Its always a thrill to head out to Wales; the change in the landscape from England always takes you a bit by surprise. You get used to the green hills, with fields and oaks in the hedges and a comforting ordinariness to it all farms that are just farms going about the business of farming, no tourists turning the place into a picture of itself. But the hills are imperceptibly getting bigger, and then you come round a corner, and there is a great looming flank of stark, bare red bracken moorland, a sudden shift in key. And its grand roughstuff territory long runs of grassy tracks over the rolling moors.
The winter of 2005/6 seemed to have lasted for a year. On the early May Bank Holiday weekend we caught the cusp of spring. The high hedges were thick with blackthorn coming into blossom. Among the network of dark and spiny twigs were sprays of tiny white balls, like a fine mist, which would burst into dense profusions of flowers of five perfect petals and delicate stamens. In the lush green banks were the soft leaves and gentle custardy yellow flowers of primroses, and the brasher golds of celandines. Trees were coming into leaf, branches holding up a thousand green-gold cups, catching the light, shimmering, like exploding fireworks. The rolling pastures were improbably green, and the young lambs so white they looked like theyd been in the washing machine.
We stayed at Llanfair Waterdine.
The Radnor forest is one of the bigger lumps in the Marches, and its well provided with tracks you can make a satisfying circuit. From the bridge on the A488 near Monaughty, a good forest track climbs through forest to, well, what can only be described as a pretty pass. Then down to Cascob : a lovely quiet spot with a typical sturdy Marches church of green-grey stone and stumpy wooden tower. Up the road to Twiscob, where a steep and very thorn-infested track leads down, emerges into fields, to a ford and up, underneath the walls of Ffosidoes farm, looming massively above you, like a fortress. A short stretch of road, then opposite a track on the left, theres a bridleway leading off to the right, steeply up fields to the forest edge; its just about rideable. Then good track through plantation forest, a little dull, as these things generally are. It soon finds itself at the edge, and here its tempting to escape on the attractive track leading out, but we continue up through the forest. This clears, and you get good views down over the valley below Cwm Mawr and beyond, of the Marches hills. Cross through a gate to the right, to the col.
The path is indistinct here, but once at the col you find a clear, good, grassy track leading down a valley with no name. The heart of the Radnor Forest hills is a deep valley the slopes are big, smooth, abstract, red-bracken hills. The valleys used as a military firing range. The track down a real treat to ride. You descend, climb a little, then finally theres a lovely steep grassy, hummocky downhill stretch that is a lot of bouncy fun. Surely, this is what bikes were invented for. If only the descent were track all the way its over too quickly. You have to go through a gate to the road and plummet to New Radnor. There are pubs here.
Endure a short stretch of main road to the turnoff to the waterfall. When we were there, there were signs up saying that track we were to follow had been declared closed to all traffic. A couple wed met in the morning had said that the landowner had been inventing stories about WW2 munitions, and that we should ignore the ban, which we did. Theres a short steep, good track through a wood, then it opens out into idyllic sheep pastures. Higher, the pastures give way to more open grassland and the track becomes quite rutted, but its pleasant riding alongside the main track on the grass. And it is a grand high route up to views over mid Wales, and down into valleys and out again. We saw a couple of red kites, and, we think, a very hazy Cadair Idris. Theres another delicious grassy descent towards the end, then youre on road.
There is a track you can continue on, above Llanfihangel Rhydithon. We had tried this a couple of years before, and found there were some terribly muddy patches. The memories of this mud are unforgettably bad; bad enough for us to choose the A488 this time, not that we had to spend long on it. Opposite a dear little square chapel theres a road back towards the forest, ending at a junction which doesnt resemble the map very much. You go sort of rightish and keep going up; this meets the woods and runs pleasantly alongside the woods as far as Rhiw Pool. Now into the woods, one of those horror-woods of infinitely bifurcating paths no, I exaggerate we didnt have too much trouble finding our way to the right bridleway, which descends, first on forest track, and then, steeply down a narrow track, bumpy from horses hooves, which was a little entertainingly challenging. Then track; then road to Bleddfa.
The entire ride is on LR148; the mornings part is also on LR137. The track from Monaughty to Cascob starts at 236682 and ends at 242664. The route across Radnor forest starts at 233649, meets the forest at 232646, emerges from it at 223640, rides through it at 215640, emerges afresh at 205638, passes through 203626, and meets a road around 205618.
The afternoon track starts at 194592 and rejoins road near Llanfihangel Rhydithon at 158653. At various times we have ridden by three different routes from here to Bleddfa. The inexcusably muddy route is 154662172669183680. The soft option is 160673173673183680. The recommended route is 160673173673175668182669190670 (following a bridlepath which is almost invisible on the 1:50k map) 195671and then by road to Bleddfa.
Glyndwrs way, Offas Dyke, and a few other things round Clun
At Bwlch, the track was deep in puddle, so we took the bridleway on the south of Cwm Bugail, which becomes a track, puzzlingly, going up. Plenty of sheep and gates here. We rode on to Clun on the road the ridge road that gives commanding views and down into Clun for lunch.
We backtracked up that last hill that had seemed so enjoyable when it was a descent before lunch; then a good track through fields took us to a section of Offas Dyke. The track here that follows the Dyke, crossing from one side to the other, is gravelly and easy; well, its a road. We could have gone straight back to the hotel but we hadnt yet entirely ridden ourselves into the ground, so we took bridleways along the ridge to Knighton, got a little lost, before dropping to Five Turnings, from where there is a fair stretch of byway over Stow Hill. This was nice enough stuff, but the landscape of English fields seemed a bit tame after the wilder Welsh moors of the morning. The byway was marked with some pieces of fluorescent string some sort of pony enduro event. Im surprised they needed any of it along this very obvious track. Anyhow, the string seduced us into following it onto a track when we met the woods delightful old woods of oak, and primroses, and deer, the sort of enchanted woods you will get lost in. It appears we came out somewhere near Bucknell. We extricated ourselves and rode back, slowly, to our hotel in Llanfair Waterdine.
Start on LR148 at 245758, climb to 200747, continue via 185750 to 181756, ride on to 166785, then descend to 176791 and down to Pantycaragle.
The road to Clun crosses 2 more maps. From Pantycaragle head north-west for a mile on LR136, turning right to cross the Teme and right again on the far side, soon crossing onto LR137 and riding through Quabbs and Spoad to LLwyn and Clun.
In the afternoon again on LR137 we climbed to 276800 and followed the track to 252801, then the Offas Dyke path to Garbett Hall (264770) then road (264764269768) then track and bridleway via 273757 to Five Turnings at 286755, then byway east to 322750 which is roughly where we got lost, finding our bearings again on the minor road running north-west from Bucknell.
Gwaunceste Hill and Cwm Ceste
Rain had been forecast. We drove to LlanfihangelNantMelan on the A44 in the rain, neither one of us wanting to be the first to express doubt about the plans for the day. But it wasnt raining too hard when we set out. From the little round Llynhellyn, you take the sort of obvious bridleway through a gate, leading up the slope. Its grassy, and just about doable in the damp. To give it credit, the rain, and the clearer light, did make the grass glow impossibly greenly, and turned the A-road below us into a gleaming snake, purple, with bright white markings.
We crossed the flank of the hill into the next small valley, where we werent entirely convinced that the map and the reality agreed. At any rate, the obvious good track continuing in the same direction is the right one. At the col its a bit peaty, and churned up from horses, mostly, so thats forgiveable. But the views are great. Here you are high, on the plane of the brackeny moors, and you look right down into the Glascwm valley, and its lush fields, and clusters of cosy houses. We descended to the col between Gwaunceste Hill and Little Hill, where theres allegedly a bridleway to Cwm Kesty, though it is in fact invisible. We found ourselves on the footpath instead.
Now theres a short stretch of road that soon loses its tarmac and becomes a deep green lane; any deeper and it would be a tunnel. At the last of the houses you go rightish, though the correct track looks no more convincing than any other of the numerous ways through gates. It leads up through a wide and gradually rising valley, open moorland and the odd squelchy patch. The hills to either side begin to take more shape, and at the top, where theres yet another small round pool, you see Radnor forest and the valley again. We followed the ridge, round Pentre Tump, through fields; the views unfold, surrounding hills take on different, unexpected, shapes from different angles. Now a muddy farmyard, and a muddy track lined with hawthorn, down to the col, where the way is indistinct, but if you head in the rght direction youll pick up the track down into the valley. We could have taken a bridleway back to the car but it looked more trouble than it was worth and even if that hadnt made the decision for us, between us and the road was a ford, and never has a ford been more conveniently placed in a ride to wash the three days filth from the bikes.