What a Wonderful Welsh Winter Road Trip – Feb 08

13 02 2008

Yacky Dar – that’s what they say in Wales isn’t it? Have a good day… well we intended to! A trip to Wales had been talked about for a while and with Sally chomping at the bit for a break after a busy time at work, a long weekend was set. A beautiful little log cabin was our home for the duration, boy(o) did we land our feet. Nice and tranquil, view to die for, at the edge of The Wall trail at Afan and enough mod cons to keep you comfortable (well once our engineers had fettled with most of them!!) and a bike lock up for all your stuff.

Day One – Got no brakes !

A quick check over the car night before (as you do when planning a nice long drive) discovered rear brake pads were on the metal, got to stop at the shop en-route, we were lucky & got some to fit later. We eventually hooked up with Ollie & Sally just outside Reading and stopped for a rip-off motorway brekkie. Bit later than planned, we reckoned we’d still fit in a ride at Cwm Carn before hitting the Afan Valley so pedal to the metal and don’t use the brakes !

2.45pm arrived Cwm Carn, night lights in backpacks just in case we set off to ride the 15km Twrch trail. The nature of Cwm Carn is singletrack whether that be up or down and on cold legs we were feeling the gradient from the off. For some reason my backpack weight about 2 stone (thanks Rick & Ollie helping redistribute). This trail is tough, the theme being climbing, climbing, climbing. Steep, technical, singletrack climbing alongside a river valley but the sun was shining (how lucky given the sever weather warning we were heading into) but it goes on for approx. 4 unrelenting miles. The last section of up is the worst (Giants Finger) so Sally & I dipped out via the scenic roadway (previous knowledge a godsend) and the boys had the worst climb to themselves, (you can check out the new Freeride Area too which has a wooden wall in Whistler style) we eventually hooked back up again. Turns out Ollie now had no back brake after losing the pad from the backing… I honestly would NOT want to ride these trails with no rear brake there was now miles of descending, he had to get on with it and did a good job of not crashing over the bars !

The sun was now seriously starting to set, the wind was whipping up the valley and it was freezing cold as we hit the open desolation of singletrack with rocks and stumps thrown in to catch you out we eventually got to Vertigo, well after a little bit more climbing that is. Vertigo’s the final decent. It’s steep, loose, rocky (where isn’t in Wales), narrow and very close to the edge. It’s a right grin though as it switchbacks its way right back to the car park. Before you decend you can split and do the new Black Downhill Run but with time not on our side, and all suffering seriously knackered legs, we decided to get back to the car. Well, Rick decided to push up the final DH section and we met him at the end – after he nearly stacking big time over a maaasive table top. This DH is serious and with an uplift service really used to its full advantage. We however finished the XC trail at 5.05pm … 5.15pm pitch black !

Day Two – Penhydd Trail, Afan Valley

Waking to a complete white frost we spent the morning chilling on ‘holiday time’ so much so it was already midday and Ollie had no brake pads so we scuttled into action, night lights packed again just in case! Nothing at Afan shop, back in the car to Glyncorwg (sp?) which is home to two newer trails up the valley, Skyline and Whytes Level. Brake pads purchased and pulling ourselves away from a great bike shop that was begging for some retail, back down the valley to Afan. We’d set our minds on doing the Penhydd Trail. Numb fingers changing brake pads in the car park, then us getting lost on a waymarked trail and doing two laps round the visitor centre on an unreadable diversion (!!!!) we were off, good job cos I was getting grumpy – think I needed to eat. Penhydd is 17km of technical singletrack, we’d set off at 1.45. Luckily although longer the majority of climbs were fireroad up followed by fantastic switchbacking, rocky, steppy, droppy, singletrack descents that pay you back in grin factor.

My previous trip 6 yrs previous had me petrified in the Hidden Valley it was my first ever technical riding and I was rubbish. The trail through here is literally stuck onto the mountainside and held up with log piles, narrow, very close to the trees with many switchbacks (some which got the better of me) today I was determined to clean it, everyone was buzzing at the end wanting more. Dead Sheep Gully, Desolation, Hidden Valley, Brashy Track – to name just a few singletrack sections – were really good fun, it was raining and it was cold but we didn’t care. The only annoying part of the trails is the motorbike gates which most mere mortals can’t ride through (although no one told Ollie & Rick) so they stop the flow, but hey better that than destroyed trails I suppose. The final singletrack back is tight, twisty, technical, steppy and droppy and managed to see off Sally’s chain, her 3 power links had finally given up the ghost 😉 Mechanical sorted, it getting dark through the trees again we made it back just in time to get the Dirtworker out and clean off the worst.

Nice pasta meal sorted us out and set us up for Brechfa, 1100mtrs of climbing and some really big descents to finish. We were stoked but ready for bed…after a few glasses of pino grigio that is.

Day 3 – Brechfa Forest, in the middle of nowhere !

We’d read about Brechfa but not heard from anyone who’d ridden there. About an hour from Afan and a bit difficult to find with no facilities (not even a loo!), we had no idea what to expect really.

Starting out on a steep fireroad climb that had us stripping layers in no time you wind your way up for a long time, dipping into singletrack through pine and mixed woodland, but all of it going up, up, up. They’ve got to fit that 1100mtrs in somewhere and what goes up must come down. Brechfa prides itself on being a progressive trail. With massive, massive berms, log rumblestrips, raised fallen skinny logs over boggy marsh, boardwalks, table tops and steep, steep descents that catch you out if you’re not careful (one near crash had us counting blessings), you can roll everything or if air’s your bag there’s plenty of it to catch unlike Cwm Carn though there’s no uplift so you need to be fairly fit to get to all the good bits. One really good section was flowy and bermed but was staggered with cut off tree stumps every one with a height gain til they reached about 2ft. To be honest you’d have to ride it to get what I’m on about, its not like any of the other trails I’ve ridden (closest probably being Glentress) and you can ride it as hard as you like and still come back for more.

For us the final section was a nightmare. It started to rain, like proper welsh rain with sleet and hail thrown in for good measure. We were on the last (and best) final downhill section with the biggest biggest berms I’ve ever seen and really steep descents and none of us could see a damn thing. It was literally running rivers down the singletrack. Rick crashed over a tabletop, landing on a shoulder injury that’s pending surgery and did some serious damage. Luckily we all managed to get back safely (although he nearly had 2 more offs cos couldn’t grip bars) and after ½hr riding on really technical terrain with brain freeze we eventually made it back to the cars. Completely soaked through, absolutely knackered and a bit dazed we were glad to be back it was complete stair rods. Steaming hot cup of tea from the (thankgod) sensible flask prepared earlier, we stripped in cars and then spent 1 1/2hrs trying to find a shop that actually sold food (note to self most shops in Wales shut at 4pm on a Sunday!). Back at the Lodge, dinner cooked I was falling asleep at the table, what a great day. Except for poor Rick.

Day 4 – The Wall, Afan

Plan was wake really early and set off by 9am. Our Lodge is literally a stones throw from the Wall Trail (I think the final descent) and we were going to fit it in before heading off home at midday. Plan thwarted, Rick’d been in agony all night and couldn’t move his arm at all . He’d had a much bigger crash than we all realised. Ollie & Sally rode The Wall (why not it was there begging at the end of the drive) and Rick and I went for a walk and a bit of retail at Glyngorwg and a snack in the very smart café there. Back to the Lodge, packed away in ½ hr and we were on the road home. Good journey, no snow as forecast and we’d had a good time.

All of us want to go back so watch this space if you fancy a road trip, get up early and don’t mind the driving you could fit a decent ride in in a day and still get home for tea or there’s plenty of Log Cabins, B&B’s farmhouses to hire in the area and mountainbiking is well and truly on the map in Wales. Bring it on it what I say, shame England isn’t getting the same level of funding though so we don’t have so far to travel every time we fancy a damn good bit of world class singletrack.

Watch this space apparently too because there’s a Black route on it’s way at Brechfa. Now that will be interesting if the Red is anything to go by, the Black will be very technical but will feed the need for freeride mentalists.

Maybe see you on the next trip.

Cheers

Lisa

Clicky links for some photos: There’s not many though cos we were too busy chasing the daylight, the rain and the fab singletrack to stop for too many pics 🙂

http://ollie.randles.fotopic.net:80/c1458370.html

http://photos-by-lisa.photosnaps.org.uk/c1461211.html

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