The Folding Society

Portmeirion 2001

We have been going to Portmeirion in North Wales in November now for several years. In fact, there was some debate at the beginning of this year's event about just how many years we had been coming. The general consensus seemed to be that this was the fifth year, but it was actually the sixth: I have an infallible way of confirming this, which is by remembering which bikes I have taken, and as it has been a different one each year, it is quite easy to work it out this way. The first year, I took the Bike Friday New World Tourist, wanting to be prepared for lots of riding in hilly terrain. In fact that year everyone else (7 others) had a Brompton, and the amount of riding was small, and the amount of folding and unfolding was large, so the Newt proved a mistake! To compensate for this, the next year I took the Brompton T5, but that year I did much more riding, and hardly any folding, so this wasn't an ideal choice either. Year three I struck a compromise and used the Birdy Red, which proved an excellent choice. Staying in the middle ground, year four the choice was the Brompton SP, which also proved very successful. For year 5 I chose the Airnimal, which I had only just acquired, and although this was a bit less convenient on the train, and for overnight storage, it too proved very effective. As I had used a different bike each year, the obvious choice this year was the new Birdy - admittedly I had taken a Birdy once before, but a different one, and it had proved just about the most suitable machine for this particular format of holiday - fold and train travel at the start and end, possibly one or two folds during the week, storage indoors overnight, and a moderate amount of riding 40 - 60Km per day typically. With the new front carrier and a Carradice SQR bag at the back, luggage capacity was no problem, and indeed I might have managed without the small front panniers but for the fact that I knew they would be needed for the shopping trips.

TiptonI caught a mid-morning train from Tipton, then changed at Wolverhampton to travel to Machynlleth, and was delighted to be joined at Shrewsbury by David, Jane and Alexander Henshaw. At Machynlleth we changed trains for the delightful journey to Barmouth, Harlech and then Minffordd, where we disembarked, re-assembled the bikes, and made our way on the short ride to Portmeirion. Alexander was travelling in a child seat on the back of David's Brompton, which is equipped with a mountain drive to help to tackle hills with the additional weight on board. The mounting of the child seat on the seat pillar means that if the seat pillar needs to be lowered when folded, as on the train, the child seat has to be at least loosened, or perhaps completely removed so that it can be stowed separately, which means that reassembly takes rather longer, so there was no need for me to race to unfold the Birdy as fast as the Bromptons.

Arriving at Miffordd Arriving at Portmeirion
Left: Unfolding on arrival at Minffordd. Right: Arriving at Portmeirion

After a short break for some sustenance, we unloaded the bikes at Government house, and set off for the local supermarket to do the shopping for the evening meal. So far the weather had been very grey, but it was only as we started out on the shopping trip that it began to rain, gradually more heavily. The ride over the causeway to Porthmadog is never very enjoyable - it is very narrow with quite a lot of traffic: this time it was worse than usual, as about half of it was down to a single lane as road work was in progress. They appear to be widening the causeway, which is a very major undertaking, but curiously they are only widening it by a very small amount. We couldn't work out if they will be providing a cycle lane or footpath - the current footpath is on the raised section by the Ffestiniog Railway, which is not very convenient, and impractical for disabled people. The shopping was accomplished fairly quickly, but the journey back to Portmeirion in the dark and in steady, if not very heavy, rain was rather miserable. In previous years I have been chief washer-up, but I rashly volunteered to do the meal this first evening, which made it a rather stressful time for me. We planned to eat soon after 7:00, as the remainder of the party was due to have arrived by then - Jane's father Gordon, Nicola McGreggor (ex-Brompton), Philippa Wheeler, Paul Stobbs and Rob Cope. Fortunately the train was right on time, so we were all able to settle down for a relaxed evening after the meal.

Tuesday again dawned rather dull, with a hint of dampness in the air, so nothing major was planned. Paul set off to ride to Porthmadog and then take a train to Pwllehi, riding around there and then returning by train. I planned to ride to Criccieth, then Llanystumdwy and back. As I left Portmeirion it began to rain heavily, and after a couple of kilometres I became aware of a very loud rattle. Investigation proved that both the front mounting struts of the rear carrier were loose. Further investigation showed that the nuts on both the fixing bolts were missing, so I made my way cautiously into Porthmadog to the local bike shop - fortunately I knew where this was, as Paul had visited it on a previous trip when he needed more inner tubes for the Traincle. I was able to get replacement nuts and washers, and borrow a more conveniently sized allen key to fit the bolts, all for the princely sum of 15p - excellent service. Fortunately by the time I had finished sorting this out the rain had stopped, and though it remained quite dull for the remainder of the ride, it didn't rain again. The road from Porthmadog to Criccieth undulates gently; it is an A road, but traffic is quite light, so it makes a pleasant ride. In Criccieth - a regular holiday location for the family when I was in my teens - I diverted from the main road to go down to the Castle and ride along Marine Terrace before rejoining the main road for a short distance, and then turned off to Llanystumdwy. I stopped at the memorial to Lloyd George and walked a little way along the River Dwyfor, before resuming my ride, uphill for a short way to the B4411, where I turned left to follow it towards Caernarfon until it joined the A487, where I turned back to return to Porthmadog. After a brief stop to do some shopping, I returned to Portmeirion and a walk along to the Lighthouse and then through the woods. Although I had only ridden about 41Km, plus the walks, I was feeling extremely tired by now - a number of the party were suffering from very bad colds and coughs, so I suspected that I might be starting to go down with something. The evening meal and socialising completed the day.

While I was taking a picture of the Birdy outside Government House, a Blue Tit landed on the front carrier - a birdy on a Birdy! With a 40mm lens on the Pentax though I wasn't really equipped to take advantage of the opportunity.

Train arrivalFor Wednesday we planned to take the Ffestiniog Railway from Minffordd to Blaenau Ffestiniog, the actions from there on varying a bit depending on people's individual preferences. At Minffordd Station my efforts to secure a picture of Alexander and the arriving train meant that I crossed to the other side of the line, and when the train arrived the driver insisted that I must not cross the line in front of the train, but must go back to the other end. Rather than delay the train while I did this, I decided not to go on it, but ride to Tan-y-Bwlch to meet it on the way back. However, as the train left I realised the other had loaded the bike on the train, so I modified the plan to walk (quickly!) to Tan y Bwlch. Rather fortunately, after a couple of miles a motorist stopped and very kindly offered me a lift, which saved me walking 4Km of the main road, and just left the final walk up to the station. Arriving there, I studied the timetable to see when the train would be coming down from Blaenau, when a member of staff told a me a train would be coming up soon. I explained I was waiting for one coming down - but he said the UP train still had not arrived! After about 10 minutes, the first sounds of the train making the ascent became audible, and it was obviously having a struggle, with a lot of sliding noises - the line had not been used for 6 days, which meant it was having a lot of trouble. I photographed the train when it did finally arrive, and then got on board - much to the astonishment of the others, who certainly hadn't been expecting me to be there. It turned out that as the train was fully booked for the return journey, they were planning to ride down from Blaenau, so it was just as well that I caught them on the way up, as they would not have been on it on the way back, which is where I had planned on their way back, and reuniting me with the Birdy would have been more complicated. Blaenau was very grey and dismal (well, even in good weather in is not a place which I find very inspiring), and for the ride down we were going into a noticeable head wind. This made the descent slightly less rapid and exciting than usual. At the bottom of the hill we took a lane which runs more or less parallel to the main road, but is much quieter, and then joined the ... At . The last stage from here to Penrhyndeudraeth was hard work into the wind - I tried to give David (who had the extra weight of Alexander in his child seat) a bit of a tow along here - I don't know if it helped him, but I certainly found it very hard work riding at the front. At Penrhyndeudraeth the others stopped for a rather late lunch, but although my legs were feeling remarkably tired after such a short ride, I felt I should try and put in a few more kilometres - I had originally been planning to ride over to Harlech after we got down the hill, but what with the wind, weather and a general lack of energy, I had stayed with the others on the way back. Anyway, I rode up the hill in Penrhyndeudraeth along the A4085, turning left on to the B4410 not long after, and then joining the A498 back into Porthmadog, where I stopped briefly to do a little shopping. Then it was back across the causeway, up to Minffordd and on the Penrhyndeudraeth to rejoin with the others, who were just doing some shopping for the evening meal. The final ride back to Portmeirion was again into the wind, with an extra load. I was certainly glad on this ride of the extra gears which the Birdy had - not only did I have a wider range than the others on their Bromptons (Paul's Traincle of course only has one gear), but mine were much closer spaced, so it was much easier to select a gear which was right for the terrain and the wind, which made it easier work. Back at Portmeirion, after cups of tea most of us took a short walk down to the Lighthouse - Philippa and I were fortunate enough to get back before heavy rain started, but the others, who left a bit later, and stopped in the Village on the way back to investigate (and sample!) a food fair taking place there), got distinctly wet on the way back to Government House!

The folded Brompton, complete with child seat - a neat package

Roadworks and bridge For Thursday I planned to ride towards Caernarfon to the end of the Welsh Highland Railway, to see what progress was being made on the project. Several of us had this last year, but this time I was on my own - David didn't feel well enough, and although Paul was going to Caernarfon, he chose a different route as he would be using part of my route on Friday, and didn't want to repeat it. I was still feeling well below my best, and the long steady climb from Beddgelert was particularly tiring - indeed, I was very tempted to abandon the ride at this stage, particularly as there was headwind, although not a very strong one. Nevertheless I persevered, and eventually reached some very extensive roadworks on the A4085 which marked where the Welsh Highland has got to, and a bridge is being constructed for the road to pass over the new railway. The rails of course hadn't got quite this far, so I rode on a bit further to Waunfawr to inspect the progress since I was there last year. Only a few kilometeres have been added to the line in the last 12 months - foot and mouth restrictions apparently held up work for some while. After the hard work getting to this point, the return journey was much easier, especially the descent into Beddgelert, though I still felt pretty tired riding back to Porthmadog and then up to Portmeirion.

End of the line

The end of the line - the track ends just a little beyond this gateway alongside the A4085. The sun is out - the only bright day of the holiday, but with a cold coming on, I wasn't really in a mood to enjoy it.

By Friday it the cold and cough which I had feared I was catching were very evident, but nevertheless I decided to ride as far as Harlech before catching the train back to Wolverhampton - Paul was riding in a different direction, and the other train travellers opted to get on at Minffordd. I had no problems on the ride, and in fact arrived much too early, which gave plenty of time to fold and cover the Birdy. I was able to join the others who had safely embarked a bit earlier at Minffordd, and we had an enjoyable journey back, taking the opportunity to finish some of the excess food (and drink!) which we had accumulated during the week.

As always this was a most enjoyable holiday at Portmeirion - a super location, great company, and an opportunity to indulge in some favourite pastimes, including cycling, walking, photography and some bird watching (including 3 little egrets in the estuary at Portmeirion). The weather wasn't as kind as in the past, and the grey conditions were not at all suited to photography, but I certainly wouldn't describe the weather as bad - it was reasonably warm, and although we did get rained on a couple of times, it wasn't very heavy. Paul was using his Traincle and I had the Birdy, but all the others were on Bromptons. All the bikes performed admirably, and the only problems were with electrical contacts in lamps, and the health of the riders! For my purposes, on this outing, the Birdy was just about ideal - the tyres were a bit sluggish (still the original Birdy ones - I must get around to fitting and trying the new Schwalbes), but otherwise it was admirable on the road, and folding was entirely satisfactory for the train journeys, though I must admit that it and the Traincle were brought indoors overnight without folding, whereas all the Bromptons were folded for this purpose. For the amount of folding and riding I do on these annual visits to Portmeirion, the Birdy and the SP are ideal, and more suitable for me than the standard Brompton (not as enjoyable for riding) or Bike Friday or Airnimal (great to ride, but less satisfactory for folding). Horses for course though, and at other times the standard Brompton, Bike Friday and Airnimal are better.

There were just two down sides to this holiday - I got a nasty attack of 'flu, which is why it has taken me so long to get around to writing this report, and it is possible that it may be the last of our annual outings to Portmeirion, as Alexander's education may make it impractical in the future.

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Last updated: 23 December 2001