Cycling between Cardiff and Swansea is possible a few ways, some are nicer than others but most seem to involve going through built up areas and main roads at some point or another. A desire to find a way which was almost traffic free and involved a bit more scenery, coupled with wanting to expand my own mental map of The Valleys by bike I plotted a route.
The route utilises a combination of route 8 (Taff trail) to Pontypridd, route 47 through to Tonna and then a canal path and route 4 into Swansea. The ride would make a perfect challenging day out on the bike for anyone looking for something more adventurous.
Approximately 60% of the route is gravel tracks, with on steep off-road descent that might require some walking. The remainder is on smooth tarmac.
With this in mind, bike choice is interesting, I can personally vouch for it being doable on a road bike with 28mm tyres, but I’ve never tried to recreate that day. I would suggest anything with tyres over 30mm is suitable and you’ll want a bike with some clearance for possible mud depending on the weather. Something like a cross bike could be ideal, but a hybrid of mountain bike would also suit depending on your intended speed.
The route itself, leaves Cardiff heading north on the Taff trail, which you can follow through Ponty where it is well signed until you’re out the other side. At a junction on the trail after Pontypridd you’ll meet route 47, turn left to join the new trail here and continue following route 47 as you head through Ynysybwl up to Llanwonno. Some bits aren’t so well signposted, so if you’re like me and likely to miss a turning or signpost, double and triple check the map.
This is where you’ll notice the road heading upwards, gradually at first, but as you leave Ynysybwl on Heol Mynach it steepens and is not an easy climb. After passing Llanwonno Church you head onto the gravel tracks that will take you over the valleys to Tonna. The trail takes you across the tops of well-known road climbs in South Wales, most notably the Rhigos, and you will certainly climb yourself, but out of sight of cars with some of the best scenery around. Though quiet, the tracks join a reservoir, quarries and work constructing wind turbines which mean they are all wide and relatively well used.
The ride over the hilltops is rolling and some of the climbs are short but tricky in loose gravel, some low gears are useful, particularly as your legs tire. Also worth remembering there isn’t anywhere to stop for food or drink, so pack accordingly depending on the weather.
The descent into Tonna is steep but paved, from Tonna its pan-flat as you join the canal tow-path which takes you south, joining up with cycle route 4 that takes you to Swansea. Depending on how exhausted you already are, you might fancy a spin along the front to the Mumbles, or you might want to collapse at the nearest coffee shop/pub/restaurant before catching the train home. I’m yet to be adventurous enough to ride my speculative route that loops me home too.
It’s a relatively straightforward route aside from some poor cycle route signposting. To help I’ve linked to the detailed map and description, which includes a few photos to give you an idea of what you’ll encounter.
By: Alistair Ruff