The Brecons Bash, South Wales
70 Mi.(113 KM)
% Rideable (time)
While Out Riding
In some ways, the Brecons Bash is an ode to the Roughstuff Fellowship, because there’s going to be a fair share of pushing involved, especially with a bikepacking setup. It doesn’t strive to be direct in any way, or shirk lofty cairns and the views they promise. But it also connects two classic Brecon Beacons National Park mountain bike rides, popularised by MBR’s Killer Loop magazine features, so there’s no shortage of white-knuckled descents too.
The ride starts in Merthyr Tydfil, whose fiery skies – back in its coal mining heydey, at least – were the inspiration for JRR Tolkien’s Mordor… Sustrans’ Taff Trail provides an easy, traffic-free conduit to the very foot of the Brecon Beacons National Park, from where the route works its way over the famous Gap Road between Cribyn and Fan y Big – backed with fine views of Pen y Fan, the highest point in southern Britain. Once you’ve enjoyed the fruits of your labour and descended once more, it’s then a case of running the nettle-lined bridleway gauntlet to Pennorth.
From there, the Brecon Bash hurdles (yet) another minor Welsh ridge with panoramic views from the trig point at Myndd LLangorse. Pick your way down the bridleway that descends from the ridge, hop across the precarious A479, then settle in for some committing ups and downs in a somewhat stoic, off-road loop around and over the Black Mountains – by way of stout hike-a-bike towards Grwyne Fawr Reservoir.
Despite the hard graft that’s often required, the Brecons Bash rewards its riders with a genuine feel for the Brecons Beacons from a ‘classic mountain biking’ perspective; it’s worth remembering that these mountains have drawn hardy riders long before the advent of nearby man-made trail centres. In fact, backed by wide and sweeping panoramas, it finishes with a fast, rock-strewn singletrack descent into Llanbedr, complete with moss-covered old bridges, that embodies Welsh natural mountain biking at its best. To round off the Bash, spin your way along country lanes to connect with the train in Abergavenny.
With strong legs, the right gearing, and a light setup, the Brecons Bash is mostly rideable. But the reality is that once fatigue sets in, you’ll probably find pushing up the route’s long, steep pitches a better strategy for reaching the cairns and trig points that mark its hilltops and ridges. In the height of summer, expect unkept alleyways of nettles, brambles, and forests of fern forests (check for ticks). After rain, slippery rocks, Welsh mud, and tyre-sucking grassland will likely become your foes.
But these challenges are very much part of the appeal (ticks aside). Because, despite its proximity to Bristol, Cardiff, Newport, and the Valleys – the mining settlements that fell into such decline when the coal pits began closing in the 1980s – this is a ride that’s surprisingly backcountry in feel. It’s perhaps best to think of it as a short but satisfyingly sharp weekend escape into a truly beautiful mountainscape. What’s more, you’ll likely be surprised by quickly complete peace (bar bleating sheep) prevail within so few miles of South Wales’ cities and towns.
Note that this route follows only bridleways and backroads. When the Welsh land reforms are enacted, as proposed in April 2019, many footpaths will become legal for cyclists to use. We’ll update the Brecons Bash when that happens… as new options will doubtlessly be created!
Difficulty: We’ve awarded this route a solid 7. Given the high population density in the area, you’re never too far from a village. Nor is the riding especially challenging. But because the steep-sided nature of the land, there’s rarely a flat mile to be enjoyed. There are a number of steep hike-a-bikes, most of which involve intermittent riding, depending on the individual. Plus, some micro-navigation will be required in places where bridleways are overgrown or rarely used, which will slow you down. Over the course of a couple of days – and with a bikepacking load – these will add to the effort required. The route is also best suited to a confident off road rider, as the ancient drovers’ roads can be very rough in places, and some of the singletrack is rocky and rutted. With the style of climbs typical to the Brecons, packing light will pay dividends.
- Crossing the fabled ‘Gap’, between Cribyn and Fan y Big, with views of Pen y Fan, the highest point in southern Britain
- Enjoying far reaching views down a succession of beautiful, U-shaped cwms (valleys) and their steep, mottled slopes
- The interplay between open country singletrack, historic drovers roads, and unkept bridleways
- The descent down to Llanbedr; a great way to end a ride
- Gorging (with some patience) on winberries amongst the heathland
- Best bike: this is a mountain bike ride, so a mountain bike is what you’ll need. A front suspension hardtail or short travel full susser is ideal, though a fully rigid plus bike works well too. If you ride anything skinnier, expect to be really bounced around.
- Low gearing is highly recommended for those who prefer to ride rather than push; a 28x46t+ gear ratio is a good starting point. The lower the gears the 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.
- It rains in Wales, come winter and summer, so pack your waterproofs! There’s a reason it’s so green…
- The Brecons is an area that’s very popular with ramblers, fell runners, and horse riders, so give way and be considerate when you’re riding.
- Give sheep a wide berth so you don’t worry them.
- The two-carriage train to Merthyr officially takesonly two bikes, as does the connecting train from Abergavenny to Newport. The Bristol to Newport service takes four. You’re highly advised to travel out of rush hour, especially if you want to successfully shoehorn an extra bike too. Note that bikes can’t be booked. If travelling from Bristol, you’ll need to buy a return to Merthyr (£22) and in addition, a single fare from Abergavenny to Newport (£9), in order to connect back with your return ticket.
- We’ve routed the ride back from Llanbedr to Abergavenny on minor country lanes and Sustrans Route 42. But with more time, you could incorporate an excursion around Sugar Loaf.
- The Ordnance Survey phone app (and online site) is really useful to have, as it marks all the bridleways accurately. 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. Otherwise, get hold of OS Explorer OL 12 and 13 paper maps to pour over options when having a picnic.
- During the summer, it can be tricky to follow some of the bridleways, as they can be overgrown with bracken, or they don’t line up exactly with where they should be. This track follows them as close as I could get. It’s useful to have an OS map/OS App, in case conditions on the ground change.
- Running short of steam? Consider staying low on country lanes and farm tracks from Mile 38, avoiding two stout climbs in the process. You can reconnect with the route at Mile 47.7, in time for the hike-a-bike en route to Grwyne Fawr reservoir.
- Wild camping isn’t technically legal in the Brecon Beacons National Park but it’s tolerated. Be especially scrupulous and #leavenotrace.
- There’s a number of low key but formal campsites marked as POIs on the map.
- Especially useful during inclement weather, there is a small bothy at Grwyne Fawr Reservoir.
- The area is well watered; several springs/rivers/streams are marked on the map. Pack a filter. In the summer, it’s advisable to top up whenever you get the chance. Three water bottles (2L+) is generally enough.
- Unless you happen to tie in with the pub at Groesfford, there’s no food en route, so carry what you need. This said, it’s not especially far to deviate to Brecon if need be.
- Amongst the heather coated hilltops, be sure to keep an eye out for tiny winberries – a local version of blueberries – if you get there before the sheep. They’re extremely nutritious and quite delicious, especially when sprinkled liberally in your morning porridge.
- Brecon Beacons NP Mountain Biking routes.