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.
|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 the best trail centres in South Wales – Afan, and the amazing Bike Park Wales (which by the way is like a jumped-up 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 and this isn’t even half of them, it’s actually ridiculous.
|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
|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 / pedalabikeaway.co.uk 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!
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.
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.
FUN FUN FUN!
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 / afanforestpark.co.uk Park: £1 - £3.50 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!) Shop: Brilliant bike shop Hire: From the shop Stay: Onsite campsite £3.40pp per night! :)
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!)
|High up in the trees on the beautiful Y Wal trail|
Bike Park Wales
Location: Merthyr Tydfil CF48 1YZ / bikeparkwales.com Park: free I think, but you pay to ride (£10 for the day, and about £5 per uplift or £35-42 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. Learn: They do an awesome range of group training courses and one-to-ones to help improve your riding. Stay: This lovely nearby campsite or there's a really handy Premier Inn in Merthyr Tydfil and they let you bring your bikes in the rooms.
If you like your trails fast and flowy with a feck load of fun, this place is the absolute mutts nuts of trail centres, I kid you not. It’s like a theme park for mountain bikers.
For blue trail lovers there are a whopping eleven wicked blues – including the original and 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. Other oldies include Sixtapod and Willy Waver, alongside some newbies Roller Disco (just as fun as it sounds) and the new Blue Plus graded Popty Ping which I’ve yet to try (graded blue plus because it has a bunch of progressive table top jumps for intermediate level jumpers – i.e. not me).
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 tend to stick to the blues, and some of the reds like Wibbly Wobbly / Rim Dinger.
|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. This was the first time we ever realised such a thing as an uplift existed and it blew my mind!
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 for the ‘gram. WINNING.
Coed Y Brenin
Location: Dolgellau LL40 2HZ / beicsbrenin.co.uk 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 Stay: This amazing nearby campsite
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!
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 after shouldergate 🙂
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).
Oh, and they host an awesome women’s mountain bike weekend every year called Temtiwr, after one of the trails. Read about the 2017 event here.
Location: LL113AA / oneplanetadventure.com 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
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!
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!