Trans Cambrian Way – Gravel Ride

11th July 2021

This route was designed with mountain bikes in mind starting in Knighton on the English border and taking in some of the remotest parts of Wales ending at Dovey Junction on the Welsh coast. A total of 105 miles with over 12,000 foot of climbing and mostly off road. Our riders decided to take on this challenge over two days and on gravel bikes and to end in Aberdovey itself adding a further 10 miles onto the distance.

Saturday – Day 1

We arrived in Knighton early Saturday morning and started riding just after 6:30am. A nervous excitement filled the air as for most riders this was the first time they had taken on such an epic adventure.

The route starts on small country lanes but within a short time you are climbing up a grassy hill that had every rider off their bikes and pushing, or as it is called ‘Hike A Bike’, little did we know this was going to become a big part of this ride.

The view from the top I’m sure would have been stunning had we not have already been in the clouds. The terrain was a mixture of grassy paths and sandy single track and this is how it went as far as we could see. The weather cleared and the landscape simply absorbed us into it. Massive hills in every direction and the overwhelming feeling that we are so small and insignificant in this amazing landscape.

We reached our first coffee stop at 16 miles. This had taken us 3 hours. We were on schedule but the enormity of the days ride ahead started to sink in.

All the blogs and information online talk about doing 35 miles on day 1 and spending your first night in Rhayader. For us Rhayader would be our lunch spot with a futher 30 miles to go. We were all feeling confident but knew the day was going to be long and slow.

After a brief stop with a really welcomed coffee we headed out to our first river crossing. No wet feet on this one but there were plenty more to follow.

The terrain kept on being the same, a grassy climb followed by a bit of high level moorland and a grassy descent. One thing became apparent is that there are loads of gates, again the blogs talk about over 100 gates on the whole route and I’m sure everyone will join me in a shout out to Gus who became the gatekeeper.

We stopped in Rhayader at the Little Swan Tearoom. The food and service was great and we would highly recommend it.

After lunch we headed out of Rhayader towards the Elan Valley using a cycle route alongside the road. But very quickly you are climbing up the valley side to a farmyard where the tarmac gives way to the ‘Sunken Road’. This was the first real section of technical terrain and lasts about 2 miles. This is made worse when you realise that there is a lovely smooth tarmac road just to your right. 

Everyone really enjoyed this bit. I know when you speak to them they will say otherwise but don’t listen to them this road was awesome. To be honest it is borderline for a gravel bike and you would be better off on a mountain bike or a 4×4. However the views along the valley floor were stunning. This is also the section were we came across a sheep farmer who was only about 15 years old and it felt like we had ridden into a comedy sketch. It was absolutely hilarious and gave us many hours of light entertainment over the rest of the ride.

The terrain appeared to be changing, the slow grassy tracks that we had encountered before Rhayader appeared to be giving way to more gravel and slate trails which resulted in our average speed picking up. So with the sound of crunching gravel beneath of tyres we pressed on alongside a reservoir. Although going noticeably faster this reservoir kept on going and going, it felt like we were never going to get to the other end. Eventually we left the reservoir behind and dropped down onto a road.

We had reached our resting spot for the night. Such a welcome sight. The Miners Arms. 61 miles into the ride with 6800 foot of climbing on the Garmin. We arrived at about 7pm so day 1 had been a 12 hour ride and we were all ready for some down time.

Jan welcomed us in and showed us to our rooms. Showered and refreshed we all enjoyed some good homestyle cooking and a few drinks before retiring to our beds for some well earned rest. The beds were really comfortable, the rooms were really nice and more importantly nobody was kept awake because nobody snored as far as we are aware.


Sunday – Day 2

Breakfast was served at 7:30am of which we all enjoyed. We headed out at about 8:30 to see what day 2 would bring. It was more of the same, epic climbs, epic views and epic descents.

Every turn would open up another great view. In fact the whole route is like riding through a picture postcard. The weather we had was mostly overcast with some rain, which was perfect for riding but I want to ride it again with clear blue skies because the views would be awesome. However the moody clouds really added to the views.

The terrain as we got closer to the coast was more typical of forestry commission land, just think of Cannock Chase on steroids. Gravel fire roads snaking their way up through fir tree plantations.

At the top of one of the climbs we recognised the trail below that we were on about an hour before, and as you looked out towards the wind turbines you really did feel like a speck on the landscape.

At the top of another climb we had lunch and I must say that cold Chilli and Rice does taste quite nice when you are craving some real food instead of energy bars.

The planned finish time for Sunday was 4pm but it soon became obvious that we were going to miss that by a bit. The terrain was more slate now, but you could feel that we were doing more downs than ups and knowing the end was close we pushed on.

There were two descents that required us to walk on. The first was narrow, steep with a sheer drop on the right. Carl rode down it but everyone else decided to walk as they didn’t fancy being air lifted off so close to the end of the ride. The second descent (see picture) again was tough, it is hard to see in the picture but the rock was vertical bits of slate fused together ending in a really steep descent dropping down into a lush green valley.

We soon found ourselves back on country lanes and heading into Machynlleth.

Dovey Junction is the official end to the Trans Cambrian Way, but we were going to finish in Aberdovey which was only 10 miles on the road from Machynlleth. It was the longest 10 miles I have ever done, and I’m sure everyone will agree the Aberdovey sign was a sight to behold.

We had completed the Trans Cambrian Way and it did not disappoint. We had no mechanicals apart from Dave losing pressure in his rear tyre and no major offs. Gus will tell you his off was major but he just had a little scratch on his knee. All in all from start to finish was 115 miles and 13,000 foot of climbing over 2 days in about 15 hours of riding time.

The taxi driver commented that most people take 3 days to do it and that to do it in 2 is a great achievement. To say we are all proud of doing it is an understatment. yes it was hard, brutal in places, but by working together to keep our spirits high. Making sure we looked out for each other and having loads of fun we all completed it.

WOULD WE DO IT AGAIN?

In a heartbeat, in fact we are already planning our next adventure……. to cross England in 2 days off road, then probably Scotland, then…..