For some bizarre reason, people started to turn up just after 9am for a 10am ride. It’s possible it had something to do with them camping in the Brecon Beacons the night before and being up early but I’d like to think they were equally as eager to get on the ride.
As the name suggests, we’ve been here before – riding the descent off the Blorenge and battling the ferns and hidden rocks down to the Punchbowl has been well documented in previous ride reports. We have tackled the Blorenge from Blaenavon (2014 – The Ponds The Pit and The Punchbowl); and we rode to the Punchbowl all the way from Pontypool (2016 – The Full Ponty); this time we were approaching our goal from 500m below summit in Abergavenny and essentially starting the day with a 500m climb.
We set off in good spirits, even though I had fully briefed the gang in the car park about what we had in store: “See that up there? We are pedalling up it!”
After a gentle start along Sustrans National Route 46, we soon began to climb Gilwern Hill. For the most part it was a road surface so it was a simple mater of getting on with it and pedalling. But as we left the road, aiming for the old service road along the side of the hill, my preparation of this section of the route failed me a little, resulting in a short hike-a-bike to the level ground. After a little laugh at the situation, a snack and well earned leg rest, a nervous ride leader began wondering if he was going to make it home without being lynched so we set off again.
The landscape is amazing. To one side we have views of the Black Mountains and on the other the rugged and scarred landscape of the industrial revolution and Blaenavon’s World Heritage Site. The weather was very kind to us and from the high points of our ride we could see the River Severn and across to England.
Before our first bit of downwards related fun, we had a puncture in the group that was fixed while the back marker took the opportunity to have an ice cream from a nearby van! We had been climbing and pedalling for almost 2 hours so we all took a knee and had a bite to eat.
Some great downhill and singletrack fun followed a brief warning about the next section, as this had been the location of a rather nasty shoulder injury for a rider in 2014 and I was a little nervous of any repetition!
A compulsory visit to the BMX track preceded our climb up to The Keepers Pond and then we hit the Iron Mountain itself for some proper off road fun. Rock gardens, steep hill side trails and deep ferns accomanied us to the PunchBowl where we all stopped for a snack and refuel before the gruelling climb out.
But there was more fun to be had by way of a bridleway connecting our exit from the Punchbowl with the Nant Llanelen stream – cutting through some steep fields and only spoilt by a few gates. At the bottom of the descent we had a slight diversion and added a cheeky little 100m road climb in to drain the last of the reserves from our legs. But there was one more surprise in store.
I had eyed up a little segment on Strava through Ffrwd Wood for a finale of down hill fun; what we found was a sweet little trail on the hill side that kept us on our toes and our brakes, as locals had dug all sorts of jumps and drops in to the steep banks.
By the time we reached the bottom, the nasty road climb had been forgotten (at least I hoped it had) and we were all smiling and excitedly reliving the trail as we rode back to the car park, this time finishing off with a gentle ride along the canal and another Sustrans cycle route.
A round of drinks in the Angel Hotel topped off an awesome ride which saw us ride a little over 30km and climb just under 1000m.
I am already scheming some new routes in the area. Who’s in?
You can see Tim’s Iron Mountain video here.