Tarquin's cycling pages

08 September 2012 - Sirhowy Valley Trail

WhereSirhowy Valley Trail
(Brecon Beacons and South Wales)
Date08 September 2012
Duration6 hours 15 minutes
Distance29.2 miles (~47 km)
WeatherSunshine and thin clouds
Trail conditionsDry tarmac and dirt track (occasionally very rough), and bloodstained undergrowth
Mark 'Tarquin' Wilton-Jones 32 GT LTS 2000 (TWJ)
Peter Wilton-Jones 33 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR XC Comp

Trip report

Description by Mark 'Tarquin' Wilton-Jones

The route follows the Sirhowy Valley Walk (and part of the Rhymney Valley Ridgeway Footpath) from Tredegar to Newport. It should be noted that these are intended as walking routes, and for that reason, there are several parts that follow footpaths where cycling is forbidden. There is no official cycling route, so our route takes permitted alternatives wherever they appeared to be needed. There is quite a high chance that we made bad choices, and there may have been better alternatives. You should not blindly follow our route, and should be prepared to use your own initiative. The route has only very limited signposts, and in most cases, there is nothing to let you know if you are on the right route. A high quality map is absolutely essential.

Neither of us had been cycling for a while, and this bike ride was a lot to take on. Probably more than we realised at first. Over 950 metres of total ascent, over 1300 metres of total descent.

See pictureSee pictureThe route starts at the dedicated parking area on the north side of the highest point of the A4047, opposite the Waun-y-Pound Industrial Estate, near the Rhoslan district of Tredegar. This is not the place you want to leave a car unguarded, so a lift to the start is suggested. Take the lane opposite the parking area, towards the Mountain Air estate of Ebbw Vale.

See pictureSee pictureSee pictureSee pictureThe views soon open up to the ridges at the heads of the valleys, and back towards the main Brecon Beacons.

See pictureSee pictureAt the crossroads, continue ahead on a dirt track, climbing up gently to the top of the ridge. Here we encountered the charred remains of a stolen car, still smoldering. Welcome to The Valleys.

See pictureSee pictureContinue along the main track, passing a few side tracks, to pass along the right side of Cefn Manmoel, not far below the top of the ridge.

See pictureSee pictureThe track eventually gains a proper road surface. Just after passing a patch of forest on the right, and passing over a cattle grid, the road swings left. Continue ahead onto a dirt track. This regains a road, where the official walking route heads down the lane to the left. This requires the use of a footpath, so our cycling route continues ahead along a road, joined a while later by the walking route. The road ends at some houses, and the way on becomes a very tricky dirt track, steeply descending over rocks. At the bottom it reaches a narrow lane at a railway bridge. Turn left on the lane, climbing up to the level of the railway, which runs parallel to the lane on its right.

See pictureSee pictureFrom here, we feel that the best way on is probably to hop onto the railway, and follow that along the same line (not over the bridge we recently passed), though we are not sure if it is a permitted route. We stayed with the track as it swung left to a junction, then turned right onto the continuing Sirhowy Valley Walk. The path turned left at a house, and immediately became a cyclist's nightmare; bracken and brambles up to eye level. Both of us suffered the consequences, with torn skin on our arms and legs, and undergrowth jammed in our bike chains.

See pictureSee pictureThe path eventually regained the railway embankment, running above the railway, above a disused mine air shaft. Just past this point, a track runs up to the left from the railway, and our path joined it. Follow the track steeply upwards to a junction with a road.

See pictureSee pictureTurn right on the road. Part way down a steep descent, the official path picks up a dismantled railway line passing overhead, and follows it to the left to reach a road. We continued down to a junction in the bottom of the valley, and turned left to reach the end of the railway line. At this point the official path heads down a footpath through private fields on the opposite side of the road, and it would perhaps be better to locate an alternative route for cycling (such as turning right at the valley bottom, and swinging left to climb up to a T-junction, turning left then immediately left again onto another dismantled railway).

See pictureSee pictureWe walked the footpath down to the river, crossed a footbridge, then climbed up to the other dismantled railway. Here we followed the dismantled railway to the left. When this reached a parking area near a car dealership and a main road, we took a lane down to the left. At this point, the route becomes a real mess for cyclists. It would probably be best to continue ahead along the main road instead, and turn left at the roundabout, to cross the suspension bridge (then skip the next paragraph).

See pictureSee pictureOur route (and the main Sirhowy Valley Walk) took the lane down over the river, then up to a junction with a main road, turning right onto a path just before the junction. This descended to river level again, but then a sign very clearly stated that cyclists were not allowed to continue any further. Since this was very private property and they would not even want us to walk the bikes there, we decided to take a path to the right, crossing the river and branching left, to climb up a badly overgrown path below the suspension bridge. After passing under the bridge, it became a lane and joined the main road. We turned right onto the road then right at the roundabout, to cross the suspension bridge.

See pictureSee pictureA right turn at the next roundabout gains a busy road. A right at the following roundabout gains a smaller street. At the end of it, we turned right on a larger road down to the river. Just before the river, a path on the right reached some houses, where a path on the left then led to the riverbank path, the continuing Sirhowy Valley Walk. (There has to be an easier way to get here, such as taking the first road to the right on the smaller street, taking the second left down to the riverbank, then turning left into a carpark to regain the path.) Very soon, there is a bridge to the right, which is the correct way on. We overshot it as there was no signpost, and ended up at a weir. Returning to the bridge, the path crosses it and turns left, following the riverbank to reach a road by some warehouses. Cross the main road, and continue along an industrial road ahead, then along the continuing path when the road ends. This gains another industrial road which soon reaches a junction. Turn left.

See pictureSee pictureJust before the road crosses a narrow hump-backed bridge, turn right onto a narrow lane, and climb up to a road. Turn left on the road, then immediately fork right onto an ascending path beside a bus stop. Cross a dismantled railway line (which we followed for a short distance by mistake) to reach a road. Cross it diagonally onto a lane, then fork right onto a much narrower lane. The lane eventually turns sharp right onto a private driveway, so continue ahead and climb or push steeply up a dirt track. (At this point the walking route leads off to the left, but this cannot be cycled.) Eventually this leads to a junction with a proper road, which carries the Rhymney Valley Ridgeway Walk. Turn left and follow the road, taking a right when it forks, until it climbs up onto the ridge and becomes a branching dirt track.

See pictureSee pictureFollow whichever track suits you, to swing left and remain in roughly the same direction along the top of the ridge. After passing various side tracks, it reaches the edge of the Mynydd y Grug coal tips, and swings through a short section of forestry. At the other end of the forestry, a track that branches off to the left is the correct way on.

See pictureSee pictureWe missed the junction and continued ahead, gaining a proper road surface. After enjoying some downhill, we had to take a bridleway (with stiles that would prevent horses from using it...) from a narby farm to regain the correct track. The correct track passes through some forestry to reach a road.

See pictureSee pictureTurn right onto the road then almost immediately turn right again at a parking space, onto a dirt track. Take a path that starts soon on the left, towards Mynydd Machen. At the start of the path, Peter ploughed with ease through a deep puddle. The same line through the same puddle caused my bike to be stolen by the thick mud, coating all of the bike's mechanics in mud, and making pedalling and gear changes significantly harder - that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. From here, the rocky path becomes far too ridiculously steep to pedal, and pushing or carrying is required to get onto Mynydd Machen's ridge.

See pictureSee pictureAfter passing the tips, it joins a proper track. Follow it ahead to pass some radio masts, and reach the top of Mynydd Machen.

See pictureSee pictureAfter admiring the view, follow the obvious path leading down the far side, heading to the left of the obvious, huge quarry. This descends steeply before being joined by another path from the left, then eventually gaining a dirt track near a small parking area on the left. Follow the dirt track, ignoring a side track to the left, to gain a proper road surface. Descend to a cross roads, and continue ahead to slowly climb up onto the ridge again. When the road turns hard left, continue ahead onto a dirt track.

See pictureSee picturePass an obvious side track on the left in a forest, and climb up a less inspiring path ahead. As it starts to drop, take a fork to the left (just before the path ahead-right turns a sharp corner to the left). Pass a path forking off to the left, to reach a proper junction of paths. Take the one ahead-left, then immediately swing right, following the remains of a signpost for the Sirhowy Valley walk. Stay with the path as it descends, swinging left, to reach a road. The walking route continues ahead over a field, but our cycling route turns right, following the road past a crossroads, until it ends at a T-junction by some houses, having regained the walking route. Turn left and follow the road until it turns sharply left. Take a lane to the right, then immediately left onto a narrow path, and follow it down to a bridge over the river.

Cross the bridge, head upstream, then turn right to reach a car park near some playing fields. Follow the road out of the car park, up to a main road. Turn left and cross a bridge. Pass an industrial lane on the right, then take a small path to the right opposite the Old Globe Inn, which passes between a church and some factories. The path ends at an industrial road. Turn left, where the road immediately ends at a dead-end junction with a larger road. Turn right on the larger road to reach a junction. Turn right and right again, and head the wrong way up a one-way street (this is supposed to be a walking route, remember). Turn left onto a larger road at the end of the street, then take a narrow lane to the right, climbing very steeply up ahead when it forks, to reach a canal bridge. Turn right onto the canal tow-path.

See pictureSee pictureFollow the tow-path, crossing two roads, to the Fourteen Locks heritage site, a series of canal lock gates. Continue along the right bank of the canal. Soon after the canal loses its water, the tow path joins a road. Turn left then right onto the continuing tow-path, now on the left side of the canal. At the bottom of the locks, pass under a motorway bridge. The best route is to remain on the tow-path to reach the first stone bridge over the canal, then cross that to reach an upper track. We took a bridleway to the right immediately after the motorway bridge, then turned left on a track to reach the same point.

See pictureSee pictureA footpath continues ahead on the other side of the upper track (to the right when following our route), climbing up through private fields. Bikes will need to be pushed, as this is not a cycle path. When it reaches some houses, it passes through a kissing gate to reach a narrow lane. The gate is extremely tight, and we needed to lift the bikes over a fence at this point in order to continue.

See pictureSee pictureJust up ahead, the lane reaches a larger road. Cross it into a housing estate, then take the third road to the right. At the end of the road, cross a busier road, and go through the park gate ahead into a park. Follow the obvious path through the park to a junction near a playground, and turn right to climb up to a road. By this stage, my legs had decided this was just too much work, and cramped up. Some rather prolonged massaging followed, during which I lay helplessly on the ground while a very soggy labrador dribbled stream water all over my face. Another attempt, another cramp, and another set of massages, I was ready to move on again.

See pictureSee pictureTurn left onto the road, and descend to a junction. Turn left again to reach a main road. (Older maps show a path starting some way up the road to the left, but this has now been diverted.) Turn right on the main road, then almost immediately left through a narrow kissing gate into another park. Immediately take a path to the left, which climbs very steeply upwards, eventually reaching the summit at a hillfort. Cross the summit, and locate a very poor path running close to the houses on the other side. Continue ahead, with the houses to your left, along a fairly overgrown path, until larger paths comes in from the right, and the path ahead dies out. Go through a gate to the left onto a housing estate road. Follow it to a crossroads. Turn right, then right onto a side road. Take the path at its end to pass over the railway. This ends at a road.

See pictureTurn left onto the road, then immediately right onto another road, to reach another junction. Turn left, then right at the end of that road, and right at the next T-junction, onto a major road. Just after crossing the river, turn left onto a path, to pass under a major road, and reach a road junction. Turn right, and almost immediately turn right onto a well-hidden path. Cross a road, and turn left to follow the road-side path. After passing some industrial buildings, it reaches a housing estate. It crosses a housing estate road, then the path turns right between houses to reach a back lane. At the end of the lane, turn right to reach the car park for Tredegar House, the official end of the route.

From here, we added 1.4 km onto the route, to get back to our base in Newport. Head out of the far side of the car park, take the third exit at the roundabout, take the first road to the left. When it becomes a dirt track, a short path to the right leads into a housing estate. A couple of junctions later, our route ended.

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