Monday, 23 July 2012

Pen y Fan Horseshoe Loop (from Merthyr Tydfil.)

Pen y Fan is the the mightiest mountain in the Brecon Beacons, standing at 886 metres. It forms part of a strangely interconnected ridge system between Fan y Big (yeah, ha ha), Cribyn and Corn Du. On a nice day, or even a fairly shitty day, this place will be painfully overrun with numerous groups of hikers. The marked paths are a mixture of large and often loose rocks and groomed gravel. You can't miss the paths, and the basic 'horse-shoe' route can be eyeballed from the majority of the trail, making path-finding easy, even if you're a shitty navigator like me. I chose a day that threatened heavy rain with sunny spells, which worked out well, the dramatic weather improving the photos and minimizing the number of walkers. Since I was illicitly cycling on footpaths, the presence of walkers was a concern, although much of the time was spent dragging the bike up the steep slopes. It's a good ride though, if you don't mind the pushing, the second half spent bombing along the technical rocky paths along a plateau or ridge. My initial plan was to take an extended off-road route when returning south to Merthyr Tydfil, although I wasn't sure of the quality of the paths, and was running out of time, so cut this short, although I'd like to check this section out in the future. Here's the route map. For a chunk of the exit from Merthyr, I took the Taff Trail/National Cycle Route 8, which crosses a couple of viaducts and avoids spending ages going uphill through depressing suburbs or Merthyr.

It rained on the way, but that was fine.

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A track, marked as bridleway, leads you gently up the 'gap' mountain pass, a famous mountain biking route. Having only done the first half of this route, and then diverting onto footpaths, I can't really pass judgement on it, but I will anyway. It's pretty dull for the most part. Maybe the descent is really sweet, but the ascent was predominantly technically featureless. There is only one potentially challenging section , a small channel cut by a stream, with a steep descent and loose rock and dirt. The rest of (the first half) of the gap path is just track. You ride up it. Then you get to the top.

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I diverted at this junction, head west avoiding Cribyn, sticking to a rocky piece of rocky single-track the mostly followed the contours. This path is covered in rocks, which are large and often loose, making even the flat portions challenging although in a satisfying way. Since this route is designated as 'footpath', and the area is popular, I had to allow people to pass numerous times.

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I elected to push up the ascent to Pen y Fan. The ascent to Pen y Fan seems to take forever, and is steep. The path is well maintained, but features run-offs for water. During much of the ascent you have an excellent view to the north, at the edge of a steep escarpment.

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Near the plateau of Pen y Fan, large blocks of rock form the edge, although it's still perfectly passable.

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Apparently the summit is often cloudy, according to some guy I met near the top. This holds to be true with the one other time I hiked there, when the cloud was so thick that often fleeting glimpses of the surrounding countryside were visible. There are three main paths down, the east, which I'd come up, the south-east and the north. I south-east allows to to circumnavigate the Neuadd Reservoir. I should have inspected the North Route; it looks fierce, based on the gradients.

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Heading south-east takes you down a rocky staircase, which was too techy for me for the most-past. A heavily groomed trail heads towards Corn Du which is similar to the peak of Pen y Fan. After Corn Du , the path slopes gently downhill, close to the east edge, along the top of the escarpment. This sections of path (along Craig Gwaun Taf and Rhiw yr Ysgyfarnog ) is good, techy fun. The gradient is on your side, and despite all the rocks, the boggy or muddy portions and the height, this section is great fun.

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The descent back to the upper Neuadd reservoir seems to be on top of a stream - the dirt is loose and muddy, and steep. My original plan has been to go along a path just above the tree line, over Twyn Mwyalchod and Bwlch Gwyn, then rejoin the road. however, time was running short and I picture myself waist deep in mire and having to stay in Merthyr.

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It was a good ride. Lots of pushing though, there might be another approach that could allow for a ridden ascent.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Weston-Super-Mare to Middle Hope via Kewstoke Beach/Sand Bay - Coast Ride

I wanted to check out Middle Hope and figured that since the weather was supposed to deliver all manner of punishment upon the south west, I'd go as coastal as possible, get sodden from below (mud/seawater) and above (rain), but it wouldn't matter because it'd be short and I'd be gunning it the majority of the time. Middle Hope is a spit of land at the north end of the beach at Kewstoke, and it's nice enough but nothing special. The paths there are ridable, although short. Also the only way up to the headland is via stairs.

In Weston; at low tide, much of the sand is compact enough to ride. I love the failing arms on the dude caught in the mud.

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Kewstoke Beach/Sand Bay. I decided to go the arduous route by dropping down from the road onto the rocky shoreline and trying to pick a route through the mud and copious rocks.

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That went about as well as expected;

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Towards the abandoned pier/IRB station on Birnbeck island.

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After a tail-wind powered bomb along the coast, I cut through the marsh at the north corner of the beach surprisingly easily.

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On Middle Hope, it's windy.

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Middle Hope.

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It became ungodly windy towards the tip of the rocks.

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So, Middle Hope is alright, similar to Brean Down, although not as dramatic, but easier to reach. There isn't much riding there to be had, but gunning it along a beach with a tailwind is pretty good fun, as others have found.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Rhymney Overnighter

So, me and my friend and associate, Ell-Dogg, rigged up our mountain bikes to be sweet bike-packing machines and went to a whole different country. Here's our route. We hopped on the (doddering) train to Rhymney , which sits in a valley to the East of Merthyr Tydfil. It seems to be populated by exclusively teens and friendly drunken men with impenetrable accents. We rode out of Rhymney through Trefil , into the darkness of the Moors, Mynydd Llangynidr and Cefn yr Ystrad, all the while being moisted upon by the prevailing wetness.

Riding into open countryside, we turned off the track and onto a bridal-way that led into a forest, thinking we'd be able to go off the path far enough for secrecy in the forest. This turned out to be an impossibility, prevented by the slope and rocky outcrops. So, instead, we rode along the bridal-way , the world reduced to the balls of light from our headlamps, which made the already challenging single-track even more interesting especially when the fence was strewn uselessly halfway down the valley-side. In day-time, this track would be a lot of fun to ride. Eventually we found a wider spot of path and made camp, fire and drunkenness.

Here's the views from the camp-site, the next morning;
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Elliot dicking around, as usual;
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Myself doing very important things, and being cold, from Ell's perspective;
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A little way up the trail, the path became much gentler. Elliot attempts to ambush a waterfall;
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I attempt to ambush my bike;
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We left the forest, and the valley opened up before us to reveal the Cefn yr Ystrad quarries.
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One of Elliot's shots of the same trail, cropped to a square format because he's too cool for school;
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Looking toward Tor y Foel;
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Looking towards Bryniau Gleision :
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This photos shows the tail-end of the green-lane that bisects Bryniau Gleision and really doesn't do it justice - it was great, gunning it along this track, the ruts and undulations along this route made it awesome fun. I didn't stop to take a picture, it was just too much damn fun.
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We head off the marked paths to get onto the footpath, which involved some bog-slogging fun, although this was expected and didn't last long. The footpath we reached would lead us to the peak of Pant y Creigiau was pretty spongey.
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Another of Elliot's, looking towards the ridges of Pen y Fan;
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Not my idea. The view towards Pen y Fan from the trig point of Pant y Creigiau :
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We pitched the bikes and gear in a forest, hoped no-one would rob them, and shoed it up Craig y Fan Ddu , along the Nant Bwrefwr.
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Yet another waterfall. Jeez, Brecons, get some originality:

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From the east edge of Craig y Fan Ddu , looking north toward Graig Fan Las. It was windy as a mother-fucker. IMGP9800

I love peat bogs, unless I get lost in one.
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Elliot's innovative jacket storage solution (IJSS) continued to evolve throughout the outing;

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The Red Cow, a great pub in Pontsticill. A few good beers, nice atmosphere, relatively cheap and an open fire, which you don't appreciate properly until your shoes and socks have been sodden for a night and day;

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Looking towards lovely Merthyr Tydfil from Merthyr Common;
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On the road back to Rhymney;
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This was a damn fun trip for the most part, some of the trails were excellent, there some great sights across the valleys and a couple of half-decent photos. I'll definitely be returning to this area, and try and link some of the fun bits of trail. My trip from last December took a route that was close to what me and Elliot rode on this overnighter, and sections could be joined together to make a sweet circular route out of Merthyr or Rhymney.