Rides to the Wayfarer Memorial Stone Part of the ‘Where’s the Brew Stop? The off-road cycle touring website’ The site about off-road cycle touring routes, Cyclist’s Cafes, off-road cycle touring, local cycle group events and good photos
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“Wayfarer”- Rough Stuff Enthusiast by W. Oakley Next Sunday a new memorial will be added to few in existence to the memory of famous cyclists, when an inscribed block of granite is unveiled at 2 p.m. on the top of the Berwyn pass known as the Bwlch Nant Wilym-although the Bwlch is usually omitted in Sassenach conversation. This new memorial is to our late well loved mentor, “Wayfarer,” otherwise W. M. Robinson, through none of us ever called him by his proper name. He was so well known and liked among us that to have called him Mr. Robinson, or even Walter, would have seemed unfriendly or disrespectful. He became known to all cycling world through his Cycling articles and lantern lectures, but he was also a Cyclists’ Touring Club councillor for 17 years and a vice-president. It is fitting that this memorial should been provided by the Rough Stuff Fellowship, for the young association owes its existence largely to the inspiration of “Wayfarer.” It was the Bwlch Nant Rhyd Wilym that figured in his article “Over The Top,” which initially fired the imagination of many of us, then in our teens or twenties, for the fun, the toil and the adventure of taking bicycles over rough mountain and moorland crossings. Of course “Wayfarer” was by no means the first cyclist to indulge in this strenuous and, as some contend, bizarre phase of the pastime-I believe he was introduced to it by older members of the Anfield Bicycle Club, particularly the late W. P. Cook-but it was he who made rough stuff all the rage in the 1920s. The fire he started still burns brightly, as the growing membership of the R.S.F. proves. Adventure Tasted Many young men returned from the war in 1918 and the following year, whose appetite for the open-air life had been whetted. They had tasted the excitement of travel and adventure. The return to the humdrum drabness of life “in city pent” was well-nigh unendurable, and many, like myself, who came in contact with “Wayfarer’s” articles were immediately rallied to emulation by his infectious enthusiasm for cycling “Over the Top” seemed just what the doctor ordered. One adventure, if you like it, begets another and we were soon looking for bigger scalps than the comparatively easy Rhyd Wilym. We wanted to beat the master! So nothing but the highest track over the Berwyns would do for us next time. That is the Moel Sych, a tough pass-storming job, but right in the shadow of those 2,713-ft crags. We went wrong and strayed unknowingly over lateral ridge, traversing the unbeaten slopes of Cadair Berwyn, to join the old cattle road over the Bwlch Maen Gwynedd. It was to be many years before I did eventually storm Moel Sych along with a party of the Speedwell B.C. Meanwhile the Scots were storming the Grampians by the famous and exhausting Larig Ghru; Stanley Baron traversed and wrote memorably about, the Corrieyarrack Pass, a derelict General Wade military road rising to 2,507 ft on its way to Fort Augustus; “Kuklos” was lecturing and writing about “Wildest Britain,” the far north-west of Scotland; and all over the country clubs and individuals vied with each other in registering the most notable conquests of remote places previously considered out of cycling reach. But despite all that has followed, for many of us the sweet murmuring of the Ceiriog and the damned dampness of the Rhyd Wilym will for ever enshine “Wayfarer” and rough travel in our thoughts. So far little change has overtaken the Ceiriog Valley since he wrote “Over the Ceiriog Valley since he wrote “Over the Top” in 1919 - or was it 1920? The railway that used to play hide-and-seek with the road and river has gone; the narrow road is better surfaced; a few caravans have made an unwelcome appearance in the riverside meadows; Llansantffraid Glyn Ceiriog has grown a bit; some more new houses have been built, mainly in the lower part of the valley; and the West Arms has changed its character from a dishevelled but jolly old inn, to a refined and exclusive hotel where dinner has become lunch and supper is called dinner. But beyond Llanarmon the road still ends at a gate by the farm called Pantiau. Thereafter one enters into the freedom of the glen, the bog, the bilberries, the shale and, over the crest the glorious views of the beautifully wooded Dee Valley, the Vale of Edeyrnion, and the mountains, the Arenigs, the Arans and far-distant Rhinogs that gaze down on Tremadoc Bay. An old Berwyn habitués avers that no more than two persons should be on the mountain at one time. I go further and say, if you want to experience fully the thrill of journeying in wild places you must go alone. Even one companion utterly destroys the overpowering immensity of space and silence felt by alone traveller. Practically, however, it is unwise to tackle some rough journeys without company. “Wayfarer” himself was very often a lone traveller. Only on rare occasions after he left Merseyside and regular contact with the Black Anfielders did he ride with a club. His approach to the joyfulness of the cycling was essentially that of the individual and, although he could easily hold his own in the chaff and banter of club life, I suspect it was not much to his liking. In one particular aspect the Bwlch Nant Rhyd Wilym is superior to many of its kind in that it possesses a signpost, and a carved signpost at that! After a period in a secret hiding place during the second World War it has been replaced where the track divides half mile west of the top. If time permits of a choice I recommend the Llandrillo branch since tractor working has made a mess of the Cynwyd route. On the latter, last May, we found that where formerly one could have ridden or walked in comfort over sheep nibbled greensward almost like velvet, now one has to pick a way between the ruts. Far worse things have threatened, and still threaten, “Wayfarer’s” famous Berwyn crossing. The Ceiriog Valley was to have been flooded and the West Arms submerged; a motor-road from Llanarmon over the hills to the Dee Valley is still the subject of rumour; the Forestry Commissioners are said to have designs on a large areas of the Berwyns for afforestation, which would completely change the character of the hills and probably obliterate the old tracks. So if you want to see the Bwlch Nant Rhyd Wilym as “Wayfarer” knew and described it so vividly, you had better make the pilgrimage soon. Convenient Quarters For those making it next week-end who will have to use train assistance owing to the distance involved, it would be advisable to make the crossing from west to east. In this case, after detraining at Gobowen, or Ruabon, on the main Western Region line from London to Birkenhead, one could ride through the Tanat Valley, or the Vale of Llangollen, to conveniently situated overnight quarters in Bala, Llandderfel, Llandrillo, Cynwyd or Corwen. From any of these places the top of the pass could be easily reached by 2 pm on Sunday. Then from the top to Gobowen, via Chirk, is only matter of about 19 miles, the first two miles at walking pace, the rest easy. Ruabon is about 21 miles. One inch Ordnance map, sheet 117, nicely covers the whole of the Berwyns. Those who never knew “Wayfarer” should not imagine from what I have written that he did most of his cycling on rough tracks in wild places. On the contrary, I would say such expeditions as with most of us, made up a fraction of his mileage. He also loved the byways and highways. He never tired of “The Road to Ireland” as he called it, the traffic-invested Holyhead Road, which now we shun like the plague. Another of his favourites was the road over the Cotswolds from Broadway to Burford. It is there, at the top of Burford’s incomparable High-Street, that we hope for permission to place a memorial seat, specially designed and executed in Cotswold stone, to our old friend, “Wayfarer”, who loved Britain and a bicycle. This article was first published in Cycling, June 13 1957