I’ve just come back from a brilliant weekend in wet Wales.
My mate and long-time riding partner, Phil, decided, after many years of deliberation
(and having been threatened at knifepoint by his long-time girlfriend I suspect),
to get married. Not a bloke renowned for voluminous alcoholic intake and therefore
not a bloke who fancied getting blathered and to greet the dawn chorus sellotaped
half-way up a telegraph pole naked. No, he’s more a bloke to get covered in mud on
a bike or freezing cold on a snowboard or freezing cold and covered in mud halfway
up a cliff. He decided that we should have a weekend away and invite other like minded
idiots, he calls mates, along. The venue for this ‘Not-The-Stag-Weekend-But-The-Weekend-Away’
weekend would be two days of white knuckles, burning calves, coughing, laughing and
swearing in the single tracks of Coed-y-Brenin.
Coed – y – what?
Those of you who haven’t heard of the now legendary Coed-y-Brenin and have been
riding a mountain bike for more than 3 months should go and hang your head in shame.
Coed-y-Brenin is Welsh for the Forest of Kings, in any language it’s the Forest of
Swearing, the Forest of Heavy Breathing, the Forest of Heavenly Descents and the
Forest with the Best Cafe in Wales.
After having sampled the delights of Coed-y-Brenin whilst camping upstream at Lake
Bala with my other long-time riding partner Andrew, I knew a good thing when I saw
it, so last September I took the bull by the horns (actually I took the Heckler by
the X-Lites) and organised a trip. I called Mrs. Davenport who owns and runs Bryncemlyn
House which is just a couple of level miles down the road from the visitor centre.
What an absolutely perfect location, massive manor house, sleeps 15, video, satellite,
pool table, well equipped kitchen which even boasts a dishwasher (remember powder
and rinse-aid and you’re laughing!), loads of safe indoor storage for the bikes and
all for a tenner each a night. (If there’s less than 11 people staying then it’s
£15 each per night). I got everyone to be self sufficient so we took our own
food, sleeping bags, pillows and stuff. We ended up with about 500 gallons of milk
‘cos everyone brought enough for a week. Here’s one of those schoolboy calculations,
how long will one toilet roll, with approximately 500 sheets, last 13 blokes eating
curries and drinking beer? Two days? Err, no. Take lots of bog roll. Take a tea-towel
too. There’s loads of crockery but you will have to wash up sometime!
Anyhow Bryncemlyn House is brilliant. The pub up the road serves
great food, Murphys and is 5 minutes walk away. (Take a torch though, it’s a dark,
busy road, your mum’ll worry).
So back to the ‘Not-The-Stag-Weekend-But-The-Weekend-Away’ weekend. We all arrived
by 10 o’clock Friday, bikes stashed, introductions made and beer drunk it was off
to bed, a three day trek up stairs to the top floor for me and Andrew!
Saturday morning was bright and cool, brilliant! The house smelled of 13 blokes
making breakfast, burnt toast, solid eggs, crispy bacon and lots of farting and laughing.
With all that out of the way it was time to drag the bikes out. Now the first time
I went to Bryncemlyn House we were all mountain bikers, this time there were some
climbers who had mountain bikes, so the machinery was an odd conglomeration. The
bike manufacturers were well represented with Santa Cruz, Orange, Kona, Giant, Marin,
Specialized and Nigels full suspension Mongoose bought 2 years ago in France at a
ridculously low price. 10 years ago I was envious of Ian’s Giant Coldrock. Now cruel
it may be, but we all fell about laughing when the spanners came out to put his wheels
Having been to Coed-y-Brenin a few times and having had a shufti at the map, we know
a few short cuts to the best technical bits, so off we set. We followed the river
on the Sport trail to the tarmac climb to end all tarmac climbs. I reckon Led Zepplin
must’ve been here sometime to write Stairway to Heaven.
By the time I got to the top everyone was refreshed after having waited for me.
‘Look, I haven’t been well, I haven’t been out on the bike as much as I would’ve
liked and I am a lot older than they are’, said the excuse machine.
So with lungs pushed firmly back down throats we set off down the first of the days
technical descents. There are twists, roots, rocks, drop-offs, mud, slop, slime and
trees that jump out at you like in the ghost train. You’ll find yourself doing stuff
you didn’t think you could do. Honest. It also seems like you’ve done twice as much
downhill than you’d done climbing. How Do They Do That?
The guys with the rigid bikes and centre pull brakes were having a great time.
‘Isn’t this just wizard?’ they were saying to each other.
We ended up at the visitor centre where you can’t leave without having a pot of tea
and a lump of Bara Brith and butter, well you can’t can you? Then we did the first
bit of the RedBull. My mate Andrew couldn’t resist the challenge thrown down by Mark
who rode over a pile of logs with apparent ease, Andrew however proved to be the
Unintentional-Endo-King of the weekend to rapturous applause. He reached and maintained
the point of no return on the front wheel for what seemed like an eternity.
We dipped out and followed the Karrimor again back to the house rather than complete
the RedBull, but not before the puncture fairies got Phil. He collected a 6″
nail through the sidewall which almost destroyed his tyre and rear brake during a
rather rapid leaf strewn descent. We stopped, the rain started. With Phil’s puncture
fixed we set off, then I discovered my puncture. It started raining harder. Bugger.
all that Nigel had a nasty two wheel tarmac slide into a tree in the wet, didn’t
hurt himself but his shorts will never smell the same again, Russell suffered a lack
of air in his rear shock and finished the afternoon on a hardtail, Mark mixed two
layers of skin with the Welsh slate on the duel slalom course and the guys on rigid
bikes can’t speak and haven’t stopped shaking yet.
We all got back with a million tales to tell, silly grins and muddy teeth.
Bikes sluiced and put to bed, bodies showered, cuts and bruises sorted, pasta and
curries consumed and with the house reeking of mountain bike deodorant (GT85), we
set of for the pub. It has to be said that the pub isn’t rocking but it does have
beer and food. Some of the more adventurous went in to nearby Dollgellau which was
swaying a bit but don’t expect Ibiza Uncovered.
Sunday morning greeted us with Welsh stair-rod rain. We sulked a bit, had breakfast
and then it started to fine up. By the time we’d got sorted it had stopped raining.
The rigid bike riders went walking, it looked more like dithering to me, but off
they went. It was time to hit the RedBull and off we went. Brilliant. First casualty
was Andy, loose rocks, a momentary lapse of reason and drainage ditches made for
a great crowd pleaser. My moment came as I used all the fork travel available to
me and endo’ed, clipped in, for miles down a rocky section, screams echoing down
the Welsh valley. Andrew did a repeat performance of his endo over the logs through
a particularly nasty clutch of rocks at the end of the RedBull, Simmy went arse over
tit in the same clutch of RedBull rocks as Andrew whereas Shaun came blasting through
on his hardtail Orange with it bucking and twisting like a bucking, twisting thing.
(Had he fallen off at this point, ‘bucking twisted thing’ would’ve described it perfectly).
And finally, more food
We had more Bara Brith, chatted to the ever smiling Cafe peeps where there is
much excitement about the new sections of the Karrimor and the Pink Heifer (I had
to have someone tell me why they named it the Pink Heifer, I couldn’t figure it out.
RedBull / Pink Heifer? Doh!), apparently they’ve recruited 30 army guys in to do
the hard graft to get them completed as soon as possible.
We cycled back in the pouring rain, cold, wet, muddy and deliriously happy.
What a place.
A warning though, if you go, act right in your head, wear a helmet, make sure your
bike works, make sure you’ve got the right tools and stuff, don’t rely on other folks
otherwise you’ll spoil their day.
If you go to Bryncemlyn House look after it. If you don’t and we get to hear of it
you’ll never be far away from a puncture or a twig in the front wheel.