Right, first things first, in the UK there is no consistent definition of what constitutes a lump of rock being a mountain and not a hill. There are various theories on the subject, in the US any hill with a summit at 1,000ft is a mountain, the BBC have stated it’s actually 2,000ft in the UK, the Scots would probably tell you it’s 3,000ft. My point is, that Moel Y Parc at the Northern tip of the Clwydians is 1,306ft, so we’re with the Americans on this one! We went up a mountain!
I’m jumping ahead of myself anyway, first things first, we had to pack everything on the bikes, I’m sure you’ve seen enough of the test fitting pictures by now so you know what the bikes looked like. I was horrified to weigh Zoe’s Emmelle Nightshade, full laden and see it come in at just over 22kg.The KTM came in at 17kg, not including the 6.5kg Karrimor rucksack I was taking too, just thought I’d get that in before anyone thought I was using Zoe’s bike as a pack-horse and keeping mine nice and light. On the Saturday morning the weather wasn’t great, we sulked around until 1pm when the rain started to ease up and the sky lightened a bit. We headed out along the winding country roads and were at the first bridleway pretty quickly, it gave us the chance just to get a feel for the bikes in mud before ending up too far from home. Everything with the bikes was good, the weather was patchy but we pushed on anyway.
A quick stop on one of the many bridleways we used
Well deserved refreshments at the Fox Inn
We stuck to bridleways, infrequently used footpaths (sshhhhhh!) and the quieter country lanes and eventually made it down to Ysceifiog. It’s a lovely little country village with a small pub, The Fox Inn where we decided a pint or two was a good idea, in hind sight it wasn’t, we had a hell of a climb to come. After a 30 minute break we headed away from the pub to the tiny nature reserve and then across the A541 where we began our ascent up the road between Pen-Y-Cloddiau to the East and Moel-Y-Parc to the West. This was a long, steep, winding road and it wasn’t long until we were interspersing riding with walking just to save our legs. The road soon turns to a very steep and loose bridle way, which fortunately levels out quickly to sensational views over the Vale of Clwyd.
The sun setting over the Vale of Clwyd
These views are why we do this! We set up camp at the intersection of a few different paths, the Clwydian way, Offa’s Dyke path and Clifford byway all meet here, however it was 7pm by the time we were setting up and we only met one person, a friendly fell runner who stopped for a chat about bikepacking!
What a view
Our home for the night
We were using the Vango Ark 200 as opposed to the Yellowstone tent, which meant three things, it’s much heavier, it’s much easier to set up and it’s much bigger once inside. Split between two it’s doable, not ideal, but doable. I know Vango aren’t in the same league as MSR and Hilleberg but the build quality of the Ark 200 is brilliant, miles better than the cheapo Yellowstone.
Zoe sorted out the sleeping mats and bags, while I broke out the cook kit and got a brew on. I’ll admit it, the kettle was overkill, I don’t think water boiled any faster in that than in the crappy 900ml ally pot. Next time, the kettle stays at home. The boil in the bag meals (Wayfayrer) although heavy and expensive, are actually really tasty and made a welcome change from overly dry, heavy flapjack. We used the boiling water to knock up a couple of coffees and tucked in. As the sun started to sink the views only improved.
Descending the Clifford Byway
The next day we decided to head down the Clifford byway to Bodfari, then follow the B5429 up through Tremeirchion to Rhuallt. It was hilly, but the tarmac riding was, to be fair, welcome relief to the bouncy off road riding of the day before. Let’s just say I was a bit tender on the saddle come Sunday morning. Zoe did brilliantly considering her lack of experience on a bike and how much bike and luggage weight she was having to push up the hills. We got to Dyserth eventually and returned to the bridle ways only to find a calf had been caught in a fenced off section of trail and had been running up and down for god knows how long, churning everything up. By the time I’d thought this might not be the best idea, Zoe had sunk in the mud and other “material” and almost lost both shoes. We eventually made it though and Zoe went for a paddle in a nearby stream to clean shoes, socks and feet. We continued along the slowly rising bridle ways and rejoined the road for the last stretch home. We arrived muddy, wet, knackered and thoroughly over the moon for making it one piece! Even after a hot shower, cup of tea and ten minute sit down on the sofa we were both chatting away about where we’re going next!
So here’s a bit of a review of the kit:
- Vango Ark 200 – Heavy, yes, but far more robust than the Yellowstone. For solo trips I’ll stick to the Yellowstone but the Vango is a true 2 man tent.
- The bikes – Amazingly Zoe’s bike made it, the KTM was great, however both bikes seemed to suffer from dodgy rear brakes. I think the KTM’s hydro disc brakes need bleeding, the Emmelle just needs burning and replacing (more of that soon).
- The cook kit – Apart from not needing the kettle, everything else worked a treat, including my MYOG windshield, which is just a small length of the tin foil radiator backing you can get from B&Q, circle it round the stove and use two spare pegs to hold it in place. It also helps stop things rattling when packed up.
- The MYOG strappy bar harness – Worked great, OK it’s miles faffier than something like an AlpKit Kanga, or Revelate Sweetroll, but it cost less than a tenner and works a treat. Job done.
- The sleeping mats and bags – To be fair, the 2.5cm sleeping mats aren’t silent night matresses, but you get used to them. The sleeping bags are effective, but Zoe was using the Vango Wilderness, which has a decent thermal rating but is very bulky and heavy. Again, I think cheapo sleeping bags just do not work. Another Lamina may be on the shopping list soon.
- The AlpKit Airlok tapered – This, I’m seriously over the moon with. OK so it’s only a dry bag, but, it’s not. It’s a fully functioning seat pack for £15! Seriously, it’s ace. Buy one!
AlpKit Airlok tapered, seatpack of champions!