Sunday, 26 July 2015

Mountain Biking the Hill Boundary of Powys - Day 1

25 years ago today I set off with a good friend; Mark, on an attempt to circumnavigate by bicycle Wales’ largest county; Powys.  To add interest to the venture we planned on visiting the highest point of each of the eight 2,000ft hill ranges within the county, which are all situated around its periphery, bikes included.  We were backed up by Hazel and Barry; without whom our little adventure would not have taken place.  Prior to setting off and during our trip we raised money for the British Heart Foundation and the Ystradgynlais Mountain Rescue team.

The following is an account of this ten day expedition with each day’s journey appearing on the Mapping Mountains blog 25 years after it had taken place.

The county of Powys with the eight 2,000ft hill ranges positioned around its periphery

Day 1

26.07.90 – Welshpool – Long Mountain – below the Berwyn

The preparation for the trip had taken many months of map study and organisation with a number of alternate routes up most of the hills being reconnoitred on foot for easiest access and descent by bike.  Leading up to the start of the journey we had also increased our weekly cycling mileage, which we hoped would set us in good stead for the upcoming days around the hills.  All we now hoped for was favourable weather over the next ten days.

As I left work I headed home and was soon at Mark’s house knocking on the front door.  Within minutes we were on our proverbial and literal bikes cycling through Welshpool and heading toward the steep climb up the Long Mountain.  As the narrow road steepened beyond Leighton we had to get off and push, this wasn’t a good sign so early in the journey but the gradient was one of the severest we encountered over the next ten days.

We met Hazel and Barry at the top of the road which follows the ridge crest of the Long Mountain as it rises north out of Forden and descends south into the fertile pastures of mid-Wales and Shropshire.  We had chosen this point as the official starting place as it is the nearest part of the Welsh – English border to where Mark and I lived.

Mark with a last minute check of his bike just before we set off on our ten day adventure

I had chance to take a couple of photos before Mark, Barry and me set off on our mountain bikes following the lane north before heading left at the cross roads just before the Welsh Harp Farm.  Hazel followed in the back-up vehicle as we shot down the lane as it lost 280m in height over the next 3km of distance.

Mark and Barry on the Welsh - English border on the Long Mountain which was our starting point for the journey ahead 

As we cycled along the busy A 458 a number of lorry’s thundered past, the contrast between this A road and the quiet, narrow, country lanes we had only just left was obvious, because of this the route had been meticulously planned to avoid as many miles on A roads as possible.  Thankfully we only had a couple of miles to cycle on the busy road before turning off in Trewern toward Criggion, Llandrinio and Four Crosses.

This trip was taking place before the convenience of mobile phones so all rendezvous had to be arranged prior to setting off on each part of the journey, with times and places agreed beforehand; however as Hazel approached Trewern she took a wrong turn which resulted in us waiting and back tracking until we found one another.

Barry started to lag behind me and Mark when cycling past Criggion and by the time we had reached Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain he had packed his bike on the rack of the van and had taken over the driving duties.  This left the two of us to continue north out of Llansantffraid gaining height before dropping down to join the B 4396.

The evening was proving rather beautiful with blue skies and a light breeze and we set a good pace as we cycled the 5-6 miles into Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant.  Once in the town we stopped, took on much needed water and waited for the back-up vehicle.

Taking a well earned rest in Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant

Our next few miles proved exhausting as we followed the lane as it contoured its way around the southerly bulk of Moel Hen-fache, before heading north with the Afon Iwrch below us on the right.  We were heading into Cwm Maen Gwynedd, but to get there we had another steep uphill to attempt, it defeated both of us and we had to stop and push the bikes the last few metres to the top of the road.

Cwm Maen Gwynedd has a paved road heading up it toward the main Berwyn ridge and we hoped to find a suitable spot to set up our tent.  Hazel and Barry had driven ahead and by the time we had reached them Barry had kindly set up our Wild Country tent next to a stream.  This spot was idyllic and as Hazel produced hot dogs and cake, and mug after mug of glorious tea, Mark and I rested happy in the knowledge that the first day was complete without any mishap.  However, the weather forecast for tomorrow was not promising but our route over the Berwyn had been reccied and as I lay in the tent the soothing sound of the stream and my tired body meant that sleep easily overtook me.

Tomorrow:  The Berwyn – Bwlch y Groes – Dinas Mawddwy     

No comments: