All roads lead here
Preseli Hills, Pembrokeshire, Wales
My Dad, a seasoned adventurer often told me as a child that “This road leads to anywhere in the world, all roads lead here. Don’t forget that when you’re out there”. Words that have rung in my ear over the years of my own adventures far and near. Pushing my first MTB pedals in the 80s away from our house in the woods, setting out for 3 years on the road solo or bringing my first born home it’s the pathways we choose that take us.
Covid-19 pulled everything a little closer this year, but that’s ok. As a father of three one has to be resilient to the need to disappear and find, more often than not, the adventure from your doorstep. As middle age creeps in there are times when the return to pastures known has its reflective use as well as its comforts. Revisiting a place in different seasons at different times of life is a great system check.
One such ride is the Preseli hills on the West coast of Wales; a compact set of blue granite hills pushing its shoulder into the winds of the Irish sea. Famed for its mystical connections to Stonehenge and its rain on its flanks, small enough not to overwhelm but big enough to challenge, offer big vistas yet hide what feels like places seldom visited. I was born on that coast and those hills have been a friend over the decades, one of those few places that pull me to visit often.
The hills were nearly lost to the military after the war but thanks to local opposition lead by Rev Roberts who stated ‘We nurture souls in these areas’. The hills along with 38 ancient monuments were finally saved for all in 1948.
I considered this on the ride out on a clear late July day from my base on the slopes that fall to the coast, to the North east start of the range. The peaceful lanes and paths of the Nevern Valley buried deep in stunted oak, moss and fern, water endlessly oozing across the grassed lanes as it does in Wales. The air was full of birdsong with the distant sea rising on a constant breeze. Imagining the fences and manoeuvres of military exercises seemed almost sacrilege to such a place. This step below the hills is where the Neolithic quarries existed, where the bluestones of Stonehenge were hewn 5000 years ago and transported 160 miles to Salisbury plain. Something special has called people to these hills for millennia.
At Crymch I left the tarmac and let the pressure down to ride the ridge. My choice of tyre for this ride was the excellent WTB Sendero. Knowing these hills well, despite the sun there will be peaty bog to traverse & grippy climbs on sheep chewed moorland that are unforgiving to a tyre with less grip. A wise choice it tuned out, the troughs of the spine path were a lottery of wheel sucking black bog stretches. I was determined not to rein act ‘the never ending story’ swamp of sadness and lose my ride, but one did catch and 650b disappeared in an instant. Trudging on (its engaging riding up and down, eyes alert all the time) I reached Bedd Arthur a small stone circle on the tops, sheltered from the wind and the sun warmed a good spot to lie beck and refuel and marvel at the Carn Goedog, another megalithic quarry, trying to imagine pulling hued standing stones off this site, through the bogs where a bike is hard enough let alone several tons of stone. Hoping for some of that legendary Welsh strength I cracked on.
After a quick stop due to howling wind at the high pint at Foel Feddau with crystal clear views up to Snowdonia and down to the Gower behind I decided a dip down to the Pentamaenog Forest to ride the fine gravel roads out of the wind. Off came the warmers and a chance to freewheel for the first time in a while. From here a beautiful piece of road pulled me down to an old friend, a magnificent standing stone that has the most exquisite view of the ridge just ridden, a solitary sentry that must be passed on the way to the Gwaun Valley. Meandering up through the folds of the valley and a solid push back onto the tops above Fishguard, a turn north again to the final high point ‘Cairn Ingli’ or mountain of Angels. Here the wild ponies roam the tolkienesque landscape among the bracken and the sea beacons again. Peeling off the hill before I know it I’m back on the beach cooling the feet and putting the kettle on.
And here is the beauty, just behind felt like a different planet. These compact rides are never unrelenting, nature offers a delight at every turn. The light and surface fluctuating with every 100 meters gained or lost, a journey bigger than its miles. I often think this is the secret to gravel riding in the UK, its style can pull a lot out of a ride regardless of the terrain. It’s not a compromise but a blessing to feel that ‘all roads lead here’.
Hope the trail is kind - Tangwyn Andrews
Bike specs for the ride
Ted James Design Custom frame in Reynolds 853
ENVE bars seatpost fork & stem painted by colourburn studio
WTB kom i21 rims on hope hubs
WTB Sendero in blackwall with stans sealant
White industries crank with 36t and WI headset
Sunrace 11-46 cassette, Shimano XT rear mech, Ultegra shifters/brakes. Wolftooth tanpan for the shi-mullet set up.
Fabric saddle, hex bar tape and gripper bottles
King cage & wolftooth bRad mount
Mack workshop tool roll/Voile strap
Cosmic trail shoulder frame bag
Wizard works bar bag
Mountan Smith hip pack
Wahoo element bolt