After a brief spell of forest road ascending, you peak at the highest point of the trail. From here the landscape opens up to reveal a circuitous section of singletrack drawing your eye off towards the Severn Estuary behind. Loose corners and jutting stumps prevail through the scarred former forest known as Airstream. It’s a light-footed dance that’s required to cut a swift pace on this first gravity fed trail before you’re delivered onto a straight-line chute beside the forest drive.
Before long, darkness returns as the forest engulfs you once again. This next part climbs slowly on snaking singletrack above the picnic area. Being relatively short and flat, it tempts you into sprinting the gradual rises, cranking the middle chainring despite the pulses of lactic acid.
A few minutes later the gradient is on your side once again, and it’s more pinball action down Odin, followed by some dusty whoops into a tight left-hander that will leave you punching through the ratios for a balance between traction and propulsion. Middle and two, with a surfeit of testosterone seemed to be the most successful technique at this point. That, or the old two foot gear ratio.
Now the camber switches sides, with a drop to the left and plenty of deciduous debris to catch anyone straying off-line. After the exposed delights of Dragon’s Tongue comes payback up Dragon’s Teeth before finally breaking out into the open and the piece de resistance; that Zorro slash back to the car park.
As you leave the cosseting canopy of the forest, the valley spreads its floor to your left, with what feels like a vertical drop down to the dwellings below. Don’t look down; focus on the trail and let gravity do its work. A brief road crossing and a flat-out, brakes-off blat and all-to-soon, the car park reers up in front of you.
For the more inquisitive among you, the area also hosts a number of more covert trails that are sure to get the juices and DOT 4 flowing. Just keep your eye out, that’s all I’m saying.
Cwmcarn is a worthy addition to Wales’ bulging pantry of off-road fodder. It’s almost all singletrack and follows a far more natural course than some of its more illustrious compatriots. Weatherproofing may be its weak point, as Cwmcarn has yet to face the rigours of a full Welsh winter, but Russell remains confident that the trail will bear up. Ongoing improvements should also cure any potential black spots before the rainy season is upon us.
So, if you’re stuck for somewhere to tread this Bank Holiday weekend, the fresh delights of Cwmcarn, coupled with the maturing conduits of its neighbour, Afan Argoed, could be the perfect match for a heaven-sent trail extravaganza. And what’s more, Russell is currently working on the construction of 60km of new singletrack at Afan Argoed, which will add two new trails to the existing route, all in the style of Cwmcarn. The first real milestone should be reached by October, when Russell hopes to have finished a major new upgrade to the ‘Wall’ trail.
Duration: 1.5 – 3 hours
Facilities: Visitor’s centre with cafe and shop, toilets, Forest Drive, picnic areas, camping, adventure playground
Maps: OS Landranger 171
Contact: Cwmcarn Visitor Centre 01495 272001
Email: [email protected]
Getting there: Aim for M4 Junction 28, then follow the brown tourist signs for the Forest Drive. For a detailed map from Streetmap.co.uk, click here.