Category Archives: Trail centres

The Long Mynd

Trail centre: Natural – Shropshire.

Grade: Red

Length: Various, as there are bridleways criss-crossing the hill.  Our route was 38.9km (24.2 miles) and took in a lot of the best parts.

Start point: We started from a campsite just outside Church Stretton (441900; 52.503, -2.825).  There are car parks closer to the hill if not camping, for example the one at 445944 which we passed through on our route.

Description: The Long Mynd has plenty of excellent riding – so much so that it gets included in books on mountain biking in Wales.  Indeed it has a feeling very similar to the Brecon Beacons and Clwyds, and is thought to have a bit of a Welsh name (‘Mynd’ is thought to be a corruption of ‘mynydd’, which means ‘mountain’ in Welsh).  We did a three up, three down route (ie. three climbs and three descents) to try to take in some of the best bits.

We did this ride quite a while ago, so my memories of it are a little hazy.  I’ll offer what I can based on what I remember, and update it when I get the chance to ride it again.

We approached the hill through Church Stretton on roads, finally making our way into a car park at the foot of Carding Mill Valley, where it became clear that there was a cycling event going on.  Three hundred riders were coming down the track that we wanted to climb, which made it an interesting one.  Nonetheless we slogged up it, taking a bridleway that doubles back towards the approach road, and loops round the side of the hill.  It is worth noting that the bridleways shown on the map do not seem to quite match the ones on the ground, so some of the route is on what appear to be footpaths – but when you reach them are signed as bridleways.  Some fun bits of riding eventually lead to a long climb up onto the top of the hill and a track that leads into the top of Carding Mill Valley and our first descent.  A long, fast and fun descent made more interesting by drainage channels and the ascending event riders brought us back down to the car park at the foot of the valley, at which point we turned right and made our way onto the road that winds back up onto the mountain.

This was a slog, starting very steep and seeming to go one for a long time, before eventually coming out on the top of the ridge, where we bore left and headed along the spine of the mountain to pick up another misrepresented bridleway back down.  Again, plenty of fun high moorland riding and a descent that sweeps around the side of the hills over grass and packed mud.

We got back onto the roads for a bit and headed round top the right to skirt the bottom of the hill and pick up a track that would eventually lead us up to the gliding club at the end of the hill, where ill defined tracks took us up to the top of Minton Batch, a name that should be immediately familiar to anyone looking for some awesome natural riding.  Minton Batch is without a doubt the highlight of a ride that is already full of rewarding riding.  A singletrack bridleway runs straight down the valley floor from the top of the hill to the bottom, with enough interest to make it a fun ride and to require some skill to ride it well, but at the same time not being so challenging that it breaks up the riding for a bad mountain biker.  A packed mud surface with the occasional natural feature make it fast, largely smooth, and a lot of fun.

Good stuff:  All three descents, but the diamond is the final run down Minton Batch.  Much of the rest of the riding is excellent as well, particularly the first section around the hill from Carding Mill Valley car park.

Difficult stuff: Not too much.  The road climb is a little gruelling, and three significant climbs in a ride saps your energy quite badly, but it’s more than made up for by the rest of the riding.

Verdict: Outstanding.  Worth riding purely for Minton Batch (it’s quite possible to do shorter loops to take this in), but equally there’s a huge amount of great riding to be had.

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Filed under England, Natural, Red, Shropshire, Trail centres, Trail grades, Trails

Black Mountain Bridleways

Trail centre: Natural – Brecon Beacons.

Grade: Red(ish)

Length: Various.  The first exploratory ride was 30km (18.6 miles).

Start point: First ride started at the car park on the minor road off the A4069 at grid reference 708193 (51.857, -3.877).

Description: At the Western end of the Brecon Beacons lies the Black Mountain (singular – plural is the other end of the range).  Looking at the map reveals a number of enticing bridleways crossing the mountains, which have intrigued me for a while.  They largely follow the routes of old roads or pony tracks, superseded by the modern roads.  From the map, they could be exceptionally good riding – a possibility of long sections of descent across lonely moorland – proper mountain biking.  We explored two of them, and as I explore more I will add to this post.

 

Bridleway 1: 708193 to Brynamman (713150)

We left the car park and almost immediately gained the obvious and stony track that leads straight uphill.  Keep right at a junction – the left fork leads straight back to the road a little further East.  Keep climbing, and keep to the track.  The surface at this point varies from stones to bog, and the whole thing is probably worth avoiding in Winter.  We rode it at the end of April in a particularly dry spell and it was fine, but plenty of evidence of it being quite wet.  The track continues up onto the top of the ridge, and begins a descent towards Brynamman.  The route becomes gradually less and less distinct, and some guesswork is required as you come down.  However, there are plenty of little paths to follow that are close enough to the route of the bridleway as makes no odds.  Approaching the edge of the access land find and follow a small valley, and eventually come to a gate that takes you onto a lane into Brynamman.  Bridleway verdict: some good riding in Summer, probably worth avoiding when wet.

Opposite the gate, take the lane straight ahead that drops you down into the village, turn left at the foot of it and left again when you hit the main road on a bend.  Bear right at the mini roundabout and keep on going along the main road.  Keep an eye out for signs until a lane next to a garage gives you access onto the Amman valley cycle path.  Follow this along the valley and across the main road, and then at an uncertain point we turned left and walked the bikes along a footpath that finally brought us across a bridge onto a lane.  We turned left and followed the lane up into a farm, picking up signs for a bridleway on the way.  Follow signs up onto a small hillock and turn right at the top, and then follow a path down into the valley and up the other side, following a concrete farm track through a couple of gates and towards:

Bridleway 2: 760141 to 756215

At least, in theory that’s what happens.  We cruised back and forth along the track a couple of times looking for the start of the bridleway, and eventually followed a possibility round the corner of a fence and into a deep bog.  According to the map the bridleway climbs steadily up the side of a valley, joins a footpath and turns left up a tributary until it reaches the top of the ridge.  Comparing our Strava feed with the map, it appears that we were more or less exactly where we should have been, but we saw very little sign of a track at all.  Sheep tracks turned up, followed the expected route for a while, and then vanished into the bilberries.  Tallus fields guided us across certain bits of the hillside, but then the paths we were following vanished.  Some features around us suggested the possible existence of a track at some point in the past, but nothing traceable remained.  As a result, we walked and pushed our bikes for almost the entirety of the climb.  It was tedious and frustrating.  Once at the top, the route crosses the Beacons Way, that follows the ridge, and becomes a little more recognisable, and as you begin to drop into the valley you can start to see sections of path, generally across cropped grass and the occasional bog.  The riding here is fun, and a genuinely good section of downhill.  Tyre tracks suggest that it has been ridden recently, but it’s anyone’s guess how the other riders got to it.  Bridleway verdict: the North end might be worth riding, South end is largely non-existent.

Follow the path down into a valley and through a gate onto a track, ignoring the bridleway sign when you reach a farm and instead following the track to the left (walking the bike – it’s not a bridleway).  Continue down a field track to the right of a barn and keep following this until you reach the road.  Turn right on the road and take the next lane to the left, following it past a house and back out onto the hills.  This track is heavily rutted and very wet, but some bits are still rideable.  Follow this all the way to the end where it reaches the road again, and turn left for a slog up the main road until a right turning just before an obvious hairpin.  Turn here, and continue down the singletrack road back to the car park.

Good stuff:  Bridleway 1 is a fun and very natural ride with some excellent sections.  The descent of Bridleway 2 is fun, but definitely not worth the navigation issues and general bother of getting to it.

Difficult stuff: Non-existent bridleways make the ride a tedious slog at times, and are worth avoiding.  Otherwise, little difficult stuff, although sections of the climb on Bridleway 1 are a little challenging if you’re out of practise.

Verdict: Bridleway 1 worth a ride if it’s dry, bridleway 2 doesn’t exist at the South end, but might be worth a there-and-back ride at the North end.  More information to come on the other bridleways.

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Filed under Brecon Beacons, Natural, Red, Trail centres, Trail grades, Trails, Wales

The Doethie Valley

Trail centre: Natural – Brecon Beacons.

Grade: Red

Length: 

Start point: Start point for the ride that we did was the car park at the dam across Llyn Brianne at 794485  (52.12,  -3.76).  Start point of the Doethie Valley itself is more like 757533 (52.16, -3.81).

Description: As with many natural rides, this one consists of a route to and from a single long section of singletrack.  The Doethie Valley holds a legendary place in mountain biking circles, as it is a section of (largely) rideable singletrack that extends over six miles.

The route begins by crossing the dam and winding ones way firstly along the shore of the reservoir and later up through forestry, to come out on a track that leads out into the hills.  This track is fast, but largely uninspiring riding, but it does carry you a good distance towards the start of the singletrack.  When you reach the chapel at Soar y Mynydd, a track to the left leads you up and over into the Doethie Valley.  The track when we reached it was securely locked and sported a sign letting us know it was closed to all traffic.  After some discussion, we climbed the gate and continued, and soon discovered that the problem was a deep and narrow gully that had cut into the track.  It presents little problem for the mountain biker, although anyone careless enough to drop a wheel into it could be seriously injured a long way from help.

Turn left on the obvious path once you’ve dropped a considerable distance down into the valley, and you begin the singletrack section of the ride.  In essence – just keep going.  There are stream crossings, some bogs that can stop you dead, rocky sections that would require a great deal of skill to clear, and sections where (at the right time of year) the path is so obscured by bracken that you end up riding by feel and blind faith more than judgement.  That said, a lot of the path is excellent riding – hard packed dirt in shallow gullies that needs just the right amount of skill to ride well.  It goes on for miles.

At the end, come out on a farm track, cruise round the shoulder of the hill and take the track on the left up and over the saddle back down to the car.

Good stuff:  The Doethie Valley.  Better as it gets later, and some exceptionally good and extensive natural singletrack.

Difficult stuff: The closed track over the hill at the far end of the route begins steep and slippery, and then goes through some huge puddles, and then enters the section with the deep gully.  The gully section is not exactly difficult, but does require some care.  On the singletrack, look out for bogs and rocks, but there’s so much good riding that the occasional foot on the floor doesn’t seem to matter too much.  The final climb is a bit of a killer after a long ride, but ultimately straightforward.

Verdict: Definitely worth a ride, although it seemed to us that we could have taken a different track across the hill and had most of the good riding without much of the bad.  However, that would cut out a couple of miles of singletrack.

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Filed under Brecon Beacons, Natural, Red, Trail centres, Trail grades, Trails, Wales

Talgarth Epic

Trail centre: Natural – Brecon Beacons.

Grade: Black

Length: Suggested route is 45.3km (28 miles).  This more than anything is the reason for the black grading.  You’ll need to be fit for this, with sufficient stamina to manage an epic ride on exposed mountains.

Start point: Car park in Talgarth at 153337 or 51.99, -3.23.  As with any of these rides, you could start wherever you like to join it, and include other sections of bridleway to make a longer, shorter or just different route.

Description: This ride is a bit of a beast.  If you’re like me, by the end you won’t be able to find energy to pedal uphill and will find yourself walking some stuff that you would normally be able to ride.  It’s worth it, and the sense of achievement at the end also somewhat satisfying.

Start by winding your way through the lanes out of Talgarth until you find the bridleway that climbs up onto Y Das.  The mountains round here are glacial, and have a very distinctive shape – steep on the North side, and gentle on the South.  You’re approaching this from the North so, well, expect the first climb to be a challenge.  However, when you’ve finished pushing your bike up the face of the hill, look ahead at the 6km of gentle but interesting, alternately loose, rocky, and smooth, beautiful descent.  It’s a standard Brecon Beacons style descent on what used to be a pony track over the mountains, and makes for exceptionally good riding.  You’d be hard pressed ti find a downhill that was more worth the effort.

At the end of the long downhill, follow the road and take a track to the right… somewhere.  We couldn’t find it.  However there are other options and all allow you to make your way to the end of Crug Mawr, and another glorious section of upland singletrack that takes you down to another road.

Winding your way through these lanes heading round to the right will bring you to the foot of the next bridleway, and a surprisingly sharp climb on a gravel track that will bring you out on the edge of the hills.  A dip to a bridge and the next section begins – an interminable but relatively gentle climb up to the head of the valley, as you climb up the adjacent on to the one you descended earlier.

This could take you some time.

A quick left right at the top and a keen eye for landmarks and mapreading should take you onto the next section of downhill, faster and more interesting than the last.  Turning left late on will have you back on roads, and lead you to a short, but sharp and unrideable for the knackered climb.  From there, a couple of short sections of bridleway lead you back to roads, and back to Talgarth.

Good stuff:  There’s a lot of effort here, but a lot of payoff.  The first long track down off the mountains is a wonderful ride, that goes on for miles and lets you ride it as fast and manic or as chilled as you like.  The second section of downhill is also excellent.  Dry and firm ruts on the path make the riding great fun.  Later sections are equally good, although I found myself too tired to necessarily enjoy them fully.  Having a climb that’s guaranteed to be a push is quite nice as well – it gets you a lot of height very quickly, and no-one’s likely to sneer when you get off your bike to climb.

Difficult stuff: Fatigue.  This is a huge ride, compared to anything I’ve ridden before on a mountain bike.  The first climb, once you accept that you should push is not too challenging.  The long grind up the second valley is much more difficult, for sheer length.  As for the downhills, there’s little that’s too troublesome.  Some of the later sections have loose and steep bits that are something of a difficulty, but can fairly easily be walked.

Verdict: Epic, excellent ride, and gets you solidly into the middle of nowhere – which is where mountain biking feels right.

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Filed under Black, Brecon Beacons, Natural, Trail centres, Trail grades, Trails, Wales

Llangorse

Trail centre: Natural – Brecon Beacons.

Grade: Red

Length: The route that I rode was 31km (19.3 miles).  As always the singletrack that represents the point of the ride is a good deal shorter.

Start point: Llangorse Lake at 129273 (51.93, -3.26) makes a good start point.  There’s plenty of parking and a sense of charming superiority as you head off for an epic ride past all the families out to play at the lake.

Description: The possible route here features an excellent amount of singletrack over the hills.  Starting from the lake head North and weave through the lanes to reach the Northernmost point of the access land around Mynydd Troed at 16430.  Turn sharp right onto the bridleway that contours round the North Western shoulder of the hill, and ride for miles along excellent singletrack on typical Brecon Beacons packed red mud, crossing a road at one point and bearing right to continue your route along the edge of Mynydd Llangorse.  After a short, varied, and mildly confusing section through forestry and fields, climb to a cairn and turn right for a blast across the top of Cefn Moel and a steep descent into Bwlch.  Turn right and head out of the village towards the Welsh Venison Centre, and take a surfaced bridleway to left of the access track.  Follow the bridleway over Allt yr Esgair – at which point hedge trimming debris ripped my drive train in half and I had to walk back.  The second attempt to ride it avoided that particular issue, and the slog up onto the top of Allt yr Esgair was rewarded with a final excellent section of downhill.  Then wind back through the lanes to Llangorse Lake and a huge slab of pink sparkly cake at the café.

Good stuff:  The bridleway along the edge of the hills is brilliant, and goes on for miles.

Difficult stuff: The drop into Bwlch is a bit of a killer – loose, slippery and very steep.

Verdict: An excellent route to explore, ideally when the hedges have not been recently trimmed.

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The Blorenge

Trail centre: Natural – Brecon Beacons.

Grade: Red

Length: Various, as it depends what route you take on the Blorenge itself.  The ride I did was about 23km including getting horrendously lost on the way up.  Much shorter routes would be somewhat difficult, but possible.

Start point: The ride I did started at the car park in Llanfoist at 286133, although the main point of this ride is the long looping sections of bridleway across the Blorenge itself, running from 255110 to around about 280110.

Description: If you start in Llanfoist, use the nice gentle cycle path to the West, and then leave it at some point to make your way up through minor roads to the edge of the hills.  I’d give more detail here, but when we rode it we got hopelessly lost in the fog at this point, which made it a long and frustrating climb.  Finding a better route would be a great deal more satisfactory.  Eventually you should come to the bridleway that leads up onto the hills at 247130, which is a rough and awkward climb up past quarries.  The industry of the area is very clear for most of the route in fact, with ever-present quarries and many of the sections of bridleway on old railway tracks.

Once at the top of the bridleway it’s a quick blast along the road – again, easier when visibility is more than a few metres.  Turn left on the road, left at the T junction and then almost immediately right on a smooth surfaced track with a lake to your right.  Then the fun begins.  A bridge takes you onto the proper bridleway along the hill.  It’s a great ride, peaty, firm, occasionally rocky, occasionally boggy, with plenty of scope for picking lines through the tricky bits and getting up plenty of speed on the straightforward bits.  A turn to the left takes you onto the next distinct section – a tumbling and much looser downhill that is a test of technical skill – but still good fun for a bad mountain biker.  At the bottom, angle right onto a long loop of bridleway that contours round the base of the Blorenge.  This again is the best of Brecon Beacons riding – red firm soil, and interesting fast singletrack.  At the far end spin round the punchbowl lake and a quick climb takes you to the top of a restricted byway.  From here it’s just a matter of threading your way through the lanes back to the car.

Good stuff:  Once you reach the objective of the ride it’s all incredible – you can see why the Blorenge has developed a reputation.  It gives you a showcase of the best of Brecon Beacons riding in a very small area.  There’s a reason that it’s been featured in searches for Britain’s best singletrack in magazines.

Difficult stuff: The bridleway climb is a bit of a beast.  Steep, technical and loose, although it could be that my impression of it has been coloured by getting lost and being tired.  You might find it’s not so bad!  The tumbling descent from the top is a challenge too, but fun enough that you’ll quickly forget the bits you had to awkwardly slither over.

Verdict: Excellent ride, a great experience of Brecon Beacons riding.

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The Gower

Whereabouts:  Wales.

Where specifically:  South Wales, the peninsula that runs West of Swansea, with the Loughor river along the Northern edge.

What am I doing here?  The Gower peninsula is worth a visit, whether mountain biking or not.  It was Britain’s first SSSI, and contains in its small area a hugely varied selection of terrain and wildlife habitats, including some of the finest beaches in the UK.  There are upland moors, woods, cliffs, beaches, salt flats, sand dunes and plenty of others as well.  Swansea itself is not far away for nightlife, bike shops and the like, the Celtic Trail National Cycle route crosses the peninsula, and the coastline has more choughs, cormorants, seals and other wildlife than you can shake a stick at, even if you’re well practised in wildlife stick shaking.

So which bits should I ride?  The Gower is a relatively small area, and so it’s quite possible to do a route taking in the majority of good spots.  See the other Gower post, which covers them in more detail.  The singletrack along the side of Rhossilli Down is excellent, as is the obvious and fun bridleway along the top of Cefn Bryn.  There are plenty of other good sections, but a quick look at a map, a guide, or the other post on here should provide plenty of material.

I miss trail centres.  The incredible trail centre riding of the Afan Forest Park is not far away up the Neath valley.  Margam Park reportedly has a new red graded trail as well (though I’ve yet to ride it).  Slightly further afield the quiet and beautifully designed trails in Brechfa Forest are within striking distance, and if you’re not from the area then the trip back along the M4 takes you past Cwmcarn, the Forest of Dean, and all sorts of varied riding.

My bike’s broken.  In Swansea there’s Wheelies, the Urban Cyclery and Schmoos.  Llanelli doubtless has some of its own bike shops.  Halfords, for cheap parts and basic repair, is everywhere.

Where can I find out more?  See the other post where I’ve described some of the sections of bridleway in more detail.  I’d recommend the Vertebrate Publishing book on Mountain Biking in Wales for a route taking in the highlights of the Gower.  Mountain biking wales, as always, has a good selection.

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Raven Trail

Trail centre: Brechfa

Grade: Black

Length: 18.5km (12miles)

Start point: Byrgym Bach.  From the A40 between Carmarthen and Llandeilo, turn North at Nantgaredig.  Follow the road through Brechfa village and out the other side.  Carry on round the bends until you spot the Forestry Commission sign.  There’s little warning so keep your eyes peeled.

Description: As the very first black graded trail ever attempted by anyone at Bad Mountain Biker Mansion, I was very pleasantly surprised.  The grading is not the unreachable jump up that I was expecting.  This trail climbs up into more remote areas of Brechfa Forest and has you feeling like you’re a good long way from the tame sections close to the car park.  Long and interesting singletrack sections provide most of the riding, and particularly later on large features are built into the trail for the adventurous.  The whole thing feels more like natural riding – and more like the likes of Cafall or Bike Park Wales – than it does trail centre riding.

Good stuff: Lengthy, varied, remote and interesting singletrack sections throughout the trail.

Difficult stuff: The climbs seem steeper, more gruelling, and more technical than on the red and blue routes in the forest, and later on the larger features would be a distinct challenge – but these are well supplied with chicken runs for those of us who like to maintain a healthy complement of limbs.  The bridge, although not technically very tricky, requires some nerve.

Verdict: Awesome!  Definitely worth checking out if you fancy a reddish black challenge.

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The Brecon Beacons

Whereabouts:  Wales.

Where specifically:  South Wales, ranging from the Black Mountain at its Western end, sort of North West of Swansea and reaching out towards Carmarthen, to the Black Mountains at the Eastern end, round Abergavenny.

What am I doing here?  The Brecon Beacons are the mountain range that heads the South Wales valleys.  They lack the craggy, remote rockiness of some other mountains in the UK, and instead tend towards sweeping grassland and mighty glacial valleys – out of which rear the sheer faces of the highest mountains in the South of Britain.  The highest point itself – Pen y Fan – is not (legally) accessible by mountain bike, but there is a vast network of bridleways and tracks that offer some outstanding riding.

So which bits should I ride?  For an absolute South Wales classic, ride the Gap Road, straight across the top of the Pen y Fan ridge.  The sections of the Roman road Sarn Helen that cross the mountains make for fun riding too.  Further East, the mountains around Abergavenny are exceptionally good for some natural singletrack – in particular try the track round the Western edge of Mynydd Llangorse, and the tracks on the Blorenge.

I miss trail centres.  Never fear, young neophyte.  Although outside of the confines of the Brecon Beacons National Park, the trail centres at Afan Forest Park, Cwmcarn and Brechfa are not far away at all, and the mighty Bike Park Wales squats on the Southern Border of the National Park itself, close to Merthyr Tydfil.

My bike’s broken.  You’re a stones’ throw away from the biggest population centres in Wales, so you might be in luck when it comes to bike shops.  At the Western end there’s Hobbs in Carmarthen, and County Cycles at Cross Hands (midway between Swansea and Carmarthen).  In Swansea there’s Wheelies, the Urban Cyclery and Schmoos.  Further North, Brecon has Biped Cycles and Bikes and Hikes.  Merthyr Tydfil has EC Cycles and Taff Vale, as well as the high end shop at Bike Park Wales itself.  There are also bike shops in the Aberdare region.  Cardiff has too many to list.  Crickhowell has Cycle Basket and Abergavenny has Gateway and M&D.  Halfords, for cheap parts and basic repair, is everywhere.

Where can I find out more?  There are more specific routes outlined on here, and plenty of guides are available.  I’d recommend the Vertebrate Publishing book on Mountain Biking in Wales as a general one.  Mountain biking wales, as always, has a good selection, and the National Park authority itself publishes a pack of fourteen natural trails (ranging from yellow grade to black) which is available online here or from the visitor centre.  The visitor centre is well worth a visit anyway – it’s not far off the A470 just South of Brecon and is a fantastic place to have lunch or a coffee with outstanding views of the highest peaks of the mountains.

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Nant yr Arian

Whereabouts: Mid Wales.

Where specifically: Bwlch Nant yr Arian visitor centre, about 14km (10 miles) East of Aberystwyth.  Follow the A44 out of Aberystwyth heading for Llangurig and Newtown, and the visitor centre is on your left at the top of the long climb into the head of the valley.

Trails: Pendam (red), Summit (red), Syfydryn (black).

Why should I go there? Three good trails (for all the red two are rather heavy on the fireroad) are a distinct draw.  They all have excellent singletrack sections, and Summit is unusual (for a trail centre) in that it also includes a long section that loops out across open heath and farmland on an interesting and fun bridleway.  The other major reason for going to Nant yr Arian for a ride is that it is one of Wales’ red kite feeding stations.  Get there at the right time and you’ll be treated to the incredible sight of literally hundreds of kites filling the sky (far more than in some of the other feeding stations).  This also provides a good thing to occupy your mountain biking roadies (you know: girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands, children, great aunts, hitchhikers…) while you’re out riding and grinding up the appropriately named Leg Burner section.  It’s also nicely between the trail centres of South Wales (in distance order: Brechfa, Afan, Cwmcarn) and the trail centres and hubs further North (like Machynlleth, Coed y Brenin, Betws y Coed, and Snowdonia in general).

Facilities: Toilets, cafe, bike wash, kite feeding, nature trails, waymarked walking trails, gift shop.  Lots more stuff in Aberystwyth, such as Summit Cycles.

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