One for the bikers in the Club: Lon Las Cymru
Sad to see very few trip reports being written up for the Trasher nowadays. I don’t paddle a lot now; so I thought I’d write up this year’s bike trip for the mountain bikers in KCC.
Basically, the objective was Home to Holyhead using mostly off-road tracks and the National Cyle Network long-distance routes. Originally planned as a solo trip. However, other things got in the way for the last few years, and a biking friend who’d turned down an invitation to join me has now retired and asked if the offer was still open. Jon’s company was warmly welcomed, with agreement that he’d tolerate my slow speed and much uphill walking! I also insisted on no booking ahead, so I wouldn’t be commited to any particular distance or schedule. We hoped for B&B everywhere, but took lightweight tents and sleeping bags just in case.
Throughout the trip, we passed through many places with kayaking memories for me and I’ll try to mention these in asides to justify my cycling article in a canoeing publication!
The only change that resulted from Jon joining. We changed the start from Whte Horse Hill …Ridgeway… Avebury…. down to join NCR Route 5, to create three flat days for warm-up. Instead, we got a lift down to Wooton Rivers and started from there on the Kennet&Avon Canal towpath.
Older members may remember a couple of fun Club trips from Wooton up through the dark, scary Bruce Tunnel with its shimmering coating of cobwebs as the light at the end approaches. That was before the canal was restored, and more care (esp. lights) would be needed as the tunnel is now open to barges.
Joining NCR Route 5 at Devizes, down the lock flight at Caln we continued on the much-improved tow path to finish by finding an excellent B&B in Trowbridge.
Back up to the canal at Bradford-on-Avon Route 5 continued on the towpath to Bath. En-route are a couple of interesting aquaducts taking the canal over the Avon, one close to the take-out we used to use for canoe trips on the Frome after its confluence.
After sightseeing and lunch at Bath. Route 5 continues on the disused Bath-Bristol railway as a mainly-tarmac cycle path. Day 2 ended with a suitable B&B in a cheap hotel in Bristol, with an evening in the town centre courtesy of our free bus passes.
A lovely riverside single-track river-left through the Avon Gorge under the famous Clifton suspension bridge takes Route 5 all the way to Pill. A footpath/cycletrack on an M5 bridge takes us to the north bank near Avonmouth, and a whole network of tarmac cycle paths provide quiet off-road biking to the old Severn Bridge. There are foot/cyclepaths to the side of the carriageways and separated from them making for a spectacular ride across the bridge. (I believe the new bridge has been improved to provide no-such facility. CARS RULE!).
The day ended with mile or so of suburbs then dropping down to the centre of Chepstow where a very suitable B&B was quickly found and an evening meal in a classy Bangladesh Restaurant. Wales reached! Three excellent days biking. Probably less that 5 miles total on road.
National Cycle Route 42. We discover a regular feature of cycling in Wales. All the towns are down on rivers, but the minor farm roads/forestry roads we were using take more direct routes over the hills. Most days started with a long climb out of the valley, and after many ups-and-downs, ended with spectacular several-mile downhills to the next major town.
We also learned to be wary of farm dogs when Jon was nearly knocked off his bike by an out-of-control sheepdog that charged out of a farmyard to attack his panniers. My slowness benefitted me as I was 50 yards behind and could easily slow to help. As luck would have it a post-van arrived at the farm and the dog went off chasing it. It never returned when the van left, and I’m sure they’d grabbed it and tethered it! So quiet, and we were right outside the farmhouse, I’m certain they must have known what happened. But nobody appeared to apologise. Suspect they were inside laughing; and we should have reported it to the Police and demanded an incident number for possible insurance claim! Might at least have given them some worry for a while. But didn’t. Am I too soft, or just paranoid?
Apart from that, another lovely day with a long downhill to lunch by the riverside in Usk. Followed by another climb over to end the day at Abergavenny. B&B in a cheap hotel, and good fish&chip grub in the town chippie. Memories of many day trips to do Tal-y-Bont to Crickhowell which invariably started with a fried egg and bacon breakfast-roll in the car park kiosk in Abergavenny.
Threading up and over the Black Mountain on NCR42, reaching the highest point of the trip through Gospel Pass (1805ft), before plummeting to Hay-on-Wye. Our B&B was actually a holiday cottage in the garden of a large guest house in the middle of town. As we had our own kitchen and dining room, dinner was a bottle of wine and a take-away from the local Chinese. Also a chance to do some washing. The central location then proved handy for investigating the local hostelries for a few beers to finish the day nicely.
A more undulating day as NCR42 joins NCR8 (Lon Las Cymru) near Glasbury to follow the Wye river valley north. The principal thread of NCR8 comes from Cardiff through Merthyr and Brecon, and is now our guide all the way to Holyhead. We follow the East bank of the river (river-left) opposite the main A470 we’re more familiar with on the Builth-Boughrood car shuttle when paddling this stretch. A short detour for a view from the suspension bridge showed water levels very low as expected (no rain for weeks). “Hell Hole” quite distant from the bridge, and I suspect wouldn’t have been particularly impressive even in much higher flow…. so different from when knowing you’re about to negotiate it in a canoe!
Found an excellent B&B in Builth Wells looking out on to the green, the river, and the launch point down by the car park for this stretch of the mid-Wye.
Following high along the valley only to drop back at Newbridge, the route was back to its more familiar 1000ft+ climbs and drops. I had originally hoped to take the rougher mountain bike option, Llanwtryd Wells to Devils Bridge; but lack of fitness meant time cost was unpredictable and a long sad tale about problems with my panniers decided us on the Rhayader option. A very wise choice as it transpired, but the Devils Bridge section is certainly unfinished business for a future date.
I had recently bought a new bike… 29” wheels …. but was using a pannier rack from my old full suspension bike which fitted only at the seat tube. This was far too springy, kept throwing my panniers off, and eventually one of the welds snapped. The troubles started before Bath, where I bought a packet of cable ties and had been cable-tying the things together every day since; with varying degrees of success (or lack of it!). The ancient coach road en-route to Rhayader proved the final straw. With great care, I nursed it to the town for lunch and to consider options. These included posting everything home and finishing the trip in only what I was wearing/ abandonment, and wait for our lift home/ trying to find someone capable of welding a better repair/ etc. Then… Local Bike Shop to the rescue! There’s a bike shop/hire just up from the bridge in Rhayader; with a proper cyclist-owner. He took it as a personal challenge to go through his stock of carriers bending and adding packing pieces ’till he managed to fit my big wheels with a millimeter clearance, and accommodate the hydraulic brake cylinders at the hub end. This saved the trip, gave no further trouble even on the roughest off-road sections, and he only asked £30 including the fitting.
We even had enough of the afternoon left to carry on to Llanidloes where we found B&B no problem in the local Inn. The town shows many signs of a prosperous past, but not a lot to impress now. We sampled four of the pubs in all, and wandered down to look at the take-out for kayaking the Clywedog.
A steady climb to superb views down onto the Clywedog Reservoir and dam. Does anyone in KCC still paddle this little river occasionally? It needs a dam release, with a scary put-in right onto a couple of hundred yards of Grade 4 with no opportunity for warm-up. However it then settles down to Grade 2/3 for the 4 miles or so down to join the Severn at Llanidloes.
The route then climbs to Rhw Fawr at ~1700ft, the highest point on Lon Las Cymru (although slighly less than Gospel Pass on NCR42). The pay-off is superb views and a long, long descent into Machynlleth. Lovely B&B at the first place we tried, and dinner at the “multi-award winning best chip shop in Wales” or some such claim. Certainly was excellent.
I haven’t mentioned the weather much, but suffice to say it was unbelievable! Since leaving home, every day was cloudless blue sky and sunshine. With forecast to continue for days, and with ease of finding B&Bs, we decided to buy some paper and tape and package and post home all our emergency camping gear and waterproof and warm clothing…. 4.8Kg each lighter. Great decision.
Another climb to over 1000ft before dropping down to Dolgellau on another ancient coach road. We were detoured at Corris onto the main A487 for about 8 miles due to forestry work closing Route 8. Disappointing as this meant two long climbs with traffic roaring past and little or no walkway or pavement. Lovely views over Llyn Mwyngil and the back of Cadair Idris, but reading the OS map I’m sure the forestry road route would have been superb too!
Lunch at Dolgellau (a lovely little Lakeland-like town), and another dilemma. North past Trawsfynydd and Coed-y-Brenin (Remember the Eden and “Public Toilet Falls” on the Mawddach. We hid the cars afraid of vandalism by anglers in those days. I got off at the confluence and never did paddled the Mawddach, but reports were of many trashes at PTF). Coed-y-Brenin has since gained a reputation for mountain biking with graded trails at all levels of difficulty. Something else for the future?
In the end, we decided to choose the westerly option and follow a leisurely level scenic cycle path down the southern shore of the Mawddach Estuary to the Barmouth Toll Bridge viaduct…. free as there was no-one to pay. B&B in Barmouth was right on the front with panoramic sand and sea views from our windows.
The route climbs inland to over 1000ft again: sea views needless to say. Small gated farm roads… again a barking sheepdog, but this time we were passing through his territory and he did no more than bark and try to look fierce…. (which he certainly achieved). Glad of my new hydraulic brakes on the way off the hill as, although roughly tarmac-ed, I think were the steepest descents I’d ever ridden.
Now what I do call an annoyance! Thinking we were on an easy run-in after a hard ride, we found the Pont Doll toll bridge over to Porthmadog closed for roadworks. An unexpected 8 mile detour on main roads and heavy traffic to the next bridge at Maentwrog. Then back for the climb over from Porthmadog to Criccieth on an inland loop. Another sea-front B&B (acually a holiday-let flat on a one-night basis), with panoramic beach, sea, and castle view. Like Barmouth, this whole area seemed a bit unprosperous, with little open in the evening. But we found an excellent tandoori in a converted bank, and were their only customers.
A gently rolling pedal across the Llyn Peninsula to Caernarfon, the route parallels but keeps separate from the main A-roads. No problem finding B&B left time to explore this picturesque town, castle, and port, and even to take a steam train trip up to the Ranger Station and Black Ridge at the foot of Snowdon.
A choice of places to eat, was followed by live music on the forecourt of the “Anglesey” beneath the castle walls and fronting onto the Menai Strait.
Cycle path the whole way to Telford’s famous suspension bridge. This was the one and only time we had a little rain; but it only lasted a couple of miles as we crossed into Anglesey. Route 8 follows minor roads on the south side of the island, with little in the way of towns or villages after the first few miles. Jon was disgusted that, when I noticed it on the OS map, I insisted on making a mile detour to be a tourist and visit Llanfair…gogogoch. He was right of course, but it had to be done!
Holyhead Tourist Info closed for a staff meeting: but we went where many B&Bs were listed and found adequate accommodation in the first we tried. Longest day at just over 40 miles, Lon Las Cymru completed!
We had a couple of days to kill before our wives were to drive up to collect us. Holyhead was not particularly attractive, so we crossed the centre of the island to the north coast at Benllech and Red Wharf Bay. However it was now a weekend approaching, after a fortnight of continuous sunshine. The tourists were coming! There seemed little at Benllech, and the 3 or 4 B&Bs we tried were booked for the night. We decided to continue east to Beaumaris. An excellent location. As luck would have it, the first pub we passed had accommodation listed on its attributes painted on an external wall. It looked like a typical local lads type pub, but we enquired and were successful. The landlady looked surprised anybody had asked, but went off to make-up a couple of rooms. There were signs of redecoration in progress upstairs; but the price was better than fair.
OK meal in the “bistro” above the local fish&chip shop.
An early morning stroll down the pier, I watched two small fishing parties gearing up to set out for the day. A 2-masted sailing boat of about 50ft had also moored overnight and was making ready for the tide. I also sail, and have sailed on the south side of the Llyn Peninsula… but not the Menai Strait. The main thing I know about it is the importance of getting your tide times and tidal flow calculations right or it can be a daunting prospect. I think some of KCC have been to Plas Menai for sea kayak training? … anyone ever considered doing the Conway Descent for the craic? Is it still organised annually?
As our wives were driving all the way up from Wantage to collect us, we tried to book somewhere posh and upper-class for them. We tried the large hotel on Beaumaris front…. then I fancied the Llanberis Hotel with possible steam train to Snowdon summit…. then top Trip Advisor recommendations within about a 30 mile radius. But the weekenders had beat us to them all.
As the nicest place we’d been was Caernarfon, we tried the B&B we’d used on the way up: then friends she recommended. No success. Finally, we were reduced to the Premier Inn. I say “reduced to”, but they have soared in my esteem. No problem booking on-line. Unbelievably bike friendly… we could lock them behind an under-stairs pillar in the carpeted reception area…. we could just take them up to our room if not too muddy …. or they then thought of a locked store room just behind reception. We chose the last. No kicking-out early either: plenty of time for a morning walk round the town, breakfast, and loading the car for the journey home.
Even all the Trip Advisor restaurants were booked up: but did us a favour as we found a little family-run place that did magnificent food! More live music and refreshments sitting outside the “Anglesey”.
Jon put each day of our trip on “mapometer”, and I have all available as GPX format files if anyone fancies trying all or part of it. We made it expensive by B&B-ing and by only doing about 30 miles per day. Fitter KCC-ers would have no problem completing the whole thing in a week.
Started 15 June – Ended 28 June 2014