Sometimes things don’t go quite how you planned them – but that’s OK. This is what happened on Sunday when I “planned” a route all from the comfort of my computer chair, and took more than a dozen riders from MB Swindon and one from Mudtrek with me along for an adventure in South Wales.
The plan was to follow a route I had plotted on the OS maps, using a bit of Google to find some points of interest and Strava to see if anyone had actually ridden there before – and of course created a segment.
We did OK for the most part (to my relief) and there were one or two moments of, lets call it mystery. We weren’t in fact far from where I had expected us to be. Its just the bridleway on the OS map didn’t seem to exist, so we followed another much more obvious track that took us a little off course.
The weather was stunning and the group were all up for a few wrong turns up or down the mountains. South Wales was in good spirits and treated us to a cracking day out.
In truth (and of course not at all to my surprise) we only missed a short part of my planned route, but what we found along that route was far better than any map could convey.
We found technical single track climbs and a couple of fantastic descents. Rock features and water crossings – all that provided plenty of photo taking opportunities.
Not knowing what was around each corner and hoping the path I had expected to find was in fact there was a big part of the adventure.
Even on top of a mountain, forging a path through the long grass…
and peat puddles, everyone kept smiling.
I learnt a few guiding lessons from the day out and learnt that if you prepare people for an adventure and a ride with some mystery and wrong turns, they come already accepting it.
The success of this mass reconnaissance ride of a couple of South Wales valleys has prompted a few more ideas and plan to go back and have another go.
I want to thank all that came along from MB Swindon for your trust in me, patience and sense of humour when things didn’t quite go to plan. Thanks to Micky for some co navigation at times and to Jay from Mudtrek for some advice which mostly consisted of “yeah, just do it” and “up, up more up” and my favourite “its not dark for hours yet”…
Here are the words I wrote for the MB Swindon website:
I tried really really hard to deter people from coming on this ride. I told them I hadn’t ridden it. I said we may get lost. I put it on in the middle of October. And I even said there would be no cake. But they came. List it and they will come! They will come and they will expect to be entertained and have a blooming good time. I was up for the challenge.
Perhaps downloading the GPX to my Garmin would have been a good start or bringing a map that started at our start point. How hard can it actually be to follow a cycle path up the valley anyway? Turns out it was easy, really easy in fact, to follow the WRONG cycle path for 3 miles!
So we turned back and I don’t think anyone noticed.
The weather was typically Welsh and autumnal – sunny and dry – and our pedal up the sort-of clearly way marked Sustrans Route 465 was really pretty. We rode through some typical Welsh villages and parks, and a rugby ground in Abertillery, all the while admiring the autumn colours on the trees and on the ground.
At Nantyglo we diverted so everyone could get a look at the “roundhouses”. Oh how they nagged and begged to see these 19th century fortified homes! I hope some one took a picture as I didn’t!
After this we began our ascent of Mulfran. Mulfran is the 5217th highest peak in the British isles and the 446th tallest in Wales. I’m sure I remember someone asking me for this info as we made our way up the track.
Here is where things started to get interesting. My map, and GPS aswwell as Jay’s (thanks Jay) GPS didn’t all exactly agree on where the bridleway was atop of Mynydd James. So we first fought our way through mud and motor cross ruts, we then made our own way through the wild grassy hill top trying to find a way down.
What we did find was a cool rock fissure and decided it was a good place for a snack and to take a 100 or so photos.
After leaving the giant crack and at least one or two of the gang down a hole in the ground we sort of found our way off the hill by way of a storm/water gully that feeds the Cwmtillery lakes. Getting to the lakes meant we would be back on my planned route so there was only one thing for it! Bobsleigh time!
It probably wasn’t the most sensible way off the side of the mountain but, no one got hurt (seriously at least) and we had bagged a special moment that all will remember!
A short climb and hike out the other side of the valley had us on our homeward stretch as we traversed the hills side above Pen Y Bont towards Abertillery. With one final climb in our sights and the Welsh sun (it was Welsh sun) shining on us we headed up for one final descent!
The Penrhiwgarreg woods delivered one last treat as we dropped down through the trees, twisting and turning on a mix of woodland trails and tracks following some sort of memory I had from some Strava research. With a mixed ability group it delivered enough to challenge but not too much to scare and we all arrived at the bottom without any issues.
What a finale to a great day!
I’m already planning another visit.