Lon las Cymru: Day 4

지난달

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We woke at around 0820 to the sound of a farmer shrink wrapping some grass cuttings in the next field. The hot showers of the campsite had knocked us out and we'd slept an uninterrupted, much needed eight hours. We took our time cooking breakfast and rearranging the panniers, throwing away anything we didn't need in the campsite bins.

Today would take us through our second national park of the ride, the Brecon Beacons; the big, green mass that stood between us and Cardiff.

I'd read on some of the cycling forums beforehand about the climb up through the Beacons and it didn't seem as bad on paper as some of the previous climbs of the ride.

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We fooled around at a nice, chilled pace as we followed the River Wye South. Today was Sunday and with the weekend and the nice weather came motor bikes and car cruises. We were on the same route as a Black Mountain classic car rally at one point and stopped to admire some rare favourites flying past us. The motor-bikers were brilliant, looking after their fellow two-wheelers on busy 'A' roads and blind corners.

We took a short break in Llanstephan to ride over an old bridge that crossed the River Wye.

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We grabbed some lunch in nearby Glasbury and just missed the perfect photo opportunity in a small village named Three Cocks! We wanted to stick to Cycle Route 8 as closely as possible and opted to follow the route through Talgarth and on to the Army town of Brecon.

Arriving in Brecon, the Army's presence was hard to ignore passing army surplus stores and the grand Watton barracks. Pedalling on through, we passed into the National Park and stopped at a reservoir to take in the scenery before the big climb of the day.

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I'd seen pictures of this tower in the water before the ride and was disappointed to find its famous pointy, spire style roof absent. Maybe it had fell down in a storm, it did look pretty old after all.

The climb up into the mountains followed a gravel fire road through a pine forest, running parallel with the reservoir and the River Usk. We climbed about 800ft in 5 miles at a good pace, listening to the stones thudding against tree trunks, pinging off the track like little missiles under the weight of our tyres.

The day was coming to an end as we arrived at an idyllic plateau that overlooked the reservoir and our fire road climb. We took it in turns to photograph our bikes against the most pointless but pretty gate in the world.

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We cycled around the foot of Pen y Fan. A mountain that is famously utilised by the British Army in their selection process for the special forces. SAS hopefuls undergoing 'Exercise High Walk' (nicknamed 'The Fan Dance') have to complete a full traverse of the mountain whilst carrying around 70lbs (30kg) of kit. They are allowed four hours to complete the exercise with ten hours permitted in conditions of adverse weather.

Having completed our own version of the Fan dance, we skirted the mountain and to my delight, stumbled upon the reservoir I'd seen the pictures of with the iconic tower complete with spire!

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In hindsight, we should have pitched up camp around this location whilst we still had some daylight. This would have meant making do with the bland porridge that I'd become sick of. We made a collective decision to ride into Merthyr Tydfil to find some hot food.

I'm sure there are plenty of lovely people who live in Merthyr, but unfortunately, none of them were out on the streets to greet us upon our arrival into the old mining town. We pedalled up the main street to some intimidating comments from the pond life that poured from the boozers at kicking out time. We collected our hot food from a dimly lit burger shop and fearing for our gear and safety made our way out of town sharpish with our takeaways slung over the handlebars.

Sat on a bench in the darkness, somewhere in the Merthyr Vale, eating a burger that was more bland than the porridge, I thought about the sad decline of the once booming Welsh towns that thrived from the mining industry for hundreds of years. Since the closure and phasing out of the mines, towns like Merthyr have fell into rapid decline. Unable to cope with the massive reduction in investment, they are now some of the most socially deprived areas in the United Kingdom.

We had left the tranquility and beauty of the Beacons in favour of littered and dirty streets and now found ourselves in an increasingly built up area as each town seemed to roll into the next as we struggled to find some green space for our tents.

Eventually, after some exploring on foot with the headlamps, we found a sweet little pitch just off the route in a farmers field. It was a struggle to get the bikes and gear over the padlocked gates but once we were in, we nestled down under a huge oak tree at just after midnight.

Another 62 miles and 3800ft of climbing in the bag, we were now only 30 miles away from Cardiff.

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