Sunday, August 9th, 9am. Mumbles Pier. The Gower Grimpeur. One of the hardest days in the SWCC calendar. Fourteen roadies turned up but the unasked question at the back of everyone’s mind was the same: would we all manage to survive until the end of the day?
You see, it’s not so much the distance (92 miles for the full route, although a number of people did 100+ miles by the time they got home), but the 2600+ meters of climbing. That’s nearly 9,000 ft of uphill struggle.
Despite the recent crap weather, it was dry and the sun was making cheeky appearances at times, so definitely not cold. Club Captain Trevor arrived in (almost) full winter kit cos he said it was ‘hammering down’ when he left home. Up the Big Apple hill and predictably Trev was sweating more than Rolf Harris in a playground. The arm/leg warmers/gilet/winter gloves (really?), ended up being abandoned at Paul’s house en route.
The group made good progress up Plunch Lane and down into Langland. No time to admire the stunning scenery before we went up the evil Brynfield Road to Newton. One of our guests was heard to murmur, ‘I hope all the hills aren’t like this!’ Knowing glances were exchanged, as this was only a tiny taste of things to come. A fast descent into Caswell and then up into Bishopston for a quick photoshoot (see above) outside Paul’s house, courtesy of ‘er indoors. (And to dump Trev’s winter gear – forgot to mention the skull cap and overshoes).
Another fast descent down then up Kittle Hill saw Paul E reach the top first, despite a valiant chase down by Jonny B. It was to be the one and only time Paul got to the top of any hill first. The group sped down to Parkmill but crawled up to Penmaen. Somewhere around here Dave G decided to go his own way and Jeremy D turned back due to family/work commitments or some other lame excuse which I didn’t catch.
Guest riders Jonny and Col got on the front and set a ferocious pace towards Oxwich. So fast in fact, they both missed the turning. Much yelling meant they were back on course but the old adage remains: if you don’t know the way, don’t ride at the front. Or is that just stating the bleeding obvious?
Again, no time to enjoy the beach as it was straight up Slade hill and on to the infamous Penrice hill – steep down then very steep up to the South Gower Road. Much cursing was heard on this slippery and gravelly ascent. A very brief stop and the group ploughed on towards Little Reynoldston and the first climb over Cefn Bryn.
At the summit the group decided on a freewheel competition to see who could get furthest down the hill powered only by gravity. This was won by guest rider Col, citing his ‘large’ frame as an advantage.
We then powered on through Llethrid, Fairwood Common, Killay, Dunvant and Three Crosses. We’d done about 30 miles at this point but it already felt like far more. Less than a third completed! Down the tricky descent past the Gower Golf Club, with Paul E and John F battling to be first down but arriving pretty much the same time.
Through Gowerton and up The Wern climb to The Poundffald pub, where Phil G decided to peel off. Much hilarity ensued when a huge pig wandered across the road from the farm opposite. More than a few absent Wheelers riders’ names were mentioned at this point. Once the pig had been rescued by the farmer, we flew down Blue Anchor towards Penclawdd, where (without getting temporarily lost this year) we turned back up Park Road. Just before this ascent, Adam and Bethan decided that was enough climbing for one day and headed back together. Read into that what you will.
Not many people ride this lesser known Gower hill and it’s easy to see why. Steep – 25% to 30% in places – wet and gravelly. An awed hush descended on the group as we tried to find purchase on the treacherous surface of Park Road.
Once we’d regulated our breathing at the top, a sharp right down the lane saw us take a steep farm track down to Crofty. This was more like cyclocross/MTB territory in places and it’s a credit to everyone that we all made it down in one piece, especially as the drizzle was coming down fast at this point. A flat stretch of the North Gower Road only lasted for a minute before we turned left for what is perhaps one of the most difficult and notorious climbs in Gower – The Rallt. In places this is steeper than Park Road and longer overall. Your heart/lungs/legs are telling you to stop, but pride and terror (of falling off and never getting back on) keep you battling to the top. And it is a battle. Once there, we agreed that out of the two The Rallt was definitely the harder hill.
At this point the Garmin said just over 40 miles completed. Only 50+ left, then!
On through Llanrhidian and a left turn up to Cheriton. Very tempting to stop for a pint or five at The Britannia Inn at this point, but we carried on up the hill and down to the South Gower Road, eventually making it to the cafe at Hill End in Llangennith, where thankfully it had stopped raining.
Various toasties, coffees and cakes were quickly consumed al fresco. Just as we were leaving, a large group of what looked liked CTC riders turned up. So that was well timed. We then headed back to Burry Green, Oldwalls and the second ascent of Cefn Bryn – basically going up where we had earlier come down. This time it was into a headwind so rather more of a challenge.
Back down through Reynoldston and the conversation was basically: do we need to include Port Eynon. Well it’s not the Grimpeur unless it’s the full route so yet another hill was crossed off. John F. saw the light and turned back here. At least we think he did cos he was there one minute and then gone the next. Maybe he’s still wandering around somewhere near Horton? Then a sense of déjà vu as the question was asked: do we need to go to Rhossili? First we were then we weren’t and finally we were again. More photos overlooking the bay and then back to Scurlage. A quick stop at the shop to refuel, with waffles appearing to be the snack of choice. A left turn up to Llandewi and Burry, before the third (!) ascent of Cefn Bryn. I think the idea is to make the most of Gower’s highest point but it does make you question your own sanity. Down into Reynoldston and along the South Gower Road and then down the mental hill to Penrice and back up/down to Oxwich. Oxwich hill is always a bugger but by this time (about 4.30pm) the holiday traffic had all gone home, so there weren’t any problems.
The remaining Grimpeurs made good progress back to Pennard, where we went up Sandy Lane, opposite the Gower Inn. I must confess to this being one of my favourite little climbs. It has been resurfaced recently, so has lost some of its appeal as a hard climbing challenge.
We could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, so went at a good pace to Kittle Hill, Bishopston, Murton, Caswell, Langland (Brynfield Road even scarier on the way down), then round Langland corner and into Mumbles. This being the Grimpeur, the final sting in the tail is of course the climb up Western Lane through Thistleboon. A real leg burner, some local residents had even come out to stand and cheer us on. All eight of us, that is. Actually I think they were laughing, not cheering. The Grimpeur’s reputation is alive and well.
Guests Jonny and Col had enough energy to sprint to the Big Apple, with Col just pipping Jonny to the win. We managed to grab a few finishers’ photos (see below) before shaking hands and going our separate ways.
Well done to everyone. It was a very challenging route. Particular mention to Paul Wheel and Catherine Leng, who completed the full Grimpeur route on their first SWCC club run! Now that’s impressive.
by Paul Edwards
Riders at the start:
Trev, Paul E, Phil G, John F, Mark N, Jeremy D, Andy M, Adam N, Dave G. Guest riders: Col Woodward, Catherine Leng, Paul Wheel, Jonny Burt, Bethan Stubbs.
Full Grimpeur route finishers:
Paul E, Trev, Mark N, Andy M, Col, Catherine, Paul W, Jonny B.