Black Mountain Crossing, South Wales
73 Mi.(117 KM)
% Rideable (time)
While Out Riding
The Black Mountain. Not to be confused with the Black Mountains to the east (note use of plural). Or with a 703 metres summit in the Black Mountains, also called… Black Mountain. Or, for that matter, with the Brecons Beacons, which lies right in between the two… even if all three form what’s known as the Brecon Beacon National Park. Confused? I was, too!
This ‘little’ overnighter is a great way to experience a lesser-travelled pocket of the Brecon Beacons National Park, via the gateway of Aberdare – a town that’s easily reached by train. Like many small settlements in the Welsh Valleys, Aberdare forms a useful conduit into the nearby hills, thanks to the car-free Sustrans route 46 – paved and gravel – feeding riders northwards straight into the nearby Black Mountain.
The crux of the ride is a very challenging bridleway crossing of the range itself – via Glytawe – that takes the form of a rocky and grassy singletrack that can be steep in places and boggy in others. Don’t expect to bump into too many souls, as walkers will likely be taking the ‘high road’, a scenic ridgeline footpath that forms part of Brecons Way, teetering beside the 802m Fan Brycheiniog. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you even sink your teeth into the crossing, there are other experiences to be enjoyed – be it detouring to the Hadean-like caves near Ystradfellte, passing the odd druid stone skewered into the earth, or bouncing down the rocky remains of a Roman road (fat tyres recommended, as it’s seen better times).
Over on the northern side of the Black Mountain, it’s worth detouring to the quiet Lynn y Fan Fach, home to a small shelter and a number of camping options nearby (as well as a YHA), before a rolling, backlane and forest road traverse leads riders to a southerly crossing. This time, however, it’s on much tamer gravel – first through Glasfynff Forest and then to a backdrop of fine views towards 725m Fan Gyhirych. This infrequently-used road eventually closes the loop, rejoining the bike path south to Adaware, via remnants of forts, shake holes, and burial mounds. Note that the route momentarily follows a footpath (see gpx) so push your bike and take care not to startle the sheep. There’s a pub at Ystradfellte too, should you need to hunker down out of the rain.
Thanks kindly to Alastair for the route suggestion and local insight! Do you have a bike-friendly, local businesses to recommend in the area? Let us know and we’ll add it to the map.
Difficulty: Although this is a relatively short ride, it’s a great way of dipping your toes into an adventurous, wild, and off-the-beaten-path experience, without ever being too far from a paved road. The reason it garners an 8 in its rating is largely down to its bridleway crossing – give yourself time and bear in mind that conditions can be rocky in places and boggy in others. Expect to push and lug your bike at times, especially if you’re not running low gears and big tyres. Additionally, navigation can be tricky across this stretch – follow your nose as much as the gpx track!
- Visiting a part of the Brecon Beacons National Park that’s often overlooked by mountain bikers
- The wild, epic (and often boggy) crossing of the Black Mountain to Llanddeusant
- The range of terrain; Sustrans routes, rocky drovers’ roads, forest tracks, singletrack, and hilly lanes
- Passing forts, burial mounds, and druid stones
- Best bike: a standard mountain bike (hardtail or fully rigid plus bike) is highly recommended for this loop, given the varied terrain. Whilst much of the route is gravel bike-friendly, you will definitely be underbiking in places and pushing in others. If that’s the only bike you have, I’d recommend fitting it with at least 700x45s or 650b x 2.1s, due to some extended rough, rocky, and boggy sections.
- Low gearing is highly recommended for those who prefer to ride rather than push; think a 28T front ring with an 11-42T cassette at the minimum. An 11-46T/50T will be much better.
- When to go: May to September promises longer riding hours and warmer temperatures. During the summer, you’ll only need a light sleeping bag and depending on the weather, a tarp or bivy bag. Expect mud after recent rain – see map to avoid one potential problem point.
- The bridleway crossing via Glytawe to Llanddeusant can be very tricky to follow in places. It’s easy to stray off route and conditions change, so expect pushing and bog trotting – and adjust your expectations accordingly. I attempted to follow the bridleway as per the OS app on my phone, but it’s not always evident on the ground so allow more time than you think you’ll need. Still, it’s worth the effort, as it really puts you out there!
- It rains a lot in Wales, come summer and winter, so always pack your waterproofs no matter what the forecast is telling you. Similarly, waterproof socks are recommended for the bog trots, and a change of socks for the evening may be useful too (-:
- Give sheep a wide berth so you don’t worry them.
- The Ordnance Survey phone app (and online site) is really useful to have with you, as it marks all the bridleways and rights of way accurately, should you stray off route. For £30 a year, or £4 a month, it gives you downloadable access to the whole of the UK, which represents a really good deal.
- A return from Bristol costs £22 and takes 2 hours; pick a non-intercity train to Cardiff or you’ll need to book your bike. Travel out of the rush hour for the best chance of fitting your bike on the 2 carriage train to Aberdare.
- Wild camping is official illegal in the Brecon Beacons National Park, so be respectful and #leavenotrace if you do so.
- A number of campsites, bunkhouses, and a YHA have been marked on the map.
- There’s no shortage of pubs and streams to fill your bottles.
- Carry all the food you need, though the route does pass by several pubs (marked on the map). Note that most have limited opening hours.
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