Words by Tim Norris Photos by Hazel Ross and Ania Zielnik
This weekend I finally got around to taking some friends (from Calne and MB Swindon) on a bike ride I have been planning for ages. I had a visit last year to Blaenavon and worked out a loop around the Blorenge and following part of the Iron Mountain Trail. Fifteen riders trusted me to deliver a good day out and I think I delivered something pretty special (if I’m honest!).
The route started with a tame cycle track and a ride to the main site of Big Pit. This is quite a sight as most the surrounding architecture has changed for decades so you get a real feel for what life in the valleys may have looked like. As we rode around the Coity Tip trail, we saw large tips spoils and that have now been used to create wildlife habitats. With streams and rivulets crisscrossing “under foot,” the boardwalks provided us with a smooth elevated surface to explore.
There has been a great deal of landscaping and reclamation in the area, so much so that the Garn Lakes, our next point of interest weren’t even on my old OS map! This local Nature Reserve used to be an area covered in spoil tips and old colliery workings but following an extensive land reclamation scheme it was officially opened in 1997 as a beautiful area for residents and visitors. It covers 40 hectares, and with lakes and grasslands it provides a diverse habitat and breeding grounds for a wide range of wildlife.
But we didn’t want breeding grounds, we wanted mud and grass under our wheels so off we went up over the tips spoils crossing the border into the Brecon Beacons National Park and had our first bit of descending fun towards Pwll Du. A big loose rocked track with a few drops and steep slopes had everyone grinning – the industrial sight seeing was over. Now it was time for the fun…. But first we had short 70m climb to the Keepers Pond.
From the old Garnddyrys Forge feeder pond we followed the out onto the Blorenge. As we traversed the hillside here we were treated to a few twists and numerous little rock gardens. Not too technical and not big but just enough to make you think about your line for a few seconds and focus on carrying some momentum across to the other side. We had a few foot dabbing moments our first few offs along here; this section is actually responsible for a Kask helmet warranty claim as one rider made quite heavy contact with the stones.
Once we had stopped to admire the view and have a brief snack, we retraced our steps back to the fork in the trail to drop down the side of the Blorenge towards Govilon.
This descent was great fun for some and a little sketchy for others. The trail dropped sharply in a few places and was littered with large stones and rocks – all hidden beneath the shoulder high ferns. Some got through unscathed others had multiple tumbles and by the time we reached the bottom there were huge smiles and plenty of stories to tell as each had witnessed the others dive in the the ferns or slide out of view. At this point there was a lot of talk of GoPros and why no one had brought one.
On we went with some sweet single track and a few more shorter descents until we reached the Punch bowl. It was already a warm day and by the time we reached the sheltered oasis of the punch bowl we were ready for a break so we stopped checked the injuries and scoffed our snack bars and sandwiches. It would have been easy to have stopped here for hours but we had to go. And after a friendly walker told us we had a lot of climbing to do I thought it best we made tracks.
The climb out the other side of the Punch Bowl would make a great descent! Yes it was steep and we all pushed up about 100m before we could get back on to the bikes and pedal. A return loop must be planned to try and bring this descent into play!
Eventually we spun our way up the road to the Foxhunter Car Park and the radio masts. All the climbing was done and it was time to find the elusive trail back into Blaenavon via some more tip spoils and the Camels Back Pump Track. This was a great ride down with some twisty rain gulleys and tracks between the heaps of waste from the mine. I hadn’t been able to ride this part on the recce ride last year so it was a real surprise how much fun it was and my favourite part of the ride I think.
One member of our group won’t remember this so fondly as he had a bit of an over the bars moment and badly injured his shoulder. While we left one with him for support the rest of us enjoyed the ride back to the car park where Tom Scott and the Big Blue Bus went to the rescue of the downed rider.
At this point we split into a few groups as we had to get Dave to a hospital and the rest stayed for cake and tea at the Heritage Centre Cafe – I hope the cake was good!
Despite the few spills, this was a great ride and I think everyone enjoyed it. For those that missed out a return journey will be on the calendar very soon…
If you haven’t already visited any of the links above, for more information on the history of the industry in Blaenavon and the beautiful landscape visit the Visit Blaenavon website.
You can watch a short video of the day on the Tim From Wales blog.