I recently met and interviewed John and Jon Heard from Wild Cycles and they were already organising their mini cycling festival near the Welsh/English border in the New Radnor area. They asked if I’d come over and experience what the weekend would be like. Sadly, family commitments meant I could only get over there for the day. The weather forecast was good though so I got up early and drove over to see what it was all about.
It turns out though that I didn’t get up early enough. From previous experience it seems whenever you are travelling through the Welsh lanes you inevitably get to crawl along behind a hay lorry or tractor, or in this case a cavalcade of 4x4s pulling livestock trailers going to a show just outside Prestigne. This meant apart from blocking and seeing a few riders along the tiny road up to the farm venue with my vehicle everyone else had already left by the time I got to the start. I had a quick word with John Heard and then started the 45km route Wild cycles had sent to me previously. I didn’t even have chance to check out the campsite as the parking was at the top of the hill, no matter, I was eager to hit the trails. I could have done the shorter route or the longer 70km route that had been sent out as a GPX but John said the medium route had the best scenery so the medium distance it was.
Starting out in the valley I was soon pedalling down quiet lanes and almost forgotten roads. The route was interspersed with bridleways, green lanes and lots of gravelly single and double track. One minute you’d be travelling across a field full of sheep, the next heading through a gate into someone’s driveway. All legal of course. In fact there were warnings for 4x4s and motorcross bikes to “slowdown across the garden” in a couple of places!.
Soon though, the route turned and the first section of climbing began. I can’t pretend there wasn’t some effort needed but I’m no professional cyclist and I managed it, I just took my time, stopped and checked out the view if I needed a breather and cycled at my own pace. After around 10 miles I met my first other rider on the route. We had a chat while stopped at a gate and it turned out he was from Siberia! That put my 50 mile journey to get there into perspective! We were riding at different paces so I carried on through increasingly more and more impressive scenery. The next climb took me up very high and the track had that right out there in the middle of nowhere feel. It was around 15 degrees and the weather was very pleasant to ride in but you could see how exposed it would be in wintery conditions. It was hard to ride and not gawp at all the hills in the 360 degree vista all around me. At the next gate I met up with around 10 riders waiting for someone to fix a puncture and one of them was Jon Heard! This group were also on the 45km route so i decided to ride with them. One, to see what the others thought of the ride, organisation and camping but two, and the main reason was that it’s a lot easier in a big group to manage gate opening and closing than if you are on your own!
At the top of a climb Jon said there was a pub at the bottom of the next descent and would it be an idea to stop? around 10 incredulous riders just looked horror struck that he had even considered not stopping!
Can you have a oasis in a paradise? well The Hundred House pub might as well have had palm trees and be in a desert. Local beers and great chips were consumed while everyone just chatted about the ride, themselves and anything really. There was a great mix of people of all abilities and genders. Wild Cycles had ring fenced tickets to try and encourage a diverse range of people to attend and it seemed to have worked. Replenished and after the inevitable pub beer garden punctures you never noticed had been fixed we began the last climb of the day. It was a hum dinger at around 8km long but the group just chatted it’s way up taking it steady and at the summit one of the girls produced a packet of ginger nut biscuits to share, absolute life saver!
We’d reached the high point. I don’t know if you are like me when driving through the countryside and see a radio/TV transmitter on top of one of the highest hills in the distance and wonder who goes up there to maintain it and what the view must be like? Well today it was us! a trig point and transmitter stood next to us but we hardly noticed as the view of the Black mountains, Brecon beacons and much much further away just took your breath away. So worth the climb to get here!
What goes up must come down though and wow, what a final descent, it had everything, grass shutes, sheep filled heather, rocky single track, full speed ahead double track, flowing turns and if you wanted, on the limit turns. Epic is a very frequently used word to describe every little thing these days but I can truly say the downhill, which incidentally finished back at the camp site was epic in the truest sense of the word. Everyone got back with a huge grin on their face. Tired, ready for a beer but gushing about how good the route and the day had been,. I was one of them, I even high fived John Heard when I saw him in the group area in the campsite. I can honestly say it’s one of the best days out on the gravel bike I’ve had.
Back in the campsite, beers were opened, home made strudel was scoffed and the fireside chatting began while we waited for pizza to be cooked. There’s a community kitchen in one of the massive yurts so you can just go and boil the kettle yourself if you want, there’s no airs and graces, everyone just mucks in.
As I sat there, watching the groups of riders roll in from their day out in the hills I realised how different this had been from the other gravel events around today. there’s no strapping on of a “race” number or a checkpoint you must reach for fear of being pulled out by marshalls. There’s no average speed and hundreds of riders. If you wanted to ride these routes on your own for a real wild experience as fast or as slow as you want you could, want to ride with mates? no problem and if like me you hook up with people you don’t know who seem to be going at a pace comfortable to you it’s the best thing ever.
if like me, “sportives” and mass start events just aren’t your thing or you just want to experience an ultra friendly atmosphere where it seems like nothing is too much trouble for the organisers get to a Wild Cycles event. I was gutted to have to leave and miss the folk band that was playing in the evening.
The gravel cycling in this area is absolutely outstanding, the views and the trails are sublime. Totally worth seeking out. I’ll confess though that the friendly atmosphere and laid back ethos was what made the day for me, I felt instantly at home and the riding was just the cream on the strudel!
Be careful though, once you experience this type of weekend you won’t want to leave and if you do leave you’ll be planning the next visit immediately.
read more about Wild Cycles here