We arrived at Bryn Bettws Log Cabins situated in the heart of the Afan forest late on Thursday night. It was the first full season the cabins had been open and we quickly made ourselves at home celebrating St Patricks day with a few cans of the black stuff.
The next morning we woke early and got stuck into making packed lunches and sorting our bikes out for the days riding. By 10.30am we’d driven over to Glyncorrwg MTB centre only to discover that a few of the Afan trails were closed due to winter damage and the Japanese Larch virus that was forcing the Forestry Commission to fell 13% of the trees in the area.
Luckily White’s Level was fully open and had also had received it’s post winter maintenance, so we set off along past the ponds to the start point. Ronnie and Mike had warned me that the 6km sheep-track climb was quite a challenge, but thankfully it wasn’t too bad once we got past the technical rocky lower sections of y Trwyn and into the hardpacked forest trails in Dastardly and Mutley. One hour later we’d ground our way up through Two Tombstones and broke out of the trees onto the top of the mountain. From here we could see the berms that opened up the new Black Run, but we opted for a quick snack and a run down the Red to open our singletrack account for the weekend.
The first section Windy Point is a fast rocky trail with a few small hits and switchbacks that took us quickly back down into the forest. The first thing that hit me was how fast these trails were. In order to keep up with the others who’d ridden there before I had to put my faith in the trail designer and put my foot down. I was soon grinning from ear to ear, hammering down the rocky singletrack and taking the hits and riding berms like a pro. Next up was Energy which provided some bigger jumps, tabletops and more climbing until it dropped down a very fast trail sporting more excellent hits and a couple of baby rock gardens. Here it dropped into Goodwood where boardwalk sections lead us through a forest clearing and back down into the trees. Darkside is the final section and in my opinion the best section with a very fast trail that had lots more well placed hits and drop-offs, eventually bringing us back down to the MTB centre. With time for snacks and a bit of bike tweaking we’d completed Whites in just over two hours – not bad for our first run!
After lunch we headed back to the Cabin where to ride Y Wall. We rode up a fire-road near our cabin past the new 4x course to Piccadilly. Piccadilly starts with a bit of a climb, but quickly transforms into a hardpacked fast rolling track not dissimilar to some of the runs we have in Stanmer. As quickly as I was enjoying the tree-lined decent it suddenly broke into the sunshine and through a fast rocky decent that cut into a big switchback that then traverses quickly down the side of the hill. Next up was Graveyard which is a spectacular section of tree-lined singletrack that beguiled us into believing we we’re Brian Lopes attempting a record breaking run down Whistler. As we flew down the rocky hardpack trail the terrifying clattering sound of our bikes was augmented by the whoosh of tyres pumping through corners and the whoops of delight from my fellow riders. Again breaking out of the trees we climbed up to the top of Zig Zag which was the finale of Y Wall. Again this is a stupidly fast trail that just taunted us to ride faster than we should have. It’s difficult to find words to describe how good Zig Zag is, so it’s probably best if you just go there and ride it!
The next day we drove to Brechfa Forest which was about 45 minutes drive from Afan. Here we rode the Gorlech Red run. As usual for Wales the ride started off with a reasonably punishing, but beautiful climb up fireroads and tree-lined singletrack. After 1/2 hour we hit the first downhill section which provided fast berms and plenty of small jumps which I managed to take with varying degrees of elegance. After another huge climb which took us to 3000 ft we hit the downhill sections. It was generally quite a fast flowing ride that was lots of fun, punctuated with moments of brilliance. I loved the berm that quickly dropped us into 30ft chute that had to be taken at full speed in order to make the 40ft near vertical assent that directly followed it! There was some extremely well designed climbs that broke into more grin inducing fast flowing singletrack that we pumped through working hard to keep our tyres on the ground. The run ended with a sublime downhill section with switchbacks, tabletops and berms back down to the car park.
In the afternoon we decided to have a leisurely ride around the green/blue trail and enjoy a bit of sunshine. We left our pads in the van and headed off on the ‘family’ route. Amazingly on this beautiful sunny Saturday the trail was completely empty and we quickly discovered that the trail had a split personality as we took the manicured trails at what felt like an illegal speed. The highlight of this run was on what I expected to the a boring run back to the car park, which in fact turned out to be one of the gems of the trip as we carved and pumped our way down an incredibly well designed and thankfully deserted trail, once again at eye watering speed.
The next day we’d hoped to ride Skyline, but with the few decent sections closed we decided to have another go at Whites to see if we could complete it in the magic 90 minutes. This time the run was rather special. We quickly climbed to the summit in 45 minutes and hammered down the descents without stopping in another 45 minutes and then spent another 45 minutes trying wiping the stupid grins off our faces whilst we drank tea in the car park. We drove back to the Y Wall and rode that again to make sure we could do Zig Zag another couple of times.
Our last ride in Wales was at Cwncarn where we rode the Twirch trail, a 15k red run around the mountain. We’d heard from all the locals that the ascent was a nightmare and it didn’t disappoint. It had rained overnight and the mountain was shrouded in low cloud which made the roots and oily stones that criss-crossed the relentless climb very unenjoyable. The ride down wasn’t much better as the poor visibility and slippery singletrack caused some near misses and a rather spectacular wipe out. When we got to the bottom our plan of riding the black run was thankfully scuppered by a bowl of hot veggie stew in the back of the van and the relaxing and warm prospect of a relaxing drive back to Brighton.
Two weeks later, I’m still buzzing from my first riding trip to Wales and I can’t wait to get back there for more. A couple of tips from the locals we met for next time include, when riding Brechfa, visit the nearby Cydcoed, to check out some local trails near the wind turbines that can be found from an unmarked carpark between the Afan trail centre and Glyncorrwg. And when riding the Black run at Brechfa, when you get to the bottom rather than take the fireroad back to the car park, move onto the family trail and enjoy the sublime high speed decent back to the car-park (as long as there’s no families on it!)