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Spin, pedal, pump – biking in the Valleys, Wales

The Valleys are world-class for mountain biking, with over 300 miles/480km of National CycleNetwork and is home to the brand new BikePark Wales, the UK’s first full-scale commercial bike park that opened on August 2013.

A peddler’s paradise, BikePark Wales at Gethin Woods has an incredible 23 sections of trails, bike rental, shop, café, visitor centre, catering for complete beginners all the way to downhill daredevils. Combine this with The Valley’s forest and river scenery, mud ’n’ rock for trail warriors, freewheeling for families – that’s a whole lot of ‘hwyl’ (fun the Welsh way), whatever your level.

1. Afan for adrenaline
Up for 62m/100km-plus of twisty, rocky, wildly exposed singletrack? Hit five world-class trails carved out of the hillsides of 9,000-acre Afan Forest Park. Test your nerve and stamina on the epic 28.5m/46km Skyline challenge with gutsy stretches like ‘On the Edge’ and exhilarating mountain views. Challenge your technical skills (and lung power) on 9m/15km White’s Level, a heart-pumping combo of tight singletrack, demanding descents and rocky steps. There are superb facilities at Afan Forest Park Visitor Centre and Glyncorrwg Mountain Bike Centre. ‘What Mountain Bike Magazine’ named the park as one of the 10 best places to ride “before you die” – the only UK trail destination.

Mountain Biking Wales

2. Go for the berms
… and the switch backs, doubles, tunnel, rock steps, bridge, hip jump, quarry gap – if you’ve got the bottle. Cwmcarn Forest is the real deal for downhill thrill seekers. Take the plunge on the Y Mynydd course – the red run and black run may be simply named, the challenges are extreme. Or push the limits on the 9.6m/15.5km singletrack loop of the Twrch Trail. Named after the wild boar of the Mabinogion legends, the route switches from open and flowing hard pack to tight technical and rooty. Climb steeply and rollercoaster back down – feed your need for speed.

3. Kids’ mtb skills and thrills
Take the kids to spike some adrenaline in a fun environment! The Mini Mountain Bike Skills Park, at the Forestry Commission Wales’ Garwnant Visitor Centre, is just the job for little daredevils. After they’ve upped skills and confidence around child-friendly obstacles, they’ll be raring to tackle the mini trails. Berms, turns, humps and bumps of the Rowan Trail are perfectly geared for ‘first timers’, then yippety-yip along the Spruce Trail to hone those skills some more. Also take the family to Margam Country Park, where a 5m/8km ‘be-spoke’ mountain bike trail explores some of the more remote areas of this countryside playground. Puff to the highest point in the park for ‘phews with views’. Margam Activities Centre offers mountain biking with qualified instructors too.

Amman Castle, the Valleys, Wales4. Heroes on your handlebars
Fancy a spot of easygoing escape and fantasy? Garnant to Glanaman is just the ticket, winding along the River Amman, through ancient oak wood and parkland, with views of the Betws and Black Mountains, red kites and buzzards. King Arthur and his knights once hunted wild boar in the Amman Valley, and Glanaman is the childhood home town of modern hero Shane Williams, Wales’ highest ever rugby try scorer. Spin out this 2.5/4km, traffic-free jaunt with a stop at 39-acre Ynys Dawela Nature Reserve, whose meadows burst into a fusion of colour in late summer.

5. ‘Re-cycling’ our rich industrial heritage
The 55m/88km Taff Trail is a Sustrans showcase trail, through the heart of The Valleys and linking Cardiff with the beautiful Brecon Beacons. What better example of ‘recycling’? Routes of former tramways, railways, canals and viaducts have fresh life as cycle and walking ways, threading together the story of our proud industrial heritage. You could shoot the whole route in a long day, or take your time and explore – go down a mine at Rhondda Heritage Park or tour Cyfarthfa Castle to discover how iron and coal built Merthyr Tydfil. The trail ranks as medium challenge, with pubs and cafes to speed you on your way, and mountain and moorland scenery at journey’s end.

6. ‘Re-cycling’ our industrial heritage – more quickly
If your energy is in shorter supply but curiosity is still sky high, get pedalling the Pontypool to Blaenavon railway path for a 7m/11km, traffic-free adventure through our Valleys’ heritage. Along the canal path, take a pit stop at the barge cafe at Pontymoile Basin, then head on through woodland and to lovely views across the valley of the Afon Llwyd. At Blaenavon, enjoy a trip on an original steam loco that once transported coal. You could also go 300ft underground at Big Pit: National Coal Museum, take in the revolutionary industrial story of Blaenavon World Heritage Site – or simply pedal back, there’s some gratifying downhill on the return journey! And don’t miss the Trevithick Trail from Merthyr Tydfil to Abercynon. It’s on this tramway that Richard Trevithick made history in 1804 with the first-ever steam locomotive to pull a load on rails. It took just over 4 hours to complete 9m/14.5km – we bet you’ll do it faster, though artworks en route and breathtaking mountain and valley views might distract you. Return via an amazing piece of old tram road (check out those original 200-year-plus sleepers) or come back on the Taff Trail.

7. Art of cycling – Llynfi Valley
Get the cogs whirring on a new 10m/16km traffic-free trail that features imaginative artworks, poetry and wildlife. This route, between Maesteg and Afan Forest Park, winds through the beautiful Llynfi Valley along an old railway line that once transported coal to the former Maesteg Washery. Check out the amazing environmental land artwork now stretching over 1 hectare of reclaimed land that was once the Washery, combining an imposing stone structure and dramatic charred oak posts with wetlands and mixed tree planting to bring new wildlife to the area. Read poetry featured on bench and waymarker, have a picnic and enjoy gorgeous views to Maesteg and Caerau. All before you immerse yourself in the stunning Afan Forest Park.

Mountain biking in the Valleys, Wales

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