Last weekend offered a chance to go back and ride in much better weather. Tagged onto a boys’ weekend away there was the chance of riding of all types; Bike park, natural, and trail centre.
First was Bike Park Wales. For the first time I consented to an uplift day and I have to grudgingly admit it was brilliant. I couldn’t help myself riding up once to settle the nerves and to get dialled in (or so I told everyone, the reality was I felt like it was cheating not to), but then we settled into a full day of being shuttled to the top of the hill before finding all the different ways down. On my first run I made the possible error of going straight for the only new red-graded run I’ve not ridden before, and got a crash out of the way early. From then it was a fun day of friends, friendly competition and a battering from the technical trails. After hours of riding we were all sore but happy, with Gethin woods living up to its reputation yet again.
Saturday was yet another beautiful day on the Gower and I was aching for the excellent mix of ridge-riding and seaside views that the peninsular offers. Sneaking away from a morning of football-golf I headed to the start of the ride, bashed the scab off a cut on my hand, pulled a glove on over the blood and threw my hangover at the first steep climb.
From here there were glorious ridgetop cruises, hidden technical dips, and a brilliant track across the top of Rhossili beach that showed off the best of the Welsh coastline. In essence everything that can be brilliant about Wales in the sunshine.
On Sunday my hangover was too big to even contemplate the bike, and it seemed nice to be sociable, but that meant I was excited for Monday and Afan. The first loop here was a rerun of the May trip, with a trip out on Penhydd. I can confirm that this is much, much better when you can see more than 20 metres and don’t have freezing rain being driven into your ear. It seems like quite a simple trail, with climbing largely dealt with on fireroads and then rolling descents that flow together, eventually dropping you onto a more technical final section.
With that loop knocked out in an hour I drove up the road to Glyncorrwg to head out on Blade. I had forgotten this track’s ability to find more and more climbing when you think there can be no more. It uses the long climb for Whites Level and then just seems to continue to climb. There are, in fact, a few downhill sections in the middle but it leaves you with the impression you have climbed solidly for all but the last 5km or so. Looping round the area where new wind turbines are being erected adds to the feeling of seekingout the climbing. Those last km are on a steep rocky tumbling drop back to the valley bottom. With my legs feeling the previous rides and my hands and arms still carrying the battering from Bike Park Wales it was a ride that left me more than satisfactorily tired, back at the car scoffing jelly babies.
It would be impossible for me to drive back from Swansea without being tempted by the riding on the way and so Tuesday saw me turning off the M4 towards Cwm Carn for a last hit. Recently I’ve almost exclusively ridden Cafall here, but I decided to go back to the older Twrch trail. It’s a testament to the time I’ve spent on the newer trail that all of the areas cleared of trees since I was last up there look established and mature as open land, rather than scarred by the deforestation. The climb is tough and long, but like remembering an old friend (maybe one who likes to stab you in the leg with a fork for fun), and the pay-off starts with Airstream that flows across the top of the hill in a series of swooping jumps and berms. From here it’s all fun until it’s abruptly brought to an end by a brutal diversion down the hill, missing a trip over the shoulder of the hill due to forestry works.
My emotions back at the car were mixed. I felt a bit cheated that the trail was cut short and sad about the end of a few days of good riding. I sat for a moment eating my cheese sandwiches and debated Cafall as a consolation. With my parking running out and my legs suggesting I didn’t have another big climb in them, I loaded up and swept back towards the motorway trying to focus on all the riding over the long weekend and the best of what South Wales can offer, at least until Newbury where the threat of London loomed large again.