After a winter lockdown driving the identical outdated roads inside a couple of miles of residence, I’m determined to discover someplace new and a bit of additional afield. Going someplace by practice and driving residence is a straightforward format for a motorcycle tour, so I hop on a practice from Abergavenny to Swansea, on the far aspect of the south Wales valleys, with no plan aside from to spend a few days driving again.It’s been practically a yr since I’ve seen the ocean, so I head for the seashore. From there I move by means of the marina and its swanky waterside developments, after which on to the towpath of Tennant canal. Constructed to maneuver coal from mines inland to Swansea’s docks, the canal runs beside Crymlyn Lavatory, a wetland that has one way or the other survived years of abuse from a close-by oil refinery and energy station. Furry, yellow-tinged pussy willow and delicate hazel catkins glow within the shiny sunshine of a contemporary spring morning. I hear a splash up forward and watch as an infinite heron glides silently away, its wings virtually spanning the width of the canal.The high-level highway bridge throughout the River Neath has a devoted cycleway and I then comply with the canal into Neath to hunt out the stays of its 800-year-old abbey. This was as soon as the biggest monastery in Wales, however the development of copper and iron smelting within the space one way or the other led to the abbey being buried 5 metres deep in slag and different particles, till native volunteers dug it out within the Nineteen Twenties. I discover a sheltered spot on the grass beneath what was as soon as the south transept and eat my lunch within the sunshine.The Tennant canal between Swansea and NeathFrom Neath again to Abergavenny I’ll comply with Sustrans nationwide cycle route 46, which shadows the A465 Heads of the Valleys highway, the twin carriageway that marks the divide between south and mid Wales. To the north lie the wild uplands and glacier-sculpted peaks of the Brecon Beacons. To the south is the economic geography of the valleys: lengthy, densely populated valley flooring separated by wild, windswept moors, and in every single place the remnants of the iron, coal and metal industries that made and used to outline this a part of Wales.These abrupt modifications of scene are a part of the distinctive character of the valleysThe canal ends at Glynneath, and so does the simple driving. My legs protest on the climb out of the valley, which appears to go on for ever. After freewheeling down the opposite aspect, I cease on the rusting gates of Tower Colliery, the final deep mine in Wales, which closed in 2008. Now there’s gentle trade, housing and leisure, with a zipwire journey from the highest of the mountain and a mining-themed rollercoaster.I realise I’ve time so as to add a couple of extra miles to my day with a detour into the Brecon Beacons nationwide park. I journey by means of an industrial property on the sting off Hirwaun, underneath the twin carriageway and out of the blue I’m climbing up a slender lane underneath a cover of sessile oak bushes. From the highest I could make out the silhouettes of Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du.These abrupt modifications of scene – from city, industrial and at occasions fairly run-down, to open countryside and mountain skylines – are a part of the distinctive character of the valleys. And biking is by far one of the simplest ways to discover, not simply on the waymarked routes but in addition on the a lot bigger community of lanes, tracks, byways and outdated tramways.Open countryside on the highway to PenderynThe little village of Penderyn appears a world away from the economic estates of Hirwaun: stout stone cottages, an outdated church, a few good pubs and a distillery that produces a Welsh single malt whisky from the spring water of the Brecon Beacons. Within the golden hour of late afternoon, I preserve climbing till I discover a gravel monitor by means of a forest that can hopefully get me to Merthyr Tydfil with out utilizing the busy A470. After improvising my method throughout the deep gorge of the River Taff, I emerge into the hillside village of Cefn-coed-y-cymmer on the sting of Merthyr.I’m staying on the Grange, a cycling-oriented guesthouse owned and run by Gethin and Nikki Pearson. They met in London and each received into biking whereas commuting to work by bike. After years in soul-sapping company jobs they upped sticks for Wales (Gethin is initially from Newport) and run “the type of place we’d like to remain at”. The situation couldn’t be higher: on the midway level on the favored Taff Path between Cardiff and Brecon, and a 10-minute journey from Bike Park Wales, one of many UK’s high mountain bike path centres.Gethin knocks up a selfmade burger, which I wash down with a beer from the Gray Timber brewery over the hill in Aberdare. If the intention is to strike a stability between the comforts of a wise B&B and the informality of a ski chalet, whereas additionally offering all the things you could possibly need on the bike entrance, the Grange will get it excellent.The subsequent morning we sit within the backyard underneath a flowering magnolia tree and look throughout to the elegantly curved Cefn Coed viaduct. I set off on the outdated railway line by means of a steep, wooded valley. At Dowlais High I cease to look out throughout what was as soon as a flaming, smoking expanse of furnaces and forges operating day and night time. Merthyr made the cannonballs that sank Napoleon’s fleet and the railways that girdled the globe.Finally I see the low, arched mouth of the Chartist Cave and a plaque that confirms I’m in the fitting placeThe steelworks are lengthy gone, however on the hillside past is the enormous black gap of Ffos-y-fran, Britain’s largest opencast coalmine, the place bulldozers are digging by means of a layer cake of rock and coal. Coal mud, noise and site visitors are a severe blight on the neighbourhoods close by. The mine is setting apart a share of the income to revive the closely labored panorama to a extra pure state, although there are debates on whether or not that is sufficient. A lot of the coal from Ffos-y-fran goes to the Tata steelworks at Port Talbot, a significant employer however accountable for an estimated 15% of all Wales’s carbon emissions. With out the large funding required to decarbonise, metal manufacturing will nonetheless want coal, whether or not from Wales or elsewhere.I watch a snowstorm drift throughout the valley till I’m out of the blue in a whiteout. Including a couple of heat layers, I proceed east on a cycleway squeezed between the twin carriageway and an Asda superstore. Crossing the Rhymney valley I climb Bryn Oer (the aptly named “chilly hill”). There’s a small windfarm on the high, and the generators are spinning quick within the arctic air with a relentless whump-whump-whump sound.The writer pushing his bike over tough floor to the Chartist CaveFrom right here I go away route 46 to go north on to Llangynidr mountain. I’m seeking the Chartist Cave the place, in 1839, native activists ready and stockpiled their weapons earlier than a march on Newport in the reason for democratic rights for working males. Police killed about 20 of the hundreds who took to the streets and the ringleaders have been tried for treason and transported to penal colonies in Australia.Although it’s marked on my map, the cave is a mile from the highway and I’ve to push my bike throughout the tough floor. It’s blowing a gale and beginning to snow once more, and I start to surprise if my map studying will likely be as much as the job. Finally I see the low, arched mouth of the cave and a commemorative plaque that confirms I’m in the fitting place.It’s a reduction to be out of the wind. I placed on my head torch to enterprise deeper and crawl by means of a slender slot into a bigger chamber. I’ve heard it goes on for greater than 400 metres underground however I’m scared to enterprise too far in case I can’t discover my method out once more.The Chartists who hid their weapons and pikes in that cave are a part of a proud historical past of radical politics within the valleys, which additionally contains early experiments in progressive schooling on the Dowlais ironworks, Keir Hardie’s election as Britain’s first Labour MP in Merthyr, and Tredegar’s favorite son Aneurin Bevan taking his city’s medical support society as his blueprint for the NHS. The valleys have made an outsized contribution to fashionable Britain, not simply in trade however in concepts.Snow on the Chartist Cave, Mynydd LlangynidrBetween Tredegar and Brynmawr Route 46 is on a collection of latest traffic-free cycleways beside the just lately upgraded Heads of the Valleys highway. Essentially the most thrilling of them is the fantastic descent to the brand new Gateway Bridge on the high of the Clydach gorge. A deep ravine of caves, waterfalls, historic beech woodland and a whole bunch of uncommon species of crops and bugs just isn’t a pure location for a twin carriageway.Other than the ecological impacts, the brand new highway has gone method over price range, although the result’s some spectacular civil engineering. However for cyclists, the best way down the gorge is completely charming, on the trackbed of an outdated railway line that adheres to cliff faces and leaps throughout brooks on stone viaducts. It’s a lovely finish to my journey alongside the Heads of the Valleys, only one route in a novel, richly assorted but typically missed panorama that provides limitless potentialities for exploring by bike.Jack Thurston is the writer of the Misplaced Lanes collection of biking guidebooks. Lodging was offered by the Grange, which has doubles from £85 B&B