Wales is an awe inspiring magical realm with the power to cast a spell over visitors, and during our cycling holiday from Welsh Beach to Border, you’ll experience the full charm of Wales and its people. From breezy beaches washed by the Irish Sea to the rich, rolling farmland on the English border, you’ll soak up the atmosphere of ancient Britain, with all its legends and traditions.
Beach to Border is about taking things slowly - map reading, glorious countryside and lying in hedgerows watching the clouds float by overhead. It’s about wild swimming in rivers and being carefree with time. It’s about good company, gaining an appetite, local food, quiet market towns, whizzing downhill, pints, picnics and the rhythm of two spinning wheels.
Past the crystal eddies and the gentle coils of the Ystwyth River, over the ochre-coloured Cambrian Mountains and through the ancient woods of the Wye Valley, the route follows a heavenly mix of quiet trails and silent country lanes - a mix that’s ideal for a long ride with old friends, or an adventure with the family.
Day 1: Arrive in Abergavenny, transfer to Aberystwyth and ride to Devil’s Bridge – approx 19 miles
Arrive in Abergavenny, either by train or car, in the morning.
A member of the Bikecation team will meet you at midday to hand over your route notes and maps, your bike, answer those last minute questions, and give you a few tips. You will then be transferred by vehicle with your bikes to Aberystwyth - approximately 2hrs drive.
Your welsh leisure cycling trip starts from the Royal Pier, a surviving emblem of Aberystwyth’s heyday as a popular seaside destination, the route takes you south along the elegant promenade, past the fragmented ruins of the medieval castle and the marina, and out of town beneath Pen Dinas, the site of an Iron Age hill fort. There are inspirational views down the coast. Turning inland, the route tracks the Ystwyth River across river meadows, rich with flora. Look out for jewel- like kingfishers, stonechats with their characteristic call, oystercatchers and pretty little ringed plovers near the shore. This is a delightful, gentle section and a fine beginning to your journey across Wales.
For five easy miles, you follow a disused railway, originally part of the Manchester and Milford line. Beyond Trawsgoed, the road enters a steep-sided, heavily wooded and beautifully shaded gorge. There are several disused mines on the far side of the fast-running, crystal clear waters of the Ystwyth. Silver, lead and zinc were mined in the valley from Roman times, until the industry peaked in the 18th century. The road rises to reach the once important mining village of Pont-rhyd-y-groes, the destination for today.
Day 2: Pont-rhyd-y-groes to Rhayader – approx 25 miles
Crossing the Cambrian Mountains, in the heartland of Wales, is one of the highlights of the Beach to Border route. On a clear day, the ride will burn itself onto your memory.
Shortly after leaving Pont-rhyd-y-groes, the route enters the Hafod Estate, created by Thomas Johnes, a farmer, landscape architect, writer and social benefactor at the end of the 18th century. Johnes planted some four million trees and turned the house and grounds, full of waterfalls, grottoes and hanging gardens, into a place celebrated across Europe, a sort of Welsh Xanadu. The stately home fell down in the 20th century but the beauty of the landscape remains.
The road passes through Cwmystwyth - according to the Ordnance Survey, the centre point of Wales, and begins to climb steadily. The reward for your hard work is a road once described by the AA as ‘one of the ten most scenic drives in the world.’
Riding past the crumbling remains of various mines and assorted buildings – memorials to the peak of zinc ore mining during the 19th century, until, at Blaenycwm, the road crosses the River and you leave all signs of human habitation behind. Continuing up the Ystwyth Valley, it’s just you alone with endless tussock-covered hills. Near the top of the climb, you can see the white turbines of Cefn Croes, once the biggest, and most controversial wind farm in the UK. One last pull and you’re on top of Mid-Wales.
The road heads south-east, skirting a large upland bog – half earthy turf and half water. On your left is moorland, full of shy meadow pipits and rare skylarks in summer. Watch the skies and you’re likely to see a stunning Red Kite or perhaps the smaller, faster Merlin. After 4 miles, you come to a road junction. This is a great spot for a picnic, with wonderful views over the upper Elan Valley. At the first dam, you meet the cycleway – an old disused railway line, and follow it down the valley for an effortless nine-mile section of traffic-free trails down to Rhayader. The Elan Valley was a noted beauty spot long ago - the poet Percy Shelley lived here in 1812, but it was the massive dam project, built to provide water for the people of Birmingham, that put the place on the map. The dams were completed in 1904 and opened by King Edward VII. There is a busy tea room at the visitor centre by the lowest dam. Following this traffic-free route brings you to a B road, on the outskirts of Rhayader.
Day 3: Rhayader to Hay-on-Wye - approx 35 miles
The Wye, the fifth longest river in the UK, rises on Plynlimon, high in the Cambrian Mountains north-west of Rhayader. It is your companion for the whole of today as the route rises above the right bank of the River before falling. The views across the valley in summer, with the dawn mist burning off, are magical. The riding is mainly on country lanes, lanes so quiet that it comes as a shock when you arrive in Newbridge-on-Wye and cross the river.
In Builth Wells, an unspoilt market town where the River Irfon joins the Wye, there are plenty of welcoming coffee shops and cafes. Continuing south, following the river through Aberedw and Llanstephan, the sides of the valley grow steeper and thick with ancient woodland. It’s a dramatically beautiful section, on a quiet B road and then a series of lanes to Boughrood. At Glasbury, if the sun is shining, the River will be busy with canoeists and swimmers on the shingle beach below the bridge - it’s a great spot for a dip.
Leaving the river, the route heads gently uphill. There are glorious views of the proud, north-facing, heather-covered heights of the Black Mountains ahead of you. For the final couple of miles, you can freewheel idly down to the welcoming book town, Hay-on-Wye.
Day 4: Hay-on-Wye to Abergavenny – approx 23 miles
The final section of this fabulous ride takes you to the top of the Gospel Pass. The climb starts as you leave Hay and the effort to reach the top is well worth it. The views from the top are magnificent with huge vistas and lovely scenery before the route takes you on a long descent down to Abergavenny. You can stop on the way for lunch in one of the pubs, or break for a picnic. It is a wonderful way to end this epic journey and you’ll arrive back in Abergavenny having experienced an amazing four days crossing Wales. The memories of cycling in Wales will live with you for many years to come.
- Pedaling along the old railway line out of Aberystwyth
- Wild swimming in the Ystwyth River
- The liquid trill of skylarks on the moorland in the Cambrian Mountains
- Tea and cakes in the Elan Valley tea rooms
- The descent along the disused railway line, through the Elan Valley to Rhayader
- Browsing in the second hand book shops in Hay-on-Wye
- Mist clearing on the River Wye just after dawn
- Villages full of half-timbered houses on the lanes of Herefordshire