That Welshy Riding Thingumy

A guy you meet over the internet emails you the coordinates of a number of remote locations in mid Wales. You spend a month plotting how to visit them, and geeking over the outfit you’ll be wearing and what accessories you might take. Then you drive 6 hours to Wales to hook up with a bunch of other guys also met over the internet, in a random field. You spend 3 days visiting said coordinates, getting sweaty with some of the internet men, sleeping close to others, eating breakfast with yet others and then come home for tea and cake, again with other random guys met over the internet.

This could be the overview of some slightly seedy story, but it’s not; its the Welsh Ride Thing.

Organised by Stu of Forest Freeride, and publicised through the Bear Bones Bikepacking site and forum, the Welsh Ride Thing started as a group of friends organising a ride in the spirit of the Tour Divide Race and has grown to around 100 riders a few years later. It’s not a race and no one else really cares how many checkpoints you made or how far you rode; the aim is simply to point you in the direction of some nice riding and encourage you to spend a couple of days and nights being self sufficient, riding and camping in places you might not otherwise come across.

The group of riders includes first time bikepackers and bikepacking veterans, with the odd endurance athlete thrown into the mix. The atmosphere is very informal and friendly with not even a sniff of any elitism.

Some pre ride chat as riders weigh in their bikes and gear…20130602-142053.jpg

…and last minute route tweaking…20130602-142106.jpg


My gear, somehow second heaviest in the weigh in. I blame the old school Brooks saddle, which received a few bemused comments amongst the weight weenies…20130602-142135.jpg

I rode with an old school friend Aidy, on the left, who rides an old school Kona Blast (see what I did there?). Trying out my new Howies merino Tech Tee, which seems to be excellent. I didn’t notice I was wearing it all weekend. Lovely bit of kit.20130602-142145.jpg

Our route took us up and out of Pennant…20130602-142154.jpg

… with the immediate feeling of being off in the wilds..20130602-142241.jpg

We spent the first couple of days riding with John and Danny…20130602-142206.jpg

Happy conquerers of a (small) hill…20130602-142250.jpg

At times the path was hard to find…20130602-142259.jpg

…and there was a lot more pushing uphill than we’d expected…20130602-142309.jpg

The first day route got steeper…20130602-142325.jpg

…and steeper…20130602-142350.jpg

…and then very steep…20130602-142423.jpg

Eventually at the top, I wasn’t sure whether or not to be relieved that our route had led us to push all the way up this rather than riding down it…20130602-142432.jpg

The evening light eventually came…20130602-151727.jpg


…and we found somewhere to settle in the woods. My SilTarp 2 providing ample coverage for two, strung up as a shallow a-frame…20130602-152144.jpg

Danny and John both had a smaller, single tarp set-up…20130602-152739.jpg

Lovely morning view…20130602-142535.jpg

Slightly less lovely morning view…20130602-142549.jpg

The forest…20130602-154010.jpg

The next day took us up past disused mining infrastructure. This cottage is slowly returning to the earth…20130602-142605.jpg

Forestry roads…20130602-153713.jpg

Aidy points the way…20130602-153722.jpg

Looking at you…looking at me…looking at… You get the idea.20130602-142627.jpg

Worryingly, this thing almost started up!20130602-142633.jpg

There were numerous shallow, and not so shallow stream crossings. Here Aidy celebrates being the only one of us to avoid wet feet. There is a video which I’ll sort out at some point…20130602-142639.jpg

We took the trails down to the Nant yr Arian trail centre for a lunchtime full Welsh breakfast. A constant stream of WRT riders flowed through the cafe. Here we left Danny and John to catch a taxi back to Pennant. Danny had broken his rear derailleur the previous night and his bodged single speed setup was sounding like it might not last the day. Aidy and I headed east from Nant yr Arian on the road for a few miles towards Port Rhydgaled and then north on a bridleway, towards Hafren forest. Being on the main road again just pushed home how much I prefer riding away from the tarmac.20130602-142645.jpg

Here we’re heading up a track, through the aftermath of a motorcycle Enduro event, to pick up the bridleway to Hafren Forest. 20130602-142659.jpg

We’d been warned that the bridleway was particularly hard to find, and that wasn’t an exaggeration… Even the farmer insisted we couldn’t go that way until I showed him the map and insisted that the large dashed green line was in fact a bridleway…20130602-142706.jpg

Still no evidence of an actual bridleway…20130602-142714.jpg

Fairly tired of pushing over clumps of vegetation…20130602-142721.jpg

But there -THERE! – is the gateway to the forest. Clearly the bridleway does technically exist, even if its completely disappeared in the undergrowth.20130602-142730.jpg

We headed up the forestry tracks looking for somewhere for the night. Years of forestry has left the ground a lumpy, soggy mishmash of stumps and puddles. Luckily, just as we were about to try to settle down on a small patch of dryish, flattish ground, another WRT rider pedalled past. Neil had bivvied in Hafren before and kindly took us to a much nicer location. Aidy is happy we have shelter, although Neil slept just in his bivvy bag without the need for a tarp. 20130602-142739.jpg

Rather helpfully, there are facilities close by. We waited until the last remaining people at the visitor facilities had left before making a little camp. We were up and packed away the next morning before anyone was in the area. Although we were right by the forestry road, we were pretty hidden from view. 20130602-142747.jpg

Me, Neil and Aidy. 20130602-142757.jpg

We’d deliberately aimed to have an easy ten mile cruise back to Pennant on the third morning, as the weather forecast suggested the heavens would open by lunchtime…20130602-142803.jpg

Easy rolling downhill on tarmac…20130602-142825.jpg

Here comes the rain…20130602-142833.jpg

Neil has a pretty lightweight setup. I’m not sure where he puts all his stuff…20130602-142840.jpg

Welsh Ride Thing 2013: Done!20130602-142847.jpg

In all we covered about 50 miles. Many riders did twice that distance but we were happy – our group was of mixed fitness, we spent a fair bit of time looking at maps, taking photos, eating and looking at the scenery and had some mechanical issues. It’s hard to put into words the additional freedom that being able to pitch camp wherever you want gives you. Your day isn’t defined by having to get back to a specific location by nightfall, and although we had aims to reach certain places each night, ultimately we had the capability to be more flexible and pitch camp elsewhere if we needed to.

Aidy’s record of the routes in Strava are here… Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3. And some more of my photos are here.

A great weekend, some lovely riding, unexpectedly good company and interesting folk, and lovely tea and cake provided by Stu and Dee at the end!

In my pre-WRT enthusiasm , I appear to have booked trains and planes to take me to Spain next weekend with the aim of riding the 500 mile Camino de Santiago across northern Spain from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic. Whilst the Camino is an ancient pilgrims route to Santiago de Compostela, I have no religious reasons for wanting to travel the route. But I’ve never visited northern Spain other than Barcelona, and think it will be a beautiful, interesting route to travel.

In the post-WRT aftermath, the trip is nearly upon me, so once again, the flat is a pile of partly packed gear, and I really should be sorting out the bike rather than spending time on here. If only I didn’t need to work in the week and could just spend a few days preparing! Looking forward to two weeks of riding, camping, wine and tapas…


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