Apologies, this is going to be a mega blog!
I’ve been playing at bivvying with the boys for over a year now. Slowly I’m refining my kit, stuff is slowly getting lighter, more functional and better packed. This was my first multi day trip and I was a bit nervous about it as it was breaking new ground, metaphorically and literally.
Duncan, Alex and I had signed ourselves up for the “Welsh Ride Thing”, a three day bikepacking event where there are no real rules or route. As is usually the way the weather had turned the week before and we camped near the start in the pouring rain. When the start came on Saturday we were crammed into a field in the pouring rain with a load of other like minded nutters. We got loaded up, but it was still and hour and a half before the off.
After some homework in the week we discovered that there were several local bothies and not wanting a wet night in a tent we decided to sneak off early and head for the furthest one in the Elan valley. Choosing to use mainly back roads we made pretty good time despite the weather and the hilly roads. But eventually crunch time came and we had to decide between a ten miles plus road jaunt or a couple of miles up and over a very big hill. We opted for the climb, but it was the right move despite a quite long push.
Turning up at our first ever bothy was awesome. Newly renovated with firewood and cider too! We hung out our tents and other wet stuff over the drying rack, got the fire going and chilled out. Then Nigel walked in “I’ve got three girls with me” he said, then in marched Deb, Sian and Amanda with bags of food, drink and wood! So the bothy for six was soon quite snug. They had brought a banquet and a well stocked bar with them which they very graciously shared with us, a merry evening was had by all.
Day 1: Distance: 27.3 miles Average: 8.5MPH Climbing: 3311 feet
So after listening to Nigel’s snoring for a large part of the night we got off to rather a slow start, but we got our tents off the drying rack, had breakfast and a poo on the toilet with the best view in Wales with the door open! We packed the kit back up onto the bikes and swept out the bothy.
So Nigel, who was an off road motorcyclist, had told us the location of another bothy that was relatively nearby and off the beaten track, we decided that it would be our spot for night two so that we could stay undercover again as the weather was still a bit changeable.
The weather was still on / off rain as we rolled out and we headed for the Penygarreg reservoir. Directions from Nigel were good and we were soon heading along the Garreg-ddu reservoir, enjoying the flat path and the views. Eventually though we had to make the choice of crossing another big hill or another big road loop. We took the hill and hauled ourselves up Cwm Coel, then enjoyed a fast, rocky descent to Ciloerwynt that ended with a sweet contouring singletrack. Back on the road we had to climb back up the road into the wind to the top of the Claerwen dam.
Nigel had described the next nine miles as flat, I suspect it feels that way on a motorbike, but on a laden 55lb bike into the wind it felt considerably more hilly. We got to Claerwen and I was losing the will to live, but we knew it wasn’t that much farther to the bothy. Crossing the boggy moorland we met a big group of WRT riders who had just left the bothy after staying there the night before so we got a good description of the location and carried on arriving at Clearddu bothy after about half an hour.
Talk about luxury, running water, gas cooker, flushing toilet and a large woodpile, awesome! So we bagged a room, got some food on the go and then tried unsuccessfully to get the fire going. Duncan and Alex headed out for a ride on unladen bikes and I relaxed and kept the water boiling for the flow of WRT riders that dropped in for a cuppa.
Richard appeared, he had done loads of checkpoints and had bagged an Alpkit token. He decided to stay the night as his knees had exploded. He had a bottle of meths and we soon managed to get the fire roaring away. More food, more coffee, more riders coming through, eventually activity dwindled and we set chatting bike stuff and I had a drop of Richard’s rather fine Old Pulteney single malt, thanks dude.
Day 2: Distance: 19.8 miles Average: 7.3MPH Climbing: 1842 feet
The day dawned misty and murky, we’d set our alarms for an early exit, but a particularly trumpet like fart from one of the other bothy guests had us all awake and ready to go early! Bottles were topped up, bikes packed, breakfast eaten and ibuprofen gel applied we were ready to hit the trail at seven thirty, just as well as we had a lot of ground to cover….
Richard decided to join us for the first part and with the sun coming out and a decent tail wind we flew back around the Claerwn reservoir and back to the Caban-coch reservoir in just an hour. A short detour into Rhayader and we felt the need to visit the Old Swan tea rooms for coffee and cake, a good second breakfast. We’d already decided to mix road and off road again and we headed up NCN8 along the Wye valley, Llangurig brought another quick refreshment stop, legs were getting tired.
We headed off up a super steep tarmac climb, which was just what I wanted as I had downed a can of Sprite, I belched and burbled my way to the top. A series of brutal tarmac climbs had Duncan and I off and walking to the top overlooking the Llyn Clywedog reservoir. By the time I was losing the will to live and was having a proper energy low, another stop saw us all having a large intake of energy products, all I had left in fact. Fortunately it did the trick and by the time we turned off road again at Hirnant, I was almost human again.
We paused for photos at the waterfalls at Ffrwd Fawr, then it was the final up and over to the finnish at Pennant. We got back at half four, so it was a long old day in the saddle. Fortunately tea and cake was available and we signed ourselves back in and chatted with Stu and Dee the organisers. What a great trip and introduction to multi day riding.
Day 3: Distance: 50.2 miles Average: 10.0MPH Climbing: 4390 feet
I’ll probably do another post about bike and kit choices soon for those who are interested….