Other than weekends at bike parks, I’ve never done multi-day mountain biking. When the Trans-Cambrian Way was suggested for September last year, I figured that it was time to correct that oversight. At somewhere north of 100 miles, with over 3,000m ascent, it was never going to be a pushover. But I’ve got an e-bike, so it should be reasonably simple, right?
The collective plan was to camp, with gear shifted in a van each day by Andy (humungous thanks for forgoing the riding and just doing the dull bit, Andy!). I tweaked my back a few days before, so opted to take the camper for more luxurious sleep, and re-locate using trains and buses. We rendezvoused at Knighton on the Thursday night, and on Friday morning I dropped the van at Pen y Bont station. My train back to Knighton was then cancelled 40 seconds before it was due to arrive at the platform I was stood on, so Calum did a mercy run and shuttled me back to town. Not the most auspicious start!
We soon got started, and thankfully the GPS tracks I’d put together seemed to do the trick. There are semi-official ones available on the TCW website, but I updated them to include comments from the map which can be purchased too. That combination seemed to work well – we didn’t have any major route snafus.
It rained on-and-off for the first couple of hours, but otherwise the weather gods were kind all weekend. The Puncture Gods, however, were not, and Chris succumbed shortly before lunch and shortly after this photo was taken. We’d been passed by a large group of bikes earlier in the day, almost immediately after which they made a navigational error and we took the lead again, but Puncture No. 1 gave them chance to catch us up and pass back. It’s not a race, though, or so everyone says.
We didn’t let that stop us, though, and with disaster averted we met Andy at a cafe before continuing in some more sunshine. Mid-afternoon I peeled away to return to the van, and left everyone else to navigate themselves into Rhayader (which they did successfully, since they were all reclining in the sunshine when I pulled into the campsite later on).
A pub dinner restored ailing bodies, and I wandered up to the water tower at Caban-coch reservoir to try and get some milky way shots later in the evening.
The morning dawned frosty, so we were all keen to make a prompt start on our longest and most remote day. The first few kilometres followed the route of Dragon’s Back from a few years earlier, so I bored everyone early-doors with more “When I did the Dragon’s Back…” stories, just to pass the time.
One of the defining features of the route was the profusion of gates; allegedly 100 on a 110-mile route. They were our constant companion, and it was a continual battle not to just lose momentum and end up standing around chatting after shepherding everyone through each one.
After that we descended and tracked alongside the Afon Claerwen on a 4×4 track, which delivered Puncture No. 2, this time to Dick. By this point Jo had clearly had enough, because she quite intentionally rode straight into the next big puddle, presumably in a bid to end it all (OK, she may not have realised it was quite that deep).
Now being soaked through, she wasn’t phased by the next ford below the Claerwen dam, although Chris did lead the way first.
Once atop the dam it was a long slog on the shoreline down the length of the reservoir, which was into a cold headwind with only some oncoming 4x4s for company. It may not have been that bleak (and it was certainly quicker than the preceding 10 km) but my bike had started making a quite serious creaking/cracking sound from somewhere unidentifiable and I was getting a bit concerned it might be causing lasting damage. I was therefore grumpy.
Puncture No. 3 struck Dick again, when he somehow managed to pick up a big thorn in a vast expanse of moorland containing only bogs and off-road motorbikes. The theme of ‘efficient repairs’ continued though and we descended past the Teifi Pools on a very fast stretch of tarmac.
After that we picked our way north-east, eventually reaching the lovely Cwm Ystwyth on one of my favourite roads in the world. I had a bit of a second wind and floored it up the tarmac to where we bore left, and promptly hit a bit of very steep doubletrack. As the only electric cyclist of the trip I did make an effort not to just power away at the slightly incline – that wasn’t really an option anyway, as my lightweight bike has a half-size battery and half-power motor, but also weighs about 1½ times what everyone else’s did. This therefore meant I had 20kg to push along the flat bits instead of 13kg, for example, so I had it easy when my motor was on, but worked harder when it wasn’t. I suspect that overall this had the effect of smoothing out my effort over the course of the three days, reducing the size of the peaks and troughs in my pedalling input, making the flat bits a bit harder but the uphills a bit easier (and therefore in my book, more enjoyable!).
It had been a long day, and I think everyone was feeling it as we progressed along forestry fire roads at a decent pace, sensing that the next campsite (and Andy with all the gear!) was not far away…
We finally got there, and there was a rapid turnaround in the rather Heath Robinson shower block before we walked to the pub. We were promptly accosted by the group who had passed and re-passed us on day one, and then later in the evening spotted another pair arriving who we’d also seen on day one (they’d had “a few beers” the night before, which had delayed their start and therefore the rest of their day!).
I again left everyone else to head to bed whilst I looked for some stars. At first my roadside location didn’t seem great, but after some fiddling around, clambering over fences and pushing through bushes I eventually got a decent view of the milky way.
And so we started Day Three, with a metaphorical spring in our step but physically quite sore bottoms. The Trans-Cambrian way doesn’t include much singletrack, but the run down from Glaslyn nature reserve is amongst the best bits of the route (and provided an opportunity for lunch with Andy by the reservoir, first) . There’s no stable surface, you’re just surfing a wave of slate down the hill.
After that you soon pick up parts of the Mach trail loops, where yet another puncture struck Dick. Chris had a simultaneous mechanical, but after more swift spanner-work we were back up-and-running. This bit of route winds around fields and through lower ground that the high bits over the moorland of previous days, and it’s nice to have a change of scenery.
All of a sudden we popped out at the main road, and then the access track to the finish point: Dyfi Junction station. There is no vehicular access to the station, and I could find very little information online as to why a junction between these two lines is situated quite where it is. Bizarrely, the platform is incredibly long and the next train through this quiet little estuarine station was going direct to Birmingham.
Feeling rather pleased with ourselves, it was time to disperse to our various homes. I enjoyed the route, but I’m glad it’s no longer because I’m not sure my behind could take any more than three days in the saddle! It was a great three days, though, helped no small amount by the decent weather throughout. Massive thanks to Michelle for organising, Andy for driving, Dick for van loan, and everyone for good riding company.