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Lon Las Cymru complete

Posted by Richard on 2 May 2009 in English (English)

National Cycle Network route 8, aka Lon Las Cymru, is now completely mapped on OSM.

This was the first long-distance NCN ride I ever did, from Cardiff to Holyhead. But at the time I only had a little 1500-point yellow eTrex, which would have run out of puff after about a day... so I didn't get a track. One of my main reasons for rectifying the New Popular Edition properly was so I could use it in Potlatch to trace this route from memory!

Since then, I've cycled a few bits again (notably the Taff Trail), benefited from others' GPS tracks on the same route, and walked/driven a few bits when in the vicinity, too. The other weekend, when in North Wales, I took the chance to walk the one remaining lacuna, the housing-estate route through Llanfairpwyngwyngylletc.

NCN 8 isn't just one route, though: it has "braids", or alternative routes. One is for the section from Machynlleth to Dolgellau, the other from Dolgellau to Porthmadog. When I first cycled it, I'd followed the mostly on-road routes (it was the first outing for my Ridgeback and I wasn't too confident about its off-road capabilities), via Corris and Harlech respectively. But the other week, Anna and I decided to tackle the other braids.

Holy cow they're good - but tough. Machynlleth to Dolgellau follows some lovely winding minor roads for a while, then takes the "Black Road" over the hill to the Mawddach estuary. This is exactly as foreboding as it sounds. It's a long, steep slog up to the top, where the tarmac gives out. From there it's a very exhilarating but rough descent, which was some serious stress on the brake blocks. Fortunately there's an outstanding bike shop in Dolgellau (not the posh-looking one, but the one in an old garage) which reinstated my stopping power and, better still, unbent my back wheel.

From Dolgellau, after another minor road interlude, NCN 8 goes into the mountain bike heartland of Coed-y-Brenin. For a long while it's forest tracks with MTB routes on them, all very pleasant and quite innocuous - there's even a cafe-cum-bike shop. Ok so far.

Then you start to leave the mountain bikers behind, and the track gets steeper, and rougher... and rougher. And eventually becomes what is technically known as "rough as fuck". Until then there'd only been two places on the NCN where I'd had to dismount, due to steepness (Aberllefenni on the other NCN 8 braid, and the hill out of Princes Risborough on NCN 57), but this one was definitely dismount-due-to-complete-lack-of-surface. As you can imagine we were starting to think "is this the right way?".

Turns out this is Sarn Helen, an allegedly Roman road allegedly running the length of Wales (no-one seems quite sure), and clearly no maintenance has been done on it since Roman times. Actually, though, it was great. After a bit of pushing and a picnic at the top (remind me never to buy a Spar sandwich again, they're even rougher than the track was), we got back on the saddle and really started to enjoy it. (That's the diary entry position, if you want to take a look.) The surface really picked up for the descent, happily, and it was a cracking ride down onto a little minor road to Trawsfynydd - which is a surprisingly attractive village, despite the presence of knackered old Soviet-style nuclear power station.

And we were going the right way, too. The signs at both ends confirmed it. So I've mapped what the signs say - and not the other route, which is shown on pretty much every NCN map I've seen (including the Sustrans website), but which definitely isn't where you're signposted. I note that the official Lon Las Cymru map has just, this week, been republished so it'll be interesting to see what that shows.

�So it's all on there. But I haven't bothered putting most of these braids in a relation, because it turns out that, in due course, they're going to be renumbered NCN 82 as part of Sustrans' plan to remove duplicate braids on the NCN. (Quite a sensible renumbering, as it'll eventually make NCN 82 a really stunning long-distance route up the west of Wales, from Pembrokeshire to Bangor.)

Location: Sarn Helen, Gwynedd, Wales, United Kingdom

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