This is my love letter to Wales. I am fascinated with it's rich history and rugged landscape. Within 50 miles I can travel over 5000 years. The Bronze and Iron Ages, the Middle Ages, and the not so distant Industrial Revolution all huddle beside each other amongst the verdant Southeast Valleys. This is where I ride and this is why I write.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Gospel Pass Epic pt.1

Llangynidr Commons

The Gospel Pass is the highest paved road in Wales making it a "must-do" for many cyclists. Getting there can be an adventure in itself. This month I begin a three-part report from my epic ride in August of this year.

The start of a fabulous day with clear views across the Brecon Beacons from Llangynidr Commons...

I've climbed the Gospel Pass several times - always on the southern route starting in Abergavenny. I wanted to give it a try from the northern route starting in Hay-on-Wye. It's not any further, but it's harder. I certainly got was I was looking for and more on this ride of a life time.

Total Distance: 95.6 miles
Elevation: + 6918 / - 6918 ft

What made this ride noteworthy is that had three distinct climbs; Llangynidr Commons, the Gospel Pass, and then Clydach Gorge. The views I experienced over nearly 7,000 feet of climbing were fantastic.

I started the day just past 7:00 am and returned through our back garden gate at 9:30 pm. I wandered and explored as much as I wanted. I shot loads of photos... so many photos that as I began writing up the report, I decided that I should break the feature into three parts. It seems natural to do this by the three distinct climbs I mentioned previously.


Gospel Pass Epic:
Part 1: Llangynidr Commons - Oakdale to Hay-on-Wye [ 45.9 miles ]
Part 2: Gospel Pass - Hay-on-Wye to Abergavenny [ 23 miles ]
Part 3: Clydach Gorge - Abergavenny to Oakdale [ 26 miles ]

So here we have it... this is Part 1 of 3 that I'll be working on over the next few months. Look for Part 2: The Gospel Pass in October and Part 3: Clydach Gorge in November.
Part 1: Llangynidr Commons
Section: Oakdale to Hay-on-Wye
Distance: 45.9 miles

The ride from Oakdale to Hay-on-Wye is nearly 50 miles and it's wonderful. The route can be broken into three small sub-sections; Sirhowy Valley to Garnlydan, Garnlydan to Lyngynidr, and Llangynidr to Hay-on-Wye.

I didn't take any photos during the ride to Garnlydan, but once I began climbing up to Llangynidr Commons my camera came out in earnest.

With that said, it's always an impressive climb over Llangynidr Commons leading into Brecon Beacons National Park and the weather was glorious today.

Looking ahead and glancing back as I begin the slow climb up the high ridge above Garnlydan. The road is generally not too busy. Cyclists are a common site and motorists often wave as they seem both surprised and impressed to see someone pedalling along this desolate expanse.

The Black Mountains are to my right... misty and mysterious, this part of the Brecon Beacons National Park is becoming my most photographed area of Wales. (For a completely different view, check out some photos from back in February: Llangynidr Commons II.)

There are a couple of lay-bys once you reach the top and it's only proper that you stop to just gaze upon the views. It's breathtaking. You'll often find other folks have pulled their cars over to snap a few quick photos too.

Before heading down the other side, I take it slow; weaving back and forth from one side of the road to the other... looking for good shots. There is just so much to see.

I'm very fortunate today; the sun is out and it's warm with very little breeze. It's late summer. The days are long. I can take my time.

It's going to be a very fast ride down to the bottom of the valley where I'll meet the Usk River at the sleepy village of Llangynidr.

And then I'm down... hands and wrist muscles burning, eyes watery, slightly out of breath. Three fast miles and one dodgy cattle-crossing - just like that!

Well isn't this perfect? Now I can sit back and relax. I've got nine fabulous miles of classic Welsh scenery to enjoy as I make my way to Brecon.

It's practically flat along the Usk River and that's the Monmouth & Brecon Canal on the other side. There are plenty of places to stop for a snack or toilet break or even some overnite camping, if you'd like? Come on... you know you want to!

Talybont-on-Usk couldn't be more quaint. There are several pubs right along the canal and that campsite I suggested is just around the corner... safe walking distance, indeed!

Yes, I know I'm taking too long. We've only been 25 miles. We need to keep moving for there is much more ahead of us today. But I just can't help myself from loving this place so much.

Before reaching Brecon, I turn east and head toward Llangorse Lake for four miles. Yeah, Llangorse Lake is awesome too... (see: "Llangorse Lake"), but I've got to keep going. Just past the lake I turn north again. That's Pen y Fan far off to my right.

At Talgarth my stomach tells me that it's time for lunch. I listen. I have sandwiches and coffee. Lets watch the locals. (Wait... what are they looking at?!?)

Then I'm off again riding over the rolling countryside. Old barns and sprawling farms dot the landscape for eight easy-peasy miles to Hay-on-Wye.

And now I'm rolling into Hay-on-Wye. I've cycled just under 46 miles. It's coming up to noon. I think I'll have another sandwich and people watch before the big climb up to the Gospel Pass.

End of Part 1...
I've got loads to work on now. Although it's a much shorter section, I have many photos to edit and details to outline. I hope you'll join me again as I continue my Gospel Pass Epic.

Check back next month for Part 2: The Gospel Pass. Thanks as always for visiting...

Cheers! - cm

It's surprising the attention that American knucklehead garnishes...

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Llangorse Lake

The largest natural lake in South Wales sits in a hollow between the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons. From high up on Llangynidr Commons, this little lake shines like a silver coin amongst the verdent mountains which surround it.

Dark skies over a restored medieval crannog add to the moody setting...

Despite its small size, this lake is special. At just over a mile in length and merely 500 feet wide; it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), for it has a rich and well-documented history. I've been to the lake several times and on every visit the skies have been dark and grey and ominous looking. Perhaps it's this lighting condition that gives it the special mystery for me?

A sunny morning start above Llangattock Escarpment...

Note: I made this ride on June 15th of this year, however; as I write this today it is the 15th of August. I am sat inside with a terrible cold, heavily medicated and somewhat dopey as I try to recount my efforts. Please bear with me if I seem overly-romantic.

Total Distance: 111.4 miles
Elevation: + 6492 / - 6491 ft

My adventure had two flavours; the first half heading north was mostly sunny and warm as I rode up toward Brecon (roughly 38 miles). I then turned east and south for the second half coming back to Llangorse Lake. It became dark and cloudy and looked as if a storm was going to unleash it's fury on me for the remainder of the day.

After riding up to Brynmawr, the first scenic vista of the day is Clydach Gorge. From this side of the valley you can clearly see how the rail line was cut into the side of the mountain. Further down you can also make out Clydach Ironworks and the open scars of a quarry.

Generally, you'll find quite a few cyclists along this stretch because it's absolutely flat, quiet, and the views are stunning. I had it all to myself today... providing yet another reason to love cycle touring on a weekday.

On this side of the valley the road runs along the Llangattock Escarpment; a series of limestone cliffs high above the Usk Valley. If you look closely, you can spot the Lonely Shepherd. (You can also read about my adventure last year with the Kingfishers: The Lonely Shepherd.)

Ahead of me to the north, are the Brecon Beacons. To my right are the Black Mountains. There is so much to see and explore... all it takes is getting out.

The morning was blustery, yet warm. Langorse Lake is miles ahead of me. I stop to take pictures. I was fiddling with two cameras; which always extends my time, but I don't worry about that too much. This is how I want to spend the day.

Nearing the end, the road turns abruptly, dropping nearly 1,000 feet in less than two miles to the village of Llangattock. Check yer brakes kids... one section in particular, is at a -22% grade!

It's hard to believe, but they did it... I don't know how or why, but yes, there are some houses clinging along the sides of this steep valley. Look quickly or you'll miss 'em!

Then I was down and cycling through Llangattock and Crickhowell; palms sweaty and breathing hard. It's a dramatic change in elevation and scenery as you pass from high clear mountaintop to deep dark woods.

Crossing over the Monmouth & Brecon Canal, I continued north on the lovely Cwm Crawnon Road which runs between the canal and Usk River. (Read more about this road in; Grosmont & Skenfrith Epic, pt 1.) Meanwhile, here are a few shots along the route heading toward Brecon.

Langorse Lake
After going under the A40 dual carriageway near Brecon, I turn right onto yet another unnamed road (yes, they have those here...) and I head out toward the village of Llangorse. It's a pretty empty road surrounded by high hedges for several miles.

The turn off to the lake is before you reach the village. There's a couple of caravan parks and a visitor centre plus some sort of adventure camp for kids, but I saw nothing happening... anywhere.

It is summer. It is warm. Why aren't kids running around? Why aren't boats out on the lake? Why aren't fishermen fishing? Where is everybody? Why am I alone at this magical place?

Along the northern edge of the lake is a manmade island called a "crannog". It's an early iron age wooden structure that they don't really know its original purpose. They have theories and vague notions based upon items dug up, but after so long and having passed through so many cultures; it's speculation at best. Much is lost to time.

Far up the opposite end of the lake is Blaenllynfi Castle. It's fallen down now and mostly just a pile of rocks deep in the woods and though you can't see it from here; standing at the castle you can see the lake. It's just another story lost to time.

It's quiet and calm. The wildlife seem at ease. I wander about taking snaps. The water laps against the piers. The ducks quack mildly annoyed. I sit and have my lunch.

As I begin to leave, an old man with a long beard pulls up to me in a beat-up truck. You can hear the springs squeaking and the clutch hits the floor as he slows. With his head and arm hanging out the window, he says in a long drawl; " there's some horses coming your way" and continues on. I smile and say; "thanks!"

Then as he disappears around the corner, I hear the distinct clip=clop of horses approaching. Expecting several riders on horseback, I wait by the hedge for them to pass. A moment later, much to my surprise, I was met by over 20 horses! No riders, just horses of all shapes and sizes - just casually strolling down the lane. They were perfectly calm and relaxed. None seem to be surprised by me. They came over in small groups of two to three and poked their noses in my bags, sniffing and checking me out. I spoke to them. I patted their necks. I rubbed their brows for a few moments and as one group walked off, another group would approach me. It was if they all wanted to stop to say hello... each waiting in turn. They were as friendly to me as if we had known each other all our lives. I didn't even think to take pictures.

They were just about gone; then I shot one.

Riding away I wondered; "what am I doing?"

Looking back across the valley; "where am I going, really?"

"Where is this road leading me?"

I don't have a clue where I'm going. I have no idea what I'm doing.

I'm just finding stories within stories.

Report Card
Ride Name: Llangorse Lake
Start Date: Sat. Jun. 15, 2018
Starts in: Oakdale, Wales, GB
Departed: 07:17AM
Distance: 131.6 mi / 179.3 km
Elevation: + 6492 / - 6491 ft
Max Grade: 11.2%
Total Duration: 12:20:59
Moving Time: 09:25:09
Stopped Time: 02:55:50
Max. Speed: 36.4 mph
Avg. Speed: 11.8 mph
Weather: sun/clouds
Temperature: 15°c / 59°f
In conclusion...
The ride home was uneventful. Lost in my thoughts, I pedaled through the quiet lanes down to Abergavenny, Usk, and Newport - just as I've done a hundred times before.

It was a great day... granted, a long one. The wet weather held off and I made it home before the rain.

I've already got it in my head about going back with perhaps a side trip up to Talgarth. That could be fun. Thanks for taking the time to read my post. Keep an eye out for my next trip.

Cheers! - cm

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