- Welsh Coast to Coast: Travelogue / Pictures / Random scribblings
To do this trip justice, I’ll write a post for each day. If you don’t want to read the words, I hope you like the pictures 🙂 This is the classic ‘Lon Las Cymru’ route (nearest translation: Wales Green Lane) starting at one coast and ending at the other. It is 425km long and climbs around 6500 metres. It is also bloody amazing as you will see.
My mate Adam and I decided to ride the route south to north. Logistically it was easier as Cardiff is an hour from home and there’s a direct train from Holyhead to Hereford to get back. There’s a well trodden myth that the prevailing winds are mostly in the right direction, but not sure it was borne out by our experience!
We usedthe Cicerone guidebook based on 4.5 days for the trip. This is excellent and well worth a tenner. The Sustrans map(s) are not worth buying.
Bikes: Adam – Ibis Hakka with 650B wheels, Schwalbe Thunderburt tyres, 42/40 gears. Alex – PlanetX Tempest, 700cc wheels, Schwalbe G1 tyres.40/46 gears. Both running tubeless.
Gear: Adam – a mahoosive Lomo 13L waterproof seat pack and a small bag hanging off the bars. Alex: Alpkit seat pack with Exo-Rail, Alpkit frame bag, Alpkit top tube bag. No camping gear as we were B&B-ing.
Day 1 – Cardiff to Brecon. 93km. 939m of climbing.
The day finally dawned. After much worrying over a deteriorating forecast and my lack of any kind of useful preparation, the waiting was over. Dropped off by the Wales Millennium Centre, we dodged the university graduation ceremonies to get the obligatory ‘start here’ photo.
First objective achieved and finally we were actually on the route. For about 3 minutes before getting lost. This despite a verified GPS route loaded into Ad’s Garmin 800 and the ‘BikeGPX’ app on my phone. Over the week we became pretty skilled at hunting out NCN-8 signs and interpreting what the map was telling us. Today however was a voyage of discovery. Sometimes discovering the same bit of car park from a number of different directions.
Having run out of alternatives, we found the tunnel under the A232 and entered Hamadyad Park. Well this was unexpectedly lovely. Away from the traffic, we relaxed a bit enjoying the sunshine reflecting off the river. Having no idea how fast we had to ride, there was limited time for hamming it up over the first bridge before passing the stadium and Cardiff Castle.
The Taff trail is fantastic way to exit the city. We shared it with (mostly) cyclists beyond pensionable age enjoying the sunshine and avoiding cars entirely other than a few well signed road crossings. Passing under the M4, we joined the old railway track and had our first experience of ‘how fast dare I ride through these shoulder high barriers’. Not as fast as I thought apparently as I bounced off the second one.
Time for a break then. Been riding 2 hours. Forecast suggest today is the sunniest one we’re going to have so we’re determined to enjoy it. While still having a bit of ‘destination’ anxiety. Soon we had another problem, where to find much needed coffee for me. Pontyprid was not that place. Blimey it’s a bit depressing when you consider its hayday in the age of coal. We quickly scooted back onto the disused railway line until the equally dispiriting Merthyr Tydfil appeared on our right flank. Rather than descend into that madness, we popped out onto a minor road looking for a local café. Found one only open for six weeks which explained why the till was something of a mystery to the proprietor.
Sustained through the magic of a chicken baguette and impressed by the 80+ year old fella we met who was still cyclng every day, we started the first proper climb near the Cyfarthfa ironworks. Another relic of a different age. Hard to get your head around how big the site must have been. Although that distraction didn’t last long as we headed into the Brecons – a landscape I know reasonably well from riding mountain bikes up and down the hills for many years.
We came at it a different way but the two reservoirs (Pentwyn and Talybont) were familiar. The riding wasn’t being wil feeling gravel tracks and punchy road climbs. I lost my light off the pack on the 5 mile shallow descent (on the old Brecon Railway) line past Talybont dam. The bikes here were brilliant, really glad I wasn’t on super narrow road tyres pumped up to 100PSI. I recognised the trail we climb on the classic gap loop over the other side of the valley.
Then it was a bit of road work before the final stretch on the Brecon to Monmouth canal . At the end of which my thoughts could be summarised as ‘bloody good fun, glad first day is over and I’m still able to pedal, my arse hurts tho and I need a beer’.
We sorted the beer at least, toasting our first destination in the warm sun. This was just the warm up though. Tomorrow was going to be far tougher. So let’s not go mad on the beer. We didn’t. Because we were staying in a hotel knocking out double gin and tonics for not much cash. So we drank quite a few of those instead.
Full set of pictures: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alexleigh/albums/72157709758692831
Strava Log for day 1: https://www.strava.com/activities/2534209886
Day 2 to follow shortly….Posted 1 month ago
Oh one more
If all that ^^ is TLDR, this image kind of sums it up. Riding through this scenery on traffic free roads is amazing. Even after all the MTBing I’ve done, this feels very different. Not better or worse, but definitely an experience I want to repeat.
Anyway more in Day 2.Posted 1 month ago
@dove1 – You’ll have a blast. If you drop me a PM, I’ll let you know where we stayed and places to eat/see etc.
@zilog6128 – don’t worry we’ll get to that on the last day!
@funkybaj – they are the more expensive ones. Seat-pack is the Koala 11 litre and the frame bag the glider. The fuel pod is from the same range I think but that was a loaner so I didn’t have to buy it.
The bags are really good. Adam had the Lobo which had the benefit of being totally waterproof but it was nowhere near as stable. It swung about in an alarming manner. With his flip flops attached externally and a light hooked onto the middle strap, it was like following a drunken Dalek!Posted 1 month ago
Brecon to Llanidloes 105km, 1486m of climbing
Before getting into day 2, permit me a sidebar to discuss mechanicals. Specifically Adams’ as I didn’t have any. Other than a strap on my ancient MTB shoes making a break for freedom before we’d actually started. So that doesn’t count.
Ads had stuck rigidly to a servicing regime that could best be charitably termed ‘looks good from a distance, pass me a beer’. While his cassette didn’t actually quite fall apart or his rear brake completely fail, they were definitely in the red zone.
His tyres however were something else. Barely vulcanised for a start. Do people really race these things? There’s more tread on my ancient 5-10s and they were mostly slick to start with. Even with about a pound of sealant slopping around at each end, any air at the start of the day was long gone by the rides end.
After three days of desperate pumping, they finally gave in and mostly sealed. Unless you touched them. Adam blamed my rubbish pump for his woes. I was keen to point out that I wouldn’t know not having had to use it. Anyway as you were, Day 2.
Pre-trip this was the day which had me most worried. A bucket load of climbing over three figures of distance. The guidebook suggested 11 hours. No way was my arse co-exisitng in the same space as a saddle for that length of time. Our plan – a somewhat ambitious term for gin based hand waving the night before – was to get it done in 6. Including a stop for lunch. Which on reflection was another planning oversight. We’ll be back to that.
First tho we had to get to lunch. Climbing out of Brecon was all the fun a steep pitch post a big breakfast can be. My bike only felt heavy when I had to fetch it over a gate or suchlike. Riding it uphill really wasn’t a problem with a little bit of mental fortitude. Ads bike was lighter, he had less kit, but I had fitted his spare 11-46 cassette he reckoned wasn’t needed. Half way up that first hill I could feel the want.
After getting that done, we switched back to grass-middled roads distanced from morning traffic. The NCN8 is an amazing route. Sure it meanders up and down valleys flatly breached by the main roads. This is the price of riding through stunning scenery with almost zero risk. Short of being mowed down by a tractor or attacked by a bike hating dog, it’s a million miles from my normal horror of road riding.
Sometime though there is no option but the main drag. After testing all my gears again on a couple of nasty pulls, we turned onto the main road heading to Builth Wells. A slight tailwind, a freshness in the legs and the aforementioned ‘destination anxiety’ (heightened as the second half of the ride with the bulk of climbing), there was what passed as a 2 man chaningang for men that don’t understand road riding. Well this one doesn’t, but I love the speed even of these loaded bikes compared to the glacial thrumming of a 2.6 MTB tyre. We hit some short hills and they hit us right back, but we made good time to Bulith.
Bit early for lunch. Stop for a coffee? Not this pair, we were on a mission. Not sure where due to continued navigational uncertainty, but the sun was out and the internal GPS was already set to ‘early finish and cold beer’. Switching direction to due north as we crossed the bridge, there was a lovely river ride out of the town. So much of this route is on old railway tracks (which is pretty sad when you think what they used to be here for) and river paths. We crossed the Wye and numerous other river so many times I stopped taking pictures.
I’d also stopped eating. Not sure why, but our vaguely planned stop at Newbridge-on-Wye hove into view just as the munchies took hold. Expected any town ‘on-Wye’ to be a picturesque place full of tourist cafes, fresh coffee and a choice of cake. It’s not like that at all.
It was more disappointment made real by brick. Three pubs, two closed, one mostly falling down but being painfully slowly restored by tired looking owners and surly teenagers. Still the kitchen was open and after all the time it takes to hunt down a difficult to find tub of chicken, we were mostly sated, and keen to be on our way again.
50km in which was good but still with 840m of climbing to do. Which wasn’t. Having all of the stats projected onto phones and GPS’s is great. Until it isn’t. Sometimes I’d rather not know, but we’d looked at the profile enough to get an idea the next few hours were going to be a bit chewy.
The road climbed steadily on much patched tarmac before merging into a gravel trail that – again – wouldn’t be much fun on a racy road bike. It was ace on ours including a rocky downhill section I’d fancy a crack at with a MTB.
This is the old coach road and it wouldn’t be something I’d want to tackle in a coach. Or after rain. But today it was a welcome distraction to the almost endless climbing. It was certainly better than the might-be-a-road which skirted the slopes of Carn Gafallt. 20km of sheep shit basically. Not much of a view either. Unless your idea of a great vista is sheep shit and endless conifers.
We got that done where the route sadly bypassed Rhayader. I have many happy memories of that town. Some of them rather drunken. Today tho we needed to crack on via the Aberystwyth mountain road. Well named and annoying in that down a bit, up a bit, down a bit more, up IS THAT A CLIFF? Sort of way. Cresting the pass at 350m, it was mostly downhill to Llanidloes.
Mostly not being entirely. Ads was asking for the ascent numbers. 150m, 100m, 75m, 60m, nasty little climb, legs tired, little tweaks of hamstrings, 30m, 15m, 12m. I went ‘metre by metre’ ’12, 12, 12, 11, no sorry 12′. If nothing else it made us laugh.
We finally rolled into Llanidloes at 1530. At 1531 we were in the nearest pub chatting to two old fellas heavily laden with sufficient camping kit to suggest they were on a ‘Shackleton Tribute Tour’. They’d come the other way and spoke wearily of the climbs we’d be descending tomorrow. I knew we’d chosen the right way to ride this route.
Carol (my long suffering wife) and my daughter turned up from a day walking the Elan Valley dams. They brought with them a resupply bag into which Adam cheerfully abandoned about half his kit. For reasons still somewhat opaque, I added a few more items to mine.
Very happy to have smashed the ‘big day’, we intended to celebrate with a slap up feed and possible an assault on a Welsh cheese board. Less happy to find the only food being served was pub crisps and not very good fish and chips. Still on the upside, tomorrow was an easier day.
Except, of course, it wasn’t.Posted 1 month ago
Day 3 – Llanidloes to Dolgellau. 63km, 1300m of climbing
A day of two summits and some miscalculation. This was always going to be a wild day through the Cambrian mountains. Adam and I know that terrain well from a biblical Trans-Cambrian back in 2017: https://pickled-hedgehog.com/?p=3962. The twin summits of Foel Fadian and Myndd Y Waun blocked our way to the safety of Machynlleth. It was a hell of an effort to get there in rain and sleet driven on by gale force winds.
So a happy memory then. Today we had some of that headwind and a lot less of the rain. The bits wondering whether a helicopter might be the Gentleman’s transport of choice bridged the two rides. We started on a climb apparently designed to remind your legs this was day 3, and no it wasn’t going to get any easier.
In fact it got a little harder as we headed into Hafren Forest. Familiar to mountain bikers – we spotted singletrack heading deep into the woods and considered an early coffee in the visitor centre. While the need for the bean was strong, it wasn’t worth trading hard gained height for.
We’d lost the sun but not the humidity. So I was happy for a sit on the mossy bank of the road while Ads attempted to fix his squeaky cleats. This chain lube based procedure gave me sufficient time to munch on an energy bar and wonder if this was the right time to explain the noise was coming from his pack. Since he was clearly having so much fun trying to diagnose the problem, I thought probably not.
We remounted – squeak still in attendance – to grind up the summit sporting a viewing point. This is where the Ospreys were re-introduced a few years ago. We took some pictures of wild scenery entirely absent of said Ospreys After some dithering it was apparent the climb to Foel Fadian wasn’t going to happen unless we actually got back on the bikes. The guidebook characterises it as a ‘gentle climb’. I’m not a confrontational man, but I am taking issue with that.
It might have been the headwind swirling in our faces. It might have been the fact I’ve driven that route many times (waved at the Star on the way past. Wondered about a pint. 10:14am. Probably best not), it might be the weather fronts rolling in promising rain now and maybe hail later. Whatever it was, it wasn’t bloody gentle. Especially the top section where I felt the urge to go ‘Full Strava’ leaving me dragging in litres of clean Welsh air while hanging over the bars.
All downhill from here. From the highest point on our route (if you were tending to masochism you could really hurt yourself by adding many more summits. The route tends to skirt the mountains where it can. Thankfully) we had an 8 mile descent into Machynlleth. The top section of which is simply epic. A wild juxtaposition of panoramic landscape and steep, dangerous corners. Hard to keep your eyes on both.
I’ve never been much of a road descender. Always looked down and wondered where the rest of the tyre might be. Followed by a concern that rim brakes and slick rubber can’t offer much in the retardation stakes. Now though up front I’ve most of a 2inch knobbly tyre arrested by a proper hydro brake. Same out the back although I’m not leaning on that much.
Taking a bead on Ads, I give myself a stern talking to re: worrying about skewer tightness and chance of tyre explosion and instead swing the bike through a patchwork of glorious scenery grabbing my eyeballs when I should be grabbing the brakes. The bike is amazing – even heavily loaded – super stable and giggly fun pitching into the corners. We hit over 70kph which might not be much for a proper roadie, but for me it’s pretty much light speed and I’m gabbling at Adam as the gradient backs off.
We see pack-laden riders toiling up this climb and we wave and we smile. And inwardly we think ‘you idiots, why do it this way?’. In about two hours, we get a reasonable idea. 20 minutes later thoigh we’re in Mach. Mach being Mach has a market cheerfully selling everything from new antique furniture to New Age tat and shit. I love the place, it’s a refreshing change from so many Welsh town trading on fading industries.Posted 1 month ago
We have cake and coffee. And because we’ve loads of time, wander about a bit until the big tower clock strikes midday which is our trigger to eat more food. We leave reluctantly – especially in my case as during our meandering I’ve lost my riding glasses – and head over the Millennium bridge built to save the squashy from the tin cans racing along the A487.
Now we’ve at the base of the afternoons climb. A quick scoot on the B4404 then over the bridge to start 9 miles of ascent. There is no way to say that which doesn’t immediately chuck synonyms at your brain with ‘hard, tiring and WTF’ being the three I remember most.
The start of it though is mostly easy as it’s adjacent to the old Corris slate railway which brings us into that town where – unsurprisingly based on our trip so far – everything is closed. We press on to Aberllefenni built entirely of slate. Walls, roofs, garages, patios – a legacy of the mining here which defined much of the history of this part of Wales.
The old slate works are another sad cipher for heavy industry long gone. Quite sombre heading up the climb where the gradient increases to the point where I’m wondering if my dismissive view of the front detailer as yesterdays technology is a proxy for what we’ve just ridden through.
Whatever, it’s a tough climb going on a little too long. I’m trying to estimate the summit by charting the marching telegraph poles holding close to the road.
So tight is my focus I almost miss the five riders heading down- all big grins and hearty hellos. They are clearly the camping types with luggage clinging to every tube. A couple I notice have those old school rim brakes.
I cannot help but think dark thoughts regarding their ability to stop at the bottom. Still on the upside they’ve 8 miles to climb up over Foel Fadian. That cheers me up a bit.
Topping out, I grab the phone and catch Adam with far less gears fighting his way over the top. We have a moment to catch our breath. Then ‘Well that was a total b****ard. Beer do you think?’ I do indeed and after a quick nod to Cadair Idris to our left, we make haste into the strengthening rain.
It’s mostly downhill and we’re mostly relieved as today has been harder than expected. It’s not the miles it’s the elevation. I don’t feel the weight of the packs, but it definitely has an effect.
That effect me being desperate for sustenance as we roll into Dolgellau. A tip from my mate Dave (who runs the Bike Corris MTB guiding company) has us diving into the legendary TH Roberts. An old Ironmonger turned awesome cake cafe, it has all the old fittings of a Victorian shop and a selection of so many fantastic looking confectionary it’s all I can do not to demand ‘one of each right now’ and ‘another of the same to take away’.
Today has been tough. Legs starting to really feel it. Sun has mostly been replaced by headwinds. The climbs are longer and harder. The landscape continues to be breath-taking, and the simple pleasure of getting up to turn pedals is a gift not to be underestimated.
Tomorrow we conclude will be easier. To that end I go full nosebag in a fantastic local restaurant adding Gin and Wine to my recovery drinks. It’s not like 100km and 1200m of climbing is going to be hard is it?
Will we ever learn?
Strava Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/2539899127Posted 1 month ago
Well I read it, maybe we’re in a time warp?
That means it might have been posted twice. I cannot apologise enough 😉
For those watching in black and white, I’ve split it into two posts. I’ve no idea what the rest of you can see. Maybe it’ll fix my random punctuation as well #digitalsorceryPosted 1 month ago
Day 4- Dolgellau to Caernarfon. 98km. 1250m of climbing.
Pub talk is cheap. Here’s how it goes: ‘Day 2, total bas***d, day 3, yeah we probably underestimated that, but tomorrow that’s less climbing that yesterday and less distance than Tuesday. We’ll smash it’. While my brain was subdued by alcohol, my legs were clambering for attention. In the Monopoly Anatomy edition they had definitely not passed go nor collected £200 of freshly rested muscle.
What nearly broke me on Day 4 wasn’t the maximum elevation which we’d already pegged as being only a little more than half of what we’d done so far, it was the sustained climbing that multiple lower summits bring. Before all that though we were going to the seaside.
Barmouth is pretty much the Wikipedia citation for ‘God’s waiting room’. But I can’t love it any less for that. It was one of the original tourist towns. The ‘holiday specials’ transporting factory staff from grimy industrial works to clear skies and clean air. Bodies pressed to tiny steam train windows catching first sight of something never seen before. The Irish Sea must have looked like Mars. And while we’re back into faded glory, what a thing that is.
We’re 10km away from sticking our toes in the sand. I’m weary and so is Ads. He’s 10 years younger than me so clearly I’m suffering more. Therefore it seems fair he takes point on the fantastic path out of Caernarfon hugging the river before arcing towards the sea. The track is wide but the wind is brutal. It’s blowing spitefully in our face and we’re nose to tail pushing hard and missing out on a vista that’s more New Zealand than North Wales. It feels properly wild even in sight of towns on the headland. We’re in and out of coves, sylph like bridges appearing close are snatched away as we hove to port or starboard.
We’re giving it plenty even on day 4 legs but I misjudge my turn on the front and wrap my seat bag strap on Adam’s brake lever. That was two seconds of excitement I’ll remember for a while. Calming down a bit we merged onto the old railway running parallel with todays single line bridged over the water. It’s fun to ride until the raised sleepers get a bit tiring but the views across the bay are worth the discomfort.
The town itself is a bit of a disappointment. The weather isn’t helping. The beach is storm tossed and the ice cream booths hard shuttered against the weather. We peer into a hotel, last updated in the 70s, and see an elderly couple sipping tea because there is nothing else to do. Because I’m old I start humming Phil Collins’s ‘Home by the Sea’. I feel this cultural reference is lost on Adam.
We climb out on a steep pitch reminding us our legs are not really up for what’s coming. Not just legs, but – for me at least – other limbs primarily shoulders. Not ridden a dropped bar bike much and certainly not for 4 consecutive days so there’s some unpleasant crunching in there. Other body parts are clambering for attention but I’m ignoring those on the grounds there’s nothing I can do about it.
Can’t do much about the road out of Barmouth either. It’s as close to a main drag we have to do all week and it goes on far too long. We eventually hook right where – after careful consideration of the guide book – we manage to miss the easier route to instead climb for about ever to the summit of Moel Goedog. This does give us some fantastic views of the Llyn Peninsula and across to Cardigan Bay.
It also gives us the opportunity to descend briefly on some slick moss covered roads with all the grip of polished glass. The climb is almost a relief until it isn’t with its false summits, 360 degree headwind and hard earned metres. Every little climb feels way more difficult that it was even a day ago. The metres click agonisingly slowly off the total and suddenly this feels as hard as everyone told me it would be.Posted 1 month ago
Even at the summit I’m feeling a little disgruntled. A bit ‘seen it all before’, a bit more ‘how much more of this is there’ and then we REALLY crest the summit opening up the view of Porthmadog and the Snowdonia crescent. It is beyond awesome. I’ve ridden up Cadair Idris and Snowdon. I’ve climbed big hills in this part of Wales and looked down into the valleys but I’ve never seen it like this. If it was CGI, you’d dismiss it as too damn perfect.
The pictures are fine but they don’t capture what you feel. That is better saved on the organic image store in your mind. We mucked about a bit trying to turns shapes into sense, but 2D is not the right medium. If you ever think abut riding this route, then this is the one reason you must. There aren’t many bikes up here and it feels like a privilege.
Photos done, we head down to Porthmadog, get a shot of the steam train before diving into a café on the main street serving ice creams to damp tourists at 16 degrees centigrade. Only in Wales 😉 We don’t tarry as it’s really not warm and we’ve a long way to go. Even after dealing with the biggest climb of the day we’ve still a few lumpy hills to clear and the weather is not doing us any favours.
This confluence of the mildly unpleasant conditions hosted a debate on whether we should ride the optional loop out to Criccieth. Eight miles of down and up which felt like making up the numbers. We both knew though, if swerved, this would be something living long in regret. It wasn’t even really a decision as individually we’d decided it was going to get done. Definitely the right choice even after the long climb out as we were rewarded with blue skies breaking out over the sea.
That’s where we’re going I thought. And we did on another disused railway. An easy gradient first climbing and then descending with barely any appreciable variation in speed. With a tailwind at last, sustained 30+ kph wasn’t a problem. It felt good to watch the odometer roll over 90km with the shining sea calling us. It’d called us around the impressive exterior of Caernarfon castle and into the Anglesey Arms where we drank overpriced beer looking out to our final destination.
Only 60km to go and bog all climbing I toasted Adam. How bloody hard can that be?
I think you probably know the answer.
Strava Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/2542756077Posted 1 month agofunkrodentSubscriber
Great stuff. Two men on a bike(s). Really enjoyed this, well written (punctuation excused), funny, evocative of the open road and challenge, beauty and adventure. If you’re not already a travel writer then you’ve missed a vocation. Looking forward to the final installment!Posted 1 month ago
Day 5- Caernarfon to Holyhead. 73km. 1250m of climbing
Watching the sun set over the marina the previous night, it was hard to believe a storm was coming. The sea was flat calm and the air warm and dry as we ambled- in my case ambling in a state or random perambulation after discovering Rhubarb gin – back through the twilight.
7am the following morning confirmed what every weather app had been grimly forecasting for the last 24 hours. Heavy rain driven eastward by strong winds mapped closely to our route for the final day. There looked to be a few dry-ish windows mid morning, so we packed bags for the last time, readied waterproofs and watched the rain radar.
At 10am, we abandoned meteorological analysis and fetched bikes into a panorama of steel grey. The low cloud occluded the water in the bay, but delivered almost as much from the sky. Remember my crowing over gear selection earlier in the trip? Now it was my turn to covet both Adam’s expensive and – more importantly – waterproof jacket and neoprene seat pack. My own inventory was at best showerproof – untaped seams on the packs and a five year old cheap jacket retrieved from a dusty corner of a Camelbak.
As complaining about this mismatch failed to improve the inclement conditions, we decided to make a run for it. Adam’s tyres continued to disappoint- the first slick pavement crossing had the rear step out in an alarming/amusing manner. Select option depending if you were riding or following 🙂
Some relief came from yet another disused railway – Lon Las Menai – running to the old slate harbour of Port Dinowig. This one was shaded by mature broadleaf trees granting us respite from the continuing hammering of the rain. Nature’s umbrella lasted four miles before we broke out into the open. Routing through an industrial estate, we were soon crossing and re-crossing the main Bangor road. The old slate harbour is now a rather posh marina which would have been a nice place for a sit had the rain not continued to pulse from underneath leaden skies.
The route in and out of Penrhosgarnedd was all a bit frustrating stop/start. It did eventually lead us to the first proper climb of the day on a pavement mirroring the A55. This was neither steep nor long but both of us found it surprisingly tiring. I countered this by the now standard ‘stat check’ this time explaining we’d not be climbing any higher today. Yeah that thing about lies and statistics….
I was looking forward to capturing the Menai Suspension bridge from both sides. One with this side and one from the Island taking advantage of a railway station with the made up long station name. This proved entirely pointless with the clag and the rain auto-titling both images ‘Unrecognisable grey thing backlit by grey in a grey landscape’
We settled for a couple of quick shots on the bridge before the reality of wet fingers and touch screens had me shouting angrily at the phone. This failed to fix it, so I stowed it for about 20 miles before trying again. That’s not the reason we failed to stop at Llanfair Pwllgwyngll (of -gogogoch fame)- no a) we never actually saw it even through we passed right by it and b) stopping would have given the rain a target to zero in on.
My rain jacket was now just that. It had given up its primary purpose entirely and pivoted to welcoming the moisture straight through and then holding it sweatily against bare skin. Through gritted teeth I checked with Adam on the efficacy of his garment. As expected, I received a cheery reply from a dry and warm person that used to be my friend.
The guidebook encourages a stop here to enjoy ‘expansive views of Snowdonia’. We pushed onto hoping for an expensive view of some cakes and coffee, but even in this limited ambition we were to be disappointed. Anglesey – admittedly in our brief experience – seemed to have most of the closed and dilapidated parts of Wales we’d seen and not much of the open hospitality we’d enjoyed.
Plan for refuelling switched to a quick energy bar by the reed beds of Malltrath Marsh, before heading up the valley to, er, RAF Valley. Nothing quite as uplifting as sodden barracks built in the aesthetic 60s cheap concrete style to raise the spirits. Nothing like a 30 MPH headwind to knock them right back again. It’s only a straight mile before turning away from the base, but God it was bleak. Took an age as well before finally crossing the bridge, failing to take a picture of the Hawk Trainer (phone dampness ongoing) and passing the runways where nothing was flying.
Then it stopped raining and we could see both bits of Snowdonia we’re crossed and the Holyhead Mountain we had no intention of climbing. The shared path by the A5 was a welcome relief – shielded from the wind and easy gradients clicking off the distance. We both wanted this to be done now. Half of me was sad for the trip to be close to finishing, half wanted my own bed and a couple of days of not riding bikes.
First though we had to finish. The Phenros Coastal Park was a fine way to enter the last town on the route. An off road path past the impressive looking Holyhead cricket club had the distance down to less then 3km. Two of those were through uninteresting urban landscape before being pitched out by the railway station. Where the rain started again.
Having followed the GPS for 424km, we decided now would be the right time to strike out on our own. The result was a heave through the station concourse, a ride over the fantastic if somewhat out of place modern bridge (a cross between a game of Mousetrap and a Waterpark slide), a blast through the centre of Holyhead and a damp descent to the sea.
The GPS pinged we were done. Finished. At rides end. It was – frankly – a bit shit. The town centre was pretty horrible, the weather had turned grim again and we were tired from having ridden 65km/3.5 hours without much of a stop. Or any cake. We were also 4 hours early for our booked train. The original plan had been to ride gently to the lighthouse and take valedictory pictures in warm sunshine with all of Wales laid out behind us.
The reality was significantly more underwhelming, A bus shelter held together with peeling paint and a view of a sea being thrown about by a summer storm. After a huddled navigational conference, we struck out for the lighthouse anyway. I was hungry and a bit grumpy and my legs were done with riding. Which made the next 5km to the South Stack the worse part of the whole trip.
Especially as we ended up climbing another 150m because the lighthouse was – of course – over Holyhead mountain. The clag increased to the point where I couldn’t see Ad’s rear wheel and barely make out my front one. The prospect of paying £6 each to carry the bikes down a rocky path back to sea level so we could take photos in front of something that might be a lighthouse didn’t appeal. At all.
Hence these images. It felt good to have come as far as we could without falling into the sea. Going further could only be countenanced as a dogmatic pursuit of purgatory. So we turned around and made great time back to town, now with a welcome tailwind. Adam found a great café away from the horror of the high street. It served wholesome food and cold beer. It also had a large ground floor toilet serving as a changing room to swap damp riding gear for my last set of dry clothes.
Beers drunk but still feeling slightly deflated we made our way to the station, hopped onto the tiny two carriage train, stored our bikes and planned to sleep the 3 hours home. Friday night though this is party train and the minutes passed slowly as shouty happy people got increasingly pissed.
This wasn’t the reason Ads and I didn’t talk much. We’d got good at comfortable silences and – for me anyway – I was thinking of what we’d done and what we might do next. We both knew we’d ridden the route ‘well’ in terms of navigation, speed and companionship. Clearly this was helped by decent weather for four of the days and great accommodation each night to rest and recuperate.
This let me with both a sense of achievement and a lament for re-engaging with the real world. Most riding holidays don’t finish like this. I’m usually just happy to be alive and not missing any vital organs. This felt very different.
The following day I cleaned the bike before taking it for a very quick test ride. The unloaded bike felt light and I felt fit. It seemed like we both wanted to go somewhere else, discover new places, ride new tracks. The Lon Las Cymru is an amazing experience but, for me, it’s way more than that. it’s opened up a whole genre of cycling I’d previously considered as boring and pointless.
Not a bit of it. Find some stunning scenery and ride into it. Do it for a number of days until you run out of land. In between enjoy the simple pleasure of seeing a beautiful country on the best form of transport ever devised.
Five days that changed my view of cycling. That’ll do as a legacy. Until next time.
Strava Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/2545273314Posted 1 month ago
Right that’s done then. Final thoughts to follow in the next day or so. Things I’ve been thinking about include
– is it a good route / well signposted / interesting to ride / etc
– road bike or gravel bike
– B&B or camping (HAH I think the answer to that one is pretty clear)
– 4.5 days the right amount of time
– Would I do it again
– Did I learn anything interesting
This time last week we’d just have started climbing in the Brecon Beacons. I’m missing it 🙁Posted 1 month ago
Trying to summarise the experience of Lon Las Cymru is not that easy. Far too much stuff going on, some of which needs a bit more time to think about. Here’s what I’ve got so far?
Is it a good route?
It absolutely is. Sustrans and all the associated groups should be congratulated on both creating the route and keeping it maintained. The signage is great across most of the route. The route itself keeps you off the main roads and sends you through all sorts of interesting places. Sure you do more climbing than the main drags, but that’s kind of what you sign up for.
I’d still not do it without a GPS tho. Sometimes the signage is missing/hidden under vegetation/hard to see and having turn by turn navigation makes life so much easier.
Staying off the main roads made it for me. The whole club chaingang on some busy A road is something I’ll never want to do. This felt very different to that.
South to North or..
No South to North, The way the climbs are set up, this way is far better and you get that monster descent into Mach. It’d possibly be quicker North to South but that’s hardly the point.
Road bike or Gravel bike?
Assuming we can get beyond definitions, I’d say Gravel bike. Not that I’ve ridden it on a road bike, but I have ridden road bikes and the route definitely is not all road. Some of the non road are well surfaced tracks, but there’s a lot of gravel, lumpy tarmac, bits of mud and even some decent sized rocks. 23c tyres at 100PSI would be fast no doubt, but the bikes we rode – I think – were more fun.
Adding 15lb of gear makes the original weight fairly irrelevant. I liked the stability of my bike, it’s ability to handle the extra weight without me really noticing, the width and tread on the tyres, the relaxed geometry and the more upright riding position. Sure it’s not aero but it’s bloody comfortable. And Hydro’s. Wasn’t sure they were needed on road based bikes. No longer think that, Absolutely brilliant.
Better than Mountain Biking?
Oh. Contentious. I’d say No but not by as much as I thought. It is very different. Really a venn diagram with only a two wheeled form of transport at the intersection. I’ve ridden a lot of MTB in South and North Wales. But I saw so much more on this trip. Not just because of the route but also because I wasn’t trying to get to the next descent as quickly as possible. It’s less scary so the dopamine hits are less obvious, but the sense of satisfaction finishing a big day shouldn’t be underestimated.
I do love the purity of the endeavour. Just get on and pedal. No forks to fettle, no shocks to set up. Although I missed the dropper post. There’s something here that makes these bikes way more fun that – to me – a standard road bike. I don’t know what it is but I like it. A lot.
BandB or Camping?
Oh really. We saw a few ‘fully camped up’ riders and that’s fine if it’s your thing. I’m not going to judge, But arriving somewhere knowing the hardest thing we had to do was to find the accomodation and a decent pub was not something I’d be prepared to give up. That’s before we consider how much more gear you’d have to transport.
There are so many good B and;Bs on the route, unless you love camping or object to the £30-£35 a night for four stops then I’m really struggling with why you’d camp.
Best number of days?
4.5 felt fine, 4 is doable but it’d have me chasing the clock and I didn’t want to do that. Sure you could travel lighter and ride harder but the route we did worked well for our ‘leisurely breakfast, ride, proper lunch, ride, arrive mid to late afternoon, pub’ vibe.
I wouldn’t want to take any longer if only to save my liver. But a week of touring felt about right,
Did I take the right amount of gear?
Mostly. I could have taken less ‘casual’ clothes but I was never prepared to wash ride shorts mid trip. Plus we had a mid tour re-supply so I’m not really in a position to comment. I’d like a lightweight waterproof that was, well, waterproof but otherwise not sure I’d change much. Ad’s ‘Chammy Cream in a clear plastic bag’ is NOT a recommendation I can even begin to endorse tho!
Lycra or baggies?
Lycra. There, now I’ve said it. Bottom half certainly. I stuck with baggy MTB tops and stayed away from places of high population 😉
Was the bike packing kit worth it?
For me it was. The Alpkit stuff is quality kit and made by a great UK company. My seat pack was super stable as compared to Ad’s ‘Wobbly Dalek’. But his was a lot cheaper and fully waterproof. The three bags on my bike worked well and I wouldn’t change anything for future trips.
Garmin or Phone?
Ad’s Garmin had great turn by turn routing and excellent battery life. My free GPX app was easy to read and saved me carrying another device. I needed to run an external battery pack to make it last the day though and it was useless once the rain came.
We didn’t bother with paper maps and didn’t miss them.
Would I do it again?
Probably not. Mainly because I don’t think I’d enjoy it so much the second time. It’s not like riding a favourite trail, it’s more of an experience ticked off. Not bothered about doing it North to South either.
Did I learn anything?
A bit. I can ride a drop bar bike for five days. I can ride 100km lumpy routes on multiple days. I am a bit stronger on the climbs than I expected. Mostly though I found the whole concept of touring by bicycle is something I want to do lots more of. And not just when I’ve got too old to ride MTBs. Apart from 45 mins on the last day, I loved every minute of. It.
Ads was a good riding companion. Especially to put up with my crap jokes and weapons grade snoring. I wouldn’t want to do this kind of thing on my own. But as an experience with a mate, it’s one of the best weeks I’ve had on a bike, And I’ve had A LOT of amazing weeks riding over the last 20 years.
Just one. If you’re wondering if you can or should do this route, then stop wondering and get it booked. You don’t need to be super fit or have an amazing bike or understand how to read a map. You just need a sense of adventure, a good mate or two and the desire to go an experience something different. Really just do it.
And if you’re short of someone to ride with, give me a call I might change my mind about doing it again 🙂
All the photos can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alexleigh/albums/72157709758692831Posted 1 month ago
@samperry25 – it’s a lovely day out from Cardiff. And Brecon is one of my favourite Welsh towns. I’d do it!
@NickC – is that a thing /googles – oh it is a thing! Wow that’s a heck of an endeavour. You’d need a good chunk of time, loads of planning, a bit of training… gads you’ve got me thinking seriously about that now Mr C 🙂Posted 1 month ago
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