December // Rhagfyr 24th
Taking Frank van dear Sman's advice, on Christmas Eve we headed out to take out a huge chunk of the challenge. On what proved to be a brutally windy day, we speeded effortlessly with the wind at our backs and full of enthusiasm over the border to Ellesmere. In contrast, turning back west the return route was a slog, clamouring our way up the Tanat valley and finishing, with a deep sense of relief as the sun set in one of my favourite places to ride, Lake Vyrnwy.
Lake Vyrnwy // Llyn Efyrnwy
In the 1870s the city fathers of Liverpool purchased 24,000 acres of pristine countryside in Mid Wales to preserve the purity of the 400 or more streams that flowed into the Vyrnwy Valley. They moved the small village of Llanwddyn on to higher ground and in 1881 began building the first stone built dam in the United Kingdom.
Using huge blocks of Welsh Granite, it took seven years to build - not surprising when you consider that it is 128 feet thick at its base, 144 feet high and 1171 feet long: it may not quite be up there with the pyramids, but it's still no mean feat when all you have are horse-drawn carts, picks and shovels. The result was the first dam ever deliberately designed to allow surplus water to cascade over its face. It's still a breathtaking sight when in full flow, unfortunately (or fortunately) the lack of rain over the festive period meant the gates weren't opened.
December // Rhagfyr 26th
In what is now turning into a bit of a tradition, the Boxing Day Seaside ride, took us west to Borth. Again batting a stiff westerly breeze, the outward leg of the ride, taking us past Artists valley, the inspiration behind Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven, proved tough going. Fuelled by fish and chips on the beach as the waves of the Irish Sea crashed into the rocks, we headed home east, picking up the most welcome tail wind, we made good progress down the Banwy Valley.
December // Rhagfyr 27th
There are fewer places I prefer to ride than the undeniable beauty of Lake Vyrnwy, a 19km perimeter road of rare flat ribbon tarmac in the middle of Wales. Quite the rare thing! On this quiet afternoon, without a breath of wind in the air, the deep mirror reflection of the sky, mountains and forests on the water was spellbinding.
December // Rhagfyr 28th
In contrast to the mild weather over the Christmas weekend, the 28th saw a deep freezing fog roll into the Welsh valleys. Today's ride was an opportunist hour or so, but plenty long enough for frost and ice to settle on the tips of my gloves, not until getting home and into the warm did I realise my bidon had turned to slush. The roaring fire, proved a welcome thaw.
December // Rhagfyr 29th
There are times in cycling, that you have no choice but to change or adapt your best laid out plans. A planned route taking us over the Berwyn Mountains to Bala was in store for this bitterly cold morning. However, less than 10km into the ride our plans had to be changed due to the icy conditions, descending the pen y ffordd climb to the north we encountered a sheltered and un-salted section of road. Prioritising our chances of completing the Festive 500 challenge (and our own safety) meant we diverted to flatter, busier and salt treated main roads over again to the neighbouring Tanat valley.
December // Rhagfyr 31st
Legs weary, spirit waning but the warm comfort of familiar roads steeled a resolute determination to finish the challenge. With a solitary 40 kilometres to go, where better to finish off the Festive 500 than where it all began 8 days, and all those kilometres ago; up and over the Dyfnant forest, over to the Efyrnwy Valley.