Wednesday, 25 July 2012


I found myself riding with Alastair and Corey for 16 miles after leaving Builth Wells.  They were on route from St David's to Lowestoft.

We parted company at Glasbury near Hay-on-Wye.  Their next destination was Worcester.  Mine was a climb up into the Black Mountains of approx 400m, part of the Brecon Beacons National Park.  It started with a steep climb up the lower slopes but once into the higher slopes the road zig-zagged up to the Gospel Pass making cycling easier.  The views looking back where I had come from were majestic.

The River Wye had meandered east.  My next town was Abergavenny where I would meet my next river, the Usk.  It was a very long gradual downhill slope.  Open moorland with huge numbers of sheep changed to woodland with a fast flowing river tumbling down the slopes beside me.  The countryside gradually opened up.  I passed the ancient ruins of Llanthony Priory and into the Vale of Ewyas.

I had expected it to be an easy ride south from Abergavenny but there were several climbs on the next stage through the town of Usk to Chepstow.  About 3 miles from Chepstow, stunning views across the mouth of the River Severn were my reward.  Set in this vista was the recently built second Severn Bridge.  It was easy to see how superb this engineering achievement was from where I was standing.  I pedalled into Chepstow and over the old Severn Bridge into Bristol.

Journey's end was at Yatton just south of Bristol.  I had covered 351 miles on this journey since leaving Stafford.  My Trek X1 bike as ever was completely reliable.  This is unlike my car which is hugely expensive and regularly breaks down!  I could not trust it to take me across Wales.

It was refreshing to see how many people were out on their bikes on this ride.  Many were like me on long distance journeys.  One couple were on a 13 week journey around the UK and into France.  The ride I followed south from Trawsfynydd was on Lon Las Cymru, who many argue is the most challenging route on the National Cycle Network.

Monday, 23 July 2012


There is no escape from the hills when cycling in or out of Machynlleth.  On one side there is a 400m climb in the shadow of Cader Idris.  On the other, it is 500m cycling south.

My legs hurt when I reached the summit.  This was a grandaddy of climbs.  My top dripped with perspiration and at the same time the rest of me was soaked with light rain.  I was much too hot to wear waterproofs.  These came out for the big ride downhill on the other side.

The tiny mountain road meandered around in open moorland then dropped into a pine forest.  I reached a clearing where the Forestry Commission announced that I was close to the sources of the Rivers Severn and Wye.  Gradually, the road descended to the little village of Llangurig and the Wye appeared as a proper river.

Two tractors each with long trailers got stuck in a narrow lane and the drivers eye-balled one another who had to reverse.  There was not enough room for even a cycle to get by.  The farmer with the empty trailer won while the one with a full load of hay had to reverse.

Beside the River Wye, the cycling was much easier.  At Rhayader, the bike shop doubles up as a pub in the evening.  I pedalled on passing thousands of sheep to reach Builth Wells for the evening.

Thursday, 19 July 2012


The cycle path beside the River Dyfi leading into Machynlleth was completely covered in cow pats.  There were so many that it was impossible to navigate around them.  It is at times like this that you realise nature has the upper hand.

I left Llandudno, a mixture of Victorian grandeur and pre-war suburbs and cycled back into Snowdonia.  I passed under the ramparts of Conwy Castle and at Betws-y-Coed found many visitors on real and imagined adventures on their ways into the hills.  At Blaenau Ffestiniog the hills had been carved into quarries where some of the finest slate in the World still comes from.

Further on at Trawsfynedd, a redundant nuclear power station stands sentinal overlooking a lake of the same name.  However by looking south, the lake is incredibly beautiful.  The cycle path winds alongside it and cars on the nearby highway completely miss this spectacular scenery.

My overwhelming impression was that I was cycling through Snowdonia's finest scenery as I headed for Dolgellau and Cader Idris.  It was 150 years ago that gold was dug from the River Mawddach but it is not possible to see this anymore as the river had reclaimed its rightful place.  The cycle path wound its way up again into the hills.

Machynlleth was 70 miles from Llandudno.  It believes that it is the true centre of Wales.  It sits nestled in the hills and feels like a proper community.  I stayed at The White Lion Coaching Inn for the second time having cycled through here twice before.  The imposing Victorian clock tower in the centre of town was funded by local people and is a fine monument.

Sunday, 15 July 2012


This was the start of a mini-adventure by bike through the heart of Wales.  On day 1, I joined The Balti Bike Club at the Castle Car Park, Stafford for a 127 mile cycle challenge to Llandudno.

Cycling in Staffordshire is not like Devon.  There are hardly any hills.  We sped along at an average speed I am not used to for the first 60 miles.  We passed through Newport and Wem.  The hills appeared as we entered Powys and there was a steady climb to Lake Vyrny where we stopped for lunch.  The BBC, as they are known locally, have a fantastic group of supporters.  We were cheered and filmed as we went and at lunch out came tables, chairs, drinks and food.

After lunch, we climbed up into the hills on small minor roads as we headed for Bala.  It was slow steady progress but going downhill on the other side was another matter.  One cyclist reached 47mph but he had to be brave to dodge the potholes and stray sheep.

After Bala, we climbed again into scenery that I just love.  It was wild and remote.  We were rewarded with spectacular views of the mountains set in mist.  We pedalled to Llanrwst where there was a spectacular downhill.  We thought that the final 10 miles would be an easy ride along a river valley to Conwy and Llandudno but there were two final hills entering Conwy that needed an extra boost from our tired legs.

I want to give special thanks to Balti Bike Club for allowing me to join them on this challenge.  The next part of my "Challenge The Dragon" is to cycle from Llandudno to Chepstow and Bristol.  My route is shown below and it retraces through Snowdonia, then heads south through the Cambrian Hills and Black Mountains.