Wednesday, 14 September 2011

In early September 2011 John, Kate and David Harries set off on a 260 mile cycle ride from Holyhead to Cardiff to raise funds for three charities: 

Beacon of Hope 
Bobath Children's Therapy Centre Wales 
Age Cymru 

Our plan was to cycle the Sustrans Lon Las Cymru route, which follows quiet country roads and paths, in six and half days. 

We're delighted to report that we completed the route as intended and, thanks to a large number of generous sponsors, raised a considerable amount of money for the three charities, for the latest information see     

A very big thank you to all our sponsors, diolch yn fawr iawn

Now that it's all over, we thought it may be of interest if we recorded the highlights of our journey:       

Day 1: Holyhead to Menai Bridge

Day 1, Saturday 3 September: Holyhead to Menai Bridge (30 miles, 320 m ascent)

We set off at the crack of dawn to catch the 07.30 train from Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury and were immediately confronted with an Arriva train guard who was prepared to allow only two of our three bikes on to the train! After some discussion we persuaded this official that three bikes would not be problematic and we proceeded with some relief to secure them safely in the cycle bay. Following a change of trains at Shrewsbury we eventually arrived at Holyhead at 13.30 – to be greeted by the heavy rain which had been forecast for the rest of the day.

Finding the start of Lon Las Cymru (Sustrans Route 8) in Holyhead was not easy in heavy traffic, but having located it we soon set off in driving rain along the country lanes of Anglesey. While the poor weather did not allow us to see the island at its best, this first 30 miles of cycling was an easy enough introduction and we arrived in Menai Bridge at about 5.00 pm.

That night we stayed at The Anglesey Arms, which was also hosting a wedding reception. The facilities in this cycle friendly hostelry were very good and we were able to dry out our wet clothes overnight.

Day 2: Menai Bridge to Porthmadog

Day 2, Sunday 4 September: Menai Bridge to Porthmadog (38 miles, 550 m ascent)

The Lon Las Menai cycle route from Menai Bridge to Caernarfon was lovely, especially in the sunny weather on Sunday morning and we were enjoying our ride, overlooking the Menai Strait, until the chain on John’s bike inexplicably broke (surprising since this bike had only recently been serviced and a new chain set fitted).

To our frustration we failed to make a roadside repair and so we walked the bike the last 2 miles to Caernarfon where John took a taxi back to Halfords in Bangor, the only bike repair shop open on that Sunday in the area. Bike repaired and having lost about two hours, we set off from Caernarfon toward Porthmadog over the traffic free Lon Eifion cyclepath, like many of the Sustrans routes, a former railway line. Arriving at Criccieth in late afternoon rain threatened again and so we decided to cycle along the main road in order to get to Porthmadog sooner. This was not the most pleasant experience with much heavy traffic and some drivers showing little regard for cyclists. We were relieved to arrive at Porthmadog and Yr Hen Fecws where we stayed the night and were well looked after by Mike. One of the culinary highlights of the week was the colourful curry enjoyed by David that evening at a local restaurant!

Day 3: Porthmadog to Dolgellau

Day 3, Monday 5 September: Porthmadog to Dolgellau (33 miles, 640 m ascent)

An early visit to KK cycles in Porthmadog allowed the now misaligned derailleur on John’s bike to be fixed (diolch yn fawr, Dai, am helpu hwntwr mewn angen!). We then set off along the Cob on the Lon Ardudwy cycle path towards Penrhyndeudraeth into more rain. We had been advised to avoid the Sustrans route through Eisingrug because last winter’s weather had badly damaged the road and the surface would have been unsuitable for our hybrid bikes. We therefore followed the A496 to Harlech into a strong headwind.

A break for lunch at Harlech, following a short but very steep cycle up to the town centre, allowed us to take in the wonderful views of Bae Ceredigion and Pen Llŷn. Our route then followed a number of steep climbs into hills and open moorland to the east of the coast road, again rewarded with magnificent scenery. After returning for a few miles along the A496 we descended into Y Bermo where, to celebrate the fact that the rain had eased, we had a paddle in the sea!

The final part of our journey that day took us over the spectacular Barmouth Bridge, along the Mawddach Trail to Penmaenpool and eventually into Dolgellau, by which time it was of course raining again! After a warming cup of tea in Siop Coffi TH, we booked in and stayed the night at The Meirionnydd in Dolgellau and ate and slept well in preparation for what we expected to be the hardest day’s cycling of the week.

Day 4: Dolgellau to Llanidloes

Tuesday 6 September: Dolgellau to Llanidloes (39 miles, 1400m ascent)

Tuesday’s weather was delivered precisely as forecast: heavy rain and gale force winds! After a hearty  breakfast, we set off on the first stage of this most testing day of the week’s cycling. The route from Dolgelau to Machynlleth tracks around the flanks of Cader Idris and rises some 620 m in two long and steep ascents into some remote uplands before descending spectacularly into the old slate quarrying villages of Aberllefeni and Corris.

We eventually got to Machynlleth, having crossed the Dyfi in full flood over the Millennium Bridge, to refuel at the Graig Café and to get John’s bike fitted with new brake blocks at the local Summit Cycles. We then set off along the mountain road towards Llanidloes to tackle the most strenuous part of the Lon Las Cymru route as it traverses the northern edge of the Plynlimon range. By mid-afternoon, in torrential rain and strong winds, we had reached the route’s highest point, at 510 m, after a knee-crunching ascent and a number of false summits.

Cold, wet and exhausted, but elated by our achievement, we stopped at the Star Inn, Dylife where the landlord (a former Geography student of Aberystwyth University) very kindly made us a reviving cup of strong, very sweet, tea.

The remaining fourteen miles to Llanidloes took longer than we expected, but we were pleased to arrive at Lloyd’s Hotel after a very tough day’s cycling, indeed the toughest day’s ‘exercise’ that some of us had done in decades!

Our stay at Lloyd’s Hotel was made even better when we were joined, for an excellent dinner, by Gill and Beth (John’s wife and daughter) and Shirley and Bethan (David’s wife and daughter).

Day 5: Llanidloes to Builth Wells

Wednesday 7 September: Llanidloes to Builth Wells (33 miles, 920 m ascent)

More rain greeted us as we set off from Llanidloes to climb out of the Severn Valley along the narrow B- road leading to Llangurig. Still somewhat heavy legged from the previous day’s exertions, we negotiated several short, sharp, ascents before descending to Llangurig. We then followed an attractive, undulating, back road alongside the upper reaches of the Wye to Rhayader where Kate and David decided that their brake pads were now in need of replacement, a job which was undertaken in Clive Powell’s bike shop. As we continued on towards Builth Wells the terrain became noticeably gentler, indeed it even stopped raining! However, we still had to negotiate the Old Coach Road between Llanwrthwl and Newbridge-on-Wye. This turned out to be a long, muddy, section of rough track over which we had to walk the bikes for over a mile before we arrived at Builth Wells to stay overnight at Bronwye Guest House. That evening it was a pleasure to reacquaint ourselves with Helen and Mark and others, old university friends of Kate’s, who were holidaying in the area.

Day 6: Builth Wells to Brecon

Day 6, Thursday 8 September: Builth Wells to Brecon (33 miles, 570 m ascent)

The Sustrans map indicated that this was going to be a relatively easy day’s cycling and after a few undulating miles overlooking the River Wye, which by now is a substantial and beautiful river, we reached Erwood and the Craft Centre where we stopped for a tea break and some bara brith. A few miles later we reached Boughrood, where the Black Mountains started to come into view, and then we soon arrived at the very attractive old Radnorshire village of Glasbury. Having decided that we had time to get to Talgarth before lunch, we cycled on but had to pick our way carefully through several miles of thorn-rich hedgerow cuttings which littered the route. Fortunately we managed to avoid any punctures before stopping at the Mill in Talgarth for excellent soup and tea. The Mill is an interesting project, having been taken over by local people, authentically refurbished and run as a co-operative enterprise - it’s well worth a stop. While we were in Talgarth we also took the opportunity to visit the grave of Richard Livsey, the former MP and a colleague of John’s when they worked together at Aberystwyth. From Talgarth our route took us to the pretty village of Llanfilo; its church is dedicated to St Bilo and has Norman masonry although it has been altered and extended over the centuries, the 16C screen and rood loft, restored between 1913 and 1951, are particularly notable.

Another steep climb out of Llanfilo led us to more great views of the Powys countryside with the Brecon Beacons in the distance. Arriving in Brecon somewhat earlier than we’d anticipated, we took the opportunity to check tyre pressures at ‘Bikes and Hikes’ – a big thanks to Keith and Arlene for their ready support. That night we stayed at the Coach House B&B in Orchard Street, opposite Christ College Brecon, and enjoyed an excellent breakfast. The Bridge Café, a bistro just along the street where we had supper, was also first rate.

Day 7: Brecon to Cardiff and the finish line!

Friday 9 September: Brecon to Cardiff Bay (60 miles, 630 m ascent)

Our last day’s cycling was to be the longest of the week. It started frustratingly while cycling on the canal tow-path which marks the north end of the Taff Trail when David’s bike had a tyre puncture.

Supervised by a friendly sheepdog, we repaired the puncture and carried on but a few miles later another punctured tyre, this time on John’s bike, meant that we were becoming well practised at changing inner tubes! Now in Breconshire’s red sandstone country, the scenery, and indeed the weather, was lovely. We soon started a five mile long ascent past Talybont Reservoir along the gravel track of the former Brecon and Merthyr Junction Railway. Between well grown trees alongside the route great vistas opened up occasionally giving us marvellous views across the Brecon Beacons. The gradient, which had been moderate for several miles, finally increased significantly before we reached the mountain road coming up from Glyn Collwyn and the 440 m highest point on Lon Las Cymru South.

A long descent then took us into the Taf Fechan Forest, past the Pentwyn Reservoir and eventually to the northern end of the Pontsticill Reservoir.

After a brief stop at the Red Cow pub in Pontsticill for tea and soup we set off for Merthyr Tydfil. Passing the remains of the six blast furnaces of the old Cyfarthfa Ironworks, we soon entered Merthyr town centre where we picked up the River Taff. We cycled past the birthplace of Joseph Parry, the famous Welsh composer, and onwards through one of the most historic and industrialised areas of Wales towards Cardiff. The cycle route, alongside the Taff, is surprisingly leafy considering the history of the area, but we were never far from the busy A470 and crossed through a number of its underpasses which are not readily visible from a car.

 The Taff Trail then took us along the Penydarren Tramway, between Merthyr and Abercynon, which was used in the early 19C by Trevithick’s pioneering steam locomotive. Soon we entered Pontypridd where, in Ynysangharad Park, we saw the James memorial which commemorates the father and son composers of the national anthem Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. Passing Glyntaff cemetery we reached Nantgarw and skirted Castell Coch before completing the final eight or so miles alongside the River Taff to Cardiff. We eventually reached the city through leafy parkland, by now we were passing lots of other cyclists out for a late Friday afternoon ride.

The Millenium Stadium was a welcome and familiar landmark and we continued to follow Route 8 signs until we lost them somewhere between the City Centre and the Bay. Crossing the bridge to the Bay towards Techniquest we finally found our way to the Millenium Centre, and the end of our cycle challenge, where we were met by Gill and Steffan (John’s wife and son) who treated us to some celebratory beers!


The three of us thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this 260 mile cycling challenge, as well as each other’s company; in particular we have been delighted with the generous response of many friends and family who have sponsored us by contributing to our three chosen charities.

There is no doubt that the Lon Las Cymru cycle route is challenging, especially with weighty panniers on board, but, despite wind and rain for of much of the week, we saw wonderful views of rural and industrial Wales which are rarely seen from a car. Last, but not least, Kate, fuelled by Mars bars and Kendal mint cake, set a good pace on the ascents while two, sixty-three year olds, proved that there is still plenty of life in the old dogs!

John, Kate and David Harries
September 2011