Forest Row Bike Club
Special Ride Report
If it’s Not Brecon, Don’t Fix it - A Few Days Touring in the Brecon Beacons (September 2005)
A conference presentation for Mary at the University of Mid Glamorgan, Pontypridd, gave me an excuse to join her, load the bike in the car and head west for a few days touring. The industrial history of Pontypridd and the Valleys is fascinating, but time has left a not so nice a mark on the area. Therefore we drove north and stayed at a lovely B&B overlooking the Llwyn Onn Reservoir on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The Llwyn Onn B&B (details below) is CTC recommended, i.e. it has a shed for bikes. It also has my recommendation and has fine views over the reservoir, a friendly landlady and hearty breakfasts.
Day One - Tour De Reservoirs (40 Miles)
So whilst Mary was off discussing education policy I headed into the hills. On the first day I mapped out a 40 mile circular route across the Beacon Park to Brecon. Three quarters of the route follows either the Taff trail or the Sustrans route No. 8. From the B&B I headed south on the A470 to the edge of Merthyr Tydfil. Merthyr was once the site of the largest iron foundry in Europe and the world’s first ever railway, all very interesting, but now not so nice to look at. The Taff trail/Sustrans route 8 follows a north-easterly route out of Merthyr on a dismantled railway line. The surface is similar to the Forest Way so suitable for a touring bike. The route twists through a wooded valley, over bridges and past interesting looking bricked up tunnels until you reach the Pontsticill Reservoir. For ‘steamheads’ a stop off here to ride the Brecon Mountain Railway is a must. Not being that way inclined I plodded on towards the mountains. I cycled along the western side of the Pontsticill and Pentwyn Reservoirs and rejoined the Taff trail as things started to get a bit more angular. A tough climb out of the reservoir’s valley brings you to the edge of a forestry commission wooded area were the Taff trail goes off-road. I was a bit concerned that this section would not be passable on a touring bike. The next four miles were a bit bumpy but nothing the old Geoffrey Butler could not handle. The bonus is that these off-road miles are all down hill and afford fantastic views of the Talybont Reservoir and valley farms below. The easy bit ended at the reservoir dam which I crossed and headed north into the fertile valley towards Brecon. A roll call of Welsh villages, Aber, Pencelli and Llanfrynach took me to the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. The towpath effortlessly forms the last few miles into Brecon. The town is small but has a good supply of greasy spoon cafes, charity and bike shops, in other words, enough to keep me happy for a few hours. There is also a castle, ancient church and museum if you want a history fix.
The return trip starts by crossing the Usk River and re-joining the Taff Trail along a winding valley floor lane. The imposing form of the Beacons highest peak, Pen Y Fan, looms overhead and you get that nervous feeling that the legs are going to have to do some serious work very soon. The trail starts to steadily rise and then a few miles later the tarmac road ran out. The assistant at the Brecon Information Centre had assured me that the route was passable on a bike so I pressed on. Obviously the Info centre woman took me for a mountain biker because the next mile or so were a bit hard going. A dusty path strewn with cobble size stones impeded progress. There is no law that says a cyclist must not walk with the bike so that’s exactly what I did. This was still a much more pleasant route than the alternative, the A 470 (T), which I could observe across the valley to the west as one long procession of lorries and work vans. The trail meets the main road at the head of the pass and that’s were I joined it for a well earned three mile freewheel back down to the B&B.
Day Two – Rain (0 Miles)
Why is it that after 36 years in this country I am still surprised that one day it can be scorching hot the next it rains all day?
Llwyn Onn Guest House
Cwmtaf, Merthyr Tydfil, Mid Glamorgan, CF48 2HT
Tel: 01685 384384
PS On the Saturday, I had had enough of discussing education policy so Adam and I hit the same route again. It was a lovely day, clear and bright with those clouds that hint at rain, but don’t deliver. I can only back up what Adam says it’s a breathtaking route and so varied. We stopped for coffee and vanilla slices in Brecon before tackling that climb again. I’m pleased to say that this time we both managed to ride the whole way, but it meant an extended soak in a hot bath later. The evening meal and bottle of red went down a treat!
Welsh drivers – 7/10; generally give you plenty of room, but the occasional 4WD was too close for comfort… quelle surprise
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