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The Romans made few real inroads into Wales and as a result had considerably less influence in the principality than in England. But before we start asking, in true Monty Python style, exactly what they did do for the Welsh, we should all mount our trusty steeds and head for Sarn Helen — once the invader’s main trunk road across this ‘western wilderness.’
The road itself was originally over 200km long, running north/south across the moors and mountains of mid-Wales. But much has disappeared or has been paved over in the ensuing years, and only a few sections of good mtb trail remain. This ride follows one of them, across the hills of Fforest Fawr in the centre of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
The opening climb is on tarmac — well, it is an Easy route — but it’s a quiet road, and the views across the Beacons are excellent, so it doesn’t detract at all from the ride. A helter-skelter plummet to Pont Melin-fach, surrenders some of the hard-earned metres, and results in another steep pull up into Coed y Rhaiadr — the Forest of the Waterfalls. Good forest tracks take over from here and lead easily through the trees to the main event: the Roman road.
This kicks and bucks like an angry bronco at first, but the climbs are short, and the drops technical enough to be fun. Some fine slick-rock really livens things up at about half distance, and then it’s a steep and stony plunge to the Afon Nedd Fechan, where a new bridge has finally alleviated the need for a do-or-die river crossing. A steep climb away from the river leads to Mean Madoc — a huge standing stone, bearing a Roman inscription — and shortly after this you leave the ancient way to hurdle a limestone-covered hill and drop to the start.