The Berwyn range is nestled neatly, and near anonymously, between the Shropshire borders of Offa’s Dyke and the far eastern boundaries of Snowdonia. The main A5 trunk road through Llangollen and Corwen guards their northern slopes, and the shores of the stunning lake Vyrnwy protect their southern fringes from adventurous, motorised, obstructive, tourists. Snowdonia is the undoubted big brother of this particular part of Wales, which is great news for those who take the time to do the less obvious and venture in to the comparatively untamed depths of the Berwyns; this fringe of Wales is most definitely full of eastern promise.
Most people completely by-pass the area in a desperate dash for Snowdon or the sandy shores of the coast. Some may stop to visit the Dr Who museum at Llangollen but more often than not they completely miss the secretly shrouded heights of the shadowing Berwyns. For others, a day trip and an ice cream besides either Bala or Vyrnwy lakes affords a closer glimpse of these wild but friendly Celtic beasts. Thankfully though, this leaves the very core of the mountains relatively untouched, and charmingly unvisited. A trait that leads to the area being the least populated region in the whole of England and Wales, and one of the last true wilderness areas in the UK. But what about the riding?
Dramatic, lushly lined green valleys, fluffy heather coated rolling moorland, steep sided grey slate cliffs, huge cascading waterfalls, spectacular lakes, and miles and miles of deserted hills add together to make this place the true trail warrior’s dream-cometrue. For adventurous mountain bikers, this place is a tough and rewarding test bed. Our chosen rides are based around Pistyll Rhaeadr falls, the highest in all of Wales, and even higher than the great Niagra Falls. This is the central Berwyn area , and all of the rides feature long hard climbs, fast and technical descents and some of the finest views you’ll get anywhere in Wales. Look at the maps. There are miles and miles of white roads and bridleways, enabling you to mesh together some fantastic routes. But hey, if you’re not sold, then put on your helmet, sit back and hold tight as we take you on an armchair tour around the Wayfarer loop, and be prepared for the ride of your life.
The long day out
This kind of sunny day really wasn’t expected, but my Sunday morning hangover was. A heavy night at the village local had prepared me well for a fine day’s mountain sufferance at the hands of my teetotal trail ride buddy, Lincoln. The day had all the hallmarks of a rare spring scorcher. The sun was beating down, with not a cloud in sight, or even a breath of wind. Being as the weather was with us we decided on making a crack at the Wayfarer, one of the best-known rough stuff tracks in the whole of Wales. This rugged trail passes right over the northernmost high spots of the Berwyn mountains. Now this is a
hard enough ride as an up and down job, but the good weather had forced my hand in to dealing out a massive extension to the ride, making it a near 40 mile mega loop of pain and sheer punishment. (And the night in the local pub had obviously affected my judgement.)
From the valley floor it was a harsh start to the day; a granny ringer straight up the side of the valley. Much wheezing and nauseous groaning ensued, but after a sweet and tasty descent my system was forcibly shocked into the day. This was just as well, as this was followed by a four mile beast of a climb straight out of the next valley. All this before we even get near the far side entry point of the Wayfarer itself
There wasn’t a soul to be seen that sunny morning.
Thankfully, just wild and dramatic Welsh mountains were laid out before us like a magical and colourful spring carpet, only with a great big humdinger of a hair-pinned leg bender in the middle of it, which scowled mercilessly down at us as we left the calming security of the forest.
It was a long and sweaty grind to the summit, broken only occasionally by the odd photo stop. Then finally we got our reward as we took a breather right on the summit. Like a pair of mountain gods we surveyed the lands laid out before us. This really was about as top as top of the World gets, or at least it is in the Berwyns.
We downed a couple of bananas and checked out the mountain log book, (which was stashed in a tin beneath a rock) only to find out that my riding pal Lincoln’s brother had crossed on foot a couple of months earlier, which was a bit of an ego downer. But at least we had the satisfaction of knowing that his red socks wouldn’t be quite as exciting as our iron beasts when it came to the descent. From here on in the only way was down, and a true classic downhill at that. Six whole miles of fast technical rocky horrors, spiced and seasoned with more water splashes than you could pray for. Whatever the sufferance of the climb, this downhill makes the pain worthwhile.
But the ride did not end there. I always like to end a ride on a high, but of course to get that high means climbing, and then climbing some more. This we did and were once again rewarded with an awesome descent of the largest proportions, topped off and tightly bound up with the wildest rock and slate viper of a singletrack you could possibly wish for. Two massive descents in the one ride. Bargain? Well they were paid for in full on the climbs, but worth every bead of sweat. Talking of sweat, we had lost a fair bit. Nothing for it then but to pop down the local to recover and reflect over a pint of the Dragon’s brew. See you there…
Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant is a small village on the edge of the Berwyn mountains. The village is on the B4580, 15 miles west of Oswestry and the busy A5 trunk road. That same road provides easy access to the north west, and to the midlands via Shrewsbury, which is 30 miles south west of the village. Pistyll Rhaeadr falls are a four miles from the centre of the village. Llangynog is a six mile drive west from the village.
Food & drink
There are two cafes in town; the Cegin Fach, which is fine, but very quiet. Just opposite is a small tea room, which serves up great barra brith and scones. There is also a nice cafe right at the foot of the falls themselves, with parking just a few metres away. There are also public toilets, parking, and a local shop in the village. There are three pubs in the village of Llanrhaeadr; The Wynstay Arms, the Three Tuns and the Hand Inn. All of these are of “ye olde“ traditional Welsh variety, although at a weekend they can get quite busy with local trade. Llangynog has two pubs; the New Inn, and the Tanat, both serve up decent food and have a lively weekend scene. In Penybontfawr there is a small shop and the Railway Inn, which is fairly quiet and traditional. There is also a small pub in Llanarmon, which is convenient for a half way stop on the Wayfarer route.
There are several B&B’s in the Llanrhaeadr area; try Llyf Morgan 01691 780365, Bron Heulog 01691 780521 or Eiranfa 01691 780507. Alternatively there is a B&B and a basic camp site at the Pistyll water falls themselves. Accommodation is also available at £18 per night at the New Inn in
Llangynog Tel 01691 860229. A cheaper alternative would be the Youth Hostel in Cynwyd. Tel 01490
412814. For further info call the Mile End Tourist Office 01691 662488.
For the rides you will need a copy of the OS Landranger sheet 125 Bala. The nearest bike shop is 12 miles away in Oswestry. Call Stuart Barkley Cycles 01691 658705. There is also a small and basic bike shop in nearby Bala ( R.H. Roberts ).