The Dyfi Forest behind Isfryn is basically mountain bike heaven, home to some of the best but least-known singletrack in the UK; and I’ve recently decided it was time to start properly exploring the trails in the area.
The last 2 years have been pretty full for me, with a very big pile of DIY, followed by a year of cancer diagnosis and then treatment. After all that I decided that it was high time to enjoy myself a bit more. So I’ve bought myself a shiny new full-susser (my previous well-worn mountain bike having done 12 years of loyal service) and I’ve been exploring the local trails. Here’s a brief summary of some of what I’ve found so far…
First up, the forest has been home to a series of top-notch biking events, including a series of mountain biking Enduros (we marshalled at the last one – very humbling!), and the hugely popular Dyfi Enduro (around 1000 riders last year). It’s also home to the 1st family of UK mountain biking, the Athertons, who have built many of the local trails. Within a few miles the Red Bull Hardline event is held, and also the Athertons’ latest project, Bike Park Dyfi.
With all this going on, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are a lot of good bike trails here, but perhaps the surprise is that many of the routes are hardly known beyond a fairly small group of locals. Now I’m trying to break into that select band with the aid of some local knowledge and a whole lot of exploring. I’m loving it! To get a bit of a flavour of what there is in the area, have a look at this video.
First to mention is the route that is relatively well known – The ClimachX trail. The final section (“No. 8”) in particular is brilliant and one of the longest descents in Wales. It’s about red standard though there are options to make it harder. I last rode it just after it snowed, and what a great day out that was:
Rob (cheers mate!) introduced me to my 1st two local trails: ‘Crash Alley‘, and World Cup. Crash Alley is a short link between 2 fire roads that introduces you to 2 aspects of Dyfi Riding – loamy, rutted forest trails and steep, slate bedrock. It starts with a gentle and fairly straightforward climb through the woods before briefly steepening to something that I’m not fit enough or competent enough to ride. At the top turn your suspension to soft, drop your saddle and prepare for some steep and very rocky descent – I’m yet to do this clean. If you found this easy (I didn’t) you’re ready for World Cup – one of the best bits of singletrack in the forest. It starts pretty gently on flowing singletrack with the odd optional jump (yikes!) before plummeting straight down a broad ridge at a frankly ludicrous angle on rather slippery slate bedrock.
Since then I’ve discovered plenty more trails, some as hard or harder but plenty, thankfully, are possible for unfit, cowardly mortals like me. Certainly there are hours of riding at around red standard to be found and I suspect I’ve found less than half of what’s out there so far. Things move fast too, so only last night I was working on a new trail with a neighbour, Rhys on a new trail for next June’s Enduro event. You can check out some (but not all, yet) of the local trails on Trailforks.
Finally, riding over the late autumn and winter I’ve also identified another other special aspects of Dyfi riding: You can expect to get your feet wet! Dyfi puddles form on the bedrock and don’t drain. There is good news though, in that almost all, including some scary monsters 30ft long (and 2ft deep in winter), are rideable due to that rocky base.
Here’s Rob, again, demonstrating on one of the few flat parts of Stegosaurus.
Isfryn now has a little fleet of bikes for guests to borrow. We have two mountain bikes and two road bikes – all would be fine on the local roads and forestry tracks and are ideal for a trip to the Red Lion. Many thanks to our friends Diane and David for the donation of the Muddy Fox!
Over the last few months we’ve been ticking off the local walks in the walking guides we leave in Isfryn. Two of the classics are the Old Precipice Walk and the New Precipice Walk. Between Christmas and New Year we did the Old Precipice Walk in perfect sunny winter conditions and then nipped over to park near the middle of the New Precipice Walk (which we’d walked back in November) for some sunset photos.
The Old Precipice Walk, close to Dolgellau, is a mostly flat circular walk of about 3 miles that loops high above the Mawddach river providing stupendous views of the Coed y Brenin forest and the Mawddach estuary before returning via the beautiful Llyn Cynwch.
As you can see, we didn’t have a bad day for it!
The walk gets its name from the fact that it was originally opened in 1890 and it was a popular walk for the late victorians. I wouldn’t say there are many precipices per se, but drop on the right down to the Mawddach river is pretty steep.
As you continue round on the (rocky) path the views of the Mawddach Estuary get better and better…
As the route swings back towards the car park you pass Llyn Cynwch
It was so still that it was actually hard to work out where trees stopped and reflections started…
As we still had time we decided to drive over to the best viewpoint on the New Precipice Walk for some sunset photos. The ‘New’ is only a couple of miles away from the ‘Old’ on the other side of the river and a bit further downstream towards Barmouth. I’ll do a post on the rest of the walk another time. The whole of the New Precipice Walk is longer and more strenuous than the ‘Old’ but the highlight of the route is another high level traverse with yet more stunning views of the Mawddach Estuary – you can drive to this section of the walk so you can easily nip up for the views:
With Linda away on hols with her mum for a week I took the opportunity to visit a museum that we’d seen a sign for months back, The Internal Fire Museum of Power. Someone had mentioned that there was a little diesel engine museum nearby so, putting 2 and 2 together, I was expecting a couple of sheds with some information boards and the odd truck engine… Oh no!
This place is a marvel (for engineering geeks at least) – the smallest engine is probably a Rolls Royce V6 tank engine, and it goes up to a whopping great 20ft long 30-ton monster. The vast majority of the engines work and there are several running at all times which lends the display halls (there is a maze of 3 or 4 of these) the distinctive aroma of engineering workshop. I was particularly taken by the 4000HP jet engine and generator set (shame it wasn’t running at the time).
Many of the the engines were used in the early 20th century for small scale elecricity generation and would have been connected to a generator. If DC rather than AC power was needed then a mercury arc inverter was the bit of kit you’d need back in the day. I’d never even heard of such a thing, but they’ve got a working one at the museum and I think I want one! It’s a man-high cabinet containing a bonkers glass sculpture with a pool of mercury in the bottom and studded with carbon electrodes; press the button on the wall and, with a clonk of relays and then the buzz of an electric arc, a blue light erupts from the electrodes and the mercury in the bottom – this thing is perfect for bringing out any mad scientist tendencies in you!
As well as chugging diesel engines and whirring flywheels there’s a working telephone exchange, a display of vintage radio equipment, and a small cafe and shop (complete with an electric organ, for some reason). When I visited in early September a further hall of exhibits was close to being ready and lurking around the back there’s a polytunnel full of yet more stuff for a further hall when funds allow.
It’s around an hour and a quarter from Isfryn, on the other side of Aberystwyth and so would fit well into a day visiting Aberystwyth, the Rheidol steam railway or the Red Kite centre at Bwlch Nant Yr Arian.
Not long back from a very enjoyable day with Jim from Nature’s Work where I learnt lots about the glacial history of Snowdonia and the crucial differences between Silicaceous Rhyolites and mineral-rich Dolerites, not to mention Heath Orchids and how to identify the very tasty Wood Sorrel. Highly recommended!
On Thursday, instead of cleaning Isfryn we decided to go on a trip that time forgot – the slow coastal train from Machynlleth to Pwllheli. It was a trip we’d been promising ourselves for a while but the hat just happened to drop on Thursday. So, with Messrs Flanders & Swann in mind, off we set on the 0850 from Machynlleth with a £12 ‘Explore Cambrian’ ticket each, which allows unlimited travel on the route all day.
At 0850 prompt, we boarded our mighty 2-carriage transport. It was the sort of train where the first thing the ticket collector asked was whether we wanted to stop at any of the request stops – ‘stations’ even smaller than the ones the train normally stopped; And at many of those stations where we did stop, the announcer would suggest not using the doors at either end of our 2-carriage train because the platform wasn’t long enough.
The train hugs the coast closely for most of the way, resulting in views like this, of Fairbourne beach with Barmouth in the distance.
Then on to Dyffryn Ardudwy, Llanbedr, and little Llandanwg – that’s pretty much the whole station in the picture below.
From there it’s Harlech with its castle and the splendidly-named Penrhyndeudraeth – a place name we feel should mean ‘seat of the dragon-lords of theWest’ or suchlike (in our imaginary version of the Welsh language, obviously) but in fact means something a fraction more prosaic.
From there we passed thorugh busy Porthmadog and on via Criccieth to the end of the line at Pwllheli. A nice lunch and a wander around the town including the Chilli Penguin stove shop (we’re still lusting after a new wood-burner and learnt that they will do a custom-size version of their rather great stoves) and it was time for the return train to Machynlleth and the whole journey in reverse.
Went to 2 great gigs at the comedy festival last night. Jess Thom (Backstage in Biscuitland) was wild, idiosyncratic and brilliant and highly recommended and Pete Otway’s ‘work in progress’ set was well worth it. Oh, and there are over 57 beers to choose from in the beer tent! Back into Mach for more now