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Bikepacking Mid Wales: 93 miles of gravel, forestry tracks and quiet roads

Bikepacking Mid Wales: 93 miles of gravel, forestry tracks and quiet roads

A long Easter weekend combined with perfect weather: the perfect opportunity to go outdoors. When I go out cycling I always look for the perfect mix between doing the miles and enjoying nature. This normally means I find myself either cursing at cars or pushing my bike through the bog at least once per trip. But not this time, this was 150 km of pure fun!

I was honestly very happy with how the route turned out. Nearly every bit was ridable even with rigid bike and quite some gear. There are bothies along the way to stay for the night, wild camping opportunities were plenty.  If you ever have three days to spare in Mid Wales; have a go at this one, you won’t be disappointed.

 

Day 1

To get the blood pumping, the first hill needs to be conquered even before you left Aberystwyth. You dip down into Penrhyn Coch where you could do the last shoppings of the day and soon start the big climb up to Nant Y Moch reservoir. Consider yourself lucky though, once you see the first lake you have reached the high plateau and won’t be doing any long climbs for a while.

Track from Nant y Moch to Glaslyn
Track from the north-east of Nant y Moch going north.

 

Barren moorland near Tarren Bwlch-gwyn
Barren moorland near Tarren Bwlch-gwyn

It won’t be until a place called Staylittle you hit the tarmac again. A nice quiet road will lead to Hafren forest, the source of both the Wye and Severn rivers. The track through this forest is of really good quality and before you know hit you hit the busy A 44 between Aberystwyth and Llangurig. Don’t worry, you will only need to cross it to reach the good forest road towards Nant Rhys bothy. Rest assured that the hardest day is over.

Glyndwr Way towards Staylittle
Glyndwr Way towards Staylittle

 

The Hafren forest offers perfect wild camping opportunities
The Hafren forest offers perfect wild camping opportunities

 

Day 2

A degraded ‘tarmac’ road makes for a thrilling downhill to Blaenycwm. You turn left and into the beautiful mountain road to Elan Valley. It is a tarmac road, but a quiet one.

Elan Valley

 

Elan valley is a collection of reservoirs that provide drinking water for Birmingham. Submerging Welsh villages to provide water for the English; Elan valley is still a bit controversial. It makes for nice cycling though, and the visitors centre is a perfect place to still your hunger.

From the Elan Valley the route goes up again. On a quiet tarmac road you ride to the highest reservoir: Claerwen. The road turns into gravel and simply makes for awesome cycling. Enjoy the nice views across the lake, before you know you’ll see the second bothy popping up from behind the hill.

Good progress on this pothole riddled gravel road.
Good progress on this pothole riddled gravel road along Claerwen reservoir.

 

Claerddu is probably one of the most luxurious bothies in the UK. It has running water (!) and the Elan Valley Trust supply a more than decent amount of firewood.

Day 3

A rollercoaster ride on a quiet tarmac road brings you past the Teifi Pools. The downhill into Ffair-Rhos is easy and the B-road to Pont-rhyd-y-groes should not give your – by now experienced – legs too much difficulty. The small café in Pont-rhyd-y-groes is a perfect last stop and a good place to reflect on your trip. The last bit to Aberystwyth will follow the flat Ystwyth cycle trail. 

 

Teifi Pools
Teifi Pools

 

Europe

Europe

Edirne, April 19

I’ve been on the road now for a month and a week. Cycling from the Netherlands to, well in the direction of, China. It has been a great trip so far but I almost had to give up in week two and head home. But I’m still rolling!

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Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

The process of boarding the ferry across the Caspian was silky smooth. We, I met a french cyclist in Azerbaijan, were informed the ferry would depart from Alat. The 18th of June we arrived at the ferry around two in the afternoon, and were told the ferry would leave the same evening. Great news. In fact the boat left the next morning, but it could have been worse, we have heard horror stories of people waiting a week to board the ferry (that is not really horror, maybe more a drama).

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Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan maybe was the most beautiful country of the trip. The Pamirs were spectacular, but it was a rather hard environment. No trees nor grass, either hard wind or musquitos, either rain or sunburn. In Kyrgyzstan the landscape turned green again, and from the vilage of Sary Tash the view towards the Pamirs was incredible.

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Bike trip nostalgia; a Scottish adventure in the spring of 2015

Bike trip nostalgia; a Scottish adventure in the spring of 2015

From 30 April to 6 May, my girlfriend and I went cycling in Scotland. We planned on going from Inverness to Ullapool offroad, and back on the tarmac. And we succeeded.

Day 1: Groningen – Amsterdam – Inverness
I don’t like airports. I always have the feeling everybody knowns their way except for me. Luckily Suzanne, my girlfriend, is a good guide in these situations. Getting the bikes and boxes to the airport by train was difficult. And we had a lot of stress before we had everyting checked-in. In Inverness we asked a cab driver to bring the bikeboxes to the adres where we would spend our last night of the holiday, for cycing while carrying them would be dangerous. The host of our first night’s b&b was not very sure we could go from Inverness to Ullapool offroad, and now I began to doubt too.

Day 2: Inverness – Schoolhouse bothy
We had a nice breakfast and were only just in time to catch the train to Garve. We disembarked the train and headed north via the A835. The white mountains we saw from the plane dominated the landscape and we knew we had to find a way through them the coming days. We went right when our Garmin told us so, and headed to Loch Vaich. While we took a moment to enjoy the view over the valley after our first ascent, we met a Frenchmen who looked much more professional than we did. With next to nothing in terms of gear, he flew down the hill like a butterfly. I followed more akin an elephant, hauling 44 lbs of gear on my touring bike with skinny tyres (42-622 schwalbe mondials).
Down by the lake we had a lunch and we discussed our options, fearing our plan maybe was a bit too ambitious. We went on though, and managed to climb out the valley. The views were much more beautiful then we had imagined and even the light hail coming down didn’t bother us.

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We followed the Glean Mor upstream towards a place called Croick, and found refuge in the Church. Here Suzanne found a working radiator and we made some tea.

By then we knew our plans to reach the Schoolhouse bothy of Duag Bridge were feasible, but we soon discovered we were not going to get there with dry feet. We reached the bothy at seven, and found the Frenchman again. Only the smallest room was available to us, which turned out for the better for the small room warmed by our body heat and our camp stove. We spend a comfortable night.

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Day 3: Schoolhouse to Loch an Daimh
We had enough food with us to do another bothy and the plan was to take it easy this day. We followed the advise I was given months before when discussing the route with a guy from Inverness. We took the Corriemulzie track, which was beautiful.

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We then took a foot path north. On this path, cycling was impossible and pushing the bike became dangerous when on the left hand a ravine emerged. With the bike on my right and the ravine on my left I feared the bike might fall on me, dragging my in dephts below. Suzanne wanted to go back and by her voice I could tell she would not accept a no from me. Afterwards I was very happy Suzanne dragged my out my irrational reluctance to take the same way back.
We went back the same way, had lunch in the Schoolhouse again and set off to Knockdamph bothy via another path. The dreaded watercrossing of the Abbhain Poiblidh turned out to be easy and we soon reached a moist and cold both called Knockdamph; where even the newspapers wouldn’t catch fire. The night was cold, and the place was haunted.

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Day 4: Knockdamph to Ullapool
We left the bothy with little love lost. A backwind blew us west, and when we had to break going uphill wel knew: this is a strong wind. In Ullapool we soon found warmth and wifi in a hotel lobby. We called home to let people know we were ok, and we made a reservation at the youth hostel. There we found an employee visibly sorry to tell us we could not have a warm shower untill four o’clock. We killed time in Ullapool by eating fish n chips, checking out tourist shops and having a whisky.

 

Day 5: Ullapool – Dingwall
We took the A835 back to the east coast. First part was difficult with wind, rain and gradient against us. After some 8 miles the climbing was over and we entered the highland again. The landscape was wonderfull and the wind again in our backs. We had a nice lunch near Garve and became over-confident. We left the tarmac and went offroad again. The hill appeared to have not end. We reached a B&B with a superb view. I left Suzanne and cycled all the way down to get wine and beer. I was not going to enjoy the view with a glass of water!

Day 6: Dingwall – Inverness
We felt exhausted, spend a long morning in the B&B and took the train to Inverness. We didn’t like Inverness in the rain and soon cycled a wet and nasty route via the A96 to our last B&B. Our room was great had a stunning view over the bay.

 

Day 7: Inverness – Amsterdam – Groningen
Our host proposed to take us and the already boxed bikes to the airport. This saved us from a lot troubles. A quarter to nine we were at the airport and five minutes later our bikes and luggage were checked-in. The contrast with Amsterdam airport couldn’t have been bigger. We left the boxes in Amsterdam and had an easy trip to Groningen. The feeling we actually did it, this adventure, without any experience, was a great feeling. It was difficult at times but in the always the beautiful landscape pulled us through.

Midges and drizzle: bikepacking West Scotland

Midges and drizzle: bikepacking West Scotland

Some four months ago I decided it was time for a nice bikepacking trip again. I had some time in June and figured Scotland would offer the best mix of remoteness, scenery and culture.  Scotland is easy to reach with planes flying from the Netherlands to Glasgow, and in June temperatures would be just fine. Having already done a trip through the Highlands, I decided my route should focus more on the Scottish Islands instead. The last time I was in Scotland, one year ago, I found out light weight is bliss. I trimmed down my gear list to include the following items:

 

Handlebar bag (Ortlieb pd350 13l dry bag in a diy harness)

Tent (Eureka Moonshadow Solo xp)

Matress (ThermArest NeoAir Xtherm Large)

 

Saddle Bag (Ortlieb pd350 13l dry bag in a diy harness)

Sleeping bag (Cumulus LiteLine 400)

Down Jacket

Wool Jersey

Three underpants

One pair of socks

Two portions freeze dried food

 

Frame bag (made with love by girlfriend)

Three portions of freeze dried food

Parts (tyre patches, tie wraps, brake pads, bolts, lubricant)

Toiletries (biosoap, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant)

Map

Stove (MSR Pocket Rocket)

Travel documents

Book (Herman Koch, The Diner, travel edition)

Tent poles

Tent stakes

Head lamp

Heat reflector

Chocolate bar

 

Front fork:

Pan )/(Optimus Terra Solo)

Gas Canister

Coffee and tea

1,5 L bottle water

Pump (Lezyne)

 

Stuffed away in pockets and on belt:

Camera

Bike tool

Leatherman

Energy bars,

Wallet

Phone

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Coming from a pannier style of cycle touring, I was rather pleased with this set-up. I used the ortlieb dry bags because they are really cheap and durable, the harnesses I made myself, and the frame bag was made by my girlfriend. On the Gear page I will explain how. The following is a travel report I wrote during the trip.

 

Day 1: Glasgow Airport – Arran

[Ardrossan] It is quarter to three and the ferry from Ardrossan to Arran will leave in 30 minutes. I am pleased with this, as I am pretty weary. Spending the night at Amsterdam Airport took its toll, and taking a bike on a plane always is a hassle. In Paisley, near the airport, I buy some stuff at Summit Outdoor store, where I leave a bag with things I don’t need (flight bag and wrench for my pedals) The people I met so far were gentle, but the area I covered  appeared a bit run-down.

[Glen Rosa] The ferry to Arran was fun, passing a rusty lighthouse with the Island being obscured by the low clouds in the background. I feel a desire to call my dad, to tell him about what I experience. I sit down, I cry. The island is beautiful, green slopes reaching all the way to the sea. In Broddick I buy a bottle of beer which I drink in Glen Rosa, where I have my wild camp. It is pretty valley with a nice little river, the midges leave me alone, all is well.

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Day 2: Arran – Loch Awe

[Jeeptrack towards Carron bothy] I left this morning from Glen Rosa. A local advised me not to do the coastal path past Laggan cottage, so I opt for the main road north instead. This turns out to be strenuous as it is, but very scenic.  I took the ferry to Claonaig (Kintyre), here the sun is shining and I say goodbye to the Australian-Canadian cycle tourist I met on the ferry. In a place called Skipness I buy a sandwich and coffee before I continue my route north to Tarbert, via the Kintyre Way, a hiking trail. The going is tough and there was some hike-a-bike involved until a decent track used by the Forestry brought me down again. This way I reached Tartbert, where I did some restocking. The road (A83) to Lochgilphead was quite dull, but from there I followed the Crinan Canal, very scenic, and best of all; flat. Via nice backroad I reached Kilmartin, and via another nice backroad I reached Loch Awe. I couldn’t reach Carron bothy, the path towards the shelter went up and my morale went down. I yielded when I reached the foot of yet another climb. I put up my tent by the side of road, got myself fed and washed and called it a day. The moment I tucked in I saw a little swarm of midges outside my tent, wishing me goodnight.

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Day 3: Loch Awe – Oban

[Ford] I am just underway when an overwhelming feeling of pride hits me. I realize that for too long I wanted others to be proud of me, my father above all. Of course I knew that wasn’t right. Still the fact that he told me he was proud of me when I graduated from university not long ago and not long before he passed away, comforts me.

[Oban] Bottles of beer start at 650 ml here in Scotland. I am enjoying the last sun of the day on the quay of Oban and cannot help but feeling like an alcoholic. The midges of last night were present this morning, in full force.  I have never broke up camp so fast. I ate breakfast in a little village where I also readjusted my rear derailleur. With a bike that finally shifted smooth I continued past Loch Awe. At the head of the loch I took a forest track that lead me south of Loch Nant. The beautiful forest I crossed sometimes was marked by deforestation, but that seems unavoidable. The path deteriorated but remained doable with my 2.1 inch tyres. I cycled through a lovely glen and came out on the other end, just south of Oban. A sweeping descent brought me in the idyllic little town, where a waitress gave me the best beer I have ever tasted. The size of the bottle was of little concern to me, at that point.

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Day 4: Oban – Fionnphort (Mull)

[Mull south of Fionnphort] Yesterday I opted for the Youth Hostel. I shared a room with two Frenchmen and German. The German was fat and old, and it took him a quarter of an hour to get in his bunkbed. I offered help and the kind sir responded with a friendly “Fuck You!”. The noise he produced can’t classify as snoring, his farts were even louder than his snoring but somehow couldn’t overpower his bodily odours. I wished I was in my tent, midges or not. Today is Friday and a local discouraged me to head east already, for there would be a lot of Glaswegians in the Loch Lomond area. Besides, I reckoned the islands would get more wind, driving the midges away. I decide to go to Mull today, and spend the night on that island. On the ferry I see a pretty girl with a bike and a Royal Mail vest. Of course she wore it for its fluorescent properties exclusively, but I couldn’t resist: “Royal Mail is pretty hard core these days!” We end up talking and when I tell her I want to camp on a quiet beach she tells me go to the South-Western tip of the Island. I follow her advice and cycle a beautiful but wet road to the end of the world. I put up my tent on a patch of grass overlooking my private lagoon, it is a magical place. It rains a little but still midges are motivated to do me harm, so I hide in my tent. Not long afterwards a little breeze comes up and I dare venture out. I bath myself in the sea and have a coffee. To be able to do this for myself gives me a great sense of control. Washed and fed I snug in.

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Day 5: Fionnphort – Oban

[Fionnphort] After a breakfast in dry weather and with a perfect view, I pack my stuff. The weather is grey and predicts rain. I arrive in the little hamlet of Fionnphort just in time to see the bus leave. I do not wish to cycle my way back to the ferry, for that would mean doing the same road I did yesterday, though now with a headwind. I spend some time in the little tea room and speak with a local (“Global warming is fake, my son is a scientist and he says it is fake. The North is moving south and so is the ice. Kids killed my dog.”). Behind the counter is tired looking woman. She might have been the prettiest girl in her class, but now looks like past glory. Though the old Scottish locals do not seem to notice and flirt with her anyways.

[Oban youth hostel] It is half past one when the next bus arrives. The female bus driver allows me to but my bike in the baggage compartment. There are only two other persons in the bus and I take a seat close to the driver. She has lived her whole live in Scotland and knows a lot. When we pass a deforested patch of land she tells me the wood has been harvested about 10 years ago. To me it looks like yesterday, never guessed that such areas stay ugly for so long. I ask the bus driver a lot, I hope she doesn’t mind. Back in Oban it is still raining. I once again stay in the youth hostel, it cannot be worse than my last experience, I reckon. The goal Russia made against England has been received in Oban pubs with cheers of joy.

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Day 6: Oban – Gorton bothy

[Gorton bothy] Today was a heavy day. Beautiful but heavy. From Oban I took Glen Lonan eastwards. Here I meet Peter. I know him from a Dutch cycle forum and I knew he was in Oban too. I cycle onwards, do a short section of busy A road and then head for a jeep track on the south side of Loch Etive. It is beautiful path often towering high above the lake. From the loch the track heads to Glen Kinglass. I check out Narrachan bothy, which isn’t more than a shed. It has a door and a roof, but no floor. It was still too early anyways. Past the lodge the track becomes obscure. I clearly see rather fresh tyre tracks in the mud but cycling here is impossible for me, I am a lesser god. For two hours I walk, but it is a pleasant walk. It is dry, and I have plenty of time and food. I decide to erect my tent but then the wind tones down and the midges started dancing out of pure joy. I push through to Gorton bothy, where I arrive at nine o’clock. Outside the wind is blowing again. But I am inside, and that is quite nice.

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Day 7: Gorton bothy – Glasgow

[Glasgow youth hostel] I took it easy today. I left the Bothy at ten, after having had a nice breakfast by the fire.  The clouds hang low and produce a drizzle. After the jeep track I follow the  A road south. It is wet and busy, and the cars drive really fast. Solitude becomes loneliness and am not in a mood to cycle towards another bothy. In Tyndrum I opt for the train to Glasgow. In Glasgow it is the youth hostel again. I sleep well but decide to take a private room for my last night.

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Day 8: Glasgow

[Glasgow youth hostel] In the park in Glasgow I see a man walking his dog. The dog has a stick, lays it on the ground and when his boss almost arrives the dog picks up his stick and walks away triumphant. Smart dog. Glasgow was nice, a bit of a mess but charming still. European city centres all look alike though, the big chains are everywhere. Tomorrow I’ll be flying back to the Netherlands after I collect a bike box from Dooley’s, a bike shop near the airport. I often experience high highs and low lows when I am on a trip alone, and this week was no exception. It has been a great trip and now I am looking forward going home.

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