Not quite the wild welsh winter the title might conjure up in your mind; in fact due to the mild weather we’ve been having it was more wet than wintry. But it was still the opportunity that I needed, a visit to North Wales and a chance to conquer hills no. 87 and 88; aka ‘Pen Barra’ and ‘Moel Arthur’.
My work took me across the country to St Asaph where I managed to complete all that I needed to do by the time the clock reached 2. Of course I had planned ahead so that in the event of having free afternoon time, I would have somewhere to ride and some hills to strike off my list. ‘Pen Barra’ and ‘Moel Arthur’ are two climbs up the same ridge of hills; the ‘to be more precise.
One of the problems with trying to ride up two significant hills in the same range is that they tend to ride in the same direction. This makes for a terrible cycling conundrum; ‘how do I make a loop out of this?’, after all we all know cyclists prefer to ride around in circles. Well I broke all the unwritten rules and created a route that went up each hill and back down the sames sides, I blame a lack a time to spare.
Both hills are the same length at ~2.2 km and of similar elevation gain being 256 and 219 metres according to the Strava segments. I found Pen Barra to be slightly more fun, the road surface being better, although traffic wise Moel Arthur was the much quieter of the two. Pen Barra also managed to offer the hardest section which was a tight switchback much like the ones up Rosedale Chimney where the inside of the road is far too steep to consider riding and you find yourself riding up the wrong side of the road hoping for a decent lull in the traffic.
Moel Arthur as mentioned was the quieter of the two. In fact I don’t remember seeing a single vehicle at all on my ride up or down. The road is singletrack all the way and one of those narrow lanes where the grass grows in the middle undisturbed in a mulch of dead leaves and hedge cuttings. It could be quite idyllic except for the steep incline and the variety of potholes to keep you on your toes! Once at the top though it opens out and although I didn’t have time to explore, the ride down the other side alongside the forest looks as though it would be fun.
While we’re talking about coming down. If you choose like me to come back down these hills do be aware that they are very steep and very narrow with mostly high hedges and certainly on Moel Arthur the road surface isn’t all that great, so I’d recommend taking it pretty steady. These aren’t open and fast descents like when you come down from The Buttertubs or from Holme Moss!
Then there’s the bit between the hills. The slightly flatter bit to connect one to the other. In this case it’s a backroad that passes through Hirwaen, Llangynhafal and goes onward to Llangynfan of course! Fortunately I never needed to ask for directions. This road passes several farms and on a wet winters day it really does get somewhat smelly in places and all the muck you ride through flicks up and coats your bike, clothes, shoes and anything else that’s exposed. It led to a fairly smelly 4 hour car journey home. The turn for Moel Arthur isn’t all that obvious either so if you are reading this thinking of having a go at these hills yourself then just look out for the white house on the left side at a crossroads and then turn off right.
Like my climb up the cat & fiddle I must admit that I felt a little underwhelmed after completing this pair of hills. There’s nothing wrong with them, at 250 m over 2 km they’re challenging hills, especially if built into a longer route but there are lots of better hills around Britain and although I’m glad I’ve ridden them they won’t join my favourites list I’m afraid. So will I return to North Wales for another ride? You bet I will. I still need to add ‘The Horseshoe Pass’, ‘The Shelf’ and ‘The Road to Hell’ to my completed list. I’ve even planned the loop.
The ride on Strava – https://www.strava.com/activities/465150294