I met up with my good friend Joe last weekend for some riding in North Wales; we live at opposite ends of the country, so often our late summer meet ups are the only time we see each other in a year.
We started on Friday by meeting up at Carding Mill Valley in the Shropshire Hills, at the foot of the Long Mynd. With me coming down from Hull and Joe coming up from Exeter it was kinda in the middle, and sort of on our way to Barmouth. If you squinted. To fit in with my baby duties, we met up at midday and had an expensive but not too bad sausage roll in the cafe before making our way up the hill.
The first climb from Carding Mill Valley up to the ridge was hard, especially with my lack of fitness and lingering cold. There were a few bits of pushing (and it probably would have made a great descent) but it didn’t feel like too long before we were at the top, and heading south along the ridge.
At a car park we accidentally turned right down a loose, rocky, doubletrack descent. It wasn’t that great, to be honest, and not what I’d been hoping for from the Long Mynd. A quick consult of various GPS devices told us that we’d deviated from the route I had on my Viewranger (kindly sent by someone off the Singletrack Forum) and now had to climb back up to the ridge to get to where we were supposed to be. This turned out to be a grassy singletrack that would probably have been a lot more fun going down than the track we’d taken. Ah well. We then coasted (as best we could) down the ridge towards the gliding club, and the Minton Batch descent that we’d heard so much about.
And… It was ok. We both enjoyed it, but were also just a little bit underwhelmed. It never really felt like it flowed too well, which was a bit of a disappointment. I suspect it would be a lot more fun after a couple of runs, as sight lines weren’t brilliant which meant we were constantly on the brakes and it was pretty overgrown with foliage in places too. And my chain fell off, which was to become something of a theme for the weekend. I think we’d maybe built it up a little bit too much too.
Following was a road then fireroad climb back up to the top of the ridge, which was fine if a little bit sweaty. There looked to be a lot of cheeky little trails emerging from the woods there, which would probably have been worth an explore if we’d been there for longer.
Past the gliding club and we followed the ridge back the way we’d come, but with a tailwind this time. The climbs were much easier, and the descents were very fast! Back to the junction where we’d climbed up from Carding Mill and off the ridge onto a fast bit of doubletrack. This led to a fun fast grassy bit, finished off by some ace rocky singletrack back down into the valley – comfortably the highlight of the day. We then took the road back to the car park, though looking at the map afterwards we realised there was actually a bit of singletrack we could have taken instead. Ah well, we’ll know for next time.
We covered about 18 miles all in, and around 3000ft of climbing, so a reasonable afternoon. I’d like to go back and explore more, but I’m not sure there’d be enough there for a weekend and it’s a bit too far for a day from us.
Then we drove over to Bunkorama outside Barmouth, which was ideal for our needs – basic, clean and cheap. And they had a dog. I can also heartily recommend Saffron if you go there and fancy a good curry.
The plan for Saturday was to ride Pont Scethin from Bunkorama. However, it absolutely hammered it down in the morning, and poor Joe had already had to spend a lot of time waiting around for me at the top of (and the middle of) climbs, as my fitness is not great. We decided that whilst the rain had mostly stopped it was still going to be wet under tyre, and the wind was pretty powerful, and that wasn’t the ideal conditions to be waiting around on an exposed hillside while a fat lat wheezes his way up behind you. So we decided to drive up the road to Coed y Brenin, where at least we could hide in the trees.
Now there are a lot of trails at Coed y Brenin, and it was a bit of a struggle to decide which one to do. We quite looked the look of the 30k Dragon’s Back route, but feedback from a riding buddy (‘it’s all climbing for bugger all reward’) set us scouring through the Singletrack archives, where we discovered that the MBR trail was the general consensus. So we figured we’d give that a go, and if at 18km it was too short we could always do something else afterwards.
Again… It was ok. There were some absolutely brilliant sections (I can’t remember any names, but some of the faster descents were terrific fun) but there was quite a lot where it felt really difficult to maintain and flow or momentum over the seemingly infinite slippery rocks. When the trail pointed down it was good fun, but there were a lot of uppy-downy bits which sapped all your speed and put you on the wrong line to go back down the other side, causing some squeaky bum moments as tyres scrabbled for grip on the greasy rock.
It probably gets more fun once you’ve ridden it a couple of times and get a feel for the lines, and being on a hardtail probably made it harder work too. I could feel my speed ebbing away with every smack of the rear wheel uphill whilst fully-suspended bikes scampered away effortlessly. Alright that’s maybe not quite true, but you get the idea. A couple of more regular folk we spoke to confirmed that it was particularly slippery too, so that wasn’t just us.
We also had some navigation issues with missing signs which meant that we actually missed out a chunk (Pink Heifer) which was a bit annoying. Signage was mostly ok, just every now and then they seemed to have forgotten to add one of the trails to a signpost. This would be even more annoying on Sunday… Anyway, despite having only done 9 miles or so we both decided that we didn’t fancy another rocky battering so we headed back to Bunkorama and down into Barmouth for fish and chips. Which were average, at best.
Sunday we both had long drives home, so we decided to have a crack at the 11km Cyflym Coch (Red Fox) trail, reasonably early in the morning. We actually started on the Blue to miss out the not that much fun rocky bit that we’d done at the start of the MBR which seemed to work ok, then just folloewd the signs for Cyflym Coch. Again, there were some ok bits, but the last descent (Pink Heifer, the one that we’d missed out on the MBR) was a big disappointment. Despite having climbed for what felt like an age to get there the descent managed to feel like it was mostly uphill – every time it felt like it was getting going it pitched up into a speed and energy sapping climb.
I reckon there’s a thin line between making the most of the elevation gained and making a descent feel like a chore, and for me Pink Heifer (and some of the other trails at CyB) is the wrong side of that line.
After Pink Heifer we suffered another missing sign, which resulted in us going the wrong way up the road and nearly doing the whole trail again. In fact if we hadn’t noticed we’d probably be stuck in an infinite loop, foraging for berries in some kind of horrific Groundhog Day scenario. The maps were pretty damn useless too – I don’t mind getting lost or taking a wrong turn when I’m following a GPX or a map, that’s part of the fun and it’s nice to explore, but at a trail centre the signs are pretty much the only way to navigate, so they should really be on point. But maybe it was just us, I dunno. I don’t ride trail centres much, and when I do it tends to be the same ones so I know my way around reasonably well.
Anyway – despite those minor annoyances, I’d recommend Coed y Brenin if you’re in the area, though I personally wouldn’t travel to get there. I’ve seen some suggestions for combining the best bits of loops to get the best bang for buck, so those might be worth having a look at too.