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Brecon Beacons: ‘Gap Road’

A good day’s ride with plenty of off-road in splendid scenery. We did this in August 2009.

We started at a layby on the A470 north of Cefn-coed-y-cymmer. We rode north for a mile (with unpleasant traffic volumes) until a minor road to the left took us across to the A4069: a feeling of remoteness comes on as soon as you leave the A-roads. Another mile north on the A4069, and again turn left onto a minor road through hamlets such as Garreg Fawr and Aber-llia, where you encounter a pronounced climb, and then right on a lovely open road between grand hills.

At 925184 an obvious stony track forks off to the right. You follow it as it traverses high above the valley, sometimes climbing, sometimes not. The stoniness makes hard riding, and forces you to push for a few hundred metres after 937212. That’s the only real difficulty, and there’s a downward trend and easier terrain until you meet tarmac at 958238.
 
Follow the road to the junction with the A4215 at 967250 and carry straight on across on a grassy track taking you past a Mountain Centre 976262 and to another minor road at 987272. This track is the opposite of its predecessor, giving a delightfully soft ride but no real views.

The minor road drops merrily down to Brecon, a good place for lunch.

There’s an amusing exit from Brecon if you can find it. You go through a gate and ride between college playing fields at 042286, following the drive to 042280, then a bridge across the bypass at 043278, until you reach a viciously steep climb where you fork left a little south of the bridge and continue climbing relentlessly, now on a consolidated track. Tarmac at 050269 is an opportunity to regain your breath.

We turned right and then left (though there’s an alternative which crosses a few more contours) and followed the dead-end road to 036235. Here it becomes the ‘Gap Road’: a green lane closed to motorised users for much of the year. The notch which gives it its name inspires fear from a distance. As soon as you’re through the gate you start climbing steeply, initially on grass but for most of the route on a stony track. After a while the gradient becomes less severe. On your right is Cribyn.

At the pass (598m) the view opens out to the south, and the gradient becomes much gentler. The route passes the Neuadd reservoirs and crosses a steep-sided ravine. When it touches tarmac at 035174 you can take the Taff Trail which forks to the left (offering several gates). Just before meeting tarmac again (049167) we took an inexplicable hard right turn, descending a forest track and finally joining the road at 042163. We followed it south and then west, meeting another part of the Taff Trail at 043097 opposite a derelict pub. This is a nice smooth cycle path. It deposits you on the old A470 at Cefn-coed-y-cymmer: you turn right, drop down onto the new road, and before long arrive back at the layby.

Notes: 70km, 1300m ascent, 5 ¾ hours in the saddle; LR160. The route may well be better in the opposite direction. We started at the south so as to arrive at Brecon for lunch, otherwise food would have been hard to find. Our map is 25 years old.

There is a useful official site about mountain biking in the Beacons, and a form to report illegal off-roading.

Gap Road revisited, March 2011. We grabbed a half weekend away when the forecast promised the first good weekend in 2011. It was Gold Cup so there was no hope of getting away the Friday. Instead we left earlyish on Saturday and got to Brecon about 10.40. We parked at the Mynydd Illtyd mountain centre, rode down the track and took the wiggly road through Cwmgwdi and a bit of track to the start of the Gap road. We had dry conditions and rode almost all of it, in fabulous clear weather. Lunch at the Red Cow at Ponsticill, then the Taff trail. Somewhere along the trail is a little circuit over steep mounds which we did 3 times.

From Cefn Coed we tried the b-way from Ffrwd Uchaf up Penmoelallt. We followed the forest track all the way round – the b-way shown on the map that cuts a corner seemed impenetrable. Just before Pen-twyn-isaf there’s a forest track to the right which is marked no bikes but we naughtily took it so as to avoid a steep up and down. You have to cross a stile but you get good views of the reservoir. Forbidden fruit is always the sweetest. Then the usual road slog to Ystradfellte and the never-ending drag to the start of the Sarn Helen track. We rode quite a lot of this, in fact all of it except the steep rocky descent. Tracey found her seat post to be stuck (later freed with some vinegar).

Notes: 69km, 1400m ascent, 5.20 hours in the saddle; LR160. The only pub we know of that does food is the Red Cow at Pontsticill, which is a pleasant enough place.

Brecon Beacons: eastern end

A day ride almost wholly off-road, including single-track and a long grassy descent but also route-finding difficulties. September 2009. Irritatingly it straddles two maps: LR 160 and 161.

Start at Talybont, climbing the signposted Taff trail (LR 161). This is an old industrial tramline popular with walkers, well consolidated but bumpy. You meet a track at 102177, and this comes to a fork on the join of the maps at 090162. There is a RUPP to the right, but we erroneusly took the bridlepath to the left and recommend the error. The route has the air of a garden path on the side of a hill, presenting obstacles which no bridlepath should offer, presumably to deter motor-bike scramblers, and after a while reaching a quarry. We followed the quarry track round a bend and left it to the right at 084144. We now hurtled down a glorious grassy bridlepath with little humps and dropoffs which contrived to throw Colin over his handlebars. At 071130 and later at 068123 there should be options to drop down to the Pontsticill reservoir, and we saw some mountain bikers looking puzzled at the latter, but we found no plausible exit from the main route until we arrived at Allied Carpets on the shopping estate at Pengarnddu (078086). We bought Asda sandwiches lunch.

For the return we rode through suburbs of Merthyr Tydfil, turning right at the roundabout at 067077 and climbing along the valley to 058145 at the northern end of Pontsticill Reservoir, where another right turn under the railway line took us back up onto the Beacons, climbing quite steeply at first.

We rejoined our outward route at the fork and had an easy time on a well-made track until we bore left onto the Taff trail at 102177. This was a bit of a mistake because the bumpiness of the old tramline spoils it for descent and there were lots of walkers: the shiny tarmac alternative would have been better.

Notes: 45km, 800m ascent, 4 ½ hours in the saddle. We really felt quite tired after it. We must be getting old.

Black Mountains: Grwyne Fechan and Llangorse

From Crickhowell, take the Llanbder road and follow the valley road. It becomes a track in woods and climbs steeply – a broken-up old concrete surface and a little tricky – then eases off as you come out of the woods and into pastures. You can see the big wide empty valley ahead with the track leading up on the left. A nice grassy descent to a sweet little bridge, then a long easily graded climb. Mostly rideable and very pleasant, but with the occasional narrow stream cutting across, and some rutty potentially wet sections. We did have dry conditions on this ride. Towards the top you can see the path take a sharp left to the ridge. It steepens and the bend is one that only Colin can do. The rest is a bit harder with more stones and narrower strips of path and a headwind which is probably a fixture. We caught up with a party on real mountain bikes, some of whom had been pushing.

To descend we took the widest path to the right. There is a fork from this to the right which sticks higher up but we took the left path which becomes quite excitingly steep (here Tracey cursed her stuck seatpost) and then narrow and airy, then steep again before ending with a slightly too rocky track. A bit of road now then a track past Panteg finishing up by a pub. It was 12pm but the pub didn’t look very open.

From Pengenfordd through a farm then up a sort of green lane to start, then out into open pasture with grand view of the steep point of Mynnydd Troed above. The track is well used by horses. It is mostly flat but there are rutty sections and there is a deep, narrow wet stream bed to cross. Come out on the Cwm Sorgwm road and it is nice and open here. Views of your next challenge loom, Mynnydd Llangorse.

We took the b-way that forks right from the ridge path near the start. There is also a later path from the ridge path that meets the b-way. Trends along nicely and rideable for a while above the line of the hedge, then you see a steep wide path with sort of embankments like a boundary heading very steeply up the hill. Oh it is steep. It is a push, a hard push. Keep on up to the ridge, where there is a cairn. The map shows this path as going straight over the ridge and bearing right but we couldn’t see this and instead followed the ridge to the right where it ends up a trig point.

You now have a nice expanse of downhill grass and this continues for absolutely ages though sadly not always with the downhill aspect. It is basically straight on all the way. The last drop into Bwlch is steep and just at Tracey’s current limit. There is a pub in Bwlch but we bombed on to the Nantyffin Cider Mill instead.

Notes: 42km, 1060m ascent; 3h 42' in the saddle.

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