Elan Valley Loop by Emily Chappell

Ride level Experienced cyclist
Distance 53 mi / 85 km
Type of bicycle Mountain bike
Traffic free
Circular route

Emily Chappell is a founder and director of the Adventure Syndicate, (a Cycling UK affiliated group). Although she has cycled all over the world, she grew up in Mid-Wales and here is one of her favourite off-road routes. 

I’ve found no other route where the scenery varies so much in such a short distance – by the end of the ride you’ll feel you’ve travelled much further than 50 miles. Starting in Llangurig near the head of the river Wye you’ll quickly climb up into the middle of nowhere, passing wind turbines and Highland cattle as a gravel path takes you down to Cwmystwyth.

You’ll already feel like you’ve covered many miles by the time you reach Devil’s Bridge, so stop for a scone at the Hafod Hotel, look out for steam trains at the station (this is the eastern terminus of the narrow gauge Rheidol Railway), and get ready for the long steady climb up to Ffair-Rhos, where a left turn takes you onto a tiny road that wouldn’t look out of place on the West Coast of Scotland (though of course I’d rather be here), as it wriggles its way up and down through the vast golden expanses of the Cambrian mountains, overlooking the shimmering Teifi pools.

There’s an excellent bothy just north of the pools – hard to find, but worth it when you do – making this the perfect route for an overnight adventure, and from there you’ll descend, via Wales’ finest gravel road, around the beautiful Claerwen reservoir, before rejoining the tarmac and and enjoying a swift descent past the Elan Valley’s Victorian dams to Rhayader. (I’ve often breakfasted at the Old Swan Tea Rooms after a night in the Claerddu bothy.)

From here it’s ten miles or so along the Wye back to Llangurig, following a tiny undulating lane that smugly avoids the A470 on the other side of the valley, as craggy cliffs give way to farmland.

Terrain: road and gravel; very hilly