With Easter gone and spring now upon us it was about time for a day out to the Brecon Beacons. I'm fortunate enough to live right on the edge of the West Midlands close to where the counties of Worcestershire, Staffordshire and Shropshire meet, so a day out to the West of Wales via the Marches is always an option.
Last year I started to explore a little farther south towards Brecon and south Wales and have been wowed by the roads and scenery there. The mountains may not be the highest but there are miles of remote narrow roads and military ranges.
Two of us rode through the Clee Hills to Ludlow and then out to Knighton and Llandrindod Wells to join the B4538 which has to be one of the best biking roads in the UK. There are mile after mile of bends which swoop and climb to Newbridge-on-Wye and finally Beulah where we take a right turn on to an unclassified road to Abergwesyn. Let the fun begin!
The road is a single track ‘with passing points’ – but not a lot of them! The road clings to the side of the hills and winds its way up a windswept valley towards the ‘Devils Staircase’, with a steep bank on one side and no defined edge to the drop on the other. We did not meet a single vehicle all the way along the valley, which was probably just as well.
We could see the head of the valley approaching with a very steep side and no sign of where the road could possibly go. Then halfway down we saw a white van tiptoeing down what was obviously a very steep incline. Surely Waitrose don’t deliver out here? Why has he stopped there? Wait no, he’s doing a tight hairpin bend – very slowly! Then the van reappears through a small copse at the foot of the hill, this looks interesting. There are a couple of cars parked there, their owners probably now walking the hills, which is possibly the best way of getting around, judging by the road signs, ‘25% gradient’ says one, ‘Stay in Low Gear’ says another.
I lead off the ascent through the copse and a small stream in 2nd gear. Immediately the road points skywards and I start to think about moving up to 3rd before oops, the road vanishes off around a hairpin to the left whilst maintaining its rate of climb. Stick in 2nd!
Eventually after several more of these the hill plateaus out and straightens a little before plunging down the other side but along a much straighter line.
We pass through the hamlet of Abergwesyn , hang a left and head south. A few miles further and we begin to see Llyn Brianne with its steeply wooded sides and deep blue water reflected from the clear sky. It’s a man-made lake with an earth and stone bund across a very steep valley of the River Towy.
A couple of photographs of the bikes and we ride along the river valley following the Towy to Llandovery and lunch at the Owls Nest Bikers Café (Interesting guy on a brand new Bussa there).
The return trip was up the A483 then across the Sennybridge military ranges and Tirabad before Builth Wells and Shobdon airfield for tea. The last leg led us through Bewdley and home.
We covered 205 miles over some brilliant biking roads. The climb over the Devils staircase is technically a challenge and probably more so in the opposite direction and I wouldn’t try it on a sports bike or cruiser. Also watch out for the 20 mph speed limits in Llandovery, the Welsh nanny state trying to save us all from ourselves. Overall a very enjoyable day. Give it a go.