Ride report: Afan Whites Level – 6th Jan 2013

This was a last minute trip to Afan to check out the modified Wall trail and to visit the new skills park. See the photos from our last trip there when we did W2 (the Wall plus White’s level). The May 2010 report includes an Afan trail guide.

We’re going back in February. Event link. All our events are shown on the events calendar.

A quick history of Afan

Original Wall trail
Original Wall trail

Afan was one of the first MTB centres back in the day (late 90s and early 2000’s). The 9ft.com trail came first later renamed as the Penhydd. Then the Wall trail opened on the other side of the valley. It used bridleways at one point I’m sure. Later the Glyncorrg centre opened with the Whites Level trail and then the much maligned Skyline (it went on for a long time but not a lot happened in some places). Over several subsequent visits to the Skyline I developed some affection for it; there were some great sections in it, but it still went on for a long time.

White’s Level had the  black section added some time in the mid 2000s and then later the Energy section.  

Glyncorrg had the better cafe – The Drop Off with beers in the fridge and massive portions of freshly prepared food. You can thank Ian Luff for that. He moved on to a bus parked at Brechfa and then event catering (we’ve got some good photos from Bristol Oktoberfest 2012, Erlestoke 2011 and the Mondraker Gravity rally 2012).

This Cognation blog post tells the story in their words.

2013_01_06 Afan 009 small

Move forwards to 2012 and the Penhyd had been pretty much destroyed during forestry operations to deal with an outbreak of the tree disease Phytopthora Ramorum. See this notice describing the work. Meanwhile the Wall was falling behind a lot of other trails in the UK. Newly formed  South Wales trail builders Cognation were keen to update the Wall trail, work that they completed in 2012.

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The Penhydd is due to be reopened in March 2013.

Link showing all the Cognation South Wales trails.

Our trip

We decided to do a fairly easy option of the Wall plus the skills park.

We set out across the barren landscape from the visitor centre along a confusing set of trails and footpaths. We knew where we were going though – under the road bridge towards the wall. The trail quickly moves to new singletrack, including some concrete berms. A first on an MTB trail and a solution to flooding by the look of it. The long slog down the valley and back up has now been officially replaced by the closer bridge. I used to use this as a naughty short cut anyway.

New single track at the Wall in Afan.
New single track.

A new single track climb follows on from the bridge. This winds up the hill and at the top you’d expect to be quite far up the trail. But, no, you actually come out on the old railway line which I always thought was quite low. I’m not complaining though – a single track climb is always better than a wide track.

Things carry on as before until the highest point on the trail where  a higher loop has been added. This has very poor sign posting on a tight switchback. We believe that the old trail is still there as an option if you want to use it. The extra loops of climbing are worth it – the new section is a really fast bermed section.   It joins back onto the old trail and returns to the main track. A short new section replaces the old track climb, another worthwhile addition.

The trail continues round to the cafe at Bryn Bettws cafe. I’d ridden this a few weeks previously on a bike with broken forks and blamed them for nearly throwing me off the bike. Even on a functioning bike I found a few sections of braking bumps that were not entirely pleasant at speed. Oh well, that’s biking for you. The bypassed rock section is always worth a go if you’re here.

Bryn Bettws lodge cafe.The new skills area starts just across the road from the main gate and next to the cafe. There’s review with photos on the Cognation site. We spent a bit of time trying the trails out. It was suffering a bit from traffic levels and the extended rain meant that a few patches were sinking. All the same well worth a visit and it will be better once the initial interest has died down. There’s several options through the woods and some massive table tops on the lower section. There’s some entertaining logs in the centre that aren’t too difficult and will make you look like a hero.

Back on the trail a new section has been added at the top so you now ride past the original descent, climb a track and turn right into the new section which then takes you back to where you just came from. This top section proves that good trail doesn’t need a massive drop; just a slight down gradient. This is definitely the section to race your mates on. It’s really smooth too, something that can’t be said for a lot of the Wall any more.

We finished off the with the zig zag descent, a short climb up the railway line and then the final section of single track down to the bridge. With many trees missing I was finally able to locate the amphitheatre.

The new sections of trail have spiced up and extended an old favourite. Personally I still think White’s Level is one of the best trails, so W2 makes the most sense if you want it all.

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