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Starting and finishing at the Belgium Brewery this 70km route is 50% lanes and 50% off road.
A two day cycle camping adventure starting in England into the Black Mountains and back, trying to take in as many quiet lanes, cycle paths as possible. Route planned using cycle.travel.
Karl and PG take on their first joint cycling adventure.
Karl and PG haven't met before and know each other via a mutual friend Andy and have been chatting on WhatsApp for nearly a couple of years.
Having driven down to Karl’s in Winchester on the Friday night, this left us with an hour and half’s drive on the Saturday morning to our chosen parking place, just south of the Severn Bridge. I (PG) had spent a fair bit of time researching the route, working out pub and coffee stops and also a safe location to leave the car for 2 days. The plan was to leave the car at Olverston and I had identified an exact location. On the Saturday morning, about to leave Karl's place, I could not find the exact location and took a guess and set Alverston as the destination rather than the planned start of the route in Olverston. (Lucky for me they are just 2 miles apart!)
We were soon parked up (residential side road in Alverston) and unloaded the bikes and kit, setting the Garmin Edge to navigate to the start of the route. We soon left the road as the GPS took us on off-road tracks around the village and down to the planned route start in Olverston. From here we followed a cycleway in a loop out and around to the west side of the Severn bridge. We had one section of the cycleway that was blocked and had to divert on to the main road, but was soon on the bridge with spectacular views of the Severn estuary. A bit of a head wind slowed us down, but soon we left England behind and crossed into a sunny Wales.
My original plan was to try and get to the Wales side of the Severn bridge by 8:30am, giving enough time to participate in the Severn Bridge parkrun, but due to a combination of me having a groin strain and Karl not being too strong a morning person, we didn’t get to the Wales side of the Severn bridge until 10:30am and the parkrun was long gone.
We left the bridge behind us and followed the cycleway along the main road towards Chepstow dropping down into the centre. For me, this was the first time I had been back to Chepstow since 1976, when with my brother and parents we walked Offas Dyke (Chepstow is the starting point). We cycled past Chepstow castle and over an ornate bridge crossing the river Wye. As we started to climb what was the first of many hills on this route, my Garmin Edge locked up and we missed an all-important turning. By the time the GPS had sorted itself out, I spotted that we could cut across a field via a footpath and make our way back to the route further up the hill.
We took the narrow hedge lined footpath to a metal kissing gate and had to hoist the heavy bikes overhead to get through. I managed my bike with bike packing bags fairly easily, but found Karl’s pannier laden bike to be a good 5kg or more heavier. From here the footpath took us to a road which looked like we were just a few hundred metres from re-joining our route (according to GPS). We climbed uphill only to discover we were trying to join a route that was in the Tidenham tunnel beneath us! A quick check of the GPS indicated that we needed to head back down the hill and off to another lane where we would find the route again. This time we were on a bridge looking down at a cutting on to the entrance to the tunnel and without ropes, we weren’t going to get to the track! Another check of the GPS indicated another point further down the hill where, hopefully, we could join this old railway line which had been converted into the Wye Valley Greenway (opened in April 2021). Lucky for us, we could join the track and head towards the Tidenham tunnel. Phew, at last back on track! That little navigation cockup cost us more than an hour of wasted time and an unnecessary hill climb.
Once on the Greenway, progress was good, but bumpy and pretty flat and we soon came across the entrance to the 1.1km Tidenham tunnel. The tunnel is a really interesting and entertaining route as although you can cycle it, you can’t take a horse. After the tunnel was opened in April 2021 bats moved in and to protect them and their habitat, the lighting had to be changed to low level dim lights, which would probably scare a horse. It was pretty scary to cycle as it takes time for your eyes to get used to the low level lighting and you can just make out pedestrians and other cyclists using the tunnel. Lucky for us, there weren't very many others in the darkness. I can imagine for those of a nervous disposition that this would be a scary experience. Luckily the surface was a smooth tarmac, with occasional water drops falling from the ceiling. Karl remarked how much cooler it was in the tunnel (after the hot climb)and it was nice to emerge into the bright sunlight at the far end. The tunnel isn’t straight and curves so you can’t see the exit until the end of the 1.1km. Either side of the tunnel the cycleway is a bit bumpy and must have been rutted in the winter. If we hadn’t had the GPS issue we would have covered 7kms of the Greenway up to the old wireworks bridge at Tintern Abbey. The original railway was in use up till 1981 serving a local quarry.
As you come out of the tunnel, you have views across to your left of the River Wye and impressive Tintern Abbey. After a short (and busy) section we cross the wye on the old Wire works bridge. Didn’t find out till after our trip that the old bridge is to be closed for refurbishment work in June 2022 and is likely to be closed for the best part of a year!
Crossing the bridge takes into Tintern, where there are several popular and busy cafes serving the tourists from the Abbey and the Greenway. Our plan was to stop at the cyclist café called the ‘Filling station’. The all-important first Coffee of the day was followed by a Bacon and Brie panini for me and Karl had the same and an additional Rocky road cake! We relaxed in the midday sun and chatted to another cyclist (roadie) about how kit (camping and cycling) had improved over the years. Our original itinerary (which was fairly flexible) had us at ‘Filling station’ café by mid-morning as we left the cafe after midday and we headed off onto the tiny (lost lanes) of Wales to cut across towards Abergavenny.
This section of our route headed West over numerous climbs. The climbs weren’t too long or steep, but there were many. I was glad of my recently lowered 26 x 31 ‘granny gear’ and found I would at first attack the hill and then drop into the 26 x 31 to finish each climb without raising a sweat. Karl’s gearing wasn’t so low at 34 x 34, which seemed ok for these climbs. After a number of climbs we finally got to the pub (The Clytha Arms) where I had planned to stop for lunch, but as it was after 3pm, Karl had a pot of tea and I downed two pints of cider. From here, it wasn’t far towards Abergavenny which we skirted around towards the North and to the road that took us into the Black mountains and llanthony.
Just as we were to turn off (on to the road into the Black Mountains), we had one more pub stop, Skirrid Mountain Inn, the oldest pub in Wales (or so they say). Another cider for me and Karl had a sensible tonic and lime and got his water bottle filled for the last 10km up to Llanthony.
The narrow road through the black mountains is slightly touristy and also has local farm traffic, so was a little busier, but not too bad. It climbs slightly between the two mountain ridges and we got glimpses of Lord Hereford's knob and Hay Bluff, the highest local point at the northern end of the valley.
Upon arriving at Llanthony, we had already decided to camp at the Priory campsite. My previous trips to Llanthony (many years ago) with brother and parents, we always camped at the pub campsite, (which is no longer owned by the pub), there is a third campsite here, which is a riverside pitch at Treats, which also has a bunkhouse. All three campsites are pretty basic and have no showers and charge £5 a night and it never felt too busy.
I had my tent up in under 20 minutes and went off to look around the priory. Karl was a little weary and took a little longer with his more complex abode. A quick visit to the cellar bar, which is in the ruins of the priory and a pint of a rather nice Double Dragon, I went off to take many photos of the sun setting through the ruins. Soon after Karl cycled up to find me soaking up the last of the sun, while sitting on the back wall.
Off to the pub! A very short cycle ride is the Half-moon pub, which I have fond memories from previous visits many years ago as a teenager with my brother and parents. Karl and I arrived at the pub at 7:57pm, just in time to catch the last food orders. Curry for me and Lasagne and chips for Karl. We found a seat by a 13amp socket so we could charge phones and gadgets.
We stayed for a while and chatted about our route so far and also discussed a possible future adventure on motorcycles.
My circadian body clock has me awake at 5:30am sunrise and I lay in my sleeping bag for a bit before finally getting up. My lightweight single skin tent means I am soon packed and ready to go by 6:30am, but aware that Karl was planning to get up at 8am, so head off on the bike to explore the tiny village and to have another walk around the Abbey ruins, returning back to the campsite just before 8am. As Karl gets into his morning routine, the owner of the campsite comes around to collect the fiver a head fee. Karl thought he was doing so well, waking at around 7.30, hearing a light snoring that he thought emanated from my tent and proceeding to pack up inside his tent thinking he was ahead of the mutually agreed latest get up time of 8.00am. Upon emerging later he was shocked to see me sitting there packed and ready to go and learning the snoring was attributable to other neighbours!
No possibility of a fry up or a coffee in Llanthony for campers, we head the 10km South into Abergavenny to find a café. I had earmarked one café, which is well known to local cyclists, which looked promising upon arrival as it had a big sign offering a 10% discount to cyclists! We checked over the menu, which was all very nice, haute cuisine and healthy looking, but lacked the all essential fried breakfast. So, we headed on to the motorcyclist café down by the bus station for a more unhealthy looking option. It was great to sit outside and see the growing number of motorcycles coming and going. After a brief chat with a couple of bikers we navigated back to the route, which takes us past the old castle and onto the meadows down by the river Usk. Through a bit of traffic and then through the underpass (under A40), I spot that we have a big climb in front of us, that takes us up to the Brecon and Monmouth canal. This was the steepest climb on route so far and there was no way I was getting up here without breaking into a sweat! Just as we approached the canal, the last 20m required us to carry the bikes up steps to the towpath.
Once on the towpath we were treated to some great views back across to Abergavenny and the surrounding valley. The towpath was a delight, with very few walkers and cyclists and just the occasional narrow boat. After about 10km, we leave the towpath and head back towards the River Usk. Our route rather than follow the river climbs high above leaving us looking down on the river. Not much further we arrive at our lunchtime destination of Usk. As we entered the pretty town of Usk we came across a large convoy of two stroke motorcycles, mostly water cooled Yamaha RD 250/350s. Leaving that lovely smell of Castrol R behind them and, for us motorcyclists at least, not detracting from the genteel charm of the place What a sight and smell!
Usk was very pretty and busier than normal this Sunday lunchtime as there was a relay running race with 15 mile stages. The first pub we visit just has roast dinners, so we head across the road to another pub with a wider selection of food. Our roadside table gives us a nice view of the centre of town and the runners sprinting into the finish.
As our food arrives, we are joined by a solo cyclist (old long haired roadie with a saddle bag) called Steve. Steve was very chatty over lunch and was heading back our way over the bridge and had been up in Wales to ride a sportive, but got upset with the organisers and decided not to join in and just do his own thing. He planned on clocking 100 miles by the end of the day.
We leave Steve with his chips and ham sandwich and head out of Usk along a flat road that takes us to the monster climb up the North face, (the full climb) up to Wentwood. The climb is 3.7kms long and hits 15.5% max gradient. I checked out the Strava segment and it is held by Andrew Feather who was British Hill climb champion in 2018 & 2020. He got up that hill in 10 min 14 seconds at a speed of 21.5km/h and max HR of 175bpm. My Strava feed says I took 35 mins. and 35 seconds at 6.5km/h with a max hr of 131bpm. Again, I was so pleased to have lowered my gear ratios, just before this trip as I wouldn't have got up there my old 31 x 31.
As we climb there are several false summits and not surprising Karl (lacking the low gear I have) has to eventually dismount in fear of a complete lactic acid induced stall and inelegant footstrap constrained plunge to the tarmac and. I wait for Karl to catch-up and we take the final section up into the middle of the woods for a very welcome café stop at the Glade café. The Café is surprisingly empty and backwoods chainsaw massacre esque for a Sunday as we are the only customers. Discussing our climbing efforts with the café owner, he tells us this is a regular training climb for British cycling squad on their rides out of Newport. (We dared not ask if they all make it out of the café alive!)
Coffee and cake are soon eaten and we sit soaking up the sun and preparing for the last section of our adventure. Our route from here takes us through the woods on some single-track and it isn’t long before I miss a turn and we find some mud! Karl explains the virtues of a mountain bike but I am not convince and push on riding my touring bike through the mud. Lucky for us, not too much mud and we are soon back on track with one more monster climb to finish us off for the day. This climb is not so long, but is just as steep as the last and catches Karl out again, as we crest the top of the hill we are presented with morale boosting views across the Severn estuary and Severn bridge.
Lucky for us, from here it is pretty much all downhill and we freewheel in the sun back down to the outskirts of Chepstow and follow the cycleway over the bridge. As it is getting late and we are both pretty knackered, we take the easier east side route across the bridge and follow the GPS to the end of our route in Olverston. It is at this point we realise our mistake of yesterday in leaving the car at Alverston, a further 2 miles away. It doesn’t take too long for our weary legs to take us back to the car.
This has turned out to be a great route with varied countryside and a very nice adventure that I would easily do again. We were blessed with very good weather for the majority of the trip, just the occasional grey sky. For me, I am so pleased I had a triple chainset with that 26 x 31 granny gear with a fairly lightweight kit. I am pretty sure I could configure a lighter setup and maybe lose a kg or more. Karl did exceptionally well with his gearing as this was by far his toughest ride for a long time. I think we both underestimated the amount of climbing which turned out to be much tougher than I remember on our ride across Wales (Lon Cambria) with Andy back in Sept 2020.
Day 1 - 84.47km and 1,319m
Day 2 - 72.79km and 817m.
Day 1 – 44.61km and 594m.
Day 2 – 55.77km and 726m.
Day 3 - 73.81km and 1,354m
Would I change anything? Lighter weight bike perhaps? Being a morning person, I would prefer earlier starts, but that wasn't a problem on this trip. 50 miles a day was about right. I might look into ditching the rear bike packing bag and go for either a seat tube mounted rack with a bag or maybe even a saddle bag. Maybe next time I will run the parkrun too! Karl is looking at the 2023 budget and thinking about a better touring bike and a few lighter bits of kit.
One last comment. We started this ride on the 21st May and it was on this day two years ago that we lost a great friend in Garry Grey. He would have loved to have been with us. Thinking of you Garry.
Two of us cycled the Lon Cambria from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth, leaving Shrewsbury on the 24th Sept 2020 at lunchtime and arrived at the sea by 11am on 27th Sept. Carrying loaded bikes with tents, the plan was to camp, but not cook and eat on the way. I left my car parked in a quiet street not far from the Shrewsbury station and we cycled out following the route on our GPS.
The first part through Shrewsbury is lovely and it is not long before you are away from the town and onto nice little quiet lanes. After a couple of hours, we came across the Royal Hill, Free house @ Edgerley and had a coffee and quick beer. Very nice little pub and well worth the stop.
From there we headed up and down some nice big hills to our first campsite @ Buttington, just outside Welspool. The campsite is part of the Green Dragon pub, which is beside the busy A458 and mainline railway, which crosses the A458 right by the campsite. For me earplugs are essential part of any cycle trip and they were very well appreciated that night. John, the landlord served great beer and lovely food. The campsite facilities are basic and clean and recommended.
In the morning, a short ride into Welshpool for a coffee and bacon roll, before the route joins the ‘monty’ (Montgomery Canal). According to Wikipedia – The Montgomery Canal is a partially restored canal in eastern Powys and northwest Shropshire. The canal runs 33 miles from the Llangollen Canal at Frankton Junction to Newtown via Llanymynech and Welshpool and crosses the England–Wales border and I can say is fantastic cycle path that all should ride! Lots of interesting derelict locks and building to see and take photos of, and very few people too.
At Newtown, we seeked out a café in the shopping centre for lunch and coffee. Lots of shops here for any purchases that may be needed.
The afternoon brought a fair share of undulations and use of 30 x 30 gear. Lovely to just plod along and have a good look at the scenery. This part of Poyws was made all the more scenic by the Autumn sun. Soon we were finally heading down hill into Llandileos and our second campsite, Dol-Llys farm, where I have stayed previously. Lovely site on the river. We pitch at the top of the hill near to the facilities. Once the tents are up, 15 minute walk down to Llandileos, which is very pretty with a good choice of places to eat. We went to the Angel pub and again was not disappointed. Lovely food and great beer. If planning to ride the Lon Cambria at a more relaxed pace, I would suggest spending more time here to look around the town. It is well worth it.
The Saturday morning sun was fabulous and warmed our cold bones. Days have been lovely and sunny, but nights have been cold. We have 5 miles of climbing over to Llangurig and a stop at the café for more coffee and bacon rolls.
From here the road is flatter as we head down the valley towards Rhayader and the centre of Wales. A coffee stop by the clock tower is right in the middle of the town and we sit outside and watch the busy traffic.
Taking the cycle path up the Elan valley, it climbs very gently and soon you are confronted by the large reservoirs and impressive Victorian dams. There are six dams in total and the Lon Cambria takes you passed three. First is Caban Coch, which is the lower dam just above the visitors centre (worth a stop) and then onto Garreg Ddu (A submerged dam) and then climb a bit higher to Pen y Garreg. I have been a frequent visitor to the Elan Valley and the water level this visit is much lower than I have ever seen before. You also find that this section can get very busy on the cycle path with lots of tourists. We also found the section of cycle path alongside Pen y Garreg was shut due to land slippage and switched to road for the final section of the Elan valley up to the Mountain road.
Once you turn left along the mountain road, there are less cars and tourists and again we are blessed we spectacular views illuminated by the Autumn sun.
Once beyond the old miners village at Cwmystwyth, you leave the road for a cycle track through the woods. We were heading a short way up of the Lon Cambria for a campsite (Penrhiw) at Ffair Rhos, opposite a pub (Teifi Inn). Again the food; beer and campsite were brilliant and well worth a visit.
Sunday, we were left with a short 20 mile ride into Aberystwyth. First we head back down hill to join the route and followed valley, turning to an off road climb, that had me off and walking for the first time this trip. Once at the top we joined what was the old Devils bridge railway that would lead us all the way to the sea. This section is a photographers dream and we stopped many times to take photos.
Train back to Shrewsbury worked out well, but be warned there only seems to be spaces for two cycles and guards do not like more than that per train.
It was such a shame to have to end this adventure as the two of us had really enjoyed the route and although this is Covid times, we really did see this part of Wales at its best. Food; drink and hospitality was fantastic and the scenery was a joy. I want to come back and do it all over again. Thanks to cycle.travel website. I will be using it again for my next adventure.