With the Covid Lockdown and firebreaks this ride didn’t happen this year. As this is the
time of year the ride is normally held, here is my old account of a ride I did back in 1983.
It was the second time I ever did this weekend bike ride and as many of you know, I’ve
done this ride around the same time each year, the beginning of winter season, with
different people on different routes on different types of bikes, staying in different
locations. More recently I’ve done it as a day ride, starting and finishing in Llangollen,
but always going over the classic drover’s path over Nant Rhyd Wilym, more commonly
known as the Wayfarer’s Pass, named after “The Wayfarer”, pen-name of the legendary
cycling-journalist Walter McGregor Robinson from Merseyside.
Fine weather at 9 a.m. on Saturday 5th November 1983, Liverpool, Pier Head. Me, Paul
“Macca” McBride, Paul “Maxi” Maxwell, Phil Baker and Andy Mills met at the ferry
landing stage in anticipation of a tough weekend’s riding ahead. We knew a few other
lads had planned to go on this weekend but not all had arrived! So with the ferry getting
ready to cast off, we decided to wait for the next boat. But at that very moment, two
bikes could be heard whizzing down the steep incline of the landing stage ramp and
straight onto the boat, with a shout “come-on lads no one else with us, let’s go!” So we
scrambled off our bench over the gang plank and onto the boat. What a way to start this
The two late arrivals were Frazer Herald and Carl “Eto” Heaton. They explained they
were late due to a night out at “The Road Man’s Review”, a special private
“Gentlemen’s” evening out in the Grafton ball room for the racing men of Merseyside.
Frazer Herald, always burning the candle at both ends, hadn’t had breakfast, so he
asked us to detour the ride to the Eureka cafe (a route change even before the ride had
We detoured to the Eureka for a quick
drink and for Frazer to fuel up.
After a short stop, we set off for our lunch
stop in Chirk. This was on a very boring
route: Chester, Wrexham and Chirk, to
save the legs of some of the lads who
hadn’t been on a bike for a few months.
Nothing of note happened on this part of
the ride, only the animated chat about the
night before from Frazer and Eto.
We arrived at Chirk cafe ahead of time
and settled down to a 3 course meal at
bargain price of £2.00.
An hour or so later we got
ourselves up and out getting
ready for our afternoon
adventure into the unknown. I
had only done this ride once
before (1979) with Macca, who
announced “Right lads, all we
know is, we turn left out the
cafe”, so it was guesswork to
find the Wayfarer’s Pass.
After a mile or so down some
unclassified roads we were
lost! We stopped at farm,
where some people were
standing in the front garden
building a bonfire, to ask for
directions. One of us asked
“Excuse me, do you know the
way to the Wayfarers Pass?”
To our astonishment, we got a
reply in an American accent!
“Gee, what did you say?” One
of us replied “Are you
Americans?” “We sure are”,
they replied, “We’re from
California. Now, what did you say?” We chatted for a while and, with the help of their
OS maps, we worked out where we had gone wrong and thanked them for their help.
As we set off, one of us said, “If we can’t find the Wayfarers, can we come back and
stay over for the bonfire?” They replied “Sure you can, but bring plenty of booze!”
After a few minutes on B roads, we found ourselves on the Ceiriog Valley road, running
parallel with the river. We headed in the direction of Glyn Ceiriog. Passing through Glyn
Ceiriog the tree-lined road narrowed and climbed up. A mile later, as we passed
through a group of houses with a sign post, ‘Pandy’, all the chatting had stopped and
we just kept climbing at a steady pace of the slowest rider, with the now-faint sound of
the river below in the valley. Eventually, we climbed out of the tree line to view a wide
valley with again the faint sound of the river away over the rolling fields. We crested the
top of this climb and, a quarter of a mile later, dropped down and passed through a
small town. With a bit of momentum, we rolled along the valley road for about two miles,
arriving at the last town, Llanarmon DC. We stopped in the middle of town to work out
the route, found the road, and set off. This road rolled along for a few miles; the valley
sides began to close in and eventually, we got to the end of the road and it turned from
Tarmac to a wet gravel track.
Knowing that walking in some part was to come, we stopped at the foot of the gravel
track and changed out of our cycling shoes into our trainers…
All footwear changed, we set off up the gravel track, with wheel spins and crunching of
gears, but within a few hundred yard on the muddy gravel track most were off our bikes
and pushing them up the track. Just after a cattle gate, a farmer’s sign said, “Any dog
found not on a lead will be shot”. Hmm, what part of this country were we in?
We pushed on; after about half an hour of walking, the track levelled off and we were
able to mount our bikes and pick our way along the track to the next cattle gate. After
this gate we dropped down 100 yards or so across a small ford with water running
rapidly (the stream running across this ford was the origins of the river in the Cerriog
Valley we had climbed out of over an hour before).
We struggled over another steep section that then opened up to a wide boggy moor.
Part of this moor was so boggy, the track had been decked out with railway sleepers, no
doubt to stop vehicles sinking into the bog! Looking closely, you could pick out the
grave track that weaved over the moor up to the greyed-out hills in the distance that
were almost silhouetted in the failing autumn daylight; this was where we were heading,
to get to the Wayfarers plaque.
For the rest of the route, we rode, pushed and carried our bikes along the track, going
through another cattle gate, the track grew steeper again, we eventually arrived at the
top of the track, Amazingly, Frazer and Eto were the first two up to the top, standing
either side of the track like sentinels guarding a sacred temple.
We all gathered around the Wayfarer’s monument
for a while and put our names in one of the log
books kept in the alloy box close by.
After a short period and being aware of the failing
light we began to set off. From memory the descent
was as tough as the climb we has just done. I was
the second - last to set off, with Frazer behind me;
within a hundred yards Frazer passed me. By the
time I started the descent proper, I could see a
speeding Frazer passing all the other lads, like a
downhill skier, and then suddenly his bike stopped
and flipped him over the bars like a bucking bronco.
Some of the others had resigned to dismounting and walking down, others rode their
bike down slowly with the back wheels locked, the tubs slipping over gravel and rocks
the size of rugby balls.
Frazer got himself back up, checked his bike, jumped back on and went for it again!
This time he didn’t crash, only stopping due to a cattle gate. We regrouped at the gate,
then set off down the next section, this being easier, with fewer rocks, but just a double
wheel track with a raised middle. You picked one of the two worn-away tracks and went
for it (like a Scalextric car) until the next cattle gate. At this point we lost contact with
Frazer at the rear. Fearing the worst, we waited quite a while, Frazer eventually turning
up and explaining that his delay was due to a puncture. We decided to descend as a
group making sure no one got stranded. We did this at all the other gates on the track
until the gravel turned into a tarmac “metal” road. This entered into wooded hillside, with
one of the steepest, fastest descents I’ve ever done! Going down this in twilight without
lights was a scary experience.
The road came out onto the main road linking Llandrilo to Cynwd. We regrouped,
swapped back into our cycling shoes and set off in the direction of Cynwd. As we
passed through Cynwd we had almost lost daylight, not all of us had lights, so those
that didn’t had to ride on the inside closest to the kerb.
We eventually got to Corwen. Some had to stop for a quick snack and drink. We were
now in complete darkness, with 10 miles to go along the A5 to Llangollen. Setting off
from Corwen to Llangollen in darkness was not an experience for the faint hearted, this
road being the main link road to Holyhead for HGVs. So with riders with good back light
to the rear and rider with good front lights at the front, we pressed on, every so often
being dazzled (like a scene out of Close Encounter) by the multi headlights of oncoming
trucks, the same effect from the rear also bringing the darkness to life when a car or
wagon passed us with full beam, creating giants shadows of us in the light, that
suddenly disappeared as soon as the vehicle passed.
With only a few miles to go before Llangollen, we were blue lighted by a police traffic
car! We pulled over in a picnic lay-by, the Police officer began telling us all off for not
having lights. As this happened, a disturbance in the bushes stopped the copper talking;
suddenly, out of the bushes came two strange looking Alien-like people with shiny
helmets, black skin-tight shiny tops and leggings, body armour and some sort of knee
skirt. Everyone looked at these two people in silence! Then one of them said ‘Excuse
me, can you help us- do you know the way to Llangollen? We’ve been canoeing in the
Dee, crashed it and lost our way!’.
I’m not sure what the copper was thinking, within a couple of minutes dealing first with
tired, bedraggled cyclists and then with stranded, soaking-wet canoeists! He was nonetoo-pleased. He gave them directions for Llangollen, warned us not to ride on the road,
jumped in his car and sped off, leaving us and the canoeists stranded in the lay-by.
We told the canoeists it was 2 miles down the road to Llangollen, wished them luck and
set off along the narrow pavement; within a few yards the pavement stopped and we
were on the road again, but we pushed on downhill toward Llangollen expecting the
copper to be sitting off in a side road ready to catch us.
Luckily this didn’t happen; in the distance we could see the glow of street lights and
before we knew it we had arrived at Llangollen. We headed through the main town
junction in the direction of the youth hostel to find beds for the nights, but noticed the
town seemed to be very busy. When we eventually we got to the hostel there was a
queue to sign in (not normal for this YHA) and the warden informed us the hostel was
full, but took pity on us due to our desperate state and opened the annex for us. We
thanked him and made our way over the yard to the building.
This was a purpose-built bunk house that was perfect for us. We found bunks, warmed
up, got washed and changed. We then discussed food. We set off out of the hostel
grounds down a dark path back toward the town centre. As we got closer to the town
we could hear the hum of activity and we could see the town was very busy, all the
pubs were full to the door and the chippy had queues out of the doors too. We asked
what was going on; someone not local said it the canoeing national championship
We walked round for a bit, then queued up at the chippy for food. The town was
becoming noisier with people stumbling and staggering along the Main Street. After
managing a drink in one of the pubs, we decided to find somewhere else to go. I
suggested a quiet bar on the outskirts of town, in an old hotel called the Cambrian. This
had good beer and a pool table. On arrival we were shocked to find this bar was also
very busy, not with canoeists but a wedding reception in the main room. The pool table
had a white cloth over it and the wedding cake on top!
We back tracked out of the main room and found another small room. “The snug” had a
serving hatch that was directly connected to the bar! We settled down, ordered beer,
and started talking about the events of the day. This went on for a while, then we
started talking to the wedding party. As the night went on and the beer went down, we
got noisier and were singing old pub drinking songs as well as some other favourite
tunes, ‘Little old wine drinker’, Dean Martin; ‘Copa cabana’, Barry Manilow; ‘Music
man’… In between each song, Max would jump up out of his seat and shout, “Bring out
your dead!” Grab your beer glasses, push them through the serving hatch and order
more beer for everyone! This attracted many of the guests from the wedding party who
came into the snug and joined in with their own songs. A fine night was had; as it drew
to an end we bid our farewell to the Bride and Groom and set off back towards the
centre of town. We got to the main junction to be met by pure pandemonium, drunken
people everywhere, the main A5 road blocked with people lying on the road in the
gutters, climbing up drain pipes, hanging out of windows, traffic unable to move along
the road. But all in good spirit “I would say”.
We stopped off at another little chippy, “The Dee chip shop” just off the A5.
We were late making our way back to the hostel (doors locked at 10:30) but luckily, the
annex was still open. It had been a long day so we got in, bedded down and were out
for the count within a few minutes.
The next morning we all woke a bit gruff with no breakfast. The first thing I did was
check to make sure both my eyebrows and tash were intact and still on my face (!). We
decided to get a breakfast in town, so we got our cycling kit out of the drying room, got
dressed, packed our bags, tidied the room (as best as lads do) and checked out. We
loaded our bikes and headed into town for our breakfast.
We found the “Coffee Pot Café” had room for us, so ordered breakfast and chatted
about the route home. After quite a while and a couple of orders of tea, we decided to
do ” The Shoe” ( The Horseshoe Pass).
We left the café, got to the end of the road and turned in the direction of the bridge. To
our amazement the pavement on the bridge was full of people spectating the slalom
canoeing going on in the river below; some of these spectators looked the worse for
wear and may have been out all night, but I didn’t think too much about it as we had
another day of hills to deal with.
We headed out of the town on the Ruthin road, keeping together until the famous
Britannia hotel. At this point riders began to lose contact, everyone just settled into a
pace that suited them; at the beginning of the final section we cleared the low lying
cloud to clearer views. We all regrouped at the Ponderosa cafe, but didn’t call in, set off
again, a few miles later we passed through the village of Llandeglla and began the
steady climb over the moors, a few lads lost contact with the group, and as we passed
the Liver hotel we decided to stop at the Sunspot cafe to let Frazer and Eto catch up
and to grab a cuppa; the weekend had taken its toll on us all and it was just get-home
mode. After a quick cup of tea, we set off with the destination of the Eureka cafe and a
classic beans and a spare with a mug of tea on our minds,
We took over an hour to trundle our way to the cafe, we spent all our coppers on as
much food we could consume. Tired, we extended our stay longer than normal,
Revitalised by the food and drink, we decided to make the move for our final section
back home through the tunnel. Checking our bikes once more, we set off. Amazingly,
knowing the ride was all but done, our spirits and pace on the bike picked up. The main
subject of the chat on our way back to the Birkenhead tunnel was “Shall we do it again
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