The Idea: Cycle to a Mountain Bothy, spend the night and cycle back.
Location: Brecon to Abergwesyn and Moel Prysgau bothy
Transport: 3 reasonable touring bikes, 1 obese mountain bike and 1 ladies’ shopping bike
Distance: 64.5 very hard earned miles
Essential kit: Panniers
Kit we wished we’d had: Vaseline and/or less sensitive undercarriages
Cost per person: £20 plus £100 for new panniers
My legs ache. The inside of my car is caked in mud and someone has trodden an apple core into one of my floor mats. My soggy clothes are festering inside sealed panniers and my trainers are propped against the back door, dripping all over the kitchen floor. The smell of fire that was so comforting last night in a small mountain house in Wales has followed me back to London where it doesn’t belong, and my flat smells like an ashtray. My bike tyres have left stains on my landlord’s cream carpets and I’ve got friction burns on my balls.
I should probably put my clothes in the wash, clean my bike and find some Sudocrem, but I want to get this down while it’s fresh. Besides, I’m quite enjoying the aches, pains and smells, because they mean we’ve finally started what’s set to be an incredible year of adventure.
We left Nick’s house in Windsor on Sunday morning at 5am to drive the three hours to the Welsh town of Brecon. Leaving the cars in the centre of town, we cycled forty miles northwest towards Moel Prysgau, a small mountain bothy near Abergwesyn, where we spent the night. Leaving the bothy at sunrise on Monday morning, we made our way back to the cars for the journey home.
We made the plan a couple of days before, debating the distance we’d be able to cycle, and the kit we should take. Forty miles seemed like a reasonable distance to cover across eight hours and, with the exception of a few new panniers, we figured we’d be able to make do with the kit we had. This meant that Callum would have to borrow my girlfriend’s bike, I’d have to dig out an old mountain bike from my parents’ garage, and Joe would have to make the trip in Doc Martens. It wasn’t perfect, but we knew we could make do, and getting out there was all that really mattered.
After a night spent sleeping on top of each other in Nick’s living room, waking up was easy. We were chewing up miles on the M4 within 30 minutes and as we pulled into Brecon, the sun rose on cue. We were at the foot of the first hill roughly two hours before the rest of the country was even awake. Enthusiastic legs and a self-congratulatory spirit carried us up the first few hills and our attention was focused purely on the road ahead.
Jake, Joe, Nick and I own bikes and take them out from time to time, but Callum hadn’t ridden one since he was ten. He agreed to take on the ride regardless, but it soon became apparent that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the pace. We slowed to keep him within touching distance, but twenty miles, fifty hills, and a few wrong turns (including one that led to a near vertical incline) later, it became apparent that we’d never make the bothy before nightfall.
After three hours in the freezing rain, we had earned a break. The sugar hit gave us the energy we needed to push on.
Callum eventually admitted defeat and checked into a lodge that appeared on our route like a mirage. Making apologies for not meeting the dress code, and leaving pools of water wherever we stood, we followed him in and ordered coffee and cake. Thankfully we’re not seasoned adventurers and don’t have a rugged reputation to uphold, so I can say without shame or fear of judgement that this was one of the highlights of the trip. After three hours in the freezing rain, we had earned a break. The sugar hit gave us the energy we needed to push on.
There were no longer any restrictions on pace and the possibility that the bothy might be occupied by another cyclist or rambler if we didn’t get there first gave us additional incentive to move quickly. As we passed through the Abergwesyn Valley with sheep-speckled hills soaring above, dissected by waterfalls trickling into a stream below, memories of shivering in the rain just hours before were forgotten. This is what we came for. Unspoilt, endless countryside, good friends and a challenge we knew would stick with us forever.
Leaving the valley, however, was tough. The exit route included two back-to-back, 25% inclines, so steep that our front wheels lifted up when we tried to cycle them. With no other choice, we spent the next 30 minutes pushing our bikes uphill, and as we reached the top of the second, light was starting to fade. There were only a few miles to go, but the hills had sapped our energy. Thankfully, Jake’s relentless desire to push on and his recent hill running exploits meant he was able to keep things moving along swiftly. As road gradually turned into trail and we moved further and further away from the nearest town, there was nothing we could do but get our heads down and fall in line.
We reached Moel Prysgau just before the light finally disappeared and found the bothy empty. Once inside, we changed into dry clothes, set a fire and congratulated each other on a good day. This was our first experience of bothy life and it didn’t disappoint. Two large rooms with stone walls, a wood burner and raised boards for beds felt as relaxing after a full day’s ride as the hotel we’d been in earlier. As we sat by the fire warming last night’s chili and drinking tea, plans to go exploring were swiftly abandoned. It was only 630pm, but we were warm, dry and exhausted so convinced ourselves without much effort that it was the perfect time to go to sleep.
We woke up two hours before sunrise on Monday morning, and packed our bikes for the day. On the way in we thought we saw a shortcut, and Google maps confirmed that there was an alternative route back to the road, but that it probably included river crossings. At the first mention of water, Nick volunteered his services as a scout and ran barefoot into the pre-sunrise darkness to check out the trail. When he returned, he concluded that the path was possibly too wet for us to enjoy it, which essentially meant the river crossings were deep, treacherous and highly impassable. Nick absolutely loves getting wet, and I have no doubt that his efforts to convince the rest of us to jump in every water source we see will eventually become a common theme of this blog, but on this occasion we decided to retrace yesterday’s steps rather than taking the risk.
The ride back to Callum was tough. The rain returned and brought with it strong headwinds that made it feel as though we were cycling upstream (Nick’s idea of heaven). It’s very hard to appreciate nature when it’s kicking your arse, so rather than taking in the views, we kept our eyes focused on the ground and pumped our legs, dreaming of the open fire that would be our reward. Just as our muscles had finally warmed up and we were beginning to find a good rhythm, Jake stopped at the top of a hill. His brake pads had completely worn out, which meant that he’d have to take it slow and walk his bike back down the 25% inclines we walked up yesterday, back to Callum’s hotel. We had discussed the possibility of taking taxis back to the cars once we reached the hotel the night before, but Jake’s situation meant this was all we could do.
If we had known we wouldn’t be completing what we set out to do before starting out on that Saturday night, we’d have been disappointed, but we left Brecon with no regrets. All things considered, our trip to Wales was a resounding success. We pushed ourselves beyond our comfortable limits, saw more of an incredible country that sits not too far from our doorstep and, most importantly, spent a weekend with mates that’ll be worth remembering. ▲