Bikepacking, Bothies and Big Bros – A Welsh Bikepacking Adventure

An honest account of a bikepacking trip to the remote Cambrian Mountains of Wales with Tom Hutton MTB Guiding, Juliet Elliott and Tom Farrel of The Woods Cyclery – on a fleet of 4 Big Bros

I’m not quite sure how this trip came about? Tom H (MTB Guide) had been speaking to both me and Juliet about showing us his Welsh bikepacking route – perfect Big Bro territory apparently – and Tom F (from The Woods) was keen to join and document the experience with his camera.

Working in the bike industry there’s a danger that every ride has to happen for a “reason”, but I think this one just came about because we all felt like a little adventure… and what better reason is there than that…

We suffered an early set back when Tom H, the mastermind behind the route, was forced to pull out with a back injury. However, he kindly met us in the Elan Valley, the last real point of civilisation before the ride to run through the route and hand out some much needed boil in a bag meals to last us 36 hours. Perhaps alarm bells should have been ringing when the rider with all the route knowledge pulled out… regardless, we set off into the hills confidently… with no tents, just a remote bothy to aim for about 60km away.

We covered the first half of the ride pretty quickly, so quickly in fact that we found ourselves in a tea room within a couple of hours, overly confident that we’d finish the second half of the day in a similar time. We spent some time deliberating what whisky to buy for the night ahead before cycling a short (!) distance to a local bothy which had a dart board. Obviously we had to stop for a game, brew up another coffee and take some essential team photos…

When we finally hit the road again the weather had turned, a cold mist was setting in and the terrain got harder. Much harder. Flat valley roads turned to steep mountain tracks and even these eventually turned to boggy single track which was a struggle to push through, let alone ride. Spirits were high but progress was slow, and we weren’t helped by a couple of wrong turns.

Tom’s photos stop soon after this because, to be 100% honest, things got a little bit hairy! It was getting dark fast, it was raining and we couldn’t find the bothy. We finally worked out (with the help of a farmer) that we’d over-shot the turning to the bothy by a couple of miles, this meant cycling back into the hills in the pitch black. My Garmin had died by this point and I’d also forgotten my lights, schoolboy error.

At this point Tom split his tyre on a rock during a river crossing – this meant plugging the hole, in the rain, and repeatedly stopping to put more air in the wheel! I think we all had a sense of humour failure at this point.

Finally, just as we were giving up hope, we found the bothy hidden down a virtually invisible track. Needless to say we were all pretty relieved – we were tired and cold and desperate for some warm food, a dram of whisky and the crackle of a roaring fire. We all slept well that night.

We woke the next day to good weather, it was only in daylight that we could really appreciate the beauty of this location, and just how remote it was. How we found this in the mist, at night, is a miracle.

The final section of the route was a joy to ride, we followed the trail along the banks of the Elan Valley Reservoirs back towards civilisation. Negotiating river crossings and heavily flooded paths along the way!

This was one of those trips that felt far longer than it actually was – we were out on the trail for less than 36 hours yet it felt like a week. And despite everything that went wrong I absolutely loved it all – Juliet sums it up nicely in her blog post on the trip:

“All in all, it turned out to be a fantastic trip, even one of the year’s highlights so it just goes to show that a little randomness isn’t bad and is even to be expected on rides of this nature.”

If you have a spare 15 minutes make yourself a cuppa and watch Juliet’s video diary of the trip HERE – it’s pretty funny!

And if you’d like to experience the route for youself then get in contact with Tom Hutton MTB Guiding