Words by Cat Crimmins
What do you get when you put a group of women together and tell them to ride 100 miles off road over three days through the heart of Wales? - Great scenery, great weather, great riding, lots of innuendos and a lot of cackling!
For a few years now, riding the TransCambrian by mountain bike has been on my wishlist. I had intended to get a couple of friends together, plan the route and logistics, and get some dates sorted. However, one of my riding buddies mentioned that MountainBike Wales were going to run their first women’s only trip, so a few of us quickly booked on.
The TransCambrian was ‘created’ by the IMBA in 2005 and is a 100-mile mountain bike route across the remote hills and moorlands of mid-Wales, with villages conveniently dotted along the way for supplies and accommodation. The record for riding it is under 10 hours, however, we completed it in a much more civilised three days.
The route starts in Knighton and officially ends at Dovey Junction – a random train station in the middle of nowhere. However, once we took the obligatory finisher’s group photo, we continued onto Machynlleth (via more hills) to meet the minibus that would take us back to Knighton.
It’s a great introduction to multi-day mountain biking with lovely scenery and some heart-pumping ascents. Each of the three days is full days with their own challenges and highlights, so to really enjoy the trip, some pre-training is advised!
TransCambrian: Day One
The first day is a kind of ‘warm-up’ day and we were blessed with tailwinds, blue skies and dry trails throughout the ride. After introductions from our guide for the three days – Polly – and her support driver and owner of MountainBike Wales – Phill, we did one final check of the bikes and then headed off through the country lanes to the hills that surround Knighton.
The day was all very civilised with two lovely coffee stops, lots of catch-your-breathe-breaks and a relatively early finish at a plush B&B in Rhayader. Throughout the day there were frequent glimpses of the Red Kites that are common in this area, and the landscape was full of gorgeously green hills and fluffy sheep. Aww, I love Wales.
With legs a little stiff and the head a little fuzzy from the wine of the night before, day two was a day of two halves with a mixture of the stark beauty of ‘reservoir country’ in the morning and the greenness of the glorious Hafod forest and its environs in the afternoon.
The day was marked with a couple of brutal and long climbs affectionately termed as Puke Hill and Broken Road by the locals and separated by several shoe-drenching river crossings in between. It was a long, long, long day’s ride, made all the longer by four punctures (all mine!), so it was with relief that we arrived at Llangurig (the highest village in mid-Wales) with its cosy pub, a warm fire and a cold pint of cider!
After dinner, we all retired to bed with aching limbs (and bottoms) from the ten hours in the saddle in nervous anticipation of the final day – did the legs have another day’s hills in them?
This was no short-changed final day, we still had 1300m of climbing to do over 60km and my legs were definitely getting wobblier! However, we were spurred on by Polly reassuring us that this final day was the most scenic with the best descents.
The sun was beaming down by mid-morning, so we stopped to put factor 30 sunscreen on (in Wales! In May!) ahead of one of the long climbs. Polly was right – the scenery was incredible as we tracked Cadair Idris from a distance and the descents were – for the want of a better description – almost alpine-esque. If only there was a handy ski lift to take us back to the top to have a go on those crazy, steep, rocky, smooth descents again!
The sense of achievement of arriving at our final destination of Machynlleth was immense and we gave each other lots of sweaty but happy hugs. It was a great three days that tested our mountain biking fitness (and my knees), however, the camaraderie of an all-female group was really supportive, and our evenings were full of stories and belly laughs.
It was my first experience of a multi-day mountain bike trip, so undertaking it with a reputable company that planned everything was definitely something I would recommend. The obvious benefits of no faffing with navigation, backup support in case anything went awry and our luggage being transported from point to point ensured that we could just ride and enjoy the scenery. It still felt an adventure even if it was prescribed!
It felt like a world away although it was only a couple of hours drive from home and I arrived back tired but re-energised from my ‘girls holiday’ already planning on researching my next trip to invite some of my female riding buddies along to….
For more information about the riding the TransCambrian way with MountainBike Wales, head over to their website here for all the details on guided rides and women's only events.
Fancy doing it yourself? IMBA has a free downloadable ride guide, a printed guide for £9.50 and you can download the GPX files of the route. All the information can be found here.
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