Team Visit | Riding Off The Beaten Track, North Wales
I’m a big fan of enduro racing, well I should be, I certainly do enough of it! To me though there is a much better way to spend the day on a bike, a way that has the best social potential, zero stress, maximum base training distance and is off the scale when it comes to the fun factor. Unlike racing, it’s free and when undertaken with a bunch of your best mates it certainly doesn’t feel like training. Going off the beaten path (in my opinion) is just the most fantastic day’s riding. It certainly doesn’t require a big jaunt over to some of the more well-used ‘back of beyond’ spots to find the trails, as I found out when I headed over to take on one of my best mate’s rides with two other great mates for company around North Wales, UK.
First up let me introduce my motley crew of buddies for the day, there’s Bicks, whose place we start off from, he’s managed a good life from selling chickens. Doose (the ladies favorite!) Shropshire’s best landscaper and the ever-smiling Myles (ex-Shropshire inhabitant) he now walks dogs for a living, mingling with the famous people down on Hampstead Heath, London. We met up at Bicks place, where we kitted up and headed out, for what was to be an un-planned route from the small village of Ruabon.
The best thing about this kind-of one-day adventure riding is there is only a very rough plan, no map (as Bicks very roughly knew the way) just an idea of a long day in the saddle, exploring. The very ironic thing about this area is that the UK’s busiest trail-centre (OPA Llandegla) is very close, on-route and absolutely rammed with riders, who would be literally clueless as to the delights that surround their small stone-trailed weekend world!
We head out on a beautiful Welsh sunny day with less than a kilometer on the road, immediately heading up the quiet little lanes, a very brief blast through Ruabon Woods and we are back down the lanes heading up higher to start the grueling ascent up the infamous Ruabon Mountain. This is one hell of a climb, starting out at the top of the busy little village through forested woodland, the climb up the trail towards the tops opens up a complete new world of open vast expanse, where the views of the rolling Welsh hills just seem to go on forever. This terrain offers hours of off-piste fun, not another rider or man-made path in sight, except for when we did meet up with a couple of strays from Llandegla. These guys were lost, after taking a slight detour, we sent them back in the right direction, not daring to direct them blindly into the wilderness, with no local knowledge whatsoever!
On and on the biggest climb of the day went, nearing the top we stop at a couple of spots, where Bicks tells us of some amazing local history from back in the days of the last World War. There were huge craters as far as the eye could see at one part. This was where in the war the locals used to light fires all around the hillside to fool the attacking fighter pilots that the barren landscape was actually a town at night, they would drop all their bombs, wasting them on the uninhabited hillside, although I’m sure a few sheep must have copped it! Riding through there, pissing about jumping in and out of the bomb-holes couldn’t seem further away from those days, it’s just so unimaginable nowadays.
The ironic thing about this ride was the brief call in at OPA Llandegla’s busy trail-centre. Feeling well and truly warmed up we headed through the very low-key exit/entry gate at the top of the long climb and rode over to enjoy the completely opposing blue trail. This is all stone, cut out wide, all simple and mostly downhill from where we entered; the trail couldn’t be more opposite to what we had ridden to get there. It was great to get the wheels spinning at full speed down the fun grippy trail, arriving at the very popular trailhead about fifteen minutes later for a good fill of the bellies.
Full of food and coffee, we took on the long stoney gentle incline up to the top of Llandegla’s first climb, to the point where we could exit again for more of before. We continued upwards even higher from the top of Ruabon Mountain over and along the ridgeline of Trevor Mountain from the masts, where the views become spectacular again and eventually off the backside of the Trevor Mountain the terrain starts to change drastically. We found a trail Bicks had never done before, it’s amazing, full of huge light grey boulders, like a giant’s playground, this place was just so stunning, I couldn’t believe that this kind of ‘alpine resort looking’ scenery is so close to home, times like this just make you feel humbled and very lucky to be able to enjoy such a fantastic hobby.
After a pretty crazy decent (Doose just made this look easy) the trail being more suited to Danny MacAskill, we were out on the country lanes for a steep tarmac run down, as fast as you dared, racing each other, me doing daft things like full-speed no-handed blind road turns; eventually we arrived in the busy local tourist town of Llangollen. This place was heaving with locals and tourists alike, sporting a proper steam railway, town-centre river and some great drinking spots. We chose the nicest one, the massive wooden veranda looking out over the river Dee. It seemed strange as we sat there, pints in hands looking at the other people in the pub, going about their usual Saturday routine, giving us the odd strange look in our riding attire. These folk really wouldn’t have a clue as to what lay within a couple of kilometers of their busy little town and just how much fun we were having that day. It was just four mates having a great day out talking about the riding, the nasty climbs and the brilliant natural descents, perfect.
We headed up a short steep road climb to the canal, just about to head off, then we heard the distant whistle of the steam train coming into the station; this had to be worth a visit. Bicks showed us a quick way down, as we pinged off flat-out down some long and very steep steps, Myles exiting the steps nearly out of control, his sphincter suddenly working overtime on realization as to how close to a hospital visit he had just been! Sure enough, as we arrive this old steam train came in, it looked and sounded glorious as it filled the station with smoke and steam and the smells of the olden days; we were so pleased we had come back to check it out.
We were all pretty tired now, so decided to take the canal towpath home, obviously this is lovely and flat, suiting aching limbs and bedraggled riders, taking us to within a few kilometers of Bick’s place. The last part was along the roads and pavement’s, banter in full swing, ending in the obligatory sprint back to the house, so much for warming down and stretching! Back at Bick’s we relax with a brew, buzzing after the day’s activities; we had managed 56k and loved every second of it.
So next time you plan a ride with your mates, if you are normally just a racer, an up-lifter or trail-centre warrior, think about what’s really out there, go off exploring; its definitely the most social and rewarding riding you can do. If you worry about getting lost, now its summer just allow yourself all day and get lost if you have to, that’s all part of the fun, you’ll always get somewhere eventually!
Words and Pics | Jim Buchanan
Riders | Andrew Bickley – Bicks, Chris Bromley – Doose and Myles Harris