The Clwyds Big Route – pdf
Distance: 68.5 km
Height Gain: 2128m
Highest Point: 457m
All day. Really.
The Clwyds Short Route – pdf
Distance: 15.5 km
Height Gain: 499m
Highest Point: 516m
2 hours approx
I like to think I have a pretty good idea about what’s going on in mountain biking in the UK. After all, it’s my job. But I had to downgrade my lofty idea of myself when I discovered that in mid-Wales there hid a privately owned forest about which I had no idea and in which were being built mountain bike trails for all… In light of such good news, I decided a trip down there was in order.
I was joined by Sara, contributor and our resident Energiser Bunny, always keen to ride bikes in new places. Singletrack actually came to the Clywds a couple of years ago for our ‘Secret Weekend’ article for the same reason as now – the fact that this part of the country gets wrongly overlooked as riders zip past on their way down to Coed Y Brenin and other points west. The Clwydian range of hills are around 20 miles long and run from Prestatyn to Llandegla – the forest that serves as the prompt for our visit. Our starting point was the great Druid Pub in Llanferres, which features Jim, the mountain biking landlord. We unpacked bikes in truly glorious Welsh evening summer sunshine as Adrian Walls, our guide for the trip appeared. He should know his way around as he’s a Rights of Way officer (by co-incidence we have a feature on the kind of work he does on page 88 (Issue 23)) and by a few of the local mountain bike riders and by Jim and Ian who both work at the new Llandegla Visitor Centre.
That was a treat for the next day though, because firstly we were riding straight from the pub to ride half of this issue’s Hard route. Apart from a quick spin up the main road to warm legs up, and a quick viewpoint it was straight off-road for us, following tracks that riders of the old Kona 100 in the area would find familiar and riders of the September Ruthin Merida 100 will also be encountering. There was certainly a fair amount of climbing, but we got a lot of it out of the way early on, so that we were constantly struck with golden, sundrenched views at every turn. The Clywdian Hills are surprisingly, well, hilly – and the views afforded from the tops are impressive. On a clear day, as it was, we could see down to Cader Idris, looming above Dolgellau and some of the lumps of distant Snowdonia and, turning around, the spires of Liverpool. The area really is close to many people. Below us, more to the point, we could see stony tracks hiding in patches of lush forest and verdant green fields. Every time I ride here, I’m amazed by the breadth of riding, both off-road on the many tracks, and on the tiny, quiet lanes linking them all up. There are old drove roads, Offa’s Dyke trail and some big, big hills with absolutely no-one on them. Even in the height of summer, you’re lucky to bump into more than a couple of people here. Let everyone head off to Snowdon, or the coast, or Dolgellau – I’m happy to keep this corner of Wales secret. That’s unlikely to last, though, as word gets out about Llandegla Forest. As we rode that evening, Jim and Ian filled us in on the origins of the trails in Llandegla (see sidebar). We were due to join them the next morning for coffee and riding and they did their best to wear us out so that we’d be more responsive to their great trails the next morning.
That evening, though, as the mid-summer sun started to set and we were riding along narrow, heather lined, endless singletrack, we didn’t really care. To think that all this singletrack gets bypassed at 60mph as riders zip past on their way to man-made trails is silly…
Quickly brought back into the present, though, we realised that Adrian’s ‘This extra bit will just take 45 minutes’ was turning into 90 and our window for food at the pub was narrowing. As Sara, Adrian and I picked up the pace, we left local riders in our wake as we time-trialled it back to the Druid for our 9.30 food curfew.
I made it into the bar with 30 seconds to spare, ordered enough food for about four people and promptly burst into unsightly sweating and chose to wait outside for our big portions to arrive. After a couple more beers, it was time to retire and prepare for the morning. We chose to ride to Llandegla from the Druid, in kind of the reverse to the route guide, which assumes you’d much rather start at Llandegla and go to the Druid, (or the pub in Loggerheads) for lunch. The little lanes were traffic free and a great way to warm up for the trails in Llandegla. We came into the Stage Door of the forest and joined the family route. Interesting, but definitely ‘family’ trails – two metres wide, with gentle gradients didn’t particularly light my fire. But we were soon at the fantastic ‘Little house on the prarie on steroids’ log cabin Visitor Centre for a coffee and some chocolate to meet Jim and Ian again. They soon had us back on the bikes and up the steady climb out of the centre. Nearly all your climbing is done on the first climb, so don’t be disheartened. After a fair time of climbing on wide, smooth, switchback trails, we topped out and left the mixed trail for the Intermediate trail. What a great trail! Fast and smooth, but with enough tight turns, rollers and little jumps to amuse nearly everyone. It’s graded well enough that you could ride the whole route on a ‘cross bike, but you’d get cocky and end up pitching said ‘cross bike sideways through a tree. As it is, it gave just the right combination of fun, speed and challenge. There are some (and soon to be more) Black-grade diversions for more advanced riders, including a very Whistlerlike playground of tabletops that I’m sure will become a bit of a must-do for the freeride set. I chose to ride them fast enough to prove that you could do them all without leaving the ground…
There’s enough in Llandegla to please the family. And with enough toasted sandwiches, it’ll probably amuse everyone enough for a good day of riding. What you must do, though, is leave the forest as well to explore the many, many trails on offer around here. They’re quiet, in great condition and are there for all to ride… I’ll certainly be back to ride both the forest and the trails again, especially given the warm welcomes awaiting, the forests full of trails and to ride the hidden secrets that everyone else is missing out on.
Posted on: December 9, 2008