Our January ride had been in the diary for a few weeks before there was any hint of snowfall. We’d planned a ride out from Wendover Woods along the Ridgeway to Ashridge, taking in some lovely views and a bit of singletrack with the odd climb, before a cake stop and then returning along the canal.
Our main December XC Group Ride event this month took place at the ever popular Swinley Forest trails near Bracknell. You may not have been to Swinley but I bet you the woods would look familiar....they are regular appearances in the Harry Potter films to name just a few!
Our December group ride was booked in for the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, for a nice early start mainly because it gets dark so early!!!
With the trail conditions not holding up so well we planned around a fifteen mile Chilterns Hill singletrack route from Wendover Woods heading out towards Great Missenden and Coombe Hill before returning to Wendover. The route wasn't set in stone which meant we could shorten or lengthen the route to suit the group, the time and the trails.
After the success of the previous club trips t'up North to the Dales we had a good number of members asking when we were going again. The plan wasnt to head back to the Dales until early 2013 but due to the interst we decided to hold yet another trip up to the Dales Centre in October.
Back after popular demand we decided to hold yet another Swinley Forest open ride for October 2012.
We were absolutely blessed with a stunning autumn day in the Chiltern Hills from beginning to end, and as always we started with a slog up from Watlington car park up to the Ridgeway to the first climb to Cockpole Green. After crossing the road we hit the first decent which is quite rough to begin with but as long as you pedal you can keep the speed going till the end and have really good fun.
Thankfully the trails were dry(ish) and the sun was shining for take two of the Golden Ball Run³ - unfortunately we had to cancel this ride originally back in June due to the horrendous trail conditions and bad weather, so it was nice to have some luck on our side for this one.
Our April open ride was planned to run at Swinley Forest near Bracknell – mostly because of the impending rain that makes the Chilterns a real slog in the wet… and also because we can run an entire ride without touching any tarmac!
After the success of our Club Trip to Snowdon last year we had been swamped with interest from lots of riders in the Club asking about holding again, so it was decided that we had to hold the trip again, but this time open it up for a longer weekend of riding.
We decided to make it a three day Club Trip that was also easily tailored for those in the Club who could only maybe attend for one or two days due to work or family.
The plan was simple, travel to Snowdonia on the Friday morning and then either go riding or have a social do, ride Mount Snowdon on the Saturday with optional extra local loops of Snowdonia for the fit people and then hit Llandegla on the Sunday before heading home!
In total ten riders from the Club signed up for our aptly named "BucksMTB Big Welsh Weekend".
Five of us from the group met up in Milton Keynes early on the Friday morning to fill our borrowed Hilux pick up with all the bikes and kit and then try and squeeze us all in as well....before hitting the road....for five minutes before stopping at Starbucks!!! Coffee done we hit the M1 and M56 through to North Wales. Even with a couple of stops enroute to stretch legs and grab some sarnies we made really good time and arrived in North Wales early in the afternoon.
Before meeting up with the rest of the group and heading to our accommodation in Caernarfon we decided to pop over to Llanberis village to take a quick peek at the Mountain for our adventure on Saturday... Llanberis sits at the bottom of Mount Snowdon, and with several of the group not having scaled this Mountain before we wanted to see the looks of horror on their faces from the ascent they had lined up for them on Saturday morning! The Mountain was hidden away with low cloud so the challenge would have to remain a secret for the Snowdon-newbie's, for now at least.
|Time for a beer. After the warm welcome we had received a whole year ago we headed back into the Penceunant Tea Rooms for a local ale. Penceunant is a beautiful traditional 18th century cottage, on the lower slopes of Snowdon which over the last ten years has been lovingly restored to create a charming and welcoming licensed tea house. The owner, Steffan, remembered us from last year (who could forget us...) welcomed us in for a round of dark ales and some fantastic homemade ginger loaf cake in front or a roaring open fire. Penceunant is a superb location to start of finish (or both) any rides or walks up and down, or around the Mountain and they also offer accommodation.
|On arrival into Caernarfon we met up with the rest of the BucksMTB Group and headed over to accommodation at Totter's Independent Hostel in the old town of Caernarfon to sort out the bikes and the kit. Totter's is a great affordable base to stay in Snowdonia - the two hundred year old five storey building is Sheltered by the Caernarfon Castle's town wall and is only 30 metres from the shores of the Menai Straits. Totter's comes in at £16.00 per person a night, including breakfast, and Totter's has some great comfortable bunked dorm rooms, decent shower facilities and great living room and kitchen facilities too. For those maybe preferring a smaller group and some more privacy Totter's can also offer Over the Road, another couple of century old beamed town house the other side of the road, sleeping four to six from £20.00 a head.
|Ten hungry bikers meant we needed a decent amount of food. Luckily for us club member Steve had kindly booked us a table at The Black Boy Inn in Caernarfon - this friendly and charming Pub and Restaurant is in our opinion THE only place to eat in Caernarfon town, the menu is very impressive and you will not be disappointed by the food or atmosphere.
Built in 1522 and located a stones through from the Castle on Northgate Street and has a really interesting, if slightly dark, past. The Inn offers pub dining, full restaurant dining and accommodation.
After a chilled out evening a couple of medicinal drinks we all managed to sleep reasonably well (despite Lester snoring...) before getting up pretty early on Saturday morning to start our tactical assault on Mount Snowdon before it got busy with all the ramblers...
*Just before Kick Off in Llanberis
After driving over to Llanberis and parking next to the lake there we got kitted up, and after a safety briefing and bike/kit check we started our (long) ascent up the Mountain. Our ascent of the Mountain was on the Llanberis Path, and the descent was to be in the Ranger Trail. Weather conditions in the morning where quite nice but it was starting to cloud over reasonably quickly. For the Snowdon virgins the first clear sights of the summit of the Mountain were in view and a few nervous looks were caught between some of the club members...
The initial ascent up the Llanberis Path went quite well, the vast majority of the bottom half of the Mountain is rideable, minus a few very rocky sections. The further up the Mountain we got the more the wind was picking up which did make the ascent hard work, even more than expected! Luckily for us the Half Way House Cafe was open which meant we did manage to dive out of the high winds and rain showers to get a well earned brew before taking on the next half of the ascent. The Half Way House sits at around 1800ft above sea level and roughly half way up the Mountain between Llanberis and the Summit...only another 1800ft to go!!!
*Half way up at the Half Way House
After riding, pushing, lifting, some more riding, some more carrying of the bikes, and about three hundred layer changes we finally make it under the Snowdon railway bridge near the top of the Mountain which means only one more final ascent to the Summit. The weather at this point was grim. All views from the Mountain were lost and we were now sat in cloud with very poor visibility. We also got our first few signs of snow. Due to the strange "on-off" weather we had been having in the UK in March and April Snowdon had been taking a beating with the weather and the top three hundred metres or so of the Peak was still covered in about four inches of snow.
*The final push! Result!
The final push (ride/push/carry/drag) up to the very top of Snowdon was hard work. High Winds, poor visibility, rain and snow made the final ascent a very tough and energy draining affair. I was personal gob smacked to see some of the idiots who had tried to ascend Snowdon with no idea of kit and precautions and were walking up and down in trainers with no waterproof layers or an ounce of common sense of outdoor survival awareness. On reaching the summit some of the guys started to take photos and pose for the camera, but the "sensible" ones amongst us headed straight into the Summit Cafe for a warm drink some food and try to get the warmth back into our hands and feet!
It was a huge shame for the Snowdon-newbie's in our group to not have any views from the top. On a clear day the views of Snowdonia stretch for hundreds of miles from the Summit and its so easy to get lost at the top for hours just taking in the glorious views. On our visit unfortunately this was not to be the case and with the weather getting worse I called the shots to get the group back down off this Mountain.
*Get set, ready go! The Ranger Trail Descent!
Our descent was using the Ranger Trail, a quality natural trail heading down the mountain in a different direction than the Llanberis Path that we had come up on. The Ranger heads back down into the Valley towards Llanberis village and takes in some stunning scenery too including that of the Lakes of Cwellyn and Gader, the peaks of the Nantile Valley and the forests of Beddgelert.
*No riders were hurt in the making of this production...
The ranger trail is a true mountain bikers trail taking in singletrack, loose rock descents, natural jumps and drops, gulley descent, boulders, loose slate not to mention various other changing conditions. The Ranger Descent can take mere minutes but it is a tough and ever changing trail. Made harder on our visit this year with the first half of the Ranger being covered in snow!!
*The final descent back to Llanberis....and the final puncture of the day...
With all of the group surviving the tough descent we picked up the bridleway up the grass hillside to pick up the final long and fun descent back to Llanberis village. Some photos, punctures and a blown Fox Shock later we all made it back to the car park to pack up and head back to the Penceunant Tea Rooms for a well earned beer and some stunning homemade soup that Steffan the owner has promised us the day before!
*After the Ranger Trail Descent
Another night in Caernarfon back at Totter's, some hearty grub at the local Whetherspoons and some drinks and nibbles back at Totter's to round off the evening whilst we were all drastically trying to get our kit dry before heading to Llandegla in the morning!
Bright eyed and bushy tailed (well almost) we left Totter's early on the Sunday morning to get over to Llandegla to get some good riding in before leaving early afternoon to get everyone back home in time to avoid a divorce. The weather on the way over to Llandegla was miserable, rain rain and more rain. The stunning views enroute however around the Horseshoe pass and then along the A525 towards Llandegla did however keep everyone's spirits up. The sparse open ground soon showed signs of large areas of forest which meant we weren't far away at all....
Busy. Llandegla was heaving. A proper Welsh trail centre with lots of car parking, decent Cafe and bike shop facilities was bursting at the seams with riders from all over the UK collected in this pocket sized wood to enjoy some superb singletrack trails. Llandegla boasts red, green, blue and black trails. Most of the trails all follow the red run around a large loop of the Llandegla Forest before the specific routes break off to take their relevant short cuts or extensions in and around the woods. Thegreen trail is designed for families (5km) the blue for beginners (12km) the full red route holds a intermediate tag (18km) and the additional black runs take the total route distance up to 21km.
With a couple of the guys dropping out from injuries, fatigue or bike problems the rest of group split up with some of us hitting the red/blue route and some doing the red/black route. Adam and I hit the blue run for a fun mid distance loop, both our legs were pretty shot from the day before and also I had to borrow a bike after my Fox shock blew a gasket so to speak so I didn't want to go hammering black runs on a bike I didn't know and had to give back in one piece... The blue run was basic but fun, there were some fantastic singletrack sections included in this route with some fun drops and jumps that even the most experienced and hardcore MTBer could get some enjoyment from. The others hit the rest of the red run and took in some of the additional black run sections...there faces said it all when they made it back from the ride, they all loved it to bits!!! Llandegla may be compact, and in places very man made, but its a very good trail centre with good weather proofed trails and good facilities.
BucksMTB will be back to Snowdon again later in the year and we will all definitely be going back for a day or two of riding at Llandegla in the very very near future. Other club trips to follow soon, of which will include various Welsh Trail Centres, Yorkshire Dales, Scottish Highlands and more...
A big thank you has to go out to all the Club Members who attended and helped organised an epic and very enjoyable weekend of riding. A big thank you to Steve for sorting meal bookings and transport. A big thanks to the guys and girls at Totter's, Penceunant and Llandegla. Also a personal thanks to Steve for lending me his bike on the Sunday and to Adam for giving me a lift.
Scott, BucksMTB Club Chairman