Sunday, 2 August 2015

Mountain Biking the Hill Boundary of Powys - Day 8

25 years ago today I set off with a good friend; Mark, on the eighth day of our 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 8

02.08.90 – Black Mountains – Gospel Pass – Hay-on-Wye     

By the time we got up and out of the tent it was already hot and as we devoured breakfast we heard on the radio that temperatures in Wales were going to be in the 90’s Fahrenheit.  It was also predicted that the highest temperature ever recorded in Wales would take place in two days’ time, and here we were carrying 2½ – 3 stone of mountain bike and gear over some of the highest mountains in Wales.

I felt completely wiped out as we cycled up the narrow lane following the Grwyne Fawr as it flowed down on our right.  The paved road ended further up the valley and a track continued toward the Grwyne Fawr Reservoir.  When we arrived next to the reservoir the water level was already low exposing the land below, this land always looks rather pitiful as it is stripped bare of growth and resembles decay.

On our way up Waun Fach with the Grwyne Fawr Reservoir in the background

The high point of the Black Mountains is Waun Fach which can be easily turned into a quagmire after a prolonged wet spell, as we carried and pushed the bikes up the hill the ground was parched and bone dry, we cycled across the summit plateau to the remains of what was once the base of the hill’s trig pillar.  The ascent had taken us 65 minutes; coming down was fun and only took 15 minutes from the summit back down to the dam at the reservoir.  These descents were incredible as arms and legged pumped away with the bike seemingly on an out of control downward pitch where gravity and speed took over.

Cycling across the summit plateau of Waun Fach.  Seven down, one more to go

As we arrived at the dam we were met by Barry who had cycled up the valley after he and Hazel had dismantled and packed our tent away.  Barry then joined us cycling back down the valley as our planned route would now take us over Wales’ highest public road; the Gospel Pass.  We did have another option from the summit of Waun Fach and that was to cycle down its north-western ridge and hit the roads above Talgarth, this would give us an easy cycle route into Hay-on-Wye, but as we were following the periphery of the county of Powys we wanted to ride as near to the county boundary as possible, and anyway it would be fun to include the two highest public roads on our journey as we had already cycled up and over Bwlch y Groes at the base of the Aran earlier in the trip.

Meeting Barry at the base of Waun Fach for the continuation of our route down the valley

Cycling down the valley was easy and relaxing but it did give an odd feeling of heading in the opposite direction to where we wanted to go.  However, as we rounded the southerly outlier of Twyn y Gaer we started to head north up the Vale of Ewyas.  The road we were now on was narrow and continued for miles with intermittent high hedgerows either side that enclosed us into our own little world.

Having a quick wash in the Grwyne Fawr before continuing up the Gospel Pass

The early afternoon was proving very warm but cycling created its own breeze which was welcome, otherwise the task at hand would have been incredibly debilitating.  We had a lunch stop before the ride up Wales’ highest public road.  As I crested the top of the Gospel Pass I looked back as Mark slowly made his way up the road in front of Hazel and Barry who followed in the back-up vehicle.  Ahead of us lay one more hill range, we had now completed seven out of the eight mountains and only Great Rhos in the Radnor Forest remained but we still had over a third of the whole length of Wales to ride to complete our journey.

Mark cycling up the Gospel Pass with the back-up vehicle behind him

Barry joined Mark to cycle up the last part of the Gospel Pass and then the three of us hurtled down the road overtaking cars as we did so, as Barry and Mark were more skilful on a push bike than me they took the corners seemingly without any hesitation, whilst I tried my utmost to slow down and keep the bike on the road, at every corner we faced the possibility of meeting oncoming traffic, at the speed we were going the cars may have ended up in a worse condition than us if we had collided.

Barry and Mark nearing the top of the Gospel Pass, Wales' highest public road

As we arrived at the outskirts of Hay we waited for Hazel who had tried to keep up as we flew down the road.  We stopped in the town for a welcome drink and to do a shop before heading out of Hay on the Clyro road to another wonderful campsite.

Tomorrow:  Hay-on-Wye – Radnor Forest – Llanfair Waterdine     

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