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Articles of the week
Happy Camping!

Mountain biking rouite near Llanbrynmair

As described in a recent post, the rights of way network near Llanbrynmair is in a right old mess. Either the definitive map was drawn up by a total fantasist or farmers have taken great pleasure in blocking footpaths. This can make the area frustrating for the outdoor enthusiast because it appears to offer so much.

Here is a great route that avoids all that trouble. It makes use of the Glyndwr’s Way bridleway on the outward leg so no problems there. It then picks up a nice (albeit unmarked) bridleway back.

Time about 2 hours. Nothing technical (but not easy either) with a stiff climb at the beginning. Start point was the Caravan club site just west of Llanbrynmair (Gwern-y-bwlch, just off A470 west of Llanbrynmair).


– From Caravan site, ride up steep hill. Stay on road around the hairpin and right to the top of the hill

– Take unmarked forest track on right at at grid ref 873 040

– Ride to the top where you hit the Glyndwr’s Way bridleway. Turn left

– Follow bridleway all way to road at GR 862 045

– Turn left on road then quickly right onto Glyndwr’s Way bridleway. Ride to road and turn right

-Keep following signs for Glyndwr’s Way for a nice hill crossing and downhill. When you get to the bottom at 833 043 look out for the unsigned bridleway joining on the left from behind. Take this and it runs nicely along the valley bottom all the way to back to Commins Coch.

– From Commins Coch you can turn right back down to the A470 or left-then-right-then-right to take you on the small road back to the campsite

Have fun

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Walking and hiking around Llanbrynmair (near Machynlleth)-great but frustrating!

The countryside to the east of the Dovey Valley (west of Llanbrynmair, east of Machynlleth) looks to have it all for the keen walker. Scenic hills, rolling valleys and impressive vistas combined with the long distance Glyndwr’s Way route sound hard to beat.

But don’t expect an easy time.

First the good news. The Glyndwr’s Way path is a mix of footpaths and bridleways and the sections we sampled were clear, waymarked, accessible and very pleasant. Even the gates worked and reflected the efforts in creating and maintaining a national path. Great stuff.

Now the bad news. The area we sampled is sprinkled with a network of footpaths on the OS map but the story on the ground is completely different. At best the paths are completely unmarked. More often than not there are no stiles, no gates, no paths and no access. The Explorer OS map for the area might as well be fantasy!

In some areas you can even see where farmers have pulled out the old walker-friendly fence and just slapped barbed wire across. Is this payback for having a national trail imposed on them?

Take our advice. Use the Glyndwr’s Way – it’s great. Try the really big obvious bridleways. Do not waste any of your precious leisure time looking for the footpaths!

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Vango Baltoro 200 tent layout

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Riding the Brecon Red – The Gap

This is not a route guide – there are loads of them out there! This is instead a description of how the route rides for a fairly ‘average’ weekend mountain biker. It should give you a good idea what to expect from your day in the hills.

The tourist office et al sell an excellent guide for mountain biking in the Brecons and this ride is labelled as the Brecon Red. Note that a couple of downhill sections are pretty technical, but you can always get off and push (I did).

The ride breaks down into several sections, so first piece of advice is don’t burn out too early!

Brecon to Talybont
Easy, easy, easy. Ride on towpath and quiet lanes. Watch out for the left fork in Talybont or you end up at the dam and have to double back! It’s a steady gentle climb just right to warm you up.

Talybont Reservoir
Here’s where the fun starts. A nice steady climb up the old tramway gets you a great view of the reservoir. The climb feeds you onto a downhill that is harder than you expect. Smooth sections trick you into gathering speed just before you hit mud/rocks/water. Great fun but be careful – still got a lot of miles to do. I found this downhill section entirely rideable, but a bit rocky to be a flat-out downhill. Note that there is a bridge at the bottom (Spring 2010) – the guides say you have to cross a ford.

Start of the famous Brecon Gap track

To the foot of the gap
A few kms of roadwork to get to the bottom of the Gap. It all seems pretty easy until you get to the waterfalls and then you have to knuckle down to a pretty tough road climb. It is a smooth and quiet road so you can zigzag to take the edge of the gradient, but it sure got me sweating (and I did take a breather near the top).

The Gap climb
Have lunch before your climb if the weather is at all questionable. The Gap is no place to stop for food when the wind is blowing. The track to the top of the Gap is entirely rideable apart from a small rocky dip near the beginning. It is rocky though so pick a smooth gear and pick your line carefully. This is the sort of middle ring climb that feels tough but puts on the height quickly. Don’t forget to stop and enjoy the view of Pen Y Fan.

View at the top of of the famous Brecon Gap track

The Gap descent
Admission time. I put my foot down, fell off and then walked the first few yards. It is really rocky and after a few months layoff I wasn’t ready to bounce my way down. After the first 50 yards it became a little easier, but I was still pretty slow and careful. You would be mad to ride this without a helmet!
After maybe a hundred yards it gets easier again, but be careful. The easy sections can suddenly get rocky and loose. Towards the bottom you can let rip as the ground gets a bit more solid and a grassy bank offers a smoother alternative.

The descent rattles down a long way – wear gloves to make life a little easier on your wrists.

Fantastic views at the back of the Brecon Gap track

Back to Brecon
A couple of miles of boring (but pleasant) roadwork take you back to town, but don’t be disappointed because one last treat is in store. The final bridleway downhill right into town is a cracker. Loose, rocky and slippery, but somehow after the Gap you will be in the groove and go for it (perhaps it is the proximity of medical attention should it all go wrong!). This shoots you out right into town – time to hit the chip shop.

A great day out (4 hours at my pace with food stops). Strangely I found the descents mentally tougher than the climbs because I hate putting my foot down! The climbs are just right and the flat bits are fast rolling. Pick a good day though because the wind could make it a killer if it blows in your face.

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Mountainbiking (VTT) in France-navigation tips

In the UK we have two things going for us with regard to trail navigation:
-An excellent range of Ordinance Survey maps
-UK trail centres generally mark their tracks so clearly that you would really have to try to get lost

France also has decent maps from their IGN organisation and they have also created a range of waymarked mountain bike trails around many tourist locations and towns. Look for VTT or Velo Tout Terrain in France. However finding a VTT route can be just the start of your fun…here are a few tips to make your life easier when mountain biking in France.

  • don’t go on a waymarked ride without a map! The VTT labels are unevenly distributed, common on the easy bits and missing entirely at key junctions. You will get lost if you just trust the VTT signs
  • This is what you are looking for VTT SIGNS.
    A good VTT mountain biking signpost!
    Looks simple doesn’t it? The colour shows the grade and the triangle to direction. If only life were that simple! You will soon be struggling with:
  • signs that have faded to white on white
  • signs that have simply crumbled in the sunlight to dust
  • signs that are totally obscured or hidden up trees
  • inconsistant use of signs for straight on, (turn left vs keep left etc)
  • A typical VTT mountain biking signpost!

  • get your area maps and riding info sorted before you go! Tourist Information offices often don’t sell any maps (huh?) and may not know anything about VTT rides
  • you can buy maps in newsagents (Maison du Presse), but they only usually have a very limited range of 1:25k hiking maps. Note that nobody seems to stock the 1:50k trail maps, which would cover a wider area and often be more useful
  • Once you get over all these, you will realise that mountain bike riding in France rocks!
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