Wales family bike tour

The highs and lows of our Ride the Alps annual family bike tour. This year we rode Sustrans route 8 in south Wales.

Post by Mary on April 23, 2024

Spring is the season for our annual family bike tour with the kids and Grandpa. This year we headed to Wales to ride the southern stretch of the Sustrans Lon Las Cymru route 8. It includes the 90% traffic free “Taff Trail”, from Cardiff to Brecon. The 48km section of the Taff Trail from Cardiff to Merthyr Tydfil would make an excellent 2-day first family bike tour if you have young children. There are very few hills and only short sections of minor road to contend with. We hired bikes from the wonderful cycling charity, Pedal Power Cardiff. They are situated just off the Taff trail in Pontcanna. The bikes were not in their first flush of youth but they carried us through the route successfully at very little cost – £170 for 5 bikes for 4 days. Thanks again to Altura for the third trip using their excellent fully waterproof panniers, women’s trail riding trousers, women’s waterproof jacket and frame bag.

Day one from Cardiff to Troedyrhiw was a beautiful sunny day. It was a little blustery but we had easy pedalling along the river Taff through the riverside parks of Cardiff and past old coal mining villages including Aberfan, site of the tragic colliery spoil tip disaster in 1966. We rode on several sections of disused railway line from the days when coal was transported down the valley to Cardiff docks. It was hard to visualise the dirt, noise and industry of the past century as we cycled along green and leafy traffic-free trails. We stayed overnight in the beautifully-renovated Ash Cottage, which I would highly recommend. It’s perfectly located for a trip to Bike Park Wales, which Jamie of course rode a quick lap of at the end of our first day. His fully ridged Surly hire bike with swoop back bars wasn’t ideally suited to the bigger drops on “Fifty Shades of Black”!

We’ve been so lucky with the weather on our previous two family bike tours but springtime in Wales pushed our luck a bit too far. Day two was our longest and toughest day as we crossed the Brecon Beacons national park from south to north and unfortunately it was also our worst weather day. We pedalled against headwinds and some annoyingly persistent showers for much of the morning. The excellent Old Barn Tearooms just before the final climb of the day provided a very welcome break. The cream tea is definitely up there with the best in the country. Grandpa has eaten a lot of scones on bike rides in his time and he was suitably impressed. The weather cleared and the views as we descended down past Talybont reservoir were absolutely stunning and, together with the cream tea, made all the climbing worth it. It was easy riding alongside the canal into the beautiful old market town of Brecon where we received a very warm welcome at The Grange bed and breakfast, which I would also recommend. We all loved Brecon. It’s clearly a prosperous town with a thriving arts and outdoor scene. Great curry at Zeera’s too 🙂

The weather gods looked favourably upon us again as we rode quiet country lanes with some seriously steep climbs from Brecon to Hay-on-Wye. The views of the Black Mountains were glorious as we rode past fields filled with spring lambs to another excellent café stop at the old Mill in Talgarth. This is a working flour mill that has been renovated after falling into disuse in the middle of the last century. It’s a beautiful spot to sample some of the baked goods made from the freshly-milled flour. Our overnight at Hay-on-Wye was the characterful Old Black Lion, where we received a very warm welcome from proprietor and fellow bike enthusiast, James. It’s a 17th century inn with a lot of history and James regaled Grandpa with tales of its ghostly inhabitants, including the grey lady who apparently inhabits the room he stayed in. The food here is excellent and highly recommended for an overnight stay or an evening meal.

We had to get through the miles quickly on the last day of our family bike tour as the hire bikes were due back in Cardiff by 5pm. Unfortunately, it was a wet morning with the kind of drizzle that doesn’t show up on the puddles but manages to soak you all the same. We got our heads down and pedalled non-stop to another excellent café just outside Erwood, where you can enjoy your tea and cake inside an old renovated railway carriage. Our family bike tour ended at Builth Wells on the river Wye. It’s a beautifully situated town that is unfortunately slightly spoiled by the amount of traffic going through it on the A470, which is the main road from south to north Wales. Huge thanks go to Kev Hammett and his brother Paul, long time friends of Ride the Alps who live locally and very kindly transported us and our bikes back to Cardiff. We had hoped to return to Cardiff by train but unfortunately the logistics didn’t work. We need more bike places that you can reserve on trains to enable journeys like ours to become more environmentally sustainable.

End of the ride at Builth Wells

We had a great trip filled with everything a family bike tour should be: pedalling, beautiful scenery, good food, excellent accommodation, a bit of hardship, laughter and special family moments 🙂 The kids rode brilliantly, with only minimal complaining from Cameron. But the true star of the ride was Grandpa, my Dad, who is still keeping it real and turning the pedals unassisted at 83. We all hope we’ll still be doing the same thing when we reach his age.

Three generations climbing through the Brecon Beacons