'Jon Barton and the Welsh 3000s': A Tale by Hannah Collingridge
May 25, 20228 min read
It started, as I find so many things do, with a stray comment on the old socials. Jon had asked on his Facebook page if anyone fancied supporting him on a bash at the Welsh 3000s this coming Thursday (this was Sunday). Oddly enough I quite like that sort of thing, so tentative questions turned to tentative plans, turned to me knowing who to ring to collect his body. And really, some things are more important than book deadlines. Obviously, this isn’t one of those things, but it seemed an interesting way of spending a day.
Picking him up in Sheffield at 5 a.m. had seemed like a great idea until Sheffield at 5 a.m. but this early start meant he’d have an 8 a.m.-ish start at Pen-y-Pass and loads of daylight to finish the round. Actually, it’s not a round, it’s a wiggly line south to north but the same principle holds. So off we headed. There seemed to be a bit of a hold up on the M56 with the gantries warning us of a twenty-minute delay. Not sure which twenty minutes they were counting but it took us three and a half hours to clear the jam. Plus, two emergency wees up the embankment for Jon; thankfully only one for me as the undergrowth comprised the scratchiest bushes known to woman’s legs. Timing now shot to buggery. Still, we had the rest of the day.
Earlier Joolze had messaged me with photo advice, which epitomises her eternal optimism that I will take a decent photo: ‘So, you’ll have him in between the two flags, facing into the sun at the start.’ … Or I could just kick him out at top speed before the parking attendants get arsey and briefly watch him potter off into the Snowdon crowds.
Two things I learned on the way to Wales about Jon:
He has a very particular way of tying his shoelaces.
He holds his breath under the Conwy tunnel. And the Penmaenbach tunnel. And then for good measure the Penmaenmawr. No, I’ve no idea why either.
So, at 12.33 p.m., about four and a half hours later than we’d planned, he left Pen-y-Pass. Traditionally on the 3000s route you do Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa first, then Garnedd Ugain, Crib Goch and so down to Nant Peris for the next leg. Tradition also suggests you bivvy on Snowdon, crack on very early doors and leave your camping stuff in Nant Peris. Timing only starts at the top of Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa. This means you can start a really long day in the hill suffering from a really bad night’s sleep before lugging all your gear down two more hills and a really rough way down to the road. Or you can be non-trad (sport?), start at Pen-y-Pass and nip up Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa via Crib Goch and Garnedd Ugain before picking your way down the cwms to the road. Either way you meet your support in Nant Peris. I set up shop in the park and ride, where there were some nice toilets should he need a poo at that stage, plus plenty of room to spread stuff out so it looked like I knew what I was doing.
I had a list of requirements for each stop. One slight issue was we’d eaten some of the food on the way there, due to the delay, but even North Wales has shops so there were always options. So, I had a potter round, finding the start of the next stage – mountain navigation is easy compared to finding the right path off the road. I found a lovely deep pool suitable for wild swimming should he have decided to change sports entirely after the first leg. And I was thinking it was just about time to light the stove for his brew when he ran round the corner into the car park. No brew then.
So, this is how the break goes:
Jon into chair
Phone out of his hand onto charge
Water and Coke arranged at his feet so he can start drinking
‘Real’ food offered from a choice of bananas, crisps and hot cross buns
Old gel packets out of bag
New gels and bars into bag
Water refilled and electrolytes added
Check if changes to clothing or shoes are needed
Kick him out of the chair
Take the phone off charge and get him back out. (He didn’t need a poo.)
Good speed on the first leg meant we had a bit more time to play with. He’d reckoned ‘under four hours’ for that one and ‘about four hours’ for the next leg. Jon maybe needs to work on his timings. Leg one is relatively short and because of the start at Pen-y-Pass has more descent than ascent. Leg two is known as the ‘big bastard leg’ with ‘big bastard climbs’ especially the starting one from Nant Peris up Elidir Fawr. Mawr is it indeed. About 800 metres of climbing in three and a half kilometres or so. It didn’t take him four hours at all, more like five and a half to get down to Ogwen. At least I didn’t feel I need to be concerned about him on the rocky scrambly sections. He used to be quite good on climbing stuff so I reckoned the muscle memory should keep him about right on Tryfan.
I’d had a lovely time, apart from wondering where the bloody hell he was, pottering around the Ogwen valley. I’d recycled the first section of the route again, made use of the toilets and the cafe, had a nice drive round gawping at glaciation and lovely rocks, and then spent time calculating how much daylight we had left and whether the mist forecast for the top of Snowdon at about midnight would also appear on the Carneddau. Phone signal was up and down like a bride’s nightie, making comms between us slightly more tricky than it could have been. This also meant I couldn’t really post videos to Instagram, only the odd still to keep his adoring fans updated. Eventually I got a message to say he was about an hour from the road (note to self: many things to Jon are ‘about an hour’ – this may or may not correspond to an actual hour). It was now past 7 p.m. so an hour was past 8 p.m. and sunset was 9.15 p.m. It was going to be tight. We’d reckoned as long as he got the first couple of hills done in full daylight and could see the way to the outlier of Yr Elen it wouldn’t be too slow navigationally. Once you are back on the main ridge you follow that to pick up a fence line near Foel Fras and then it’s very straightforward to follow that down to Bwlch y Ddeufaen and the car park. Or at least as straightforward as any wandering around hillsides is in the dark.
I’d had time this stop to even set up the flag next to his chair. Not many at Vertebrate Publishing have actually seen their new flags, which have lived in my hall pretty much since they were new. They do have trips out to the British Cycling National XC series every month, but this was certainly a change of scene for them. Plus, it gave passers-by something more to muse on. The original idea was that Jon would be able to spot the car among all the others parked up. Wasn’t really a problem by the time he appeared, though. Most folk had gone home.
So, repeat of stop one except with a cup of tepid tea this time (see note above about ‘about an hour’) and a discussion about weather and time. We knew that as long as he could get to the fence line down it would be fine, just a long day. Off he went and off I went round to the end.
There’s a couple of places you can finish the 3000s at the northern end – a car park near Abergwyngregyn which is close to the coast road but a bit further on the route, or the car park below Bwlch y Ddeufaen which is harder to get to but a shorter route. I’d looked at the map, seen the magic words ‘Roman Road’ and that was the end point for us. Bwlch y Ddeufaen translates as the ‘pass of the two stones’, referring to the two huge standing stones near the top of the pass. Not only is it a line of a Roman road, probably (RR67c should you care to look it up), but it’s been a drove road as well. Presumably, given the (probably prehistoric) standing stones, it’s been used as a pass for a very long time. Given the issues the coast road has had, its position makes a lot of sense. Aside from musing on this I tried to get some sleep but failed miserably, probably due to the sheer overexcitement of the day.
About 23.15 p.m. I saw a head torch descending the ridge. I confess I got completely overexcited at this point, grabbed my torch and coat, and headed off up the track. I thought he’d pulled an absolute blinder with speed on this last leg. At some point I got signal, my phone beeped, and I realised I’d missed a call from Jon. The message was from 22.47 p.m. when he reckoned he’d be a couple of hours. OK, so who was on the ridge? Turns out it was a very nice chap also doing the 3000s who was also confused as he was expecting me to be his wife. She was in a camper van in the same car park I’d parked up in. At 23.33 p.m. Jon called again while I was still at the pass. He reckoned he’d ‘be about an hour’. I went back to the car.
Eventually I saw another head torch on the ridge, making, it has to be said, progress of a rather mincing nature. The other chap had shot down like a fell runner. Jon’s progress was a little more painful to watch – it was clear it was a very tired man lurching in a slightly uncontrolled way towards the bottom of the hill.
And then he was back for another cup of tepid tea. Only the four-hour drive home to do. If Jon had had more energy, I think we’d have demanded entrance to the camper van. Thankfully the journey home was a lot easier than the one out. Jon snoozed most of the way, waking every so often to note, ‘Oh, very good, we’re here already’ before dozing back off.
Not really sure how the actual run went – he wasn’t at a coherent discussion stage on the way home. He did mutter something about downloading the relevant maps to your phone before you try and use them in an area of not much signal, that the climb to Elidir Fawr was a bit grim, and that some people on Crib Goch were terrifyingly inept. So, I’m not really sure if he had a good day out. I did. What next?
Hannah Collingridge has been riding bikes, not very far and not very fast, for over forty years, nosying at things of interest on the way. With a background in history, archaeology, landscape studies and language, it might be rocks, lumps in a field, place names, or industrial remains that take her fancy. Or on a really good day out, all of them. She’s at her best when she’s somewhere new pointing excitedly at something she’s read about. Her book, Pennine Bridleway, is available to order now.