Return to the Iron Mountain

Guiding duties for MB Swindon at the weekend around the ever amazing (for many reasons) Blaenavon…  So here’s the write up I did for the club website:

Return To The Iron Mountain

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For some bizarre reason people started to turn up just after 9am for a 10am ride. Its possible it had something to do with them camping in the Brecon Beacons the night before and being up early but I’d like to think they were equally as eager to get on the ride. Continue reading “Return to the Iron Mountain”

The Full Ponty

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The Folly Tower

Its been a few weeks since I posted a new blog, mainly cos its been pretty quiet and I haven’t done anything, lets say “blogworthy”. Is that a word?  It is now…

Anyway at the weekend I rode a little over 100km off road in two sizeable rides. Ride #1 was a bit of an off the grid affair that I will hopefully be able to tell you about sometime soon. But ride #2 was not so hush hush and that’s what I’ll talk about today.

The Fully Ponty

If you drop by here often enough you’ll know I ride with MB Swindon regularly and also host rides from time to time. This was a re-run and super-sizing of a ride I did a few years ago called The Ponds The Pit and The PunchBowl. In that ride we rode around the World Heritage Site and industrial landscape of Blaenafon in South Wales.  It was a great day only marred slightly by one rider needing a few months off work with a broken shoulder! Needless to say it was a hit and I had to run it again.

This weekend we started further down the valley in Pontypool and eventually doubled the size of the ride from 2014. Why? Well the idea was to make it bigger for starters, add some extra bits that would still entice riders from the previous ride and also so I could indulge myself in some nostalgic scenery and sites from my youth.

I am writing a full account of the day for MB Swindon but its fair to say it was pretty epic.

We rode:

We made a little bit of the ride up as we went as a few mechanicals meant we were behind schedule and tiring a little, so some map reading and nose following kept us high towards the end of the ride and saved on a few hundred meters of climbing.

The result was the final 6km were practically all down hill and we arrived at the cars relatively fresh and not too broken.

It was a big day out and the rain only spoiled it for about 15 mins – we then had glorious sunshine as you can see from the pics below.

There will be a write up over on MB Swindon later this week but in the meantime here’s a few pics from the day. Click for full size…

The Iron Mountain Trail

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. 15 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 wont 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.

For more information on the route and other amazing routes in the Brecon Beacons take a look at Tom Hutton’s book Wales Mountain Biking – he also does guided rides and weekends – check out his website here.