SNOWY TRAILS IN WALES ON MOTORCYCLES - ONLY THE BRAVE!
Cold can barely describe how my poor old plates of meat felt at the end of our first day of trail riding across the mountains of Mid-Wales in the middle of January. In fact freezing only comes close as an adjective.
But for every snowy cloud there can be a silver lining and when we arrived at our night's accommodation, the Wye Valley Café Bunkhouse, we went into their changing room which has under floor heating…..oh the heavenly experience of taking wet boots and socks off…..
Five go adventuring again!
Our little band of five, foolish but hardy souls had met our guide, Mark, at Elan Village in Powys at lunchtime on Thursday. We had two nights B&B booked, so three days riding ahead. The original plan was to carry our luggage on the bikes but Spanish Chris was unable to ride in the winter due to problems with “white finger”, so he decided to come in his van to be back up. Consequently he carried our luggage around for us, which made life easier with plenty of dry socks available. A true hero.
We were on a variety of bikes as if to show that fun can be had on any trailie. In order of bigness we had Milky on his KTM 690 and me on a KTM 640, both of these had too much bigness, Mr Hall on his trusty Suzuki DRZ 400, probably the most appropriate for the job, Young George on his well used Suzuki DR 250 and Our Mark on his (my bike goes anywhere) Honda CRF 230. Mark the Guide has a BMW 450. This paragraph is for those with a keener interest in the off-road machinery.
Five on a secret trail
We started out on gentle tiny lanes and a few slippery tracks to get into the swing of things, also I suspect for our guide to suss out our ability and attitude. Then we spent the afternoon going along trails that were either very wet and muddy or covered in snow and ice. Often a combination of all of the above. Puddles were ever present. I attempted to ride round them and in contrast Young George had a more gungho attitude as befits his tender age and roared his little DR at everything. By the end of the first day he was two lever protectors and one clutch lever down. But fair doos, over a couple of drinks that first evening he listened to the sage advice from Mr Hall and Our Mark and his style was more tempered for the next two days. Except when it came to puddles.
Five get into trouble
We all took tumbles or slides but nothing that did any real damage. The most entertaining was when Young George went into banzai mode through a puddle that had just had the ice broken by the two Marks. Down he went and just as he got out Mr Hall went through and fell in pretty much the same place, blaming a piece of ice getting wedged between his front wheel and frame. Yeah, that was it. Poor Mr Hall was most put out with a boot full of icy puddle. Apparently he only falls on the rare occasions he is out with us. And to confirm this he slid off the next day too! This was reassuring for us mere mortals as Mr Hall is a very skilled and smooth rider. 99% of the time he will majestically glide over obstacles that have the rest of us paddling and spinning around like confused Dervishes.
I feel here that I should clarify what is meant by puddle. Whist it is obvious that puddles come in an assortment of sizes, I am generally referring to the larger ones that Koi carp owners would be happy to have in their back garden.
For much of the time it was a challenge keeping the front wheel in the desired direction and when the trail turned into tarmac I would feel some relief. It wouldn’t last long though as fingers and toes started to complain and `I would then want to get back on a trail so I could start working harder and get the blood circulating.
Five go to Mystery Moor
Afternoon turned into dusk which was followed very swiftly by dark and we were still on the hillsides, picking our way along the snowy tracks. Riding off-road at night is an interesting experience that can be enjoyed in a curious way. Riding in a small bubble of light seems to focus the attention and progress can be surprisingly brisk.
Eventually we found ourselves back on tarmac and en route for the bunkhouse with hot showers and dinner.
During our evening at the bunkhouse we were joined by Mick, a seasoned trail rider who was taking the opportunity to put his CCM 640 to the test. He had recently converted it from supermoto mode and was keen to see how it would cope in the testing conditions.
Five have plenty of fun
The next day dawned without rain or snow, all good. The day before we had travelled east and south to Glasbury. Now we would go north back to the Elan Valley and then west. Our destination is deep in west Wales, the small town of Tregaron.
It wasn’t till late afternoon that we reached the Elan reservoir and the trail that runs along its side, by then the clouds had descended and the Welsh mist accompanied it. (Celtic cousin of Scotch mist). It was not long before we were once again riding in the dark. Milky and Young George particularly enjoyed this stage of the ride as they sped along the track. Things became a little treacherous as the trail became tarmac with patches of ice. Not a huge problem on gravel or muddy track but on tarmac there is no give and no mercy. My warning came when Our Mark went down in front of me and Mick like a sack of spuds. He was OK but the message was clear. Until then I had been comfortably following Mick's wheel tracks for several miles, happy in the knowledge that if he stayed upright so would I.
Suitably warned we tip toed through the persistent drizzle to the larger, clear road and on to Tregaron. My feet were marginally less freezing as I had swapped my old knackered Sealskin socks for a more sophisticated arrangement. God bless carrier bags!
We were booked into the Y Talbot Hotel with it’s wonderful open fire in the bar and amazingly powerful showers. Great food and helpful staff that made the evening meal all the more enjoyable.
Saturday started grey but the forecast was for brightness and so it turned out to be. We had discussed going along the famous Strata Florida trail that is very close to Tregaron. It is quite spectacular as the trail crosses a river a number of times. However on reflection we decided that between the crossings and the VERY deep puddles (see earlier definition) that we would wait until a summer trip. Mark the guide weaved a route north westish. We were snow free and there were some lovely forest tracks. At one point we were on top of a hill and Mark the Guide pointed out Aberystwyth and the sea.
Five get into a fix
Mining for metals has been going on in Wales for many hundreds of years and our route took us past the ruins of lead and copper mines. We also crossed the narrow gauge steam line that runs from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge. Shortly after the chain on Mark the Guide's bike broke. He managed to pick the smelliest corner of west Wales as the local farmers were spreading muck on the fields. Whilst the new link was being fitted we were treated to a fine display of a tractor and muck spreader being deftly manoeuvred out of a field, into the road, reversed around a very tight corner and back to the field to continue its task.
After a welcome lunch we were led back in the direction of Rhayader and the vans. I felt a degree of relief as we passed a sign that told us there were 5 miles to go. But of course Mark the Guide had one last snowy, icy trail to finish off our three days. Then it was a short blast back to where dry clothes were waiting in the back of the transit. We had covered a tad over 250 miles, the vast majority on trails and although it was a challenging ride we all had a bloody fantastic three days.
If ever you find yourself travelling in Mid-Wales and need somewhere to stay you could do a whole lot worse than checking out: The Wye Valley Canoe Bunkhouse in Glasbury - www.wyevalleycanoes.co.uk/bunkhouse And the Y Talbot Hotel in Tregaron. www.ytalbot.com
Or if you have any sort thoughts of a green lane adventure go immediately to: www.trailridingrhayader.co.uk The lovely Mark will be happy to organise a ride no matter what level of experience you have. All you need is a bike and a desire to have a great ride in some amazing scenery.
Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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