Not far from where we live in Mid Wales is a bothy called Claerddu. It is managed by the Elan Valley trust and is unusual in that it has a flushing toilet as well as a sink with running water. We had been wanting to go and stay in it for a while and just before the Easter break we realised that we had a small window of opportunity to do it.
We had already spent a few evenings hovering over the OS map figuring out our route. Our self set brief was to be able to ride there and back from our house with as much offroad as possible. Choosing the route was the fun bit. We pieced together bridlepaths and byways, some we knew existed and some we werent so sure of. We decided to ride across what is called The Monks Trod, an ancient pilgrimage route across the Cambrian mountains connecting the monastaries of Abbey Cwm Hir and Strata Florida. It is a BOAT (Byway open to all traffic) but has had restrictions put on it stopping motor vehicles from using it. This route would drop us down onto a track that leads to the Teifi Pools and our home for the night.
The weather forecast for Good Friday wasn’t definitely not good! We loaded our bikes up the night before using Alpkit bike luggage as well as improvising with various bits of velcro and gaffa tape. We packed as light as we could, taking the bare minimum of supplies. Knowing that despite our excellent waterproofs we were likely to arrive drenched, a full set of dry clothes went into a dry bag and was attached to the handlebars of our bikes.
We headed off, having to negotiate a busy main road for a few miles before veering off onto some lovely quiet country lanes that follow the river wye south towards Rhayader. After that we pushed and rode up a steep grassy climb, followed by an entertaining sheep track descent through long grass down towards the Monks Trod.
The Monks Trod starts as a nice grassy track climbing up and across the hills above the Craig Goch reservoir. As we reached higher ground the weather started to deteriorate. Clouds descended, the wind picked up and the rain came down.The Monks trod passes across big sections of peat bog and whilst a lot of the trail was rideable there were places where the bog was so deep that a detour was needed. It was pretty tough going at times, especially with a loaded bike and the wind howling around us. We got to a section that, had the sun been shining and the sky clear, we would have seen some beautiful lakes surrounded by rocky crags, sadly we just saw mist that day! We kept moving, getting wetter and wetter and being buffetted by the wind. The trail dissapearred, the terrain became steep deep tussocky bog where to even push the bike was a nightmare. The wind and rain kept howling around my ears and I had had enough. The route looked like it dropped steeply down into a big boggy valley that then climbed up again over tussocks and heather. We took a quick look at Viewranger and our option was clear –to avoid the tussocks and drop down to a track near the end of the Claerwen reservoir.
Once on track we were in familiar territory having ridden this section dozens of times over the years of guiding the TransCambrian. It didn’t take us too long from there to reach the bothy, both desperately hoping that it wasn’t completely full.