Trail centre: Natural – Brecon Beacons.
Length: Various. The first exploratory ride was 30km (18.6 miles).
Start point: First ride started at the car park on the minor road off the A4069 at grid reference 708193 (51.857, -3.877).
Description: At the Western end of the Brecon Beacons lies the Black Mountain (singular – plural is the other end of the range). Looking at the map reveals a number of enticing bridleways crossing the mountains, which have intrigued me for a while. They largely follow the routes of old roads or pony tracks, superseded by the modern roads. From the map, they could be exceptionally good riding – a possibility of long sections of descent across lonely moorland – proper mountain biking. We explored two of them, and as I explore more I will add to this post.
Bridleway 1: 708193 to Brynamman (713150)
We left the car park and almost immediately gained the obvious and stony track that leads straight uphill. Keep right at a junction – the left fork leads straight back to the road a little further East. Keep climbing, and keep to the track. The surface at this point varies from stones to bog, and the whole thing is probably worth avoiding in Winter. We rode it at the end of April in a particularly dry spell and it was fine, but plenty of evidence of it being quite wet. The track continues up onto the top of the ridge, and begins a descent towards Brynamman. The route becomes gradually less and less distinct, and some guesswork is required as you come down. However, there are plenty of little paths to follow that are close enough to the route of the bridleway as makes no odds. Approaching the edge of the access land find and follow a small valley, and eventually come to a gate that takes you onto a lane into Brynamman. Bridleway verdict: some good riding in Summer, probably worth avoiding when wet.
Opposite the gate, take the lane straight ahead that drops you down into the village, turn left at the foot of it and left again when you hit the main road on a bend. Bear right at the mini roundabout and keep on going along the main road. Keep an eye out for signs until a lane next to a garage gives you access onto the Amman valley cycle path. Follow this along the valley and across the main road, and then at an uncertain point we turned left and walked the bikes along a footpath that finally brought us across a bridge onto a lane. We turned left and followed the lane up into a farm, picking up signs for a bridleway on the way. Follow signs up onto a small hillock and turn right at the top, and then follow a path down into the valley and up the other side, following a concrete farm track through a couple of gates and towards:
Bridleway 2: 760141 to 756215
At least, in theory that’s what happens. We cruised back and forth along the track a couple of times looking for the start of the bridleway, and eventually followed a possibility round the corner of a fence and into a deep bog. According to the map the bridleway climbs steadily up the side of a valley, joins a footpath and turns left up a tributary until it reaches the top of the ridge. Comparing our Strava feed with the map, it appears that we were more or less exactly where we should have been, but we saw very little sign of a track at all. Sheep tracks turned up, followed the expected route for a while, and then vanished into the bilberries. Tallus fields guided us across certain bits of the hillside, but then the paths we were following vanished. Some features around us suggested the possible existence of a track at some point in the past, but nothing traceable remained. As a result, we walked and pushed our bikes for almost the entirety of the climb. It was tedious and frustrating. Once at the top, the route crosses the Beacons Way, that follows the ridge, and becomes a little more recognisable, and as you begin to drop into the valley you can start to see sections of path, generally across cropped grass and the occasional bog. The riding here is fun, and a genuinely good section of downhill. Tyre tracks suggest that it has been ridden recently, but it’s anyone’s guess how the other riders got to it. Bridleway verdict: the North end might be worth riding, South end is largely non-existent.
Follow the path down into a valley and through a gate onto a track, ignoring the bridleway sign when you reach a farm and instead following the track to the left (walking the bike – it’s not a bridleway). Continue down a field track to the right of a barn and keep following this until you reach the road. Turn right on the road and take the next lane to the left, following it past a house and back out onto the hills. This track is heavily rutted and very wet, but some bits are still rideable. Follow this all the way to the end where it reaches the road again, and turn left for a slog up the main road until a right turning just before an obvious hairpin. Turn here, and continue down the singletrack road back to the car park.
Good stuff: Bridleway 1 is a fun and very natural ride with some excellent sections. The descent of Bridleway 2 is fun, but definitely not worth the navigation issues and general bother of getting to it.
Difficult stuff: Non-existent bridleways make the ride a tedious slog at times, and are worth avoiding. Otherwise, little difficult stuff, although sections of the climb on Bridleway 1 are a little challenging if you’re out of practise.
Verdict: Bridleway 1 worth a ride if it’s dry, bridleway 2 doesn’t exist at the South end, but might be worth a there-and-back ride at the North end. More information to come on the other bridleways.