Riding around the Black Mountains

Abergavenny to Hay on Wye and back with the dream cycling team. We took pony selfies, conquered the Gospel Pass and ate our weight in jelly babies.

black mountains cycling - Abergavenny to Hay On Wye


The fantastic motley crew of Mary Spender, Jake Thompsett, Charlie Newman and I set off from Abergavenny to cycle around the Black Mountains on a freakishly sunny March morning. My wonderful friend Izzy had shown me the route after her own epic ride in the winter and I was convinced I knew where we were going. After a very cursory map check we all slathered on sun cream and immediately smelt like we were on a summer holiday.

black mountains cycling - Abergavenny to Hay On Wye

After a not-so-fun few miles on the main road we turned off past the supposedly haunted Skirrid Inn and found ourselves on glorious, peaceful country lanes, using a route found with Sustran’s map (we followed Route 42, then part of Route 8, and the round trip totals 80k) to skirt around the looming peaks of the Brecon Beacons and under the shadow of the Sugar Loaf.

The road continued to be mercifully flat but we all knew that somewhere in front of us loomed a massive climb to the Gospel Pass. In the meantime, though, we meandered along in the sunshine through the glorious Vale of Ewyas, admired Llanthony Priory, sang Taylor Swift songs and ate jelly babies.

black mountains cycling - Abergavenny to Hay On Wye

A few hours in, the once forgiving road started to climb and suddenly we were faced with a brutal hill. Queue deep breathing and a lot of flailing about as we all juddered our way up it in inches. But we all got to the top in one piece, and found ourselves rewarded with the most incredible panoramic views of a bleakly beautiful windswept plateau of open moorland, cut through by the snaking road.

black mountains cycling - Abergavenny to Hay On Wye

We stopped to say hello to the resident wild ponies, the littlest of which thought we looked very interesting and came over for a cuddle and to grace us with his presence in some pictures. What a dude.

black mountains cycling - Abergavenny to Hay On Wye

black mountains cycling - Abergavenny to Hay On Wye

From the Gospel Pass the only way is down, a winding descent all the way to the literary haven of Hay On Wye, where we stopped to explore the streets full of bookshops and for a well-deserved pint of cider at Kilvert’s Inn.

black mountains cycling - Abergavenny to Hay On Wye

Back on the road we all slightly regretted our liquid lunch, since we had sort of forgotten there were still more than 20 miles to go back to Abergavenny. We stuck to quiet lanes warmed by the afternoon sunshine and sweated a LOT up myriad little hills.

black mountains cycling - Abergavenny to Hay On Wye

As the light faded we decided to blitz the final ten miles on the main road. I was completely exhausted by this point and only made it back by sucking desperately on my Camelbak and eating more jelly babies, but the final push was all worth it when we rolled back into town just as a deep red sun set over the horizon. Gorgeous.

Then we had a little lie down on the train back to Bristol.

black mountains cycling - Abergavenny to Hay On Wye

Here’s the map of our adventure:

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4 Comments

  1. April 3, 2015 / 9:51 am

    A welsh epic very well described! Well done for conquoring the hill – those last few metres at the top are such a killer! Do we get a credit? ­čśë Let’s go cycling soon!xxx

  2. sian
    April 10, 2015 / 12:48 pm

    Izzy ALL credit to you for putting me on to such an amazing route! I shall give you a special mention forthwith. Pleaseeee can we cycle soon? x