Journeying on to stage 3, our clan riders will face their bid for home and pit their wits against the wild landscape of Wales, through Celtic pathways centuries old and sites full of legend.
The Ferry Crossing
The crossing from Rosslare to Fishguard runs only twice a day, so this will prove an interesting timing challenge for riders. Once aboard, they can rest up for a few hours, take some sleep etc and review their epic journey so far. The shouts of ‘Croeso’ will welcome them in Fishguard, a picturesque seaside town with plenty of local seafood and hospitality for those looking to rest before heading north.
Both the Full and Shorter Routes share most of the Welsh route. Initially winding north east the first major historical site is Nevern, a small town which has been inhabited since the neolithic era. The Norman Church of St Brynach contains a 10th Celtic Cross and several inscribed stones. To the north, are the ruins of Nevern Castle and to the north east is Castell Henllys, the site of an Iron Age hillfort where there are now four reconstructed roundhouses and a granary on their original foundations, the only site in Britain where this has been done. To the south is the massive Neolithic Pentre Ifan Dolmen which dates from around 3500 BC, and is thought to have been a communal burial mound. The cap stone is estimated to weight 16 tonnes!
The crossing of Afon Teifi near Aberteifi (Cardigan) will see riders head east and climb steadily up past rolling farm land towards Llanbedr Pont Steffan (Bridge of Stephen). Today there is a mound in the town where once a Castle stood back in the medieval period. From here both routes turn north towards the ancient market town of Tregaron, nestled in the foothills of the Cambrian Mountains. The town has been important for trading since the 13th century. In Welsh folk-lore and legend, Twm Sion Cati is known as a Welsh Robin Hood who lived in the local hills and valleys.
Full Route to Dolgellau
From Tregaron, the Full Route heads south east climbing sharply before twisting around Llyn Brianne revealing stunning views across the lake and mountainous landscape. Standing stones are dotted throughout the landscape in mid-Wales, ancient remnants of the distant past. One such stone can be seen in the village of Newbridge on Wye which may date back over 3000 years.
Turning north, riders can take rest in the scenic village of Rhayader, which in Welsh is called ‘Y Rhaeadr’ (the waterfall). This has been a natural stopping point for travellers for thousands of years, including the Romans, Medieval monks and later cattle drovers. The village has a range of shops, cafes and pubs including the ‘Old Swan’ which dates back to the 17th century. From here, the route turns west along the awesome Elan Valley trail with views across a series of reservoirs.
Devil’s Bridge is a spectacular sight across a deep river gorge. Riders can take a quick break to look at this unique view, with three bridges built one above the next. The Welsh name of the site recorded in 1629 was Pont ar Fynach, meaning bridge over the Mynach (with Mynach meaning ‘Monk’). The first mention of ‘Devil’s Bridge’ in English is from 1734.
From here the route goes north around Nant-Y-Moch Reservoir before heading west to the coast and then north to Machynlleth, a town which has deep roots in history, where copper mining took place in the early Bronze Age. Twisting towards the coast and then back inland, the road leads riders to another ancient town – Dolgellau. In the pre-Roman Celtic era, this settlement was part of the Ordovices tribal lands. The Ordovices were one of the few British tribes known to have resisted the Roman invasion in 1st century AD. The resistance was lead by Caratacus who was exiled from his lands after the defeat of his tribe in the Battle of the Medway. Caratacus became the warlord of the Ordovices and neighbouring Silures, but was defeated at the battle of Caer Caradoc in 50 AD. In 1404 Dolgellau was the location of a council of chiefs under Owain Glyndŵr, the last native Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales.
Shorter Route to Dolgellau
As those on the Shorter Route head north out of Tregaron, they’ll pass through the Cors Caron Nature Reserve which has over 170 bird species and riders can look out for the stunning Red Kites flying high in the skies above. Strata Florida Abbey is also nearby, which dates back to 12th century and is a former Cistercian abbey. In Welsh it is known as ‘Abaty Ystrad Fflur’ meaning ‘Abbey in the wide valley of flowers’.
Heading east, a series of tough climbs will test legs as the route follows the Afon Ystwyth, before descending into Y Rhaeadr (Rhayader) where riders can take some rest. The route then turns north and west, following the Afon Hafren (River Severn), with views of Llyn Clywedog. This section sees riders continue a series of climbs into more remote, wild land known as the ‘Desert of Wales’ with epic vistas across the mountainous ranges. The climbs top out reaching an altitude of over 1600ft, before a long descent towards Machynlleth. Riders will then push on north with a tough climb near the famous ‘Mach Loop’ where jet fighters can be heard and seen, flying very close to the mountain tops.
Both routes to the Llanberis
Pont Abermaw (Barmouth bridge) will be an enjoyable experience, riding across Afon Mawddach along the old wooden railway viaduct, before heading into Barmouth. From here the route affords stunning coastal views towards the Llyn Peninsula and riders will be greeted by the medieval castle in Harlech and the chance to ride up Ffordd Pen Llech – a 36% road, which may be the steepest in the world! Turning inland once more the route heads into the spectacular Snowdonia National Park.
Riders on the Full Route will take on the awesome switch-back climb up to Stwlan Dam and then on to the Crimea, both of which will provide challenges and rewards aplenty with mountainous views etched into memories for years to come. From here riders will descend swiftly, racing past Dolweddlan castle, thought to have been built by Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn The Great) in the 13th century. Onwards they’ll push through the forest covered village of Betws-Y-Coed and then climb up to Capel Curig where an epic view of Yr Wyddfa (Mount Snowdon), Wales highest mountain, will greet riders as they pass by Llynnau Mymbr. A steep descent down to Llyn Gwynant and on to the village of Beddgelert will enable a short break at the famous river crossings. An Augustinian priory was founded here in the 13th century and the village is named after the grave of a legendary, faithful dog.
For the Shorter Route, instead of heading towards Blaenau Ffestiniog, the route continues north from Harlech on to Nantmor and a stunning forested road, winding alongside the Afon Colwyn into the village of Beddgelert.
Llanberis to the Finish
Riders will pass Llyn Cwellyn and then circle round to the village of Llanberis, home of the old slate quarries across Llyn Padarn. On the shore of the lake, riders can look out for a giant sword in a stone, echoing the Legend of King Arthur. In the distance the remains of the medieval Dolbadarn Castle are perched on a rocky crag, dwarfed by the colossal mountains leading up the valley. Riders will need to call forth mythic courage as they prepare for Pen-y-Pass; A mighty climb which is sure to test even the strongest at this stage in the race.
With the summit conquered, riders can soak up inspiring views and take a moment to appreciate their effort, before heading to Betws-y-Coed, then on to the ancient Market town of Llanrwst, where the local church of St Grwst contains the stone coffin of Llywelyn The Great. Both sets of riders will climb up Nebo Hill and will be gifted with expansive views of the Snowdonia mountain range as a reward, knowing they are on the final few miles to the finish.
Now riders will head north to Llandudno where they’ll complete one loop around the magnificent Great Orme, in Welsh ‘Y Gogarth‘. Its English name derives from the Old Norse word for ‘Sea Serpent’. On the Orme there is a massive ancient copper mine dating back 4000 years, where Celtic ancestors would have worked during the Bronze age. With the loop around the Orme complete, clan riders will have found their way to the North Wales coast, to the end of a heroic journey and will be able to savour a unique, personal and magical feeling at the finish line!
1480 or 837 miles stand between you and that feeling…
Words: Pete Borlace, Pan Celtic Race Team
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