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.
We woke to a beautiful, sparkling, frosty morning and decided that a pre-breakfast walk was needed. Our original plan for a relatively gentle hour walking a circuit around the outskirts of the valley was soon overtaken by the lure of something a bit more mountainous, so we set out to walk up Mynnydd Tri Arglwydd (The Hill of Three Lords). We cheated somewhat and drove up the long, relentlessly uphill lane from our house to a point where we could get out and strike off onto the tracks through the pine forest. The 360 degree views from the Trig point at the top of the mountain are just wonderful and include a great view of Cadair Idris, which looked magnificent in the sunshine with a dusting of frost. It was glorious to be out early and to have the hills all to ourselves (although happily, that’s not uncommon around here).
A lovely start to the day, followed by a big breakfast when we got home. Nice to feel we’d earned it!
A walk by the sea seemed essential on such a warm, glorious October afternoon, so I found myself drifting in the direction of Barmouth. What I hadn’t expected was finding myself in a crowd of many hundreds who had turned out to see the annual Barmouth Beach Races. I had utterly forgotten that they were happening this weekend. A good time seemed to be had by all, though I imagine the riders will be finding sand in some odd places for many days to come.
On the other side of the dunes, away from all the noise and crowds, it was the perfect day for a beach walk. A blue-skied, green-light-through-the-waves, sparkling surf kind of day with the hill of Olau Dinas making a lovely autumn-coloured backdrop.
There was even a baby Portugese Man o’War jellyfish on the tideline, along with this little crab and four or five big Barrell Jellyfish.
After a long interval of leaning on the sea wall and watching the tide foaming in, the evening just got more and more lovely, and the Mawddach estuary looked stunning on the way home.
A perfect afternoon’s messing about by the sea.
A very lazy morning left us with enough guilt to feel that we needed some exercise in the afternoon, so we set out to follow one of the walks in our new ‘Walks Around Machynlleth’ book, which, after some road-testing of the routes, will be appearing in Isfryn. We chose a walk of just over 6 miles, starting at the Dyfi Bridge in Machynlleth and making a big loop past the now deserted farm of Pantyspydden.
The first half mile is solidly, steeply uphill on a metalled lane. It was a pretty warm afternoon, and we were seriously hot and more than glowing gently by the time we reached the top. There was a brief respite about two thirds of the way up when we came across a little stall set out by the residents of Bron Aur, which had home baked, organic energy bars for sale. It would have been rude to pass by, so we bought some and ate them on the spot. This part of the route is on the Wales Coast path, so I imagine they’re used to wilting walkers stopping for a breather and glad of something to eat.
The views from the top of the first long pull up were lovely- it feels like we’re moments away from full autumn colour.
The walk passed a lot of very remote farms, now abandoned and in ruins. From the size of the buildings, they must have been very prosperous in their day. I have no idea why they would have been abandoned, but I’d be interested to find out.
It’s fair to say that the path was a little bit damp in places…
There were also a few places where the book was rather out of date. A suggested footpath shortcut would have needed a team of machete wielding bush rangers to get through, and there was a place where a stile over a barbed wire fence was simply not there. Luckily, a fallen branch had pulled the barbed wire down far enough that we could climb very gingerly over. We’ve noted these places in the walk description in the book.
Given that the ground was too saturated to sit on, a little waste tip from a path-side quarry in the woods offered a perfect, dry lunch spot and some lovely lichens to look at.
Aside from the water and the occasional misdirection, the walk was easy after the first long climb, undulating through woodlands and in and out of small valleys. We got a very distant view of the sea at one point, which always adds to a walk for me.
We also came across the fantastic survivor. A oak tree whose base was so pitted with rot that it looked as if it were made of cork, yet it was green and growing.
On the route back, we found a very cold and exhausted bee on the path, so a rescue mission swung into action. The only sugar we had was in a rather aged and sticky Chewit, dug up from the depths of my rucksack. We added a bit of water and helped the bee aboard the opened paper. It was soon licking away, and with the whole rig moved into the sun, soon looked like a new bee. After about 20 minutes of continuous eating, it flew away and we could walk off happy at a good deed done.
We dropped back down the long hill (much easier this way!) with views of Machynlleth in the autumn evening sun.
A final check for otters at the Dyfi Bridge (nothing tonight, though we were watching one playing just here a couple of weeks ago), then home for well earned beer and pizza!
After a day of household chores, DIY and bit of supermarket shopping, all done in the rain, we felt the need of some outdoor activity. The clouds had cleared and the evening promised to be fine, so what better time than 4.30 to set off for a 6.5 mile walk over the hills to view a waterfall?
There are two roads into Glaspwll and we took the one slightly furthest from home. It’s all a bit rainforest in there, and the first road in particular gives one the feeling of driving along an interestingly narrow ledge between a cliff and a river. The one we took was narrow and winding and bordered with dense summer greenery with the river some distance below.
It was a lovely afternoon to be out. The heather is in full bloom, so the colour on the hills was gorgeous, and the delicious wild blueberries (known as wimberries where I was brought up in South Wales) are carpeting the ground and available for frequent snacking.
It was clear enough to give us a distant view of Aran Fawddwy, the highest peak in Mid Wales (and itself the source of some excellent walking). The picture below is a somewhat zoomed-in view.
A little further on, and after a climb, we were striding along a ridge and looking at two waterfalls. It was so quiet and still that the only sound we could hear was the sound of the falling water from across the valley.
A little further on, sloshing through stretches of bog and mud awaited us, and we were very glad of waterproof boots and gaiters, as well as walking poles for testing the depth! One particular bog-trot led us to a Llyn (Lake) and a well-deserved hot choc break.
Arrival at the edge of an escarpment gave us splendid views from above Pistyll y Llyn, the waterfall that was the object of our walk. It’s one of the highest waterfalls in Wales.
It’s a bit of an awkward descent beside the falls, first along a very narrow Miner’s Track (off which I nearly took a header after stepping on a very slippery rock!) then down a trackless but pleasingly springy gully of deep moss and grass.
Once in the valley, more bog was to come, but the final section of track was dry and clear.
So many small things make walking in the hills such a rich experience: wonderful old slate gate posts; fence posts with their own eco-systems and fabulous clouds.
We arrived back at the car just after 8pm, just as the last rays of the sinking sun were shining over the hilltops, and drove home under lovely sunset clouds towards beer and dinner. A perfect way to end a day!
We were first-time attendees at the annual Banger Racing/ Demolition Derby in Harlech last night, and can definitely recommend it to anyone who would enjoy an evening of automotive mayhem! It was watched by a very enthusiastic crowd and was a thoroughly entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. Despite the crunching crashes and one car bursting into flames, there were only metal casualties and both drivers and crowd seemed to be loving it! If you’d like to find out whether there will be any nearby events when you’re visiting, you can check on Banger Racing Mid/North Wales Facebook page .
One of the undeniable perks of owning Isfryn is needing to try out all the local visitor attractions so that we can recommend things to our guests. We’ve had some great outings lately, so here’s our verdict on what we’ve tried…
We had a very leisurely trip on the Corris Railway on a glorious afternoon. It’s a very tiny affair, lovingly run by volunteers. Aside from operating the line, they build the beautifully-made carriages and restore the engines.
At the moment, there’s just a kilometre of track, so as well as the gentle trip down the line in the very pretty valley, the tour is supplemented by a guided trip around the engine sheds and the telling of some stories about the history of the line. Our trip cost just £6 per head. It’s a great way to pass a relaxed hour, and you can top off your trip with some delicious food and drink at Andy & Adam’s cafe just across the road, or a drop of something stronger at the Slater’s Arms just a little further up the street.
Next on the menu: Caernarvon Castle. It’s an impressive structure, dominating the estuary and the small town. It’s a warren of stairways, corners and wall walks inside. At the time we visited, it was £8.95 for an adult entry ticket.
Once you’ve exhausted your enthusiasm for military architecture and history, there are plenty of places to eat and drink in the town. The area closest to the castle is by far the nicest part of Caernarvon; the further from the castle you go, the more run-down the town gets, which is a shame. Still, there are plenty of options around the castle to keep most people happy and it was a very nice place to wander around in the sun. The home made ice creams on offer are definitely recommended!
On the way home, we took in the Roman remains at Segontium. Entrance to the site is free, and there is an interpretation board inside to explain some of what you are looking at. All that’s to be seen are the foundations of what was once a barracks for over 1,000 soldiers. (There’s a little more across the road from the entrance to the main site if you look over the stone wall. ) You have to stretch the imagination somewhat to conjure up the life that was once happening there, but if you’re interested in Roman history, it’s still fascinating to imagine them in this place.
Next, we took a trip to Newquay in Cardigan Bay for a sunset sailing to watch the dolphins. we actually chose a grey evening when there wasn’t much sunset in evidence and the sea was excitingly choppy, much to the delight of the little kids who were on board the open boat with us! To be honest, we loved it too. We saw several dolphins, a couple of whom gave us an apparently quite unusual show of being tail-down and sticking their heads above the surface of the sea. It was lovely to get to see heads as well as arching backs and tails.
There are several companies in Newquay running dolphin watching sailings, and they go out several times a day. Our trip cost £17 for one and a half hours. You can also sometimes see dolphins when you’re just standing on the quay, as we did on this evening. Newquay was new to us, and it looks like a nice little place. We’ll be going back for a better look, so watch this space for more!
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!
Today’s outing was to Plas Brondanw, the former home of Clough Williams-Ellis, the man who built the Italianate village of Portmeirion on the coast of Snowdonia. The gardens are lovely, with some gorgeous views of the mountains and surrounding countryside. The property is still in the hands of the family, and there was much activity and excitement today as the main house was having its opening as a gallery. The staff still managed to be welcoming and kind and let us in for a sneak preview!
The gardens are not huge, but they make for a very pleasant ramble, and you can also walk up a wooded track to a folly built as a ruined castle. That gives a view all the way out to the coast. There’s free parking and a cafe on site, so everything you need is on hand! It’s about an hour’s drive from Isfryn and, as usual around here, there’s some lovely scenery along the route.
We made the most of a beautiful afternoon with a trip out to Tywyn and back via a walk at Dolgoch Falls. Dolgoch is a beautiful drive of about 20 minutes from Isfryn. The walk around the falls is through a wooded valley – a veritable Welsh rainforest. It’s deliciously cool and shady in hot weather and the falls are impressive after rain, so it’s good at any time of year. The walk to the first fall is a flat, metalled track suitable for anyone, but beyond that, the tracks are very up and down, with some very uneven stone steps and other sections that can be muddy and slippery: perfectly fine for most people with just a little care.
The walk out takes around 45 minutes, and takes you past the tunnel openings to old slate quarries, over wooden bridges and past all the falls. It also runs under the viaduct of the Tallyllyn steam railway, which offers some good photographic opportunities if you time your visit well.
The walk out ends at a small clearing with picnic tables. There is a pay and display car park at the start of the walk, right next to a convenient tea room. If you fancy something a little stronger, or maybe dinner out, the Ty’n y Cornel Hotel is just down the road. It has tables for drinks next to the water in fine weather, and a lounge where you can sit next to the wood burner and look out at the water when it’s colder. The food is good, and there’s a sample menu in Isfryn for guests to peruse. We decided to take advantage of a fine late afternoon for a swift waterside half!