The Iron Mountain Trail

This weekend I finally got around to taking some friends (from Calne and MB Swindon) on a bike ride I have been planning for ages. I had a visit last year to Blaenavon and worked out a loop around the Blorenge and following part of the Iron Mountain Trail. 15 riders trusted me to deliver a good day out and I think I delivered something pretty special (if I’m honest!).

The route started with a tame cycle track and a ride to the main site of Big Pit. This is quite a sight as most the surrounding architecture has changed for decades so you get a real feel for what life in the valleys may have looked like.  As we rode around the Coity Tip trail, we saw large tips spoils and that have now been used to create wildlife habitats. With streams and rivulets crisscrossing “under foot” the boardwalks provided us with a smooth elevated surface to explore.

There has been a great deal of landscaping and reclamation in the area, so much so that the Garn Lakes, our next point of interest weren’t even on my old OS map! This local Nature Reserve used to be an area covered in spoil tips and old colliery workings but following an extensive land reclamation scheme it was officially opened in 1997 as a beautiful area for residents and visitors. It covers 40 hectares, and with lakes and grasslands it provides a diverse habitat and breeding grounds for a wide range of wildlife.

But we didn’t want breeding grounds, we wanted mud and grass under our wheels so off we went up over the tips spoils crossing the border into the Brecon Beacons National Park and had our first bit of descending fun towards Pwll Du. A big loose rocked track with a few drops and steep slopes had everyone grinning – the industrial sight seeing was over. Now it was time for the fun…. But first we had short 70m climb to the Keepers Pond.

From the old Garnddyrys Forge feeder pond we followed the out onto the Blorenge. As we traversed the hillside here we were treated to a few twists and numerous little rock gardens. Not too technical and not big but just enough to make you think about your line for a few seconds and focus on carrying some momentum across to the other side. We had a few foot dabbing moments our first few offs along here, this section is actually responsible for a Kask helmet warranty claim as one rider made quite heavy contact with the stones.

Once we had stopped to admire the view and have a brief snack, we retraced our steps back to the fork in the trail to drop down the side of the Blorenge towards Govilon.

This descent was great fun for some and a little sketchy for others. The trail dropped sharply in a few places and was littered with large stones and rocks – all hidden beneath the shoulder high ferns. Some got through unscathed others had multiple tumbles and by the time we reached the bottom there were huge smiles and plenty of stories to tell as each had witnessed the others dive in the the ferns or slide out of view. At this point there was a lot of talk of GoPros and why no one had brought one.

On we went with some sweet single track and a few more shorter descents until we reached the Punch bowl. It was already a warm day and by the time we reached the sheltered oasis of the punch bowl we were ready for a break so we stopped checked the injuries and scoffed our snack bars and sandwiches. It would have been easy to have stopped here for hours but we had to go. And after a friendly walker told us we had a lot of climbing to do I thought it best we made tracks.

The climb out the other side of the Punch Bowl would make a great descent! Yes it was steep and we all pushed up about 100m before we could get back on to the bikes and pedal. A return loop must be planned to try and bring this descent into play!

Eventually we spun our way up the road to the Foxhunter Car Park and the radio masts. All the climbing was done and it was time to find the elusive trail back into Blaenavon via some more tip spoils and the Camels Back Pump Track.  This was a great ride down with some twisty rain gulleys and tracks between the heaps of waste from the mine. I hadn’t been able to ride this part on the recce ride last year so it was a real surprise how much fun it was and my favourite part of the ride I think.

One member of our group wont remember this so fondly as he had a bit of an over the bars moment and badly injured his shoulder. While we left one with him for support the rest of us enjoyed the ride back to the car park where Tom Scott and the Big Blue Bus went to the rescue of the downed rider.

At this point we split into a few groups as we had to get Dave to a hospital and the rest stayed for cake and tea at the Heritage Centre Cafe – I hope the cake was good!

Despite the few spills, this was a great ride and I think everyone enjoyed it. For those that missed out a return journey will be on the calendar very soon…

If you haven’t already visited any of the links above, for more information on the history of the industry in Blaenavon and the beautiful landscape visit the Visit Blaenavon website.

For more information on the route and other amazing routes in the Brecon Beacons take a look at Tom Hutton’s book Wales Mountain Biking – he also does guided rides and weekends – check out his website here.

Rainy Days and Mondays

Twrch Climb

[Ride Report For MB Swindon]

Why does it always rain on me when I ride in Wales? Well that isn’t quite true but all but 1 of the MB Swindon rides I have been on to Wales have been wet. Someone is only happy when it rains and must do a rain dance before every trip. Maybe its because I haven’t ridden with MB Swindon in the summer to Wales, but on the morning of every Welsh club ride so far I wake up, early usually, look out the window and think “hmm, its raining again”. But I still get out there and ride.

15 MB Swindon club members left thier cosy homes, for one more rainy day riding this winter, this time on Andrew’s Cwmcarn Odyssey. As I pulled into the car park scanning for familar cars and faces, I turned the music down and listened to the rain on the roof for a few minutes; what was I doing here? Gradually we emerged from the shelter of our various vehicles standing in the rain fixing front wheels to bikes and getting ready for what Cwmcarn’s Twrch Trail had in store for us. As we eventually gathered in the car park preparing ourselves for the inevitable soaking we were about to get, Andrew Weaver said “Its raining men, but lets just get on with it!”. So let it rain, MB Swindon won’t be stopped riding no matter what the weather, though I think I heard John Speed ask if someone had an umbrella!

The climb begins immediately from the car park and is an instant reminder of what is in store for those that have ridden Cwmcarn before. The climb is technical and goes on for a few miles, but even with the heavy rain and poor visibility its very pretty. Bright green grass and moss contrasting with glistening rock and roots, among endless trees would have made for some great pictures. The club has a number of keen photographers and we had our fair share of GoPro cameras with us for the ride, but the rain meant that lenses were covered in droplets blurring and distorting most of the pictures anyone tried to take.

Twrch GoProBut we came here to ride and ride we did. Like riders on the storm we pushed on up the hillside up the taxing climb that in places requires more than a little bit of  technical ability. A pedal up hill would be a work out enough, but add some rain to make it slippery and lots of obstacles and you have a test of will and skill on your hands. The climb neccessitates you picking the correct line between rocks and stumps whilst also putting your step climbing ability into practice. Front and rear wheel lifts being a key skill required for a climb such as this and you find yourself constantly lifting and hopping the bike over all shapes and sizes. The locals ride this in reverse (out of hours or course) – so imagine what this is like to climb if its that much fun to come down!

The trails at Cwmcarn drain really well so apart from the isolated place, there is actually very little mud or standing water. No rain will shut this trail down however what the rain does do is wash away loose earth and smaller stones revealing and loosening more rocks and exposing more slippery roots. With 15 riders and the awful weather the trail was always going to take longer than usual. A few stoppages for minor technical adjustments, breath catching and for the odd push rather than ride meant that the climb seemed endless. The spirits remained high but as the token Welshman in the group I still resisted singing in the rain, even when prompted at one point by some joker stating “raindrops keep falling on my head”!

The reward for the climb is the superb freeride section at the top of the trail. Starting off among the pine trees you are presented with the first man made elements of the Twrch Trail. The climb is all about natural trail features, rocks and roots etc but now you get to ride berms and table tops in a really great section for those who like to ride fast or get some air. After a couple of loops of this we head back down the other side of the mountain for what is now mostly down hill back to the car park. The descent is a fantastic singletrack experience with some small sections to climb and all named as is the way with trail centres today. We pass two old bearded guys standing on the entrance to Gate Keeprs (that was a missed photo opportunity), and then we ride on for an exhilirating finish through Castle Valley and Dragon’s Tongue. I think I heard someone crying in the rain at one point but they were cries of joy and excitement I am sure!

After more than 2 hours (it felt much longer) we returned to the car park, very wet and beginning to get cold as the waterproofs had begun to keep the water in rather than out. The usual “did you see” “my brakes are shot” “that was awesome” moment followed as there was a brief recollection of the ride before we all undertook the next task of packing away wet gear and changing into dry clothes.  There is always a small risk that you will be left standing naked in the rain as you drop a towel or worse you stumble as you try to negotiate your way into a clean pair of socks during this process; but eventually the car door shuts the engine roars and the music kicks in and you can begin your journey home.  Though its not over just yet – an hour or so later you have to get the rain soaked and mud splattered clothes and bike out of the car and somehow cleaned. Its all worth it though..

Its now Monday and I am sitting at my desk, just finishing up this ride report, and I find myself staring out of the window, while its still raining, still dreaming of dry trails and the summer months ahead.  I hope you enjoyed the ride if you came yesterday, and if you didn’t come on the ride I hope you enjoyed reading my account of the day. An MB Swindon ride can be a hard slog up a mountain, across a moor or even round and round in circles but we have fun, no one gets left behind and if the weather is better we don’t get quite so wet.

Twrch BridgeJust in case you hadn’t noticed this post was littered with “rain” related song titles..

And here they are:

Travis – Why does it always rain on me
Raindrops keep falling on my head
Singing in the rain
Doors – Riders on the storm
The Guess Who – Rain dance
supertramp – Its raining again
Garbage – Only happy when it rains
Carpenters – rainy days and mondays
RHCP – naked in the rain
ELO – standin in the rain
Deep Purple – one more rainy day
Jimi Hendrix – Still raining, still dreaming
Whitesnake – Crying in the rain
Eric Clapton – Let it rain
Blind Melon – No rain
Lovin spoonful – Rain on the Roof
Rihanna – Umbrella

Down Hill Mountain Biking in Wiltshire

Let me start by stating that I am a novice at this down hill mountain biking. I have been to a few trail centres in the UK and have done Les Gets and Morzine in the French Alps – but I am by no means any good at this!

This video was taken at the end of last summer and the reason for uploading today is that I plan on going to this location tomorrow to do some filming and picture taking of some friends.

I will take my bike of course but the main goal tomorrow is to take some pictures.

Instrument of Evil

Justin Bieber and Paper Jamz: is there a crime more evil ever committed against music? No this is not a blatant attempt to get some hits on my blog, well maybe it crossed my mind but I also wanted to talk a little about music and my household.

My house is divided. On the subject of music, there is often a disagreement in our house and I am always right!

My kids obviously like pop music I can handle that and quite enjoy it in small doses. I can appreciate a good catchy tune as much as the next man but I draw the line at Justin Bieber and my sons worship of the boy!

He has talent and he is great at what he does but why can’t my son listen to Soundgarden, Pearl Jam or Green Day?

This is my new goal for the year especially after he spent £5.00 today on the above “musical toy”…