Wales Tour, summer 2020

Cycle-touring, Expeditions, Adventures, Major cycle routes NOT LeJoG (see other special board)
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Re: Wales Tour, summer 2020

Postby pwa » 14 Feb 2020, 9:08am

Preparations continue for our summer tour and my thoughts are turning to tyre choice.

My bike is no problem. Acres of clearance so any tyre will do. But my wife's bike, admirable in most ways, has one tiny problem. It is based around a re-purposed Islabikes Luath, a bike for teenagers and, frankly, a bit too short in the front centres. The only issue is that there isn't quite enough room between toe and front mudguard for my liking. At the moment she has 28mm Marathon Supremes (no longer made in that size) and SKS Chromoplastic guards, and I have it so that her shoe comes within 1mm of touching the guard at the closest point. Clearance between guard and tyre is okay with it like that. There may even be scope for a slightly wider / deeper tyre. As Supremes are now only sold in 32mm+ I am wondering if I can get 32s in there without worries. I don't have any 32s in that tyre to experiment with but I do have an old Pasela in that size so I may dig that out tomorrow and see what I can come up with. I don't want the arrangement to be too much of a worry on the occasional stretch of stone path.

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Re: Wales Tour, summer 2020

Postby pwa » 22 Feb 2020, 8:00pm

Steadily getting together long lost touring paraphernalia and the latest thing to be dragged out of the attic is a very well preserved Saunders Spacepacker Plus that must have been used on no more than a dozen nights. I think it was billed as a three man tent so should be just right for the two of us. It has two entrances, each with a good bit of storage space under the fly. I must set it up on the back lawn to make sure it is still good in the rain but it looks and smells fine.

I have never slept in that tent. My kids used it. I may have to sleep slightly diagonal but there will be enough width for that.

Cyril Haearn
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Re: Wales Tour, summer 2020

Postby Cyril Haearn » 9 Aug 2020, 8:56am

How did you get on, any surprises or interesting discoveries?
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Re: Wales Tour, summer 2020

Postby pwa » 9 Aug 2020, 9:51am

Cyril Haearn wrote:How did you get on, any surprises or interesting discoveries?

When I get around to it there may be a few pics, but until then, it went really well.

Day 1
Across country to the Taff Trail, then up to Pontsticill. This route involves some nice country lanes followed by (for me) a lot of shared use paths to get up the valley of the Taff to a few miles north of Merthyr Tydfil. You don't notice it at the time, but going up the Taff is mostly climbing and at the end of the day (just 43 miles) we were quite fatigued. Passing through former coal mining and iron making communities is interesting and we generally enjoyed it. Lots of friendly people to say hello to.

At Aberfan the camera stayed firmly in the bag. Taking pics seems disrespectful. We pondered what had happened there, right beside the Taff Trail, but didn't stop.

Our B&B was comfortable but their Covid precautions were a bit too subtle for our liking.

Day 2
Pontsticill to Shobdon was 51 miles that started hilly and got flatter as the day went on, and we ended up rolling along at a good speed. Lots and lots of very quiet country lanes, with mile after mile of zero traffic. Yes, that sort of cycling still exists.

The B&B was at a pub and we also had our evening meal there. Covid precautions were much better.

Day 3
This was our rainy day and we started fully togged up for our 30 miles to Montgomery. Our first 15 miles was littered with steep ups and downs on very quiet lanes and we were soon getting warm in the waterproofs, and as the hills eased and the speed went up we began to really enjoy things. The Dragon Hotel in Montgomery was our overnight stay.

Day 4
This day (roughly 50 miles) was our hardest, with lots of steep ups and downs on our way to Bala via lake Vernwy. It reminded me of cycling in Devon and Cornwall. But with a lot less traffic. Around the lake there were a lot of families walking and cycling, and enjoying the much improved weather. The flat miles by the lake refreshed our legs so we did the last, big climb okay. Our B&B just outside Bala was a joy with a lovely lady in charge and a grand Georgian room to stay in.

Day 5
From Bala to Harlech, including this road which I rated 9 out of 10: ... 6?hl=en-GB
Traffic on that particular road consisted of the odd tractor and postie, with mile after mile of peace and quiet and red kites, an old and very friendly farmer with an immaculately behaved collie, and wonderful countryside. Further up we got a glimpse of a reservoir with a particular significance that will not escape you.

We trundled into Harlech on the main road, deeming the Lon Las Cymru route a bit daft at that point. I like a good hill, but when a pancake flat main road gets you to the same place with less pain...... And it wasn't busy. The B&B was perfect. It was above the town, so quiet. And our room had a huge window looking out over the castle and the dunes to the sea, the Llyn Peninsula and Snowdon. We put two of those Ikea chairs (springy steam bent ply wood things) in the space in front of the window and just wallowed in the beauty of it all. We stayed there the next day, going for a morning walk down the endless beach in the sunshine.

Day 6
Day off in Harlech.

Day 7
Harlech to Machynlleth, mostly on Lon Las Cymru.
The weather was a bit too hot for my tastes, but it did make everywhere look great. Barmouth looked very summery with all the families in tee shirts and shorts but we were were glad to get away from the crowd and across the wooden bridge (saw a seal looking up at us) to the Mawddach Trail. That gave us some shade and a pancake flat 10 miles or so to Dolgellau, with the estuary to our left. Lunch at Dol's Co-op, then a big climb on LLC via Corris using very, very minor roads, some of it with gates to open and shut. Lovely but tiring. Even the alleged descent on the other side turned into down bits interspersed with sharp ups. The B&B in Mach was a drab rip-off but we slept well.
Last edited by pwa on 10 Aug 2020, 1:03pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Wales Tour, summer 2020

Postby pwa » 10 Aug 2020, 9:25am

Day 8
A short day from Machynlleth to Llanidloes over the Mountain Road to Dylife, following NCN 8 and LLC. One huge ascent followed by a broken descent (broken by lots of mini ascents).

The day began rainy but warm, and as we knew what was coming we kept the waterproof leggings and overshoes in the panniers and started with only waterproof jackets as protection from the rain. That turned out to be a good decision as the rain faded away and most of the ride was dry, apart from our own sweat. The jackets soon came off. The big climb was tackled methodically and it went well. We had planned to take breathers at the flatter bits, and that's what we did. On a couple of very steep bits we got off and walked, but in total we must have walked for five minutes and that felt like the best approach. We reached the misty top with its Sustrans cast iron marker feeling okay. The jackets went back on in anticipation of wind chill on the descent.

The initial descent has some very fast bits and I was able to let my bike build up some speed. At one point I reckon I got to 45mph, and the Spa frameset provided reassuringly stable handling with the four panniers. Just as it had on the long slow ascent.

LLC / NCN8 takes a minor road down to Llanidloes, rather than the main road past the reservoir, and we loved the first section through a small farming community. Then it went into coniferous forestry, which always feels a bit samey to me, though we did see a red deer darting across the road just in front. The rain was now just a memory, the road was mostly dry, and the warm, damp air was heavy with the scent of the conifers and bracken. Lower down we came to a popular picnic side with a car park and lots of cars and our solitude was punctured. From there down to Llanidloes we had to share the road with the occasional car. How annoying!

Llanidloes is a gem of a market town, with lovely buildings from various eras. Some half timbered, some Georgian, and all very attractive to look at. Out hotel had grand Georgian rooms with lots of space and plush, modern en-suites, so comfort was soon achieved.

Day 9
Llanidloes to Hay on Wye, just over 50 miles and following Lon Las Cymru for much of that distance. LLC runs parallel to the A470 but on the opposite side of the valley, the valley being that of the Severn initially, then that of the Wye. The A470 is a wide modern road that irons out gradients. LLC is not. It follows narrow lanes as they climb and descend, steeply at times. Lots of woodland and small fields. We descended a steep hill to Llangurig where we met a young woman cycling the opposite way. She was on her second day of LLC, having set off from Cardiff the previous day. She was on a race-oriented carbon machine and she was obviously athletic.

From Llanguring to Rhayader the lane continued to be relentlessly up and down. The day was warm and sunny. It was lovely and it was quiet, but we began to feel weary with it. A few miles after Rhayader I had planned to do a few miles on the A470 to avoid a notoriously rough bit of track on LLC, but the A470 proved to be so easy to make fast progress on that when, at Newbridge, I asked my wife whether she wanted to return to the LLC lane she said no. Five or six more miles of the A470 saw us get to Builth with a speed and efficiency we had forgotten was possible. And the road was wide enough to ensure passing traffic gave us lots of room.

From Builth to Hay was on the predictable B road route, partly NCN8, and we made steady progress. We were glad to get to our rented cottage where we would stay for a couple of days.

Days 10 and 11
Two days in Hay on Wye with our daughter, who had driven up to join us. We bought books, did walks and chilled. Very nice.

Day 12
We had pencilled in the Gospel Pass for this day but the weather wasn't great and we had to get to Pontsticill, so we dropped that idea and went for a more direct route, more or less a reverse of our outward route via Talgarth and Talybont. We took the 5 mile gravel road from the reservoir dam and near the top the rain kicked in, so our choice of a shorter route was the right one. Interestingly, on the steep descent over the other side both my wife on her Mavic ceramic rims and me on my CSS tungsten carbide rims found that even in heavy rain we had enough bite in our brakes to stop on the very steep bits. The only slight glitch was my rear wheel brake screech, which only happened under heavy braking.

Day 13
Return home via the Taff Trail then across country. More down than up, so a not too taxing 44 miles and a good long bath at the end of it.
Last edited by pwa on 10 Aug 2020, 1:12pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Wales Tour, summer 2020

Postby pwa » 10 Aug 2020, 9:56am

We had initially planned to combine some camping with the odd B&B to break things up but in the end, with uncertainty about when the Welsh government would allow shared use facilities at camp sites to open, we ditched the camping altogether. And I'm glad. A proper bed and an en-suite toilet / shower is something to look forward to. Most of the B&Bs were a highly valued feature of the tour. I doubt we will camp again.

The bikes stood up very well. The tyres we were riding on were 3 Marathon Supremes and one Panaracer Gravelking. The latter acquired a few minor cuts to the tread but we had no punctures in nearly 400 miles, and that included many miles of dodgy surfaces and a few miles of hedge clippings.

I changed a pair of brake pads part way round (they were not new at the start) but apart from that the bikes finished without any replacements. No fiddling with gear indexing, and just a little adjustment to brake cable tension as pads wore down. Lots of chain wiping and oiling of course.

The Garmin Etrex 32x worked faultlessly, rain or shine, and I'm not sure how long it would run on a pair of my Ansmann 2850 NiMH batteries (I took the charger which is small and light) but I did get two 7 hour days with the device on full backlight. Changing batteries is a doddle.

Our Lezyne micro floor pump was used a couple of times for topping up.

The Ortliebs kept stuff dry in the few hours of rain we rode in.

All in all we had the kit we needed and I didn't come back thinking that anything could be changed for the better next time.

We haven't toured for a few years and I don't know why. We enjoyed it. We enjoyed being car free, open to the elements and communing with the landscape of Wales. We also liked spending within our home nation, supporting nice people who are trying to survive in difficult trading conditions.

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Re: Wales Tour, summer 2020

Postby thornie1543 » 10 Aug 2020, 3:42pm

Enjoyed reading that pwa,nice write up.

Emyr Parry
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Re: Wales Tour, summer 2020

Postby Emyr Parry » 13 Aug 2020, 10:51pm

Well done pwa And Mrs Pwa
I've ridden most of your route over the years - but not all of it - and I'm fully in admiration that you did it in one tour - there is some pretty stiff pulls most days there!
The section that you highlight as 9/10 is past the old Arennig Quarry and railway station - a classic indeed.Well done again.