Snowdonia & the Lleyn Peninsula
A description of the Snowdonia Beano from 'A Place to Cycle' by Rob Penn
The northwestern corner of Wales has remained steadfastly independent for centuries. Welsh remains the first language of a large proportion of the population, and culturally the Cymric identity, that indefinable 'Welshness' that remains so vital to Wales, is as intact here as it is anywhere.
The region is dominated by Mount Snowdon, the pyramid-shaped peak that sits on raised buttresses of volanic rock and is familiarly shrouded in a mystic, iridescent light. This intense light – a result of the proximity of the sea, the type of rock and the latitude – has drawn landscape painters and more recently photographers in their droves. Snowdon is a modest 1,086 m (3,560 ft) high, but its shape is that of a proud and lofty mountain. There are many glorious views of Snowdon throughout the week of this tour, and few will ever tire of seeing it.
The area comprising all the mountains in the region is called Snowdonia, or 'Eryri' in Welsh. It reverberates with rich historical associations (particularly those relating to Welsh defiance of the English) and, perhaps even more potently, it is steeped in legend. King Arthur fought his last battle here, Excalibur was thrown into a lake here and these hills are where Merlin wandered. Non-Welsh speakers often struggle to pronounce the place names at first, but by the end of the week you will be curling your tongue round names such as Llandwrog and Rhyd-Ddu like a Celtic bard of old.
The Lleyn Peninsula, which protrudes into the Irish Sea like a claw, resembles Cornwall, albeit on a smaller scale. The north coast is rugged, and the south coast has a number of arcing, sandy beaches. Seals abound in the water and the rich birdlife – cormorants, oystercatchers, gannets, guillemots and kittiwakes – is typical of the western seaboard of Britain. And, there's plenty of man's imprint on the land, from ancient standing stones to evidence of the early quarrying industry.
The cycling is pretty good, too. The week comprises a good mix of day tours on lanes, drovers' routes and cycleways, exploring the landscape and the rich cultural heritage of the area. There are two days spent traversing the edge of Snowdonia, and some tough climbing is unavoidable. Yet for this ride the routes have not been chosen for lung-splitting ascents and screaming downhills. Rather, they have been chosen because the traffic is light and there are plenty of interesting places to stop at; whether it be a tea shop, an ancient holy well, a castle, a cave, a beach, a bakery or a pub, there always seems to be a good reason to take a breather and dismount. After all, this is a 'beano' (as in the name of the company organizing the ride), an old-fashioned English slang word for a 'jolly'.
[Rob Penn then describes each day's ride. Here is his description of one of the rides]
Day 3: Circular ride via Criccieth
Leaving Nantlle the route heads south along lanes to the small town of Criccieth. From the waterfront there is a quintessentially Welsh prospect across Porthmadog Bay to Harlech Castle, with Cadair Idris behind. You will notice a distinct change in the scenery as you cycle along the south coast of the Lleyn Peninsula, where in contrast to the rugged north, the south consists of sandy beaches and coastal woods. Lunch is taken in the Blue China in Criccieth, which occupies a lovely spot beside the beach. There is time for a swim before continuing on undulating lanes to the birthplace of one of Wales's favourite sons, David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of Britain during the First World War. There are a number of options for detours for anyone who has already found their cycling legs, but alternatively, a recommended walking route brings you to another holy well where – or so the legend goes – you can test your lover's faithfulness!
© Words: Rob Penn. Published by Conran Octopus, 2005, ISBN 1 84091 391 6, www.conran-octopus.co.uk. Rob Penn spent 3 years, and 24,000 miles, cycling round the world. He writes and photograghs for a number of publications including The Times, Condé Nast Traveller and The Financial Times. He recently made 'Tales from the Wild Wood' for BBC4.