As cycling soars in post-lockdown popularity, Ceri Saunders opts for a pedal-powered staycation.
Norwegian Wood – the name of the glamping pod my friend and I are lodging at for three nights on the outskirts of Rhayader, Mid Wales – is divine.
With Welsh borders open once more, we packed our bikes in the car and headed to the outskirts of the charming Powys town.
The Elan Valley may be best known for its mighty dams and reservoirs – five in all, with a sixth unfinished – but there is so much more to this tranquil, much-unexplored area of the world. Along with cycling, hiking and spotting wildlife, it combines everything that’s pleasing about the great outdoors.
Andy and Katherine Finch have pulled out all the stops to ensure their newly-opened pod at Redwood Retreat is the perfect post-lockdown escape.
The couple have been completely off grid for an impressive 20 years – and for 90 per cent of the year have “electricity to spare”, Andy tells us.
Ensuring our arrival was ‘Covid-secure’, Andy directed us to the private parking spot nestled just below the pod. He gave us a tour of the facilities – at a distance, of course – which include a four-burner gas cooker, fully equipped kitchenette, woodburner, outdoor shower and the most glorious of double beds.
The peak of the dome also doubles up as a stargazing window to make the most of a night sky free from light pollution. The decking below the pod is equipped with a barbecue, reclining chairs and a gorgeous little spot for a morning cafetière.
As well as these superb creature comforts, we’re also gifted a pair of slippers and welcome hamper, filled with goodies including coffee, milk, Welsh cakes and locally-sourced chocolates.
After a comfortable night’s sleep, a breakfast hamper of freshly baked bread, eggs, marmalade, Welsh butter, orange juice, muesli, granola and milk was delivered at 7.30am. It was the perfect start to a day of exploring our beautiful surroundings on two wheels.
During lockdown, cycling surged in popularity as a form of exercise and it’s also becoming a popular alternative to using public transport. The UK’s Bicycle Association report bike sales increased by 63 per cent year-on-year between April and June 2020, while the Department for Transport suggests that cycling levels increased by a colossal 300 per cent during lockdown.
Whether you’re a relative newbie, weekend hobbyist or enthusiast, the Elan Valley has plenty of trails to offer.
The impressive 84-mile circular Radnor Ring encompasses the old county line of Radnorshire, mainly taking in the county of Powys, flitting between Herefordshire and the Welsh border, while local towns include Llandrindod Wells – home to Wales’ National Cycle Museum.
We opt for a leisurely day of exploration along the Elan Valley Trail. An 18-mile round trip, it comprises the Elan Valley Visitor Centre and four reservoirs – Caban Coch, Garreg Ddu, Pen Y Garreg and Craig Goch – with the starting point for the trail in the village of Cwmdauddwr, just a short ride out to the west of Rhayader.
The ride down from Norwegian Wood is a doddle, following the line of the old Birmingham Corporation Railway for much of the way. During a quick break at the Rhayader Tunnel Nature Reserve, we have our first glimpse of a magnificent red kite. The area is renowned for its part in the species’ revival in Wales.
The reserve – taking its name from the old railway tunnel within it – is also home to birds such as the chaffinch, brambling, goldfinch and linnet, while wildflowers including betony and harebell soak up sun hitting east-facing slopes. Several species of bat also choose to hibernate in the dark and quiet confines of the disused tunnel.
Back on the cycle route, we continue through stunning woodland before reaching the visitor centre – the perfect place for a quick coffee and to learn more about the area’s reservoirs.
The short climb up to Caban Coch from the centre rewards you with one of the area’s key sights. The reservoir has a total capacity of 8,000,000,000 gallons (36,368,720,000 litres), with a top water area of 500 acres. But the number crunching does it no justice – it’s simply a man-made wonder.
The trail continues to run parallel to the reservoirs, much of it adorned with stunning shades of heather and hundreds of blackberry bushes. We encounter several locals with buckets to take fruit home with them.
We team our cycle back through Rhayader – with a stop at Bob’s Butchers for barbecue supplies – to make the most of the facilities back at the pod. But if dining out is more your style, you’re not short of options, with cosy pubs, bistros and even an Indian restaurant just a few of the options available in such a quaint little town.
Rain cancelled a second day out on two wheels (it is Wales, after all), but that makes us all the more eager to make the return journey.