Weekender: Bikepacking the Preseli Hills

Distance 58 mi / 93 km
Traffic free
Circular route
A woman is cycling a loaded mountain bike on a bridleway on a high ridge. She is wearing mountain bike gear and a helmet. It's a sunny day.
Emma rides along the Golden Road
Emma Kingston guides you around Wales’s most westerly county for an on/off road weekend in search of pubs, panoramas and prehistory

Start/finish: Clarbeston Road railway station, Pembrokeshire, SA63 4UH.
Maps: OS Explorer OL35, North Pembrokeshire (1:25,000).
Ride length: 91km/56 miles.
Climbing: 1,630m.
Bike type: Best ridden on a mountain bike or a gravel bike with wide tyres for the boggier sections of the Golden Road.
Ride level: Experienced riders used to remote and, at times, challenging terrain.

Mynydd Preseli is often overlooked by cyclists coming to Pembrokeshire (Sir Benfro), but these atmospheric hills are well worth the trip west. They are not particularly tall – Foel Cwmcerwyn is just 536m high – but what they lack in elevation they more than make up for with panoramic views and sheer drama.

There’s a sense of the wild and ancient as you ride across these treeless, open hills with their hill forts, wooded valleys, rocky tors and megalithic monuments. Some of the rocks found here even supplied the bluestones that now form the inner circle of Stonehenge.

A woman is riding a packed mountain bike along an off-road path through woodland. She has long blonde hair. She's wearing mountain bike gear, cycling sunglasses and helmet.
Ty Canol National Nature Reserve

This route takes in some extremely varied riding, including Welsh Water’s new MTB trails around Llys-y-frân Reservoir, secretive bridleways in the Gwaun Valley and mossy singletrack in Ty Canol National Nature Reserve.

The highlight of the route, though, is the historic Golden Road – a fabulous 11km bridleway that undulates along the main ridge of the Preseli Hills. Its slower, boggy sections won’t be to everyone’s taste, but riders who persevere will be rewarded with high-level grassy singletrack and panoramic views as far as the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland.

There are a number of campsites to choose from along the route, and a lovely swimming spot at Rosebush Quarry to discover on the way home. It is best ridden either in the spring to enjoy the swathes of bluebells and wild garlic, or in summer to allow the main ridge to dry out as much as possible.

1. Llys-y-fran MTB trails

The man-made singletrack around the reservoir serves as a great warm-up. The trails on the eastern side are straightforward but can be missed out by staying on the gravel track around the reservoir.

This route avoids the trails on the western side as they are more technical. There’s a café and bike hub on site.

A lake in mountainside scenery with fir trees in the background.
Rosebush Quarry

2. The Golden Road

The route follows a bridleway almost the entire way along the ridge, past fractured piles of rock that jut up like huge fins. The indistinct ‘road’ may have once been used to transport gold mined in Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains as far as Wessex in south-east England.

3. Foel Drygarn hill fort

The Golden Road is bookended by two dramatic peaks: Foel Eryr (‘Place of the Eagle’) and Foel Drygarn (‘Bare Hill of the Three Cairns’). It is well worth the short walk up to the latter’s summit to explore the defensive hilltop enclosure, with its three huge cairns, double ramparts and panoramic views.

A woman is standing under an ancient standing stone formation. She is wearing mountain bike gear and a backpack.
The megalithic standing stones at Pentre Ifan

4. Ty Canol and Pentre Ifan

Ty Canol is part of the largest block of ancient woodland in West Wales. The route uses a permissive bridleway through the woods. It’s waymarked but not shown on OS maps. Make sure to visit Pentre Ifan, an enormous megalithic structure that predates Egypt’s pyramids.

5. Nevern

The Nevern Valley contains the ruins of Nevern Castle, St Brynach’s Church, and the Pilgrims’ Cross. Walk up through the avenue of ancient yews (including the famous ‘bleeding yew’) to see the huge 10th-century Celtic cross just outside the entrance to the church, as well as the even older Vitalianus Stone nearby.

6. The Gwaun Valley

The locals uphold a unique tradition here, celebrating New Year’s Day (Hen Galan) on 13 January according to the old Julian calendar. No trip to the valley is complete without a visit to the legendary Dyffryn Arms, fondly known as ‘Bessie’s’ (bring cash). Make sure to visit Tafarn Sinc, too – a community-owned pub in Rosebush.