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Wales Top to Bottom by Bike (almost!)

Updated: Jun 25, 2022

After last year’s trip to the Yorkshire wolds and moors, our group of four planned a bigger cycling trip for this May, 2022. Starting from Llandudno on the North Wales coast, we criss-crossed coasts and mountains to cycle just over 400km from North to South Wales in seven days.

Map of Wales - Purple Route shows our journey

Uphill day - Photo: E. Rose (on the Brompton)

Our main adversaries on this trip were winds – and hills! Our first day from Llandudno around the coast to Caernarfon and on to Porthmadog saw us heading straight into a strong southwesterly wind. Fortunately the hills on this first stretch were relatively low.

Photos - Conway Castle (E.Rose) and Caernarfon Castle (D. Cockburn)

Caernarfon is famous for its castle guarding the Menai straits – and was one of several castles we saw. Right at the start after leaving Llandudno, we passed Conwy Castle. Both Conwy and Caernarfon were built by the English King Edward I who subdued the Welsh lands in 1283.

During our second day we were reminded of more recent innovation in Wales. The two main reactor blocks of the former nuclear power station loomed up as we approached Trawsfynydd lake.

Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power Station - Photo; E. Rose

They are stark symbols of technological progress at the time when the station began generating power in 1965. Now they stand as battered reminders of Britain’s decade of the “white heat of technological change” as they are slowly dismantled.

Could there be a new nuclear power site coming to Wales?
Trawsfynydd, in Gwynedd, stopped producing electricity in 1993 and is currently being decommissioned.
But engineering giant Rolls-Royce wants to build a network of mini-reactors, a third of the size of current stations and Trawsfynydd is one of the sites it is looking at. BBC-Wales

On our third day, cycling from Dolgellau to Tywyn, we visited the peaceful site of Castell y Bere. This castle was built by the Welsh leader Llywelyn the Great in the 1220s, but fell to the English in 1282. It did not last long under English control as the Welsh leader Madog ap Llywelyn mounted a revolt in 1294 and sacked the castle.

It remains a ruin to this day and a testament to more troubled relations between Wales and England in years past.

The industrial past provides North Wales with the narrow gauge railways built to bring slate down from quarry to quayside and now acting as tourist magnets. attractions. We saw 160-year old steam locomotive Prince hauling crowds of tourists on the Ffestiniog Railway which starts at Porthmadog and took a ride on the Talyllyn Railway to Tywyn.

Cycling from Tywyn on our fourth day brought us over a spectacular long climb up to 500 metres above sea level and then down to Hafren Forest. Here we looked for the ospreys which have been encouraged to a nesting site here after many years when there were no ospreys in Wales at all. We thought we saw one – but closer inspection suggested it was a much more common bird of prey, a buzzard!

We are pleased to announce the first chick of 2022 hatched on the 1st of June. First chick at Brenig | North Wales Wildlife Trust (not where we were but something to celebrate!)

Llanidloes - 17th century market hall (Photo: Peter Broster)

After a night’s stay in the town of Llanidloes with its pretty 17th century market hall, we set off again over more hills and on moorland tracks.

Llanidloes to Rhayader

Our route to Rhayader, day five, took us alongside the picturesque reservoirs and dams in the Elan valley. This extensive area was flooded in 1896 in order to supply water to growing industrial Birmingham, 73 miles away in England.

From Rhayader, day six, we had a less strenuous ride along the pretty valley of the river Wye to Builth Wells and on to Talgarth.

Then finally, day seven, we cycled the last stretch up a long uphill route along the old Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil Railway before reaching the Heads of the Valleys and coming down to Bargoed in the old coal mining area of Rhymney Valley to catch a train to Cardiff.

River Wye near Rhayader - Photo: Edmond Rose

We had cycled from the top of the principality to within a few kilometres of the South Wales coast.

Photos: left to right - Flowers (R.Cockburn); Upland mid-Wales (R.Cockburn); Snowdonia (E.Rose)

It was a very up and down week of cycling, full of contrasts between 13th century castles, the moor-like uplands of North and Mid Wales, narrow gauge railways, crumbling modernity at Trawsfynydd, mountain roads, forest tracks and the gentler scenery of the Elan and Wye valleys.

It wasn’t an itinerary for the faint-hearted cyclist, but a rewarding trip for anyone prepared to keep going when the road turns uphill once again!

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