Tarquin's cycling pages

15 July 2006 - Garth Loop

WhereGarth Loop
(Brecon Beacons and South Wales)
Date15 July 2006
Duration2 hours 30 minutes
Distance12 miles (~19 km)
WeatherSunny - blue skies
Trail conditionsBaked dry dirt track, and dry grass
Mark 'Tarquin' Wilton-Jones 26 GT LTS 2000 (TWJ)

Trip report

Description by Mark 'Tarquin' Wilton-Jones

This is another trip made up on the morning before the ride. However, it was a very enjoyable ride, and should be repeated, so it may be worth following this one. The Garth Hill (mountain) is shaped like a horseshoe, with the open end to the east. On the south side is the Lesser Garth and the Garth Wood, on the west side is the small town of Pentyrch, and on the north side is the Garth Hill summit.

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This ride started in Cardiff (since I live there), followed by a climb up the Lesser Garth, around the horseshoe, and up to the top of the Garth Hill. It ends by looping around the missing east side of the horseshoe, completing the circuit. Then back home. You could also start and end at the Tynant Inn in Morganstown, giving an eight mile round trip, somewhere to park your car, and somewhere to eat and drink afterwards (just make sure you securely lock your bikes).

From Cardiff, take the Taff Trail to the North side of the M4, then cross the bridge over the Taff (take a look over to Castell Coch - it's one of the best views of it you will get), and go over the level crossing. Cut right just before the stream, and cross the field to reach the garden centre. Turn left (twice) onto the main road, then immediately turn right at the traffic lights. Turn right again onto the footpath at the end of the Tynant Inn car park.

See pictureSee pictureThe footpath joins the main path running along the bottom of the Garth Wood. Turn left. Ignore the steep path that heads up immediately to the right (that leads to the gated-without-warning Lesser Garth Cave). After about a hundred metres or so, the path forks, with paths of about equal size; one continuing ahead, and one climbing gently to the right. Take the right fork. Early on, this reaches a railway bridge - if you don't see the bridge, you have gone the wrong way. Cross the bridge (or take the path to the left of it) and begin the main Lesser Garth climb. It is fairly steady, and requires a low gear - for me. If you are into that sort of thing, there are some very steep trails up to the right, would make some pretty serious downhills.

See pictureSee pictureWhen the path swings hard to the right and another path joins from the left, stop climbing. Ignore both paths, and cross the stile ahead-left instead. You enter the corner of a field. Take the path that leaves from the corner diagonally opposite (you can't see it until you get to the other side), and follow it through a few fields.

See pictureThe path passes a small quarry. This is not the one that threatens the bats and curtains in Lesser Garth Cave - that is on the other side of the buildings. Just after this, it passes through some unpleasent undergrowth, which you may be able to avoid by going around it. Try to maintain your direction, and keep following the path along the edges of more fields. It ducks through some tree tunnels, before reaching a T-junction, where it is no longer possible to continue ahead.

See pictureSee pictureTurn left, and again, follow the edges of the fields, maintaining the new direction. Eventually you reach a stile, where the path swings to the right (with a nice view back over Cardiff and the Severn Estuary), and crosses another stile. From there, the path is more clear, diagonally crossing a field, and joining a road on the edge of Pentyrch.

See pictureFollow the road - at the start of it you get a good view across the Garth Hill, with the summit clearly visible on its left side. Now come the series of T-junctions (the first is more of a Y, but whatever). Each one is where you are forced to turn either left or right, and cannot go straight on (except perhaps the first, as you come from one of the arms of the Y, but you are joining another road). Take them in this order: left, right, right, left. You should now have looped past the green at the top of Pentyrch, and the road should be climbing gently past some houses. If not, go back and try following the sequence again.

See pictureSee pictureThe road breaks out into countryside again, and if you are lucky, you will see some houses on the side of the Garth Hill. One of them is pink, if that helps. Take the next road to the right. After crossing a cattle grid, the road forks. Take the road that climbs to the left - signed for the local school, not the road that drops to the right. At the first corner, take the path to the right. You should be rewarded with a view across the Garth horseshoe, with Garth Wood covering most of Lesser Garth, and Cardiff and the Severn in the distance.

See pictureSee pictureThe path climbs fairly steadily up to the artificial summit of the Garth Hill. There is a lot of history here. You may have heard of the novel "The Englishman who went up a hill, and came down a mountain", well this is where the story that inspired the novel comes from. According to local historical record, during World War I, the Garth was measured by English Ordnance Survey surveyors, who (after obtaining some unreliable measurements), settled on a total height of less than 1000 feet. In Britain, a height of 1000 feet or above is what distinguishes a mountain from a hill. The locals were extremely unhappy about this, so they built a large mound of earth on the top, making it 1002 feet tall, according to the surveyors. This allowed their mountain - as it had always been known - to be called a mountain.

The mound itself is about 7 feet taller than the highest natural ground, judging from the many photographs I have taken, and a more accurate recent map puts the actual height at 307 metres (1007 feet), so it would probably have been a mountain anyway, if the original surveyors had been able to measure more accurately. In any case, recent historical analysis suggests it might be an ancient burrial mound, although I personally find locals to be more accurate than most historians. It is also possible that the locals enlarged a burrial mound, or convinced the surveyors to take an artificial mound into account. Still, disturbing historical sites is not allowed, so it is best to do the right thing, and carry your bike up the mound to the trig point, instead of riding up the last part.

See pictureSee pictureThe view from the top is rewarding. On a good day, you can see the two tallest peaks in the Brecon Beacons, about 25 miles away. Now it is time to look for the way down. There are several large tracks on the top of Garth, some of which are not on the map. Take the main path heading east, along the ridge. After a short distance, another track heads off to the left. Follow it. (Note, do not try taking the path to the south at the east end of the ridge, you will end up cycling off a cliff.)

See pictureSee pictureThe path steepens, and is a very good downhill, with bumpy ground (you have suspension, right?). It passes through a couple of gates - give yourself enough time to stop - and joins a tarmac path just past some remnants of a farm. If you like riding where you stay on your bike, follow the badly damaged tarmac until it joins a road. Turn right, then immediately turn right again. Skip the next paragraph.

See pictureSee pictureIf you like to get off and push, take the gate to the right just after joining the tarmac. Go through the first field, and enter a forest at the far left of the next field. The ground is an unridable bog, but supposedly it is a footpath. Get off the bike, and go left, through the trees into another field. To the right should be a stile. Cross it, then climb up the next field to the right, and join a dirt track to the left at the farm. Follow the dirt track until you join a road. Turn right.

Supposedly the forest beside the road has some paths which join the good quality tracks seen on the other side of the forest, but after the part of that forest I had just been through, I was not interested in trying to find them. The road quickly becomes very steep and winds round several blind corners. At the junction at the bottom, turn right. It climbs and falls a couple of times, but generally is a nice downhill, skirting the edge of the Garth Hill, and passing through Gwaelod-y-Garth. Eventually it joins the main road coming down the inside of the horseshoe from Pentyrch. Turn left. Go straight ahead at the two roundabouts, and pretty soon, you will see the garden centre, and the Tynant Inn. Time for a drink.

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