Prestatyn to Ponty ’97
Like Ranulph Fiennes it immediately captured Mark’s imagination – an epic four day bicycle ride through the Welsh heartland – Prestatyn to Ponty. The cause – Rhondda Animal Aid: a refuge and haven for the bemused and unwanted waifs and strays in the locality. On the journey, myself, described by Mark as ‘a zoologist, teacher and wildlife photographer with wanderlust’, and Mark ‘ex rugby star, drinker, philanderer and story teller’. When asked what he should take I told Mark ‘Don’t take a lot, you won’t need it’. ‘If the spring lambs can survive April so will you’. Informing a work colleague of his intentions he was given more advice, ‘I’ve done something similar. Invest in a touring saddle, a tenner in Halfords and a big pot of Vaseline’. We will both be eternally grateful for that pearl of wisdom.
Driving north Mark asks me the obvious question, ‘Why Prestatyn to Ponty?’ ‘Because they both begin with P’ I say. Lucky we’re not cycling to Ynysbwl, Mark thought. Stopping at Newtown for a cuppa we acquired our mascot, a cuddly penguin called ‘Newt’ after his hometown, not the amount of beer we were to consume that night. Little did we imagine just how apt a mascot he would be, for as we travelled northwards we soon began to notice there was quite a lot of snow on the higher ground. Mark asked if the forecast was promising, one word reply from me ‘Fine’. Well, I didn’t want to put him off now did I?
Dropped off in Prestatyn, we found the lodgings I’d booked and retired for the night. Well, if you believe that one you’d have believed Mark’s version! Out on the town, me and Sue on the beers and Mark on his mobile. Disco pub at the top of town, full of sixteen year olds, convinced us to visit the kebab shop. Mighty BSE burgers and kebabs later we crashed – perfect training for the marathon ahead. Early next morning over breakfast the landlady was informed it was Mark’s birthday. To much rejoicing she returned from the kitchen with a three day old muffin from which protruded a half burned candle, singing loudly, ‘Happy Birthday to Mike’, whoever he was.
Farewell Prestatyn, on with the Vaseline and off we go on a bright spring morning but howling a gale, heading towards Llangollen via the horseshoe pass, determination etched on our faces. Shortly after – misery! – the weather changed – the blue sky over Snowdonian was no more and looking backwards a wall of sleet and snow descended on us.
Cycling hard we reached Ruthin and dived into a café to wait out the storm. Why do people always have to comment on your attire, shorts and t-shirt when there is a snowstorm raging outside? Just as suddenly it abated and with much good cheer off we set with some sponsorship money and the mountains before us.
Realizing immediately how difficult it would be pedalling a one-pedal mountain bike through the horseshoe pass we stopped at a house and knocked the door. ‘Do you have a spanner we could borrow?’ we asked, looking like two lost puppies in the snow, to which the man of the house replied ‘If your cycling up the horseshoe pass dressed like that in weather like this, keep the bloody spanner!’. This made me wonder how much a taxi fare to the top would be, but patched up on we rode.
Ahead, the mighty 1400ft horseshoe pass, without oxygen. At the summit, dodging snowballs that children playfully throw at the two idiots in shorts we ate the mouldy muffin – wow, calories never tasted so good! A quick photo stop and then the descent. Six miles downhill in to Llangollen, exactly what ‘wind chill factor’ means we found out.
Frostbitten we cycle along the old canal bank and eventually hobble into the tourist information office with legs looking like Bernard Matthews frozen chickens. Mark placed his pedal on the desk and enquired if there was a local repair shop open. No. It was Bank Holiday but there was a guy at the youth hostel … Luckily I’d booked this night as well, best not to mention tomorrow I thought. Two miles out of town we booked into the haunted castle Llangollen Youth Hostel and stood in the shower for about three hours! Refreshed we were out on the town, although it seemed shut. But the day’s exertion had taken it’s toll and two pints later we were in the curry house falling asleep in the CTM.
Next morning we were met by bicycle repair man – hooray! Fare dues he was great. Fixed Mark’s pedal for nothing and off we set – our bum’s a little tender. (Not sure if I should have put that line in?) Heading for Newtown, 45 miles away. As cycling became a little hazardous on the road we decided to follow what seemed to be Offa’s Dyke, signed posted ‘Severn Way’, a canal towpath which ran parallel to the main road. Much better we thought.
But … half way down the trail a rather large swan took an instant dislike to us as we approached and made it’s feelings known. Cycling hard we tried to outrun the bird but not realizing we were heading towards the nest where his mate was brooding! Glancing backwards, a swan in full flight heading straight towards you, two feet off the water looks similar to an exocet missile – and we were the intended target. I tried to get a photo but he did look a bit agitated so we carried on moving, cycling past the nest, overtaking each other on the towpath, by now the swan was going mental, we threw our bikes on our shoulders and jumped over the gate. The swan calm again, resting now and leaning on the gate we read the sign ‘Please beware of the swans’
Reaching Newtown in a sleet shower, we decided to carry on not realising the next town was many miles away. Four miles of hills later, as we approached the top of the mountain the blizzard hit us, it was so cold even the sheep had gone home. We saw a light and headed for it. The lady was somewhat perplexed to see two cyclists in shorts on her doorstep at the top of a Welsh mountain in a blizzard seeking shelter. Unfolding a sodden copy of the Rhondda Leader explaining our charitable efforts, she kindly let us stay the night and placed our bikes in her garage that was full of lambs that were not too happy, especially the ones with the short back and sides. In the morning after a big round of two pints the night before at the Dolfar pub we awoke to silence.
We could just make out the tops of some sheep walking through tunnels in the snow! A bleak and white wilderness ahead we dressed with everything we had – the only thing Mark wasn’t wearing was his rucksac, and that was ‘cos he didn’t have one. After a hearty breakfast we thought about trains to Newport via Newtown but then … what the hell.
The snow-plough driver was really helpful and let us cycle behind him past the abandoned cars and lorries, encouraging us with toots and hollers. One lorry driver who was delivering feed to the farmers remarked that he’d thought he’d seen it all. After thirty years of doing his job he had, as my hand wrapped inside three socks waved to him as we passed.
We met many very kind hearted people on the journey who sponsored us including Jim, the manager of the Erwood Inn outside Builth Wells who fed and watered us free of charge. The remainder of the trip was eventful and cold, my knees gave out (again) near Tal-y-Bont and the hills were a bugger. Mark nearly froze to death in Cefn Coed but thanks to a lovely Chinese girl who cooked us beans on toast and my Kenyan kikoi wrapped around his purple legs we survived. Was it worth it? If all the distressed animals felt like we did at the end of the journey they certainly do need the help!
Thanks to everyone that helped us en-route.
Adapted from a fairy-tale by Mark Davies.
Rhondda Animal Aid is a local charity which seeks to care for and re-house abandoned or abused animals in the area. Much of the work, that is done by volunteers, is with dogs and cats but all animals are cared for. Our story, along with the pictures here relate to our efforts during a snowy Easter to help the mistreated dogs of south Wales. ‘Jack’ the Jack Russell who was found and returned to his rightful owners thanks to the Rhondda Leader’s Photograph and the publicity surrounding the bike ride.
Many thanks to all who contributed to our Bike Job, especially Jim at the Erwood Inn (the sandwiches were much appreciated!), the ladies on top of the Horseshoe Pass and everyone who gave us money en-route and the Rhondda Leader for the pic and story which also helped us re-home our own adopted dog ‘Jack’ who was claimed by his rightful owner’s thanks to the paper.
Originally posted on Ponty Town web site.