By Paul Trimble
So it’s May, weather during the previous week had been a mixture of heavy and biblical rain, but we had had five dry warm days since, and the weekend had landed, with the Sunday being one that had been on the calendar for months, a full day riding in the Forest of Dean. In fact it was the date of The Wild Boar Chase, and I had entered on the advice of mates from last year.
I had prepared: riding my bike at unsocial hours, where questioning looks from strangers in cars are met with a steely forward gaze as you sweep past them in dark county laybys, swamping the small interior mood lighting with 2000 lumens of LED; grinding my drivetrain into a shadow of its former glory with the finest Oxfordshire mud; and snapping my chain on a few Chiltern dry training rides in the lovely April weather we had.
So Chase the Boar, what do you get? Firstly it’s in a nice field with just enough toilets, although some of the large oak trees certainly got a nitrogen boost that day. It’s all for Charity (mate), and it was well organised: the bike numbers and barcode scanning tags were easy to attach to the bike, and it was also on time, at 10am everyone was ready, the gate was opened and off we went to the sound of a hunting horn! Which was rather fun.
Now any ride that has lots of riders starting at the same time is going to need to spread out before the technical riding can start, so you get a rather wonderful couple of miles of forest service road. For us with the hot weather we had enjoyed it created a pleasing dust cloud rising from the pack of riders. The service road had a bit of an incline, and allowed you to get into your ride mode and warm up, although when we hit the first singletrack trail you did need to queue. But hey, the woods were full of bluebells just off their prime, I heard my first cuckoo of the year, and the wild garlic was out and flowering – this may be a ride for hay fever riders to avoid or take medication.
This first section of singletrack was pretty slow due to rider numbers, and some already off and pushing on the first roper climb, plus me hopping off my bike to take photos on a nice double bend where I thought would get loads of riders into the shot. Despite the congestion, the trail was nice – proper grippy dirt on a narrow track, and we then had a small technical descent, the trailed flowed nicely, and reminded me of Cwmcarn flow but without the armoured trail covering. Now the thing about the Forest of Dean is that although it’s large, and lovely, its history is more industrial then rural. This place has more tunnels and mines then you will find in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but this means that there are loads of tracks that lead so conveniently up this small valley and along past that stream. Many are actually 100 year old stone slabs put down by miners, so it’s not too muddy, and in the dry it’s seriously quick! And that’s the theme of the Small Boar ride: forest tracks and trails with sections of fun singletrack. Nothing too trying, and no large steep hills, but amazingly almost no tarmac road at all.
When you reach the first feed stop at Parkend, its time for the split: full boar one way; all others that way. It’s a point to eat bananas and get some water, or head over to the Dean Forest Cycle Café for some caffeine and cake fixes, and give you and your bike some TLC if needed.
Onto the Full Boar section and there was a marked difference to the previous riding. Firstly, as you head out of the forest the amount of riders drops significantly. Than, onto brilliant twisting singletrack, lovely views into a deep valley, and a trail that invites some speed – but also contains enough pedal catching lumps and a small technical drop that could give you a bad day. On to rolling open countryside where the welsh hills can be seen in the distance over the River Wye and the Wye valley. Maybe I should have looked at the map more than the view, because one minute I’m flying down a road descent, then the route arrow points towards a driveway and track, I’m carrying speed and my suspension is locked out. Suddenly it’s a sunken track full of baby headed loose rocks and stones. It’s a rock garden hit at speed and almost 1km long, I cling to the bars as I try and unlock my suspension, then still with considerable speed I start to pick lines avoiding the kind of loose rocks that carbon down tubes do not agree with. This descent was loose, fast, steep, and finished with a legs-in-the-air ford. It was great fun and perhaps explained why I had seen quite a number of riders on full on all mountain bikes and wearing body armour.
Entering the village of Newland we had our only real technical climb, up one of the sunken rocky tracks. This one was wet and muddy and showed the passage of lots of riders, I was determined to clear it and my Kenda Slant Sixes made an agreeable gripping and slipping sound as I granny geared up the trail.
The last food stop provided some much needed Bakewell tarts and cake, as I had foolishly left half my food for the day in the kitchen at home, then forest tracks, and a really fun but easily missed singletrack locals-only trail through a forest floor of bluebells. I know it was locals-only as I chatted to one after riding this part of trail, he was surprised the boar had used it, but it certainly helped to cut the line in.
As we joined the Forest Boar section of the ride, on the final fast singletrack descent that I was very aware that I was riding on tired legs. Finally we popped out at the finish: 45 miles and 1300 odd meters of climbing done.
So, final thoughts? It felt like a ride organised by locals who wanted their friends to enjoy the ride, it did not show you the best bits, but instead the bits you could enjoy and ride well on blind first time trails, all linked together well. It never felt like we were just adding distance, and some of the descents on the Wye Valley were brilliant. By touring so much of the forest you see lots of stuff tucked away – considering we did not go anywhere near the formal MTB trails it’s a great way to get to experience the wider area of the forest and the Wye valley. I would do it again, stop less for photos and ride harder as I do tend to look at the view a bit to much.