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Connecting With The Old Ways.

Updated: Jun 30, 2021

A blog about the old and the new. Connecting old bikes to modern times and old ways to modern lanes.


Some time ago I bought a second hand 1980's steel frame Carlton. I loved it immediately, the ornate Shimano 600 gearing and the Teal coloured frame sold it for me. It was owned by a superb gentleman who resides in Moray just on the river Spey in Scotland. I am a sucker for a story and this bike was built from the frame up with the passion and care to be raced in the Scottish Highlands. The Carlton is now down here in Wales, its had a couple of upgrades, some new gravel tyres, cables a chain, mostly its standard, as it was built and it is a capable old machine.

I live in North Wales, in the centre of Snowdonia National Park in fact and I am passionate about the environment and the countryside I grew up in, mostly I am passionate about exploring it by bike, on the vintage Carlton.

Snowdonia is superb for any outdoor activity you want to embark on, we have a plethora of by-ways, bridleways, cycle lanes, historic routes such as the Sarn* Helen Roman road and countless old mining tramways and forestry gravel lanes. What's more is we have our own historical language - Welsh - Older than the English Language it has evolved from the original British language that would of been spoken through ought Britain since the Bronze age. Variations of which still exist on the Isle of man, Cornwall and in Breton. Locked up in this ancient language are place names and phrases that tell us of times gone by, all recorded and there to read on Ordnance Survey maps whilst out exploring on the bike around of North Wales.

I have included a small Welsh Glossary to aid you on your explorations of Wales and help you better understand the environment you are cycling through.

I was once a 'mountain biker' turned 'Bikepacker/tourer'. Since making the old Carlton bike suitable for gravel I have definitely become a 'mixed terrain cyclist'. Every time I head out on the old steel bike I aim to combine, gravel, tarmac and non-technical off-road trails to explore places and discover sites I have never ridden amongst.

I want to talk about a ride I did with a friend a couple of weekends ago. I dont use Strava (yet) and its never about mileage or duration for me so this was a relatively mellow 35 mile loop which we spent the whole day enjoying. I have modernised in some ways and do like to use OS Maps on my smartphone, however nothing beats consulting the real map before and after a ride to really visualise your surroundings.

It was a pleasant Sunday, after a hearty breakfast Paul and I set off from my front door, our aim being to find an off-road route linking my hometown of Blaenau Ffestiniog to the coast at Llandecwyn whilst riding through some historic sites along the Sarn Helen Roman road.

We left the town through the high street and turned onto a gravel track through a farm to link to the spectacular Cwm* Teigl. We briefly got involved in feeding medicine to a poorly ewe and opening gates for the farmer but were soon on our way where we joined the Sarn Helen at Hafod* Ysbyty* (The old roman field hospital). Carlton surprised me on the grassy ascent and we were soon descending the quick lane along Cwm Cynfal Valley to Tomen* Y* Mur*. We hopped out the saddles here and took a stroll to the site of historic Roman settlement. Where a sign explicitly warned us not to engage in metal detecting activities. We took a moment stood on the enormous mound looking over to the Rhiniog* Mountain range and the coast, observing the terrain we would cycle amongst that afternoon.

We continued on the gravel beyond the Braich* Ddu* slate quarry works where the terrain becomes very rideable hard packed moorland, we eventually arrived at another Roman practice works called Dolddinas*, although here we are only 2 miles or so from a tarmac road you may as well be on a remote plateau in some foreign land as evidence of modern civilisation drops away.

We rode through this little oasis to join an access road to some pylons that services the power station at Trawfynnydd resevoir. The good thing about modern industry and conquests alike is they often construct access roads - Gravel roads in this case.

We re-joined the tarmac in Cwm Prysor, where we briefly used the A-road to get us into the quaint village of Trawfynydd, home to the famous Welsh poet - Hedd Wyn*), from here we hopped out the saddles and walked across the Trawsfynydd reservoir footbridge which is a must, hovering just a couple of metres above the water line, this 400metre footbridge offers panoramic views of the Rhiniogau range. Making landfall on the opposite side we joined the reservoir circular cycle route which we followed North on a pleasant mixture of country lane and gravel. On arrival at the head of the lake I wanted to find the route that would take us through to Llandecwyn and to the coast. I consulted the map, where a black dashed line suggested we could follow a level conduit through to a farm lane that would join a B-road. We proceeded to follow it, me on Carlton and Paul on a modern equivalent we managed remarkably well, again the conduit service track providing a man made, not too lumpy, embankment to ride along. Upon arrival at the paved lane we could almost smell the sea! Although still 200 metres above, we were at least on the Western Flanks of the Rhiniog Mountain Range having successfully linked the interior to the coast off-road.

Consulting the map once again, we plotted a route that would take us onto some forestry gravel and even some single-track gravel along Llyn* Tecwyn Uchaf*. This made for an incredible descent where we briefly stopped at Capel* Bryn* Tecwyn, in my opinion one of the best views from any chapel in Britain overlooking the Dwyryd estuary and Tremadoc Bay to Portmeirion and Porthmadog.

A steep descent down the narrow lane lead us to the shore of the estuary where we begun our arduous ascent back up towards Blaenau Ffestiniog following the Afon* Dwyryd from sea to source. Living in Blaenau Ffestiniog at 215 metres above sea level usually involves a climb at the end of any ride, its always worth it.

It was a superb day out on the gravel bikes and once again proves how lucky we are to live on such a rich natural and historic island here on the British Isles. We have a vast network of paths, tracks, drover's ways, roman roads and forest trails with one of the highest densities of bridleways and waymarked cycle routes in the world. It excites me to be able to spend my life enjoying it all on two wheels and I encourage anyone and everyone to take to the lanes not only for fitness and well being but for discovery, exploration and learning - An interactive window into the past, present and future.

Connaire Cann.


Glossary -

Sarn - Causeway

Cwm - Valley or dale. Used in Conjunction with the name of the river. E.g Cwm Cynfal

Llan - Church or Monastery

Hafod - Summer Dwelling

Ysbyty - Hospital

Tomen - Tip or mound

Y - Of the

Mur - Wall

Braich - Arm

Ddu - Black

Dol - Meadow

Ddinas - Hill fortress or city

Llyn - Lake. Often used in conjuction with a name. E.g - Llyn Tecwyn Uchaf - Upper Tecwyn Lake.

Uchaf - Upper

Capel - Chapel

Bryn - Hill

Afon - River

Rhiniogau - The Rhiniog Mountain range, made up of Rhiniog grits, some of Wales' oldest rocks they were famously studied by Sir Charles Darwin. They lie on the west of Snowdonia national park forming a natural barrier between the coast and the interior.

Heddwyn - A Welsh-language poet who was killed on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele during World War I. He was posthumously awarded the bard's chair at the 1917 National Eisteddfod.

Other useful Welsh words -

Aber - Estuary. Often used in conjunction with the river name. E.g Aberystwyth

Allt - Hillside

Betws - Chapel

Bach - Little

Bron - Hill crest

Bwlch - Gap or pass

Cae - Field, enclosure

Carreg - Stone or rock

Coed - Wood

Dyffryn - Valley

Eglwys - Church

Garth - Promontory

Glan - River/Lake bank

Hir - Long

Mawr - Big/Great

Melin - Mill

Moel - Bare hill

Mynydd - Mountain

Nant - Stream

Ogof - Cave

Pant - Hollow or dip in the valley

Pen - Head, Top, End, Edge

Pistyll or Rhaeadr - Waterfall

Pont - Bridge

Pwll - Pool

Rhos - Moor

Tir - Land or territory

Twyn - Hillock or Knoll

Ynys - Island

Ystrad - River meadow

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