The Big Dog! description
The route kicks off with a flat run out of the picturesque village of Aberdyfi. As you hit the coast road next to the golf course the road rolls a little towards the neighbouring village of Tywyn. Passing down next to the railway line, the route takes you over the first river crossing over the brand new Bailey Bridge at the mouth of the Dysynni. Out onto the back roads through Rhoslefain and onto the magnificent stone-walled coastal road towards Fairbourne. Rolling at best, there are no real climbs and as the road builds above Fairbourne you can see the village of Barmouth across the Mawddach estuary and the railway bridge that will take you across. The turn off to the bridge is a sharp left-hander off the main road and you will reach the first feed station at 28km into the ride just short of the railway bridge. There is a toilet stop here if you need.
Over the bridge which is mid-Wales’s equivalent of the Roubaix cobbles, take in the awesome scenery and up and right out of Barmouth along the north side of the estuary. A few miles down the road and the route hooks right across the third river crossing at Penmaenpool and the old, privately owned wooden bridge.
Back towards to the village of Arthog and then left up into the hills.
This is the first proper climb on the route, short and intense. The scenery is amazing on the way up this climb although the chances are you will be doing your best not to get off the bike and will not have time to look over your shoulder. If you were to you will see the railway bridge you crossed a few miles earlier laid out over the estuary behind you in the breath-taking view that has featured on a good deal of the pre-ride publicity. There are a couple of fierce hairpins of 20 degrees plus up this section of the route and there are sure to be some walkers, so if you manage to stay on the bike the whole way to the top you have done well. For a good club rider it is only 10-15 minutes long but the gradient will put a sting in the legs.
The reward for the climb is a stunning view over the Cregennan Lakes at the top and a feed station if you need it. A few hundred yards more climbing after the stop and the descent is long and fast all the way down to the town of Dolgellau. A good chance to recover some energy and eat if you did not stop at the top.
A short navigation challenge round the one-way system in Dollgellau and then it is off to another climb. This one is longer but steadier and allows the climbers to get into a rhythm and tap away up the constant 9-10 degree climb.
A mile or so of downhill freewheeling takes you to Cross Foxes pub on a junction of four roads. There is a feed station here. Make sure you follow the signs carefully as the route splits and whilst the standard route heads for home, the long route is just getting warmed up.
Important: When you reach Cross Foxes, you are not quite halfway and the long route loop to come is very hilly. If you feel like you are struggling at this point, it may well be best to follow the signs for the Standard Route instead and start heading for home. There are still 30km to go from here on the Standard Route. Just inform one of the staff at the finish line that you completed the Standard Route instead of the Long Route and we will adjust your time accordingly. There will be a cut off point of 12.00pm, so if you do not make this point by then you will be asked to complete the Standard Route anyway.
After the leaving Cross Foxes, the road climbs again, this time over the barren Dinas Mawddwy pass. The good news is that much of the climbing has already been done getting to Cross Foxes and the approach to the pass from this side is relatively straight forward. As you navigate round a couple of steep hairpins at the start of the descent you will be thankful that the route is run this way round. After the steep start, the descent is long and fast and even the ‘flat’ is a false flat in your favour and the legs keep turning at a good rate all the way to the village of Dinas Mawddwy. Ducking off the main road left and through the village, the road rolls gently along for around 5 miles of calm before the storm, a good opportunity to eat and chat before the beasting that is about to come. As you progress down this valley, you will be looking at the steep sided mountains all around and may well wonder how the road makes it out. Just as you are pondering you will see the mighty Bwlch y Groes road slicing straight up the mountain side from left to right. You may well gulp at this stage and quite rightly.
This climb is one of the top ten or fifteen climbs in the UK (depending on which book you read) and is mostly over 20% for its short but intense 2.5km, topping at around 25%. If you are wondering what gears to bring, make sure you pack some big rear rings (and possibly small front ones) as even for an accomplished club rider with a 34 x 28 this climb is punishing and requires you to stand out of the saddle for a good deal of its 20-25 minutes of torment (The Strava record is just under 11 minutes!). There are sure to be some walkers (and possibly some tears!) at this section, but the good news is that it is Wales and not the Alps and the climbs never last that long. Whilst it is intense, it is only 2.5km and tops out at 554m.
The reward for your efforts is a long sweeping descent down the mountain side to the lowlands towards Bala.
Important: When you reach the village of Llanuwchlyn, you have the option to turn for home along the flat straight road towards Dollgellau and follow the Long Route instead. Just inform one of the staff at the finish line that you completed the Long Route instead of the Big Dog and we will adjust your time accordingly. There will be a cut off point of 1.30pm, so if you do not make this point by then you will be asked to complete the Long Route anyway.
From there it is up again, but on a much gentler gradient onto the heathlands beyond known as the Ranges. This is sheep country and a stunning wilderness. The single track, but well paved road twists and turns through the Welsh landscape following rivers and dry stone walls. Leg-sapping and a series of seemingly never-ending small ups and downs, these kilometers are psychologically tough. A descent down through the insanely tall trees of the Coed Brenin, brings the route back towards the Cross Foxes pub feed station point.
The dead straight run from Cross Foxes offers a great view of the majestic Cadair Idris on the right which is the second highest peak in Wales after Snowdon. The road climbs a short way to the top of the Cadair Pass at 286m and smooth fast descent down the pass towards the Talyllyn valley laid out below. This section of road has often been used in TV clips for the area as helicopters film the view coming across the pass.
Once the road hits the flat, it is a gently weaving run along the floor of this steep-sided U-shaped glacial valley, through the villages of Abergynolwyn, Bryncrug and Tywyn on the run back into Aberdyfi.