Lon Las Cymru is one of the longest and toughest of the major cycle routes in the UK. Having read about it and how some of the hills could prove quite tricky I thought I’d give it a go and so it was that on 26th July 2016 I found myself headed to Wales.
I’d done most of my packing the night before but gave a final check in the morning, made sure the house was safe and secure, had a little breakfast and then made the first short ride of the day down to the local station. I arrived in plenty of time and was soon on a train headed towards London. The train from Ashford International into St Pancras was full and I had to squeeze my bike in with three others and a lot of people. The three ladies with the other bikes were all headed towards East Anglia. They have been slowly doing the coast of Great Britain a piece at a time and this summer were off for a trip around the Norfolk coast. The idea of doing a very long route in several well defined and different trips sounds like a great idea.
On arrival in London; I had to get back into the saddle and ride from St Pancras to Paddington. I hadn’t left myself a huge amount of time but I still took the ride fairly easily (I upset a few cycle couriers by refusing to ride through red lights) and I got there quite happily and in sufficient time to get my bike into its pre-booked slot on the train to Cardiff. The train ride went nice and smoothly; I chatted to a few of my neighbouring passengers, and before long we were pulling into Cardiff Central and I was off having retrieved the bike.
Another short ‘commute’ style ride took me down to Cardiff Bay where Lon Las Cymru officially starts; although I couldn’t find any sort of official marker. Indeed; having taken some ‘setting off’ photos I got ready to start the ride proper and immediately got lost. What few signs do exist appear to point in contrary directions. The bay area was also very busy but after a frustrating couple of minutes trial and error in varying directions I eventually managed to find myself following some National Cycle Route 8 signs and heading back out of the bay and towards the Taff river.
The start of the route winded around some parks and side streets before joining a riverside path close to the Millennium Stadium. The first few miles were quite slow riding as is the stop start nature of town centre trails but slowly the ride opened up more and more as I progressed through the suburbs northwards out of the City.
The track crossed under the M4 close to Castell Coch (I decided not to go up to the Castle) and after crossing some busy roads near Taff Wells it finally swapped onto old disused rail lines. The track along this section is nice and easy going but, as many others have mentioned before me, infuriatingly dotted with a large number of gates and other obstructions; many of which are incredibly badly designed for cyclists (particularly those with panniers); which is something of a shame for a long distance cycle tour route.
At a point a couple of miles north of Taff Wells the track splits in two and at this stage I had chosen to divert off the main track and detour off to Caerphilly; after all what is the point of cycling through Wales if you don’t stop at a castle or ten? I had been to Caerphilly a few years before but was looking forward to a return visit and a two mile detour each way should be worth the diversion.
Unfortunately, the lady on the Cadw desk at the Castle was about to turn out to be the one and only mean spirited ticket office person I would come across on my travels. She refused to either let me leave my paniers in the ticket office or lock my bike up the other side of the ticket gates. Unwilling to carry my bags around the castle or leave them on the bike on the public side of the gates I instead had to merely ride around the exterior of the castle. To compound things it duly began to rain. I had a small bite to eat sheltering against the external curtain wall and got into my wet riding gear before heading back towards where I had diverted off the main course at which point some more miles on roads, old rail lines and riverside paths brought me into Pontypridd.
At the short glance I afforded it, Pontypridd looks to be quite a depressed town. The ‘Pont’ itself is rather impressive but the town, or the parts that I cycled through at least, were quite run down. Working my way through the streets I stopped at corner shop to get some Lucozade and water and then managed to get lost on the edge of the town whilst attempting to find the start of the Trevithick Trail.
Once I had managed to locate the correct path I was soon on some nicer riding although the track surface is quite rough in places. I met a bunch of guys on road bikes coming the other direction. One had a flat and they were looking frustrated. I stopped to see if I could offer assistance but they needed a replacement tube and my spares were too wide (though much more suited to this rougher terrain) so I had to leave them. The first section of the Trevithick Trail passes through a lovely section of the upper Taff valley and though progress was fairly slow I was enjoying the riding.
I was briefly taken out of any reverie as the cycle path passed under a road bridge on a section where it diverts from the old train line. For some unfathomable reason the climb out of the underpass consists a set of steep steps with no option than to get off and walk the bike up. It would have been easy to leave half the path with a cycle track but for some reason this had not been built. These are small and minor inconveniences but it can be very frustrating as interruptions such as these take you completely out of any focus.
Fortunately once back in the saddle I was rewarded with the best riding of the day along the higher valleyside of the Taff with views across the river and the old coal mining works that could be spotted from time to time.
I had noticed on the map that the route passed through the old mining village of Aberfan and had considered a detour into the village to pay respects to those who had died in the infamous school disaster there. However any diversion was unnecessary. The Lon Las Cymru route passes right by the gates of the village cemetery and I immediately spotted what could be nothing other than the graves of the poor children who lost their lives in 1966. Stopping here should be an absolute must for anyone riding this route. The memorials to the children are utterly devastating. Many gave details of their lives and hobbies and far, far too many had additions to show that they had since been ‘reunited’ with their grieving parents. I don’t mind admitting that I was shed a few tears in the fading light in the cemetery before making the final ride down into Merthyr Tydfil.
The ride had been slower than I had originally though and with the diversions to Caerphilly and Aberfan the last of the day light was almost gone as I found my way to the Tregenna Hotel; a slight faded but still charming little town house hotel on the northern side of the town.
I had thought about heading into the town to find some dinner but it was later than planned, I was tired, and the hotel was doing evening meals so I had a quick shower in order to freshen up with haste and get back downstairs before the kitchen shut in time to order a god ‘pub curry’ and a pint of Heineken before heading back upstairs for a longer soak in the bath and then bed.
Day One Stats:
- Distance: 37.6 Miles
- Ride Time: 3 Hours, 32 minutes and 42 seconds
- Maximum Speed: 36.0 mph
- Average Speed: 10.6 mph
- Ascent: 1,660 feet
- Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/654444054