Brechfa Forest Easy Route – pdf
Time: 1 hour +
Brechfa Forest Medium Route – pdf
Time: 1h 30mins+
Brechfa Forest Hard Route – pdf
Time: 2 hours +
As the folk at nearby Howies in Cardigan will tell you, this corner of Wales, down in the south west of the
country, is great AND it’s absolutely miles from anywhere. That’s not a problem if you’re already there and not planning on leaving, but if you’re trying to get there from West Yorkshire on a wet and windy Friday night, it can seem even further away. Lying as it does about halfway between Carmarthen and Cardigan, it’s no wonder that Brechfa is known as one of Wales’ best kept secrets.
Enough of the whinging. I arrived fine and in time for a late dinner and glass of wine with Ivy and Carl, who run BikeBrechfa, and my other B&Bers, Caroline aka Bob, Russell and Tracey. Despite the awful blowy weather on my drive down, we’d been promised improving weather for our weekend of riding.
The next day, as my forehead froze to the inside of my helmet under a sideways hailstorm, I began to doubt those enthusiastic reports. We were slogging into a headwind, up the vaguest bridleway through field that appeared to have interbred with a swimming pool, pelted with icy pellets and wondering why we’d not packed more warm clothing and food.
Fortunately the high winds also meant that the storm quickly blew over, leaving us damp and slightly chilled under freshly laundered winter blue skies. The field soon gave way to hard gravel and the enveloping clouds left us to give great views over the rolling hills around Brechfa.
Like many of the Welsh trail centres, there’s so much more to the area than the single 19km trail that lures you there in the first place, and Ivy and Carl were keen to show us that it wasn’t just fire roads and hand sculpted bermed corners.
Our first ride took us through Brechfa Forest and past the man-made stuff (with the exception of a great singletrack descent that just happened to go the way we were going.) Once through that, though, we were up into the hills where we got the experience that is often missed on forestry trails, namely stunning views. While Brechfa’s trails may pull you here for a day of riding, you’d be missing out if you thought that that’s all there was to ride here. With some expert guiding from Carl and Ivy, we were led through sunken, ancient lanes, overhanging, dark and dank spooky woods, with their mossy boughs cutting out the light. We barely touched a road all day and probably saw more rivers than cars. That’s the advantage of riding in a place that’s hard to get to, a little like last issue’s trails in the Western Lakes. Great riding, but you have to pass so much other good stuff on the way that you normally succumb to temptation and never get there.
The wonderfully named Brian Rumble, one of the Forestry Commission team behind the trails, joined us for our first ride and was explaining that the red Brechfa trail we’d ride the next day was just one of three trails
currently planned for the forest. Work on the green trail was nearly finished and there was a black trail in the works. Quite what colour the nadgery sunken lanes we were riding at the time was, I’m not sure – they seemed to vary between moss-green, silt-black and lung-busting red.
One of the fun aspects of riding away from the prescribed trails is the unpredictability of terrain. You don’t have that guarantee that all the climbs are rideable, or that all the descents are passable on a racing hardtail. Terrain will change with the weather. Your mileage will vary. What was very true of our sampling of
the local natural loops was that the seemingly mellow climbs and descents took their toll on us and even the power of cheese and ham rolls can only get you so far, so it was a quiet and cold group that reluctantly raced the dying sun back to BikeBrechfa’s base in Llansawel. Tea was brewed, feet were defrosted, Bob
was woken up from her comatose position under a car and cake was shovelled with little regard for the quaint home-madeness of it all.
A ‘proper’ dinner was voted on and we made our way to the Angel, one of two pubs in this tiny village. Our table of ten filled half of the pub and the food did a good job of filling us. In order to spread the love, and our financial benefit on the village, we then decamped to the other pub in the village, the Black Lion (not to be confused with the other Black Lion in the next village of Abergorlech.)
We lounged around the big leather sofas with a few beers, enjoying the friendliness and ambience of the local. After many loud farewells, we sauntered out and round the corner to Ivy and Carl’s place. Two minutes
later the landlady appeared at the same door to remind us that we’d forgotten to pay for our drinks. Oops. Guess we got carried away with the friendliness of the moment.
The Gorlech Trail
The new red trail at Brechfa is called the Gorlech Trail, named after the river that runs near (and under) the trail. It was built in partnership between the Welsh Forestry Commision and Carmarthenshire County
Council and includes some of the design and spadework of Rowan Sorrell, trailbuilder extraordinaire.
The slightly hungover members of the party gamely rode out from Llansawel the three miles to the start of the trail in Abergorlech. The trailhead has ample parking and the other Black Lion pub it the head of it. (I can recommend their roast lunch).
It starts, as so many of these trails do, with a seemingly endless, but manageable fire road climb. The character of the singletrack differs to many other Welsh trails. The terrain is slightly less aggressive when compared to those in North Wales. There are less mech-eating rocks to keep you on course and the penalty for overcooking corners is generally not too severe (assuming you don’t try and ride the ‘Log of Doom’ on one of the descents).
One thing that also feels different about the trails is the width. Some manmade trails have a fair amount of girth, which lets you straight-line a lot of corners. The trails at Brechfa are pretty narrow and punish any ‘jazz’ line choices by running you off the thin smooth crown of the trails. This makes the trails pretty fun even at slower speeds.
During our tour of the trails we had plenty of chance to ride at all speeds, from falling off to far-too-fast. We were joined that day by a couple of other riders including Warren, Toby and Mike, who added to the entertainment by being the most hungover man in the country, but gamely carried on riding, despite being fooled into doing far more climbing than he needed to just because we thought it was funny. There are several sections of trail I really enjoyed, including one straight-line, smooth plummet that’s a real brakes-off and trust the bike moment and a lot of wonderfully bermed switchbacks. For the eagle-eyed launchers out there, there are a number of lipped shortcuts to some of the corners – almost as if some of the trail had been designed by a top downhill rider like Rowan Sorrell – Oh…
Having been pursued down the final downhill by a 14 year old on a cheap hardtail, I can confirm that the locals are already getting good, so I’d suggest heading down there before they all get any better and start showing us older folk up.
The Trailhead is the Forestry Commission Carpark in Abergorlech.
Nearest are County Cycles in Crosshands (01269 845 656), Hobbs in Carmarthen www.hobbscycles.com
Brechfa Village community shop and Post Office; quality snacks and fruit. Fairtrade produce.
Where to stay:
There’s really nowhere we’re rather recommend than Bike Brechfa – www.bikebrechfa.co.uk Ivy and Carl operate a very mountain bike friendly B&B in a renovated police station and can give you pointers to the best of the natural and manmade stuff. Prices are £20pppn. You can usually bully them into riding with you if you ask nicely.
We harp on about it being miles from anywhere, but if you’re riding Nant-Yr-Arian or Afan, you’re halfway there already. Or head down and stay at Bike Brechfa and then head home via one of the other trail centres.