Tarquin's cycling pages

27 June 2004 - Grwyne Fawr and Grwyne Fechan - AKA The Killer Loop

WhereGrwyne Fawr and Grwyne Fechan - AKA The Killer Loop
(Brecon Beacons and South Wales)
Date27 June 2004
Duration6 hours
Distance24 miles (~39 km)
WeatherSunshine and occasional showers, strong wind at times
Trail conditionsDamp trails
Mark 'Tarquin' Wilton-Jones 24 GT LTS 2000 (TWJ)
Peter Wilton-Jones 25 Gary Fisher Marlin Disc

Trip report

Description by Mark 'Tarquin' Wilton-Jones

This ride followed the route described in 'The Brecon Beacons National Park & the Black Mountains (mountain bike guide)'.

This is one of the hardest routes in the Black Mountains, requiring climbs of three mountains, totalling ¾ miles (1.2 KM) of climb. The first climb is hard enough to require pushing. The second can be ridden but is very steep in places, and the third is a few miles of steady, tiring ascent, that is simply too long to push - unfortunately. The third descent is quite technical and requires a lot of concentration and control, just at the time when you are too tired to do either properly. In our opinion, this would be much more enjoyable if the route started and ended at the base of Crug Mawr, as that would get the worst parts out of the way while you are still energised enough to do them properly, and hopefully enjoy them a lot more as a result.

The actual ride time was 3:40 which says something about how hard this route is. I lost count of the stops after the first 20 or so. For this ride, we used a GPS for route finding, using track information that can be downloaded from the Internet. Apart from the occasional places where the information took a slightly different route to the guidebook, this is a very easy way to navigate, but it does mean that when you crash (Peter) you tend to take more care of the bike than yourself.

See pictureSee pictureStarting in the car park of the Castle Inn, we picked up a bridleway before turning onto a road that quickly became a track, and the first small climb. At the top, the flat ground has deceptively deep puddles and both of us narrowly avoided falling sideways into one after our wheels became bogged down in the mud.

See pictureSee pictureBeyond, the great buttresses of the Waun Fach mountain range loomed ahead, and we descended onto a road, conscious that we would soon be climbing the side of one of those mountains. Soon enough, the way on became a track heading towards the steep slope of Y Dâs.

See pictureSee pictureAt the base of the slope, we began the ascent, which became impossible to ride after very little distance. The ground became too rocky to keep a grip, and we resorted to pushing up to the top. This would almost certainly be a great downhill, although failing to take the corner properly would result in launching yourself off the edge of a steep slope, probably resulting in serious injury. You have been warned.

See pictureSee pictureAt the top, the trail plateaued out, with the wind blowing a light rainshower at us, requiring waterproofs. Here we met a cyclist who had blown his tire, and had already walked a couple of miles, intending to walk the whole way back to near the start of our ride, several miles further. We offered him a spare, but it seemed that the blown tire was just his excuse to give up. Ah well, you can't please them all.

See pictureSee pictureThen began the steady descent down the Grwyne Fawr valley, a very pleasant rocky downhill - one of the best of the whole trip, passing a couple of wild horses, and a reservoir. Here Peter decided to throw his bike gently to the ground, and continue along the path without it, rolling a few times before coming to a stop. Pity I didn't see it.

See pictureSee pictureAfter a quick excursion across the dam, we continued down the valley along a more unpleasant slag-like surface, stopping at a gate. At least, I stopped. Peter tried to pull a skid but a piece of grit caught in his disc brakes, locking them on, and sending him sliding along the ground into the gate. This one I did manage to see ... and get a picture.

Starting a steep downhill into the Mynydd Du Forest, I noticed my back tire suddenly go flat, but I could not stop until after I had ridden over a good few rocks. Surprisingly, there was no apparent damage to my wheel rim, the only real damage being a pinch puncture to the inner tube, and so we replaced it with a spare.

See pictureSee pictureThe track joined a road, but not too far ahead, we headed up a track into the forest. After a couple of miles of ascent, the route became much more steep, and we both ignored the urge to push and cycled to the track at the top.

See pictureSee pictureHeading along the track, the Crug Mawr summit soon came into view, and we cycled up the last few steep uphills to the summit. We stopped to eat lunch whilst trying to shelter from the wind, and it was about here that I ran out of water. One of the locals decided that we were quite attractive, and tried a little toe sucking. It continued to follow us as we began to cycle away.

See pictureSee pictureHeading towards the view of Table Mountain and the Pen Cerrig-calch ridge, we started down the steep, heather covered slope to join the Descent From Heaven.

See pictureSee pictureUnfortunately, the wind was so strong that it was impossible to freewheel this normally excellent route, requiring pedalling at all times. Also, the number of sheep straying across the path or running along it made this one of the most disappointing descents of the day, so we just stuck with taking pictures.

See pictureSee pictureAfter the last piece of downhill we joined the road, and began the long journey up the Grwyne Fach valley. The road is annoying, in that it climbs a little then drops a little far too many times, meaning frequent gear changes. My chest was now in a lot of pain, with my ribs feeling bruised from the effort. Eventually, the road became a track again and climbed through a small forest.

See pictureSee pictureAt the top of the rise, we were greeted with a beautiful view of the valley, but with the depressing view of our path winding slowly up the left side of the valley, rising above some fields. By the time we reached those fields, we had already stopped several times, and I resorted to drinking from a mountain stream.

See pictureSee pictureAfter eating some of Peter's food reserves, we continued slowly, with my memorable comment being "have your legs ever been in so much pain, that you are tempted to cut them off, just so you don't have to feel it?". This was not fun any more. At one point, we were passed by some cyclists, who had clearly not gone as far as us, the less skinny of which turned to us and asked "Have you got a pie? I'm dying for a pie ..." - as you do. After an irritatingly long and slow ascent, we finally reached the top, and looked down the slope ahead. In front of us, dark rain clouds hurled rain at the next ridge, and we realised that because of the strong winds, we had only a few minutes to get down to the car before the rain hit us. Too tired to concentrate, too tired to cope with the rough ground, and trying to race the weather (that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it), first Peter then I decided to throw ourselves over the handlebars, before we had even started on the rough ground. Neither of us had a bad fall, but mine was after being knocked onto just the front wheel, and being unable to recover it before landing face down in the grass.

See pictureSee pictureAfter trying to pass one of the many groups of walkers who were on the mountains (this particular group taking up all possible paths), we reached the hard part of Rhiw Trumau. Rough rocks continually tried to throw the bike wheels off the edge of the slope. Part way down, I managed to topple sideways towards the edge, fortunately at the one point where there was a grassy bank to land on. Finally at the bottom - having not enjoyed any of what should have been an excellent technical descent, we reached the base of the main slope in a tree-lined gully. Trying to catch up with Peter after taking a picture, I caught a rock that threw a stick into my front tire, launching the bike into the air with me no longer attached to it.

I hit the ground with my knee and elbow first (ouch!) and was rolled hard onto my back. I heard the noise of the camera in my bag hitting the rocks, as I curled my upper body up into foetal position. The bag stopped me rolling, but the bike - which, you will remember, was airborne - then landed hard on my arm and back (ouch again), ensuring that both of my arms were now hurt. Thankfully the only damage to the bike was a tear in the saddle material, and I got back on it to join my brother.

See pictureAt the bottom of a dip in the road, we turned onto a bridleway - the same one as at the start - and gradually ascended back to the car park. Just after putting the bikes back in the car, the rain hit us. Good timing. Surprisingly, Peter's camera seems not to be damaged at all. So just me then.

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