Exploring by bike the huge lump of rock that is the Great Orme, enjoying the heat and sun drenched views of Llanduddno and the North Wales coast , summer days are great. But this is the last week in September, it’s 25 deg C, and my bike is loaded up for a 2 week self supported trip; I can’t quite believe the luck of not being able to fit in a holiday untill this time of year.
The Orme is a fun spot to play on a day like this, and an ideal test to bash the bike and kit around. Nothing fell off and it was proof that I had to change my plans slightly as shades were essential to prevent low sun induced headaches, extra packing of lenses and fluids, I can live with that choice.
The Pegasus was loaded up pretty light, sleeping bag, silk liner, bivy bag, Neoair mat and tent flysheet in the Alpkit 8 litre bag on a Widcatgear bar harness. In the Wildcatgear frame bag; Flysheet poles/pegs. small gas cooker/cylinder, Ti mug and spork and tea bags. Bike spares, pump and tools, spare batteries stash and tons of food. The Revelate designs seat bag had a sachet of emergency dried food, waterproof and clothes. If this was just a weeks trip I’d have stripped that down further, but I did have some provisions of spare clothes for a planned more relaxed second week.
An uber light KIM rucksack was essential to carry a camelback, and held toiletries, and GPS charger, Filter tap bottle and also came in handy for late eve bulky food supplies.
This adventure was arranged on the brilliant forum for bikepacking fans BearbonesBikepacking It’s a risk living out of the pockets of complete strangers for several days, but as always the people who contemplate these things are generally great easy going friendly people.
Day 1 :: 28 September 2011 :: Great Orme to Coed-y-Brenin
85km, 2200m ascent
A huge breakfast at the Links hotel (recommended) in Llandudno set me up, and after meeting with Mark and depositing my van we were off to Colwyn Bay station to meet Ian. Introductions made we then set off along the bay promenade in the heat, marvelling at our luck . Meeting Kev at the toll road onto the Orme made up our gang of four, we now had the effort of the climb round the rock just to get to the start point of our trip, the café on the Head.
It was immediately apparent that all of the other 3 had less bulk on their bikes, Ian was running scary light which even allowed him to forego a backpack, good skills. It was also clear that Kev was as fit as, as him and Ian on his singlespeed Pegasus powered up the early hills.
A second breakfast at the halfway cafe, some starting photos, and introductions completed. It was now past midday on day 1 and we’re about 265 miles from our Worm’s Head destination at this point.
The hills beckoned though and we made good progress through Gwydyr Forest skirting the Marin trial with amazing views of the Snowdonia hills. Fantastic dry open tracks all the way untill a final mile drop into Dolwyddelan, when we were splattered in run off water. At the Spar here our muddy demeanour didn’t fit the brilliance of the riding as we drank them dry of chocolate milk. Next was a long off road climb over to Blannau Ffestiniog, we had plenty of time to enjoy the views and cool off as Mark started to feel the pace, this was no tourist trip.
I was also introduced to the art of grabbing water on the way, being a Townie I watched with interest as Ian and Kev selected waterfalls to fill up from. The cool water was going down fast in this heat and you cannot rely on public supplies in the remote areas we are going through.
From llan Ffestinog I was in familiar territory having ridden this section of old roman quarries in the other direction C2C. By the time we descended into the sunset over Trawsfynydd we needed a big meal.
The pub there wasn’t serving food, the initial despair quickly removed when I remembered the pub (the Rhiw Goch Inn) at the ski village 3 mile further on. Our first spell of riding in the dark surprised me but the pub doing a two for one deal made it worth while. Mine host offered us the use of the grass outside which called for another Guinness to celebrate. We unrolled our sleeping mats and bivvy bags on lovely flat grass amongst some small pines, an amazing display of stars sent us to sleep aided by tired legs and booze.
Day 1 I’d actually ridden 61 Miles including the start loop and been in the saddle only 6hrs:20
Day 2 :: 29 September 2011 :: Coed-y-Brenin to Nant-yr-Arian
110km, 3085m ascent
Up with the dawn and no dew what so ever is just plain bonkers, much welcome though. We swiftly pack up and grab mouthfuls of snack bars, and were on the trails by 7:15 into Coedy.
Once into the forest, our route joined some of the MBR trail, which we eagerly dropped onto, using a brand new section of BMX style track I’d never seen before to drop to the river. This was the first real test of throwing the bike around fully loaded and it was handling it well. Riding round here at 8am before breakfast was a bonus but it wasn’t long before we were in Dolgellau in need of food. The Roberts café was an Oasis, we’d been on the road for an hour and were already hot, it provided perfect service to set us up for the morning.
It was much needed as what followed was a big climb over the shoulder of Cader Idris and towards Tywyn. I’d done the more direct route to Mach before so didn’t mind the fact we were drifting West off course so to speak. The trails were pretty good, but real steep at times. On Singlespeed Ian pushed here and there. I ground out my 1×9 while Kevin rode all the climbs, and was showing great power, but as he kept reminding us it was because we had stupid gears!. This frequently split the group so we were riding alone at times, and it was clear we couldn’t convince Mark we didn’t mind waiting. How could we the views over Barmouth Bay were superb.
The long descent to the coast at Tywyn was particularly good, it was here the feeling of the whole freedom of our trip really hit me as we enjoyed the stunning views, dry fast tracks and umm the railway bridge excursions…..wasn’t us gov.
I suggested ice cream they didn’t need much convincing, it was also time for Mark to leave us. He’d decided he would rather go on alone to Mach leaving his options open about where he got his train back North. Little did I know this would be a turning point for me too.
We dropped down onto a near deserted beach and rode for over 3 miles. The sand was firm if a bit wet as we crossed some sections, the feeling was such a buzz and I loved looking back at the tracks we left in our wake.
Off the sand the climb immediately back into the hills was brutal. Over 20% for a long section, I was pleased I could grind up there on the middle ring, it was real pedalling in squares climbing and no back twinges, it was insanely hot though. Good tracks with nice views of the other side of Cader as we found our way fast dropping down to Machynlleth.
In Mach, we plonked ourselves outside the HoleyTrail bike shop and worked out our plan. It would have been great to find a café for food, but at 5pm the light would fade soon and getting out of Mach is one tough ride. Spa it was then, a pavement scoff and stuffing some loves and fishes in my food sack for later. I was now fully aware of the task we’d undertaken, Ian had a target camp options around Nant-y-Moch, but we considered the possibility of aiming for Nant Syddion bothy. they knew the area well and it was clear we would have to ride hard to make it.
Many riders who never explore further than the Clymax trail don’t know how the land rises to the South of Mach, there’s some ripper descents, not the way we were going though. A long hot drag, sometimes very boggy and technical drained us further. Wales has a soft centre, the land round Mach is never dry. The map says 6 miles up for 650 mtr of climbing, and the sunset view over Angler’s Retreat was worth every grunt, not that my camera showed it fully. The strange Hot foot syndrome I’d suffered before had returned; pushing big gears for long periods on a small egg beater platform seemed to be the cause.
It got dark and out came the lights, sleeves were only really needed as bug protection, still so mild. It was good terrain to ride at night especially as we were all tired. Solid lumpy rock and deep wet sections showed up well in the Diablo on low settting and we rode together well. On a long fireroad it was clear we were stretching our limits, we passed up the chance to play on Nant-yr-Arian trails and we had no water. Stopping now would be safer and after some slight worries we struck gold by finding a trickle of water, and a wooden resting hut on the trail.
Plenty of wet footprints there. The Hut was very welcome; we had light and could spread out and scoff our respective feasts whilst being sociable. Brewing up and dining on a loaf of Hovis with pilchards and fruit sorted me out. The bikes were looking battered from the Mach clag but all three were still running sweet again with a spot of oil.
Day 2 My stats were 59 miles 6hr17 ride time, almost a third more climbing had taken its toll. Today had shown me that we weren’t quite the free spirits I’d imagined. We had a set of targets that as a group we had to reach to make this trip possible in 4 days. We were riding from dawn well past dusk and still didn’t make today’s target, and coming up was the most isolated terrain of all.
Day 3 :: 30 September 2011 :: Nant-yr-Arian to Glasfynydd Forest (Usk Reservoir)
120km, 3900m ascent
The hut meant for another fast pack up and off at dawn again, then an easy road ride down to Ponterwyd lead to a refuelling stop at the Petrol station. This will go on the map as a superb early doors stop. Hot drinks, plenty of food, toilet and water stop filled all our needs before a long stretch of wilderness. (I did also note that the pub was just as easy to reach last night)
We headed out into the hills and past Nant Syddion bothy, more like a large house it’s not as remote as I expected. Past The Arch, a strange structure that seemed to serve no purpose except it was our half way journey mark.
Strata Florida is a ruined abbey and doesn’t have many amenities, but the sign outside the Cadw hut said “Te a Choffi ar gael”, and in reality it should have said “last Tea for 4 hours”
The coffee was only one of those plastic quikie insert machines, but it was good and they sold 80% cocoa chocolate bars which I had to have for urgent recovery work later.
The next climb – Tywi Forest. This was a big one: 3 miles long, and hot. We split up again Kev took the lead with Ian holding his 32-19 gearing at a pace he could handle. I brought up the rear at my own pace, its not often I’m the tail-ender and I had to summon up mental strength not to chase back on. Twyi Forest is big. The fireroads go on forever, eventually we popped out at Soar-y-mynydd, the most isolated chapel in Wales. I knew where I was again the excellent Doethie Valley beckoned.
The descent in is steep very fast and swoopy, you then ride a technical at times magic valley trail. Pulling up over the rock steps and wrestling the singletrack made me realise the toll the ride was taking. You pay for the fun with an evil climb out of the bottom of the valley that was done in the full sun in the middle of the day and felt like the height of summer. I was determined to make it, and thanks Ian for walking the rest was needed.
Llyn Brianne reservoir is a great sight but I’d forgotten the long climb into Ystrad Ffin/ Cwm Henog. The descent from the forest here is as scary as you’ll get at speed, narrow and steep with rough rock sections it sure pumped the arms up. Again I forgot the fact the bike was loaded at all, this really is the way to travel. A stream crossing near Dinas Mill on the way to Llanwrtyd usually means a comedy dismount as riders try and get across a rickety makeshift bridge. Did we care, we hadn’t washed in 3 days, had walked through bogs and were covered in sweat it was Wash time! Has a cold stream in Wales on the eve of October ever felt so good, my feet loved me again the main point of hurt.
Llanwrtyd Wells. It had been a long day already, I needed real food and a sit down, outside a Spa was not going to do this time. We stocked for another bivy feast and survived on chicken nuggets and masses of chips at the Stonecroft for now.
Food always comes before a climb it seems and another lifts us to the Crychan Forest. A maze of forest roads ruined by 4 wheel drives and some huge bogs, it was fun but into the Halfway Forest I was blowing. Taking it my own pace on the ups, I’d been riding hard to catch the guys after almost every climb, usually just as the next one started. These constant intervals were breaking my normal rhythm and as I struggled up a tough Roman road and onto open mooland I was beat and wanted to stop.
Kev and Ian were way ahead in the dark, riding with urgency, Usk reservoir was todays target. I needed wheels to follow and realised I had to keep going or they would not know where I was. I figured then I had to ride solo tomorrow or risk losing the enjoyment of this ride, I needed control of my pace. Regrouping I was ready to stop behind a wall and make camp, Ian convinced me of the short distance left. The promise of a great sunrise snapped me out of it and mental power returned.
A good spot right by the shore, food, choc milk shake, several brews and lying there enjoying the gentle lapping water and fantastic light show of a sky full of stars, aided recovery, but I had made my choice. Looking back the lack of photos this afternoon tells a story in itself, we had started racing the clock.
Todays 71 miles 8hr47 ride time hurt, the 9386ft of climbing more so.
Day 4 :: 01 October 2011 :: Glasfynydd Forest to Worm’s Head
113km, 2083m ascent.
He wasn’t wrong, it was stunning. I slept in a head net last night just incase of winged teeth, but again there was no dew, no wind and wall to wall sun, this was a dream. In the photo the guys are locked and loaded and I have no regrets at watching them go as it’s still dark. I sit and eat breakfast, with a morning brew and take my time, there was another hard 100K plus day ahead I needed to ease into it. This was how I liked to get up; I’d missed it, the rush had taken us over. More time for a natural break then I guess I left about 25 minutes after the guys.
First stop was water, the route over the Brecons is barren and Bovine strewn, and I didn’t trust the low source here so I filled my water tap (filter bottle) and last nights milkshake bottle just in case, to keep it out of the camelback. Getting into navigation groove was slow and stopping to remove a top I enjoyed a relaxed chat with a farmer out walking. He’d seen two other bikers ride past his house as he ate breakfast, I should have asked him for water I never thought.
Soon I was climbing a long solid red dirt track over an area called Fforest Fawr. it’s on the Brecon Beast MTB event apparently, up to the highest point of the trip at 670m.
In my own world, I stopped a few times for photos and more relaxed eating. On the rough descents I let rip, this was my territory and I loved it. I kept seeing Ian’s tyre tracks in puddles which was reasuring in my isolation. After a while I passed onto the Sarn Helen I knew this track from previous rides it’s rough and worn and takes plenty of effort and concentration to keep progress going. Being solo I was focused and enjoying it untill I made a bad choice and ended up in a bog over my knees rather than going through an illegal looking farm gate.
Sat in the sun at the crossroads of the A4109 with my bog feet, I flashed back 5 years to 4 lads hiding from the lashing rain fixing a puncture in the bush shelter opposite. C2C 2006 LINK
The next section of Sarn Helen is super rough and slow going, I wanted a good meal to set me up and a “café next turn” sign gave me false hope, there was nothing there in this small holding. I then saw some bikes ahead, surely not, it was Kev and Ian. the only way they could be there I thought was if they’d found food. I was afraid of missing the cafe they’d found, I shouted madly at them hoping they would stop on the climb and tell me where it was. No such luck though, they explained, I could not explain how I’d caught them then but I was still intent to ride at my pace so we yo-yo’ed in and out of sight for a while.
On a long fast section to Aberdulais we got soaked from the trail,can’t say I’ll be hurrying back to that particular track too soon.
The falls cafe there was a welcome relief, too early to serve real food but great coffee, cream teas and a coke did the trick. Fresh water was bliss after four hours sipping the tepid stuff I’d started with, and I made full use of the sink to wash off the bogs.
Refreshed we continued on cycle path along the Neath Canal and cycleways beside and under the M4 to Swansea Marina, this was a bright new development with fancy bridges and pavement cafes. We dropped down onto the beach to join people enjoying a Saturday in October in the amazing sun, we had already achieved the C2C tag, and it felt great. The past 15 miles had been pretty flat which is quite a shock for Wales.
A stiff climb back up to gain the main ridge along the Gower gave stunning views of Oxwich Bay, I have to admit I thought that was it, and relaxed but we still had the tough task of getting over Hardings Down and around Rhosili Down, it was to take us another hour to see the sea again.
A tourist packed road down to a massive campsite at Hillend had me worried on how our trip would finish, but then we turned onto the last bit of bridleway. A long gently rising track between Rhosili Down and the beach, it was utter joy, and our target Worm’s Head looked superb in the low sun ahead.
Worm’s Head was heaving but it was a fittingly beautifull spot to finish our epic trip. Past the pubs, we rode down the final gravel track on the outcrop to the end of the cliffs, puffed our chests out and took photos.
So Wales coast to coast take 3 for me, and by far the best in so many ways.
We rode back up to the pubs for food and celebration drinks, Ian got picked up by his wife who checked out her handiwork in use, as she’s the skill behind my WildcatGear kit. Me and Kev had one final Bivy and spent another night under the stars down by the sea over the end of the cliffs, noisy but a fitting trip end.
I the end though not as hard as expected, the Swansea flats helped that but still 70 miles and 8hr07 ride time for me.
Total Trip Stats from Ian:
42:53 total time – moving time = 31.36 hrs 427 k total
On Monday morning we rose to another superb sunrise; early again as we had to get going before the tourists woke up, Kev had a train to catch and I took an easy cruise to the Afan Valley. Plenty of food along the way, including a lovely stop at the Swansea Marina. An 80yr old cyclist gave some great insight into life in Swansea docks and Port Talbot steelworks through the years.
A nice easy 36 miles and time for a huge Sunday lunch and several ciders on the terrace of the Afan Lodge, checking in with the world before I destroyed the bathroom with 5 days of grime.
Despite the 24 deg Sunday bliss the place was deserted and I was the only guest, the next day, Monday, I carried on to Cardiff over the valleys for another 50 miles of great offroad. Still Plenty of time for a chilled second breakfast at the Glyncorig café, before climbing out of the valley though.
After visiting friends in Cardiff I had ideas of riding back North up the Taff Trail, sadly a family death put a traumatic end to these plans. It was an emotionally tough journey back via train, but I was very pleasantly surprised how easy Arriva trains made it, and cheap too.
My Kitlist for this trip if your interested:
Singular Pegasus which didnt miss a beat, oh wait…one spoke got a bit loose!
Tyres: Maxxis Advantage front, Crossmark rear – Stans tubeless.
On the Bars:
Alpkit 8 litre drybag
Rab Neutrino 200 sleeping bag
Terra Nova laser Photon 1 Flysheet only (NEVER USED)
Terra Nova Discovery Light bivi bag
Thermarest NeoAir full length
silk sleeping bag liner
life systems mozzi headnet
USE Diablo light and diffuser
Ti V pegs wrapped in tube. (NEVER USED)
Poles for tent outer Terra Nova. Ally and carbon pair (NEVER USED)
Blackburn Mini pump (NEVERUSED)
Ti Blaze stove
Life Adventure Ti spoon
Life Adventure Ti Mug 480ml
C100 Gas cannister
Toilet paper and tissue
toothbrush and tube
USB portapower + 2x2800mAh batteries
12 lithium AA batteries (6 NOT USED)
USB garmin lead
USB phone lead (NEVERUSED)
Garmin Etrex (NEVERUSED)
2 inner tubes (NEVERUSED)
Bike tools and spares (NEVERUSED)
Purple extreme chain lube 1/2 full
small reel pvc tape (NEVERUSED)
Various snack bars and M&M’s
Baked beanie hat
Endura plumz long sleve top
Endura plumz windproof
Endura shorts liner
Finistiere Antibiatic waterproof (NEVERUSED)
Kimlite body warmer
Sickle cotton trousers
IceBreaker Skin 200 long sleeve Merino
Icebreaker Merino socks long
Dehydrated Chilli – emergency food (NEVERUSED)
camelbak water filled
water filter bottle
Isris glasses case
Lenses and fluid