Saturday, 28 May 2016


It was a lonesome trip over to the beautiful Cambrian Hills a week ago, to investigate the bridleways and assess the area in bike-bivvy terms for a trip later in the year.  The start point was the ever strange, exceptionally insular, town of Kington, which I admit I have grown to love. Quirky, off-centre and dated, the old shop fronts are truly retrograde, not 'new-retro-chic'. Kington is lost in the no-man's-land of adventurers passing through to get to the desolation of Wales, and bored youngsters heading East to the bright lights of urban England. Few, if any, people would chose to settle here, keeping things very 'local'. Yet, as an outsider, it is fascinating, in itself, and a great base to start a journey into the borderlands. 

The ride started initially with a steady climb up Hergest Ridge to the Monkey Puzzle trees; their presence demarking the end of bridleway previously traveled. Beyond was just vague hope that the previous night's hurried map reading and Garmin pink line production wouldn't lead into too much trouble. 

The remainder of the Hergest ridge felt boundless, even with the heavy cloud barely lifting it's head above mine. Stone cairns on the top, showing their age with lichen, give character to an otherwise featureless peak, as the Powys hills roll away in the distance.

Views cleared as the ridgeline tumbled in front, a sweeping grassy descent which became stony double track and put a smile on my face a mile wide. Not doubt it will be fine on a loaded bike, but being free of luggage this time meant being able to pop, pump and whoop over the grassy kickers like a child.

For a while I rode lanes until they petered out to become a right hand turn onto a bridleway.....or not. There was, instead, a fence. A stream. A gate the wrong side of the stream for the official mapped route. Luckily, there was also a lovely farmer, with his grandson, a quad and a tiny little chihuahua (possibly the most unlikely farm dog in Wales) to explain a way through the fields to the byway I was trying to reach. Vaguely keeping the pink line in screenshot, I pedaled steadily across the energy sapping wet grass, past the uninterested sheep and a distant patch of vivid bluebells until the pink line veered well away from the track.

Stay on the track, or head up an unrideable hill with no real sign of a route? The mapping had been pretty far off by that point so the rideable track was followed.

Relentlessly followed. Waterproof boots are not waterproof when fully submerged in a river that is about half a meter deeper than expected. The track disappeared almost immediately after, and I retraced. Another failed pedal-hard-and-hope attempt at crossing left the boots squelching. Not that it mattered, despite all the rain it was a warm day.

More importantly, a lovely, flat, hidden and sheltered bivvy spot was noted for future reference.

After a little more unknown track and fieldwork, the byway was eventually found, which lead beautifully around the Llanfiangel-Nant-Melan ridge before dropping briefly onto the deserted A481. Soon turning off the tarmac, I found myself by a lake and running rapidly out of legs through serious lack of decent breakfast.

Hobnobs were consumed, sat on a discarded tractor tyre, pondering the returning cloud and another likely soaking. I didn't really mind, it was good to be out and the route had overall worked well. I was, however, feeling inappropriately exhausted for such a short journey and was glad to have made a turn in direction to the van.

There was still plenty of tough climbs to come, but with granny gear I was able to keep plodding up, up, up and over the Gwaunceste Hill reserve

It was mostly great running tracks up top, with some peat bogs to negotiate, land rover pits to sink in, and errant sheep criss-crossing in front of the bike. Perfect bike and bivvy land. Simple soul riding.

I stopped specifically to take a photo of these trees, they just were beautifully green against the grey, although, of course, the photograph doesn't show their true vividness. It has stayed in my memory though, those leaves dancing in the wind like waves.

The flowers in the verges brightened the lanes on the way back to Kington. Getting snaps required skill to dry the lens with tissue and keep it dry, as the sky drizzled. No easy task!

I rolled back to Kington, past a stunning historic farmhouse, really rather drained and pondering. Too much on lately, too much on.  Life needs to be simplified and organised (a little). I think I will take some time to do it.