Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Highest Roads in South Wales

What’s the highest road in Wales? Easy says Siri (try it): the Bwlch-y-Groes in north Wales. Except its not – it's the Gospel Pass in South Wales.

But what’s a road? Siri isn’t too clear on that. Its just a thoroughfare. There’s no mention of tarmac.

So what is the highest road in Wales? Lets make this easy and stick to south Wales. If we think of a road as an unclassified right of way – those ‘roads’ that look like equals signs on an OS map (=======), there are three that stick out. And make no mistake, as climbs they surpass those old favourites of the Bwlch, the Rhigos, the Black Mountain, or whatever your latest 100 climbs book tells you.

So what and where are they? 

1. The Brecon Gap (599m)

Its supposed to be 599m, but you can break the 600m barrier if you wanted by just scrambling up the banks either side of the col. From Merthyr or Brecon, the Brecon Gap takes you through some spectacular glacial scenery. Perhaps more suited to a mountain bike, the climb is not steep, just a bit rocky in places - the descent was harder for me on my cross bike. 

Be prepared for soldiers and walkers looking for something different to the motorway up to Pen-y-fan. The view down to Brecon, with the rest of the road snaking around the side of valley is spectacular. 

From the southern side, the col – the dramatic gap between the two mountains either side – stands out all the way  up. It never seems to get closer though, until the end. Don't forget to go past Pontsticill reservoir on the way back either.

2. Craig-y-Llyn (600m)

One of the benefits of the new wind farms opened across the top of the south Wales valleys are the access roads built to service them. To be sure, they’ve existed for ages, used by logging trucks. And Craig-y-Llyn is actually just off the the East –West Wales Sustrans cycle path, so its not as if its been hiding for years.
You can get to Craig-y-llyn a number of ways. From the north side of the Rhigos Mountain Road, turn off just off the entrance to Tower Colliery and follow the forest road around the base of the cliff face and the Llyn Fawr pond. Then gradually climb up through the forest before eventually emerging at the wind farm. 

Or take the "secret" Bwlch road from Treorchy and then the long false flat across the top and through the wind farm to reach the trig point. Or from Maerdy, follow the cycle path through the derelict mining landscape, through a wind farm coming out on the Rhigos mountain road. Cross over and ride up the last steep section to reach the summit. The surface is good – whichever way you go.
3. Fan Gyhirych (725m/680m)

The highest peak at 725m, although the road is slightly lower at 680m and perhaps the most isolated. You could park near the Crai reservoir and ride up but that would be cheating. Instead, get to Ystradfellte and then take the lane to Cave. From there prepare for several miles of gravel and farm tracks across the deserted plateau to the base of the climb. Expect sheep for company. The climb is relatively easy, steep in places with some loose stones. The descent is fast, flowing and fun. Enjoy it, but watch out for sheep.