Like Quagmire from Family Guy, I was feeling pretty excited at the prospect of a dirty weekend away as I left Cornwall en route to my first Wales Weekender MTB trip in nearly three years back in early September…although for much different reasons to the big headed sex-pest from Quahog. Okay, so I’ve been to Wales a few times since for race weekends and some of those with mates, but race weekends are a whole different atmosphere compared to just getting away with a few friends for some chilled out riding. Also, summer had been weirdly light on MTB riding for me so just getting out and shredding some trails again had me giddy like Quagmire at the Playboy mansion!
With a birthday coming up (mine), I messaged a few mates on Facebook earlier in the summer to see if anyone was up for a weekend of Afan and Bikepark Wales and fortunately, a few of the buggers said yes. Lawrence, Nick and Sean from the Plymouth area were up for it, ‘brother-from-another-mother Olly was down for it and much to my initial surprise, but in a damn good way, my best mate of 25 years and the dude who got me into mountain biking in the first place, Cliff, was going to come down from Derby as well. Still riding the same mid-2000 era Kona Stinky freeride bike he used to impress me with sending off jumps at Poldice all those years ago but now with the stock triple-clamp Marzocchi Drop Off forks swapped for a single crown 150mm fork and rolling on 2.2” XC Panaracer tyres instead 2.5″ Gazzalodi’s , it meant a lot that he could make it along. It would be the first (non-race) weekend in Afan in over four years and only my second trip to BPW so to say I was excited was a fricking understatement!
Initial thoughts were to ride the established trail centre stuff at Afan. I always used to like W2 for a good day out on the bikes and used to love some the singletrack descents though the woods back in the day when an afan trip was an almost yearly event. The problem is, since those halcyon days of blitzing through sun-dappled singletrack down densely wooded Afan hillsides, large scale ‘Tree AIDS’ ransacked the hillsides leading to mass deforestation. When I came to Afan for a race in early 2016 after a few years away, I was shocked at the how much the area had changed as a result of the tree-felling and frankly it had ruined the feel of the area. A bit of research of trail conditions in the weeks leading up to the trip, seemed to suggest the trails were suffering from a lack of maintenance and investment and that people weren’t riding there as much as they used to. In fact, it turned out that the weekend we were staying, the café and bike shop at Glyncorrwyg was shutting down. Things weren’t sounding great for what used to be one the go-to trail centres in the UK.
But anyway, although the trail centre trails might have been lacking in use somewhat, to be fair they haven’t changed since I used to go, so riding some rad off-piste trails in the area was suggested and I was definitely up for that.
With the prospect of half a day’s riding on the Friday after a longish drive up, another off-piste suggestion of Llantrisant meant more brand new trails to ride. What originally was intended as a trail centre weekend was now becoming ride some hidden secrets type weekend!
Llantrisant is a small (by Welsh standards) hill about 15 mins from the M4 between Cwmbran and Port Talbot. If you’ve ridden Grogley Woods in Cornwall, it’s basically a bigger version of that – Forestry Commission owned with no official trails as such but permitted trail building has been allowed. Just like Grogley, it’s pretty much a fire road climb to the top of the hill, and then a mix of ‘natural’ type trails down. There’s a touch of everything in there from fast berms and rollers to wooden drops , rooty, techy corners and a big-ass road gap. That said, some wooden features were shall we say, in much need of some love…
We spent a good 3 hours or so there of winch and plummet, and a little bit of shower dodging under the trees in between. The trails were fun, although some deforestation on one side seems to have taken out one of them…we rolled into it at the top, picking up speed and railing a couple of berms and then BAM!…trees down and barely a trail in sight! The last trail we rode before leaving turned out to be the best of the day, a steep descent down through loam filled vertical pine forest.
Where the chuff are the Llantrisant trails? <<There.
After a pretty good experience with AirBnB for the National Enduro Champs earlier in the year, I ended up booking our accommodation via the site for this weekend. I booked Ty Skyline house in Glyncorrwyg for all 6 of us so we had the whole house to ourselves as a base from a couple of days’ riding.
A mid terrace house, located on a steep street in the village, it didn’t look particularly big from the outside but looks were deceiving and inside, it was plenty big enough for all of us. A large living room with 3 sofas, a TV, and Wi-Fi meant we were set up for some post-ride chilling (though the broadband is certainly not Superfast in this part of Wales), and a dining room and kitchen meant we could cook up some hi-carb food to fuel us for the days ahead.
Upstairs are three bedrooms – one with a double bed and sofa-bed, one with two single bunk beds and one with two single bunk beds and a double bed . Again, good size for the 6 of us, but you have to get on well with others if you had the maximum 10 people squeezed in!
The owners know their market, being close to the MTB trails, and out back, a CCTV secure shed for locking bikes in together with locks, a workstand, and tools meant the bikes could be stored away safely. Outside, two hoses meant you could wash bikes down after the ‘Welsh sunshine’ exposure, though space is a little limited. Also, a large selection of bottled local ales were also available around the house with an honesty box for payment, so yeah…the owners know what’s important to a bunch of MTBers on a weekend away!
So like I said, my original plan had been some classic trail centre at Afan but I’d heard of Afan Masts being reeeaaaalllly good so was well up for that. The problem was that Masts is at the southern end of the valley, and we were staying in Glyncorrwyg several miles at the other end. We could’ve ridden White’s Level climb, transitioned to The Wall descent and then over, but then after doing laps of Masts and it’s 200m+ climb, we’d still have to ride all the way back up the valley and probably have tired legs for Bikepark Wales the next day.
Over beers and a pasta party at the house, we decided to drive down towards the bottom of The Wall descent, do The Wall trail and then head over to Masts. The next morning, after inevitable pre-ride faff and big breakfasts of bacon, eggs and toast, we headed down the valley and then up The Wall. The climb was despatched in leisurely fashion and then we dropped into ‘373’ for the first decent and then into ‘Graveyard’ before reaching Afan Bike Park at Bryn Bettws lodge and a bit of a dick around on the jumps for longer than expected. I’ve never been a great jumper but frustratingly it had gotten even worse and I was struggling to dial in any resemblance of a clean run down the bigger jump line.
With time getting on, and the forecast for rain coming in, we dropped down the steep former UK Gravity Enduro stage, now an official Afan descent, and down the hillside which in the mud was pretty gnarly but a laugh! A quick bite to eat at the cars, and then over to Afan Masts and up the long fire road climb. Climbing up, I could see all sorts of ‘natural’ trails poking out and crossing the fire road at various points – some looking pretty treacherous in the damp. As we neared the top, the rain came in and started to dump Welsh Sunshine everywhere. We took shelter under some trees for 10 mins or so hoping it would pass but it didn’t so carried on reaching the radio masts at the top – ‘Masts’ by name, masts by nature.
As if the prospect of riding down some new-to-me trails wasn’t exciting enough… the claps of thunder breaking out above our heads as we ‘dropped in’ added to the thrill for sure! Rolling down the first few sections, I kept up with Nick and Lawrence as they had trail knowledge of what was coming up so I followed their lead as much as possible. The trails were steep and narrow but fast in places with the occasional drop-off or mini double to make it even more interesting and at the bottom of the first run, despite Thor’s anger above, the stoke was high. The weather was deteriorating rapidly so we decided to head ‘part-way’ back up, although we ended up going all the way back to the top – “the top’s just around the next corner yeah”. Nope, it wasn’t, much to Olly and Cliff’s disappointment!
That evening, a lot of necessary cleaning was needed back at the house, both of bikes and bodies – and then more beers, pasta and TV.
The last (and only) time I’ve ridden BPW was about three days after Christmas in 2015. It was cold, there was snow at the top and there was icy everywhere. The trails were rad and the LOLfest that was ‘A470’ was definitely my favourite and since then, I’d been desperate to go back, especially in some warmer weather (waiting in freezing temps for the uplift wore thin quickly!). Since then a few more trails have opened up such as ‘Terry’s Belly’ and ‘Poppity Ping’ so again, I’d built up some excitement for getting back.
We got there early and jumped on the uplift top the top. With this being Cliff’s first time there, we went down ‘Melted Welly’ to give him a taster and easy him (and all of us) in to it gently. Well, that was the idea until we inadvertently ended up on the progressively larger series of jumps on Insufficient Funds towards the bottom!
Four uplift and plummets were churned out in the morning before Cliff ‘Office hands’ gracefully bowed out having got a blister on his hand from the weekend’s activities. Lunch was downed and then 3 uplifts done in the afternoon before I called time on the day when the last run down was littered with silly mistakes inevitably coming from fatigue creeping in from the 3 days of riding. When you start feeling tired at BPW, you’ve got be sensible and quit whilst you’re ahead, otherwise it can go wrong pretty quickly.
BPW was a good day, but I didn’t come away as high as the previous time for some reason. Probably a combo of fatigue and frustration at how backward my jumping skills have gone this year meant I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped. It’s easy to plan BPW for the end of a weekend, that way if you smash yourself up, it’s not the weekend ruined, but it might be worth doing it fresh on a Friday, when the uplift is quieter, and then pedalling bikes for the rest of the weekend next time.
What was planned as a good old fashioned weekend of bikes with mates turned out to be just that. No one got injured and barring a couple of punctures for the tubed guys, no mechanicals either. Result!
And as for Afan being a ghost town…well, yep it’s probably quieter than it used to be but there’s still plenty of trail centre stuff to keep you going for a weekend, and if you’ve done that to death then the off-piste trails are really good for some variety. The area is still a good base for accessing the tons of trails available in South Wales, both natural and man-made so still worth looking at if you’re planning a similar dirty weekend away in the valleys.
(Update: Since our trip, the cafe and bike shop at Glyncorrwg has reopened under new ownership so great to hear new life is being breathed into the area).
It’s been a long time since I did one of these weekends and they’ve been sorely missed so I want to get them in a bit more regularly, now things are more stable at home. But with race weekends also on the cards, I can’t afford a lot of either of them so I’ll have to decide what I want more of next year…hmmm, tough choice.
Check out the BPW ride on Strava.