IntroductionThe official length of the Lon Las Cymru, the Welsh National Cycle Route, is about 400 kilometers. This is the distance from Cardiff to Holyhead, but there are alternative routes on offer such that you could travel in one direction across Wales along one route and then come back again using alternative routes and most of your return journey would be different than your forward journey.
I decided to travel northwards from Cardiff to Holyhead along the main route and use the alternative routes on my return.
South WalesOvernighting in Cardiff hostel, I start off from Cardiff Castle and the first section is over the well-established Taff Trail to Brecon. This uses old railways and the old Glamorgan Canal for most of its length and can be completed easily in one day, depositing you at the Ty'n-y-Caeau hostel in Brecon.
Mid WalesLeaving Brecon in an easterly direction, the route goes to Glasbury on ther River Wye and then travels along the eastern side of the river to Builth Wells, where it switches over to a minor road on the western bank. This road takes you thru Rhayader, Llangurig and Llandiloes. There used to be a Youth Hostel between Rhayader and Llangurig at one time, I believe. Perhaps the time is right to consider re-instating one in this area.
You leave Llanidloes on a minor road parallel to the River Severn (or Afon Hafren). 20 kilometers out of Llanidloes, you encounter the spectacular site of the Dylife Gorge, but this is outdone by the magnificent view that greets you about 5 kilometers later on, as you are given a really panoramic view dominated in the distance by Cadair Idris. There is a viewpoint here dedicated to Wynford Vaughan Thomas. I have an easy downhill journey into Machynlleth (pity the cyclists coming the other way). I head for the minor road on the east bank of the River Dulas which takes me into Corris. On the way, this road passes the Center for Alternative Technology, where cyclists get 50\% reduction on the entrance fee.
Corris Youth Hostel is an independent hostel which is associated with the YHA. The YHA actually shut it down several years ago,but it was re-opened under independent management, and is particularly noted for its "green" features. The route now becomes a bit hairy (it is after all only an interim route at the moment). I ascend from Aberllefenni on a track covered with large pieces of slate, cross the A487 and thread thru a field and grassy paths before reaching a metalled road which takes me into Dolgellau.
North WalesI will visit Dolgellau hostel on the return, and otherwise we are entering another hostel-free area. I follow minor roads northwards from Dolgellau, parallel to the main A470, to Trawsfynnyd, where I have to join the A470 before exiting on a minor road into Maentwrog. A climb takes me past Tan-y-Bwlch station on the Ffestiniog Railway, and then down across the Traeth Mawr, the reclaimed marsh land upstream from Porthmadog. The official route does loop in and out of Porthmadog from the West and performs a similar maneuver , although not so contrived, in looping into Criccieth, and Llanystumdwy, made famous by Lloyd George.
Turning out the loop northwards, I encounter Lon Eifion, a cycle route built on the old Caernarfon-Afon Wen railway, which takes me all the way to Caernarfon Castle. For most of the last 5 kilometers Lon Eifion is shared with the newly-constructed Welsh Highland Railway, which by now should actually have actually established itself in Caernarfon.
On the other side of Caernarfon, I pick up Lon Las Menai, another old railway, which goes as far as Y Felinheli (Port Dinorwic), but on the far side of the town you can pick up a further disjointed section of the cycle track which ends too prematurely. Again this is an area where Sustrans are trying to iron out problems, this time on the approach to the Menai Bridge. But anyway I leave the official route temporarily. I head for Bangor hostel and strike eastwards for about 3 kilometers to reach what I think is still called Lon Bach, a delightful 5 kilometer long tree-lined cycle path built on the bed of the narrow-gauge Penrhyn Railway. This deposits me at Porth Penrhyn, a stone's throw away from the hostel. ( I am a bit uncertain about the name of the path because Gwynedd Council are currently extending this path back to Bethesda and use the name Lon Las Ogwen. Whether this is the new name for the path or whether Lon Bach is to remain as a section of a larger Lon Las Ogwen, I am not sure).
AngleseyI head for Holyhead and the end of the trail. Given the difficulties in finding accommodation in Holyhead leads you to think whether a Youth Hostel might be appropriate here, also. The entrance to Anglesey is over Telford's Suspension Bridge, followed by about 50 kilometers of road, most of which is surprisingly car-free. As sightings of aircraft increase, you know you are approaching RAF Valley, which you pass on the way to Valley itself, Trearddur Bay and finally the port area of Holyhead.
North WalesThe official route back again offers no official alternatives until Garreg, north of Porthmadog, so there is a bit of scope for devising your own alternatives here. A major feature of cycling back to the Menai Bridge is that you can see the mountains of Snowdonia coming closer and closer. I opt to spend the night in the Harp Hotel in Llandwrog and strike out the next day on my own route thru Nantlle and Beddgelert, arriving back on the official route at Garreg and now I travel directly south thru Penrhyndeudraeth, over the Afon Dwyryd and soon face a climb up Moel Goedog. It is some consolation, as I'm ascending, that I get a magnificent view across to Port Meirion, Porthmadog and the Lleyn Pensinsula. I follow minor roads, heading for Llanbedr Youth Hostel, which lies about a kilometer off the route.
Tiredness sets inStarting to feel the strain, I decide to take things fairly easy the next day and head for King's Youth Hostel, Dolgellau. The oficial route involves an 8 kilometer stretch of the A496 into Barmouth, although I follow the suggestion to ride along the beach, where I am surprised to come across a naturist stretch ! Barmouth does have a certain charm if you take the trouble to look at the older parts of the town away from the seaside resort areas. Here you will find remnants of the days when it was the principal port of Merionydd, exporting mainly cloth (in fact, shipping was a major industry further up the Mawddach,as well - all killed off by the railway, apparently).
I cross Barmouth Railway Bridge for a toll of 60p. and then follow the Mawddach Trail, a former railway which goes almost as far as Dolgellau, if required. I exit at Penmaenpool where there is an information center in an old signal box and double back for Kings.
The next day I am climbing again, from Arthog, but unfortunately mist obscures what I assume would otherwise have been a good view across the Mawddach estuary. The track again is a bit hard going in places, so I have to walk (mountain bikes would have no problems). Once I get back on a metalled road, I am heading for Craig-y-Aderyn where cormorants nest several kilometers from the seashore. I skirt Tywyn and head along "Happy Valley" to Machynlleth.
Off-RoadOne kilometer south of Mach, I diverge from the route I had used to enter the town a few days beforehand, and head off towards Ystumtuen Youth Hostel. I am now entering an "off-road" section which is not waymarked and an OS map would definitely be advisable here. Nevertheless I negotiate the pass thru the mountains alright and end up on a very rough track following Afon Hyddgen. It was somewhere around here that Owain Glyndwr had won his first battle in 1401. I regain a metalled road west of Pumlumon and descend to the hostel.
The goal for the next day is Dolgoch hostel. Initially the route is mostly on minor roads thru Devil's Bridge, Ysbyty Ystwyth and Pontrhydfendigaid, although with an intermediate section thru the Hafod estate. This estate is renowned for the time it was owned by Thomas Johnes, who landscaped and developed the estate, and during the period 1786-1813 planted about four million trees, mostly larch. I had encountered his influence a little earlier when I passed under the arch he had constructed over the road out of Devil' Bridge, to commemorate the Jubilee of George 3.. There was plenty of time to stop and view Strata Florida Abbey. Within two kilometers of the Abbey, I met the forest track that would take me almost straight to Dolgoch. Dolgoch boasts that it has no electricity, but what it lacks in luxury, it more than makes up for in intimacy.
Almost thereStarting to feel the strain badly now, I opt for the short route back to Ty'n-y- Caeau Youth hostel. This takes me thru the Sennybridge Army Training Area directly to Brecon, where I have a chance to look around and relax before experiencing the contrast of relative luxury of the hostel compared with Dolgoch.
The FinishOn the final day, I decide to take an unofficial direct route from Brecon to Abergavenny where I pick up the cycle route again to Chepstow. This offers a superb way to finish the Welsh National Cycle Route because the Bristol Channel comes into view from about 10 kilometers away - you can see the finish and you know it is all downhill ! Unfortunately the hostel in Chepstow shut several years ago, so I have to delay celebrations until after a short 12 kilometer ride to St. Briavel's Youth Hostel, unfortunately in England. Sacrilege !
As a postscript, it is worth noting that the path intersects with the Cambrian Way at several points (and also with both Glyndwr's Way and the Wye Valley Way). Since large sections of the cycle route are also suited to walking, you could think in terms of combining different paths. I would think this would be especially useful for providing a gentle introduction to the Cambrian Way.