The hills of South Wales are home to some of Britain's best mountain biking, and to MudTrek, Jennifer Stuart-Smith's hosts for a couple of days discovering Welsh trails.
We all know people who ‘live hard, play hard’, but what about those of us who like to ride hard, then relax and chill out with equal dedication? A MudTrek holiday in Carmarthenshire is the answer; though riding hard is not compulsory. Relax? Well, it was hard not to.
Described as “a ski chalet, for mountain bikers, in Wales", apparently some guests find it hard to believe that their food will be delivered to the table, the washing up done and fluffy towels provided on arrival. But it’s all true.
I took my brother as a birthday treat, and after a couple of days cycling, lounging around and eating fantastic food, we were so chilled out we hardly recognised ourselves.
Nikki Channon and Jason Mulvey are consummate hosts, in a genuine, friendly way (though Jason did admit he once worked as a Red Coat). You get the feeling that they love what they do, where they live, and are happy to share, although we only got to hang out with the pet beagles, Woody and Cookie, on the second day. The beagles should really be provided as ‘executive toys’ on arrival, they’re so conducive to chilling. Or, you can always bring your own dogs. Unusually, for luxury accommodation, doggy guests are welcome. There’s an enclosed garden for them to play in, and even a dog-sitter if required.
Having arrived late at night, settled into our gorgeous rooms, we then had the excitement of waking up to a vast, unspoilt view of the mountains; our playground for the next couple of days. When not out in the elements, we made the most of the hot water, great kitchen, satellite telly and free wi-fi. Call me old-fashioned, but the selection of books was fab too.
Jason’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the area took away the need for map reading on the first day’s exploration, as we headed out into Brechfa Forest. When I say trails, tracks is more accurate. No namby-pamby, manicured and graded trails to start with; this was ‘off piste’: rough, stony, muddy adventuring. At least it felt like that, until, after three hours, I complained of extremely cold feet, and Jay took us on an improvised, shorter, route back to the warmth of the converted hay barn.
The rough terrain of central Wales is certainly a contrast to my usual greasy Downs riding, and it was a relief to be riding one of their proper all-mountain Bionicon full suss hire bikes. This Teutonic beast has, apparently, in Europe, been voted best mountain bike for seven years running. It was certainly a comfy ride. A button on the handlebars allows you to alter the geometry of the bike, so that you can ride in either a downhill, or a climbing position, as you choose. Perfect for the terrain of Llanllwni Mountain.
As well as challenging terrain, we also rode in some pretty challenging weather; waterlogged ground, then snow and sleet. So, for our second day’s riding we opted for the superb, man-made trails of Brechfa Forest. The naturally stony ground, laid into lumpy, bumpy, grin-inducing single track, is virtually unaffected by the rain. Or, it seemed, by crowds of bikers.
Admittedly it was a cold, wet day in February, but the feeling of having the forest to yourself was a special treat for us Southerners made even better by not having to pay for access or parking . We took Jay’s advice, based on the time available and the weather, and opted for the green and blue routes linked together.
The latter offers a superb downhill section of berms, tabletops and general roller-coaster riding, and tantalising glimpses of the black-graded ‘Raven’ trail, designed by trail supremos Rowan Sorrell and Brian Rumble. This is definitely on the list for next time as is the ‘Gorlech’ – an epic red run.
Despite the flowing single track, you couldn’t help but notice the superb landscape all around, and it was worth drawing breath (or necessary, in my case) just to admire the wintry woodlands and hills. Twisted mossy trees and lichen-covered rocks have a mythical, far-flung, quality, adding to the sense of adventure. I was expecting to see a troll under the bridge at the bottom of the blue run or a hobbit hiding in some roots.
Having got thoroughly warmed up and muddy, we swooped back down to the car park, to be greeted by Jay and the dogs in the warm MudTrek Land Rover (with plastic seat covers, so no need to worry about wrecking the interior). As the company name suggests, mud is pretty much guaranteed in this part of the world. As we headed back through the winding lanes, enjoying a less energetic tour of the wilderness, we were already planning a return visit.
Back at the barn we shoved our dirty gear into the washing machine, got scrubbed up, then settled in for an afternoon of tea and Scrabble. As it started to snow outside, we had a vague hope that we might get snowed in and have to stay longer. But no such luck. In the short time we were there, we had a blast.