FitBits - fitness for fun and wellbeing: August 2016


Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Cycling the South Downs Way: Amberley to Devil's Dyke

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Amberley to Devil's Dyke

"You're still cycling? Where are you going, for crying out loud?!" 

Fair point from mum, I guess. The final leg of our South Downs Way was a not-too-painful 18 miles from Amberley to Devil's Dyke, where we arrived to a welcome of blue skies and beautiful sunshine, promptly sitting down to stuff our faces with steak and fish finger sandwiches.

This makes 3/4 of the South Downs Way complete within the Bank Holiday weekend, albeit in a weird order and not in one go, but hey, we had heaps of fun, and enjoyed refuelling :) 

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Amberley to Devil's Dyke Tess Agnew

If you missed the first parts of our adventure:

Part 1: Eastbourne to Brighton 
Part 2: Petersfield to Amberley (would've been Brighton to Amberley then onwards to Petersfield but we didn't fancy a 20mph headwind thank you very much). 

Not today, thank you... 

The Amberley to Devil's Dyke leg started with a steady climb on tarmac out of the village, (obvs), and then a really steep hill to get on top of the Downs once we were in the fields (Amberley Mount). I'm not gonna lie - with a belly full of breakfast and tired legs from the previous two days of hills, we basically couldn't be arsed with that straight off so got off and pushed. 

That totals two hills that beat us during the entire trip - the formidable Beacon Hill on the Petersfield to Amberley leg, and this one because we were being lazy. 

Guilty, your honour...

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Amberley to Devil's Dyke - Amberley Mount

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Amberley to Devil's Dyke - Amberley Mount

Once we got up onto the Downs it was a lovely rolling ride, following paths, through open fields and on tracks, with some challenging, steep chalky climbs and some wicked fast descents. After my collarbone and wrist break, I'm still being careful / a bit scared on the downs compared to how I usually ride, because I'm seeing everything as a potential fall hazard now rather than something to just roll over nice and fast. 

Being slower on the downs does mean I can stop to take some awesome photos though, and Chris has to spend even more of his life waiting for me (apparently this is quite a bit, but I have no idea what he's talking about ;) )

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Amberley to Devil's Dyke

We passed a pig farm and even bumped into some Brighton Triathlon Race Series buddies (BTRS) along the way to give you guys a welcome break from my crap selfies to snap a photo of both of us together! 

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Amberley to Devil's Dyke

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Amberley to Devil's Dyke - Tess Agnew
Just after the pig farm we were treated to a great fast descent before crossing the main road for a beasty climb up Truleigh Hill and heading on towards the Dyke. 

A smattering of paragliders drifting across the blue sky made this homecoming all the more special after such an epic weekend of cycling, and of course I stopped to take far too many photos, again. 

We got to the pub just before lunchtime and sat down with a beer to relish in our achievement. 

Just look at it. THIS is why we do it. 

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Amberley to Devil's Dyke

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Amberley to Devil's Dyke

I know we didn't ride the whole thing, and we did it in a bit of a faffy, expensive, 'fair weather cyclist' kind of way, changing our route and catching a train to avoid the headwind; and we probably refuelled a bit too much for the energy burned... but who cares. What an adventure! 

Strava deets here if you're interested:

Where else can you be as free as when you're on a bike? 

I'm so lucky that Chris loves cycling as much as I do - it's brilliant to be able to do this together. Every holiday we have, we take the bikes, or end up hiring some. 

All I want to do at the moment is ride my bike - probably making up for my injury and few forced months of rest out of the saddle. For the non-cyclists who read my blog, please bear with me while I continue this love affair, it'll fizzle out eventually, I'm sure. Or maybe I'll find a new bit on the side - I'm looking to run Brighton Marathon again, this time with hubs - it'll be his first ever marathon! 

Stay tuned for that one... 

Catch up on the first parts of our adventure:

Part 1: Eastbourne to Brighton 

Part 2: Petersfield to Amberley  


Do you like cycling? What are you really into at the moment?

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Monday, 29 August 2016

The South Downs Way: Petersfield to Amberley

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Petersfield to Amberley - Tess Agnew 
<< Leg one: Eastbourne to Brighton 

It might seem strange to do a 2hr train journey just so you can ride your bike back in the opposite direction, especially when you can cycle from your door and be on the South Downs within half an hour. 

But until you've ridden into a 20mph headwind up there, you'll never understand the logic. 

The original plan after completing our first leg from Eastbourne to Brighton on Saturday was to go on to Amberley and stay overnight before continuing onto Petersfield (or as far as we could be bothered) before getting the train home. 

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Petersfield to Amberley
Light at the end of the tunnel - at the top of the first climb 
But then the wind changed its mind, didn't it, and our lovely north easterly tailwind (unusual for that direction) soon turned back around to the normal south westerly so we ditched the plan and headed for Petersfield by train. 

It's amazing how important the wind direction becomes when planning a ride, especially living on the coast. I once ignored Chris' advice to avoid a road ride to Eastbourne into a hefty headwind and very quickly regretted it. Good workout though. 

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Petersfield to Amberley

Anyway, with a table booked at the Bridge Inn for 6pm, and a lovely Airbnb room across the road sorted, we gave ourselves a good four hours or so to get from Petersfield to Amberley - with plenty of time to get lost. 

Spoiler: we didn't. Woohoo!

There's nothing 'down' about Harting Down

We rode out of the train station towards Buriton where we picked up a very steep hill up out of the village, following a track onto a woodland path which crossed a main road before joining Harting Down. These first few miles of the journey were through woodland and gravel/chalk tracks, pretty much all up hill, warming us up pretty swiftly. 

I really loved how different this leg of the South Downs Way is to the route I'm used to riding. 

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Petersfield to Amberley - Harting Down

The Eastbourne to Brighton leg is very open, across wide expanses of beautiful rolling fields and up very long hills and chalky hill paths. Even the 'non-hilly' bits seem to be on an incline. It's hard. 

Cycling from Petersfield to Amberley, I found much more 'interesting' and enjoyable - the terrain more varied and sheltered, (gravel tracks / chalk paths, woodland, fields), the hills steeper and shorter (OUCH), and the flat bits are actually a bit flat in places which always helps for recovery. 

Don't get me wrong, it was still bloody hard work - just not in 24 degrees heat, with no shelter or shade, and no bad backache from my seat post being too far backwards, or weaving in and out of the lovely (but crazy) walkers completing the South Coast Challenge. 

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Petersfield to Amberley
This was fun :)

We had the trail mostly to ourselves for the Petersfield leg, and the weather was perfect - a nice breeze (tailwind, thankyoupleashe), much cooler, and that I'm-not-raining-but-I-am-really kind of spitty rain coming in showers to cool us down throughout the route. 

It was a lovely ride. 

Beacon Hill 1 - 0 Tess & Chris

One hill beat us - the formidable Beacon Hill. I read on a website that it was uncyclable, and me and hubs have always prided ourselves on our climbing ability. Or stubbornness really, but it gets the job done, nonetheless. 

Beacon Hill though. 

As we emerged through the trees and saw it up ahead it became clear pretty quickly that it was indeed, NOT. GONNA. HAPPEN. If you look hard enough you'll see Chris a quarter of the way up realising this fact. (I was obviously too busy recoiling in horror at the sight of it, taking photos):

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Petersfield to Amberley - Beacon Hill
SCOUTS with maps!! 

We very nearly got lost here too. 

As we struggled pushing our bikes up the rest of the hill, those black clouds started to cry on us and the wind drew in. We were nearly at the top hoping to God that the sign we ignored just out of shot of this photo wasn't telling us to go left and not up and over, when a group of scouts with maps appeared like a mirage in the desert to point us in the right direction. 

The direction was indeed, up and over. Then left at the next fork, but we worked that one out for ourselves, 10 points to us. Well, Chris, actually, but hey.  

The rest of the route was through fields, gorgeous flower meadows, following paths, through tree tunnels, and of course, up and over lots of hills. One called 'Heart Attack Hill', according to Strava. NB: It's got nothing on 'Cardiac Hill' (Eastbourne leg). 

Before we knew it we were five miles from our destination. 

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Petersfield to Amberley

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Petersfield to Amberley

We reached Amberley with plenty of time to spare so went for an expensive but lovely cream tea (£14.50 for two!) before heading to the pub for a few drinks and roast pork dinner later. 

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Petersfield to Amberley - cream tea at Riverside Cafe

Yes we had a cream tea and dinner later. Sue me. 

Strava deets below if you're interested - annoyingly minus a chunk of the woodland uphill path as I forgot to restart after a water break.  



The final leg of our adventure was from Amberley back home to Brighton, which we rode today, completing 3/4 of the South Downs Way over the Bank Holiday weekend. (In bits and not in one go, but hey). 


Do you like mountain biking? How did you spend your Bank Holiday?

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Saturday, 27 August 2016

Cycling the South Downs Way: Eastbourne to Brighton

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Eastbourne to Brighton - Tess Agnew

Hills? What hills.


It's been a good while since we've cycled the South Downs Way. Far too long, in fact, but I'm back on the bike now and me and hubs are signing up for the BHF London to Brighton off road ride which is FOUR WEEKS TODAY so need to pull my finger out if I'm to get through it alive.

Judging by today's performance, it's touch and go. But I'm doing it anyway. The fitness I've lost since my massive fail (and let me tell you, it's a substantial amount), I will get back - maybe not by 24 September, but hey. I like a challenge.

So... anyway, it's Bank Holiday weekend, and we're cycling the South Downs Way. Not the whole thing, and definitely not in one go (because the wind is a bastard and changed its mind didn't it. That and my lungs won't let me).

We're doing it in bits. Today: Eastbourne to Brighton. Tomorrow: Petersfield to Amberley. And Monday if we can be bothered/still use our legs: Amberley to Brighton.

Leg one: Eastbourne to Brighton. Approx. 26 miles

The first time we rode this leg, the other way around, it was the end of November and it was wet and foggy the whole way, and we rode it with our amazing triathlon training group, Brighton Triathlon Race Series (BTRS).

Today - a whole different story. The sweat on my face is testament to that:

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Eastbourne to Brighton - Tess Agnew

It  was truly spectacular up there - not a cloud in the sky, the trail dry and dusty, and nothing but sheep and a few other mountain bikers for company.

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Eastbourne to Brighton
YES. Just YES.

Until we caught up with a few hundred walkers taking on the South Coast Challenge Ultra, that is. I have to say, however hard it was on the bike on those hills, I don't envy the people who are probably still out walking right now to finish their epic 100k adventure across the Downs.

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Eastbourne to Brighton

We  started our journey by getting the train to Eastbourne, and warming the legs up on a ridiculously long and relentless hill to Beachy Head to join the South Downs Way (follow signs from the station).

I couldn't tell if it was my reduced fitness or the fact that all hills are in fact arseholes, but I very nearly died on that first ascent, and it sort of set the tone for the rest of the ride - I'm not really in shape to do this, but I'm doing it anyway.

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Eastbourne to Brighton
Looking down on Eastbourne from the start at Beachy Head

Every time I moaned about how unfit I was, Chris made a pretty good point: I won't get my fitness back if I don't do something about it. So I soldiered on, panting and groaning my way up the hills (and trust me, THERE WERE HILLS), and whooping and weeeeeeeeeing my way down.

Oh, and just in case you decide to head up there for your own dose of awesome, just be aware: even on the flat, it's not flat. Do not be deceived. But the beauty is all true, and you can have that for free.

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Eastbourne to Brighton

The whole route is really well signposted - you just follow the 'beaten track' (a lot of it is actual path), and various signs will guide you along the route. There are various public footpaths and other bridalways that snake in and out of the South Downs Way, but as long as you follow the SDW signs you can't really go wrong.

FitBits | Cycling the South Downs Way - Eastbourne to Brighton

Some of the time you have to go through villages but even then it's pretty clear how to get back onto the route. And if you get lost - ask another walker / cyclist / local person, everyone's friendly :)

Here's (most of) the Strava from today's route. I didn't start it until we were on the SDW so missed out the massive hill on the road up to Beachy Head, and annoyingly, it decided to stop half way between Lewes and Falmer, so it's about 8 miles short.  

Have a look at the elevation on that badboy! 

Tomorrow: we're getting the train to Petersfield to cycle to Amberley, where we'll stay overnight, and decide on Monday morning if we're hard enough for the ride home. If not - another train journey it is. 

Gently does it... 


Do you like mountain biking?Have you ever ridden the South Downs Way or a similar trail?

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Saturday, 20 August 2016

Mountain biking in Wales - a tour of the trails

FitBits | Mountain biking in Wales | Bike Park Wales - Afan Forest Park - Forest of Dean - Llandegla - Coed Y Brenin

Put me on a bike and I'm happy. Take me to Wales with it and I'm all yours. 

I cannot tell you how happy it's made me to get back to cycling in the last few weeks, especially to get back to the trails. It's been three months since I broke my collarbone and wrist, and now that I'm back on the bike I feel like me again. 

With all bones intact too - bonus!

I've been meaning to write about our mountain bike adventures for ages. I've touched on it before when talking about how much I love cycling, and the first time we went gorge walking in the Brecon Beacons and mountain biking at Afan Forest Park, but never written a full post about all the wicked trail centres we visit at every chance we get. 

FitBits | Mountain biking in Wales |  Coed Y Brenin
Start of the green, orange and blue trails at Coed Y Brenin, North Wales

Since that first visit back in 2014, we've returned multiple times to tackle the blue and red trails at two of South Wales' best trail centres - Afan, and the amazing Bike Park Wales (which by the way is like a theme park for mountain bikers). 

On the way to or from Wales we usually stop off at the Forest of Dean to take on the brilliant blue Verderers Trail (where I recently broke myself), and Freeminers red route. 

This month we finally made it to the north to check out a couple of trail centres in Snowdonia too. There are SO MANY places to go mountain biking in Wales, it's actually ridiculous. 

FitBits | Mountain biking in Wales |  campsite near Coed Y Brenin
That view though... Cae Gwyn campsite near Coed Y Brenin mtb

This trip wasn't meant to be a full on mountain biking holiday - only three months since breaking my collarbone, I didn't want to push my luck and do too much, so we planned some other stuff around the cycling. 

However, of course with Wales being Wales, the weather put a stop to us climbing Snowdon, and we forgot to actually pre-book Zip World to go on the world's fastest zip line so we ended up riding four trail centres in six days and getting my confidence back on the wheelz!

Something for everyone 

FitBits | Mountain biking in Wales |  Afan Forest Park Y Wal
A fast descent on the red Y Wal route at Afan Forest Park, South Wales

I wanted to blog about these amazing trail centres so you can visit them too, whatever your ability.

Don't own a mountain bike? - Don't worry. You can hire one from any of these centres for a fee. Details below. 

Never ridden the trails before? No problem. Each trail centre has lots of trails clearly colour coded and marked according to ability with info on what to expect. From the green family trails through to fast and flowy blues; technical, rocky reds; and expert blacks with large drop-offs and jumps. 

We only ever ride the blues and reds... not quite ready for massive jumps and proper downhill just yet! 

Each of these trails are set in the lushest, most beautiful forests, climbing high into the mountains and hills for some truly epic riding. 

Trust me. If you like cycling, you'll love these places. Go go go! 

Forest of Dean 

Location: GL16 7EH /  
Park: £3.50ish
Ride: Family/leisure | singletrack graded trails | downhill & enduro 
Eat: Cafe serving hot & cold drinks & food (bacon sarnies, jacket spuds, paninis)
Shop: Good bike shop & workshop for servicing, fitting and fixing
Hire: from £26
Learn: Women's skills sessions | Steep & natural coaching | mtb leadership course 
Stay: Nearby campsites

There's lots of the Forest of Dean that we haven't explored yet. Every time we go we always do the fast and flowy Verderer's trail, which is blue graded. It's got a lovely singletrack climb through the trees followed by an exhilarating flowy descent that'll get you grinning all the way to the bottom.

Just don't pump into the rollovers like I did if you can't jump or you'll end up like this!

FitBits | Mountain biking in and near Wales |  Forest of Dean

The red Freeminers is another brilliant trail, more technical and steeper / rockier in parts than the blue. It's also got a couple of small dropoffs and a skills section with a boardwalk and dropoff practice area. 

FitBits | Mountain biking in and near Wales |  Forest of Dean Freeminers

And then there's the gravity downhill route, aptly named Launchpad. It's a completely smooth, incredibly fast and flowy gravity downhill trail that will see you FLY down to the finish, whatever your ability. There's a jump section but it's signposted before you get there so you can slow down and roll over the table tops if like me, you're not up for jumping. 


There are loads of other trails at FoD but we've not done yet as not skilled enough to come out alive. 

Afan Forest Park 

Location: Port Talbot, SA13 3HG /
Park: £1!!
Ride: Family/leisure | singletrack graded trails | Afan Off Piste (black run guided ride off the beaten track - ask at the shop if you're hard enough)
Eat: Cafe serving hot & cold drinks & food (jacket spuds, sandwiches, breakfasts, CAKE!)
Hire: From the shop 
Stay: Onsite campsite £3.40pp per night! 

FitBits | Mountain biking in Wales | Afan Forest Park

Afan has a place very close to mine and Chris' hearts - it's the first trail centre we ever rode, back in the summer of 2014. It was at the bottom of the brilliant Widow Maker descent on the Blue Scar trail that we decided this was the kind of mountain biking we wanted to do. It's also got a campsite onsite so bonus!

Favourite trails: the fast, flowy and fun Blue Scar, and the beautiful, long and technical Y Wal (red graded) that snakes high up into the trees for a really gorgeous mountain bike adventure. 

The red graded Penhyyd has more of a climb than Blue Scar and a rockier, twistier descent. We're suckers for a smoother ride though so prefer the blue. **edit Aug 2017: having been back to Afan again since writing this we now bloody love rockier Penhydd and took on our first black - W2 (Y Wal and White's Level, two reds, put together. Right on our limit but what an epic ride!) 

FitBits | Mountain biking in Wales | Afan Forest Park Y Wal
High up in the trees on the beautiful Y Wal trail

Bike Park Wales 

Location: Merthyr Tydfil CF48 1YZ /
Park: free I think, but you pay to ride (£7 for the day, and about £4 per uplift or £32 for the unlimited uplifts all day including ticket entry)
Ride: amazing network of singletrack graded and proper downhill trails WITH UPLIFT!! 
Eat: Great canteen serving food and special BPW beer!! 
Shop: Good bike shop and workshop for servicing, fitting, etc.
Hire: from £40, book online 
Stay: Nearby campsite

FitBits | Mountain biking in Wales | Bike Park Wales

This place is the mutts nuts of trail centres, I kid you not. It's like a theme park for mountain bikers. It's fast, flowy, and a whole load of fun. 

For blue trail lovers there's five wicked blues - including the incredible Terry's Belly - a 4.6km rollercoaster of YES MATE. It's the UK's longest continuous blue descent and boy is it a good ride. 

Go and have a go on my favourite ever blue trail. 

Along with the blues BPW plays host to a bunch of more technical rocky reds and a load of beasty blacks for hardcore riders. We've done all the blues, and Wibbly Wobbly / Rim Dinger from the reds (the latter of which I went over the handlebars and chipped a tooth on one of the huge rock gardens!)

FitBits | Mountain biking in Wales | Bike Park Wales uplift
All hail the uplift!

Because BPW is all about the down there's an ace uplift service (at a cost) that'll take you and your bike to the top to throw yourself back down time and time again. We normally ride two or three climbs and treat ourselves to a few uplifts too - you can buy single uplift tickets at reception if you don't book for the whole day. (Oh I do love a good climb :) ) 

Oh, and they have photographers hiding in the trails at certain (advertised) times, so you can get some nice shots of you on your wheels. 

FitBits | Mountain biking in Wales | Bike Park Wales

It really is a badass bike park. The end.

Coed Y Brenin

Location: Dolgellau LL40 2HZ /
Park: £5  
Ride: family/leisure | graded singletrack 
Run: Also has a whole network of running trails!
Eat: Cafe serving hot food & drink  
Shop: Good bike shop and workshop for servicing, fitting, etc. Small running shop selling only Solomon. 
Hire: from £25 

Been meaning to come here for ages, since hubs had a taste of it last year with the kayak club and I didn't go with him. 

Out of all of the trail centres I've been to, Coed Y Brenin is the most beautiful, and had some really cool touches like giant forks and other sculptures around the trails. 

It's also got a bunch of running trails too if you fancy venturing out on foot!

FitBits | Mountain biking in Wales | Coed Y Brenin

Both the bike and run trails are gorgeous, snaking through lush, green forest and over rivers and small waterfallls. It's the UK's first, and largest dedicated mountain bike trail centre, with loads of beginner and family trails right up to experienced and expert riders. 

We rode the blue MinorTaur, which was a great re-introduction for me to find my flow after my accident so would be perfect for beginners. It's a flowy blue, but nowhere near as fast as Blue Scar at Afan, or the final descent of Verderer's at FoD.

After that we moved onto the 11.2km Cyflym Coch which was more technical, rocky and difficult, and started with a really technical climb over huge rock gardens in the woods. 

I LOVED this one as the technicality forced me to slow down and ride with precision, and it had some great climbs and fast  rocky descents as a reward. 

It was the trail I got my confidence back on :) 

FitBits | Mountain biking in Wales | Coed Y Brenin

We'll be coming back to Coed Y Brenin to take on the other red and black trails (because it seems here, the blacks aren't as 'black' as other trail centres). 


Location: LL113AA /
Park: £3ish
Ride: family/leisure | graded singletrack 
Run: Also has a whole network of running trails!
Eat: Really cool Visitor Centre & cafe serving hot food including the sexiest fish finger sandwich and doorstop beans on toast in the world
Shop: Good bike shop and workshop for servicing, fitting, etc. 
Hire: from £35  
Learn: Ace range of courses
Stay: Nearby campsites

FitBits | Mountain biking in Wales | Llandegla

This place was recommended by a lovely Welsh mountain biker at the campsite by Coed Y Brenin as it's only about 45mins away. 

He reeled off another two or three places to ride in the area (Penmachno Bike Trails, I'm lookin' at you) that we'll definitely check out but for now we only had time to do the blue trail at Llandegla on the way home. 

Personally I found the climb a bit boring (lots of long, straight exposed road rather than the twisty and technical through the trees that I love) and the flowy down not quite flowy or long enough, but it's a lovely trail through the forest nonetheless. 

Interested to see what the other trails here have to offer - there's also running trails too!

FitBits | Mountain biking in Wales | Llandegla pump track

Oh, and a really ace skills section with a pumptrack, jumps, dropoffs, berms, corners, and boardwalks! We had an 11 year old dude teaching us how to pump when we were there. 

They do some great courses too so you can learn to jump and ride more confidently. 

Ima get me some skillz... no more broken bones for me!

FitBits | Mountain biking in Wales | Llandegla skills area


Do you like mountain biking? Do you know any other trail centres we should visit?

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