A freeride roadtrip: Wales

Phil & Harry report on an epic week; A fellowship of freeriding and the Desolation of Gnar…

Sometimes on Facebook an event appears that really catches your eye and you think this is just for me! Mr Harry Jessop’s Mission to the Mountains was just one of these. What could be better than a week of wandering the Welsh hills & valleys looking for some new and potentially serious riding spots, with a bonus aim of finding some locations for future downhill comps? A proper mission, taking place at the end of May into June ’13. Cursed Rings, horses and chainmail were optional.

So it was confirmed to meet in a place I can hardly say the name of (Tyn Y Groes), just up the road from somewhere else I can hardly say the name of (Dolgellau). In true mountainboard style the arrivals were staggered by about 3 hours, so I went off to explore the local woods, finding 2 runs that I named reggae roots and tranquility; names should speak for themselves. Also in the woods I found a perfect little glade to park the vans up for the night.

Eventually after what must have been a harrowing 6 hour journey (probably dealing with Balrogs), Harry and brother Jethro (Jet) arrived to be fed by Phil the feeder, followed by some good campfire chat about the mission ahead…

Day 1: Coed Y Brenin

Mountain bike trails are always a bit hit and miss with boards, as was the case here, most tracks followed the contours and were covered in rocks a little too big to be fun. The best ride of the day came from a wonderfully surfaced footpath you could link into from a section of firetrack. With a few switchback corners followed by some fast sweeping sections and a kicker shaped rock for a little airtime too, this provided much amusement.

More exploring later that day revealed some beautiful looking berms but again not on enough gradient for the boards. That evening we aimed to camp around Dolgellau and eventually found a nice campsite (Vanner park) with a little walk into the village.

Day 2: Coed Y Brenin part 2

We decided to explore the other side of the valley where we discovered an amazing section of bike track paved with natural stone. Although quite bumpy and challenging it actually flowed pretty nicely with the top section (Pudsleys Bottom) taking you over rock rollers and through a couple of small streams before dropping you onto a firetrack. Here you cross straight over into ‘Lurch’, with more sweeping slab rock S bends, streams and rollers it slowly funnels you into fast single track just about wide enough for a board with a few scattered rocks and small drops to finish. I have seen a lot of bike tracks built in this way but have never found one that flows all the way on a board. Harry swore he would return later in the week with Jet on bike cam and body armour.

We also found some more hittable fire tracks with a nice grassy section leading straight in. We only hit this once though as it turned out to be a little wet, as comes with the Welsh hills.

The gravel fire track ran away round a few corners and into a steep section, unaware what came next we consulted with an ascending biker who told us “it would be too rocky for us down there”. Undeterred we rode on and found it dropped away sharply with some larger rocks but this just kept the speed down to a manageable level. The steep was followed by a super sweet bermed S-bend.

We rode this a couple of times and found it rolled even further downhill to the river, that we later found chilly and challenging to cross as our final descent left us on the wrong side. With barely a sign of the so-called stepping stones marked on the map we rolled trouser and plodded across…

We free camped the night on a blustery open hill surrounded by suspiciously  jaguar-shaped heathers, drying/smoking my wet jeans above the fire like an old kipper, and finally catching & eating the wild chorizo that had been causing greasy orange chaos around Harrys van since the start of the trip.

The morning light revealed the next spot way across the valley: The Llyn Stwlan reservoir, a vast stone structure towering up from high in the mountain like the gates of Mordor…

Day 3: Llyn Stwlan dam access road

Although we knew this had been ridden before it seemed like we were too close to miss the opportunity.  It’s a long old haul up but once you reach the serious corners it’s well worth it..

Such a beautiful place and a stunning sunny day, almost like we weren’t in Wales. As a friendly red-faced local said “you’ve picked a good time boys, we haven’t had a summer here in 3 years”!

The first run down was interesting as Harry had opted for the unbraked-board option. This did not go down well as the surface was not a forgiving one. Incredibly grippy fine cheese grater like tarmac made scrubbing and drifting near impossible.  After Harry’s multiple wipe outs and losing a couple of grams of flesh we rode back to the vans and swapped the setup. While the second run was better I feel full leathers & armour (as if dealing with some Orcs?) would be the best option to give that extra confidence needed to ride it with the speed it deserves.

Dropping from the top of the dam we counted 14 tight corners, 7 of which are back to back hairpins. A truly epic road.

That night we free camped again at the base of a massive slate hill into which we led a mission of exploration; while there were a few rideable lines, we found nothing of serious note. Although discussions about building slate slab roads and possible north shore rock sections were inspired by this crazy landscape.

Day 4: Betws-Y-Coed woodland and the Marin trails

Harry had been in touch with Chris (Scuz) Williamson before the trip who had spoken of some rideable trails at this centre; We found a couple of single track rocky roads that could be hit but not a huge amount to them apart from speed and rocks: fun never the less!

We then missioned to the other side of the valley and found a footpath that looked manageable but riding down soon found this a little too steep, although it did mellow out into a fun little path with some woops and other interest. This led to the road and a gentle run back to the car park where Jet had found a stunning waterfall for us to chill at the base of.

That evening we went to Chris’s pub in Llanberis (The Heights): well recommended for good food, beer and whisky!

So now with a little local knowledge, bikes to do some well needed scouting (thanks Jet) and some pouring over explorer OS maps, there is potential to find riding wherever you are. The skill of knowing what gradient to choose and which little wiggly lines will be suitable for a wheely board is still a bit of a dark art that will improve with time and more exploring. And maybe some magic.

And that was my part of the mission done. Needless to say this was a cracking trip, and I have come home and purchased some explorer maps of my area to see what I can find!

m2tm_day5eOver to Harry for the rest:

Day 5: Back to the Marin trail

The amazing weather we’d been so blessed with all week was on the turn.. After saying a sad farewell to Phil the sky began to darken and precipitation was imminent.

Despite this we made our way back to the Marin trail this time with Chris and fellow mountain biker Llyr acting as guides. It turns out we walked right past the bottom of the line we’d been searching for the previous day, Doh!

This was the alternative DH line of the Marin trail. A great mix of technical single track, unmanaged rocky fire track and with a fair spread of stumps, jumps and drops. With myself, Chris and Llyr filming we got some great footage of bikes and boards riding side by side.

After hitting this a few times we made our way back to Llanberis with one more point of call for the day, The Electric Mountain (Llanberis quarry). I had been eyeing up this spot on the map and was hoping it could be a contender for a future downhill competition. Although an amazing location (lovely loose rocky surface and with great corners), the few boggy patches and intense wind slowed it down to little more than a trickle for most of the run. I would recommend it to any rough fire track lovers, if you can get to it on a dryish still day (and maybe 9” or 10” tyres would have helped!).

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Day 6: Arenig Quarry

After our 5th fried breakfast of the week we started to head back east. The bad weather had finally caught up with us so rather than riding we thought we’d see if we could recce another spot.

Arenig Quarry, again from the maps was looking like it could be a potential comp worthy access track. It has 9 corners, a nice surface and the gradient. We waited at the bottom for a break in the rain which as soon as it came we hot stepped up. The first couple of corners looked great, I was just starting to get excited only to be met with disappointment as the 3rd corner was just too flat and dragged out. You may just about get round on 9”+ tyres.

I had high hopes for this one, it just goes to show there’s only so much you can learn from the maps. Leg work is the only way you can be sure.

We turned around and headed back to Coed Y Brenin for a quick whizz around the minotaur trail on the bikes, then parked up in a picturesque picnic spot for the night.

Day 7: Coed Y Brenin part 3

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I was eager to get some footage of Pudsleys Bottom and Lurch, the woodland run and slab-paved bike tracks we had found earlier in the week.. With armour on and bike cam primed we hit this again & again times trying to document every feature of this uniquely awesome line…

When we’d had our fill we packed up and carried on to the last spot of the trip, Crib Fach disused quarry.

Once again we learned the hard way that the maps can’t always be trusted. After a grueling 250m ascent up a sodden sheep track we found ourselves looking down across nothing more than rough grassland with not even a hint of the access track that was clearly marked on both OS Explorer map and Google maps.

Disgruntled and with the itch unscratched I attempted to ride down the path we had just climbed, parts of which were really fun, some not so much.  The top section flowed nicely from big mountain grassy paths over a few rock drops and linking turns. The further down we went the wetter and rockier it became. After burying my front wheels in the mud and superman-ing to face plant for the fourth time, narrowly missing jagged rocks, I thought enough is enough, there’s only so many times I’m going to walk away from this unscathed!

This trip has been a real eye opener as to just how much amazing terrain there is out there, and how even with all the resources available and local knowledge, the precious can still be hard to find.

We have hardly scratched the surface of this epic landscape and although mildly disappointed we did not find anything quite suitable for a national downhill comp, it has ever more fuelled my hunger for exploration.

Our perfect trail is out there somewhere, and one day I will find it.

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Words by Phil de Havilland-Hall and Harry Jessop.

Pics by Phil, Harry & Jet. Moving footage from the trip will be seen later this year. Cheers!