The Trans-Cambrian Way

  • Distance

    103 Mi.

    (166 KM)
  • Days

    3

  • % Unpaved

    70%

  • % Singletrack

    30%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    6

  • % Rideable (time)

    95%

  • Total Ascent

    10,656'

    (3,248 M)
  • High Point

    1,950'

    (594 M)
The Trans-Cambrian Way snakes its way across the heart of Wales, covering around 100 miles (160 km) from Knighton, on the English border to Dovey Junction, on the Irish Sea.
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The trail takes you across the Cambrian Mountains – the oldest mountain range in Europe – climbing around 12,000 feet (3,700 m), over hills and moorland through one of the most sparsely populated parts of Wales. Grassy hills, rocky singletrack, ancient ridge roads, forest tracks and numerous rivers to ford – this ride has it all. As well as lots of sheep and accompanying sheep shit, which in some stretches is impossible to avoid – if you’re carrying a bottle underneath your downtube or on your forks, you’d best cover the cap.

  • Highlights

    camera

  • Must Know

    alert

  • Camping

    home

  • Food/H2O

    drop

  • Trail Notes

    signpost

  • Smooth singletrack descents through purple heather followed by calf-busting pushes up steep off-camber rock outcrops, followed by grin-inducing technical downhills, provides a never ending rollercoaster.
  • The beautiful River Ytswyth valley, in early morning light, which holds remnants of the Cwm Ystwyth Mines, considered to be the most important non-ferrous mining site in Wales, dating back to 1500 BC, and which were probably worked by the Romans.
  • A large bird of prey – a buzzard perhaps – silently dropping out of a tree and soaring, just a few metres above head height before silently peeling off back into the tree-line to be gone forever.
  • The International Mountain Bike Association UK (IMBA UK) provides a downloadable guide to the route, and for less than £10, a printed guide and set of 5 waterproof maps, as well as .gpx files.
  • There are train stations at either end of this trail. The train from Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury calls at the remote Dovey Junction station. From Shrewsbury there are trains towards south Wales which call at Knighton, so the simplest option might be to leave a vehicle at the start and return to pick it up by train. The trains are local services and generally take bikes without booking, although it’s worth double checking with the train companies, as policies do change. The journey back, including the change at Shrewsbury takes around 3 – 3.5 hours.
  • There are also options for taxi minibuses from Machynlleth (5 miles by road from Dovey Junction) back to Knighton, and due to the meandering nature of the trail, it’s actually only 50 miles by road between the two towns so it’s entirely possible to use two vehicles, and leave one at each end.
  • There are a number of hotels and guest houses at Knighton. Despite the remoteness of some sections of the trail, there are lots of accommodation options en route, including guest houses and campsites.
  • Wild camping is technically not allowed in England and Wales without permission from the landowner, so ask permission, and if asked to move on by the landowner, you should respect their wishes.
  • The IMBA guide gives a comprehensive list of accommodation options and contact details.
  • Similarly, there are plenty of pubs and shops in the towns and villages along the route, and if you time things carefully you could manage a pub lunch and a beer each day!
  • Equally you can carry your own supplies, blast through the towns and eat up in the hills.
  • Its Wales, so there is water everywhere, but so are the sheep, so any water you get from natural sources will need to be treated before drinking.

The International Mountain Bike Association UK (IMBA UK) has a guide for the route, which proposes breaking the journey down into three days, staying in pubs or guest houses each night. With overnight bivvy gear it’s possible to be much more flexible and ride the route in two days, or perhaps four shorter days.

The 3 Day Option

There’s also an Individual Time Trial for the route with the fastest record currently showing as 10 hours, 18 minutes, on a singlespeed (!). The original, and more relaxed, three day option is roughly as follows:

The trail leaves Knighton on quiet lanes, heading initially towards Knucklas and then the first climb to Beacon Hill. Ride along ridge roads with lovely views towards Stanky Hill, before descending to Llanbadarn Fynydd for a pub lunch, followed by the first river crossing of the journey. Onto Bwlch Sarnau and over the top of Abbeycwmhir Forest, along singletrack lined with purple heather and into Rhayader, with its campsite, tea shops and bike shop.

Day two feels bigger, with hard climbs and remote scenery, initially heading out into the Elan Valley. Climbing alongside a river towards the Claerwen Dam on a rocky trail, as the valley flattens out a little the trail becomes entangled in a network of flooded ditches. Depending on the water level you may have to haul the bike across the channels of water, slowly trying to pick a route forwards. Much of the morning is then spent riding tracks skirting the reservoir, which provides clean water to Birmingham, England’s second city. The route climbs and descends fingers of land jutting out into the water, and then crosses streams and passes lakes around Teifi Pools before turning back towards the Elan Valley and Tarenig Forest, and on towards Llangurig towards the end of the day.

From Llangurig the trail takes you towards Hafren Forest, a haven for Crossbills, Red Kite, Merlin and Goshawks, climbing towards Staylittle and on towards the Glynders Way long distance footpath. Descending from Foel Fadian on swooping downhills into the valley, you hit the Mach 2 trail, part of the Machynlleth trail centre network before dropping further down through the forest onto the coast road. A short ride down a lumpy track takes you to the Dyfi Estuary mudflats, and the remote Dovey Junction train station.

Film of the trip

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • Ian LeBlanc

    Hmm, how miserable would this be on a cyclocross bike?

  • To be honest, it probably wouldn’t be all that miserable. There are obviously some rougher sections where it won’t be so much fun, and the weather may make a difference, but overall it would probably be fine. Cass Gilbert wrote an article a few years ago about riding that route on cross bikes.

  • Ian LeBlanc

    Cool, thanks for the reply!

  • Bob Johnson

    Hello Chris, glad to see this appear, I was going to put it on as its in my backyard. An extra excursion to the front end on the trip is to include a section of the Jack Mytton Way starting in Church Stretton, i think it fits.

  • Ah, good info! Thanks!

  • Rich Ellicott

    Great video guys. I live nearby, in Wrexham, Think I might give this a go in the summer. Now I just have to decide between the gravel bike or the Mountain bike…. any suggestions?

  • Christian Borrman

    nice Kona. Where is good to camp en route (permissions aside) and what tent / cooker / food did you take? I have done twice in hotels but was thinking of doing in two days camping in “Welsh desert”

  • Hey Christian… We camped at the Wyeside Campsite in Rhayader on the first night, in the woods somewhere between Ysbytty Ystwyth and Cwmystwyth on the second, and then in a farmers field / campsite past Staylittle on the third. There are many places you could camp though, as long as you camp late and leave early, keep your distance from houses / roads and leave no trace. The stove on that trip was a Primus Express Spider and we had an MSR Hubba Hubba HP tent but whatever you have, as long as its not too bulky / heavy, would work. We had some dehydrated food packs for evening meals (in the photos) but also had at least one pub dinner and restocked on snacks wherever we came across shops….

  • Hey Rich,

    Thanks – first time I ever put a film together and whilst I’d cut down the length of a lot of it now, I really enjoyed the process. Sorry for the delay – I somehow missed this comment. I personally would take a mountain bike for comfort but I know that people have ridden that route on all sorts of bikes. Its all a compromise – the terrain and roads are varied so you might end up pushing a little bit more in some sections with a more gravel orientated bike, but then you’d make up ground / effort in other places…

  • Mark Gibson

    Inspiring!!

  • Helena

    Second time I’ve watched this great travel-pod – just ordered the Guide/maps and working some dates to bag this trip this year. Thank you for sharing the experience

  • Great! I was back in the area a few weeks ago, and it is beautiful. I hope you enjoy the ride!

  • Ross

    Thanks so much for uploading this. It was my first ‘bikepacking’ route and I had three days of 26C+ sun so it was one to remember. Apart from the opening and closing of gates which tested my sanity at times I enjoyed this route immensely and each of the three days was a ‘wow’ moment at the beauty and scale of the scenery previously unimaginable to me that it could exist within an 1.5 hours drive from my house.

  • Hey Ross, thats awesome! And good to know as I’m going to go back and ride the route again in a couple of weeks. Fingers crossed the weather is as good as you had it!

  • Mark Ingham

    Going tomorrow. End of October Sorting kit. Exciting. I used to do this style of off roading on a road bike with tandem strength wheels. Then they invented the mountain bike. Still the same. Going for panniers/top bag and a small front bag for visibility of the rocks as it looks a little interesting in places. Great video.

  • Ros

    Thanks for all the great info! Is this still doable during winter (i.e. December-January)? Sorry I’m from the tropics and don’t know much about the climate.

  • Hey Mark, how did it go??

  • Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. It should be doable – the main risk really is just that its wetter, muddier and colder. There is a risk that some sections are snowy during a cold spell but I haven’t ridden it in winter and don’t have much local knowledge of which sections are most at risk. Best to check the weather forecast in the run up to a trip. You could also probably get some good info by posting on the BearBones Bikepacking Forum – there are folk there who know mid Wales well and will be able to advise (www.bearbonesbikepacking.co.uk/).

  • Mark Ingham

    My dream was far from the reality. I got through day 1 OK. The weather for day 2 was actually great and would have been a goer but after a busy many weeks at work and thinking how high the rivers would be and being fed up with reouting around dep water, on day 2 I bailed and spent the next two days reading, eating and looking at the river out of my tent door in Rhayader. It is definitely going to be a go next spring/summer. The route will be awesome with less breeze and some views. As Ross says in comments below, the scale was breathtaking and close to home. Now I know what to expect I might just try for it in a day in summer with a XC or CX bike and very light emergency gear. Probably some assavers as well, especially off the front wheel. Some lovely people. Had to slow my city impatience many times until I learnt.
    I was pleased with myself that I made a decision to not continue as normally I would never give in. Never. This felt right.
    Got some local cycling in as a tourist instead on days 2 and 3 and that was fun. Not the putting on wet clothes, but the scenery.
    To help others, while I was fit enough, I made some rookie errors. I piled stuff on the steel 16kgs mtbike to make a total of 30kgs. (Yeah, I’ll be fine, I have gears, I do endurance!) So the light petrol stove became a Trangia with enough fuel for a week. There was a bit of extra this and spare that, there was two days food ‘just in case’ which I carried when I could have bought it at the end of day 1. I could have used the campsite to recharge rather that stick a dynamo on (0.5Kgs) and carry a battery pack. Thicker sleeping bag when I would have been fine with the down jacket and a light bag for my legs, it wasn’t that cold. Weighing in when I came back, I could have lost 6kgs without trying. Rookie. If I had punctured I would have been stuffed as it turned out that my new pump adapter didn’t work for my presta valves because it was rubbish. Always test all of the gear.I could still be there now. Rookie.
    There was a monster headwind/crosswind S/Westerly which made stability and indeed forward progress hard on the ascents especially in the mud. It was very wet and there was a lot of walking or push-biking. One ford was 8 foot deep which meant a longer detour. Got my front wheel in before it clicked what I was about to do.
    The Garmin was not helpful. It defaults to tracks for my road bike. For this it defaulted to footpaths over stiles close enough to the the gpx route to make you stop and work it all out.
    I have not been that used to going slowly, 21 kph CX is normal, and the 10kph average messed with my head. Safety wise I am an experienced mountaineer but on some exposed bits it was like, ‘really? I need to get of here. Now. if I can’t get in a descent soon.’ If I was with a group we would have finished much earlier.
    Definitely, definitely a goer and I look forward to getting this under my belt and having fun with it. Thanks for inspiring me to have a go.
    That is ice in the photo. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/43405859b910e7445f7ea0ab03646477bb02bfe09a71d671353a84bcb6229984.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a91b9de8384e04b77bb580d7ed06649ae4961f7ac2ebaa34c10be1953fdb0347.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/94ddc137ac00a2a623b958d7b121b398e0b00714aecf02570a05e9217bbd3864.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e604860eb398b7417782ad28fc11238a85948d29a92f34cc293a2ef9e48a640d.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/49e1b2b827c32bec1359e8ebada96542a37f7ec7b4cb7c3441eb1b9fa165afb3.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6528fa73bd2dbca6d439dd5e942595df9bdacc24c4b0e79d2785c0b4668ee8e7.jpg

    Photos/narrative on @fiftyplusandgettingfitter and Strava.

  • Rob Prouse

    Hey Mark, also curious how it went. We were thinking of coming over from Canada to do this beginning of November next year. Curious about the weather and trail conditions that time of year.

  • Mark Ingham

    Amazing track. Well thought out. For me, don’t overload gear, check weather and persist, stamina, keep going. Recommend shared gear and company. It’s very isolated out there.

  • Mark Ingham

    It’s a goer in any weather, just speed will vary. It is really beautiful, isolated and a very interesting route. but it is Wales so any views can disappear quickly. I did have flexibility, but the BBC forecasts were a little incorrect even from the day before. I will be going back for the full panorama.
    My errors were overloading, overloading and carrying too much! Shared loads would make it even more fun. Some of the pushes are big and best traveled light. Hope it goes well.