To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

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Bearlegged
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To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by Bearlegged »

One from a couple of years back that I wrote up but never got round to posting, a 4-day tour from The Wrekin to the Elan Valley and back.

This wasn’t what I’d planned, but it was what I needed. I’d signed up to do the Bearbones 200 again, but as summer waned, I could sense that my battered mind didn’t want more challenges. I craved some headspace, places I wanted to see and experience without anything to force the pace. After who-even-remembers-how-long-it’s-been? I rolled out of the driveway and into 4 whole days of just me, leaving the rest of our little family to hang out with Granny.
Morning light and a misty haze draped itself gently over the Severn flood plain. Golden. Quiet lanes meant I was happy to be on tarmac. The knee ligaments that had flared with anger at being wrenched out of footballing retirement seemed OK; this had been worrying me ahead of the trip, and I was making sure to soft-pedal.
Marking my first foray off-road, the old Shrewsbury canal was nice, as was exchanging smiles with passers by. My slower pace of riding was already reaping benefits. The busy roads leading out of town were less fun, and I allowed myself a few kilometres’ worth of pedalling a little quicker, before turning off onto progressively quieter and rougher lanes and tracks. Hidden above the tree canopy, Buzzards mewed, and a Jay rolled through the air. Then the first Kite crossed the field before me, all angled wings and tail, like a ragged set square with talons in place of dividers. Magical as ever.

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Bearlegged
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by Bearlegged »

A slinky trail through the woods, yes, this was what I was in search of. No traffic noise, just rustling leaves, creaking boughs, and a lively stream chattering its way down the clough. As I climbed out of the trees and onto the patchwork flanks of the hill, more Kites rode the thermals. It was a long way up to the Stiperstones, but passing hikers cheerily assured me I was earning a welcome descent. As I crested the ridge, an old hollow-way hinted at drovers of yore; I wondered if they had ever tired of the views from here. The first big panorama of the trip was magnificent, and any doubts I had in myself started to fade away.
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My slow intent meant I wasn't wearing myself out on the ups, and I gave myself space to savour the rolling downs. There are few greater pleasures than zipping downhill on the kind of terrain that's just on the easy side of the limits of your tyres. I crossed into Wales for the first time, and was greeted by road signs emblazoned with Red Kites.
Montgomery turned out to be further along my route than I thought, and my concerns that I might be late for lunch turned out to be well founded. At the local café/Post Office, I saw first hand how hard COVID can make things for folks, the owner scurrying between the shop and the tables. My catering plans went further awry at Abermule, the pub having its weekly day off, so I cruised along another old canal and had a rethink in Newtown. It was only a few km to a pub & bunkhouse, so I chanced my arm and found myself a warm bed for the night (along with lasagne, a surfeit of chips and a pint or two). My body was feeling pretty good, and I looked forward to a good night's sleep. My mind was starting to unwind.
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Bearlegged
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

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Day 2, and the first 1.5km included a ford, almost a murmuration and an oh-feck hill. Llandinam served up a nice old bridge, and a monument to David Davies, noted builder of railways and founder of Barry Docks. Also on the menu was a non-existent bridleway, so I headed for the road rather than slither up and down a steep, brackeny hillside. The road option was a joy though, with practically no traffic, a big 'ole crow, and leaves dancing on the autumnal air.
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I resupplied at Llanidloes. Was it a dick move to put a partially pillaged box of cup-a-soups in a food bank collection? (I only wanted the one sachet ..). At a local cafe I loaded up on veggie food, and also snagged a lump of "Heb Enw" goats' cheese.
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Bearlegged
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by Bearlegged »

That feeling when you look across a valley at a steep and winding road and think, "I'm going up that," and then you're proven right. Sigh.
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I struggled upwards through the forest to Nant Rhys, where I found myself tempted to eat all the things. This turned out to be the correct option, and I set out again into the breeze and mizzle with renewed enthusiasm. One should never underestimate the restorative powers of a good brew. From here to the head of Cwmystwyth was my first taste of truly glorious desolation. The time alone I'd been craving was finally here. Cwmystwyth itself knocked the famed Glen Lyon into a cocked hat! Wales never fails.
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Bearlegged
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

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Descending into Pont-rhyd-y-groes I disturbed a buzzard and a crow sharing some entrails. The rain seemed to be easing off, and I started to feel a bit more hopeful of seeing the Cambrian Golden Eagle. The Cwtch café is now long closed (another victim of COVID?), but just opposite was the Tea Hut, open Mondays and Tuesdays! It's a case of serve yourself and sling some money in the honesty box. I gratefully slurped down some coffee, but left the reading material.
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I winched my way back up onto the desert moors, and just as I left the tarmac behind, something swooped behind a knoll, just on the edge of my peripheral vision. It was big. Big and brown. No white flecks, definitely bigger than a Kite. The Eagle? I can't say for sure, but a part of me believes.
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Bearlegged
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by Bearlegged »

It was hard work over the moors' deeply rutted, braided trails, trying to manage climbing, steering and avoiding pedal strike. But the terrain turned to gravel, and then tarmac again, and swoooooops! It had been a tough day; not huge distances, but plenty of climbing. I was excited and relieved when the map on my GPS started to show the turn off for Claerddu. As I left the road and joined the access track, I passed a couple of parked cars. Seemed I'd have company, but there were child seats in the cars, so I was hopeful it wouldn't be full of partyheads. As I reached the stream crossing, smoke was curling gently upwards from the chimney, and my knock on the door and call of, “Room for one more?” was met by some welcoming faces, both merry adult and inquisitive child. Morgan, Georgina, Elijah and Dahlia were rattling around, jumping in puddles, and swigging red wine from the bottle.
I made myself comfy on the downstairs sleeping platforms, and was even organised enough to remove the sachet of desiccant from my dried meal! My bottle of Gammel Dansk turned out to be possibly the most painful moment of the trip, but I washed away the pain with a few drams of Jura, while my kit dried in front of the fire. I left M & G in sole custody of the stove as I drifted off to sleep.
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Bearlegged
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

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Day 3. I woke as the dawn light gently stole in through the window. Porridge, packing and pics were sorted, and I was on my way just after 9am. The track to Elan village was by turns smooth and rough, up and down, headwind and tailwind. After the previous day's climbs, my legs were leaden and recalcitrant.
I passed a couple of lonely farmsteads, but the overwhelming feeling was still isolation. There was one unavoidable river crossing, but having stripped off my socks and removed my shoe insoles to minimise waterlogging, I found the rilling water less Baltic than I first feared, and the "minimal absorbent material" approach seemed to work pretty well.
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At Garreg Ddu dam, I passed by Nantgwyllt church, a replacement for the original building that lies in the flooded valley below. Across the dam, a rock bears the message, "COFIWCH CWM ELAN" - remember the Elan Valley. When riding in the more remote parts of the UK, it's all too easy to think that you're in an unspoilt wilderness. In reality, those bleak Scottish Highlands are just a massive game farm, bare Welsh hills have been systematically denuded by sheep grazing, and this deep and dark body of water was created by the displacement of whole villages to provide drinking water for Birmingham (or Liverpool, or another big English city…).
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Bearlegged
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by Bearlegged »

The Elan Valley visitor centre made for a welcome second breakfast. Unable to choose between bacon and sausage, I simply opted for both. Warm and refuelled, I then had an easy roll along an old railway track to Rhayader. The road to Abbeycwmhir was closed for works. I proceeded in hope, but was turned back by a man in a red hat whose one-word vocabulary seemed to be "Closed!" I rerouted via Bwlch-Y-Sarnau, which in retrospect was probably worth it.
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I found a picnic bench at Llananno, with picturesque views of the A483. From here, a delightful ridgeline took me along the TCW to Lloyney. The last descent saw me on the edge of my braking system, and as I fettled my pads at the bottom, a friendly voice called out, "Are you alright there, buddy?" The voice turned out to belong to Don, of The Mill B&B. He's well used to hosting and helping out cyclists, and even suggested he might have some spare brake pads for me! Thankfully, all I needed from him was a top up of my water bottles, and I was soon back on my way with working brakes, plenty to drink, and a smile on my face.
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Bearlegged
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by Bearlegged »

Another oh-feck hill or two, and some primo grav guided me into Clun, where I arrived to nightfall and welcoming lights shining from the windows of the White Horse Inn. Clun Brewery's Citadel ale is a cracker, but unfortunately its presence at the inn was not matched by the chef. I grabbed some pasties from the Spar instead, and set about searching for a spot to pitch my tarp. The youth hostel looked packed, with lights blazing from all its windows, and half a dozen cars. I tried the local recreation ground, but it was overlooked by several houses, and I didn't fancy meeting the local dog walkers in the morning.
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Instead, I headed for a local church, and found myself a nice sheltered porch. No need for my tarp or bivvy bag here, which meant by the end of this trip I'd have carried them over 300km, and not used them once. Still, best to be prepared, eh? I wolfed down my food, and to ensure I could be up and away before any neighbours were about and wondering who the hobo is in the churchyard, set an early alarm. It didn't half give me a shock when it started buzzing on the bench next to me in the morning! I allowed myself a lie-in, but was still on the road before first light.
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Bearlegged
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by Bearlegged »

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Day 4. A gentle blanket of cloud lay over the valleys, so no spectacular sunrise, but a pale glow stole gently across the landscape as I climbed up to the Kerry Ridgeway. It was as beautiful as I remember it, with views of Wales to one side and England to the other. My enthusiasm for the trail, coupled to an encouraging tailwind meant I was too early for a return visit to the Happy Bap, but Kirsty's soon sorted me out with a full cooked!
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Another bastard hill out of Bishop's Castle soon saw me back into a rhythm of slow uphills, glorious ridgelines, and soaring raptors. A pair of Kites danced with each other on a thermal.
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Bearlegged
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by Bearlegged »

I took the steep and direct line up onto the Long Mynd. The stiff tailwind had me in two minds: grateful for its assistance as it pushed me up the steep slope, but also wary of the black clouds that were pursuing me on its currents. Along the top was gorgeous. The gliding club didn't seem to be flying, but I still took them up on their offer of a permissive diversion away from the runway "with more views of Wales". No need to ask me twice with those incentives. A mix of grass tracks, quiet lanes and well-groomed gravel saw me progress along the ancient plateau, pausing to greet the local ponies just as the Wrekin, my final destination, peeked out over the horizon.
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From here, it was an easy glide downhill, and back on to quiet lanes in search of somewhere to stop for a picnic and drum up. A quiet bench overlooking the church at Acton Burnell did just the trick, the friendly staff at the local school filled my water bottles, and I finished off the last of the goat's cheese.
From there, a gentle bimble across the plain and along the flanks of the Wrekin and Ercall. The promised rains never caught me up, and I rolled home.
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RIP
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by RIP »

Lyrical stuff :smile: .

Georgina? Dahlia? That bothy's a long way from Islington.....

"SatNav is wrong" - is that a statement that users have been misdirected in that particular instance, or a general comment on SatNavs I wonder? If the latter, I concur wholeheartedly :wink: .

Compliments with making the effort with the write-up :-bd
"My God, Ponsonby, I'm two-thirds of the way to the grave and what have I done?" - RIP

The sign outside the asylum is the wrong way round.....

"At least you got some stories" - James Acaster
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Bearlegged
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by Bearlegged »

They were from Brum IIRC. More hippy than luvvy.
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Blackhound
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by Blackhound »

Enjoyed that report Bearlegged, thanks.
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Bearbonesnorm
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by Bearbonesnorm »

Montgomery has one of the best iron mongers I've ever had the pleasure of ... proper old school, full of things you never knew you needed but somehow can't resist :-bd
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thenorthwind
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by thenorthwind »

Very nicely written, really enjoyed that. Thanks for sharing.
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gecko76
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by gecko76 »

Agreed. Sounds like a great trip at the ideal pace.
Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are.
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josh
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by josh »

Wasn’t expecting to sit and read all of that. Sounds like a nice trip and well told – I enjoyed reading.
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fatbikephil
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by fatbikephil »

Smashing that BL :-bd
boxelder
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by boxelder »

Great stuff. I've been meaning to ride TCW and have a bit of an explore and this has made me more determined to make it happen. Cheers.
Georgina? Dahlia? That bothy's a long way from Islington.....
Oi, I had a Great Aunt Georgina, from Lesmahagow, which is a long way from Islington, both literally and otherwise. And her surname was Dick. And you wouldn't have crossed her :wink: :lol:
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Tractionman
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by Tractionman »

lovely write up and pictures, especially Cwmystwyth, I've been there a few times to see the old mines, looks very atmospheric.

cheers,

Keith
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Bearlegged
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by Bearlegged »

Thanks all, glad you like it.
Sounds like a great trip at the ideal pace.
It ended up about 80km/50 miles a day, with only the first day involving much riding in the dark.
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psling
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by psling »

Put that aside for an evening read and it was well worth it! Really enjoyed it.
I'm thinking that you made notes along the way during the journey (photo with exercise book) ? That's a great idea on a more leisurely ride especially coupled with photos (or indeed sketches if that's your thing). And probably a great aid to writing up the story a couple of years later. Thanks :-bd
We go out into the hills to lose ourselves, not to get lost. You are only lost if you need to be somewhere else and if you really need to be somewhere else then you're probably in the wrong place to begin with.
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Bearlegged
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by Bearlegged »

The photo is the visitor's log at Nant Rhys, but yes I do take a little notebook. I find it nice to take a break and jot down notes, thoughts, wildlife sightings etc.
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faustus
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Re: To Elan Back (No, not that one.)

Post by faustus »

Thoroughly enjoyable read, sounds like a great trip (even from a few years ago), thanks for the lyrical write-up! It sounds like the kind of thing I really need too, having not had any decent time away by myself for about 4 years! It's also nice to read about a ride without too much hard as nails ditch sleeping :lol:

Sad to hear the Cwtch cafe is another victim of Covid :cry: Fair play to you joining in with others in a bothy, i'd really struggle to do that. Just the sight of the cars would make my heart sink, mainly because of my genuine social awkwardness. 'imagine the lure of a dry sleep and relative warmth would be a draw. The Light' is indeed a special publication :???:

I like your thoughts on empty places, it's a particular thing of mine every time I see the word 'wilderness' mis-used when talking about locations in Britain. Kathleen Jamie had it right on her writing about Scotland (but applies to many other places): "Sometimes you hear this land...described as 'natural' or 'wild' - 'wilderness' even - and although there are tracts...where few people live, 'wilderness' seems an affront to those many generations who took their living on that land". Amen to that, and to noticing it.
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