OPEN DEV | Rob Harwood's Welsh Weekender
The Llyn Peninsula in the far reaches of North West Wales is wild, beautiful and a heck of a long way from anywhere. It might not be as remote as some parts of the highlands but this thin slip of land jutting out into the Irish sea certainly holds some history. From Smugglers coves that litter the northern coastline to the pilgrims trails that all point to the Island of Barsey on the Southern tip. The Llyn Peninsula is a last bastion of the Welsh language and Welsh culture as a whole.
I’m very lucky to have family ties to the area, and have been visiting since before I remember. Most school holidays and term time breaks included some time at the Cottage in Llangwnadl visiting our grandparents and exploring the narrow lanes, steep roads and coves dotted all around the peninsula.
As a passion for road cycling grew it was only natural that I’d explore this part of the world on my bike. And when I did, it was blazingly apparent that this place is up there with some of the best cycling terrain on our fair isle. With the inception of our club ColVelo in 2014 it made perfect sense to offer up a trip to visit the area and in 2016 we continued the tradition. Running a pair of back to back weekends which include two routes per trip (one on the Llyn, and one in Snowdonia) and a pair of evenings talking over the days antics with a few Belgian recovery ales.
The first route dubbed “Tour of The Llyn” is 128km with 2,300m of climbing. There are no mountains to speak of this far west, and the elevation gained is from sharp rises from coastline and beaches to the spectacular headland. The sawtooth profile of the route has fifteen significant rises and descents. Stretches of up to 2km’s with average grades into the teens. Starting on the northern edge of the Llyn, about 7 miles south of Nefyn we initially headed west before turning east, and back west again is a sort of convoluted figure of eight. All in an attempt to bag the best ramps and climbs of the area. Stops in both Nefyn and Abersoch were required to fuel the body and rest the legs. I’ll avoid describing each climb in gory detail, and leave the elevated heart rate data and steepness to your imagination. But the ascent from Abedaron to the Headland at Mynth Mauw and the road to Rhiw from the south via the bay of Hells Mouth (or Porth Neigwl to the locals) offer a pair of wonderful views with some truly leg shredding gradients to tackle.
This trip also served as an outing to run in a new pair of Hunt 38mm Carbon Wide Aero wheels. A genuine all rounder in the form of a set of mid depth carbon hoops which whisked me up the climbs and held their speed beautifully on anything resembling an extended flat. With the majority of our riding back home in Essex revolving around long steady miles, the punchy steeps and technical terrain offered on the Llyn really allowed these wheels to shine. The pick-up with these wheels is phenomenal and the wide profile really helped when the roads stopped being straight. Over the four days spent in the hills of the Llyn and mountains of Snowdonia, these wheels fixed to my newly finished summer bike kept a rather large grin permanently attached to my face!
Our second route ridden is known locally as “The Dog” due to the routes shape sketching out roughly what looks like a dog, or an Aardvark. Some sort of animal anyway… At 130km and 2,700m of Climbing, this offers the sort of total ascent you can find on a day riding in the Alps, but the way the climbing hits you in these parts is more on a level with the terrain of the Ardennes but with a mountain backdrop. I’ll admit that I discovered this route while perusing a cycling Magazine a few years back, and was so enamoured with the route that its become a regular fixture on our trips across the border. This loop starting out and finishing via the Pen Y Pass in Llanberis takes in five notable ascents. The aforementioned Pen Y Pass, The Nebo Road Hill Climb, The savage B4406 south of Penmancho, the private road up to Llyn Stwlan and the final run back up to the top of the Pen Y Pass from Nant Gwynant. Ranging from roughly 3-7km in length with grades maxing out above 25%. These five climbs are interspersed with rolling tarmac as smooth as any you’ll find in the UK and makes the whole event a captivating ride out. With the climbing spaced well, it’s always in the back of your mind to leave something in the legs and not get carried away on the open descents and great terrain that punctuates the savage climbing.
The real highlight of the route is the road to the Dam at Llyn Stwlan. Having stopped for a brief feed stop in Blaenau Ffestiniog we headed down to the foot of the climb and lifted our bikes over the fence which signals the start point. 2.7km of tarmac and gravel, culminating in a handful of tight, steep switch backs as you reach the top. The gradient edging over 25% in places. I have no idea how this hasn’t made it into the top 100 climbs in the UK. It is truly a stunning road with some amazing views once you hit the summit.
Unusually for Wales we were fortunate enough to have a week of only briefly interrupted good weather and all rides took place in grand conditions. It's clear that when the weather turns in both the mountains and on the exposed coastline of the Llyn, conditions would test the hardiest of riders. Lucky for us, this time we were spared having to try and lapped up the early summer sun and dry tarmac.
This part of the UK is, and especially the Llyn, still relatively undiscovered. We clocked no other road cyclists on our days riding the Llyn. Amazing when you think about the total distance covered. So if you're on the hunt for some glorious terrain, smooth tarmac, climbs that test the legs and the lungs on traffic free roads.... Drive the fifty or so minutes past Snowdonia and check out the Llyn Peninsula. You will not be disappointed.