21st April, 2017
In 2011 Alan Goldsmith (organiser of the Highland 550 race) convinced me to join him and friends to tackle the TransCambrian route, there and back in 2 days. The date chosen was in the middle of June on the longest day of the year in the hope of completing the gruelling 100 miles (each way) of self navigated off road over the mountains of mid Wales in daylight.
This time the goal was to make it less of a slog, ride faster, pack light (so use B&Bs) and do 3 shorter days at a good pace.
With a little help from Pippy, I plotted two off road days using the official gps route and maps from IMBA and then an alternative less technical route back using mostly Sustrans route 8.
Day 1 Rhayader to Llangurig
Woken by the sound of sheep in the neighbouring field we were keen to get going after a yummy breakfast in our beautiful B&B Beili Neuadd. We set out from Rhayader towards the Elan Valley.
Rhayader is the oldest town in mid Wales dating from the 5th century and we have ridden into the Elan Valley many times from here and up to the dams originally built to supply Birmingham with clean water and eliminate typhoid and cholera.
Soon we realised that a 'good pace' was not likely! Conditions were poor with boggy trails, hub height puddles; stream and river crossings and a farm gate every few metres!
The only other couple we saw on mountain bikes on route were stopped at a stream crossing, throwing their shoes across it, in a vain attempt to keep them dry! Steve charged through the water successfully, so much to the couples surprise I followed him sending a tidal wave towards their shoes!
A million sheep later we stopped at the Bluebell Inn, the door of which assured us of a 5 star hygiene rating for food, unfortunately the same cannot be said for the rooms! The food however was hearty and the local beer appreciated!
Day 2 Llangurig to Machynlleth
The first 6km included 16 gates and the rain began! This set the tone for the day! I think perhaps I didn't notice the gates in 2011 as the majority of the men I rode with were stronger than me so probably got to the gates first, held them for me and then caught me up.
Today’s route was more exposed and some epic wind threatened to blow us over on the exposed highland; the rain was relentless.
Soaked and cold we rode through no man’s land, not seeing another human being for what seemed like hours. Steve’s recently dislocated finger became painful and then numb, and after gate 200 and some seriously high gravity grass I spotted the angry face starting to develop. As I rode up behind him on a climb he glared at me and snarled about the creaking noise I was making. I promptly announced very loudly to the Welsh countryside that it was my 'squeaky fanny' (actually my waterproof shorts rubbing against the saddle, but not far off!) which lightened the mood and of course led to some rather vulgar conversations about the need to lube squeaky things. At least 20 minutes without a frown followed!
Descending from the top I remembered how I had been scared in 2011 to ride the loose, steep, twisty, shale slope and had seen it marked on the official maps with a warning when route planning and was secretly dreading it. I was delighted this time to ride down with ease, despite the wet rocks and gusting wind. It was a shame to not see the view!
Finally arriving at the packed The White Lion in Machynlleth Steve sent me in to drip over the bar, be stared at by the locals and check in.
Machynlleth became the capital of Wales in 1404 during the rebellion against English rule, but is now famous amongst cyclists for the being the end of the TransCambrian ride, the Mach MTB trails and the pizza!
Day 3 Machynlleth to Rhayader
Having shown Steve the maps over beer in the Bluebell Inn and our route along the river to return to Rhayader I thought he was aware there might be a few bumps on the way back, but the assumption was made that following the river was fairly flat and the 'mountain road' that leaves Machynlleth to climb from sea level to 550m in 10 Km was therefore a bit of a shock. Another sense of humour failure was averted with the reminder that 'normal' people are out shopping or doing DIY on their Easter Weekend and that we were lucky enough to be here!
Climbing back into Hafren Forest we paused to look for Ospreys and refuel on Stoats Bars, these had been recommended to me by fitnaturally and are brilliant bike fuel.
The rest of the return leg could be described as relentlessly undulating, but only 4 gates were encountered on the whole return journey - a result!