As the current Audax season draws to a close it is perhaps time to reflect on the past year’s exploits. We’ve talked about a few of these Randonnee’s this year and as epic days in the saddle go, they’re all memorable in their own way.
However, the final one for us this season leaves us in a bit of a quandary. As a route it was one in two distinct halves, with the first half being a little hilly but beautiful in places and the second half being a fairly forgettable slog through urban sprawl.
However, the controls were a definite ray of sunshine.
Cardiff to Ystradgynlais
A 7am start meant getting up at an ungodly hour of the morning in an attempt to sort some breakfast out. Luckily I’d had the foresight to put some Scotch Eggs in the fridge the night before to provide a protein-heavy base for the absurd quantities of sugary snacks I’d consume throughout the day.
The start, as is usually the case for Cardiff’s Audax rides was the Village Hotel in Coryton. Mercifully this is only a short ride from the house, but even so, we’re heading into Autumn and it was dark when I left. However, these darker months do provide an additional incentive to make good time —getting home before dark!
After a quick stop at the hotel to collect the Brevet card and to meet and greet we headed across the Coryton interchange, up through Taffs Well and towards Abercynon, Mountain Ash and Aberdare to cross the Heads of the Valleys at Glynneath.
There was a strong Cardiff Ajax contingent on this ride and I ended up riding with them most of the way to Ystradgynlais. Getting the hang of riding in a bunch is a good skill to have, particularly when there is a lot of ground to cover. Save all the energy you possibly can!
You gradually climb up towards Glynneath as you cross the edge of the Rhigos, before an exhilarating descent into Glynneath, across the A465 and then climb up the A4109 and A4221 to Abercraf before yet another descent into Ystradgynlais for breakfast number two! The view from this stretch is quite beautiful, so if time is on your side it is worth stopping for a bit and getting a photo or two. Sadly, I didn’t this time —rookie mistake number 1.
As you head into Ystradgynlais, there’s a right turn onto Commercial Street where you’ll find a great little cafe called Merlins that’ll serve you a cooked breakfast and coffee; refill your bottles and stamp your Brevet card. Perfect.
Ystradgynlais to Ferryside
After a much-needed fill-up at the cafe it’s back to business. The route takes you away from the edge of the national park and through a number of towns and villages including Ammanford and Cross Hands before briefly skirting the A48 and cutting south-west towards Ferryside.
This stretch is refreshing after the suburban excursion that has been a feature since Ystradgynlais. The great thing about many of the Audax rides we’ve done this year has been the long stretches of solitude away from people and traffic. Dr Fosters had a lot of that, as did the Trefil Travail and Bath or Bust.
Organisers have become adept at identifying those peaceful country lanes that allow you to focus solely on the business of riding your bike and taking in the views. Credit where credit was due, the first half of the Ferryside Fish Foray delivered a few pleasant and memorable stretches. However, it wasn’t long before we headed into the intriguing village of Ferryside –the headline act, as it were.
The control here was an excellent pub called the White Lion Hotel that served up a fine Minestrone soup, bread roll and a coke for £4. As controls go, it was once again perfect. We were approaching the 115Km mark at this point, so a good meal was more than welcome.
Ferryside would also deliver on the views front too. As you head out the village the route takes you up onto the cliff and around towards St Ishmael. There’s a break in the hedge a little way along that offers some tremendous views across the inlet. Stop here and get some photos if you haven’t already because sadly things get a little bleak from here on in.
Ferryside to Swansea Marina
Ferryside was without a doubt the highlight of the day. A tiny seaside town with a railway line running through it; a smattering of tourism and a great pub.
However, on this day our ride towards Kidwelly and Pembrey was met with a stiff headwind and on a busy road to boot. Let’s just say motivation was in short supply at this point and my riding buddies were just that little bit too fast for me to keep in touch with them. I dropped back and started riding my own ride, as I should have been doing all along.
Rookie mistake number 2 is one that I thought I had learned already. Always ride at your pace —at this sort of distance you can’t really afford not to.
Another highlight of the day was at Burry Port. It provided another photo opportunity (seriously, nice beach) and also introduced us to the path that would pretty much take us all the way to Swansea…well, it would have if it hadn’t become really confusing around the new apartments in Llanelli and I hadn’t resorted to following the road after all.
Gowerton sees the start of an excellent converted railway line that will take you right through to Swansea sea front. It a really good path that’ll lead you right to the marina and it is reassuring to see that at least one council has found some white paint to separate cyclists and pedestrians…
The final control at Swansea Marina is a very modern cafe with a good variety of sugary treats and half-decent coffee to provide a boost for the final push.
Swansea Marina to Cardiff
There’s no other way to dress this up really, but to get back from Swansea you do have to pass through Port Talbot and Bridgend if you want to take the most direct route home. You could throw in an extra climb over the Bwlch or hug the coast and come back through the Vale, but that would significantly add to an already long 200.
Neither Port Talbot nor Bridgend are terribly inspiring places to ride. Port Talbot is still mired in fumes from the steel works and Bridgend has few redeeming features. This is a section of the route you just have to endure.
Fortunately at this point, apart from a bit of discomfort in my left foot I felt remarkably good, just tired. For once I had no pain in my back nor neck but I still wasn’t enjoying this part of the ride. It could have been the pace I was trying to keep, or it could just be that this part of the route was uninspiring.
It doesn’t really improve until you hit Pentyrch either. Even that is an optional climb —it may be on the route but there’s no control. You could stay on Llantrisant Road until the Radyr roundabout and head through Radyr Station to Forest Farm if you prefer.
Whilst it was entirely my own fault for the pace I tried to keep on this ride, on reflection there was only a few parts of this route I’d have wanted to savour anyway. Yes, the controls were very, very good, but the route joining them up was a little forgettable. However, I’ve been told by a great many people that it is actually a very good route, so perhaps I just caught it on a bad day.
The stretch leading to Ystradgynlais was very pretty and Ferryside was a definite highlight.
However, I do wonder if it wouldn’t be better pushed out to a 300, with controls at Llandovery and/or Lampeter, Ferryside, Swansea Marina, Llantwit Major and Penarth. That way you take in the national park, an excellent cafe in Llandovery and the coast road back from Bridgend.
It does perhaps sound counter-intuitive to make a ride longer to make it better, but stick with me here. The lane from Penderyn to Sennybridge is beautiful. We rode that on the way to west Wales. We also know there is an excellent cafe in Llandovery and that the existing controls for the 200 are very good.
Also, by taking the route south after Bridgend you get to enjoy the coast road instead of ploughing through Kenfig Hill and Pontyclun. Ultimately you get to miss the parts that somewhat detracted from the route in its current form.
Purely spitballing here obviously, but it would look something like this:
It would be very tempting to try that as a DIY in the spring. I would like to at least attempt a 300 next year and build up to the Brevet Cymru when it returns in 2018.