Duration: 4 hours
Duration: 3 hours
Duration: 2 hours
I haven’t done much riding in the bottom half of Wales. Of the pitiful amount of riding I had done there it was all exclusively based within manmade trail centres such as Afan and Cwm Carn. Which is all well and good in itself but once you’re off and zipping along those treelined enclosed Scalextric trails it’s hard to get a proper feel for the area.
So when the opportunity arose to head down to that part of the world to do a Route Guide I quickly stuck my hand up in the air and volunteered. With most of my Welsh riding experience being either forests or in North Wales, I thought I’d go to the other end of the spectrum and head as far South as possible where there were hardly any trees at all. The Gower Peninsula to be exact.
It’s big, Jim…
Wales is a bigger place than a lot of people might think. I know this because after an overnight stay in Wrexham (with my Route Guide buddy Jon) I had to drive all the way through Wales to get to the coastal hamlet of Rhossili. Although it was only a journey of 150 miles it still took over four hours. Wiggly A-roads filled with trucks and Nissan Micras do not make for speedy progress. “This Gower place had better be worth it” I thought to myself.
Toward the end of the journey we took a sharp right hand turn and something quite odd happened. The terrain and vibe (yes, vibe) changed. Both myself and Jonny let out an “oooh” of acknowledgement. After seasicking our way along endless twisty hillside A-roads under flat skies, we were now heading along a straight singletrack road over open moorland with wild horses contentedly munching grass on either side and the sky had changed to the warm-starkness only found at the British seaside.
As we drove through Pitton Cross a classically craggy coastal vista appeared in front of us. We emitted another “oooh”.
We parked up facing out to sea. Our eagerness to get out on to trails was slightly tempered as we struggled to open the doors of the car due to the howling gale that was coming n off the sea. The opening leg of our intended route was along the exposed spine of Rhossili Down and if it was windy down in the car park then Lord only knows how windy it was going to be up there.
After putting on our most windproof ensembles (I’d forgotten how brilliant Pertex is for windy-but-dry conditions) we got on our bikes and pointed ourselves at the big ridge of earth that rose up from golden sands of the beach. For the first and unfortunately for seemingly the last time we had a strong tailwind. It was as if Nature itself couldn’t wait to get us on to the trails.
We decided to get to the top of the ridge from Middleton as it would be the more sheltered way up. Although it was a lot more protected from the strong winds coming off the sea the short-grassed track was still a fairly arduous climb. It’s always surprising – not to say distressing – just how much extra drag is caused by a teensy sprinkling of grass.
Like a soldier sticking his head above the parapet being greeted with a hail of machine gun fire, as we crested the top of Rhossili Down we were hit with a massive blast of wind. On a calmer day the track along the ridge-top would have been a lovely speed-pootle and we would have been able to gaze around at the incredible 360 degree panoramic view.
As it was, Jonny and I had to fight the gusts while riding our bikes at 45° to the ground with streaming eyes and our chins dug into our chests. It was ridiculous and hilarious. We giggled, woah-ed and tripodded our way to the trig point – which we hurriedly hid behind trying to convince ourselves it was a useful object of shelter. For a good ten minutes we took it in turns to move out from behind the trig point to see how far we could lean forwards into the wind (those of you who have had the misfortune to see ‘Moonwalker’ will know what I mean).
After getting viciously lashed in the face by wind-whipped rucksack straps a few too many times it was time to try and ride our bikes again. As we set off down from the trig point it felt like the wind had died down a little so I loosened my white-knuckle grasp of my handlebar slightly and tried a little jump over a small rock. I think I went sideways in the air further than I went forward! Somehow I managed to avoid crashing but it was warning enough for me not to try it again.
A few hundred yards later we encountered an area of concrete hard-standing where a few buildings had once stood. It resembled a mini nuclear test site. I pondered aloud to Jonny if he thought the buildings had been blown away by the wind. He didn’t rule out the idea. (Apparently this area was the scene of many a Rave ‘back in the day’ – and I can see why). We messed about riding off walls and down little flights of steps until Jonny’s pedal decided to fall apart. I checked he was OK and left him to repair it and headed off on down the trail to get ahead for some photos…
“WOOP!” What a great descent. It was so good I actually stopped half way down it and pushed back up to do it again. Eerily reminiscent of Swaledale (in North Yorkshire) but a bit curvier and jumpier and with a coastal view to die for (preferably not literally). On the way back up, Jonny flew past me in a blur of grinning teeth and knee-down speedway cornering.
The last section dropped steeply down toward the Hillend Burrows static caravan site. It was a deceptively simple-looking descent. Thankfully I had a bit of a front-wheel skid warning just as I was about to go Hell-forleather down it. After slowing down and taking a closer look I could see it was a mixture of slippy wet grass, hidden dirt ‘bunkers’ and very ‘kicky’ rock lumps. Something to be fairly cautious on. Both Jonny and I abandoned ship at least once on this bit. Great, stupid fun. And all this was all in our first 4km. There’s so much packed into this small but fabulous part of Wales. Due to an unfortunate cocktail of extreme head winds, work commitments, slow roads and lack of daylight hours we had to cut short our exploration. Rest assured, we’ll be back. I can’t think of a many better places to spend a weekend at the seaside with bikes.