In summer 2021, Nicholas Collins was in need of a reset. Here he shares his bikepacking trip from Holyhead to Chepstow and explains his love for Wales's countryside.
Nick with his cycle ready to set off on his bikepacking trip through Wales.
These past two years have been tough. Everyone has a story to tell.
I work in education, and as we began to break up for summer in 2021, I could feel my wellbeing slipping away.
I needed an adventure; I needed a reset.
I’ve always enjoyed long distance cycling, and in 2020, I travelled the 1,080 miles of Land’s End to John o’ Groats.
Some of the best parts of that journey were on the National Cycle Network, which passes close to my house in Stroud.
With the next escape in mind, I explored the online map of the Network and found it weaving its way through some of my favourite parts of Wales.
No more planning needed; bike packed, train to Anglesey booked, and mind set.
Starting my long-distance cycle through Wales
Wales is a special place to me.
I went to university there, passed my Mountain Leader assessment there, and even met my wife there.
Its mountains lakes and forests always revive me.
So, when I stepped off the Sunday afternoon train to Holyhead, I felt instantly invigorated.
I was, however, unsure of the impact of my second dose of the vaccine I’d had just 24 hours before.
This made a great excuse to see some family friends and unwind that evening after a long term.
They were gracious hosts and fed me well but seemed amused that I wanted to sleep in their field rather than a comfy bed.
But with the reduced light pollution and cloudless sky hanging over the field, it was an easy choice.
The Welsh isle of Angelesey was where Nick's adventure began.
The bikepacking trip begins
I got up naturally with the birds at 4am and set off from Anglesey.
I crossed the Menai Strait as the mist gradually cleared and the sunrise set fire to the waters around me, all looking like the beginning of a music concert.
Having made it to Porthmadog by 10am, coffee, flapjack and a water top-up was the first order of business.
The heat wave was starting to make itself known and I’d already drunk two litres.
I try to never buy bottled water and instead rely on the kindness of strangers and shop owners for refills, or, when appropriate, purifying river and stream water.
Climbing through Coed-y-Brenin
The roads to this mountain biking mecca are single track and nature have started to take them back.
This makes it difficult for cars but still rideable on a road bike, although I had to rely on navigation aids a lot at this point.
There are some established river bathing spots on this route, and as part of health and safety in scorching temperatures I dunked myself in the cool waters.
Following Lôn Las Cymru
Pedalling on, the shaded Dyfi Valley allowed me to undulate my way to Machynlleth.
It’s a town with both historical significance and a great fish and chip shop.
Having drunk six litres of water, I had to replenish the lost salt somehow.
I finished up for the day and camped just outside the town.
At dawn I took on the first of the two major climbs of the day, the Machynlleth mountain road on National Route 8.
I arrived there just in time for a gift of a sunrise followed by a fast-meandering descent. I was living the dream.
Nick's bikepacking trip was highlighted by sunrises and sunsets over the hills of Wales.
Cycling beside the River Wye
After pushing on to Hafren forest, I reached a possibly lesser-known descent from the forest to Llanidloes.
It’s a joy to get such a long free ride after not feeling like you’ve climbed far.
Just keep looking ahead and be mindful of very occasional farm vehicles and quad bikes.
From there, the River Wye is as useful for navigation as the National Cycle Network signs; if you can’t hear it, you’re going the wrong way.
I carried on to Glasbury, where I used up some packed ingredients to cook my evening meal, leaving my bike about half a kilo lighter.
This was very much needed to attempt the National Route 42 climb between Hay Bluff and Lord Hereford’s Knob (no laughing now, please).
Climbing National Route 42
The climb is challenging and is similar to Machynlleth’s mountain road.
Reaching the top, I was met with another gorgeous sunset.
Some of my earliest mountain adventures were in this part of the world, and looking out, I felt like I’d truly earned the view through the hard work of my legs.
I then set off downhill into the Black Mountains range with Offa’s Dyke always visible on my left-hand side.
If you’re speeding down this hill, then remember to respect the sheep – it’s their home all year and they’re not known for their road sense.
Also, don’t go so fast that you miss Llanthony Priory, an 11th century abbey which is one of Wales’s great medieval buildings.
As the day pushed on and my lungs filled with the cooler night-time air, I decided it was time to settle down for the night.
You'll probably share many paths with the local sheep when cycling through Wales.
Travelling from Usk into Chepstow
I woke the following morning with my mind buzzing from the previous day’s excitement.
The sounds of birds in the woods and a whiff of muscle fatigue encouraged a ‘lie-in’ until 5am.
However, with water bottles refilled in a nearby stream, I found myself in Usk by 7:30am.
Just outside Usk, I was surprised by one last 16% incline to climb as I left the town.
This was just one last push though before a downhill into Chepstow, during which I could see the River Severn bridges dominating the horizon.
As I paused to enjoy the view, I reflected on my bikepacking journey.
All things aside, these past two years have made me better appreciate the beauty of Great Britain.
My route continued back to Stroud, but from National Route 4 here, you can travel west to enjoy the South Wales coastline or east across the M48 bridge’s separated cycle lanes.
A route that offers something for everyone
Lôn Las Cymru is a fantastic route, with so many worlds in one.
Along the way, I came across people who had been all over the world but were now grounded by travel restrictions like me.
We all agreed that this route is up there with one of the best rides in the world.
There’s something for everyone, whether you’re an elite cyclist twice my fitness level or someone who prefers to take their time and find a hotel for the night.
Whatever your approach, we can all enjoy and respect this brilliant meander through Wales.
For me, and no doubt many others, it was just the wellbeing reset I needed.
Explore the Lôn Las Cymru for yourself, or find a route on the National Cycle Network near you.
Excited to set off on your own adventure? Here's why you should try bikepacking.