Trans Cambrian Trail- 3 days (100 miles off road)

The Trans Cambrian trail is epic 100 mile route across the remote hills and moorland of central Wales, it’s predominantly off road starting from the English border town of Knighton terminating near Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales.

A good friend of mine wanted to do a cross country ride, and I was happy to oblige, but to say I was I naive about the Trans Cambrian ride is an understatement. It’s suggested to do it over three or four days, we had chosen the three day option, and rather than carry all of our kit on the bikes, I set off the day before and Wynford Vaughan Thomas viewpoint dropped off clothes to our stop over hotels. The route down was great, I’d viewed the Cader Idris mountains from afar before, but now I was amongst them, the scenery was outstanding. I stopped at the Wynford Vaughan Thomas viewpoint on the road from Llanidloes to Machynlleth, it's a monument made of slate in memory of the famous Welsh broadcaster. When I reached Machynlleth, I found there was no where to park (no where without paying or the threat getting towed away), eventually I settled in the bowls club, then caught the train back to Knighton.

The first nights stop was at the ‘Horse and Jockey Inn’, a quaint pub that looked like an old coaching Inn. Knighton is obviously a popular little town, defined by the amount of B&B’s and hotels. My mate didn’t arrive until 2230, he was tired and hungry, after a quick sarny, we were ready to get some shuteye.

Day 1- Knighton to Rhayader (33 miles off road)

Our breakfast time wishes hadn’t been passed on to the kitchen resulting in a late breakfast and a late start. We took the bikes from the lockup and when I saw my mate’s bike and weighed it in my hands, I quickly thought I was out of my depth as mine weighed a ton and was more like a garden gate. A little lamb We set off and followed the Garmin along some quiet country lanes, then turned off the road through a farmyard and into a field. A very curious little lamb investigated my bike, it had obviously been hand reared and expected some treats from us. The route went straight up a hill, too steep to ride for all but the lowest gears; I had to push my bike. That was to become the theme of the day as we traversed hill after hill. We were led on to Glyndŵr's Way and after an hour from starting off, we looked around and found we were at the top of the world.

Craggy outcrops of other mountain ranges surrounded us, so high that you’d believe the very sky was pierced. Without any signs of civilisation, suddenly we felt very exposed and alone. Then a lurcher dog ran past with a rabbit in its mouth, on the horizon was the silhouette of a lone horse rider, he raised his hand in the air and that was that, he galloped off followed by the dog.

From a nice day at Knighton, now we were on damp, windy moorland, climbing ‘Pool hill’, then the oddly named ‘Stanky hill’, and 'Newhouse hill'. I was struggling to stay in-between the furrows of earth formed by many bikers and people before us. It was inevitable, I came off and did a forward roll James Bond would have been proud of. The biggest problem was it was in a little ditch, dripping with dirty water and sheep shit I stood up and gathered myself. Further on I had a puncher, the wind began howling around us, and we were getting colder by the minute. Then I made a complete novice mistake and burnt my hand on the Co2 canister inflating my tyre. We ploughed on, through a farm and through the first ford of the day. Now we were descending, once down from the mountain we went through gate after gate, and dropped down to cross the A483 where there was Llanbadarn Fynydd Community Shop and cafe. It was a little supermarket/ petrol station/ cafe and sold amongst other things; cans of sheep dip, not the sort of thing my local Sainsbury’s sell. We had some tea and cake and begrudgingly (me that is) moved on.

Ithon river ford The Ithon river ford was next to the shop and we had to cross it, leaving my shoes full of iced water. Then we climbed through a field again and onto a rough farmers track and up again. After about twenty miles of off road (and five hours in the saddle), my legs had gone, they had nothing left in them, the strength had disappeared. It wasn’t lack of food or fluid, it was just muscle fatigue. We decided it would be best to complete the last ten miles on the road. We were now riding along on winding unclassified roads, suddenly we crossed a bridge which I recognised as an old railway bridge, my mate asked how did I know it was, I showed him the embankment on one side and a cutting on the other side. There was an old station in St Harmons (nothing left today) where we turned left onto the B4518 towards Rhayader. Then my mates front disc came loose, we had to stop every so often to hand tighten it, with my fatigue and the disc, it felt like the longest ten miles I had ever done.

We stayed in the Crown Inn at Rhayader, a modest establishment with good beer and links to ‘Ty Morgans’ a more up market hotel. After some dinner and a pint at Ty Morgans, I disclosed to my mate, I think it would be safest if I missed the next days off road section out completely. I felt I had let him down, but he was happy to do the next day on his own.

Day 2- Rhayader to Llangurig (39 miles off road or 12 on road)

Electric bike We had breakfast together and both set off for ‘Clive Powell mountain bike’ shop, a small fronted place that was once a pub, in the back room was his workshop and sales room with a host of new bikes. He fixed the disc and my mate set off on the second leg of 39 miles off road. I spoke to Clive about my lack of fitness (compared to my mate), Clive suggested I try an electric mountain bike. He offered me a test drive and I must admit I was blown away, it was incredible. The engine was smart, the more effort I put in the more it gave.

I explained to Clive I was going to ride the 12 miles to Llangurig on the A470. I am so grateful Clive dissuaded me from going on such a dangerous road in favour of the old mountain road, part of the Lôn Las Cymru National cycle route 8. I bumped into (not literally) another cyclist to ask if I was on the right road, he showed me the NCR8 turning and explained he was doing a 48 hour ride (and I was whingeing about being six and a half hours in the saddle, the day before). My route was a bit tumpy, but a dam sight better than riding on soggy grass uphill, my legs were still a little heavy, but okay. Well, in the end, I’m glad I did it; the roads were car free (due to the road being closed to traffic because of subsidence), I lost count of the red kites flying above me as I followed the river Wye along this beautiful valley, it was a nice ride.

We were staying at the Bluebell Inn at Llangurig, a small village where if you blinked you’d miss it. Feeling sorry for myself as soon as I got there, I went to bed. Two hours later my mate knocked at the bedroom door, an hour earlier than I expected him. As we sat there chatting, his phone lit up with congratulating texts from friends all over the world. Apparently, on ‘strava’ he was the second fastest on two eight mile stages of the route, pushing some professional mountain bike riders into third (no wonder I struggled so much on the first day, he was flying). He explained to me the views were breathtaking with Claerwen reservoir and Cwmystwyth mines as the highlights. We ate a homely cooked meal in the Blue Bell Inn and I had a pint or two, I couldn’t believe how he’d changed drinking water instead of beer, still it was good fun.

Day 3- Llangurig to Machynlleth (27 miles off road)

We set off as early as we could and was shortly off road climbing on a foot wide mud track heading for the source of the mighty River Wye, though not so mighty here. In the boggy watersheds of the Plynlimon mountains, the Wye emerges and obediently trickles down this little unobtrusive valley. Without ceremony we passed the origin of the Wye and onto a forestry track that climbed and climbed. We came across a ford across the river Severn, we surveyed our route across, I went first and nearly fell off, which was amusing to my mate. Glaslyn lake road We passed Lyn Clynwedog reservoir and climbed on rolling roads and then off road again. Up a farm track with incredible views, after turning onto a walking path, again, we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere. We began to descend into a steep sided escarpment where there was an impressive waterfall, and a short sheer slate chipped descent. Then it was climbing again, first on a farm track which then went onto Bridleway which then degraded into a bog, un-ridable for myself, but my mate managed it. The weather began to spit rain at us, as we passed Glaslyn lake, and climbed Foel Fadian part of the Pumlumon mountain range on a track that looked like it was made by 4x4 vehicles. It was now raining, as I got to the top my chain snapped. We agreed it’s pointless to fix it now in the cold and rain as the next bit was downhill.

Foel Fadian descent The Trans Cambrian guide warned the next section had a slippery descent, on recollection, I'd describe it as perilous. It was wet slate chippings and I guess it was around 17% gradient. The potential for a serious injury went through my mind and my heart rate intensified at the sight of it. Before I had the chance to lament to my mate, he was gone. Any hardened downhiller reading this would be in fits of laughter, but to me, a middle-aged porky biker; it was like a cliff. I set off just using my back brake to slow me down, my instincts as a motorbike rider is not to use the front brake on a slippery surface. I rapidly picked up speed, as the bike bobbed and bounced, I used all my skill to stay upright, but my speed continued to increase, I was descending out of control. Locking my back wheel up wasn’t the answer (not to mention dangerous if it continuously locked up, and punctured, it would be game over), I had to use the front brake, and to my surprise, coaxing and feathering the front and back brake (an old cyclo-cross trick like ABS) retarded my speed and brought me to a halt. My shoulders ached after hanging onto the bike with all my might. I took stock and caught my breath. My back brake lever was almost touching the bars, any further down the descent and it would have failed. I adjusted the brake at the lever and tried again, now I felt I was in control and not the descent controlling me. I stopped one more time to have a breather, and safely reached the bottom, where my smiling mate was waiting for me.

It had stopped raining, I inspected the bike, and though my gears began to grind early in the day, I put it down to a dirty chain. Now with the bike upside-down, I could see the rear gear hanger was bent throwing the mech out of line. I fixed the chain and we had a discussion; my legs were fine, but if we continued off road again, the chain would almost certainly snap once more, I was disappointed. That was it.

Machynlleth clock I nursed the bike back to Machynlleth on the road and just to rub it in; the heavens opened up pouring cold rain on to us. We reached Machynlleth, put the bikes on the rack, and then had a shower at Machynlleth leisure centre. I must admit; it was a fantastic experience, but honestly it’s not something I’d like to do every weekend, maybe next year. It does bring into question how hard the Waverly ride is going to be, as that’s mainly off road, we’ll have to wait and see.

  • Gallery

    gallery page Why not have a look at the gallery relating to this ride. Click the image or the title.

  • Wynford Vaughan-Thomas memorial

    Wynford Vaughan-Thomas memorial A memorial to the former BBC wartime radio and television broadcaster Wynford Vaughan-Thomas has been restored following an appeal. The Welsh slate viewing platform was opened in 1990, but it was vandalised and fell into disrepair. There are lots of descriptions of people who vandalise things, I like the definition of scumbag- 'a very unpleasant person who has done something dishonest or unacceptable'. It's very apt.

  • Offa's Dyke centre

    Offa's Dyke centre By its own admission, knighton is the home of the dyke. It’s well known for a preserved section of Offa's Dyke. Intriguingly, Wat's Dyke also runs parallel to Offa's Dyke and a few miles to the east. An earthwork that runs north-south along the English/Welsh border from Basingwerk near Holywell to Oswestry.

  • Stupid sheep?

    Intelligent sheep Never considered particularly intelligent, sheep are actually so smart they make 'executive decisions' and have long memories, remembering friends for two years. They can remember faces, be they other sheep or human, and can recall faces when looking at photographs (don't ask me how they confirmed that). This one obviously remembers human contact was a good thing, I hope that thought ends well.

  • Very proud village

    Very proud village One of the first dedicated community shops in Wales Llanbadarn Fynydd shop is managed and run by volunteers. When the original shop closed in 1994, the community bought a porte-cabin within weeks and reopened it as a project. This was rewarded when the village of Llanbadarn Fynydd was awarded UK village of the year in 1998.

  • The Ithon river

    The Ithon river drains the western areas of Radnorshire before meandering in a southerly direction to join the main river just below Newbridge-on-Wye. Flowing mostly through Silurian shale’s, it is often the culprit when the upper Wye turns a greeny grey colour following rainfall. Well thats an interesting shale fact for the pub quiz.

  • The Haibike

    The Haibike The Haibike has a 250w Yamaha motor delivering up to 80Nm of torque that will make easy work of even the most challenging climbs. It has a 400Wh lithium ion battery giving enough power to last the whole ride thanks to the four different power modes. To make the most out of the available power, the predicted range is displayed alongside remaining battery capacity.

  • Lon Las Cymru

    Lon Las Cymru The spectacular Lon Las Cymru runs the entire length of Wales, from Holyhead in the north to Chepstow in the south. With over 250 miles of quiet lanes, and family-friendly traffic free cycle paths that take you over three distinct mountain ranges and two national parks. Lon Las Cymru takes in some of the most stunning and diverse landscapes in the British Isles.

  • A470 crash

    The very road I was going to ride on to Llangurig had a tragic accident nearly one month before. Four people died in a two-car crash on the A470. I’m glad Clive persuaded me to ride on the old mountain road.

  • Llyn Clywedog Reservoir

    Tryweryn Reservoir Protest Built to supply water to our English friends, the Llyn Clywedog reservoir was completed in 1967, flooding acres of farm land, much to the annoyance of the Welsh loyalists. There were several disruptions and protests during its construction, including a bomb detonated within the construction site, thought to be the work of the political extremist group Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru, it set the work back by almost 2 months.

  • Owain Glyndŵr

    Owain Glyndŵr Glyndŵr's Way is a long distance footpath 135 miles long in mid-Wales, it was granted National Trail status in 2000 to mark the 600th anniversary of an ill-fated, but nevertheless long-running rebellion in 1400 by Welsh prince and folk hero Owain Glyndŵr.

  • Thanks mate!

    I want to thank my mate for having the patience to ride with me, and the bike; wow! I’m amazed how well it performed (despite the gremlins snapping the chain and the punchers). My bike is a low budget one with upgrades. I was amazed how well it handled the descent, I couldn’t wish for a more forgiving bike.

    I am a complete novice when it came down to mountain bike riding, but for anybody wanting to try this, my advice is to try 10 miles off road on grass, and bog on a local course first. The Trans-Cambrian guide suggested you have to be of reasonable fitness, I would consider myself to have just that. I later read a statement from the CTC ‘if you’re only ‘healthy fit’ rather than lean-machine cycling fit, you can break the Trans-Cambrian into five stages’ (now they tell us).

    To compare off road (through bogs and grass) to road; it’s nearly two and a half times harder; for me 30 miles off road is equivalent to 70 plus miles on the road, so plan accordingly.

    Finally; We were travelling through real British wilderness with all the complications that go with it, there’s very often no phone signal and the weather can change so rapidly. History has shown some people underestimate British mountains and end up paying the ultimate price for it.

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