The Cambrian Way crosses Wales from the English border at Knighton to the coast near Aberystwyth. On paper it seems like a pretty easy trip with only 103 miles to its name. However its 10,656 feet of climbing will start to give you an idea of the experience. Anyway I’ll come back to the ride itself later.This was supposed to be a continuation of last years bike packing trip on the Trans Nevada with the same group. Unfortunately 2 of us couldn’t do it this year due to other commitments however Rich and myself decided to do the trip anyway. And to get my excuses out the way at the start, I’m certainly not in peak fitness at the moment, a past year of hectic work schedules have made riding a very rare occurrence. This was going to be a mission and it certainly ended up being one. Rich on the other hand casually announced that he was going to do it on his fully rigid single speed.
The plan was to spend 3 days riding the route, bivying along the way getting and any supplies needed along the route. We would drive to the start at Knighton, pick up our friend Ian along the route who had left a car in Aberystwyth. Ian very kindly offered to then drive us back to Knighton to pick our car. The route is available on the excellent website bikepacking.com.
The Trans Cambrian Way – Day One
I met up with Rich at his house in Cardiff where we started the drive to the start. The car was abandoned in a quiet residential Knighton street where we hoped we could remember where it was parked. It was pouring with rain, not just drizzle but full on Welsh rain. That was pretty much how the rest of the weekend went, as per the 90’s hit it was Wet Wet Wet. Thankfully we had looked at the forecast before starting the ride and as my last mid August ride in Wales, it was going to rain the entire time. We decided to give up on bivying the first night and had booked a B&B in Rhayader so that was the destination for day one.
Uphill and slow grassy slogs was the order of the day it felt. The ride doesn’t really start you off gently but then again at least you gain height pretty quick. This was up some seriously steep grassy hills that even the mighty Rich couldn’t ride up. The day is now a distant memory however the memories that remain are of bogs on top of hills. Why are there always bogs on the top and not at the bottom of hills?
Most of the route was on bleak, exposed moorland with gravel tracks where even the sheep hid from the driving rain and wind. Thankfully there was a tailwind otherwise this may have been a truly hellish journey. Despite all of this, there were some great moments and some really fun tracks. Not much true singletrack but rather fast descents on hard tracks or sheep trails and then slow slogs up the same for the climbs. It was on one of these fast descents that we missed a turning right at the very top of the hill, however a sheep ran out in front of us and lead the way! Turns out they are pretty fast and seem to defy gravity at full pelt. Well anyway I realised about halfway down and stopped but Rich couldn’t hear my shouts amid the pouring rain and the sheer speed he was travelling. After riding to the top and finding the right trail, Rich appeared out of the gloom and we went back on the correct route.
One of the highlights of day one was a freezing cold, deep ford. We had the choice of stopping at a cafe on one side of the river or to carry on and cross this ford. Of course I decided that we should carry on and not stop. Good idea right? Nope I am an idiot. Anyway we crossed this ford, Rich went first and peddled right through despite large submerged rocks and deep spots. When it was my turn, a driver had stopped to watch us and beeped in support of this stupid idea. When on the other side and the cold set in, we had a snack and looked longingly at the cafe on the other side of the still freezing cold river.
The rest of the ride to Rhayader went well and it actually stopped raining when we arrived. The sun even came out as we rode around trying to find the B&B. We had lucked out too as this B&B had some seriously hospitable owners. We turned up filthy, covered in sheep shit and welsh bog. They had a dry storeroom for our bikes, put on the heating for us and found a drying rack to dry our clothes. My saddle bag as it turns out is not waterproof, so they also took all my evening clothes and stuck them in the tumble dryer. We had booked a double room to save costs which came with a jacuzzi bath. Can you imagine the state of this after we both had had baths? I’m truly sorry for the owners for the mess we left however they really didn’t seem to care! Like I said before, seriously hospitable hosts.
A quick wander through town, pub meal and conversations with a very friendly local, we hit the sack ready for day two and more rain.
Keep and eye out for the next 2 episodes of the Trans Cambrian Way, it doesn’t go to plan……