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Now, according to my Dad (so it must be true), the nearby town of Merthyr Tydfil once boasted 365 pubs in its mining heyday (note: never go there for a pub crawl). Not so today, but it does now contain about the biggest bike park on our island. As a last minute stand in with a group of Chris G’s Farnham associates I had a coveted uplift pass for a Saturday in September.

An early start, but a very uneventful drive had me pulling into the car park just after 9am, the blue skies that accompanied me all the way up the M4 abruptly stopped at the Severn Bridge like some kind of force field running up the river, still, it was dry and warm enough, and a whole lot better than had been forecast the previous few days.

Chris (nursing sore ribs from an impressive OTB at Afan the day before), Bob, Leigh, Buzz and the others all arrived shortly after and we were quickly ensconced in the rather unpleasant smelling uplift van, think damp, mouldering underwear that you forgot in your school kit bag for a term and you’d be getting close.

There really is a plethora of runs here and the first runs down the Blues such as Sixtapod and Melted Welly to find your feet instantly got you in the flow. Poppity Ping, Willy Waver and Terry’s Belly also deserve special mention for fun and flow. In fact they are so well designed, riding them blind at nearly full chat didn’t cause any unnecessary grabbing of brakes or offline moments. This continues all the way down back to the uplift point. These runs aren’t over quickly either, you get a good uninterrupted 5 to 10 minute descents (if you don’t pull over for a rest). Even the red routes are fine to ride hard from the go, but do need to be given some respect, as drops, jumps, rocks, roots and tight steep turns all feature on this grade.

Another positive is the vibe, inevitably you get separated from some of your mates if you’re in a big group, but this just means you get into conversation with other bikers, share some stories, find out the best spots and any warnings of what to expect. I ended up tagging along with a couple of small different groups during the day and perhaps pushed myself more than I would of on my own.

Despite a heavy shower for an hour or so, the trails remained firm and offered good grip (rocks and roots excluded) and boy are these trails lovingly created, almost a form of art in certain places, this is despite what the best typical Welsh weather can throw at it. Don’t get me wrong I’d love to ride this place on a fully dry day, I suspect your rotors would get a bit warmer in those conditions. Don’t bother bringing any food either, the well stocked visitor centre clearly hasn’t heard of the term ‘calorie controlled diet’ and the adjoining bike shop, sells just about everything you might need.

To be honest I think I only ran down two or three of the same downhills all day, you can link several different options at intersecting points and build your confidence up and up to tackle what, at first, may of seemed daunting, into a run that would give the foresighted trail diggers a slightly fuzzy feeling inside of a job well done.

I’ve put up a number of videos on YouTube from the day (see below), please excuse any excited swearing at the end of trails, and I vow to go back soon and do the A470 line better. If you want an alpine fix on British soil, visit here!

Steve

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Cannock Chase. Is it any good?

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Did I mention it is a little snug in places?
With a surprise 40th Birthday Party for my Brother-in-law to attend to way up north in the wilds of the East Midlands I was granted permission to pack my bike and go for a spin around Cannock Chase on the Friday which was about an hour away from where we were staying.

Arriving at a surprisingly deserted carpark in the woods I was greeted warmly by lady who was attending the parking meter. As I pumped the £4 into the guzzling machine she obviously quickly assessed my level of riding competence.
“Which Trails are you riding” she asked nicely.
“I heard that Follow the Dog and The Monkey are good” I responded.
“Ooh, they are quite long and steep” she retorted, eyeing me up and down.
“That’s good with me, I like to try new trails when I can”.
“We had a nasty accident yesterday on The Monkey” she warned earnestly, “I’d be careful if I were you”.
“Ok, I’ll take care, thanks”. I swear she was about to go and phone the ambulance to tell them that another Middle aged MTBer was going to have to be whisked off to the local hospital shortly.

So with a tiny level of trepidation I found the entrance to Follow the Dog, and dived in. Now who ever built the trails at Swinley Forest, obviously had plenty of material left over, the hardpack is exactly the same mix of sand and pebble, which on this occasion was dry and dusty, given the lovely weather we’d be getting over the last week. But straight away it was noticeable that there are many more technical features, with rock gardens, some northshore, small jumps and drops offs coming in fairly regular intervals. I was already enjoying myself and I was only twenty minutes in.

After crossing the road that takes you over to The Monkey, the ante was pushed up another notch, although some of the climbs were steep, with many tight hairpin corners (good luck on the Geomotron Mark) the downhill sections were great, even alpineesque in places, but by god some of the gaps between the trees are tight. You can see the scars of a thousand bar ends that have eaten away at the trunks of the pines in several spots.

On the way round I caught up with a handful of other riders who were were all extremely cheerful and chatty, and happy to promote their local track. Some of the stand out downhills were ‘Pot of Gold’, Upper Cliff’, ‘The Original Monkey’ and ‘Rollercoaster’, my standout favourite though was ‘Lower Cliff’ which had a mix of open flat out speed, big berms and jumps which plunged back into trees, and with the ever present timber either side of you to keep you focussed, it felt like you were going at warp factor 3.

Beware the braking bumps in some sections, which shouldn’t really be present in some of the areas, but given the amount of traffic this place gets, it’s probably not surprising. I returned to a packed carpark and I think I just heard the voice of the little lady I met earlier, talking into her mobile “No, don’t bother now, he’s actually made it!”

I had planned to do some GoPro footage, but some muppet cleverly left aforementioned gadget lying of the sofa at home. So instead heres a Strava Report and an couple of Pics (sorry).

The verdict, excellent, probably not worth travelling specifically to for a day, but if you’re in the area, enjoy.

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