We Who Travel: The Pan Celtic 2022

Updated: Sep 28

WORDS | NICK ARCHER

PHOTOS | NICK ARCHER & CHARLOTTE HARTWELL


In July, Shiftr was in Llandudno, the headquarters and finish line for the third race in the Pan Celtic Race series. Nick gives a brief introduction to the Pan Celtic Race series after he spoke to co-founder Becca during a lull between the euphoric clamour of returning clan members as they welcomed riders in from their epic journeys.


The temperature outside is a balmy 27 degrees, and although within days it will be closer to 37, the kitchen is now cool and, as a rarity, quiet. Curly the 2 year old Cockapoo lounges on the sofa, whilst her mother, Gypsy, is hiding on the stars, periodically barking at the strangers who dare to wander past her look out spot.



Fortunately, the house and dog's owners, Rebecca and Matt ‘Mally’ Ryan, are considerably more welcoming. The kettle seems to be constantly on the boil, whilst slices of locally baked Bara Brith are buttered and sent out the door with beers and tea to cyclists, weary from hundreds of miles in the saddle.


Matt is out in the wilds of Ireland, chasing people around in an aging camper van named The Welsh Embassy. Becca holds the fort in Llandudno, Wales, awaiting riders to cross the finish line, to be greeted with refreshments and a warm hug.

I managed to squeeze five minutes with Becca to talk about the Pan Celtic, but as warm, amiable and happy to talk though she is, she glances now and then at the tablet on the worktop where little GPS dots are working their way around a digital rendering of the Celtic racecourse.



The Pan Celtic Race Series is a ultra-distance race that takes place in a varied selection of the orginal Celtic nations, primarily on roads, and although is competitive in structure, the focus is on the nature of adventure and community. There have been 3 annual races in 4 years, with one year lost to the 2020 pandemic, and in those few years it has become a hugely popular event amongst ultra-distance enthusiasts. It has grown significantly too, with just over 80 riders in 2019, 130 in the second year of 2021 and 220 having entered in 2022. Although 2021 didn't include any boats, the Pan Celtic Race has become known for its use of ferry crossings on its route.




This years race started in Pembrokeshire, South Wales with what was effectively a neutralised start; a 25 mile group club ride to the port to board Irish Ferries' Blue Star, or the 'Floating Fortress' as it became known amongst the clan. It is the arrival of the ferry in Rosslare that sees the race truly start, a route taking in the wild Transatlantic Way, with a few Pan Celtic variations, before looping back to Dublin and another ferry ride back to Anglesey, Wales for a final ride to Pan Celtic HQ in Llandudno.


The nature of the route this year meant that riders are committed to catching a ferry from Dublin, Ireland to Holyhead, Anglesey at either 8am or 8pm. Twice a day there was a race to get the desired boat, or have to endure a 12-hour wait. A four-hour sail was followed by a a final 50 mile stretch to the finish. Here some riders raced a frenetic time-trial, whilst others took their time, treating the remaining few miles as a relaxed epilogue to their Irish adventure. This meant that riders finished their journeys at either between 4 and 7, am or pm.



When asked what inspired Pan Celtic Race, Becca face lights up, and the passion for it radiates from her words, ‘We wanted to create something similar to the ultra-distance races we’d seen and been involved in, but wanted to make it more accessible. Things like not having to work out the route yourself, and having the options for a shorter route as well as a long one.’


Becca, confessing to having once been a cycling -widow, had spent time abroad with the family supporting Matt as he competed in the races such as the Transcontinental Race (TCR). They had a wonderful time dotwatching and seeing the riders come in, but became aware that there often weren’t supporters of the cyclists at the finish to cheer them in.


It just felt like an anti-climax for them. To have done something amazing, then just have your card stamped at a desk, jump on a train and off you go. With the Pan Celtic we wanted to give our riders that proper welcome when they complete it. To feel like part of the clan.


The idea of the clan is fundamental to the concept, not just from a branding point of view, but harks back to the Irish, Welsh and Scottish notion of the Celtic tribe, promoting a sense of belonging to a community. It’s not just a one-off corporate event; once you’re in the clan, you’re in for life.

Shiftr has been lucky enough to witness this first hand, with the genuine, heart-warming affection the organisers have for each and every rider who crossed the finish line. Editor Charlotte competed this year and although her adventure will be covered in a future article, has noted a sense of inclusion rarely felt in events of this nature.


When developing the idea back in 2018, the PCR organisers tried to avoid the word ‘Trans’ as every other event seemed to use it. It was one of Becca’s colleagues who informed her that there was, somewhat conveniently, a Pan Celtic flag that incorporated the nations of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, The Isle of Man, Cornwall and Brittany.


Those who have already studied the routes from previous years will notice that each one is different. The aim of the Pan Celtic Race series is to take in all 6 of these original Celtic nations. So far, Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall and of course Wales have been ticked off, leaving Brittany and The Isle of Man for the final 2 years of the 5 year series. Each year the route has two options as well.


The option of a 'short' route, this year a mere 1000 miles, afford a greater opportunity to compete, both in terms of training and the time itself. Riders can battle across Ireland over the weekend and perhaps be back at work by the middle of the following week

Of course, whether it is 1600 or 1000 miles, it is still no small feat, and after photographing and talking to the riders cruising into Llandudno, after a final loop around the spectacular Great Orme, tired to their bones but still smiling, it is a testament to the nature of the Pan Celtic.



Riders falls into the arms of spouses, scoop their children into their arms or just sit quietly with a cup of tea in their blistered hands. Some are buzzing from the adrenaline of days in the saddle, some are overwhelmed by the sheer scale of what they have achieved, and there are those who are shockingly nonchalant, stating casually that they have another race the following week.


‘We’ve got another one!’, comes a shout from beyond the front door and Becca is gone again, ready to welcome in another person fresh from a life-changing journey, wrap them in the warmth of her home and of course, stamp their coveted brevet card.


Plans for the Pan Celtic Race 2023 are well underway with routes being devised by the clan elders, and details will be released in November 2022.




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