… of the Great Western Randonnées’ landscape. Each ride has a more concise collection on their page; grouped by ‘event’ if appropriate: the distance variations, perms, slightly hAAArder ones, etc.
Captain Bluebear’s 2020 Adventure
Captain Bluebear (an Experienced Audaxer including LEL, Mille Cymru & PBP) reports on another multi day hilly Wales epic back in August 2020.
Full photos here:
This particular event had been in the back of our minds for while after reading about the ACP 10,000 Randonneur award, however initially it didn’t fit into plans for this year as the anticipation was for a crack at The Crackpot (a rare Wessex 1000K event).
However with the Audaxing year being obviously curtailed due to Covid-19 reasons, it gave credence to considering some other options. When a message was posted on to the Audax UK Facebook group that this event was reopened in early August, I spotted both a suitable hole in our calendar and a partial weather window (after Storm Ellen and then the yet to be known about Storm Francis) in line with ‘Summer’ conditions, i.e. more daylight and warmer temperatures than say heading into September and beyond.
Being a bear I am used to solitude and an event like this calls to my nature, as it does to my co-pilot Rob Norris, although he will miss some of the comradery of normal calender events one finds at the controls.
The Brevet card duly arrived just in time and we drove late on Friday evening through rain to a secret location near Tintern in Wales to sleep in camper-van luxury before an early start on Saturday morning.
The forecast was for continually improving weather over the weekend and beyond, so our plan was quite simple: bivvy out for both nights giving flexibility on where to sleep (with some options having been scouted out via Google Earth), stay as dry as possible on day 1 as drying out properly would be unlikely; and always have enough rations to cater for the next refuel position being closed. Luckily Rob doesn’t drink much, so we don’t need to carry much water (just using only 1 water bottle it’s both space & weight saving) as it wasn’t particularly warm for August, otherwise a different strategy would be required.
From the camper-van to the start was just a couple of miles, yet morning showers meant we hid under trees to let them pass by. Even at the start we waited for another shower to pass by before getting a photograph of the bicycle at the Cafe as Proof of Passage and get formally underway at 6:45a.m.
It was even less distance until first hill kicked in climbing out of the Wye Valley on small single lane roads, now being bathed in the early morning sunshine. Skirting around the Forest of Dean we drop down Symonds Yat, which makes a change from going up it.
I am apprehensive about my partners attitude to bicycle maintenance, possibly leaning more towards the “Zen” style approach, as in thinking about it rather than actually being pro-active and doing it. One bicycle issue over recent months has been the front gear changer being unreliable in shifting up. We manage about two gear changes with the shifters, before extensively relying on the hands on pull on the cable method. Rob reflectively states it is not a ride where the big ring is deployed much, so the occasional manual intervention is no hindrance.
After passing through a sleepy Ross-On-Wye I’m further concerned about missing the first checkpoint on the road as the waypoint indicator on the GPS device has not showed up yet. We stop to consult the route notes more carefully, and as luck would have it we are actually right beside it!
The next stage is relatively uneventful heading northwards in England and thus essentially flat. Duly ignore a ‘Road Closed’ sign and the works are easily passable. Sweep through Leominster, with Ludlow on our minds for a refuel stop, but not before a 5 minutes or so shelter under trees from a short rain shower.
In Ludlow we find a backyard cafe to side outside and enjoy a coffee and cake stop just before midday. Heading now to Church Stretton and the start of serious hills, we still have a couple of tactical 5 minute shelter from showers stops.
With these bonus pauses we can tackle the Long Mynd with great gusto, photos being taken on route – The Burway is conquered and Brevet evidence is taken for checkpoint 2 (now appearing on GPS). However the downhill literally has a downside with a heavy squall and no hiding place. The clouds have thickened and darkened now that we have Wales in our sights.
Despite having descended the Stiperstones before, clearly they should be called the slipperystones as the back wheel locks in the wet and we over shoot the hair pin corner. Fortunately nothing is on the other side of the road and we stop before the gate on the far side. Our nerves are recovered at the deserted Bog visitor centre for checkpoint Four. I warn Rob to be more careful, but fairly soon after he practically does it again – this time saying he was looking at the map on the GPS, but accidentally zoomed in too far to notice the sharp corner. I don’t speak to him for awhile.
After another impromptu rain shelter in a farm shed, checkpoint five comes rapidly at the top a suitably decent 200 metre hill climb and then drop down into Wales proper and Welshpool for the next planned food stop.
Initially we think about sitting outside the cafe, but with drizzle in the air decide to head inside which required not just name and number but also a temperature check due for Covid safety. Coffee with a decorative chocolate swirl and an upmarket style ciabatta sandwich are the delights savoured.
Yet another stop to wait for passing shower half shielded under some trees brings back some unhappy memories as this was the spot that Rob had practically resigned to his first Audax failure after suffering multiple punctures on an event almost exactly 4 years previously. This rain shower does not seem to be passing unlike the previous showers, so we carry on and drop down to a village as I know there is better shelter available.
From here I can get a signal on the mobile and depressingly view the weather forecast for solid rain in this area for at least the next 6 hours. Since we would be heading into remote territory into the evening with only a couple of pubs which may not even be open due to the current pandemic situation, a new plan was hatched.
We take advantage of the marvellous Dafarn Newydd Stores (that has supported Audax events recently such as TINAT) – just in time to get last hot food of the day before the fryer is turned off. This is gratefully consumed in the local football pitch side dug out, that is rather substantial and now to be our home for the evening. The new plan is to rest up here in the dry and wait out the rain, although this means using up most of the spare time in hand to make the rest of the event schedules rather tight, since we’ve only done 180km thus far.
Its surprisingly comfortable in the bivvy setup without a sleeping bag using instead a featherweight down jacket. However being rather early at 7pm and the battering of rain on the tin roof means no real sleep but at least quality rest. A mild panic is induced when I consider that we’d be out of time at the next checkpoint if minimum speeds were required and what time we’d need to leave if that was the case. Hastily research all the finer details of Super Randonnée rules from the official ACP website, but no mention is made of this, so the mind can be put to rest as well as the body.
The rain seems to stopped around 2am, so after making sure it has and the time to pack up we are back on the road at 3 a.m. which should see us to the next major town when things start to open up again.
The skies have now cleared and thus a drop in temperature, so all clothes are on (apart for the down jacket) and kept on even for the long uphill Hirnant Pass from the southern side. Generally night time riding is extremely peaceful but no, not on this part due to a roaring raging torrent of a stream in full spate beside the road which itself is awash.
On the downhill the other side we have a close encounter of the brock kind, but fortunately no contact was made with the thrill seeking badger and no harm came to either party.
Roll up outside a remote farmhouse to take brevidence photographs, wondering how successful these images would be at night in discerning this is indeed the right checkpoint no.6. Oddly there seemed to be a radio on somewhere in the house, but at too low a volume to clearly make out the station.
From here it is on to a gated road, where a more obvious obstacle is the hordes of sheep with their predilection of being in the road – presumably it is warmer than the grass.
Very gingerly descend the steep road to avoid the sheep, prevent crashing into gates and generally not skidding out of control.
Safely back to on a main B road, we can start making more progress as the dawn begins to break and we have the roads to ourselves without any sheep worries.
Approaching Checkpoint no.7 there are flash backs to the Pistol Packing Mama Audax event as a couple of sections overlap albeit in the opposite direction. Despite getting a big hand (its an artwork outside The Hand pub) at Checkpoint 7 the next climb at Glyn Ceiriog defeats us and causes the 2 foot gear to be deployed for the only time on this event. This beast of hill peaks at 25%, rising 200 metres in less than a mile. At least there is a reward of a short stint on a lovely ridge road before the descent into Llangollen for breakfast.
A quick raid on the local SPAR shop suits us being that we are time conscious, eating the some of the wares on the main town bridge above a swollen heavily tanned brown river Dyfrdwy, pondering if the Llangollen Railway is running yet, but too early in the morning to tell (later on research reveals it was) and how it is faring in the pandemic.
After suffering the indignity of walking on the last hill, Rob was not looking forward to the next one, being the Old Horseshoe Pass which rates higher in Simon Warren’s guide than the main Horseshoe Pass road. Despite being reasonably steep right at the start and not letting up, it never gets overtly taxing and was completed in quiet solitude with no traffic to disturb the mind from the climbing effort.
On to Checkpoint 8, at Moel Famau car park that is getting busy with walkers, but parking only for those who have coins to hand for the barrier. No mobile or contactless payments out here; apparently frustrating and flustering a few car drivers. I leave them to it.
A steady rise leads to a great vantage point and I can appreciate this area for the hikers. The road drops down steeply to a traditional hair pin, but unlike previously this one was taken in total control.
Head into the town of Ruthin hoping for a coffee stop, but on a Sunday mid morning nothing was open, surprisingly not even the Costa. So move on to a B road to meet a steady stream of individual time trialists heading the other way. Around 80% acknowledge me and/or wave back. The other 20% need to work on their manners rather than their speed. Remember that bears are normally very polite: just see Paddington, Pooh or Rupert for example.
Its another undulating 25km, just after we hit the A5 that we find a suitable cake and coffee indoors stop. Being dry thus far today, we now look at the latest weather forecast only to be rather disappointed – basically rain for most of the afternoon.
And indeed it starts that way, soon after the cafe on to a remote B road across the open moorlands of Snowdonia National Park the rain beats down for good hour. Our main thoughts to console ourselves is that we have enough time on the event for reasonable sleep stops, we wonder how anyone would be mad enough to attempt the calendar event version. We doubt that our moving time would see us finish in time, even if we could keep it up without any sleep or at most power naps. [Post event note: The calendar event has about 20% less climbing, making it much more feasible but still very hard].
The next checkpoint is Stwlan Dam, requiring lifting the bike over a fence/gate (both out and back) as it’s too awkward to squeeze though the kissing gate. But the reward is silky smooth service road that goes up to the dam. We acknowledge a cyclist whizzing down as we start our upwards journey. Only a handful of walkers are braving the elements. The steady 300m climb in mostly rain saves us overheating, which might be a problem if its blazing sunshine on this south facing slope. The brevidence picture at the top from the viewpoint is uninspiring blanket cloud. Yet moments later on the descent it magically lifts, to lift our spirits as the weather front looks promisingly clear for at least a bit.
The provision stop in the next village is a failure as the tiny shop is closed on Sundays. We have enough leftovers from the mornings shop to tide us over for a while.
After a couple of rare busy main roads we turn off and back into our natural habitat of open hilly terrain. With the rain clouds having decided to go elsewhere it’s a wonderfully scenic crossing of the moorland.
In collecting the next photograph evidence of checkpoint 10, we chat with some walkers who turn out to also come from Portsmouth (small world!). They point out the waterfall they had visited, that Rob had blithely failed to notice until shown to him.
We luckily find a petrol station just before closing time, judiciously deciding against the ropey looking coffee machine and rely on fizzy pop and pork pies to gird ourselves for the next big hill climb.
The weather continues to disagree with the MET Office forecast, which is all good for us. And so the ‘easy’ climb from the North up Bwlch y Groes is indeed relatively easy – there are no chevrons on the OS map on this approach, compared to 10 on the famous southern side.
Another main road in the form of the inescapable A470 is probably the low point of the ride. The Ochr y Groes climb to Cross Foxes is deceptively steep, into the wind and busy with fast moving traffic. The next A road is much calmer and then off on to a gated road with just the sheep for company.
We have a little difficulty in determining the checkpoint 10, which is ‘the top gate with stickers’ of this minor road, since it’s hard to tell if we are at the top. The otherwise spot on GPS waypoints has this one somewhat further on, starting to go downhill. Return back up, with hindsight gained to know which is top, but also checking various other gates for additional clues. We take a bunch of photographs at various points to cover all bases.
The minor road drops back down and we could easily jump across back to the main A road to take us into Machynlleth. No doubt if it was night we would have, but we stick rigidly to the GPS route winding its way in parallel down into town. The aim of the day has been achieved as we are in plenty of time to get hot food from a fast food joint to maximise the calorie intake via chips and burgers.
Continue on the A487 as night has fallen and traffic levels are now minimal; thoughts turn to finding a bivvy spot with 268km under the belt today. Decide it would be prudent to find shelter low down rather than on exposed hill sides – we find some woods, making camp for the night. Not only is the temperature rather pleasant, there are no annoying insects (win, win!) and thus actually get some proper sleep this time.
Having had 5 hours luxury sleep it was time to get going in the early morning again, leaving around 4a.m. Rob had been anticipating the first hill climb to be much tougher having previously descended it. It is long by most people’s standards at just over 400 metres of ascent starting from near sea level, but never steep, so as long as one can gauge your effort it’s rather manageable. It’s a beautiful clear skies for stargazing whilst climbing and not much wind. I choose to forgo the rain coat having faith in the weather forecast for today.
We reach Nant-y-Moch reservoir and follow it around to the damn in search of the Hydro Electric sign for checkpoint 13 validation. However the sign is no longer there and instead the only occupants in the car park are some dope smokers at 5:45 a.m. – they must be keen.
The temperature continues to drop as we mostly descend to Devil’s Bridge (Checkpoint 14), looking forward to the hill climb the other side up to The Arch to restore some warmth. On the climb Rob notices some play in his shoe and initially suspects the cleat is wearing out. But minutes later its more obvious the fact that the entire sole of the shoe is coming apart.
Handily we soon come across a bench and we can further inspect the damage. One of the skills of self sufficiency is being prepared, just like any good Boy Scout, so I always carry zip ties and tape. From these Rob can bond his shoe together and in making it properly secure it should last the day. Initially post repair there is caution in the pedal action, but after a while confidence is restored and standing on the pedals (as often required on hill climbs around here) holds no issues climbing out of Ystwyth valley.
Down into Rhayader in for breakfast and due to it being a Monday we can do our duty to ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ (EO2HO) and thus have a Full English breakfast as its 50% funded by the UK government. From wearing 3 layers, leggings and gloves, Rob can go straight to just shorts & short sleeves as the temperature is now picking up nicely.
Digestion of breakfast is aided by a subtle downhill A road section before striking cross country and then to a nemesis climb in the shape of Llanbedr Hill. This was the only one to defeat us on the Mille Cymru 3, partly because it was baking hot with this North facing hill seemingly sheltered from any breeze (and partly discretion, in not pushing oneself over the limits). Once again the sun is shining strongly and it rapidly turned into one of the warmest parts of the ride. Being a point of pride this time the hill is conquered, but with Rob’s shirt half unzipped, he gets stung twice in the chest by some unknown and unseen agent. No pain, no gain as they say.
Hay-on-Wye comes rapidly and so thoughts of a quick coffee stop are banished, as its reasonably busy about town now its late morning, but more importantly no obvious EO2HO candidates. Hay is touristy enough that perhaps they don’t really need the extra support.
And so to the literal high point of the ride with Gospel Pass at 549m (albeit just 4 metres higher than Bwlch y Groes). This hill we have done before, Rob several times, so it holds no surprises. The weather turns into light rain and we can see big rain to the West.
The descent though, does hold surprises as it’s definitely getting worse each time, more pot holes, more stones and this time more floods. Rob says he used to like it, but now a gravel bike would be more appropriate. Checkpoint 16 is along here for those who are keeping count.
The big rain somehow holds off but there’s a mix of light cloud just to give an odd variance in temperature such that Robs arm warmers are used yo-yo style.
The penultimate climb is a real sucker punch, being not very long but considerably steep with a hazardous strip of moss running down the middle of the road. This lane clearly does not see much sunshine and would be devilishly difficult in wetter conditions. It leads out to the penultimate checkout in the village of Trellech. We celebrate by taking advantage of another EO2HO helping at the local pub, sitting outside in the mid afternoon sunshine.
The final descent is real stinker too! Another road that has seen better days, at 25% gradient and strewn with stones we’re at the limits of our braking capacity. Disc brakes would be preferred here.
And to the final hill, passing a place called Mork, sadly there is no place nearby called Mindy. We still have plenty in the tank to finish strongly for the reward of a job well done at St. Briavel’s Castle and to reflect on the adventure.
We managed our time quite well finishing with about 2 hours spare, there was no need to rush things using the time flexibility for mostly rain avoidance where possible especially on the first days. Being predisposed to climbing made the event hard but fair. The scenery was fantastic and makes all the effort worthwhile.
A big Thank You to Will Pomeroy for designing this epic, which never appeared to be gratuitous routing just for the sake of it, it always felt like we were heading somewhere with a purpose.
Now with a taste for these Super Randonnées it would be good to sample the offerings covering other areas of the UK.
Well Educated! 🙄
Great route with varied scenery and distant views.
I’d not heard of Wood Henge.
Bristol Cycle Route a lovely way to finish.
Great organisation, great route, great company 👍🏻👍🏻
Really well organised with extra effort needed to cover COVID and all ran really well. Hooked up with a few know and a couple unknown riders in our group that worked out a treat with well matched pace and great company on route. Loved the less travelled lanes and even the larger routes were pretty car free for short runs. A fitting restart of official events & big thanks to Will and helpers for a great days riding.
Exploring lesser known bits of the Cotswolds, hidden valleys, winding avenues – really well planned route and brilliantly organised for Covid conditions. Food stop at the Water Park was excellent. Jury’s out on iOrienteering App but lots of alternative ways to check in/record the ride. Weather was bleak and grey with a bitter North wind – but didn’t put a dampner on it at all. Great all round hope to do more GWRs soon 🙂
Tickled of Thornbury
Terrific ride to the Cotswold Water Park on a well planned route. Would recommend and perhaps try the 200 next year. Well organised and super food/coffee stops.
First 200 of 2021
Once out of Bristol and onto the Cotswolds, the route followed some sublime ways less travelled avoiding more familar roads. Perfect in Spring, probably not so great in the winter slop. Spring flowers and blossom along the way with pretty villages, scenery and buildings. Food stop was good, but a bit too far around – we had already eaten in Burford, but good to see others on the ride and refuel before the last leg home.
First Audax 200 Ride
It was my longest ride to date and it was brilliant, I really loved it! The communications pre event were all well timed and informative. Spectacular route, lovely people and I can’t wait for the next one to be honest.
Thanks for everything – keep riding!
Thames Tickler April 2021
Excellent organisation in Covid times. Group riding with app and scan at control points. Catering perfect and plenty. Route lovely. Thank you Will for your hard work.
Thanks to daddy for making this route. It has hills to make it fun and is good for wildlife such as birds of prey. The birds of prey you will find are Red kites, Kestrels, Common buzzards and small chance of Tawny owl in the evening which I did not see. Most of the wildlife was found between Dyrham hill and Tetbury. In Tetbury at the cafe, we stopped and I had some blueberry frangipani cake which was the best cake I have ever had.