A Two Day Bikepacking Adventure in the Brecon Beacons
I’ve always had a love for the outdoors. I grew up in the countryside and I guess you could say it’s always been a playground for me. It’s partly why I picked up a camera when I was in my teenage years and started to capture its beauty.
I am also lucky to have called the Brecon Beacons home for a few years and with restrictions easing I’m moving back again soon.
Like many others, the beauty of this corner of Wales has captured me. I can’t tell you how many times I get goosebumps standing on the edge of these mountains. Whether it’s looking across an autumn/ spring cloud inversion as the sunrise glow burns behind, or the winter snowfall transforming the peaks into an alpine landscape.
Protect Our Winters
In recent years I have been feeling a little anxious about my own footprint when enjoying the outdoors, especially when I make a percentage of my living from photographing it. That’s why this year I thought enough was enough. I wanted to try and help give something back and reached out to Protect Our Winters UK to become a volunteer.
This decade is the most important one we face. I’m sure you’ve all seen the devastating wildfires and flooding around the world this year. Multiple temperature records are being broken and this may well be just the start of things to come. We need big change and we need it now if we are to stop the predicted rise above 1.5c. While only a handful of companies contribute to 70% of global emissions we can all do something on a personal level to make a difference.
The Save The 2000 Challenge – Bikepacking the Brecon Beacons
In July, Protect Our Winters set a challenge that everyone could take up to help spread the fact that 70% of snow coverage above 2000m could be lost without any intervention. That’s massive! Not only will it have a great impact on the popular winter resorts, but the melting snow also provides an endless supply of freshwater during the summer months.
For the challenge, you could swim, climb, ride, walk over 2000ft, meters, miles, and kilometers to help raise money on behalf of POWUK. Being a keen cyclist I wanted to bikepack around the Black Mountains. I’ve walked the area extensively, but have never ridden them.
So, using Komoot, I planned a two-day round trip from Abergavenny. The route would take in the highest point, Waun Fach, down to Talgarth and back over Hay Bluff before descending through Llanthony Priory back to Abergavenny.
Leaving Bristol early to catch the train to Abergavenny it was already hot. The weather forecast was saying it would be one of the hottest days of the year. Just what you want when you’re trying to cycle up mountains!
It could be worse though, at least it wasn’t raining. With the hot weather, my Instagram stories turned to me asking people to donate money to buy me a virtual ice cream to help keep me cool! Now obviously none of the donation money went to ice creams, but it worked well to raise some money for POWUK.
Day 1 – Over the Sugarloaf
After a long sweaty climb to the top of Sugarloaf, I stopped to admire the views after making some friends with the wild ponies. I could see across to Waun Fach, which at this point was just a blip on the horizon and seemed a fair way off. I knew there would be a lot of climbing to come so I didn’t stay too long before making my way down the other side. It which was pretty fun on the singletrack until I was met with thick brambles covering the path!
After bushwhacking my way out, I finally found the footpath that would lead me to a small road to take me up the long and windy valley. It led to the start of the old railway path that was once used to cart all the materials for building Grwyne Fawr Reservoir, completed in 1928.
I’d stopped at the river just before the road started to climb up the valley to replenish my water supply when I met a local road cyclist called Dave. He very kindly gave me some company on the way up to the end of the road. Whilst cycling together we got chatting about our love for the Alps. He told me many stories of his times out there every summer following the Tour Du France and how he’s noticed a massive change in how much the glaciers had retreated.
Although shocking at first, it really did cement my reasons for doing this ride! After saying our goodbyes, I pushed on along the old railway path up to the reservoir.
Grwyne Fawr Reservoir and Waun Fach
After arriving at the reservoir’s edge and splashing my face to try and cool down, it was time to once again fill up the water bladder and bottle before boiling up some water for dinner. For those wondering, I do have a water purifier that I use for all my water! I sat here for a little while in a shaded spot under a tree on the side of the reservoir fixated on the shimmering water in front of me. The sun was still beating down and it felt even hotter than it did earlier in the day.
After a quick dinner, I needed to push on to the end of the gravel path If I was going to make it to the top of Waun Fach in time for sunset.
Once I had made it to the end of the valley and at the north side of The Black Mountains, the scenery was stunning. The route had me cycling on a steady incline to the top with endless views of the Welsh countryside and Pen y Fan to one side. It would also turn out to be some of the best riding I’ve done for a long time.
Eventually, the path would turn to steps for the last 50m to the top, it was a little underwhelming as there was no trig and the top was fairly flat, but the views were glorious. After a little wander, I found a suitable flat-ish spot to pitch the tent. The sun at this point was encroaching into the clouds and what I thought was going to be a beautiful sunset just provided some muted tones. By this point, it was great to just sit and admire the views whilst making a plan for tomorrow’s ascent all the way down to the Talgarth.
The next morning, after a rough night of intermittent sleep, it would be a slow start. After a few cups of coffee and some porridge, I was soon to pack up as it would be another long day and some long climbs lay ahead. It was already feeling pretty hot, more virtual ice creams would need to be donated, so another plea on my stories was recorded for the day ahead!
A short, fast ride down to the top of The Dragons Back got my legs going before a section I’ve wanted to ride down for years. It’s a beautiful ridgeline that is just calling out to be ridden and although technically only a walking trail I couldn’t pass up on the descent especially as it was still early in the morning. It was rough and at times it was too much for the 20mm of suspension on my bike, but put a big smile on my face.
Finally, the descent would lead me back onto the tarmac. It would be a short, but fast downhill into Talgarth for a stop at Talgarth Mill for some freshly baked goods. I sank another coffee (and maybe an ice cream!) before starting the long climb out of Talgarth and onto Hay Bluff car park.
Over Hay Bluff
Cycling along the narrow country lanes that hug the bottom of The Black Mountains it wasn’t long until I bumped into a local farmer whose sheep managed to escape and were wandering up the road. His wife and their farm dog on a quad bike caught my eye so I had to get the camera out for a quick portrait. I then spent the next 30 minutes chatting to him about the B-word and some struggles that farmers are facing — although mostly reminisced about the funny antics on Clarkson’s Farm.
It was fast approaching midday and with yet more climbing it was getting hot and sweaty once again. Although there was some shade provided by the tall hedges along the lanes, the heat was zapping my energy. With my head down and gritting my teeth, Hay Bluff was soon within reach. Again the welcome breeze felt too good and so did the water, it almost tastes sweet when your body craves it.
This would be the final hikerbike as the Offa’s Dyke Path is pretty unrideable until you reach the top. Once you hit the peak the smooth gravel paths have you up to speed pretty quickly. Before long I passed the trig point for Hay Bluff and hugged the top which provided beautiful views across mid-Wales.
Gospel Pass and Llanthony Priory
I had originally planned to cycle all the way along the top of the ridge to Hatterall Hill but due to the heat, I knew I was looking forward to the Cellar Bar at Llanthony Priory for a cold drink and maybe one more ice cream!
Hitting the top of Gospel Pass — the UK’s highest road pass — and descending into the Valley Of Ewyas with the wind in my face felt amazing. Finally, the air con had been turned on!
It felt great to let off the brakes and coast down the road for a few miles. It had me thinking about how remote this part of the Brecon Beacons is. With one road in and out I’m sure many years ago the snow would have isolated these villages for months. Quite different to our winters now.
Riding up the drive from the road, the Priory ruins look as impressive as always. The welcome cold drink and ice cream went down a treat. I needed some extra sugar it was a fast sprint along the winding country lanes back to Abergavenny with one more uphill left before catching the evening train back to Bristol. Time was tight but I’d worked out I had 10 minutes spare to quickly get a pint in the backpacker’s hotel opposite the train station.
I don’t think a pint of beer ever looked and tasted so good and within a few minutes, it was time to catch the train back to Bristol. So that was it. 105km done, 2,405m of vertical ascent climbed and some 5 ice creams eaten.
It was hot, sweaty, and grueling at times, but you can’t not enjoy cycling in this beautiful landscape! I want to thank everyone who donated. The ride raised £250 and in total Protect Our Winters Raised more than the £10,000 they needed from this campaign. It was a massive effort by all people that got involved to raise money this July.
As always POWUK needs your support to enforce climate action, so if you love the outdoors and want to help, you can follow them right now Instagram @protectourwintersuk, or head over to their website to find out what else you can do to support.
Every one of us calls this beautiful planet home, our only home. Let’s protect it!