The Bwlch – The West Side from Neath/Port Talbot

OK folks, its time for instalment two of my write ups of climbs in/around the South Wales area.

Today, we’ll work our way up one of the three ways you can ride the Bwlch, in particular the Western side which you can get to from Neath/Port Talbot with ease.

A lot of sportive rides including the Dragon Ride take in this climb and it’s a popular one on any cafe ride as you can put together a nice loop over the Bwlch, through Treorchy/Treherbert, up Rhigos mountain and back towards west Wales or off towards Brecon with ease.

Let’s get started!

Whilst this has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the ride, I just wanted to add that this morning started off absolutely beautiful!

Anyway, the ride!

So, to start things off you need to get here….to this anonymous road junction!

If you are coming in from Port Talbot direction you can find you way here by getting on to the A4107 (Also known as the Afan Valley Road) near Port Talbot but if you are starting off in Neath then you’ll have to make your way through to Pontrhydyfen on the B4287.

A word of warning if you come in from Pontrydyfen then unless you can find you way over the footbridge from the village then the ramp back up form the junction tips up over 16%. Short and sharp and will bring you out at the same junction but the foot bridge takes that part out of the equation.

Once on the Afan Valley Road (A4107) then you’re staying on it all the way to the top. The gradient stays comfortable all the way though you’ll be climbing steadily from the get go with a couple of sharper ramps just to keep you honest.

From here, its a little under 16km to the summit with an average gradient of 3.2% all the way though it does get steeper in the final few KM’s averaging 6-7% but more on that later!

Settle in and let the legs warm up and enjoy the views. The Afan Valley is a really popular cycling spot for both road and off road and a couple of kilometres in you’ll pass this car park on your right:

Which is the home to the Afan Valley mountain bike trails. Plenty of car parking and from what I am told a lot of great mountain biking to be had.

As you wind your way up through the valley you’ll see a lot of other trails on both sides of the valley which are mostly off road which I am already sketching out some routes for using the gravel bike. More to come on that in the future.

Hungry yet?

Depending on how far you’ve come ridden or whether you just have the sudden uncontrollable desire for coffee then worry not! I’ve got you covered on this!

Perhaps 1km past the Afan Valley park you’ll come across this fine establishment on your left:

Decent coffee and cake and a bunch of other food or if you have truly gassed out/overindulged in mid ride beers then stay overnight. There’s also more mountain biking trails accessed straight from their car park are and the view back down the valley is none too shabby….

The Afan Valley Road continues to roll upwards towards and if you don’t want to stop for a coffee but need water etc then just around the corner is Duffryn Rhondda where there is a Post Office which I have personally never seen open but I am reliably informed does open in the week, otherwise you will have to wait until the town/village (I’m not sure what it is) of Cymmer about 1km further up the road where there is a shop is definitely open more regularly.

Legs warmed up

Cymmer is also where the climbing really starts. Once you have existed the village and the road peels away to the left, still hugging the right hand wall of the valley you’ll reach the point where you are greeted with this fairly innocuous view:

From hereon out the gradient tips up a little more and as we get towards the business end of the climb the wind becomes a factor as well! I don’t think I have ever ridden this route without some kind of headwind. Whilst the conventional wisdom that the prevailing wind in the UK is South Westerly should result in you flying up this climb at pro peleton speeds, that prevailing wind is a lie and it pays to find yourself mid pack here to shelter as much as you can as invariably the wind is straight down the valley.

Unfortunately, I’d ridden solo today so it was hard graft into the gusty 30-45km per hour winds.

The last little town before the final push to the top is Abergwynfi and just as you enter the village if you look left and up you’ll see the road snaking its way up the right of valley all the way to the summit.

Here’s what it looked like when I rode it last week where you can just about make out the road on the right of the hills:

And here’s a better view from slightly further up the climb…..



The push for the summit

Abergwynfi is small and you will be through it quickly. The long straight out of the village is stepping off point for the last section of climb and once you exit the village and roll over the cattle grid it’s time to get your head down and legs working.

Once over the cattle grid the road will snake its way around a couple of corners all the while taking you towards the summit. On this brisk November morning the summit was shrouded in mist but if you are looking to tick this one off in the spring or summer its a great view all the way up. Should your legs not want to go all the way without a quick respite, make sure you take a peek back down the road as the view is awesome, even on these cloudier days.

Looking back down towards Abergwynfi.

There are two points where the road really hugs the side of the valley and gives you some shelter from any headwind but my personal favourite section is once you hit the lwide switchback just before the summit and for the final stretch that headwind becomes a much welcomed tailwind with some spectacular views back down the valley you’ve just ridden up. ALL PRAISE BE TO THE SWITCHBACK GODS!

Always, ALWAYS sprint for the sign

Just because the road flattens off, don’t let off the gas…just keep pushing…

..until you see this sign…

…as its here where the Strava segment ends so dig in and suck down a few more breaths and sprint it out for the sign.

Following any summit celebrations you allow yourself you can either turn and go back the way you came, or carry on down to Treorchy and on to the Rhigos or head in the other direction towards Nantymoel and Bridgend. Whichever route you take you’ve ticked off and hopefully enjoyed the Bwlch from Neath/PortTalbot.

Descent Notes

Usually I’d leave it at the climbing. Everyone descends in their own way, but having had a few close calls I felt it worth including a few points on the descent if you are going back down the way you came.

  1. Sheep – They are a menace! They graze wild on the hills and are unpredictable little things so keep an eye out for them!
  2. Rocks in the road – Hopefully on the way up you noted the rocks everywhere so be vigilant on the way back down especially on the corners where you time to spot them and react will be lessened.
  3. Tailwind – Whilst you will be flying downhill keep in mind if there was a strong headwind on the way up that as you descend and go left into the corners that wind will be trying you push you across the road and potnetially into oncoming traffic so keep it in mind

Prefer a quieter route?

If you are not too big of fan of riding all on the road there is a cycle track that runs the length of the valley using the old rail lines that will take you up to Blaengwynfi on the northern side of the valley using the National Cycling Network Route 887.

Just for good measure, here’s the view from the summit in warmer days:

And that’s it for now.

Happy riding.

Stay Safe.


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