Martin Malins writes…
Back in March Jan Ekerlens expressed a desire to have a go at mountain biking in the area so I arranged an afternoon’s ride around the few decent trails in the area; Forest Row- the only (legally) rideable bridleway on Ashdown Forest- Chelwood Gate – Horsted Keynes – Cob Lane – Philpotts Quarry- Sharpthorne and back via Stone Farm rocks.
Jan was so impressed he immediately bought an ex hire (almost new) bike from Deer’s Leap on the way back. We promised to make a full weekend of it so I suggested a trip to Afan Forest (a very steep learning curve) in May for a re-run of the very successful weekend I enjoyed with other members of EGCC in 2005. On the day we were joined by Paul Harris and Jan’s brother Guillaume who is in the Foreign Legion and very fit but not a cyclist, Jan kindly lent him his new bike while he rode my son Dominic’s Giant. We drove over to Wales on the Friday night and camped in the campsite behind the visitor centre.
There are two similar trails directly accessible from the centre so after a hearty breakfast we rode the first of these (Penhydd; Welsh for Stag) on Saturday morning. This is the easiest of the trails with wide sweeping climbs up mostly fire roads to the summit at 8km; followed by some very nice and precipitous singletrack back down. Our recently learned basic skills from Bedgebury CTC training day were surprisingly useful and enabled us to descend with both exhilaration and safety. The views of the Bristol Channel and Devon; as well as the Welsh coastline, were superb on this lovely sunny weekend. After a coffee and snack back at the campsite it was time for The Wall. This has a similar amount of climb to Penhydd but is far more technical with a lot of boulder-hopping on the descent. The work that has gone into creating these trails is truly impressive; with special slots at the entrances to the singletrack sections to warn the unwary and keep out the motorised, clear signage and wayposts. And because the trails are all weather an awful lot of rock and many drainage culverts have been strategically placed along each section to avoid the trails becoming too boggy. We enjoyed a camp fire with sausages and marshmallows cooked on whittled branches that evening.
The next day we rode up the valley for the main ride of the weekend; Skyline. This trail is a serious 46km which begins with an uphill singletrack section; a hard contrast to road riding where you have to constantly pedal hard over the many obstacles. Much like a Sustrans route the trails are punctuated by sculptures; in the case of the Skyline a city of little people made of tiny cairns is one of the highlights.
At the top we rested; along with many riders on the shorter White’s Level trail, near to the impressive windfarm before the next section. The Skyline offers fantastic views of both the coastline; England and Brecon Beacons in exchange for long drags on fire roads punctuated with shorter bits of singletrack. We were spurred on over punishing climbs up rocky trails by the promise of lunch at waypoint 32, the half way point; although in the end we carried on to a later point where we ate our sandwiches by a pile of logs very close to the summit with commanding views.
Jan and Guillaume decided to shortcut back towards the start of the descent here whilst Paul and I continued around the full route; although forestry work required us to divert off the course which caused us a bit of confusion and lost a bit of singletrack before we eventually rejoined the trail. The singletrack came thick and fast now with Grand Canyon (an extremely technical ride over a brickyard) Handy Andy and; after the last brutal climb up, Peregrine Ridge. This is a fantastic final and very rocky descent and is not the best place to discover that you have an almost useless front brake!! But Paul and I took it very gingerly (for me any mishap here would mean no Sweden trip in 2 weeks) and eventually reached the bottom to arrive at the old railway trackbed back to the campsite. On the way we caught up Jan and Guillaume and stopped at the excellent Afan Lodge for a couple of pints and a meal; a real oasis in the area and run by an enthusiastic cyclist; highly recommended.