Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Ridge Ride - Grwyne Fawr Reservoir and Rhos Dirion/Bal Mawr

Taking advantage of the dry conditions of summer, myself and Elliot took cyclocross bikes (Surly Crosschecks) into the Black Mountains, north of Abergavenny. Lacking cars, there was a road ride before hitting the moors, so as a compromise we took (hopefully) off-road worthy cyclocross bikes and crossed our fingers conditions would be favourable. The typical state of the moorland is boggy. With anything but the chubbiest tyres, you sink in. Even if it hasn't rained in a while, the peat retains moisture and makes riding frustrating - sapping the energy and the will. Especially if you make the mistake of wandering into an actual marsh, in a poorly devised shortcut.

Fortunately, the moors were as dry as I've seen them, making the route we went was 90% ridable and 100% awesome. The valley leading to the Grywne Fawr reservoir is dramatic and lush, with either a road or gravel tracks leading up through the valley. Then come the rocks, but only a few kilometres or so, leading you to the moor. Once you reach the trig point, and set off south along the ridge it's almost exclusively downhill, predominantly singletrack and excellent views of the black mountains in all directions.

The route we took is shown below, although it'd be easy enough to modify it for arriving by car. Just park at the bottom of the Grwyne Fawr valley, cutting out the ride to Abergavenny and back.

View Grwyne Fawr Loop - Ridge Ride in a larger map

Initially we rode up the paved road up the valley, then crossed a bridge over the Grwyne Fawr. This took us form paved roads and onto gravel/dirt tracks.


Ell-dogg shows his skidding skillz on the track.


A short, rocky descent led us towards the edge of the Mynydd du Forest forest.


The Mynydd Du Forest.


Looking north up the Grwyne Fawr valley.


Looking south down the valley , on the edge of the Mynydd Du Forest.


We ride up the Grwyne Fawr valley. The path here is decent, there's couple of slightly rocky spots, but nothing extreme.


My new build 'Handsome Dan' looking, in reverence, at the reservoir.


Ellsworth takes pictures on his ancient film camera, and I use the opportunity to take a confusing photo.


The reservoir's edge.


A camping spot for the future? At the north end of the reservoir.


We ride up the track alongside the reservoir. The riding is easy, prior to the end of the reservoir.


A profit of the coming rockstorm, alongside the Grwyne Fawr river.


Elliot put up a valiant fight against the loose, rocky ascent. Ultimately, walking progressed at similar speed and was much less taxing.


These are the tracks nearing the top of the moor. They're remarkably dry, so easy to ride. But not for long - when winter rolls round the moors will get sodden.



The trig point atop Rhos Dirion.


The descent (southwest) from the trig point. We made rapid progress from now on. We were both thoroughly loving this descent. There's enough of a descending gradient that you bomb along the path effortlessly, and only one steep section of descent. The path is currently great riding, compact, lumpy but not taxing, so just a good ol' time. Go ride it if you can. It was fun on a 'cross bike, it'd be even better on a mountain bike. There's a couple of short ascents but these are minor compared to the descent.


Heather lines much of this path, adding a sprinkling of purple to the hillsides.


These sandy tracks were surprisingly solid.


Looking east.



Looking north, along the ridge towards the peak of Rhos Dirion.


Looking south.




Sublime singletrack. Not techy, just hella fun.



Looking south toward the Sugarloaf.


The track towards the southern end of the ridge, near Twyn-y-Gaer, an iron age hillfort (more info here.


There's a nice, and convenient pub (the Queen's Head) at the bottom of the final descent, on road, from the ridge.


I creeped out some teenage girls taking this photo. I was waiting for the flag to fly, damn it.


This is an excellent ride, even if you're relatively new to mountain biking. The singletrack is great, the views are excellent and dams are cool. Do it before conditions turn the moorland into a slog-fest.

Not relevant to the ride itself, but interesting to some; We met a fella on the train transporting an old postie bike he'd just bought. Rod brakes and all.



  1. "A profit of the coming rockstrom" should probably read "A prophet of the coming rockstorm".

    1. Yeah, I was thinking like Maelstrom but it just looks like a typo.