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West Dorset Mountain Bikers

2013 The Brecon Beacons "Men Only" Biking Weekend
The Famous Five Completely Fail to Speak Welsh

the belvedere b&b

It had been decided whilst at Box Hill last year that the 2013 'boys only' biking weekend away was to be in the Brecon Beacons and would be organised by Ian. However after failing to find anywhere to stay and being told by Mr Summers that Crickhowell "was a dribble from the arse of the back of beyond" (more of which later), he gave up and pleaded (begged and whined mostly) with GB to take on the task. GB duly took on the onerous task and having taken heed of Ed's comments ignored Crickhowell and concentrated his search for accommodation and routes on Talybont on Usk. He quickly found and booked a good and very reasonable B&B in Talybont (The Belvedere - photo right). with a pub next door, two more a couple of hundred metres away and a fine sounding restaurant also in the village.

As there were miles of tracks and bridleways within easy reach of Talybont, sorting out routes was relatively easy. On Friday a short route in and about Talybont forest and the Saturday route taking us off into the wilds of the Brecon Beacons around the mountains of Pen y Fan and Fan y Big (yes Dear Reader, we too made a lot of jokes about Fan y Big). Having plotted the latter GB found that it was actually a well known MTB route called The Gap, named after the cleft in the saddle ridge between the two mountains. For Sunday he suggested we visit Cwmcarn trail centre, somewhere we had been meaning to visit for a number of years. At the last minute Ed suggested we ditch the Friday route and do something in the Black Mountainsfarmers arms to the east of Talybont instead. This was duly agreed and he put a route together taking in 3 peaks of around 700m! Much more of this route later! Those able to attend this year were Steve, Ian, Ed and GB. With the date set and fingers crossed for the weather to be kind in the welsh mountains everything was set up for a great weekend.

Friday 13th September (what could possibly go wrong!)

GB and Ed travelled together and set off at 07:30 in Ed's car whilst Steve and Ian went up in Ian's camper van. Just before reaching the services at Cartgate Ed gets a phone call to ask whereabouts we are, GB thinks it must be Steve on a dodgy line because it sounds a bit like Rod. Ed finishes the call with our eta and looks over at a puzzled GB, "Did you know Rod was coming as well?". So instead of the Fantastic Four it was now the Famous Five.

Eggs & bacon and coffee finished we set off for the Farmers Arms in Cwmdu which is the start of Ed's route. An interesting conversation on route as we passed thru the centre of Crickhowell ...................

Ed - "Wow what a great place, look at those hanging baskets of flowers everywhere, magnificent."
He continued waxing lyrical about the village especially as we passed The Bear pub and hotel which was festooned with flowers outside.
Ed - "Why aren't we staying here?"
GB (with a look of incredulity) - "Because you said it was a sh*thole and you weren't staying here for love nor money."
Ed - "Ahhh, really. I said that did I. I might have meant Brecon, yep it was definitely Brecon that was a sh*thole."
GB - "What the f ................................!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Ed & GB arrived at in Cwmdu 11:00 and spoke to the Landlady about parking there and coming in for a pint, she said fine, but they were only open 12-2 and then at again at 6. It did not look good for a pint there then! 30 minutes later Ian, Steve and Rod arrived having gone the long way round and via some very narrow country lanes. With heavy rain forecast we were eager to get away and at 12, with the pub about to open, we headed off into the Black Mountains. map

Friday's route ......................

The first part of the route was a steady climb on single track lanes and then a rough path, but as we got higher it got steeper and very rocky and we had to resort to pushing our way to the top of the first peak Mynydd Llsiau (662m). From there we followed a very rocky path to Pen Twyn Glas (645m) and finally up a very steep escarpment to Pen Allt-mawr (719m). It was around here that its started to rain and didn't let up until sometime later that night!

After a detour, we missed the correct path, we headed up hill again to Pen Cerrig-calch (701m). From there we started a steep and very tricky descent towards Table Mountain the top of which was still 250m lower than our position. It was difficult but at least it was downhill, however from then on things got really really difficult and the ride became a trudge thru vegetation which was straight out of the Raptor chase scene from Jurassic Park 2! The next 6-7km were painful with not much riding being done as we pushed the bikes along a very narrow track surrounded by thick head high ferns which constantly grabbed at the bikes.

To say Ed's parentage was questioned is a gross understatement. His constant comments about "This is character building" and "I know exactly where we are" cut no ice with the mutinous crew and only the fact that he was way ahead of Rod and Steve prevented a lynching. An hour or so later we emerged onto a farm driveway cold, soaking wet, legs tingling from nettle rash, with cuts from the Triffid like brambles and completely knackered from the very hard slog. Apparently we had been on the correct path all along the way, but it seemed like no one else ever used it, hence it being so overgrown.

There were too many falls, near accidents and skidding about to mention any in particular although Rod's legs sailing thru the air as he disappeared in the undergrowth on a very steep descent was a sight to behold.

Ed - "From here we can pick up the bridleway back to the pub or we could go via the road"
Steve, Rod, GB, Ian - "ROAD!!!!"

The following photos are from the Friday Ride .................................................................................

Another hill, another push

Still smiling, but a long way to go yet

GB and the view back down to Cwmdhu

Steve and the first mountain we climbed

Rod on a very steep section

Ian and Ed taking some shelter from the wind

The Farmers Arms car park


Trust Ed to find the only seat on the mountain

King of the Mountains

Some downhill that we can actually ride!

Taking some shelter as the rain started to come down

All smiles at the Usk Inn

There were no more photos after the rain started as no one wanted to get their camera/phone drenched and ruined.the usk inn

A fast run back to the (closed) Farmers Arms, wet clothing stripped off and some warm dry ones put on we headed off to Talybont and a warm dry room at the B&B. Gear stowed, showered, rested and with clean clothes we went to the Usk Inn (photo right) next door to the B&B. The food and ale were very good and after dinner we retired to the leather sofas around the fire place for brandy and single malt until toddling back to the B&B for a well deserved nights rest.

Saturday 14th September

The dawn brought with it blue skies, occasional sunshine and a cool light breeze, perfect biking weather. After an excellent breakfast and suitably dressed for a day in the hills we started fettling the bikes ready for today's ride. While most made small adjustments, tightening a nut here or there, lubing the moving parts and such like, Rod had a slightly more interesting problem. His back wheel wasn't moving at all and when it did it made a noise like a cat in a food blender. I could go on about all the fun we had working out what the problem was and how to fix it, but you really had to be there to appreciate it. The upshot was that his brake pads no longer had any pads and were just bear metal, "What do you mean the pads have to be changed when they wear down?" said Rod! Also one piston was jammed in the out position locking the brake disc. We did manage to free the piston and get the wheel moving, but effectively Rod now had no rear brakes. Given where we were going this was not good. There was a bike hire shop in the village who may be able to help so we set off heading in that direction.

Unfortunately the bike hire shop was now closed for the season and nearest bike shop was 3 miles away in the wrong direction. To his credit Rod said he would carry on and just not use the rear brakes, the rest of us had the look of folk who know that this is all going to end in tears!

Saturdays route (part 1) .................................................

map 2

The first part of the ride was a nice warm up along the Monmouthshire & Brecon canal from Talybont to Pencelli. From there some quiet country lanes took us to Llanfrynach and a bridleway, part of the Three Rivers Ride, brought us to Cwmcynwyn and the start of the serious up hill stuff. It was now a 4km grind up the valley to The Gap between Pen y Fan on the right and Fan y Big on the left. The climb was mostly rideable, but some sections were either to steep or too rocky and had to be walked. 45 minutes or so later we emerged at the top to find dozens of people there all part of a charity walk taking place over the weekend.

After a rest, some food and drink and lots of photos we started the 5km descent down to the Taf Fechan Forest. With lots of walkers on the treacherous rocky trail it wasn't easy, but all were very courteous and give us plenty of room to pass even when we were going at some pace. It was an excellent fun descent. Half way down at a gate stop Rod complained of his wrists hurting.

GB - " You haven't got your forks locked out again like you did on Exmoor have you?" (click here to see the 2011 Exmoor ride report)
Rod - "Oh f*cking hell, not again!!!!"
Much laughter and p*ss taking from everyone followed.

map 3the red cow inn


From the road we picked up a trail when ran around the eastern side of the Pentwyn and Pontsticill reservoirs parallel with the Brecon Mountain steam railway, one of the steam engines passed us as we went thru the forest section. We passed over the dam at Pontsticill and almost immediately were outside the Red Cow Inn (photo right), our lunch stop. Ale and food ordered we sat outside in the sun and enjoyed the good weather. The place was obviously popular with bikers and there were cycles of all shapes, sizes and forms dotted around the car park.

During lunch there was a discussion about which way to return to Talybont as there were 3 or 4 off and on road options. Mr Summers suggested an unknown cross country route up a very steep hill covered in dark grey clouds that we could see from the pub and across some land that even the OS Map people had marked as boggy. After his efforts on Friday Ed's suggestions about going off into the "wild blue yonder" were ignored in favour of using the road to climb out of Pontsticill back up to the Taff Trail.

So we used the road out of Pontsticill north along the western side of the reservoirs until we reached the car park and waterfalls below Allt Forgan. Here we turned off of the road back on to the Taff Trail which turned out to be the 'icing on the cake' of a very good ride. A continuous forest trail of over 6 miles 99% downhill and dropping 1300ft in the process. The views were spectacular, out over the Talybont reservoir and the surrounding peaks dominated by Pen y Fan. Two thirds of the way down the track we stopped at the dam wall to bask in the sunshine and take in the views. Almost immediately after starting riding again Steve had a puncture, 3rd time in the last three rides! Repaired we moved on only to find that he hadn't put the tyre on correctly and the inner tube was bursting out the side of the tyre. Luckily it was spotted in time and put right before it became a major problem. A private track stopped us from continuing the downhill run and a short uphill got us back on the descent to Talybont andthe white hart the trail spat us out right next to the White Hart Pub (photo right)(just as planned - GB).

Pints of Fellingfoel Dragon Heart and Double Dragon in hand we sat outside by the canal in the late afternoon sunshine to talk about the amazing ride and two great and very long descents. Entertainment was provided by a family trying to turn a canal barge around in the avery narrow turning spot adjacent to where we were sitting. We offered helpful advice, "you don't want to do it like that!" to the dad whose birthday treat this was and who was steering the barge. Eventually they did turn it around and went back upstream and we had to find other things to amuse ourselves.

Photos from Saturdays Ride .................................................


A bit of fettling

The Belvedere B&B

Trying to fix Rod's brakes

The canal tow path

Ian rounds up some sheep

Easy peddling, compared to Friday!

This is what the trails were like on Friday, only a lot lot lot more dense!

A bit of uphill singletrack in the woods

The notch in the middle is The Gap, taken from the base of Cwmcywyn valley

A quick snack before tackling the big uphill

It doesn't look steep, but believe me it was

Ian with Pen y Fan in the background

The Gap

Ian Carrying his bike

A view back down the valley

A view back down the valley

Ed halfway up, Fan y Big in the background

Rod pushing up the last bit the track to The Gap

Views back down the valley

The trail we had just come up!

GB arriving at the top of The Gap

Ian carrying his bike for a change (again)

More snacks at the top before the long descent

The view down towards Ponsticill

Ponsticill Reservoir

Group photo on the dam wall at Talybont Reservoir

Ian, Ed and GB above Talybont Reservoir

Talybont Reservoir

Very atmospheric shot of Ed, not sure what's in the bottle!

GB at Talybont Reservoir

Steve, Ed, Ian, Gary on the dam wall

Talybont Reservoir

Ian on one of the many canal bridges

Some tricky map reading to ensure we left the canal at the right place

Fixing Steve's puncture

A bit more route finding

Ed at the top of The Gap

The downhill run from The Gap

A short while ago we were up there!

Still fixing Steve's puncture

Pontsicill Reservoir

GB and a passing steam train

Rod on the descent into Talybont

The last of the downhill which ended at The White Hart

Rod, Steve, Ed, Gary on the dam wall

Talybont Reservoir from the dam wall

Fish-eye view of the route up to The Gap

The 6 mile downhill, Talybont Reservoir just visible in the centre of the photo

The last of the flat riding before Pen y Fan, "its over there!"

End of the Saturday ride at the White Hart by the canal with a pint of Fellingfoel Dragon Heart

Crossing the fields up to Pen y Fan

Group photo on the dam wall
Ian, Gary, Rod, Ed, Steve

A well deserved pint at the White Hart


"Which way next?"

Rod still smiling after the long climb

Taking a break at the Gap. The tent is a checkpoint for the charity walkers.

Looking north from the Gap, don't know who the fat bloke is!

The downhill from the Gap, full of walkers

Talybont Valley towards Fan y Big

Tal;ybont Valley towards Talybont

The long descent into Talybont

Ian, Rod and Gary on the dam wall

Talybont Reservoir

Half way up to the Gap

Ian and Gary discuss the route backt o Talybont

Below: Rod, Ed, Ian and Gary at the Star Inn on Saturday night after a long day and a few (!) beers!

It was a short ride back to the Belvedere for a 'freshen up' before returning to the White Hart for dinner. More Fellingfoel ale with some hearty pub grub went down very well after a long day in the saddle. We then adjourned to The Star pub across the bridge and had a few more ales and a nightcap or two before wending our way back to the B&B.

Sunday 15th September

A new day and a completely new weather system had arrived, strong winds with the threat of heavy rain. Over breakfast there was many a look out of the window at the ever worsening weather. The plan was to go to the Cwmcarn trail centre, but that was not looking good. After a long chat with the owner and his wife about their various vehicles, home made camper van, 50 year old Land Rover and an even older tractor in the garage, we left Talybont and headed off to Cwmcarn.

By the time we arrived the wind was howling and light rain had started. Steve and Rod had already decided that they were not riding. After a long discussion it was agreed that it didn't make sense to go onto the trail given that the weather was getting worse by the minute. Ed in particular didn't want to cancel a fourth holiday in a row by having an accident. So we had a look around and a cup of coffee instead before heading back to Dorset, the trails at Cwmcarn will still be there for us on a better day. The decision not to ride was completely justified by the gale force winds and extremely heavy rain that arrived an hour later.

So ended this years boys weekend away. There was much discussion about next year and doing something 'continental' seemed to get everyone's vote, we shall see.


Foot Notes:

There were no awards this year, but had there been Rod would have won hands down for riding without rear brakes all day Saturday. Chapeau Sir.

Ian's riding over the weekend should also be noted, he had obviously been training for this weekend, he was out in front most of the time and rode many sections of trail where the rest of us either couldn't, wouldn't or couldn't be asked. Chapeau.

Speaking welsh! We gave up trying to pronounce the welsh names after about 10 minutes, pity as the villages, hills and mountains probably have quite nice names if only someone would translate them into English!

For everything erroneous, missed out completely or that I have made up, I apologise (maybe!).

GB - 30 September 2013

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