Wales – Bikepacking the Brecon Beacon and Snowdonia National Parks

We had cycled from Bideford on the North Devon Coast up to the Severn Bridge near Bristol and were trying to to get across into Wales. Our first attempt in the morning failed as the wind was so strong we were unable to push the bikes forward against it.

Looking at the new bridge from the old Severn Bridge with a rain squall approaching

We walked down to the bridge just after 3 pm and thought the wind was a little less so went back for the bikes, but as we got to the bridge a rain storm came over and the wind got up again. We waited it out and were eventually able to push the bikes over, although it was had work.

Forcing the bike forward against a gale force headwind. The bridge was still closed to traffic

Once in Wales we cycled to Chepstow and met up with a taxis we had called earlier as it was now too late to cycle the 60 km to our hotel. He drove us to Blaenavon and the Lion pub where we were staying. Its so easy going uphill in a car!

Heading up to what turned out to be a bog before backtracking

Leaving Blaenavon the next morning wasn’t as steep as I had feared after the drive up there. We had an easy peddal over the first hill on NCN492 into Brynmawr before turning off-road to follow the GBDuro route. We didn’t have a good start as we ended up in a bog.

This gravel road took us up to the top at about 520 m high

But after a quick backtrack we followed a gravel road on gentle gradient up to about 520 m where there was an old mine working and stunning views down the valley. It was lovely and sunny and the gales from yesterday had gone, leaving a chilly breeze.

View down from the mine workings at the top
Still heading up

We turned of onto moorland where a bridleway led down the long hill, with some quite technical riding to Pontsticill Reservoir. A quick lunch in the village pub then we were cycling alongside the Reservoir for about 5 km.

Cycling down over the moorland past lots of Welsh ponies
Some Welsh ponies
Coming down of the moorland was made harder as trail motorbikes has illegally been here cutting up the ground
One end of Pontsticill Reservoir

We were now in the Brecon Beacon National Park and climbing steadily. We turned off onto a steep track with a deep covering of large rocks that had us walking. But after a couple of kms the track improved to a single layer of loose rocks and steadily rose for the next 2.5 kms to the pass. The hills were stunning here and the weather was turning giving dramatic skies. I was very pleased that I managed to cycle all the way up as it was very hard work and quite technical. Just before the top it started to snow and hail, then as we went through the pass at 592 m there was an icy gale.

Starting the second climb of the day
Some bits were a lot harder than others!
You can just see the top from here. We are about halfway up at this point and the going is hard

Coming down was very steep and rocky initially but it soon levelled off and we got out of the wind. It took a long time to get down, then we had a long 10 kms of road to get to the pub in Sennybridge where we were staying. We were freezing by the time we arrived.

A short video of crossing the Brecon Beacons  https://youtu.be/ABMm1TyWzbI

View over the top of the pass
It got easier to cycle and out of the fierce wind halfway down. You can see the pass top left.
keeping an eye on us
Sunlit valley far below

We were a bit tired after all that so only did 30 km the next day. Although it was sunny it was still really cold with the hail in icy heaps in the shade.

Looking back from whence we came!

We headed steeply up hill on to MOD land. The red flags were flying and there was an exercise going on with exhausted looking recruits, covered in face paint camouflage, were staggering along the sides of the road under massive packs.

It said no stopping. No one complained about our multi-stops on the way through

It was bleak and windswept but beautiful up on the moorland plain and we could see for miles back towards the Brecon’s rising in the sunshine.

A Red Kite
MOD firing ranges
Red Kite

We were in Llanwrtyd Wells by lunch time. Walking into the Neuadd Arms Hotel took me straight back to the late 1950’s when as a small child my grandmother took me to places like this for tea. I don’t think anything has changed in the hotel since that time. It was not so much vintage and unchanged!

Up on the moors

Finishing by lunchtime allowed us to do what everyone here seems to be doing. Go for a nice walk without the bikes!

From looking at the map we had thought the next section was going to be a really hard day, so we were up bright and early ready to set off in the cold spring sunshine. As it turned out it was one of the easiest days we have had and we arrived in Ystrad Meurig, where we were staying, by lunch time.

Old oak woodland

We rolled along a beautiful valley by the river before turning up through an ancient oak woodland to Abergwesyn Common. This has to be one of the most beautiful valleys anywhere.

Abergwesyn Common

It would have been great except just before we left someone had mentioned that we would be going up the Devils Stairs. Sure enough, just round the corner we came to a sign that said “Low Gear Now, 25%”. It should have said start walking now as that is what we did for the next kilometer. Mind you we had Red Kites circling overhead and good views, so it wasn’t all bad. It was also 25% going down the other side. There was another hill just like it a bit further on.

The start of the Devils Stairs

Just after that we turned off-road onto a gravel logging road that had nice gentle gradients. Here we were back on the GBDuro route. We undulated along this until we eventually dropped down to a road and found the ruins of Strata Florida Abbey. A very pleasant place to wander around in the sunshine and eat our lunch. So we arrived in Ystrad Meurig and the Red Lion where we are staying just after lunch.

On the gravel logging trail
The ruins of Strata Florida Abbey

Woke to another really windy day, gusting 75 km. It was meant to be coming from the south so should theoretically have been a tailwind, but here in the mountains the wind comes around peaks from all directions.

We decided to stay on roads for the first half and just do the last section off-road, that way we would get more protection from hedges. At least we hoped so. In the first five minutes we had been blown into the hedge, but got the hang of it after that.

Battling against the wind around Dinas Reservoir

Our first stop of the day was Devil’s Bridge. The station cafe had good coffee and freshly made sandwiches for lunch later. We didn’t stop at the very touristy triple bridge itself. The original lowest of the 3 bridges was built in the 12th century by the monks from Strata Florida Abbey we visited. That is not where the Devil story told now comes from but does make you wonder!

The Victorian dam on Dinas Reservoir

We battled our way up onto the moorland where there was no protection from the increasing wind. Here we could look down on Dinas Reservoir with its Victorian dam.

Shortly after this we headed off-road alongside another Reservoir and it became a bit more interesting than expected. It was hard going over the rocks and numerous boggy sections as we were climbing against a headwind now.

At least walking I could enjoy the scenery
Avoiding the flooded track slowed forward progress

As the trail started dropping we were faced with quite a wide river and no bridge. We were both carrying waterproof socks so wearing these and tying our shoes on the handlebars we waded across. Result – one with shorter socks and cold wet feet, one with long socks and warm dry feet (me!).

Using our waterproof socks to cross the River made the freezing water more bearable especially in the cold wind
The moorland track

We noticed the track crossed the river four more times, but luckily there were bridges and as we entered the forest the track improved and we were finally out of the wind. A good place to stop for lunch which also meant we didn’t really get wet when a rain squall went over.

Stopping for lunch in the forest

This is a short video of heading towards Machynlleth

We then dropped down on the forest track for 150 m more than we had climbed. Wonderful views of distant hills yet to be cycled up! Before long we were in Machynlleth and our hotel, where we are going to have a day off.

Heading down and down and down. It can only be up again from here!
Nice to see spring flowers again as we dropped off the barren moorland

Tried to get an early start after our day off but somehow didn’t manage to leave before 9.30. Full waterproofs as there was a steady rain and thick mist for the first couple of hours. It was a day of steep climbs right from the off with 20% signs a common sight.

Starting the first big climb of the day in the Snowdonia National Park

We had decided to stay on lanes today as the off-road section through this part of the Snowdonia National Park was epically steep. The lanes were very pretty, winding through old oak woodland and along streams and rivers with the occasional waterfall falling from the rocks high above.

Blackthorn in the hedgerows

We stopped off at a garden centre for coffee and cake, and while chatting to the other customers discovered our proposed route, while lovely, would take us up over the second highest pass in Wales.

Heading up to the pass through a verdant green valley
Waterfalls dropping from the rocks high above

The valley at the start of the climb was indeed stunning and a bright green contrast to the slate black almost vertical hills rising high above. Luckily the sun had come out now so no waterproofs for the climb and good views. We managed to cycle up the first half then it just got too steep, about 25%.

The black slate cliffs in contrast to the green valley
Still cycling
View from the top of the pass

Wonderful 10 km descent down the otherside then along the lake Llyn Tehid to Bala where we are staying the night.

The lake with Bala at the end

Considering we were going to finish 200 m lower than we started at Bala I was a bit surprised to be climbing steadily for the first 25 km of the ride. This took us high up over Migneint Moor with Mount Snowden looming darkly on our left and Sky Larks rising and singing all over the moor.

An old Church in Bala

We turned onto a tiny lane and it felt like the ground had opened up as we dropped 310 m in 4 km. To say it was steep was an understatement. I was just glad we weren’t going up it.

In Penmachno

After a coffee stop in the tiny old village of Penmachno we arrived in the major tourist destination of Betws y Coed. It was seething with stressed families desperate to entertain their overtired children.

A mossy lane just off the A5

After lunch we spent the afternoon trying to avoid the A5, which was not always possible but the traffic was very well behaved. There were 100’s of walkers heading for Snowdon and parked cars lining the road.

We eventually turned off down a tiny lane that dropped through a most beautiful valley and joined the Slate Trail Cycle Track, passed mountainous heaps of slate waste, and rolled gently towards Bangor. I had forgotten the two large hills between us and the Menai Bridge.

Mount Snowden
Piles of slate waste on the Slate Trail

Crossing the bridge we arrived in Anglesey and up one final hill to our B&B. Thankfully they drove us back along the busy road to the pub for supper.

The Menai Bridge
Cycling across the Menai Bridge into Anglesey

Our last day in Wales was a bit of a damp squib. Apparently everyone else in the UK was enjoying the hottest day of the year. Here in Anglesey it was cold, heavily overcast with a damp drizzle. Miserable in other words. We cycled from Menai to Holyhead in the morning. In this weather it was a bit dull. We will be heading for Dublin in Ireland first thing tomorrow. It’s probably raining there too!! We have now cycled 600 km since leaving home.

Looking back at Snowdon from Anglesey
A neolithic burial chamber circa 4000 to 2000 BC
We passed an RAF Airfield
The ferry from Holyhead to Dublin

A final video of some of the bits of Wales we enjoyed most in sounds, stills and clips.