Welsh Weekender

Organised by Dean several months ago, but with the building work, Malaga holiday, and then losing Tarz the cat, it kind of crept up on me. After the Malaga trip I was very aware that I’d gained some weight and lost a chunk of ride fitness so I’d done some extra miles in the hope I could get at least a bit of fitness back. I’d even got back on track with my Strava annual mileage target of 3000 miles, somewhat less that the 5000+ of previous years, but setting unrealistic targets is pretty pointless.

Anyway, enough spiel about mileage targets… I finished work on the Friday and headed West under reasonable skies, but the further West I went. the worse it looked. As I went past the trail centre at Bwlch Nant Yr Arian up at 1000ft above sea level it felt like the clouds racing overhead were brushing the roof of the car.

Once settled in to my digs for the night at Plas Dolau I considered the ride I’d put into my GPS earlier, it involved riding up the Rheidol Valley, then climbing out of the valley on a bridleway, eventually getting onto tarmac and up to Nant Yr Arian. Looking out of the window towards the mountains I could no longer see, made the decision for me. Plan B would involve staying reasonably low, probably just along the tarmac up the Rheidol Valley, with the option of trying a few bridleways if they looked worth riding.

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‘Plan B’ turned out to be quite enjoyable once I’d sorted out a navigational balls up. I ignored the golden rule of “If you’re unsure consult the map you’re carrying”, and ended up climbing up to the A4120 to Devils Bridge. I suspected I’d screwed up halfway up the 500ft climb, but was either too stubborn or stupid to stop and check the map, doing so only when I reached the top! Fortunately less than half a mile down the road was a quite a nice bridleway that dropped me back down to the valley floor.

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Valley sides steepened as I passed the Cwm Rheidol reservoir and power station, further on I stopped as the road turned to gravel at the site, scrambling down to look at the river. I’d passed the bridleway earlier and curiosity got the better of me so I climbed 250ft up, traversing the valley side to a point where it turned sharply up…. I looked, but nah, a brutally steep climb into drizzly cloud…. sod that. Fortunately at this point there was another option to take another bridleway back down…. that sounded a far better option.

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A tarmac spin back down the valley and I was soon at Plas Dolau, showered and ready to go in search of some chips by the sea. It wasn’t quite as idyllic as I expected, a grey gloom hung over the sea as a seemingly gale force wind blew in. The local sea gulls were using this to hover above me as I sought shelter with my rapidly cooling meal, the more brazen ones standing at my feet! In a couple of minutes my chips were cold and destined to be individually thrown in the air for the sea gulls to fight over on the wing.

Saturday dawned a lot more promising, blue sky with fluffy clouds and the weather forecast being for even better later. Last night I thought I might go for another spin up the Rheidol valley while I waited for the others to arrive, but looking at the mountains bathed in sunshine changed the plan and I decided to go straight up to Nant Yr Arian after breakfast.

After a slight issue with a lost room key at Plas Dolau I headed for the mountains. There were hardly any cars in the car park when I arrived but all too soon the place started to fill. By 09:30 I was on the bike and riding up the first fireroad, a message from Dean that their ETA was 10:30 meant an hour to mess around on the first and last trails, “The Italian job” and “High as a kite”. A couple of laps with photo stops in the sun, all to soon the hour was gone and it was time to head back to meet the others.

Dean and the others arrived, and pretty soon they were ready to ride. We headed out of the car park and up the first climb, the big Syfydrin loop the aim, a 22 mile loop with around 3000ft of climbing that takes in the best bits of the other trails that Nant Yr Arian has to offer, plus a great big chunk of proper ‘out in the wilds’ riding. After the initial ‘Italian Job’ we headed out of the centre and into the real world.

Within a couple of miles we disturbed a Red Kite who we didn’t see by the side of the trail. In a blink of an eye he was up circling us, it was huge, looking on the internet, it says they can have a wingspan of 5-6ft. He was using those wings to maximum effect, with minimum effort, gliding round us on the wind. We on the other hand were sweating as we pedaled the bikes along the trail in the late morning sunshine.

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Eight miles into the ride we had our first puncture as we dropped down from Bwlch Yr Adwy, James running tubed tyres pinch flatted, landing heavily off rocky drop, that I just so happened to be taking some photos at…… trying to give it big for the camera? 🙂 New tube in and we carried on, for about half a mile. Tim caught me and Dean up, James had done it again, having used his spare tube, the latest one was patched and used. We reassured him that we didn’t mind, the sun was shining and the views were great, however if it had been raining we wouldn’t have been so happy! Off we went again, the drop down to the Nant Perfedd ford was stunning.

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Me and Dean arrived at the gate by the ford and I ran back up the trail to get some action shots….. nothing. We waited….. still nothing. Shouting back to Dean, we agreed it could be several things, either someone has come off, a broken bike or a puncture. Tim arrived, James had punctured again, and was walking down the hill, we agreed that out of the three options a puncture was the best. We went and sat by the ford in the sun, skimmed stones and Dean did a ride through for the camera.

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This time one of the patches on the tube hadn’t stuck properly, so one of Deans 27.5″ tubes was put into James’s wheel and off we went again. Fortunately there were no more ‘loss of tyre pressure’ events and we got back from the wilds and into the centre. Soon we were at the top ‘Mark of Zorro’ one of my favorite Welsh trails, and a new top section had been added since my last visit. Dropping 500ft in about a mile and a half it’s a 6 minute roller coaster ride, with no guide rails or safety net.

We hadn’t descended far when Deans enthusiasm ended up with a roll around in the scenery. Dusted down and bike checked we carried on. I was on a roll, as I descended I noticed a strange noise every time I stopped pedaling. I was enjoying myself that much I wasn’t about to stop, the bike was still working. Big grins all round when we reached the end.

Who ever built the trails had a sick sense of humour as within 2 minutes riding from the bottom of ‘Mark of Zorro’, you come onto ‘Legburner’ a two and a half mile unrelenting climb that goes up over 900ft. I’d checked the bike and found that the chain had hopped off the side of the lower jockey wheel and cut through the side of the derailleur cage. Not good, but I’d sorted it out and on the climb it seemed OK.

At the next section of downhill trail the chain hopped off again, this time I couldn’t free it, and in trying to sort it a section of derailleur cage came off in my hand. With the bike upside down I could see that the cage was twisted and every time I turned the pedals the chain jumped off. A bit of brute force and ignorance had the cage lined up, but whenever I tried to ride the bike the same thing happened very quickly. I pushed/rode the bike to the top of the final descent and told the guys I’d roll down the fireroad to the car park, and see them there.

A good look back at the car park confirmed my suspicions, the rear derailleur was FUBAR. The rear cage was twisted and having a great chunk missing too wasn’t helping matters….. I needed to get a new one or my weekend was over, annoyingly I’d got a spare in my garage that I take to Spain every year, but that was 130 miles away, hopefully Summit Cycles, in Aberyswyth, 11 miles away, would have one that would fit. “How can I help you?” He asked “You might just be able to save my weekend” I replied….. 30 minutes later and it was saved.

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A 50 minute drive through the mountains and I was in Rhayader, searching for our bunkhouse. As I reached the edge of town I saw a signpost “Beili Neuadd“. As I pulled into the drive I spotted Dean, who’d driven over without the detour to Aberyswyth, and also a load of the mountain bikers I’d seen pull up at Nant Yr Arian as I was leaving the car park, easily recognizable in their Big Foot MTB club kit. A quick shower, change of clothes and it was pretty much time for the taxi that Dean had arranged to take us into town to the Triangle Inn where we’d got a table booked.

A very pleasant evening, I’d thoroughly recommend the place, the food was fantastic and the Rev James on tap really hit the spot. A bonus is the landlord is also the owner/driver of Merlin Cars the local taxi company, so just ask at the bar and they contact him and let you know how long it will be…. in our case, just enough time for an Old Pulteney as a night cap.

Sunday dawned with clear blue skies, a superb full English from the owner of the bunkhouse had us all sat round the long table taking bikes over breakfast. I asked a few questions about the route I had in mind as the Big Foot crowd had ridden it on Friday. It all sounded good, so the route was on! We packed our stuff into the cars and got the bikes ready to go. The owner quite happy for us to leave our cars there.

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Rhayader was up, people wandering about as we rode through at 09:15, even at Clive Powell’s the bike shop doors were open. Most local bike shops are closed on Sundays, but we surmised that in a place like this, closing for half of the weekend would be financial suicide. Down past the Triangle Inn and we were out of town, linking together a few lanes and bridleways before we crossed Glyn Bridge over the Elan River. It’s a suspension type foot bridge that always gets a giggle when several people are on it, as it sways and bounces about.

A short section of road and we hit our first proper climb, only 500ft, but the first section is steep, and the that in combination with the heat from the sun meant we were happy to reach the shade of some trees where the tracks gradient lessened. As we approached a gate we noticed a group of cows standing the other side. A couple with pretty intimidating horns, we decided to head down the field a bit as there was a second gate into another field. We used this and then could see another gate we could use to get back on the farm track, bypassing the cattle. We got nearer the other gate….”Oh f**k!” look at that big boy.

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There on the other side was a beast, a proper bull, with a cow, calf and several tons of attitude. Eyeing us up and down this fella was going nowhere. James picked up a small stick. “What you gonna do with that” someone asked. “Throw it at him to make him move” was the reply. “If someone throws a stick at you does it piss you off?” someone asked. “Yes”……. “A pissed off bull, with attitude, weighing several tons is just what we need!” someone replied. We headed off along the barbed wire fence till we found a a section we could climb over.

We descended into the Dulas valley, stopping to let a pickup and tractor come up the trail. A quick map stop when we hit tarmac confirmed we needed to go right… and up a 20% road climb. I got off and started pushing pretty quick, I’ve ridden it before and it just gets steeper the further up you go. Soon we were all pushing, a food stop was suggested, but sensibly we waited till we’d done most of the climb and could sit in the shade of some trees.

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Starting the long decent towards Caban-coch reservoir I remembered from bitter experience that when we got to the abandoned building at Ty’n-y-pant we had to turn hard left otherwise we’d be on a steep track leading straight down to the waters edge. Fortunately I spotted the turn well in advance and several ford crossing later we were at the valley floor. Soon we were on the byway that follows the Claerwen river, only riding the flooded sections of the track and bottling it when it came to the final ford through the Arbon River at the foot of the Claerwen Dam, the most impressive of the Elan valley dams.

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Climbing to the top of the dam gave a great view of the valley we had just ridden up.

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After the obligatory look over the edge, we dropped down the side of the dam on a cheeky trail I know. Onto the road and it was decision time, we could either climb up and over to Garreg-ddu reservoir or take the easy option and roll down the road…. the latter was the unanimous choice. Most of it was rolling until we spotted an ice cream van on the other side of the dam then it became a sprint!

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Fuelled by a 99 with a flake we headed up the side of Garreg-ddu and Penygarreg reservoirs on the cycle path built on the course of the old railway used in the construction of the dams. The nice steady incline a appetizer for the main course which lay ahead. Reaching the dam at Craig Goch I suggested that we eat any energy food we had. Another group of bikers arrived and headed to the bridleway that would take us up and over Esgair Perfedd to the mountain road.

We started just after the other group, but pretty soon we were riding with some of them as their group rapidly spread out. The trail skirts the reservoir gradually climbing, all the time, just enough to work the legs. The real climb you can see all the time getting closer, it looks steep, and looks don’t deceive. Not only is it steep, but it’s grassy and soft. The kind of terrain that feels like you’ve got a brake sticking on.

Now I’d love to show you photos of it, but I’ve tried taking photos of it and it really doesn’t do it justice, and anyway I was on a mission. I always give this one my best shot, it’s the last climb of the day, so I figure why not. I’d ridden it all the way non stop once before. There was no way I was going to stop for a ‘selfie’. I’ve learnt from experience you have to climb stuff like this at your own pace. So I switched my Garmin to show my heart rate and rode to that.

Guys from the other group we’re starting to push, I knew Dean and Tim were both off and pushing, James was still in front of me and riding. Then suddenly he stopped, and got off. That was the target I had to beat. Getting to it, it was a step up, probably not even 2″ but at that incline enough to stop you if you didn’t get it right. Up to it, and just give the bike that bit more while leaning forward to stop the front end lifting. Front end over and then power the front. The trail now turned right, the gradient didn’t reduce, but I could see two guys from the other group in the distance stop and congratulate each other. I had my second target…..”Rule 5, Rule 5, Come on, Rule 5″ I muttered mantra style (It’s a cycling thing, look it up on Google 🙂 ) Then, “Great effort mate”…. I’d made it and was congratulated by a complete stranger, that’s mountain biking!

A fast descent down to the mountain road followed by a quick tarmac climb and we were at the top of the Roman road drop into Rhayader (I’ve no idea if it was ever a Roman road, but that’s what most people I know call it) The top section is a taster, but get past the standing stone at Maen Serth and things get really interesting, 1515ft to 710ft in just under 2 miles on loose rocky trail. Get it right and it’s superb, get it wrong and it hurts, a lot!  As I found out in August 2012

I got to the bottom, Dean not far behind. Then nothing, another “accident (lets hope not), broken bike, or puncture” discussion followed. Still nothing, but noticing he’d got a signal Dean rang Tim. Puncture! Thank god. We chilled in the sun while they sorted Tim’s puncture further up the hill.

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And that was it, a short ride through town to the bunkhouse, a shower (worth asking if we could have one, rather than drive home stinking) and a three plus hour drive home…..  Where next?

 

Total miles – 82     Total ascent (ft) – 9315    Total ride time – approx 11 hours

 

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