Since I decided to give cycling another go I’ve had my eye on what looked like a rather fine round called the Brecons Gap Route. So named as it traverses the gap between Fan y Big and Cribyn in the heart of the Brecon Beacons. It’s a good deal tougher in the mountain section than anything I’ve attempted before but the weather was stunning so I figured I could at least give it a go. I set off from Talybont-on-Usk on a gloriously warm sunny day and headed off on the Taff Trail
The first section was very rough and bouncy. The Taff trail follows the line of an old railway along the valley – at least that’s what I thought. Turns out the first couple of km follow an old bridleway and it was rough going but not too steep and I coped fine
As it climbed the views began to open out across the Talybont reservoir
I wandered onto the dam to take a couple of shots. Stunning I thought
From there its a very long climb up to the pass above the reservoir. Never steep and by now on the old railway line the going was much smoother. They are clearing away the old plantation so the views were superb. Gave me an excuse to stop many times and admire.
I passed a few people walking but no-one else on a bike. The Beacons Way follows this stretch and it reminds me why I don’t like following pre-ordained long distance routes. There is a superb high level route that would avoid this long endless trudge on foot, a few hundred foot up above on open ground. In fact the Beacons Way actually descends from where that path starts to pick up the Taff Trail and then climbs back up again to meet it a few km later. Why the route chooses to ignore an obvious high level path in favour of a forest trail is beyond me. This trail is ideal for cycling but not for walking. Each to their own I suppose but the D of E groups I saw seemed not to be enjoying the trudge even on this glorious day
Seeing as this is the age of the selfie, here’s a very rare picture of yours truly enjoying another photo-rest excuse to stop
From the high point of the road there is a speedy short descent before the trail curves around towards the main part of the Beacons. From here things get a little tougher
The trail becomes extremely stony and rutted and while not steep was pretty hard work. I’m pleased to say that other than one short section that drops steeply in and out of a stream, I made it all the way to the “gap” (seen in the centre of the photo below) without needing to push or more importantly, falling off
I have to admit I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I’d done 15km and close to 500m of ascent and survived to tell the tale. More than that I really enjoyed it – never thought I’d hear myself say that about mountain biking
I celebrated with a very lengthy stop to have lunch and a brew, chatting to other cyclists as they passed through (this a popular and well-known mountain bike route)
The descent from the gap gave me my only problem. The first 500m or so is steep and very rough, more like scree than a path. After a couple of nervous attempts I decided discretion was best and pushed for a few minutes. This section really needs a full on, front and rear suspension bike (mine is just a hard-tail). I managed to negotiate my way down carefully. It was wild and bouncy and my bike was making all kinds of rattling noises but again I was very pleased to make it all the way to the road-head without falling off, albeit very much slower than the madcap people taking the descent at full throttle. It must be a hell of an adrenaline rush but if you came off you’d do yourself a really nasty one
Once on the road its a very fast and steep descent all the way to valley bottom along peaceful wild-flower be-decked country lanes. A real blast. My route back to the car was along the Brecon and Monmouthshire canal. It was superb (and flat!) and gave an excellent last hours wind-down in more peaceful surroundings after the drama of the gap
The canal has a small aqueduct over the river Usk
This little bridge just after was picture perfect and I stopped for breather. Nice spot for a picnic I thought. More to follow in a later post
From there it was an easy cruise along the tow-path. Wild flowers were abundant and the route busy with other cyclists and families enjoying a perfect spring day
I think TBF would enjoy this part of the ride although definitely not the mountain section! I must fashion a route along the canal and back along the lanes of this quiet corner of the national park
35km ride in total and a real classic – me, enjoying mountain biking, who’d have thought 🙂
A reference to my surprise on seeing a clear blue sky day with a helping of patchy snow after waking up at 6am the previous day to go to work and finding a temperature of 12C and a day filled with mild patchy rain.
Solo again while the family did other stuff and a revisit to a surprisingly quiet corner of the Brecon Beacons. Surprising as it overlooks the busy A470 and the parking chaos of the summit of the road at the Storey Arms. On a good day there must be 200 plus cars parked up there ready for the pilgrimage to the summit of Pen y Fan. I parked up for my walk a couple of miles down the road with one other car. Local knowledge is a handy thing
Craig Cerrig Gleisiad and Fan Fawr was my route. It was a wonderful crisp clear morning, icy puddles and frosty mud was underfoot. The path that traverses across the bottom of the corrie was delightful
The bare trees shorn of their leaves always attract my eye and lens
The views down the valley to Brecon and the Black Mountains was magnificent
The path emerges suddenly onto the shoulder below Fan Frynych. Expansive views open out over the mid-Wales countryside
Up on to the grassy moorland and the first few patches of snow underfoot
The sky was dramatically blue and clear and the light through the trees was still catching my attention
Up on the summit it was just magnificent. Such an exceptional clarity in the air contrasting with the pristine and untouched white snow
Traversing over the summit of Fan Frynych was majestic. You just eat up the miles on a day like this
Sticking close to the edge of the dark vegetated cliffs gives extensive panoramas
But then you have to cross the vast expanse of open moorland to reach Fan Fawr. Its wet here. Very wet. Especially after a couple of days of heavy rain. There was lots of icy coverings but not enough to walk over without plopping in from time to time
I consoled myself with the wonderful peace, quiet and isolation of this patch of wild land so close to a major road. I had it completely to myself
I climbed to the summit without pause hoping for a sunny spot out of the wind. The views were still grand but the wind was keen. I was hungry and so headed down towards the main road madness
I spotted a sunny patch that looked like it might be sheltered. It was perfect. Calm and sunny enough to deliver some warmth for a well earned lunch break and hot cuppa
You can get a sense of just how many cars there are down by road in the photo below. As I’d I only seen a few people on Fan Fawr I assume all the occupants were on Pen y Fan. I had reminder of what kind of people frequent “the highest mountain in South Wales” on a sunny day. As I crossed the road there was a large group of brash noisy and spectacularly under-equipped people heading off to climb Pen y Fan (jeans, trainers and the like) – it was already after 2pm and its at least a 3 hour round trip to the top. One particularly irritating individual – lets call him Dick – seemed to love the sound of his own voice and humour and repeated the same line – loudly – over and over again to emphasis how side splittingly funny it was (something about how unforgiving the mountain was). I could still hear him from several hundred yards away. His companions all seemed deeply unenthusiastic about being “dragged out” but they started up the hill anyway. A complete contrast to the few pleasant and chatty people I’d met on the “other side” who were all entranced by a such a stunning morning. I think this little rant makes me a mountain snob but I don’t care
I headed down the Taff trail to head back to car. Once Dick, and his friends were out of earshot all was peaceful again. Its a rather nice walk with good views down the valley and across to the crags where I’d been in the morning. A nice change of scene from wild moors and mountains to something more pastoral
The little sting in the tail, a very steep few hundred feet back up to the road, made me work for my supper
A short day – I was done by 3pm – but it was more than enough to enjoy a spectacular morning and some wild untamed land no more than 20 minutes walk from the road
Still in February in blog-time. Short post of a walk I did with TJS over the Fforest Fawr hills to the west of Brecon Beacons
The forecast looked promising for the morning with rain spreading in for the afternoon. An early start was called for and things, whilst cold, looked promising when we set off. Lots of blue sky and sunshine but with dark clouds which I assumed would clear as per the forecast
Wrong! What the forecast had failed to predict were short and very heavy rain and hail-storms and the first one hit us within 15 minutes as we traversed under Craig Cerrig Gleisiad. TJS has never been out in hail before and I don’t think he was all that enamoured! What they lack in duration they more than make up for in pain and wetness!
We moved at a brisk pace in the cold wind, following the edge of the cliffs up on to the top (bypassing the trig point at Fan Frynych – Trig points in the middle of bogs are an acquired taste). There was someone camping and it looks a good spot with plenty of soft grass and moss and a fine view over the Beacons.
The next section is a trudge across an expanse of grass and bog of to the base of Fan Fawr. Not a place to be caught in a hail-storm. Needless to say we got caught in a hailstorm and a pretty lengthy and nasty one at that. We were soaked in readiness for the steep climb up to the summit.
No path so a tough climb up steep grass. TJS needs experience of off-piste terrain to build his fitness so this was good challenge he coped well with although I think he prefers a good path!
The summit was cold, windy and dark with the threat of more sky-fall. We headed down the obscenely steep slopes of grass to find a spot for lunch.
TJS seemed a little slower than usual and heading down the Taff Trail section he seemed distinctly unhappy. When I pressed him, he told me his boots were too small and had been giving him grief for several weeks! Quite why he hadn’t told me before is anyone’s guess but they were almost 2.5 sizes too small. Doesn’t always occur to me that he’s still growing and his feet are now as big as mine
The walk back was enlivened by the sight of a car that appeared to have slid down the long bank below the road with rescue operations underway. You can just see the red car in the bottom left hand corner of the photo below
So the long trudge back down the trail was a slightly dispiriting one for him and all in all a bit of a disappointing day considering the weather had been less than expected and we’d made an early start to enjoy it.
Still as always its good to get out in the fresh air is it does disprove the theory that we only ever go out in the sunshine 🙂
You can see a slightly sunnier version of this walk from a couple of years back here