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 lovely way of experiencing a lesser-travelled area of the Brecon Beacons National Park, via the gateway of Aberdare, which can be 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 Black Mountain, which is surprisingly close by.
The crux of the ride is a bridleway crossing of the range itself, via Glytawe, by way of a rocky and grassy singletrack that’s mostly rideable, even if it’s steep in some 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 here. There are also experiences to be enjoyed before undertaking the actual crossing, 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 on gravel, first through Glasfynff Forest, then to fine views of 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 a more adventurous, off-the-beaten-path style ride, without ever being too far from a paved road. Conditions can be extremely rocky in places, even if all the riding is relatively straightforward. Expect to push your bike from time to time, especially if you’re not running low gears. Note too that this route has its fair share of climbing.
- Visiting a part of the Brecon Beacons National Park that’s often overlooked by mountain bikers
- The grassy, singletrack crossing of the Black Mountain
- 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 definitely recommended for this loop, given the varied terrain. A gravel bike works too, but I’d recommend fitting it with at least 700x45s or 650b x 2.1s and appropriate gearing, due to some extended rough sections.
- Low gearing is highly recommended for those who prefer to ride rather than push; think a 30/32T front ring with an 11-42T cassette at the minimum. An 11-46T will be much better.
- When to go: You can ride this route at any time of the year, though 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 can be tricky to follow in places. It’s easy to stray off route and conditions change, so expect some pushing and bog trotting. I attempted to follow the bridleway as per the OS app on my phone, but it’s not always evident on the ground.
- It rains a lot in Wales, come summer and winter, so always pack your waterproofs no matter what the sky 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.