25 years ago today I set off with a good friend; Mark, on the tenth and last day of our attempt to circumnavigate by bicycle Wales’ largest county; Powys. To add interest to the venture we planned on visiting the highest point of each of the eight 2,000ft hill ranges within the county, which are all situated around its periphery, bikes included. We were backed up by Hazel and Barry; without whom our little adventure would not have taken place. Prior to setting off and during our trip we raised money for the British Heart Foundation and the Ystradgynlais Mountain Rescue team.
The following is an account of this ten day expedition with each day’s journey appearing on the Mapping Mountains blog 25 years after it had taken place.
|The county of Powys with the eight 2,000ft hill ranges positioned around its periphery|
04.08.90 – Llanfair Waterdine – Kerry Ridgeway – Long Mountain
Throughout the last nine days of our journey we had endeavoured to keep as close to the border of Powys as feasibly possibly, and today, our last day of the journey was no different. Therefore our planned route back to the top of the Long Mountain where we had started our adventure was set out to follow the eastern boundary of Powys, this is also the border between Wales and England. Throughout its length this border takes a number of interesting diversions, it is also a border that seemingly is not confirmed by any written document from the time when it was agreed, this I find amazing.
As the tent was packed up for the last time and loaded into the back of Barry and Hazel’s camper van Mark and I prepared the bikes for the start of our last day’s cycling. We filled our water bottles; I sorted out what maps were required for the day and folded them up so they were on show in the map holder at the front of my bike. We loaded up with various snacks for the journey and made arrangements where our first meeting place was planned to be, and then it was away, following the B 4355 out of Llanfair Waterdine as it follows the River Teme which is at or beside the designated land border between Wales and England hereabouts.
As the River Teme meets the Rhuddwr Brook the land border swings right and follows the course of the brook northward, thankfully a minor lane also did likewise and we left the easy gradient of the B 4355 and continued on our way using sections of minor roads and B roads until we arrived at the Kerry Ridgeway.
The Kerry Ridgeway is an ancient route mainly used in the past by drovers as they shepherded their livestock from Wales into England, it now consists of country roads, tracks and bridleways, these are an ideal mix for a mountain bike and would give us a bit of off-road pleasure on our last day of cycling.
Although the sizzling temperatures from yesterday had cooled it was still warm and by now our bodies were accustomed to the rigours and mileage of each day, and having the sun and blue skies take us through to the finish was a pleasure instead of a sizzling grind, which some of the past few days journey had been.
As we swung onto the Ridgeway it felt great to be off-road once again, our route on this ancient trackway almost followed it in its entirety as we headed onto the forest track named as the Long Plantation on Ordnance Survey maps. This took us north-eastward toward the Square Plantation which was then a patch of Common Land, this patch of land is now designated as open access.
As we approached the Square Plantation we cycled straight into a new age festival, which we thought great fun, there were vans, cars and buses parked and a multitude of people wandering around the site. Music played and we stopped and chatted with a number of people, those we chatted to explained the status of the land and invited us to stay for however long we wanted, as a veteran of numerous Glastonbury Festivals I was tempted, as indeed was Mark, but we had a schedule to try and keep to and although the thought of taking in a festival on our journey was appealing we had to press on. It is the one regret of the whole ten day journey that I did not take any photographs when we were at the festival as it was a surreal experience, which most festivals can become depending on how immersed one explores their inner depths. We had arrived unannounced into a fully-fledged and legal gathering of new age travellers and probably looked rather alien in our Lycra shorts, helmets and sitting on mountain bikes. It was great fun when it lasted but we thanked them for their hospitality and waved our goodbye’s and continued down toward the small community of Snead, where we quickly crossed the busy A 489 and continued up another minor lane toward The Marsh, which is another small community of houses.
We were nearing journey’s end but now had to encircle Corndon, which is a 500m hill that is wholly in Wales, but its affiliation to the mother country is dependent upon the border between Wales and England swinging out from its north - south route to purposely take it in, this is another one of those unexplained oddities of this land border, but as our route attempted to follow the Powys border as closely as feasibly possible we wanted to cycle around Corndon, and this we did and once done we were on the final part of the journey heading toward the base of the southern end of the Long Mountain. However, we still had a few miles to ride and had arranged to meet Barry and Hazel at a cross roads next to Brompton Hall.
As we arrived Hazel was preparing food and drink which was a welcome addition to all the previous nine days journey, throughout this trip the back-up had been excellent, this was provided by my Mum; Hazel and her husband; Barry, without their help this trip would not have taken place as they provided the glue to stick everything together, it was me and Mark who did the cycling part of the journey with Barry joining us for a few miles each day, but it was Hazel and Barry who kept us on the road, fed us and encouraged us.
After our lunch stop we continued into Montgomery and headed north out of the old county town of Montgomeryshire on the long straight of the B 4388, the hedgerows had recently been cropped and there were hawthorn needles scattered over the road, I got off and delicately pushed and carried by bike over them but Mark suffered a puncture, remarkably this was only the second puncture of the whole trip, with the first one suffered by Barry many a day ago around the roads of the south Powys hills.
As we cycled into Forden we swung up onto the narrow lane that makes its way steeply up the southern part of the Long Mountain, Barry had joined us for the last part of the journey, which was fitting. This road proved the same as its counterpart on the first evening’s cycle ride out of Welshpool as it was so steep we had to get off and push the bikes to the top.
|Nearing journey's end as Mark and Barry push their bikes up the Long Mountain|
Once near the cross roads at the top of the road we jumped back on the bikes and cycled the last mile toward where we had started from ten days previously, it was a beautiful summer’s afternoon with high wisps of cloud in a blue sky. Our finish point was where the lands of England butt up against those of Wales with the hills of Powys across the landscape to our west with the hills further south now out of view.
Hazel was waiting for us as we arrived and gave us a cheer, we had done it!
|At the finish line on the Wales - England border on the Long Mountain|
It had taken us ten days to cycle, carry and occasionally fall off our bikes around the 360 odd miles of Powys’ border, only nine days when you take into account that we started in the evening of day 1 and finished in the afternoon of day 10. We had taken in the highest point of each of the eight 2,000ft hill ranges that are within the county and included the bikes when we had done so. It had been a fantastic experience, one that I shall never forget as it still ranks as one of the best things I have ever done. Mark had been a great companion during the journey and Hazel and Barry had provided the necessary and all important back-up.
Before leaving our finish point I set my camera up with its self-timer ready to take a photograph of the four of us, five if you include Trudy, Mum and Barry’s dog, who had accompanied us and enjoyed herself during the last ten days journey.
Only one thing remained and that was to cycle back home!
Tomorrow: A Well Earned Rest!
During the trip I kept a travel journal which I have relied on during the writing of each day’s article that has appeared on the Mapping Mountains blog over the last ten days. Mark and I also kept a record of our mileage and I later worked out the ascent per day, on and off the roads. This travel journal with its detailed statistics of the route we took will be posted on this site tomorrow.
Mark and I are still good friends 25 years on from our little adventure around the Welsh hills. Mark is the boss of his own successful business and now lives in Shrewsbury and is married to Sharon; they have two children; Evie and Poppy. Due to a motorcycle accident Mark no longer hill walks or mountain bikes.
Barry and Hazel are no longer with us, Barry died in 1996 and Hazel passed away in 2012, they are both dearly missed.