The Lon Las Cymru route (Welsh for Green lanes Wales I have been told!) is a 250 mile epic full length of country ride from the top of Wales to the bottom. Including 2 alternative options in the middle and 2 different start/end points in the south, this route has a number of variations to keep you happy.
Going north the south the route starts at Holyhead train station out east through minor residential streets then along a parallel path to the main A5. A confusing a somewhat overgrown section of this may mean you end up cycling along side the A5, but this does have an off road shared use path next to it, so not much of an issue. At Valley the route dives south to go onto back country lanes. (After Valley there are only 2 places you can get any food on this route until you get to the other side of the island, the post office at Llangaffo or the shop at Bethel). A relatively forgettable 20 miles across the island (the airfield and the Bodowyr Burial Chamber being pretty much the only things to look out for). The view that reveals itself of Sondownia is pretty special though.
Once at Llanfairpwllgwyngyll you get taken round the houses to the Menai Bridge, divert along the A5 to see the famous train station sign, but remember to go to the old bridge not the new one! There’s useful Waitrose just next to the bridge for food. Mildly confusing road section after the bridge then onto a shared use pavement on the south side of the A487/B4547 (watch out for the switch of sides at the roundabout) then onto a nice off-road path all the way to Caernarfon.
Following the signed path through Caernarfon can be a bit of a chore, but is not actually necessary, just remember you’re aiming for the castle! From the castle you go along the north bank of the river and take a left onto the Lon Eifion cycle path that follows the Welsh Highland Railway. Stick to this off road cycle path all the way to it’s end. You are routed through Criccieth with it’s lovely castle and then on to Porthmadog but can shortcut at Dolbenmaen if you need to shave a few miles off the route.
Porthmadog is easy to go through, just follow the trains (and mind out for the tracks where they go over the road). After the causeway, you head inland slightly on back lanes to drop into the top of Penrhyndeudraeth.
This is the first routing choice, either follow the path inland or out to Harlech. I’ve not cycled the inland route but it’s meant to be pretty and a bit rough in sections. For the Harlech route you go through the centre of town and out over a nice new bridge using the wide cycle path on the side. This will take you all the way down to the A496, where the cycling provision makes you cross 3 roads to get to the other side of the A496 if you follow it… A lung busting climb will take you out of the valley into some incredibly beautiful and quite countryside with some stunning views over the estuary. If you don’t want to do the climb see my suggested route alteration at the bottom. Either way you will come out onto the A496 again after Harlech.
From the Harlech the route goes along the A496 to Barmouth, with a few inland diversions along lanes in Sustrans usual attempt to minimise exposure to A road traffic. Watch out for the right turn down the hill on the edge of Barmouth. The route takes you this way to get to Barmouth promenade, which is worth it, but the turning is not obvious and the bottom of the path can be really sandy. Anyway from here you follow the promenade all the way through town, and then up a slight hill, down a steep an narrow path and onto Barmouth bridge. There’s kiosks for taking tolls, but this wasn’t done when I crossed and I think has been phased out. Watch out for motorcyclists who are allowed to use the bridge as well.
The end of Barmouth bridge path had sand drifting aross it but once you’ve successfully negotiated that you’re onto the Mawddach trail, an old railway line that will take you all the way to Dolgellau and your second route choice. I wont comment on the coastal route as I’ve not done it, but following the inland route you go through the centre of Dolgellau then take a right up a really steep hill. This goes up the side of Cadair Idris on small lanes then into a section of tarmac’d path. You crest the mountain and drop down into A487 valley. Cross over the main road and take the gated farmers track up and over the mountains on the other side. This is tarmac’d for almost it’s full length, bar a short section after the summit. unfortunately this is also the steepest section, so you may need to get off and walk down a bit. After the gate at the end of this section though it’s back onto lanes through Aberllefenni, Corris, passing the Centre for Alternative Technology and into Machynlleth.
South of Machynlleth you have the second great climb of this route, a 7 mile climb up over Pumlumon. This is long, but generally has decent gradients (though at points this can hit 15%) and on quiet roads, plus with the added benefit of going down the other side past Dylife to Staylittle where you take a right through Hafren forest and follow the road which drops steadily all the way to Llanidloes.
From Llanidloes to Llangurig there’s a nasty little climb from the Severn river valley to the Wye valley but once there you follow the Wye all the way to Rhayader. the route goes on the west side of the river with the A470 on the east. This section is beautiful but you have to deal with a fair few farmers gates and at one point you do actually have to cycle through a farm. I’ve never encountered a road so covered in sheep crap either.
At Rhayader you cross the B4518, taking the path on the other side and through the wooden gate on to an off road tarmac’d path. Look out for the lane on the left you need to take or you’ll end up at Elan village. This path was a little over grown when I went through.
The next section from Rhayader to Newbridge on Wye includes the infamous old coach road section. In reality this only makes up about a third of this bit. You start on lanes, following these to Llanwrthwl (don’t miss the left turn just before the village) this is the point to cross over to the A470 if you want to miss the off road section. If you don’t follow the lanes again on the west side of the river. These lanes go on for longer than you think but you will finally get to a dead end where you take a right up through a gate. This is one of only 2 really rough sections, the path goes up hill for a short section and the surface is mainly big stones. At the top and until you get to the end of the coach road it’s been gravelled and is no worse than the usual Sustrans rail trail surfaces. The end is through another gate and onto the second really rough bit, a farm track filled with massive pot holes. again this ends quite quickly and to get to Newbridge you have to climb a hill away from the river to get back to the river. It’s a bit annoying.
Back lanes will take you to Builth Wells, though if you are going south consider the old A470, now an un-numbered road, which is wide, flatish and empty. From Builth cross the Wye and look out for the right turn behind some industrial units right after the bride. if you’ve got to eh Co-op you’ve gone to far. join the A481 for a short section , then turn right down the B4567 and follow the Wye again. This is a reasonably main road but wasnt busy when I did it. Just after Erwood Station you turn off it anyway and are back onto quite lanes which you follow all the way to Glasbury. Don’t make the mistake I made and follow the shortest route through Boughrood as this takes you round the back and up an unnecessary climb!
At Glasbury you actually have 3 options, the 2 official route variations and one that just takes you straight up the side of the mountain in front of you. Don’t do this one unless you want to do a 25% gradient climb… anyway as I haven’t cycled the Cardiff route for 20 years I wont comment on it, but it was ok at the time, just had some rather annoying bike gates on the Taff trail.
The route from Glasbury to Hay on Wye follows back lanes, which go up and down a bit more than the B road they are trying to keep you off, but are still rather pleasant and don’t add too much distance over the more direct route. At hay it’s just a case of turning right up the hills and plugging away for a few miles. One or two sections are quite steep, but you will be rewarded with one of the best views in south Wales. Going down into the Vale of Ewyas the road is narrow and has a number of blind bends and sections of the road hidden by trees, be careful of traffic coming the other way. It is all down hill though so no need to pedal!
There are a number of options to cross the A465, I ended up going into Abergavenny, then crossing on the B4233, which had an unnecessary climb on it, but ultimately all the options join back up again. The lanes here are quite narrow in places but less climbing than previous and are reasonably easy to follow. Don’t miss the right turn after crossing the A40, the nice set of estate gates opposite your turning should be a good landmark to guide you by though.
Follow the road through Usk and out the other side and you’ll get to the final big climb of the ride, the hill up over the Wentwood. This gets very steep in the middle, but is shorter than some you would have already tackled on this ride. There is a left hand turn at the top. Don’t miss this if you want to complete the whole route (though this makes a decent depart if you want to get to the train at Severn Tunnel Junction). From here it’s just a case of following the route down all the way to Chepstow. There’s a few turns to watch out for, a right just before Gaerllwyd, and a left in Shirenewton to watch out for, but that it.
Things to See and Places to Eat
There’s a huge amount to see along the way, but it’s mainly the countryside around you. Saying that you can visit rather a good selection of castles if you wanted to. Cardiff, Chepstow, Castle Coch, Usk, Abergavenny, Hay, Harlech, Criccieth, and Caernarfon are all on the route, and you could see a number more with slight diversions (Caerphilly being the best I think).
Eating can be problematic in the middle section, where you go for miles without going near towns or shops. Between Machynlleth and Llanidloes it’s worth knowing there is a post office in Staylittle. Other than that this route is surprisingly well covered by shops, Co-ops, pubs and coffee shops.
If anything is going to sway your decision on which route options to take though consider these 2 things.
- Barmouth railway bridge is absolutely spectacular, and cycling across it is one of the highlights of the route.
- Gospel Pass and the Vale of Ewyas is stunning, better than any climb in South Wales and on a par, if not better, than the ones you go over in the North.
There are a number of different options for routing which should give you enough variation even without making any changes, but if you want to either cut down on time or reduce a bit of the climbing I’d look at doing some of the following.
Start at Bangor. Whilst Anglesey is perfectly lovely it doesn’t hold a candle to the rest of the ride, and getting all the way to Holyhead is an added pain that just isn’t needed.
Look at staying on the A496 then B4573 into Harlech. It’s a lovely quiet route and misses out some early serious climbing (though you will miss the amazing views).
consider staying on the A496 after Harlech. If you can deal with the traffic (which wasn’t bad when I did it) you miss 2 back lane sections that just add miles.
Consider following NCN 818/81 from Llangurig to come down through the Elan valley. This (unlike the other suggestions) will add miles to your route and some more climbing but worth it if you can.
If you don’t want to do the old coach road north of Newbridge on Wye you will need to cross the Wye over to the A470 at Llanwrthwl. I really only found 2 sections of this bad though and those were walkable.
From Newbridge on Wye consider following the old A470 to cut a few miles off (I wouldn’t do this going north though!)
Who can ride it?
This is a challenging route, with a lot of climbing, and a lot of road riding. Saying that the roads are some of the quietest I’ve ridden in the UK, still I wouldn’t want to take young kids on it. Make sure you have climbing legs or a very low gear and you will enjoy it.
Seriously fit people can probably do this a 2 days. I wouldn’t though, there’s so much to take in and enjoy I would suggest at least 4 or 5 days, if not a week and take it slowly and relax where you can. Enjoy probably the best route on the whole NCN network.