The city of Nice seen from the surrounding hillside bathed in sunshine

Home Travel StoriesNorth Wales 2011 Short Break - By Ren Withnell

North Wales 2011 Short Break - Going To Criccieth

I'm still unsure as to what is wrong with the gf.  She's up earlier than required to get to work.  Considering she starts work at 1000 I expect her to rise at the earliest, maybe 0915.  It is something of a suprise as I lay awake pondering the forthcoming trip, that her alarm goes off at 0800!  What is even more of a shock was that she wakes without cursing, swearing, battering the alarm clock and falling back to sleep.  She just wakes up, then gets up. Later she  returns with croissants and biscuits and tea, I figure something must be wrong.  I casually enquire as to why she is so perky and she assures me it is because she's been a good girl and had been going to bed early.  Unconvinced I decide it would make a lot more sense to graciously eat my delightful breakfast and say no more. Outside the weather is middling.  Not a glorious day but warm enough and currently not raining.  I load the bike up and start that paranoid routine of checking everything's secure, everything's tight and wondering what it is that I have probably forgotten.  At 0945 the gf sets off for work and I set out on my mini adventure.

I've still no proper plan.  Motorway, or A roads, that is the first question.  Having ridden the A Roads through Northwich and Chester I thought I'll just crack on onto the motorway.  Typically this is fine, but there's a lot more to consider on a 125.  The CLR can, on occasion, achieve a top speed of 70mph.  That is of course downhill with a following wind.  The best option is to find a truck limited to 50 or 55 mph and follow that.  I can get a free tow in the slipstream and it does at least feel like I'm keeping up with the traffic.

So the first hour of the trip is spent following a large green truck.  Happily he is travelling at 50 mph and that's a comfortable speed for the little 125.  Then he turns off as we approached then end of the M56 and the plastic bag which contains my sleeping bag stars to flap in a most violent fashion.  I am concerned that somethng might be pulled loose leaving a trail of camping gear on the motorway which would lead to an accident that would all be my fault and then I'll be charged with dangerous something-or-other and I'll go to prison and I'll loose my business and I'll have no money and loose my house and eveyone would hate me and I'll have to live in a nasty flat in a strange city because it had all gone wrong and now my life would be over because I'd not made sure that bungee hook was correctly fitted...

There are another 4 or 5 miles of this worry until I can pull off and check the luggage.  It's fine.  Just a bit of the plastic bag has become un-tucked that's all.  At the Little Chef at the End of the M56 I roll a smoke and try to think nice thoughts.

The camping gear on the back of my clr 125
 Note the black bin bag. Inside is my sleeping bag which I am concerned I might loose

I set off again.  The motorway's over now but I'm still on the fast flowing A55 dual carriageway.  I'm concerned that the traffic will be very heavy, there's a lot about but it's moving OK right now.  After my short break I feel refreshed and more relaxed now I've come off the motorway.  The road rolles along and I smile to myself as I pass the "Welcome To Wales" sign.  The weather holds out for me but I notice I'm a tad cold in the breeze.

I need fuel by now.  I decide to pull off the A55 and follow the signs for Rhyl, there'll be supermarkets there with reasonable prices.  Rhyl rolls into view, sort of a miniature Blackpool but even more run down and dirty.  Finding fuel at a Sainsbury's is easy enough but the traffic coming through Rhyl and coming out the other side is a solid queue of cars, nose to tail.  I'm most thankful for the 125's lightness as I carefully pick my way along the outside.  At one point I pass a police van by a roundabout and start to panic.  I really don't want another ticket.  I get back on the A55 where I can hardly get close to the speed limit.  

The outskirts of rhyl by the coast, not exactly picturesque
It's not a picturesque place is Rhyl, though it remains very popular

In my head I'm thinking of going to Anglesey.  I've been before but never had a look around.  So it is I'm travelling along I see a sign for Betws-Y-Coed which is nowhere near Anglesey, so I follow that.  It's good to be off the main dual carriageway and riding along a pleasant road with a few corners and turns to break the monotony.  Here the countryside is lush green farmland and the now familiar signs in both Welsh and English makes me start to feel like I'm really in Wales.

Another few miles roll by until I notice my bladder demanding my attention.  The next small town of Llanrwst thankfully provides a large sign pointing to clean public toilets, which I use to great relief.  I take a moment to look around and check the bike...again.  I noticed whilst riding the top-end of the motor was a little rattly, but I don't worry, it does that from time to time, especially after an hour or two of (relatively) high speed riding.  I'm still not sure where I'm heading, but it's not Anglesey.  This road will lead me to the Llyn Peninsula which I know very well.  That's ruined my plan not to do the same old same old.

Smart building in llanrwst
The very smart building in Llanrwst where the toilets are. Don't be fooled, next door is a scruffy council yard

Back on the road I look out for signs to see how far away any potential destination may be.  Here and there between trees I spot the odd campsite which I look at earnestly to see how full they are.  The few I pass seem to have plenty of space but as yet I'm not really into the popular holiday areas as yet.  I pass through the edge of Betws-Y-Coed and follow the road signposted Blaenau Ffestiniog.  This is all familiar territory and recall the time a friend fell of his bike...drunk...down her many years ago.  The road takes me up higher and higher and as it does I ride into damp clouds and a spot of rain. 

You can tell when you're coming into Blaenau.  Before you arrive you find yourself surrounded by mountains covered in slate.  Huge mounds of slate, a vast quarry and slate walls tell you what made this small town.  Again I've been to Blaenau many times so decide to skip the town and carry on.  As I fall out of the mountains towards the coast the weather clears up and warms a little too.  

A house nestleing under a mountain of slate in Blaenau Ffestiniog
Under the mound of slate nestles a house behind the trees.

I ride towards Porthmadog and I become very thankful for using the 125.  Ahead, by some distance, are 2 Shearing coaches travelling the winding road.  Presumably they are full of old dear who don't want to be scared so they travel slowly.  Behind I'm in a long queue of cars all in varying degrees of frustration.  I'm happy to let the motor strum along and take the time to admire the clearing skies and gentle countryside.  Later the coaches turn off which release the cars and myself...headlong into a traffic jam.  

This doesn't look good.  Perhaps Porthmadog is full, perhaps every BnB, campsite, hotel and hostel is full to bursting already and this traffic is where most people will spend the weekend.  I carfully work my way along the queue for a couple of miles, dipping in and out of the line as vehicle come past.  Inside the cars I can hear kids whinging and parents huffing in frustration.  After 2 or 3 miles of this I give up, the closer to Porthmadog I get the worse it's getting.  Again the 125 comes into it's own with a tight turning circle it's easy to spin around and return.

There is one advantage of knowing an area.  I know there's other ways into Portmadog.  I hope they are not as busy and start to make the detour.  It's a great relief to be moving again and as I approach Porthmadog from this direction it's not bad at all.  I figure the traffic must be due to some accident or roadworks.  I also spot a few campsites that look like they've got spaces and try to make a mental note of where they are incase I wish to return to them.

Along the road I spot a sign for Rhyd. Memories of my youth flash into my head as I turn off to take a look.  The bike struggles up a really steep hill, I'm in 2nd and revving the hell out fo the machine.  None-the-less it never feels like it won't make it.  Rhyd is full of distant memories.  When I was 15, coming on 16, I went to Rhyd with my very first "proper" girlfriend.  Her rather odd parents somehow agreed to let thier precious young daughter bring her spotty hormonal boyfriend with her on the family holiday.  We of course were under strict orders to behave.  I of course had very different ideas.  Rhyd is a tiny hamlet surrounded by hills, sheep, grass and rocky outcrops.  I stop to take a few pictures and remember a lot of good and bad memories.  I would like to have that young body back but not that young mind.

A stone built house in Rhyd
If my memory serves me well, I stayed in this house 24 years ago at the time of writing. Where the hell did that time go?

I drop back onto the road for Porthmadog and as I pass through Tremadog I look down at the bicycle speedo to see I'm in error.  I'm in a 30 zone and I've crept up to 35mph.  Yikes!  I drop the speed down to 27 and paranoidially look into the mirrors looking for anything that might incriminate me.  This is rediculous, I pride myself on the fact I keep to the limits but I am not beyond the odd mistake.  I wish to my self you could earn credits to offset against points.  I dream of a system where cameras record your safe driving and send you a letter saying thank you.

I've been on the road now for over 5 hours.  I've stopped several times and enjoyed the ride but that speed error helps me decide somewhere nearby may be a good place to camp and rest a while.  Porthmadog is a town and there'll be no camping there, so I clip the edge of town and carry on along the A497 towards Criccieth. 

As I approch Criccieth I pass by 2 camp sites and on the other side I spot another.  The last one doesn't take my fancy so I head back.  I spot the sign that says "Mynydd Du" and head up a narrow lane to the site.  The site comprises of a handful of faux pine lodges, caravans and a field for camping.  I park and look around for some kind of reception.  It takes a moment but I spot a static in an elevated position with a hand painted sign saying "Enquire Here".  Inside an elderly gentleman relieves me of £12 whilst his wife watches TV and reminds him of what to do and where I should camp.

A large field with a group of kids playing on a small climbing frame in the corner is where I'm to pitch.  I choose a flat area away from the play area and gently park the bike.  That's the first thing I've forgotten, the piece of plastic I keep to put under the stand on grassy campsites.  Luckily the bike remains upright.  I unload and start to figure out how to put up this new tent.  It takes a bit of head scratching and one wrong pole in the wrong slot, but I've got it sussed soon enough.  This tent is a 2 man and considerably smaller than the 3 man.  There's enough room for one and my bike gear, just.  But it's very low and difficult to climb in and out of.  It'll do though.

My new 2 man tent
My new tent. It's a 2 man tent but only big enough for 1 and some bike gear. And it's too low.

Now onto the next issue, what to do next.  This is a new thing, this is the first time I've been camping entirely on my own.  I've been alone to bike rallies but there's other bikers there and things happening.  I've beena away with the gf several times so there's someone to talk to.  I've been camping with mates too, but I can't recall a time I've been camping all alone.  It's not even tea time yet I've pitched the tent and settled in.

I start off by having a shower.  I clean my earplugs.  I straighten out the tent and play with my new mobile phone.  That section of time wasting takes me up to 1800 so I get back on the bike in search of tea.  Criccieth doesn't seem to have a decent sized supermarket so I ride back into Porthmadog which kills a little more time.  Porthmadog is full of a lifetime of memories.  Memories of being a child and the smells of the Ffestiniog Railway's steam trains, memories of a previous lover's smile who's since died and memories more recent of rides and holidays.  I've learnt to dismiss these from my mind, they don't help and they only serve to make me nostalgic. 

With a shake of my head I snap out of it and walk to a small supermaket.  I plan to save money by not making the obvious choice and eating in a pub.  With that in mind I buy a ready-made sandwich, some crisps and a drink...which costs over £4.  As I sit on a wall eating my dry butty and crisps I suspect if I'd have looked around I could have bought a proper meal for another pound or two.  Whilst I eat I notice an odd pair of motorcycles, an R1 and a Harley, are parked together.  Later 2 couples arrive and ride off together.  Across the road in the petrol station there's a queue of cars towing caravans or jetskis then a couple of young lads arrive, one in a Ferrari and the other in an Audi R8.  These holidaymakers are not short of a bob or two.

An odd pairing of an R1 and a Harley in Porthmadog
A strange pair of riding partners, an R1 and a Harley

I hear screaming and shouting a little further up the road.  Outside a pub 2 lads are squaring up to each other whilst a buxom woman screams in what I can only guess is Welsh.  There's arm waving, pushing and grabbing and a lot of gesturing but no actual fight.  I laugh as the only words I recognise are the profanities.  I figure the Welsh language may be too gentle and polite to contain such vulgar and rude words so the younger Welsh speaker has to adopt English words to express his or indeed her displeasure. 

As one of the aggreived parties storms by me he scowls hard at me so I decide now may be a good time to leave.  When the going gets tough I like to go somewhere else.  Back at the campsite it's still not even dark and I wonder what else to do.  I know if I go to sleep too early I'll be awake at 0400 and still have nothing to do.  I walk around the site looking at caravans with TV's and wonder if it's rude to stand outside and watch.  I go back to the tent to chill out, but that's boring after 3 minutes so I play with the new phone again but that'll go flat and I've nowhere to recharge it.  I take some more pictures and look at what I've taken already.  That kills another 5 minutes. 

I go for a walk.  I learn there's another campsite right next to this one, and a retirement home next to that.  I learn that Pentrefelin is a tiny hamlet and has no pub that I can find.  I learn that it goes dark around 2100 and the streetlights don't all work.  I learn that winding my wind-up torch makes the light brighter.  Back at the campsite I learn that the toilet paper does not rip very well and that cold toothpaste is very difficult to get out of the tube.  I'm bored.

North Wales 2011 Short Break - Prologue
North Wales 2011 Short Break - Going To Criccieth
North Wales 2011 Short Break - Criccieth to Trearddur Bay Roaming around North Wales and the Llyn Peninsula Ren is killing time and exploring. This is what 125s were made for.
North Wales 2011 Short Break - Going Home From Trearddur Bay
North Wales 2011 Short Break - Epilogue and More Images

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