February 14, 2011
To celebrate our upcoming ten-years-of-being-around anniversary, we’ve dipped back into the very first issue of Singletrack Magazine to bring you this feature. Chipps and co. headed out on a road trip to take in three different rides in three different places, united by the common strand of having a nuclear power station nearby.
Ten years may well have passed but the basic rules of the road trip remain unchanged. A tenuous theme? Check. Bikes? Check. Friends? Check. Good music? Check – well, kind of…
We’ve got almost all the back issues of Singletrack Magazine available online in our Mag Archive – in fact, we aim to have every single copy of the magazine available to read digitally within the next few months. If you’re a Premier DIGITAL Subscriber then you already have access. It’ll even work on those new fangled iPad things…
“A road trip needs to have a theme, however tenuous. It needs to be done with friends. It needs to have a good dose of music – tunes to drive by and tunes to ride by – tunes to remember parts of the trip by. On most road trips you’ll drive longer than you’ll ride. There should preferably be at least one crippling hangover and a couple of crippling climbs. Teashops are good too. At the end of the day, the point of a road trip is to ride some new places that you’ve never ridden before – or would never drive for six hours just to do. We had lined up most of the ingredients for a perfect Singletrack road trip… Our theme? Nuclear Power stations… Hey… it’s a good one. After all, power stations are always built near abundant sources of water like lakes or the sea, which usually suggests coastal cliffs or steep river valleys. In order to minimise impact on the locality, they’re often hidden in forests, or behind great big hills – and due to their slightly questionable reputations, they’re keen to see all sorts of people visiting them – even muddy mountain bikers. And a lot of power stations, especially the nuclear ones are keen to show how green they really are, often with nature trails or a network of paths surrounding them.
In order to get the maximum span of the countryside (and to keep up a high ratio of driving to riding), we chose to visit three power stations in three days – Hinckley Point, Trawsfynydd and Sellafield, or in other words, the Quantocks, Coed Y Brenin and the Lake District.
Like all road trips, and anything I’m involved in, we were already behind schedule before we set off in the ol’ ‘67 Volvo, and all the short cuts we made simply increased our delay and reduced the speed. But Ash and I finally made it to Hinckley Point, looking pretty, bathed in glorious spring sunshine. The visitor centre was closed – and there wasn’t a tea shop, so we built up the bikes and set off from the gates, down the windy Somerset lanes to our real goal, the Quantocks.
The trails were silent, apart from the gusting wind, careering over the bald tops of the venerable hills. A couple of weeks of little rain and low temperatures had dried the trails pretty well, though the ever present streams in the combes made sure that those foolish enough to ride in Italian summer racing shoes (ahem…) were given toe numbing submersions.
If you’ve not ridden in the Quantocks, think of them as a Rhubarb and Custard style jellymould shape. The creases in the jelly are where the trees are, with the inevitable stream, while the tops of the hills are free of trees, save for the occasional sideways one. Riding in the Quantocks seems to always involve riding up a wooded valley, the trail criss-crossing the streams, then appearing out of the cover of the vegetation onto the old cart tracks of the tops. The decision then revolves around whether to ride the tops for a bit, keeping your altitude, or plummet down one of the incredible singletrack descents, knowing that the only way back is once more up the same, or a different combe. Our usual tactic is to start near Holford or Kilve (our starting point today) and ride up and over the tops, descending the far side of the hills for lunch. Once full of lunch – where the temptation is to bug-out and head home, we know that the only way back to the car (short of a 50 mile road ride around) is back up and over the hills.
Our late start and general faffing around to take pictures meant that we didn’t get back to the car until the light was fading. Our personal fuel levels were deemed enough of an emergency that the reserve Mars bar could be eaten. Then cold hands hoisted the bikes back onto the Thule rack and a cold foot stomped on the accelerator and kicked the engine into life.
Heater on, and CDs changed, we headed north towards Wales and tomorrow’s ride at Coed Y Brenin.
Friday’s start was better, though not perfect but at least we were on our way (with the correct amount of wheels, shoes and bikes) up to Coed Y Brenin before seconds of coffee had beckoned too hard. We wheeled into the Coed Y Brenin visitor centre to find a couple of downhillers’ parents camped out there for the day as their gifted prodigies got in some half-term practice on the dual course. Unfortunately, we were a day early to catch the café open, so, map checked, we took off for Trawsfynydd and its looming grey monolith of a power station. Actually, the power station is decommissioned, though there’s still a large maintenance staff there – who’ll be there for a good few years yet – and another visitor centre (this time with a café – good. And this time, also shut…bad.)
As we got the bikes down off the rack, we got some odd looks from workers speeding away after their shifts. Undeterred, we suited up and rolled over to the power station to check it out. Traws’ sits at the end of a scenic lake, and set in some fantastic scenery, a mere 10K from Coed Y Brenin. In an attempt to encourage people to enjoy the scenery, there’s been a bike path built around (though disappointingly not ALL around) the lake and past the depressed looking village of Trawsfynydd itself. This made easy spinning until we got to the small lane that leads up to the back of the forest – an alternative to the high speed Roman road way. We climbed the road, leaving the concrete giant brooding at the end of its lake, and rode into the welcome forest of Coed Y Brenin.
There are many cycling routes and bridleways in and around Coed Y Brenin’s forests, and far more than just the Karrimor, Red Bull and MBR trails, just as there’s more to Moab than Slickrock… But we were, once again short on time and light, and chose a quick spin round the very much improved Red Bull trail. I’d ridden there at least once in each of the preceding three months and found the trail constantly improving. The ridiculous rains of October (another time I happened to be there too – now that was fun…) had washed whole sections of trail down the slopes, or moved huge rocks from their resting places, or simply cut channels in the countryside. This had prompted a frenzy of improvement in the trails from Dafydd and his workers. What were twisty, rocky descents had been dug up, foundations worthy of the Romans had been laid and the trail engineered above them, with the result that the trail now wound even more circuitously down the hillsides, but this time on a raised and cambered base – improving the drainage, but more importantly improving the skill and fun involved in riding it.
We once again made it back to the car in the approaching gloom, stripped in the carpark and once more took off – pausing only to feed the tame Welsh robin some crumbs. I pointed the Volvo north and our floor for the night at Nick Wallis’ house near Wigan. Driving at night past the illuminated refineries of Ellesmere Port, the sight was made more surreal by the Buggles playing on the CD player.
More relaxed driving from the locals and some further slow lorries made sure that by the time we arrived at nine, it was time to head straight out for the Indian and back in for wine.
As we unwound from too much driving and too little riding on too little sleep and too little fitness, the wine slipped down just nicely.
Determined not to be as late as usual, we bolted down coffee and orange juice the next morning and headed up for our rendezvous with my new Singletrack colleagues Mark and Shaun at Lancaster services on the M6. Being a Southerner, I found it hard to believe that they both live north of Preston – which to me might as well be in Scotland… We met up – sixties Volvo and turbo Mini side by side and went for our first fuelling at the Little Chef.
Back on the road, the scenery started expanding, as it does once the Lakes are reached. They have some proper hills up there, not ‘Hills-lite’ as seen in the south.
Some more roadworks and questionable navigating stretched the journey again, though the discovery of the lost CD case helped ease things.
Just as we rolled up in the Sellafield car park, the rain started coming down. An executive decision was made to go and test the qualities of the Visitor Centre café – which proved up to par, especially the meringues… I found a suitable souvenir in the gift shop in the form of a Sellafield fridge magnet and bottle opener (be the envy of your friends…) and, excuses exhausted, we headed out to the bikes…
…Just in time for the hailstorm. Fortunately, weather in the Lakes changes its mind as often as a fickle girl and we were soon cruising up the road in nothing more than a sub-zero headwind. Mark had chosen a route that took us right past the perimeter fence, on a rough track, before heading up into the hills and some ‘proper’ riding. Some riding rivalry emerged once we realised that the three of us, though long- time pals, had never ridden together before, only in pairs. And as two of us were on test bikes, a great deal of swapping around was done. I thought I’d made a smart move by offering Shaun the Maverick at the bottom of a huge climb, only to see him winch up it ahead of me. Personally, I blame the bike, he wasn’t that quick last time I rode with him…
We soon forgot the racing as the trail turned steeper and rougher with every synapse being called to bear in keeping a line and providing the power to loft over the Lakeland rocks. As we climbed further (and further) the ground got crunchier and the ruts more deadly as they froze into position, threatening to derail you for a moment’s inattention. Soon though we’d reached the peak of our out-and-back, and with the prospect of having our cars locked in to the Visitor Centre, we hurried back down, finally enjoying the payback for all that climbing, eyes streaming in the cold and ice cream headaches all round.
The gates were open and the cars still there, so another car park undressing session ensued and finally back in our respective vehicles we headed back south – a short way, or a long way south depending on the car and occupants…
So, the first Singletrack Roadtrip had completed. Some 1200 miles of driving, for me at least, for something less than 50 miles of riding, 25 CDs of music, ranging from cheesy ‘80s compilations to Wheatus. Endless motorway pies and at least one hangover.
It would, obviously, have been better to spend more than an afternoon at each location – and each one of them has the riding to support many revisits. But the gist of the trip – to ride in different places on a
whim, certainly worked. In the same way that a Polaris Challenge can whisk you out of your normal pattern of bike shop on Saturday, riding with pals on Sunday, so a road trip can open your mind to new areas and often reacquaint you with old friends who you only see once a year. Remember that everywhere in the country is someone’s local riding and worth at least a cursory glance – even if you do live in a honeyspot.
The wonder of the UK – if you ignore the wonder of how it can rain so much – is that we’re a relatively small country with a huge diversity of riding. Drive for a couple of hours and you can be in a completely different surrounding. From limestone gnarliness to fast chalk trails, dense forests to solitary moors. We have it all and, I especially, don’t always appreciate what we have.
It’s time to pick a topic out of the hat and try a new theme…