Bikepacking Around The Brecon Beacons

With a new job starting in June, I realised that May might be my last chance for a while to squeeze in a mini cycling adventure. It was rather short notice for planning a bikepacking trip in Wales, but I had the bug and my bike legs were itching to ride. I just needed to get my kit together and go!

I frantically began yet another great gear faff, constructing a new lightweight one person tent and bivy sack as well as some new bike bags for my trusty ol’ trail bike (more on the setup in my next post). I got in touch with some peeps on Bear Bones Bikepacking forums for advice on routes, gear, etc. Thanks to long distance legend, Ian Barrington, for pointing me to his epic Strava tracks and the England-Wales-England route (EWE) by Aidan Harding.

Brecon Beacons Bikepacking Trip (direct link)

Wales Is Wet!

I knew that Wales had a reputation of being almost invariably wet, but nothing could have prepared me for the torrential rain and thunderstorms that awaited me. As soon as I got off the train in Newport, I was immediately greeted by a torrential thunderstorm which caused train cancellations and campsite closures. I was taken by surprise and decided to seek refuge at the Black Sheep Backpackers Pub in Abergavenny for the first night. It didn’t let up on the following morning, but I continued to pedal into the Black Mountains, fully saturated and gritting my chattering teeth with a maniacal grin!

After splashing most of the mud off my bike and body in the LLangorse Lake, I sheepishly rolled into Priory Mill family campsite in Brecon. I must have looked filthy and pathetic, a mud monster with no super powers. The woman actually asked me if I needed shoes or extra clothes! These first two days set the stage for the miserable moisture that (for the most part) persisted throughout the week.

You would think that these conditions would discourage all but the most tenacious beings from venturing outdoors. On the contrary, the people of Brecon seem unfazed by the weather. Despite the downpour, the campsite was full, cyclists were everywhere, muddy joggers were smiling and kayakers were splashing up and down the canal like big, happy ducks! Brecon is truly a hub for the intrepid! This inspired me to ignore my water logged feet and embrace the mud with a (grimacing) grin. Isn’t it ironic and lovely that a place with such foul weather has such an avid love for outdoor sports!?

Route Highlights

I didn’t really have a set plan for my route. I just pieced together some interesting sections from the GPX files mentioned above and followed my nose. The highlights included the Talybont Reservoir section of the Taff Trail (day 3), Ian’s Fforest Fawr route (day 5) and Afan Forest trails near Glyncorrwg (days 5 & 6). My Strava tracks for May 2014 are here. You can download the complete GPX route from the Everytrail page here.

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Rolling out of the Newport station, I was greeted with this.

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I set off on the canal footpath…

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Should have brought pontoons and a paddle!

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Waterways were bursting at the banks…

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After Abergavenny, things got wet…

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…and a bit more wet…

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…did I mention it was wet?

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Following a section of the epic EWE route through the Black Mountains…

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…dark clouds continued to hover, threatening further saturation of all things…

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…copious amounts of water squeezed under old bridges.

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The clouds began to lift to reveal rugged sheep trails and green patchwork quilts…

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I made sure to include plenty of bijou break-ettes.

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Peanut butter is essential, but in the absence of jam, I incorporated some dark chocolate.

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Embrace the mud!

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Testing out my new tent and bivy which I made by hand with materials from Point North Fabrics

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My new kitchen consists of a 700ml MyTiMug from AlpKit, a homemade windscreen, some spare tent pegs and 250ml of meths for the week.

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Exploring the Taff Trail – Fan y Big Loop…

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…on a rather soggy day…

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…a rugged landscape, indeed!

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…sheep trail stream crossings…

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…and up the other side.

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NAAAAAY!!!

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Down the north side of Fan y Big back towards Brecon

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Adios, wog dockers!

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Loving the new PD-8X dynamo from Shutter Precision! Trickle charging my cache battery works down to 7km/hr with a 26″ wheel! More info on this later!

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Rare colours in these parts!

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The road gets a few moments to dry out just before another downpour!

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My cockpit, with the Sinewave USB charger, Garmin and cache battery tucked away in the frame bag

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Following another great route I got from Ian Barrington, I enjoyed some gorgeous backroads between Brecon and Ystradgynlais.

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Drama clouds…

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…timid locals…

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…tree tunnels…

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…lunch spots…

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…with a built in windscreen for my afternoon coffee prep…

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After a steady climb up from Resolven, I stumbled across the Afan Forest MTB trail centre. It was too good to pass up…

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Irresistible detours on the Skyline Loop

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Evening view from my bivy above Glyncorrwg, just 100m off the Skyline Loop

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…with a final glimpse of the sun for the night

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The next morning began with a Lars size cowboy coffee…

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…to get me rollin’…

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…down the Peregrine Ridge section of the Skyline Loop (I think that’s a typo on the sign)…

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…lush and laid back descent…

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These trails are well maintained and drained, making a nice departure from the mud fest theme.

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From Glyncorrwg, I made my way to cycling route 47 (aka the old celtic road)…

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… but decided to try a few detours along the way!

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Some of which revealed glorious alternative routes…

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…and climbs!

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Fortunately, I had plenty of fuel…

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Looks like I just missed a big party near Pontypridd!

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Back onto my good friend, old Celtic 47…

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I was delighted to find so many well maintained, dedicated cycling routes in South Wales…

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…but there are plenty of unmapped options as well, like this sheep path to the top of Cefn Eglwysilan.

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nosey cows

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Avoiding some busier sections of route 47, I found some nice alternatives…

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… including some trails near Machen hill, on my way back towards bustling Newport.

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… a final bit of mud gazpacho for good measure…

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style points!

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my disheveled stead…

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…after seven days of abuse…

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…a few slips in the mud…

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…this drivetrain needs some love…

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…chainrings sanded into shurikens…

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My new DIY seat pack didn’t really hold its shape well after getting wet…

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Mud monster with trench foot needs bath time!

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