Pulling up in the car park at Cemaes on the Friday night, I was greeted by a very excitable cockapoo that seemed to pop out of nowhere before disappearing just as quickly. Equally excited, I quickly reassembled my bike and strapped down my luggage. Just as I was finishing up, Steve and Aidan arrived and we all set off together into the village in search of the final member of our group, Thom. Quickly located at one of the two village pubs, we made our introductions over a pint.
Hydrated, we rode the 100 yards to the local chippy. Now this was the kind of chip-to-riding-ratio I could get behind. On arrival, the proprietor of the Chip Shop kindly gave us a brief, but mandatory, training course in the successful navigation of the simple 9-step ordering process and careful completion of the appropriate order form that would be inspected and audited prior to any potatoes being released into the frier. Thankfully, we paid close attention and received our chips with only a minor reprimand regarding improper use of the order form filing system.
The hill out of Cemaes up to Tregele was short but steep enough to cause more than one of us to proclaim that we may have eaten too much. That being said, it didn’t stop us from stocking up on drinks and snacks at the service station on top of the hill. “Custard cream, anyone?”.
We rode out on to the headland at Cemlyn just as the sun was setting and scouted about for a suitably flat bivvy spot that would also shelter us from the rather brisk westerly wind. After toying with the idea of sleeping on the sand, we settled on a grassy shelf that was right on the edge of the bay.
After the sun had dipped below the horizon and we’d watched The Skerries lighthouse beam begin its nightly rotations it wasn’t long before we turned in for the night. As I looked across the bay, the full moon reflecting on the water, I remembered just how beautiful it is to sleep outside with nothing between you and the stars.
We rose early the next morning and packed up camp whilst discussing how glad we were that we’d decided not to sleep on the sand after all. In the night, it had become apparent that the tide had come within a foot of our elevated bivvy spot. Had we been on the sand we might’ve floated off into the Irish Sea, inflatable sleeping mats acting as lilos. Had we known how high the tide would come, I don’t think we’d have slept so close to it but we all agreed that sleeping amidst the sound of the lapping waves had been a real treat.
After making a quick coffee on our stoves, we were soon packed up and retracing our way back to Cemaes to use the public conveniences that turned out not to be quite as convenient as we hoped. As we stood outside the locked toilets, twenty minutes before the scheduled opening time, the proprietor of the beauty salon over the road kindly informed us that the 85 year old lady who normally opens the loos up may or may not be along at any moment. She briefly offered the use of her own facilities before duly retracting that offer once she’d fully envisioned the effect that four freshly caffeinated blokes may have on her business. We debated whether to wait for the old lady to arrive, but concluded that at 85 years old it was far from certain that she was going to wake up that morning, let alone make it the half a mile down the road to open up the toilet block. We decided to try the beach front toilets on our way past but found them to be equally impenetrable. I would say at this point that I was starting to feel deflated but deflated is definitely the wrong word.
Fortunately, we soon chanced upon the Gadlys Hotel where the friendly concierge allowed us to use the facilities in exchange for purchasing breakfast. This turned out to be a really good move: all-you-could-eat fresh pastries, cereals and fruit, a couple of coffees and a full cooked breakfast for the princely sum of £12.50 – can’t argue with that!
Just up the road, situated on the cliff top, was Eglwys Llanbadrig – the church of St Patrick. Said to have been founded in 440AD, it is the oldest church in Wales, and surely the one with the best view.
“There’s worse places to be buried,” I exclaimed, before realising there’s probably not much opportunity to enjoy the view when you’ve been six feet underground for hundreds of years. Inside, the church itself is beautifully simple and understated in its design, right down to the stained glass. We were surprised to find a small selection of souvenirs for sale and an honesty box (complete with a do-it-yourself card machine!). I couldn’t NOT get the pin badge that matched the design of the stained glass.
From there we made our way towards the centre of the island, where we parted ways with Thom whose onward journey would take him back to the mainland. Later that day his front rack would betray him by departing its mounts, diving into his front wheel and sending him careening over the handlebars. Fortunately, he wasn’t badly injured but his rim was so bent out of shape that he had to call off the rest of his adventure and head home.
The remaining three of us traced the route to the Martian landscape of Mynydd Parys (Parys Mountain); mined for its copper ore since the early Bronze Age. Due to the contaminated landscape and open mine workings, almost nothing grows there. It’s pretty surreal.
There were a few spicy hills to get there but we eventually reached the summit, and after taking in the breathtaking view back over to Amlwch, a sign informed us that the mountain still holds over 6 million tonnes of ore. Heading off the mountain was a delight, after a short battle with some brambles whilst negotiating a narrow bridle path we lifted the bikes over a farm gate and were rewarded with a magnificent tarmac descent that seemed to go on for miles.
After a few steep climbs, and with our stomachs rumbling once more, we decided to cut out the planned circumnavigation of Mynydd Bodafon and head straight for Llangefni for lunch. The quiet lanes led us to join NCN 566 along the shore of Cefni Reservoir, before a rumble through the boardwalked river trail into Llangefni just in time to grab lunch before the cafe shut its doors for the day.
A panini and a sugary soft drink later we hit the road once more, rejoining NCN 566 for ten miles or so of along the banks of the Afon Cefni on an almost pancake flat and traffic-free tarmac trail through the marsh where the river finally meets the sea at Malltraeth.
We were a bit ahead of schedule and so made our way through the forest at Newborough, hoping to scout out a potential wild camping spot before darkness fell. I was also very much looking forward to an ice cream, but when we arrived we found that a triathlon event had completely taken over the car park, somewhat disappointingly evicting the ice cream van from its usual location. Instead we headed back to Malltraeth.
The less said about Malltraeth’s inn and eateries the better. Let’s just say that when the chip shop also sells nappies, cigarettes and nails by the pint it’s best not to get excited about the quality of the food – I’m still amazed at how they managed to bake a pizza such that the base was harder than concrete and yet the sweetcorn on top remained completely frozen. That being said, it served a purpose (I could have eaten a scabby horse) and the view from our bench over the marsh was pretty easy on the eye.
With the sun going down it was starting to cool off and so, with bellies full, we retired to the forest and setup camp for the night in a discrete location so as not to be discovered by wayward walkers or wardens.We found a clearing in the trees just behind the sand dunes. Lying on mossy pillows, we lay back in our bivvy bags and chatted whilst looking up at the stars. I must have fallen asleep pretty quickly because I don’t even recall saying goodnight to my fellow campers.
On the Sunday morning I woke up coated in a thick layer of condensation, but what a stunning morning it was. It was cool, but clear and we packed up camp quickly so we could hop on the bikes and get warmed up.
We left the forest and traced our way back through Malltraeth. As we turned onto a quiet lane towards the hamlet of Bodorgan we were bathed in sunlight. Above the brambles, we were greeted with the most breathtaking view back over the Cefni estuary, with the hulking peaks of Snowdonia in the distance.
The joy of the moment was somewhat tempered with the knowledge of the weather forecast. Whilst it was sunny now, we knew that rain was headed our way later in the day and we agreed we were determined to make it back to Cemaes before the heavens opened. With clear intentions, we pressed on.
The single track road took us through the dunes of Aberfraw, another pretty river mouth community. Cafe Notos in Rhosneigr provided fuel for the day in the form of coffee and a hearty cooked breakfast.
Back on the bikes we made good time, riding past RAF Valley, we’d confidently covered 40km in just a couple hours of riding. It was around this time that the hills started to get more punchy and we ran into a few short sections of coastal path hike-a-bike where we’d ran in to some deep dry sand that made it unrideable. We took a few moments on a cliff top bench at Porth Tywyn Mawr to admire the view over towards Holyhead. The morning sun had disappeared, replaced with a carpet of cloud.
After another short section of hike-a-bike across the stony beach at Trefadog, we were greeted with the prospect of carrying our heavily laden bikes up a steep flight of steps and back on to the narrow and sandy coastal path. Thinking better of it, Steve pulled up the ordnance survey map on his phone and was able to quickly re-route us down an overgrown bridal path.
We paused momentarily at a field gate to discuss our appetite for crossing a field full of cows and calves. After a short deliberation we decided to risk it and walked across the field with our bikes between us and the heavy beasts. Thankfully the herd allowed us passage without incident and we linked back up with our intended route on the other side of the headland.
The north west corner of the island was proving to be hillier than we had anticipated. After passing through Church Bay, the steep hill up to St Rhuddlad’s Church was nearly a mile long. I’d hoped to find a tap to refill my empty water bottles in the graveyard, but no such luck – the church was impenetrable, caged in with temporary building-site fencing and scaffolding. With an average grade of 8% and topping out at over 20% the hill seemed to go on forever and I’m not too proud to admit that, with lactic acid setting fire to my legs, I got off and walked the steepest sections. The descent on the other side however, oh my, what a delight. Sweeping and swooping, I whooped and hollered my way down.
Thankfully, this appeared to be the last of the big hills and things seemed to be back to normal with only minor undulations standing between us and our final destination. We rode past our first night’s camp spot at Cemlyn and, as we pulled up the last climb to the oasis that is Tregele Country Stores & Service Station, I downed my last gob full of water. I could tell I was running dangerously low on blood sugar and was ecstatic to rejuvenate myself with an energy drink, a chocolate bar and some ice cold water. Relieved, there was just a short hop back to Cemaes where we loaded up the vans, said our goodbyes and were on our way home. The sky thickened with heavy black clouds, and as I drove over the bridge back to the mainland, they burst in to a torrential downpour.
We made it.
Words and pictures – Matt Martin
One thought on “Ride Report: GUTM Anglesey Bivy Weekender…”
excellent write up, fingers crossed I’ll be well enough for next years trip