Lon Las Cymru Day Two – 27 July 2016


When planning my attempt on the LLC day one was always supposed to be very much a gentle and easy introduction. I quite regularly ride 35 miles; I try to do at least one such ride a week in the summer months. Those rides are fairly easy though on a known route and without much in in the way of hills.

There hadn’t been too many climbs on the way from Cardiff to Merthyr and whilst it was an uphill ride along the Taff valley it had been slower going than I had anticipated. Once again I had found myself overlooking the pannier factor and just how much of a difference a couple of well laden bags can have on the average speed of a days riding. Though I had detoured to Caerphilly and had stopped quite a while at Aberfan cemetery I still arrived at the hotel a good couple of hours later than I had planned.

Today was to be a bigger day with 72 miles planned to Rhyader. I had even considered some extra detours along the way (which would involve a major climb). Time would have to tell if that would happen or not; but that was a decision that was only to be made a few hours into the day, once I had a better idea of my progress. Before then were more important matters to take care of; breakfast, bike check and get ready for the off. I was up at 7.30 for a so so breakfast in the hotel and was in the saddle not too long after 8.15. I warmed up with a short ride up the hill towards the Trevithick memorial which marks the start of the worlds first locomotive hauled railway journey. After a quick salute to Richard Trevithick I headed back down and found my way, via a stop for supplies in a local Spar shop, back onto NCN route 8.

At the north end of the town the trail passed down a narrow footpath, over a main road and then opened out onto another old train line which winds its way towards Brecon. This section of the ride is littered with the goodies that one hopes for on an old railway line; a lovely viaduct, some old remains of a station/sidings and just to the side, the entrance to the abandoned Morlais railway tunnel which still has a large and grand entrance albeit boarded up with just a big enough gap left to entice people in. Apparently the tunnel can be walked through but that was not for today. Soon afterwards cycle route 8 abandons the track bed as for the next few miles it is still in use by the Brecon Mountain Railway.

Morlais Tunnel Entrance

Its no immediate loss however as the route joins some quiet lanes down to, and around Pontiscill which, as is the case with most reservoirs, offers some beautiful scenery to admire as you pedal your way northwards and up. At points around the reservoir the formal route 8 diverts from the road and follows forest tracks instead. I had heard from a recent rider on a forum post that these tracks were badly churned up so I chose instead to continue following the road line instead for the next section down past the Talybont reservoir.

Pontiscill Reservoir

Having not ridden the tracks I can’t comment on how they might differ from the road; I can only tell you that whilst the road is nicely surfaced, I think that the gradients might be much more severe than the tracks. A little shortcut at the north end of Pontiscill has a very sharp drop and subsequent climb – the first proper hill I had experienced so far. Whilst not overly long it was tough. It was also at this point that I realised that my front gears were a bit knackered and I couldn’t drop into ‘granny gears’ without getting off and manually shifting the chain down. I did attempt some running repairs but these only made things worse. I did however, after a couple of stops to regain some puff, make it to the top and the watershed between the Taff and Usk valleys. The day was fairly cloudy but I still managed to enjoy the views before heading back down the sharp drop on the road towards the next reservoir.

The road was steep and winding and I was needing to apply brakes more than was ideal. I’m sure that probably contributed to getting the puncture I suffered coming down the slope. I attempted re-inflation and managed to keep air in the tyre so continued slowly down (I was off the worst of the slope by now) before realising at the head of the reservoir proper, that I would to make a fix.

Like most cyclists I have changed inner tubes and fixed punctures I don’t know how many times but for some reason today it just all went wrong. I had the new tube in fairly quickly having located the hole and having established that the tyre seemed good; only to get an immediate flat on the new tube as well. The next hour was spent with three more attempts to get a working tyre! I was beginning to lose hope. A kindly passing motorist visiting the area to show his son where the old family farm was before it was flooded, stopped to help. He used to run a LBS and gave me a hand with two of those fixes; he was equally perplexed. We patched tubes and tested them; made numerous checks on the tyre, and rubbed down several patches on the rim and eventually; thankfully the air stayed in.

The delay had cost me an hour and the doubts about being able to fit in my little extra addition grew stronger but so long as the tyre help (spoiler: it did) I could at least get back on my way. Thanking my kind helper I loaded the bike back up and headed down the valley towards Brecon. The 10 miles from the gateway I had holed up in for the past hour into the town were fairly straightforward along the Usk valley with the last couple of miles following the canal straight into the centre of the town.

I found a bike shop, secured a couple of replacement inner tubes (ditching a couple that I chose not to trust any longer) and asked if they would be able to take a quick look at my front derailleur. Unfortunately they were already busy with a number of bikes already booked in. However as I stood outside the shop using my phone to try and locate any other shops in the area they had a change of heart and very kindly offered to give a quick look at the bike. They weren’t able to completely resolve the issue but they did manage to improve the gearing and send me back on my way.

Looking back towards Brecon

By now it was lunchtime so I stopped for a rather ropey sandwich from a branch of Greggs. It wasn’t great but it did the job and now well behind schedule I headed out of town towards Talgarth. By now the day had got hot and I was sweaty and had to strip off a layer. The LLC route out of Brecon is one of those sections that is on nice quiet roads rather than the neighbouring A438 but is a lot more hilly with a nasty little climb near Llanfilo. It wasn’t helped by the road being very green and slippery under tree cover and I had to get off and push as I was losing control in places. Almost as soon as I’d made the top it started to drop back down the other side and a couple of miles further on I had reached the decision making cross roads just beyond Felindre.

Decision time

The main downside of the Cardiff start point seems to be that you don’t get to have the fun of the Gospel Pass in the Black Mountains. I had worked out that it might be possible to add a 10-15 mile detour by heading up a ‘short cut’ close to the summit and then drop back down and through Hay-On-Wye. This always felt rather ambitious and the morning’s delays had already made me feel that this was going to be a no go. However I didn’t want to be deterred and was still very much in two minds when I reached the crossroads at which I had to make the decision. I stopped for a break there, and looked through the maps again and made a decision. I’d give it a go. Perhaps

I gave myself the caveat that I’d start the climb but if it looked like it would be a struggle I’d back out. I couldn’t afford to be spending an hour or two pushing the bike the four miles up towards the top of the hill. I set off. I made it about half a mile. A ridiculously steep section of hill loomed in front of me. I thought better of it and turned around! Gospel Pass will have to wait for another day.

I was soon feeling more comfortable with the decision as the route from Glasbury to Builth Wells turned out to be deceptively tough riding. This section follows the B4567 and as well as being one of the busier stretches of road along the whole trail, it was also into a headwind – one of those ones which whilst not overly strong just never lets up. I overtook a couple on the way who were much more heavily laden with paniers etc. than I and felt their pain as they slogged their way along. The scenery here is pretty enough but I found this to be the least enjoyable section of the whole ride.

I eventually rode into Builth Wells at just gone half past five. Original plans to have a nice break in a tea shop were scuppered as they had all sensibly closed and instead I ate a Spar burger and a bottle of Lucozade on a bench next to the main road. Not exactly finest dining but needs must and it did a job. Back on the riverside path I met the couple that I had previously overtaken just parking up. We had a quick chat. They were not only riding Lon Las Cymru, but they had started from their home in Rennes. They were looking for somewhere to camp for the night but the closest campsite appeared to be a few miles out of town in the wrong direction so I agreed that they would probably be fine to pitch up for the night where they were; a nice riverside park with a handy toilet block a short walk away. I hope that they had a good nights rest and a good trip. I thought of them and their heavy bags a few times as I hit the mountains the next day.

Near Builth Wells

For me however this was not the end of the day. I still had 20 miles or so (give or take a possible diversion to the Elan dam) to get to Rhyader which was to be my overnight stop. From the town there was a pleasant climb up on to some open land above the river valley and some gorgeous few miles riding across to Newbridge with just the odd burned out car on the way.

In the remote wild lands of Wales

Another climb out of Newbridge along some quiet lanes brought me onto the old coach road section. The old coach road was a couple of miles of rough track riding but with beautiful views and the evening light was just gorgeous. I had been a bit unsure about taking my bike along this section but was very glad that I had.

The Old Coach Road

Coming into the small village of Llanwrthwl I had the chance to make an early decision about whether to divert to Elan or not. I had originally thought of continuing a couple more miles and then doing a there and back ride along the main route to the damn from Rhyader. However in the village a tempting sign pointed in two directions both of which said ‘Elan 4’. I realised that I had a chance to make a loop out of the diversion and took it.

Cabin in the Woods

I definitely chose the harder of the two roads but it was worth it for a few miles struggle. The road was constant bursts of sharp ups and downs slowly climbing higher each time. The climbing was such that rounding a corner and glancing through the roadside woodland I spotted Elan village down in the valley below me.

Old bridge across the Elan Valley to the village

Elan village was built to house the workers building the dams that still provide water directly into Birmingham via an aqueduct running all the way from here to the city. There are 3 or 4 separate dams climbing up the valley. I would have liked to have seen more but the day was now drawing in and I had to be content with seeing the remains of the village and the bottom most dam. And I was content. I wasn’t done riding for the day but, after the early set backs which seemed an age ago now, I’d made a good days riding.

Dusk was properly setting in as I headed down the valley towards Rhyader and the excellent Horseshow B&B. It was 9.30 when I finally rolled up and booked in feeling rather tired and jubilant. After a quick shower I headed into town in search of food. I was too late for most options but just before 11pm I managed to persuade an Indian restaurant that was just about to close up to serve me a Lamb Rogan Josh, some rice, and a pint of Cobra.

Day Two Stats:

Next: Mountains…