Three of the best cycling routes in the South Downs
Whether you're looking for family friendly rides or challenging endurance rides, there's something for everyone in the stunning South Downs National Park.
Steven Rittey from Wheel2Wheel Holidays takes us on a cycling trip across the Brecon Beacons as he goes from Port Talbot to Hereford
I own a Verenti Rhigos 03 that is named 'Joycie' after my Grandma who bought the bike for me. I really enjoy riding with a very light carbon frame and the comfort that the bike offers over long distances. However, there is something about my road bike that has always intrigued me - just what is located at the co-ordinates embossed onto the frame? My friend Scott incidentally has the same bike and we both decided to head to Wales over the Easter Bank Holiday to find out.
We left Manchester Piccadilly at 0630 on Good Friday and caught the train to the steel manufacturing town of Port Talbot with the aim of reaching Hereford to catch our train back home on Saturday afternoon. The South Wales region is once again undergoing big structural change and is on the cusp of another sad industrial collapse as the Port Talbot steelworks are currently threatened with closure and the potential loss of thousands of jobs.
Cycling is being used as a catalyst for economic rebirth in the South Wales region with thousands taking part in the tough Dragon Ride sportive that is now part of the 'L'Etape' series of organised rides, world class mountain bike parks being built in the Valleys and superb traffic free cycle paths along former mining railway lines for less strenuous leisure cycling.
We did not spend much time looking around the town of the M4 motorway flyover, heavy industry, Rob Brydon and sandy beaches except for a quick visit to Port Talbot FC and their 'Sand Siro' stadium. We instead cycled up into the Afan Valley to the small, former coal mining town of Maesteg where we picked up our first large climb into the Valleys and the Bwlch. This is possibly one of the best roads that I have ever cycled up in this country and rises 340m up into the Welsh Hills.
We were very lucky and had a superb weather day with few clouds, warm sunshine and a tailwind to help us along. The view at the top of the Bwlch was memorable as we looked out over the towns of Treorchy and Treherbert from high above with many of cyclists who had the same idea as myself and Scott.
We passed through the busy market towns and started the reason why we decided to do the ride - The Rhigos Mountain Road. Rhigos is the name of a tiny village in South Wales that is reached by climbing up the mountain road and features in the Top 100 Great Cycling Climbs book by Simon Warren.
The climb is a steady 4% average gradient and is 6.2km in length offering great views for miles across the Welsh Valleys. The road may not have the history of some of cycling's other famed mountain passes, however it is still a challenge to ride up and gives you an idea of how Wales must have looked in former times when heavy industry punctured the landscape
From the top, we dropped down on the fast descent into Rhigos and looked for the location of the co-ordinates on our bike frames. The village is so small that there are no real landmarks and it quickly dawned on us that we had rode over some pretty tough roads, cycled for a few hours and travelled 3 hours on the train to have our picture taken outside a closed convenience store.
Even though we were a tad disappointed with what we found, there was a feeling of satisfaction that we had achieved our goal. We pressed on to our overnight stay at the excellent YHA Brecon Beacons via the A4059 on the most glorious spring afternoon with views of Powys countryside all around. There were hundreds of people out and about walking in the area with most returning home from the highest mountain in South Wales and the SAS training ground - Pen-y-Fan.
When we arrived at the friendly YHA hostel and their very helpful staff, we were warned of poor weather coming across the region and decided to head off the next day fairly early to complete the 40 miles to Hereford. One of the main reasons why I love cycling in Wales so much is that the A roads are quieter than in England and the surfaces are of a near continental standard.
On a road bike, you can really fly along and we covered 36km from the hostel to just outside Hay-on-Wye in just over an hour. Amazingly, all the rain that was lashing down along the Welsh coast was behind Pen-y-Fan and we just had to deal with some of the hairy crosswind moments when riding past gaps in the roadside hedgerows!
We stopped off for an hour in Hay-on-Wye exploring the famous 'Town of Books' before heading back into England along a road that opened out the countryside and was typically English with small churches, rolling hills and stone mile markers. As we approached Hereford, the traffic started to become heavier and busier.
I have not visited the regional capital of Herefordshire very much in the past, but liked what I saw. I was very impressed by the Cathedral Quarter and had my photo taken next to the statue of Elgar; the English composer who spent much of his life cycling around the region before heading to London. In fact, many of his compositions were inspired by cycling!
Hereford seemed like a fitting place to end the mini cycle tour. We had composed our own theme for the Easter weekend and found out why our bikes were named after a small village in South Wales and what really was at the geo location of our bike frames. We had taken our bikes back to their spiritual homes and loved every moment of the weekend.
The next time we go out on our Verenti bikes, it will be really hard to ride around anywhere better than close to 51' 44'0"N - 3' 34'0"W.