What better way to start a new year than with an invigorating mountain bike ride in the Brecon Beacons? Probably pretty fun every other time of the year too!
We hired bikes from Wild Rides, collecting them from Drover Cycles in Hay. We are keen road cyclists but not regular mountain bikers, so our skills were somewhat rusty. Please note this route can be done by anyone but only if willing to push down, and up, in places!
Elevation climbed: 1000m
This route starts with a lot of up. Up up up on the road for about 8km from Hay to Hay Bluff. At the Gospel Pass car park you turn off road and have to push up for about 1km (even the most hardy will push!). This would have been quite pleasant for us had it not been blowing a howling gale. But the views all around the Bluff are magnificent so it was hard to complain up there. As you near Hay Bluff‘s summit you can hop on and start to get your MTB legs going!
We veered south-east at the trig point and suddenly found ourselves in a blissful wind-less silence where we could hear our tyres gripping the great terrain. The stretch from Hay Bluff trig to the Black Hill trig is generally wide and flat, with no drops on either side, just fields of heather and peaty bogs to fall into should you come a cropper. We stopped at the intersection with Offa’s Dyke path, for quick snack break and to direct some lost Americans (“Could you show me the path back to my car?” !).
A few km onwards, now slightly around the east side of the Black Hill, the track got a little trickier – bumpier and lumpier. We kept our eyes peeled for the bridle path to take us down into the Olchon Valley. We found the path marked with a little pile of stones, but nerves got the better of us. On the map it looked like a very steep descent, and time was ticking on so we past the mini cairn, swearing we’d return to tackle that descent another day. We were into the deafening wind again and the Black Hill ridge started to get a bit more downward-seeming. We were all familiar with walking the Black Hill and decided the ‘Diagonal Path’ off it was preferable to the Cat’s Back descent. (The Cat’s Back gets very narrow and rocky with drops to the side). The Diagonal was unridable at the top – too steep/narrow/muddy – but we hopped on about half way down for a rip-roaring plummet to the gate.
We opted for the road to the Bulls Head pub, knowing that the drovers track alternative is mud bath at the best of times. The pub was shut for its winter break (it was Jan 2nd) so we pumped on round to the tiny Craswall Church. Just past the church entrance there is a farm drive that leads to a bridle path. This path takes you through muddy, boggy fields, lots of gates, and over a stream or two so it was a hard slog, but it kept us off the road and had us thoroughly exhausted by the time we popped out on the road, 6km from Hay – and all downhill.
You can also see our route here: https://www.strava.com/activities/235745463.
We underestimated how long the route would take, so we missed out the last section I had planned to take us through New House Wood and back to Hay on a different road. The next day we hiked through this forest and all agreed the wide gravely tracks would have been perfect on a bike.
In a different direction altogether (east of Hay), Wild Rides suggested Begwns Moor as a good MTB location – maybe next time!