The new 225km (140 mile) Traws Eyri (Trans Snowdonia) route is shorter than previous Cycling UK gravel adventures like The Great North Trail, King Alfred’s Way, West Kernow Way, Cantii Way and Rebellion Way at 373km (232 miles). With over 4,500m of climbing across rugged mountain landscapes from Machynlleth to Conwy, it’s a properly tough challenge. That means while Cycling UK say it can be done on adventurous riders on gravel bikes, that’s going to involve some pushing and panicky descents for all but the superhuman and super skilled. Put it this way, I was already in bottom gear on my hardtail, less than 10km from the start as I winched up into the forests above Corris and the route has several steep, slippery or rocky descents I was glad of decent sized tires and suspension on. It also passes the MTB centers of Dyfi Forest, Coed-y-Brenin, Penmachno and Gwydyr so there’s plenty of potential to add some excellent extra trails to the route if you’re feeling frisky.
Wild North Wales
While it joins up well known Snowdonian spots like Machynlleth, Dolgellau, Betws y Coed and Capel Curig which are great for refueling and resting, it’s the remote sections in between that provide the wildlife rich, ancient adventure vibe. This starts with the forests over to Abergynolwyn and the Dysynni valley with it’s stunning crags, castle rocks and rare raptors. Then you climb past prehistoric remains on the ancient Fford Ddu trail over the shoulder of the towering presence of Cader Idris mountain over to the breathtaking Mawddach estuary as it shimmers out to sea.
Crossing the estuary nature reserve on a wooden toll bridge you climb back into more isolation up the Mynach valley with views opening up deep into the mountains to the north before dropping down into Coed-y-Brenin past the black waterfalls beauty spot and the original Red Bull trail sections before arriving at the visitor centre itself. Then it’s up into the forest, onto high ground on a rocky Roman road before a lap of Trawsfynnd lake with it’s brooding, brutalist power station and then up again past a Roman fort complex towards the stark slate mining heartland of Blaenau Ffestiniog. From here a jaw dropping, leg popping Alpine climb takes you up and over to the valley of Penmachno where you’ll loop through silent, glowing green forests in a series of loops before arriving in the bustling tourist town of Betws-y-Coed. More mountain forest trails wind you round to the outdoor centre of Cader Curig and follow the Slate Trail across wild moorland and high sided valleys on a dedicated bike path past massive slate mining mounds into Bethesda.
From here it’s pretty pastoral as you twist and turn through field layouts as old as the Druids whose Anglesey Island heartland can be clearly seen across the Menai straits to the north, before you head inland into mountain wilderness that feels like nobody ever visits. More Roman roads, barrow burials and castles – prehistoric and medieval – overlook the final leg of the adventure towards magnificent medieval Conwy with its historic battlements and bridges.
Epic, ecological and economic
Not only does the use of ancient trackways, Roman roads and timeless herding trails suck you deep into the fascinatingly deep past of North Wales, but it also means the route is totally weatherproof in terms of surfaces. Having been hammered by a sleet storm up from Capel Curig on my recce ride though, you’ll definitely need to be ready for all sorts of weather all year round. Some of the areas are proper remote too, so make sure you’re self sufficient and well stocked with snacks just in case. That’s not to say there aren’t some fantastic places to eat, drink and stay along the route, which is why Cycling UK and NRW are so keen to welcome riders to Snowdonia. “Routes like Traws Eryri aren’t just great fun to ride, but as Cycling UK has found also can have real benefits for the local rural economy,” said Sophie Gordon from Cycling UK, adding that cycle tourism spending from cyclists in the UK generates £520m per year. There are 1.23 million overnight trips each year, benefiting small businesses in particular, and these contribute £433m to the economy. Christopher Frost. Chair, North Wales Tourism / Go North Wales commented, “This is a welcome addition to the new routes that Cycling UK has presented in recent years and as the ‘adventure capital for Europe’, we at North Wales Tourism are extremely excited to see it launched.”
With both ends (and Betws-y- Coed in the middle) linked by railway you don’t need a car either with John Taylor, NRW’s North West Wales Team Leader for Recreation confirming that this “low carbon cycle attraction offers an alternative to car dependent tourism that fits in with our wider work to tackle the climate and nature emergencies.”
While the terrain and climbs definitely make it more suited to experienced riders, plenty of places to stop mean you can choose to ride at whatever pace you want from two to five days. If you want a real epic, then it can even be used to extend the existing Trans Cambrian route which currently finishes in Machynlleth. And if DIY planning sounds daunting, I know that MTB Cymru are already offering guided and supported Traws Eryri adventures. If the route is anything like as popular as the previous Cycling UK routes I’d definitely suggest getting everything you need booked up as soon as possible or you might end up in a bivvy bag even if you’d much rather stay in a hotel!
While I hope that’s whetted your appetite – I had an amazing adventure despite being very wetted by the weather. Riders wanting to receive details ahead of the official summer opening can sign up via the Cycling UK website. This will also give you the opportunity to win £280 worth of bikepacking gear from Alpkit and don’t forget to order the guidebook for extra maps, intel and the history and legends that make this route so special. Joining Cycling UK while you’re there will also help fund the development of future routes like this as well as supporting their tireless work improving access, advocacy and campaigning for cyclists rights everywhere.