MTBing in Wales

One day while on holiday in Wales, near Barmouth, Simon and I went MTBing. There are lots of places to go mountain biking. There are a fair number of bridleways, but the forests are the best places, since there are lots of forest roads and paths to explore. The riding along the forest paths isn't terribly technical, but the scenery is amazing. Probably the bridleways offer more of challenge, but Simon had never been MTBing before, so we didn't want anything too hard. We wanted to rent bikes from the Coed Y Brenin (translation -- King's Woods) national forest, but when we got there we found that they were having mechanical troubles (the grips kept coming off), so they weren't renting them that day.

We'd heard that there was a hotel (about 10 miles, by car, from the visitor's center where we tried to rent bikes) that had bikes, so we went there and got a couple. They were Giants, with cro-mo frames and Shimano STX rapid-fire shifters and 7spd freewheels. They had regular rat-trap pedals. I know for sure that these bikes came with toe clips when they were new, but the people at the hotel had taken them off, since they found that people didn't know how to deal with them. Evidently, most of the people who rented the bikes used them on the flat path that went along the edge of the estuary in front of the hotel, rather than taking them into the nearby mountains. Both Simon and I have used toe clips for many years, and we were unhappy not to have them, but we didn't have any choice...

The guy who handled the bikes asked us where we wanted to go, and, finding out that we wanted mountains and trails, he made some suggestions, pointing out the good paths on the OS maps. After doing some minor adjustments on the bikes (getting the seats the right height, lowering the handlebars and adjusting the rear derailleur cable tension on mine, adjusting the brake spring tension to center the brakes on Simon's) we headed out. We followed the advice given us, taking the bikes on the toll bridge (5p for bikes) across the estuary and up into the mountains.

For quite awhile we went straight up on a narrow paved road, steadily gaining elevation. It rained as we did this, but we were working pretty hard and so stayed plenty warm. Finally the pavement ended and we were on forest road. We followed that up even higher. The clouds cleared away and we saw the most amazing scenery, green hills with stone fences running along them, and sheep scattered all around. Beautiful! We came to a lake, and we decided to eat lunch at the lake. There were no paths, so we pushed the bikes thru' the forest down to the lake, and we sat on a rock to eat lunch. After that, we pushed the bikes back up and went on.

We tried to find a path, marked on our maps, that would cut over to another section of woods (the Coed Y Brenin), but the path just petered out beneath our wheels, and after some exploring we had to backtrack. We took a big forest road that went in more or less the same direction, and that went fine, even if it was less challenging than the path we'd been on. We decided to go on to the Coed Y Brenin visitor's center. Once we got there, we filled our water bottles and got some snacks and tea at the cafe. We also got MTB maps and decided to ride back in a way that would go along a part of the marked MTB trails that started from there. There were four trails -- an easy one (7 miles), a medium one (14 miles), a hard one (20 miles), and a race course (7 miles, with some technical parts). They went mostly on forest road and trails; the longer ones spent a bit of time on some paved roads. The part we went on was part of the hard trail. It was mostly smooth forest road and trail, but there was one really enjoyable section of singletrack with roots, rocks, and a steam crossing or two.

Myra & Simon with bikes
At the end of the ride

Then we went along some paved roads back to the hotel. Some of the paved roads were what they call single track roads -- there's only space for one car at a time. If two cars come in opposite directions, one of them has to back up to a "passing place" -- a little space off the side of the road where the car pulls off to let the other get by. There wasn't even space for cars and bikes to be on the road at the same time, so when a car came we'd pull off and let it go by. These were really beautiful roads, and good for our tired legs.

We returned the bikes back to the hotel about 7 hours after we took them out, both bikes and people much muddier than when we started.

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