If you are looking for a Mountain Biking weekend in South Wales, the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains in the Brecon Beacons national park is a mountain bike paradise and we have been running mountain bike holidays and long weekends in this superb South Wales destination for many years. Wales is not known for its sunshine and dusty trails, more for its wet and sloppy ones, but this particular trip 100% bucked the trend, could it have been the perfect two-days riding bikes in the Black Mountains in South Wales? Well, we think it was and this is why!
Arrival And Set Up
It is Friday afternoon, the sun is blazing and we are eagerly awaiting 7 clients from all over the country to arrive at our mountain bike accommodation in the Brecon Beacons. The beers are cold, the bike wash, trailer and van are ready for action and the award-winning pub, the New Inn in Blwch, is booked for 8 pm. Our guides have arrived early to add the finishing touches and as the sun is blazing they head out for a very swift pedal to warm up the legs before a big weekend ahead followed by a meet and greet of all the clients before heading over to the pub.
This pub is superb and a real gem, right across the road from the accommodation, you are greeted with a menu including Venison braised in stout and redcurrant to spicy bean burgers with smoky tomato and chilli chutney - the list goes on! After a huge feed and a couple of beers, it was a short stroll across the road and time for some kip before 1100 metres and 35k in the morning.
A taste of what's to come!
6:30 AM and it’s time for the guides to get the breakfast on, from sausages and egg to croissants and porridge the clients had it all. Fuel is vital to a huge day in the hills and with the sun once again blazing in through the breakfast room windows, hydration and sun cream were the hot topics before the bikes were loaded onto the trailer and everyone jumped into the van for a swift 15-minute drive to Crickhowell and the start of our ride!
We arrived at the drop-off point right on time and ready to roll, guides raving about the complete lack of the usual puddles and putting their darkest lenses in their specs. Dropping here relieves us of a boring hour on the road and saves 250m of climbing - we’ll need that in the bank for later. The shuttle is great news for guests, but less so for whichever guide loses the coin toss to collect it at the end!
So it begins...
The ride starts reasonably gently with a beautifully scenic double track climb with plenty of photo opportunities, heading up through a remote valley that takes just under 5km of chatty spinning to lift us from an elevation of 300m up to the first high point, the saddle between Pen Trumau and Mynydd Llysiau, we’re now at 617m which is when a hill becomes a mountain in the UK.
The views are just superb on such a clear day - we have the mound of Waun Fach to the northeast, showing us up close and personal what 811m of mountain looks like, the beautiful curves of Mynydd Troed immediately to our west, and the imposing grandeur of the Brecon Horseshoe beyond that, which we’ll see more of tomorrow.
After the climb, it must be time for a descent. The first section looks fairly simple at first glance. Looking closer reveals lots of lumps and bumps to pump and jump, but better watch those ruts though! On an unbelievably dry day, with dust clouds soaring off tyres, the guides briefed the surprise around the corner. Rocks, rocks and more rocks, presented to the group in a gully of zig-zagging dynamic line choice with a nice bit of gradient to remind us to maintain a strong attack position and keep it smooth. After a few great photos were taken, a brief high-five by the gate of a thousand sheep, then straight into more rocky gully action. This time it’s wider with a gentler gradient, so brakes off to skim along the tops of them, smoothing out the trail.
Climbs aren't too bad in the Brecon Beacons
What goes up, must come down and vice versa!
If the saying “What goes up, must come down” is true, then unfortunately so is the opposite. Having just dropped over 300m elevation, we need to gain some height once again. The route has been tweaked to save us a lane descent and a sloggy trudge around the end of the ridge - tentative looks are exchanged, surely we’re not going straight up? The guides give a reassuring chuckle. Of course we’re not, winter scouting trips have paid dividends in the form of creeping up a byway under the remains of Castell Dinas and hugging the shoulder of the ridge on a grassy bridleway to eliminate any unwanted height drop. The climb is mostly a first or second-gear slow spin, plenty of views for anyone needing a breather, not that everyone took up the offer, one guest almost became the first to scale the entire 400m gain without putting a foot down, only to be outdone by the driest conditions we’ve seen in a long time playing a part in letting that back wheel spin on loose rock.
Special mention here for one of our regular guests ticking off another trip in style; 65 years young and fit as a fiddle, he looked up, looked at his bike, shouldered it, and marched up the mountain without stopping!
The breeze at the top was incredibly refreshing, and much needed, water was guzzled and snacks were obliterated, a brief mention of lunch had the guides chirping excitedly about our formal feeding spot, better get this traverse and next half of descent done then.
Traversing around the shoulder of Pen Y Manllwyn enjoying the sun and breeze combo was serene, people were stopping to snap pics of their noble steeds from this prime vantage point with a backdrop of lush farmland 500m below us, colourful crops standing out a treat with the hazy Cambrian Mountain range far in the distance.
Lunch is calling now even though we’re making good time. As we all know, mountain bikers use a lot of fuel. Better get rolling then, 3km to our stopping point, between here and there we’ll lose 150m of height, doesn’t sound like much, but jeez it’s fun, a mix of chunky rock strewn singletrack and chunkier rocky doubletrack sections, a real get what you give section, keep that speed up to stay smooth, and stay smooth to keep that speed up!
Shade was required today, luckily the designers accounted for the needs of sweaty mountain bikers many moons ago by planting some ornate cedar trees right next to the bank as the feasts emerged from the rider’s packs!
Welsh Descents Just Go on and on
Wide Open Ridges
After lunch and a small descent, it's into the pine valley of Mynydd Du Forest, we roll gently down the lane for 1km or so. We soon turn off into the forest on a fire road before the last bit of up in the forest, a short sharp affair, then we find ourselves atop the open ridge at 580m.
As we round the corner just under Crug Mawr, we can clearly see the start point of our ride, and just visible through a narrow sightline, our destination of Crickhowell. But for now, it’s time for some flat-out, 2km of pure speed along a grassy high ridge littered with tempting hops and pops, but beware of the bomb holes on the left at high speeds, a couple of near misses were survived!
Things are steepening up, scrub some speed over the blind crest, there's a 90-degree left coming up, luckily there is a tiny catch rut to do the biz for those that dare, best not to take too many chances though.
The final leg begins with 1 km of rough round rocks in a tunnel of foliage just the right height to allow riders through with ease.
This gem pops out right in Crickhowell, where the Bear Inn pub garden has plenty of space for our remarkably clean bikes. The barman is always welcoming to thirsty bikers, and thirsty we were.
With the van round the corner ready to drive us home, we tucked into the beers and reflected on the day's epic adventure.
What a ride - is it dinner time?
Back to the lodge for dinner, where the guests enjoy a few more beers and a bbq cooked up by the guides - not only can they show you the trails of Wales, but they can do a fair job on the tongs, too!
End of Day One.
Putting the Specialized Stumpjumper EVO to bed for the night
DAY TWO: The Brecon Beacons gap ride in the most perfect of conditions!
We arrived at the bike hub before rolling out from the car park, along the main street past the pub which we will see later, and cross the canal onto a disused railway path.
This ride, as with yesterday's, begins with a gentle climb or two with fabulous views of the reservoir in the valley, before a short sharp technical climb that gets rockier as it gets steeper, how many of us will have a clean run to the top? After watching our first guide power up it, the riders take turns to attempt this tricky section, 3 guests getting close. A couple more attempts are made by the guests but the last lump is proving bothersome, we put it down to the changeable conditions and put it behind us.
We press on along the top of the open Moorland. The guys at the front give it some beans on the pedals and cruise through the dry ruts and rocky track with ease, we regroup by the gate and head off through the pine forest down the Cwm Callan Valley in single file. The wide track full of small rocks soon turns into one defined line across some very lumpy rocks that lead to a blind small uphill section across wet slabs.
The rocky trails of the The Gap
The Point of No Return
A small push-up to a fire road leads us to the point of no return for The Gap. Once we get into this section there are no bail-out options since we are heading straight through the Brecon Horseshoe. We gently cruise a fire road through the Taf Fechan Forest until we reach a junction, people ask which way we are going, possibly hoping that nobody says up, but no good adventures start with simply riding along flat terrain!
Time for lunch. We perch on some bags of hardcore to eat our sandwiches and cool down from the brief climb, we are about to find out why the bags of hardcore are present through one of the guests exploring and coming back saying “Surely we are not riding down there are we?” - a steep plummet down some big rocks to a stream crossing offers some great action pics.
2.5km to go to get The Gap, known as Bwlch ar y Fan to the locals, it’s a low point in the epic horseshoe of the tallest peaks in the south of the UK, we say low point, but we're still talking 600m.
Some techy descents for the group on day two
Summary: rocks. Detail: rocks for 2.5km.
Things start fast, get steady, and then get fast and rowdy again. The latter section caused our first proper mechanical of the weekend, the rider: one of the guides! Praise the lord for Rimpact inserts, tyre bitten, and rim dented, but would have certainly been a long walk without the insert, rim was bent back out with an adjustable, a tube stuffed in, and rolling again in a few short minutes.
Having dropped 300m, we are still 150m or so higher than we need to be, one of the guides runs around the first corner of the trail they call Marmite, coming back with a solemn face and thumbs down, the brambles have claimed it early this season.
After descending on a blind narrow lane, we picked up the canal path for the last 3km, a little slower than usual due to a dead battery in an AXS derailleur, schoolboy error but everyone is relieved it died on the flat bit and not earlier in the day!
The Final Leg
A nice gentle spin to relax us after some mega sweet riding and mentally preparing to drive our separate ways back to reality, but not before a pint, the Star Inn providing the goods this time.
Fist bumps and relief of remaining uninjured are the theme of this debrief, all stoked that we arrived as strangers, and will be leaving as friends.
MTB Heaven in South Wales
Fancy a South Wales MTB Epic?
So, there you have it. A rundown of a typical mountain bike trip in the Brecon Beacons, taking in Brecon Beacons Gap & the Black Mountains Loop. The scenery and ruggedness make this trip a breathtaking, scintillating epic adventure, complete with country pubs and camping vibes thanks to the outdoor breakfasts and bbqs. A truly stunning way to spend a weekend.
Fancy the next one? Check them out HERE.