The Trans Cambrian Way deserves a spot on every bikepacker’s bucket list; a varied and challenging route measuring just over 100 miles or 170km. The most eager will try and crack it in only two days, or even non-stop, but three days is the perfect number to aim for to be able to take in the spectacular beauty of the heart of Wales whilst tackling this off-road course. Even over three days, there is still a considerable amount of climbing, so it’s good to attempt the Trans Cambrian Way with a good level of fitness.
Starting in the Welsh border market town of Knighton, and crossing through mid Wales with a route that’s anything but direct to the coastline at the mouth of the river Dyfi (Dovey in English), this popular route has it all. Forest trails, quiet lanes, singletrack, bothies and river crossings - this is the ultimate Welsh MTB adventure.
For many, the highlight will likely be the stunning Elan Valley, a network of five man-made reservoirs and six beautiful dams dating back to the early 1900's. The gravel track that hugs the hillside, contouring around Claerwen Reservoir is simply breathtaking and makes the climbing all the more worth the effort.
Make sure you keep well supplied along the route when you pass through villages with shops and cafes, as large parts of the route are relatively remote, especially towards the end on the third day. Access is good as the route both starts and ends at train stations, but if you would like to extend your stay at the end, head North to Machynlleth for a gorgeous little country town with many thriving pubs and places to stay.
A mountain bike will be the best tool for the job on the Trans Cambrian Way, although if you’re set on drop bars then a gravel bike would suffice if you don’t mind a little hike-a-bike! Make sure you take the time to visit the two bothies en route; Claerddu and Nant Rhys, and do stay in the latter on the second night for a cosy shelter in true bikepacker style. You’ll need to take a sleeping bag and mat for these, plus a stove and food for dinner and breakfast is a good idea unless you’re eating in a pub nearby. If you’ve got space for a pack of playing cards, they always go down well too!
The best time of year for the Trans Cambrian Way is in the summer months, when water levels will hopefully be lower and the terrain more easy-going. Some riders do attempt the route in the transition months and winter, but if you’d like to try this then please do be especially careful during water crossings and in remote areas.
Leave the train at Knighton on the border of England and Wales for the start of your three day epic across the heart of the Celtic land to the sea.
Take advantage of this pretty little market town to stock up on provisions and maybe even a coffee before you get going!
Leaving England behind, head North West following the River Teme to Lloyney, before your first big climb on small roads and trails up to Pool Hill.
Cross over the road and the Afon Ieithon heading West on the track before picking up Glyndwr's Way, an historic 135 mile (217 km) trail in the heart of Wales named after Owain Glyndwr, 15th Century warrior and self proclaimed prince!
Taking you down off the higher, more remote ground you'll find yourself in the town of Rhayader, with a great selection of places to eat and refuel. It's not far from here to the end of the day in Elan Village, and easy going too, following the traffic-free Elan Valley Trail gently downhill to the village. Here you can choose from camping or lodgings, but it's a popular area so make sure you book ahead.
The second day of the Trans Cambrian Way takes you deep into the heart of Wales, through the spectacular Elan Valley and along some of the most incredible rocky gravel roads you'll have ever ridden, finishing up for the night in Nant Rhys bothy.
There's also Claerddu bothy to check out on the way, which is quite possibly the most luxurious bothy you'll ever find, complete with a flushing loo!
Heading up out of Elan Village (make sure you have a hearty breakfast at the visitor's cafe) you'll see the striking Claerwen Reservoir Dam, before contouring round the hillside around the reservoir and passing by the Tyfi pools to your left as you take the gravel and then tarmac road off the hill. Why not take a dip if you're brave enough! Take the small track to your right here to visit Claerddu Bothy.
Before reaching your stop for the night at Nant Rhys bothy, you'll enjoy the challenge that is known as the Mohican Road, a thin strip of tarmac as the cycle route has crumbled away over the years. It'll test even the best for their bike handling skills!
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The third and final stage of the Trans Cambrian Way stretches from the Nant Rhys bothy through the Hafren Forest and then turns West for the coastline, hitting the waterline at Dyfi Junction.
Leave the basic comfort of Nant Rhys bothy behind as you head North, crossing the River Wye and heading into the beautiful Hafren Forest. Make sure you stock up on supplies in Llangurig as today will be pretty remote, without passing through any towns or villages for resupply.
A small detour off the official Trans Cambrian Way route is a must in the Hafren Forest to see the waterfall - the perfect spot for elevenses or lunch perhaps? Here the River Severn flows through on its way to the mouth near Bristol, dividing England and Scotland and giving its name to this forest, albeit in Welsh.
After Hafren, the route heads West through the Northern reaches of the Cambrian Mountains and the South of Snowdonia National Park to the coast directly to Dyfi Junction railway station for perfect access back home. Take care at the water crossing, especially when the water level is high or current is strong.
If you'd like to extend your trip, head slightly North to Machynlleth where you'll find lots of pubs, restaurants and places to stay and spend some time celebrating your achievements!