Cycling across Wales on the Lon Las Cymru

Jo and I had talked about going on a little cycle trip for a while, and settled on cycling across Wales on the Lon Las Cymru over the long Easter weekend. Initially we thought of camping, but figured it would probably be raining, and B&Bs weren’t too expensive when sharing a room for few days (they were cheaper than our train tickets). It also meant carrying a lot less on the bike up all the hills.

Thursday evening we got the train to Cardiff and stayed in the Cardiff Future hotel which advertised as bike friendly – they gave us a mat for our bikes in our room.

Day 1: Cardiff to Glasbury

98km, 1058m elevation

After faffing and getting a few photos of us and the bikes in front of the Millenium building and the sea front, we followed the cycle path signs of the Taff Trail, which we would follow nearly all the way to Brecon. It was a beautiful morning and the trail was busy with dog walkers and runners. It was a surprisingly decent surface, although there were some later gravel sections.

Enjoying the cycle path out of Cardiff

The Taff Trail is a mixed walking and cycling path, and it was lovely to be away from vehicles but there were a lot of flow control barriers that we had to stop for. Some were particularly narrow, and me and my broad shoulders almost had to squeeze through. Skinny folk in Wales apparently. Leaving Cardiff we followed the Taff river valley, sometimes on roads sometimes on our own path.

We got trapped on some one way streets in Merthyr Tydfil looking for a lunch stop, but came across a restaurant with a big bike friendly sign – our bikes were locked up in another room and we could relax and refuel. I got a message from Dad and arranged an afternoon meetup with him riding out on his motorbike, guesstimating at times.

Taff trail varied between smooth tarmac and gravel

Back on the trail we continued to climb up the valley and into the Brecon Beacons. The switch back near Pontsticill was our first proper taster of how steep the roads can be in Wales, and I wondered if I’d packed enough mini eggs.

The gradient eased along the reservoir but across the other side the climb to the pass was impressively steep, and I stopped halfway up at a car park area. The second half wasn’t so bad and the views from the shoulder of the mountain were glorious in the sun.

Having caught our breath, we almost missed the turn off for our descent – a balcony gravel track above Talybont reservoir. I’m a nervous descender at the best of times, but our (coincidentally matching Croix de Fers) bikes really were great for the mixed terrain we were riding on, and the heavier steel and 28 tyres were very stable.

Nearly at the top of the pass

Half way down Jo got a puncture so we pulled over and I helpfully took photos of the view whilst Jo got to work. The disadvantage of the sexy bikepacking bags is that whatever item you want will invariably be buried at the back and require unpacking nearly all of the bag to find it. We were later than planned to our meetup with Dad and out of phone signal but I sent a message hoping it would send from my pocket when we got going again. We discovered a gash in Jo’s tyre but being the prepared tourer she is, she dug out a tyre boot (not a shoe!) to give the inner tube some resistance.

We nearly rode straight passed Talybont on Usk but circled back and found the cafe and Dad. Very good fruit cake! The cafe was also attached to a bike hire and shop, which proved very useful – a new tyre and spare tube for Jo, and a new water bottle for me. There was also a bike hub at the village hall, with a track pump and showers for use.

Very handy Bikes n Hikes in Talybont on Usk

The last 25km was lumpier than we thought but with beautiful views back to Pen y Fan and across to the Black Mountains. We were on narrow lanes until Talgarth, and pulled into our Glasbury B&B at about 6pm. Nicky and Alistair were lovely hosts, greeting us with “Tea? Hot cross buns?”

We ended up cycling back out of the village a few minutes for dinner as we had forgotten that being Easter restaurants might be full up! A soak in the bath after our early dinner then early to bed.

Day 2: Glasbury to Machynlleth

107km, 1532m elevation

Today was our biggest of the 4 days, and given our pretty leisurely average speed we set off early and enjoyed some nearly empty roads all morning. We stopped to take photos of bluebell woods and little lambs, and it was nice riding next to each other whereas it had mostly been single file on the Taff Trail.

Today was pretty much all uphill, with a big climb right at the end before a final long descent to Machynlleth. Of course, being Wales, it wasn’t a gradual ascent all day, but spikey climbs that reduced us to snail’s pace.

From Builth Wells we had a meandering road to ourselves as all the vehicles were on the nearby A road. We later joined this and rode it to Rhayader, rather than following the cycle route at Llanwrthwl as the guidance advised it was a pretty rough track. Additionally, the A470 had very recently been resurfaced and it was a dream. It was also fairly flat in the valley and one of the few times across the weekend that I was in my big front chain ring for a sustained period of time.

Lunch stop number 1 was in Rhayader in front of a nice little cafe and a very confusing 4-way junction with no obvious priorities and the A road traffic being squeezed through the narrow streets. A gang of old folks were sat at the table next to us and seemed to know everyone in the village that walked past.

Refreshed, we continued north on single track road of mixed surface, the other side of the river Wye from the A road. At one point a group of smiling ladies rode past in the opposite direction, and we sussed that they must be on the Mountain & Yoga weekend with Emily Chappell.

We paused at a bridge over the Wye and got chatting to two cycle tourers for a while, who were there third group of people to recommend the Great Oak Cafe in Llanidloes. It was a little off the route, but who were we to say no to highly recommended cake? I ate some more mini eggs from my top tube bag, and then we headed off to find lunch stop number 2.

Still climbing

The climb out of Llangurig was lung-busting, and undulated over some more beautiful hills before crossing a baby river Severn where we diverted down into Llandidloes. It turned out that the Great Oak Cafe was actually being used as a control point for an audax, and a couple of our Condor friends were riding it today. Just as we were tucking into second lunch, they turned up! It was great to see them and they were still looking pretty strong, although their recount of the climb that we were about to do did little to lessen my apprehension.

It was mid afternoon by the time we left, so I emailed the hotel to confirm we were still coming but would perhaps be later than planned. It was now pretty hot in the sun and I tried to keep on top of hydration as best I could. My mini eggs had melted together. After the road eventually turned away from the river Severn I stopped for a break in the shade to cool down and eat some more whilst regrouping with Jo.

We’d reached the first peak of the climb and the road opened up onto a flatter plain. By this point we realised that the audax route must have been different to what we were doing as there had been nothing outrageously steep yet as they’d described. We did however get the less pretty, more industrial view of the reservoir than they did. The climbing soon began again.

It did get steeper eventually but I was happy that I could keep spinning up it, and it was only just before the top that my legs started complaining. And what a view from the top!

Made it!

We rode along the plateau to the actual top with a signpost before starting on the long descent. The road surface was immaculate but I was still thankful of my disc brakes – there was a burning smell after a while of being so long on the brakes but no loss of stopping power.

The most beautiful descent

We pulled into Machynlleth and tucked our bikes away in the hotel barn before collapsing onto our beds. We ended up eating quite late but it had been such an incredible day.

“Today was ace.”

“Fancy doing it again tomorrow?”

Day 3: Machynlleth to Criccieth

78km, 971m elevation

We’d been so worried about the big climb yesterday we didn’t really realise what today’s was like until we were half way up it. We would later read that the climb out of Aberllefenni was one of the hardest on the national cycle network. Oops. We stopped several times on the way up, either for a nature break, to eat/drink or to take photos. There was a particularly steep ramp near the top that made me shout out in effort.

Another hard climb, another beautiful view

We got our breath back by the gate near the top, and chatted to two guys cycling the other way, and a woman cycling to Dolgellau. We stopped for a snack break half way down the descent the other side and to take in the views on another glorious day in Wales. My mini egg stash had solidified overnight so I now had a mini egg rocky road block. Still tasted good.

The descent the other side

There was a bike Shop in Dolleglau that we pumped our tyres up and the guy said he’d look a my brakes whilst we went and had lunch. Lunch was at T. H. Roberts (not a hardware store as it sounds) with a very extensive and delicious display of cakes. Back to bike shop and he didn’t have the right pad type for my brakes but he thought they had quite a bit of wear left so had just realigned them (and wouldn’t take payment for his time).

Leaving Dolgellau somewhat later than planned, we followed the Afon Mawddach on a very pleasant flat gravel track. The waters widened until we crossed over on the Barmouth Bridge (bit of a bumpy ride) and hit full beach traffic in Barmouth. Ice cream time!

A long bridge!

After a nice stretch along the promenade it was a steep climb to rejoin the road. A driver who had mostly blocked the path with his van (but held the gate open for us) commented about how steep it was, I thanked him but internally shrugged it off – he should see what we’ve already climbed! I was pushing the bike 15 seconds later. Back in your box, ego.

The second half of the day was mostly on a fairly busy road (by Welsh standards) following the coast. It was still undulating but nothing big compared to the previous climbs.

Round one corner we stopped to take photos of the lovely Harlech beach and dunes. We met a cycle tourer also taking photos and upon chatting to him learned he had already ridden our ride to Holyhead and was now riding back to Cardiff. Our Welsh town pronunciations clearly weren’t getting any better however, as when he reeled off the places he was going to next (i.e. where we had just come from) I barely recognised any. He did give a useful tip for Harlech – to take the road through the village and we were rewarded with a nearly empty road on a long descent afterwards.

Bluebells and Harlech beach, with a hazy Porthmadog background

More small roads and bridges to Porthmadog, but then a bigger road to Criccieth. The traffic was building and there wasn’t much space for vehicles to overtake so we rode on the pavement for last bit to Criccieth, wheeling down to yet another beautiful beach.

We checked into our lovely B&B with great views over the water and mountains, and went for an early dinner.

Day 4: Criccieth to Holyhead

83km, 674m elevation

Our train home from Holyhead was at 2pm so we set off at 7am from Criccieth. Our host still got up and made us toast at 6.30, despite our insistence that we were fine with a cold breakfast.

A lot of today was on separate mixed use cycle paths with surprisingly good surfaces and we could ride next to each other again, delighting at how pretty everything was. A fourth day of blue skies and sunshine, with little wind, was not what we had been expecting when planning the trip.

Enjoying a flat section

After getting slightly lost in Caernarfon’s one-way streets, we stopped for elevenses at a garden centre who kindly put a tarp over our bikes whilst we went into the cafe.

I was glad it wasn’t windy over the Menai Bridge onto Anglesey, and the climb afterwards gave great views back to the mainland. My mudguard had come loose in one of the bolts but the screw was still there somehow, so a quick tighten and all was well.

We were on a fairly busy road until Pentre Berw where we turned off onto a cycle track through flat marshy fields. This turned into small country lanes, and it felt like we were in Devon or Cornwall. I’ve been up mountains in Snowdonia in the rain and there’ll be a little patch of sun over Anglesey. The few vehicles we met on the lanes were very patient, and maybe just less in a rush to be somewhere else.

Bike and bluebells

As we neared Holy Island we checked the time and, not being in a hurry to get to Holyhead with plenty of time for our train, we stopped for a last ice cream in the cafe in the old toll house, overlooking the water.

The route actually went through the train station (where you have to get off) then up a spiral ramp to rejoin the roads. Rolling through the suburbs, we reached the harbour front and took some celebratory photos, before stocking up with provisions for the train ride home.

Made it to the sea!

A coast to coast cycle across Wales; Cardiff to Holyhead in 4 days. We were spoiled by the weather, I ate a shocking amount of mini eggs, and we both fell in love with our bikes and the power of our legs a little bit more. Diolch Cymru.

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