If you enjoy breath-taking views and the challenge of long iconic climbs, including the highest pass in Wales, then this route is for you!
Start point: Bwlch (Village Hall)
Distance: 85 km / 54 mi
Ascent: 1600m / 5200 ft (max altitude 549m)
Duration: 3 ½ – 5 ½ hours
Overview: Roads predominantly quiet (sometimes narrow), remote with occasionally poor road surface (as well as gravelly sections roads can be wet with water run-off even in fine, dry conditions) and cattle grids. Some exposed with sections above 500m altitude – care required in wet, windy or cold conditions.
Appropriate for: Road bikes.
Rider requirements: Good level of experience and fitness.
Refreshment opportunities: Bwlch (Gate Shop Café, The New Inn), Llanfihangel Talyllyn (The Black Cock), Talgarth (Bakers Table at Talgarth Mill), Glasbury (River Café), Three Cocks (Twisted Spoon), Hay on Wye (several pubs and cafes including cyclist café at Drovers Cycles), Llanthony Priory Hotel, Crickhowell (several cafes and pubs), Llangynidr (Coach and Horses, Red Lion and Walnut Tree Café).
Starting at Bwlch Village Hall you head north on the Llangorse road for just half a mile before turning left. This lane takes you past remains of Castell Blaenllynfi a Norman castle built in the 12th century to defend the rich farm land of the Llynfi valley. The Llynfi river feeds into Llangorse Lake and then runs on to join the Wye at Three Cocks (AberLlynfi). We will shadow the course of this small river (as close as we can) as we pass The Walled Garden, through the villages of Pennorth (over the disused railway that once connected Brecon, Hereford and Cardiff), Talyllyn (the railway ran through a tunnel here), Llanfihangel Talyllyn, and Tredustan. Here the remains of a motte can be seen, this is twinned with another motte on the other side of the Llynfi. We turn right to cross the Llynfi and through the old railway bridge before turning right on the main road through Talgarth. Here it is very tempting to stop for a coffee at the Baker’s Table and a tour of the restored and functioning Talgath Mill. Continuing through the village we join the main road to Hay (cycle path available) and a right turn to follow the quiet Sustrans route #8 to Felindre and on Hay on Wye.
There are a couple of other tempting coffee stops that you can detour to. Dropping down to Glasbury and the River Café with its riverside terrace, or down to Three Cocks and the Twisted Spoon at the Old Barn. Where the route comes to T junction it turns right to Hay and passes the site for the famous Hay Literary Festival. On the outskirts of Hay is our turn signed for Capel y ffin and the beginning of the long and arduous climb up to Gospel Pass. Hay is a great place to explore and stoke up before climbing the highest road in Wales, so you may choose to detour into Hay.
The road to Gospel Pass passes an excellent bike shop and cafe on the left (Drovers Cycles), before it winds its way up the long climb ascending some 450 metres (often steeply). The road is often very narrow with high hedges so care is needed, especially to allow vehicles to pass. Eventually the road comes out onto the open moorland of the foothills of Hay Bluff and Lord Herefords Knob, with spectacular views of the Brecon Beacons, Llangors Lake and, of course the very heart of the Black Mountains.
Upon reaching the summit it is worth stopping to savour the views in both directions and the long descent into the Vale of Ewyas with Offa’s Dyke and the border with England just above you. The road takes you through Capel y ffin and on to the spectacular ruins of Llanthony Priory. These ruins are set with a stunning backdrop and can be enjoyed with a coffee stop courtesy of the Llanthony Priory Hotel which is in built into ruins.
Continuing on down the valley you will spot the crooked church of Cwmyoy built on an ancient landslip. Shortly after we take a right turn towards Forest Coal Pit, Llanbedr and on to Crickhowell. The road is again narrow and scenic with Sugar Loaf to the right and the distinctive Table Mountain to the right. On reaching Crickhowell take care turning right on to the busy A40. There are several opportunities for refuelling here such as Latte Da, The Bear, Deb’s Kitchen and Bookish.
Continue on the A40 for a hundred yards or so to turn left at the filling station and continue down (passing Cycle Therapy bike repairs) to cross the River Usk on Crickhowell’s enigmatic bridge (13 arches on the upstream side but 12 on the downstream side!) which claims to be the longest stone bridge in Wales. [If the legs are weary there is an easier option now – avoiding a testing climb – over the bridge turn right to follow the Usk river and the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal past the Glanusk Estate, and venue for the famous Green Man festival, to Llangynidr. If the legs are still fresh and you want to bag another big climb turn left and immediately right towards Llangatock and Beaufort.
The road to Beaufort forks right at a chapel and then climbs over the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal with old lime kilns on the right. The climb is long (five miles), relatively straight and unforgiving bringing you past old quarry workings and tram roads with fine views. Eventually reaching a T junction those wanting to master Llangynidr Mountain will need to turn left for another kilometre of climbing (there are distance markers that count you down to a faint line across the road proclaims you King of the Mountains!). Take a breather here at 518 metres altitude some 450 meters above the Usk river, and consider the great industrial heritage (iron, steel and coal that lies to the south) and the Chartists’ Cave (hiding place for Chartists and their weapons in their famed political movement of the 19 th century) just a couple of miles to the west. Now turn back the way you came to descend (take care: steep slopes, hairpin bends, wandering sheep and cattle grids) for a kilometre but this time continuing around a couple the hairpins which lead past a car park on the left with spectacular views of the Beacons, Black Mountains and Llangors Lake. The road takes us down to a T junction turning left to Llangynidr.
[Easier option re-joins us here.]
We turn right just after Cycle Basket (another useful cycle shop) to head down to another beautiful old, narrow, stone packhorse bridge over a beautiful stretch of the Usk (check nothing is coming before crossing). This a great for place for birdwatchers to spot Dippers on the rocks below.
There is steep climb back up to the A40 and then on up into Bwlch passing (or not!) The New Inn (CAMRA winner for Breconshire, and great for food too) before arriving back at our start at the Village Hall and another opportunity to refuel at the Gate Shop Café.