Category Archives: Red

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Brecon Beacons, Natural, Red, 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.

Leave a comment

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

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.

Leave a comment

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

The Gower

Trail centre: Natural – Gower Peninsula.

Grade: Red

Length: Variable, depending on which bits you ride.  25-30km (15-19 miles).

Start point: There’s an excellent circuit that starts at the picnic spot in Penmaen (at 51.578, -4.124).  There’s plenty of places to park on the Gower, if you fancy starting it somewhere else.

Description: As with many other natural routes, the point here is linking a number of excellent sections of trail with roads, tracks and other rideable stuff.  The route that I rode started in Penmaen, ran the length of the Cefn Bryn ridge, along the edge of Ryers Down, over the edge of Llanmadoc Hill, along the edge of Rhossili Down and back along Cefn Bryn.

The track along the top of Cefn Bryn is a fun and relatively easy blast, with views of the whole Gower peninsula.  Then it’s a short section of road past the Fairy Hill hotel and up onto Ryers Down, ending at a hidden pony bridge.  A tough climb leads back up onto the road, and then along to Cheriton and up a steep road climb until you find the track up on to Llanmadoc Hill.  Navigation gets distinctly tricky at this point, but make your way across the hill towards Rhossili Down, which dominates the skyline to the South.  Once off the hill, follow the road along through Llangennith to Hillend.  Go through the gate and keep right onto the long section of singletrack along the edge of Rhossili Down.  When you come out in Rhossili, follow the road up to Middleton and then along the bridleway through Kingshall and out onto the main road.  After a while, turn left up toward Reynoldston and back onto the top of Cefn Bryn, which takes you back to the start.

Good stuff:  The track along the top of Cefn Bryn is excellent, and frankly it’s all about the long singletrack blast along the edge of Rhossili Down.  There are plenty of other sections that are great fun too, but a fair bit shorter.

Difficult stuff:  Nothing massively tricky, although inevitably the sections of natural track vary considerably according to weather conditions and time of year.  Some bits require a foot on the floor, or occasionally two.  The climb from the pony bridge is loose, steep, and a bit of killer.  The herd of cows that you end up following along a bridleway is also somewhat tricky to ride over.

Verdict: Great fun, and very good for seeing a lot of the Gower in a single great ride.  Definitely worth a ride!  Or several.

Leave a comment

Filed under Gower, Natural, Red, Trail centres, Trail grades, Trails, Wales

The Gap

Trail centre: Natural – Brecon Beacons.

Grade: Red

Length: The Gap road itself: 7km (4.3 miles).  Routes that use it: various, but somewhere just over 20km is the shortest.

Start point: The Gap road itself runs from somewhere below the Neaudd reservoirs South of Pen y Fan (say grid ref. 035174, co-ordinates 51.847, -3.402) to somewhere in Cwm Cynwyn North of Pen y Fan (perhaps 037237, or 51.902, -3.402).  However, a circular ride taking it in would be better started from Talybont on Usk (honesty box parking next to the town hall) or from Brecon itself, although this means a rather longer route.

Description: The Gap is an iconic route for mountain bikers in South Wales.  It is an ancient pony track that leads straight over the top of the Pen y Fan ridge – not far from the highest point in the Brecon Beacons and the highest point in the South of Britain (although I’ve never been entirely sure what that means).  It’s the closest you can legally ride to the top of Pen y Fan itself.  What all this means for mountain bikers is that it’s a long, interesting, challenging, but relatively gentle climb on good rock, gravel, and occasional loose stone, followed by an excellent long rocky and completely rideable descent.  As with many natural rides, the route that you take to get to and away from the Gap are just the prologue and the epilogue to that one section of trail.

I’ve ridden it from Talybont on Usk.  Follow the Taff trail out of the village over the canal, across the dam at the foot of the Talybont reservoir, and up the long climb through the forest on the other side.  After emerging from the trees at the top, turn left on the road and follow it up and over the crest of the hill and down to the first track on your right.  Take this and keep right so that you contour round and meet the foot of the Gap road.  Keep right at the crossroads onto the rough track that starts to climb.  Shortly you’ll find a large gully that isn’t terribly rideable, and may involve getting wet feet depending on the weather, but after scrambling back out of it it’s all pretty smooth sailing as you climb the track up to the ridge.  Pen y Fan is the highest peak to your left.  Cross the ridge between Cribyn and Fan y Big, and begin the epic descent.  Enjoy it!  At the end, basically make your way back along the lanes to the canal, and then back to Talybont.  There’s a byway at the start that’s a bit of pain to ride, being a narrow gully lined with holly and brambles, and later on there’s a bridleway across a field that might be passable in summer.  Essentially it’s up to you how much you want to stick to lanes and how much you want to find more cross country routes.

Good stuff:  The Gap road in its entirety (with the exception of the unrideable gully).  The descent is long and great fun, the climb is interesting and a pleasant challenge.  The contour track just before you reach it is an easy blast too, but massively overshadowed by the later awesomeness.

Difficult stuff: The climbs are long, and can be troublesome if you’re out of practise.  Some of the surface on the way up is loose and quite tricky.  Other than that, it’s a relatively straightforward ride.

Verdict: An excellent route to ride, and an essential in South Wales.

Leave a comment

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

Blade Trail

Trail centre: Afan

Grade: Red

Length: 24km (14.9miles)

Start point: Glyncorrwg trail centre.  Leave the M4 at junction 40 and follow signs for Cymmer.  Keep going straight on through villages, past the Afan trail centre and on.  Turn left down a steep hairpin into Glyncorrwg and continue on through the village.  Glyncorrwg ponds and the trail centre will be on the left.

Description: Much more of a sustained and technical challenge than most of the other red trails at Afan.  The singletrack climb is shared with Whites Level, and allows you to gain a lot of height without too much difficulty.  Then Blade leaves Whites and heads off into some technically challenging sections of singletrack.  Definitely a trail that will push you.

Good stuff: Every section of singletrack is something to look forward to.  The satisfaction of having ridden it and ridden it well would by immense, if somewhat beyond my current skill level.

Difficult stuff: Once you get into the singletrack sections specific to Blade, the difficulty level increases significantly.  The constant hairpins in Helter Skelter are a distinct challenge, and the rock that gives its name to The Rock section requires a level of technical skill that I am a long way from having.

Verdict: Excellent trail, but a distinct challenge for the bad mountain biker.

Leave a comment

Filed under Afan, Red, Trails, Wales

Whites Level

Trail centre: Afan

Grade: Red

Length: 17km (10.5miles)

Start point: Glyncorrwg trail centre.  Leave the M4 at junction 40 and follow signs for Cymmer.  Keep going straight on through villages, past the Afan trail centre and on.  Turn left down a steep hairpin into Glyncorrwg and continue on through the village.  Glyncorrwg ponds and the trail centre will be on the left.

Description: This trail is one of the two that ushered me back into mountain biking, and that I tend to use as a yardstick to judge other trails.  It’s nicely designed and for the most part completely rideable, although it has been heavily affected by forestry work at one time or another, resulting in diversions.  A largely singletrack climb gets a lot of height done without you noticing too much, and then a series of excellent singletrack sections will leave you grinning.  There’s an optional black-graded loop at the top which I’ll review if I ever ride it, and Whites can be combined with The Wall into the epic and black-graded W2, which again I’ve not ridden.  There’s two options for the final descent as well.

Good stuff: Every section of singletrack.  Energy is a particular favourite of mine, and Goodwood and Darkside provide some great and varied riding, even after the demise of the boardwalk in Goodwood.

Difficult stuff: Nothing hugely troublesome, though the occasional tricky feature might cause problems.  Take care with the bridges in Energy, and the dropoffs in Darkside.

Verdict: Excellent trail, perfectly designed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Afan, Red, Trails, Wales

The Wall

Trail centre: Afan

Grade: Red

Length: 23km (14.3miles)

Start point: Afan trail centre.  Leave the M4 at junction 40 and follow signs for Cymmer.  Keep going straight on through villages and eventually you’ll find the trail centre on the right.

Description: This trail is one of the two that ushered me back into mountain biking, and that I tend to use as a yardstick to judge other trails.  It’s nicely designed and for the most part completely rideable.  A long fireroad climb gets most of the uphill out of the way without too much difficulty or effort, and then begins a series of singletrack sections, each and every one worth looking forward to.  Can be linked to Whites Level to form the epic and black-graded W2, which I’ve never ridden.

Good stuff: Every section of singletrack.  Tramway and Graveyard are particularly fun.

Difficult stuff: Some sketchy moments at times – though most are fine with the right speed and planning.  The end of Tramway was the site of my one and only faceplant, so I’d advise picking a line that doesn’t end suddenly with a sudden dip, an unexpected log and a meeting of face and trail.  Keep right.

Verdict: Excellent trail, perfectly designed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Afan, Red, Trails, Wales