.
To get to the trail you walk, looking at the mountains, to the left end of the car park, and turn right, crossing the railway track, it’s signposted anyway. The first part of the trail is a fire-road, and on a gentle incline, so a good warm-up for the climb ahead.
Passing through a few gates, there is one turning, which is sign-posted so you can’t go wrong there. It soon becomes rocky, and sometimes you’re walking up rocks with water flowing around them. It is steep, and gets steeper and steeper, with quite a bit of hiking on loose rocks. The terrain is varied, ranging from man-made stepping stones, to shale, loose rocks to earth.
Around two thirds of the way up, you can see the summit of Snowdon, it’s way in the distance, with a high ridge and a steep looking final climb. There is a café at the top, and toilets I think, but it was so busy, completely rammed so I didn’t take a look.
I moved quite fast, as opposed to the Himalayas, I wasn’t gasping for breath. Altitude isn’t a problem here; the summit is at an altitude of just under 1100 metres.
It took me around two and a half hours to hike from the car park to the monolith at the summit, where I spent twenty minutes, mostly trying to find a spot where I could take a decent photograph, alas it was so busy, again being a sunny Public Holiday weekend, it really wasn’t the best time to go. I couldn’t get a decent photo of the scenic views, but no matter I saw them!
Nearing the summit, the trail is on a very narrow path along the ridge, it was necessary to give way to those coming down, and to wait to pass slower trekkers. Having a poor sense of direction, I was grateful it was busy, so I could see the way to go, as in some parts the trail broadens over a very rocky section and it’s difficult to see which way to go.
Going down, I mostly jogged, as it really is quite steep, I found it the best way to negotiate the terrain. I only got lost once!
One thing I experienced, was that my boots hurt my feet, the same boots and socks I wore to Everest BC which were perfect for that trek. But I think because I was going so much quicker on Snowdon, that the friction was markedly increased. So, I must look for some new hiking boots for quick climbs!
It took around an hour and a half to get down, with my feet quite sore, I was glad to get back into my flipflops!
By now it was around 5pm, and I’d decided I’d go to the Forest of Dean next, which is in Gloucestershire on the border of England and Wales, near Monmouth. So, a long drive on country roads ahead of me. Really, I should have stopped at a campsite half way, but I just wanted to get to my favourite campsite in Coleford.
The Snowdon hike was so different from the Himalaya hike, no altitude problems and a much faster pace. There were a few little kids going up, around 8 years old. You need a head for heights, as the ridge-line trail is quite narrow in places, but nothing dangerous, unless you’re really clumsy! You also need to be sure-footed, there is quite a bit of loose rocks hiking. If you have knee problems, you may find it difficult on the way down.
All in all an afternoon well spent, and only costs £5!