Wales End-to-End (The Bryan Chapman Memorial) by Lonely Planet
Cycling Wales end-to-end and back in a weekend is the best way to discover its mountainous beauty, incredible wildlife and potential for adventure. Matt Swaine and adventure publisher Lonely Planet reveal the delights of the The Bryan Chapman Memorial event.
It was gone midnight, we had cycled almost 199 miles from Chepstow in South Wales, to Anglesey in 18 hours. Now all we had to do was to turn around and retrace our steps home. Luckily, it’s not a race: getting round the course within the time limit (40 hours in this case) is the only challenge so you constantly find yourself in the company of different riders on the road and in the tea houses along the way.
There’s enormous camaraderie on the event, which is good news because after a day of navigating the hills, I find myself stranded, in the dark, 30 miles from our overnight stop at Dolgellau with no idea how to fix my wheel, which had buckled earlier. ‘I’ve got a spare spoke,’ said one rider who appeared like a fairy godmother out of the gloom and it got me back on the road.
You can feel the country bristle into life as you head north across the Brecon Beacons and over the Cambrian Mountains. I finally climbed to the Dolgellau YHA at 4am, with the promise of two hours of sleep.
Two hours later I’m somehow riding through the early morning drizzle – with a wonky back wheel — taking stock of every ailment. I’m drenched, my backside is raw, my shoulders ache and an Achilles heel has ballooned preposterously. I’m overtaken by a man in a knitted cycling top in his late 60s and I am filled with admiration. Audax rides are open to anyone: youthful racing snake, middle-age Lycra devotee, or vintage cyclist. You meet them all. The sun finally comes out as I pass Llanbrynmair and reminds me of just how green and beautiful this overlooked part of Wales is.
I’m on my own for the final 12 miles that takes me along the Wye Valley. There’s a monster of an ascent from the ruins of Tintern Abbey back to Chepstow and finally, there it is… the Severn Bridge. I freewheel home, having cycled more than 373 miles for the first time in my life and discovered the real beauty of Wales. And, of course, you don't have to see it as a time-limited challenge — follow the route at any time of year and have just as much fun.
Getting there: Trains to Chepstow or, alternatively, there is a cycle path over the old Severn Bridge.
Where to stay: The actual route uses the YHA Kings at Dolgellau as an overnight stop.
When to ride: The official Bryan Chapman Memorial event runs in May but longer summer months offer scope to do it yourself.
More info: If you want to follow the route independently but break it over more days, the YHA Snowdon Pen-y-Pass is another possible stopover. There are no 24-hour garages in Snowdonia, so you need to carry all the food and equipment required.
What to take: Full lights if you’re going to be riding through the night, plus a complete bike repair kit with spare inner tubes and a tyre sleeve or spare tyre. Spare spokes and tools (and the knowledge to use them) also a good idea.