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, October 26, 2017

Hay-on-Wye & Hereford Epic

On Saturday 17 June 2017 I made my longest single-day ride to date; 135 miles in 19 hours. I left at 5am and returned home at midnight. The weather was fabulous, the scenery amazing, and the trip became an adventure of a lifetime.

I had wanted to make this ride for a couple of years, so in January I committed myself to properly train for it. I slowly raised my endurance over the winter months with several rides of 100 miles or so. I then divided the overall route into eight shorter - and what I hoped would be manageable segments. Then I formulated a schedule. (see: above photo...)

The map above shows the overall route as planned and divided into eight distinct sections. You can click on each of the numbered divisions to view details of that specific section.

Riding a hundred miles on a bicycle in a day is a fairly big deal for me. However, extending that distance to 135 miles was a rather daunting consideration. And yet it's not just the mileage that makes a ride of this length so difficult... it's the time. For anyone who has spent 10 to 12 hours cycling - it can be gruelling; but 19 continuous hours on the road, pedalling yer bicycle... well, it gets a little crazy.

I carried tons of gear including rain jacket and waterproof trousers, as well as additional socks and (2) additional jerseys. Of course, I had my usual "fix-anything" tool kit and two spare tyre tubes along with enough food to feed four men a hearty lunch. But with everything said and done... it was a long, long, hard day. Huge thanks must be given to my lovely wife - Melanie stocked me well with loads of sandwiches and snacks and supported me throughout my training. I couldn't have done it without ya baby.

Section 1. Oakdale to Talybont-on-Usk
Time: 5:00 am - 7:30 am
Distance: 26.5 miles
Total: 26.5 miles

The start of the day was bright and warm and glorious. I rode down the hill from our house to find the Chartist Bridge looking lovely in the early morning sun. The air was crisp and clear with just a touch of humidity.

Once across the bridge at Blackwood, I immediately turned north up the Sirhowy Valley to begin the climb to Garnlydan and Llangynidr Commons. There was not a soul about... no cars, no people walking, no dogs... just me and I owned it all.

The early morning shadows were long across the road and the sky was a deep sea blue as a passed through Georgetown and Tredegar silently like a lark. Sheep stood in the middle of the road and bayed with surprise to see me passing.

Getting up over Llangynidr Commons can be a long slow slog, but I was charged with enthusiasm and made it surprisingly quick. Needless to say; the views were fantastic. Thankfully, I had the good sense to slow down and take a few photos.

I cannot emphasize enough how spectacular the scenery is in Wales. Plus, the ability to get on my bicycle and ride less than 20 miles to experience such grandeur will never cease to awe and inspire me.

At the top of Llangynidr Commons there is an insanely fast descent into the village of Llangynidr followed by a lazy drift up the road into Talybont-on-Usk. Including the time I spent taking snaps, I made it to my first stop 30 minutes earlier than I had planned. Crazy.

Section 2. Talybont-on-Usk to Brecon
Time: 7:45 am - 8:15 am
Distance: 6.5 miles
Total: 33 miles

When I arrived in Talybont-on-Usk I stopped by the community bulletin board for a short snack and coffee. After exchanging glances with the bleary-eyed locals as they wandered into the shop across the street for their morning papers, I climbed back on board my bike to ride up to Brecon.

The route follows alongside the stunning Monmouth & Brecon Canal for most of the way to Brecon. For this particular section I followed the "Taff Trail" - a hugely popular and well-known route of the National Cycle Network. It's a lovely ride.

Entering the village of Llanfrynach just south of Brecon...

Section 3. Brecon to Talgarth
Time: 8:30 am - 10:00 am
Distance: 9.5 miles
Total: 42.5 miles

I cruised along the canal into sleepy Brecon like a cool morning breeze. I could hardly believe the time. The town was silent. There was no one about... no one to witness the grin on my face and the wonder in my eyes as I pedaled past the lime kilns and dark windows of Bullwark Street.

I stopped at the marina for a bit more to eat and finish my coffee for I knew the next section to Talgarth would involve a bit of climbing. Plus, a quick bit of bike porn before I hit the road.

And then the climb began in earnest. Leaving out of Brecon the road narrows, turns into the woods, and goes up, and up again.

Honestly, it's eye-poppingly steep (see the elevation detail above...), but well worth the climb because you come out of the woods onto a high ridge with views across valleys on both sides.

And it's the perfect place to pause, catch your breath... and just gaze at the breath-taking vistas which surround you.

Section 4. Talgarth to Hay-on-Wye
Time: 10:15 am - 11:00 am
Distance: 7.5 miles
Total: 50 miles

I made it to Hay-on-Wye by 11:00 am having cycled 50 miles and to be honest, I was pretty beat by the time I cruised into town. I was in need of a break and some food!

This next section was mostly flat (what I needed!) and continues on NCN Route 8. I think I was still recovering from the previous leg and oddly enough, I didn't shoot any photos.

NOTE: Next time I go to Hay-on-Wye I'll go via Llangorse Lake and skip NCN Route 8 from Brecon to Talgarth. It's a really tough set of climbs. I'm glad I did it, but it's not one I would include if making a long single-day ride.

Section 5. Hay-on-Wye to Hereford
Time: 11:30 am - 1:30 am
Distance: 23.2 miles
Total: 73.2 miles

Fantastic route! I took Hardwicke Road out of Hay (B4348) for the first couple of miles which is a bit of a climb, but then turned off onto B4352 just before Hardwicke. The route then flattens outs as it then follows along the Wye River and is simply beautiful.

The area is very rural with large working farms... and what I really appreciated is that they're not "gentrified" country estates. They appear as if they've just been family farms for generations (dare I say hundreds of years?).

There were a few small hills, but nothing too killa. The main issue I encountered was a section of road being re-tarmacked. For a few miles this proved to be surprisingly difficult.

There was a thin layer of fine gravel across the road for about two miles which was quite slippery. This slowed me down considerably - plus I was forced to stop for any traffic.

I turned off B4352 onto Woodbury Lane at the super-cute village of Moccas. There were loads of cyclists along the road as I came through, so I guess this is a popular Sunday route. The road is very quiet with hardly any traffic and provides some great views of the Wye River. Also of note; there are two interesting campsites along here; Byecross Farm Campsite and Preston Campsite. Both look lovely and shaded whilst perched on the bank on the river.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find a quiet road into Hereford from the direction I was coming, so I was forced to ride on the very busy A465. Coming into town proper there are cycle paths, but you need to keep a sharp eye out to spot the little Sustrans signs.

However, after approximately two (harrowing!) miles I spotted NCN 46 crossing the main road. This turned out to be an excellent route. NCN 44 crosses at the Wye River, which then follows the river directly into the centre of town. Easy peazy! and it was lovely too.

Cyclists were everywhere. The sun was out. It was warm. Hereford seems to be a very bike-friendly city. I love how they made the road serpentine through the high street to calm traffic. Plus look at that cycle lane... AWESOME!

I sat outside the cathedral and had a much needed long lunch. I couldn't have asked for better weather; the sun was out and the temperature perfect (23°c/73°f). I wandered outside the church grounds, but didn't venture inside. Time was a bit tight, so that will have to be something for my next visit!

I cycled for a while through the very lovely city park and ended up exploring more than I had planned because it's quite large. Wandering without a destination sometimes leads you to the most fascinating discoveries.

Section 6. Hereford to Abergavenny
Time: 2:30 pm - 6:30 pm
Distance: 30.8 miles
Total: 105.4 miles

However, getting out of Hereford turned out to be somewhat harder than I had envisioned. After leaving the city park, I got completely turned around and ended up going the wrong way. It's inexcusable really since I had a very reliable GPS system as well as paper maps! But there ya go... no amount of technology can fix the inept.

I have no idea where this leads, but I'm a sucker for paths that look like this... I must ride them! (See: previous caption for lesson in irony.)

Once outa town, the route wasn't difficult, but I was starting to feel tired. I found some nice long flat sections, but my misadventures in the park - coupled with late afternoon traffic leaving Hereford had taken more out of me than I was prepared for.

By the time I got to Kilpeck at 4:00 pm (87 miles) - I was wiped out. I stopped at the inn, sat at the pub and drank two cold Coca-Colas, one after the other attempting to regain some composure. (No excuse for not taking any photos of the church btw...)

Back on the road, dragging myself somewhat and with the sun getting lower; I still had to admit that the day was simply spectacular. Stopping to take a few snaps also provided a good opportunity to rest.

Seeing the Skirrid looming ahead was a welcome sign that I was nearing Abergavenny. My mileage was just hitting the century mark and I was dragging. I could feel my shoulders humped up and I was looking down at the road more than I should. What a day!

Section 7. Abergavenny to Pontypool
Time: 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Distance: 14.7 miles
Total: 120.1 miles

Getting to Abergavenny meant that I could get up on the canal path - which despite being longer than taking the road... it's flat. I was plumb worn out. I knew leaving out of Pontypool that I'd have a few hills. I needed to save myself for the last big push.

I took another long stop for dinner before heading to Pontypool. It was 6:00 pm and I had cycled roughly 110 miles over 13 hours by this point. I had another 25 miles to finish but with 15 of those being traffic-free miles along the canal path, I was somewhat enthused.

Sometimes you look all day and not find a great shot. Then sometimes when you're not looking... head hanging down... you find a lovely image.

Section 8. Pontypool to Oakdale
Time: 9:30 pm - midnight
Distance: 16.2 miles
Total: 136.3 miles

I left the canal at Pontypool and rejoined the old road to Hafodrynys tired to the bone. I'd been on the road and on the bike for 16 hours. One last long leg to go...

What little remaining energy had to be conserved for a few big hills at the end. Just turning the pedals round for another 2 hours. No thinking... just get home.

It was just past midnight when I pulled up in the back lane. I had left out the gate 19 hours earlier. My legs were like jello. My arms and shoulders ached. The bottom of my feet burned. My butt was just numb.

Melanie was long gone to bed. I made it into the shower and then crawled under the blankets and slept like the dead.

It took me a few days to recover from my ride. I sat inside and tried to write about my adventure. I started and stopped and started again. Filtering my content down to what might be readable became very difficult for me. Then I just gave up for a while.

It's the end of October, four months have passed, I've had a week of rain and I finally got back to writing this report. Looking on the trip now feels almost like a dream though I remember it vividly.

I hope you've enjoyed your time here. Thanks for stopping by and beware the evil cows!
cheers - cm

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