This was the first ride of the bank holiday weekend. I had a 57km epic to lead for MBSwindon that took in Nailsworth, Chavenage, Ozleworth, North Nibley, Dursley and Uley. I’d done a recce ride on this back in November with Gary Palmer. We advertised the ride on the MBSwindon website, Dirty Saddles and Stroud MBC.
I rode the extra 7km from my house to the route start and arrived to find a large crowd which reached 18 by the time we set off. This included Paul who had ridden from Swindon and was going to ride back after the ride too.
The route was identical to the recce apart from the end where did the descent to the Weighbridge Inn. It had been too dark to do this in November. The other main differences were the higher air temperature and a lack of water falling from the sky.
The group maintained enthusiasm throughout this tough ride despite the route taking the steepest line up and down every hill. We did break two bikes over the course of the day. One rider had a seized wheel and despite a farmer lending some tools the wheel seized back up later. Another rider had a stuck free hub and rolled back to Nailsworth down the road about three quarters of the way round the ride.
The tight switchbacks in the bluebell wood from the Ozleworth radio tower down to Wotton scored the most approval. Not long later there was a food stop at North Nibley quarry by the jumps and downhill style trails.
A short cut to the Old Crown Inn at Uley was taken by half the group whilst the others did the bonus loop up Uley hill fort and back down before riding to the pub.
I have to question my mental state because I really enjoyed the steep road climb through Owlpen back onto the top of the Cotswolds. An easy road spin and a track lead to the final descent down to the Weighbridge Inn. This is still one of my favourite trails in the area.
We made a second pub stop at the Egypt Mill before going our separate ways.
This was a great day out and reminded me why I like riding with the club. Everyone worked hard, there was no moaning, the group waited for the slowest rider at the top of climbs and everyone got on with enjoying the ride. I’ve done my fair share of solo trips recently so it was great to be out with a keen group.
I love mountain biking. I love yoga. So I was excited when Facebook spewed up an advert for “a mountain biking yoga weekend”. I liked the idea so much that I booked a place before reading the details. Probably. It was organised by Mountain Yoga Breaks – see their website, Facebook and Twitter pages.
I’ve been riding for over a decade and I discovered yoga about a year previously. I really wish I’d found it earlier! Sports therapist Nancy Braithewaite put me on to it as a cure to lack of flexibility due to all time riding with no stretching.
Ask most people what yoga is and they will probably describe a room of beautiful people stretched into painful looking poses with their feet round their neck whilst they practice a self-satisfied, smug expression. They will talk for hours about chakra energy channel release and the benefits of doing the om chant whilst in a head-stand. Roughly speaking about half of that is true, though I haven’t found the location of the room of beautiful people yet. There is no pain involved – an important axiom is always doing what is right for yourself. Wikipedia article on yoga.
As a starting point then yoga can be regarded as a physical conditioning routine that involves holding the body in various physical stances and poses. This gently stretches muscles and brings about flexibility, strength, balance and resiliance. Yoga can help redress the well known physical problems caused by cycling such muscle contraction in the hips and legs, lower back pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders. Daily activities such as driving or sitting at a desk also contribute to the problems. This alone is reason enough to practice yoga.
Many soon discover that feeling better physically also makes them feel better mentally. Modern life is very much based on disconnecting via over stimulation, distraction activities, over eating, drinking and the search for artificial highs. Reconnecting can be very exciting and satisfying. The self focus of yoga is mediative and encourages calm, clarity and self control. These are very powerful states of mind that can improve all aspects of life and are acknowledged as helping sports performance.
The really great thing about yoga is that it can be whatever you want it to be: physical training, mind expansion, relaxation time, mental training, all of the above, none of the above. I’m a massive advocate of yoga because it’s personally brought about so many positive changes in my life.
There’s loads of yoga classes out there in various styles. Try some and see if it suits you. Also worth a punt is Pilates. It’s a bit like yoga but more of a physical training routine and less spiritual.
The concept for the holiday was simple: spend a weekend in mid Wales with two days riding on some of the best natural trails in the country. Fill the rest of the time with yoga, eating cake, drinking tea and sleeping.
Experienced yoga instructor Polly Clark is also a mountain biker so has developed classes that can really make a difference to riders. Yoga is non competitive, but at the first session I watched in awe as one lady was able to reach right down onto her elbows for a pose where I could hardly touch the ground with my finger tips…as I cheated a bit by bending my back and straining a little bit. Yoga is all about yourself though – so the 0.1mm of stretch I was managing was still making progress for me. Whatever your level you should walk out of a yoga class feeling a lot better than when you walked in. Which was true on the weekend.
I arrived on Friday evening to find a friendly group of riders with a mixture of riding and yoga experience levels. The Elan Valley Lodge was a brilliant location. Billed as a four star youth hostel it offered clean and comfortable en-suite rooms, good food, social areas with wi-fi and, of course, a large room for the yoga classes.
The rides were guided by Phil from Mountain Bike Wales (also on Facebook & Twitter). As a experienced local rider and someone who trains instructors then Phil was able to give a great experience to a mixed group of riders. The terrain gave something for everyone – for example “the link” descent near Rhayader has a series of rocky sections with multiple lines across and round them so they can be avoided, rolled or jumped depending on mood and experience level. Polly had booked some amazing weather too, with sun available on both days. We spent a fair amount of time riding through water so this was a good thing.
The Saturday route took in “puke hill” and followed the Trans Cambrian route (see our snowy version from march) for a while before linking back via a descent to the chapel, a big climb and then “the link” descent.
Sadly Pippa parted company with her bike on the last descent. She was very annoyed that it was “on an easy section”. She returned on Saturday night to show off her bruises including a fetching egg-shaped lump on her forehead.
The Sunday route was a bit shorter and worked anti clockwise round the Cefn, across the river Elan, followed a big climb up “the link” and the looped round to a long descent back into the main Elan valley. The lunch stop on top of the mountain gave me an ideal opportunity to explain the sports therapy triangle situation I’m in.
A few top tips from the weekend: follow the route the guide takes when in the water. Follow the guide if they use the bridge rather than riding through the water. If you are doing the half-splits and your foot is being pushed hard into the ground then it is unlikely that you will be able to lift it.
I really enjoyed the weekend. That’s not surprising since I love mountain biking, yoga, cake, tea, good riding and talking bollocks. All bases were covered. I’m definitely going back for more.
A lot of riders don’t think much of the North Face trail at Grizedale. e.g.: “pretty crap and dull TBH, got to the end and nearly asked for my car park money back,” (from Singletrack forum). Now I don’t think it’s that bad a route though it wouldn’t be my first recommendation for the area. The volunteer built trails at Gisburn or the superior centre at Whinlatter would be the first trail centres I’d suggest visiting.
It wends its way round the forest in typical trail centre style. After the initial climb it’s quite flat and it’s quite hard to work out where that height is given back as descent. It does have a fair amount of wooden board walks and a few bits of rock here and there. There’s nothing startling about it, agreed.
What it is needs is an extended remix. Take ingredient A: a slightly tired trail centre. Add ingredient B: some old school natural trails from Jame’s guide book. Mix them together. Whip it. Shake it. Stir it. Bake for 2 hours at gas mark 5. What do you end up with? A natural route with some bits of trail centre in it.
Only James and myself had the enthusiasm left for pedalling around after several days of rain. We parked at the Grizedale centre and set off on the bridleway east. After a steep climb this fairly wide track levelled off and then lead to a surprisingly fun descent. We’re talking rocks and drops on a gradual track descent. A road link lead to another climb and descent. A less interesting section between the saw mills and Dale Park.
It was worth it for the Breasty Haw descent. I was giggling like a girl by the bottom of this. A brilliant descent down a twisty track in a deep rock cutting with steps and jumps. We carried on giggling at the Old Breasty Haw sign.
After this we joined the North Face trail and followed that to its highest point. Then we turned west down a bridleway into the Coniston valley. This was long and flowing rather than steep. The descent was followed by a big climb back up to the trail.
We followed the trail almost to the end and then turned right up a big track climb to the top of the woods. Here we took another gem of a bridleway descent. This was quite steep and strewn with rocks and steps.
Finally we linked back onto the North Face trail via a track climb.
Verdict: an interesting ride that adds rocky bridleways to a so-so trail centre.
The Walna Scar is a well known Lakes route that some of the party had done before. As you might notice from the photographs it was a wet day.
We parked near Torver and followed the main road south before turning right up a lane and some arrowed hills. The bridleway through the woods offered some good rooty sections and these were obviously ideal for wet days.
Back onto open ground the route traversed some hills and then climbed to Stickle Pike. We followed our noses a bit here and ended up with a bit of an excursion before we spotted the bridleway.
A great descent delivered us onto the road where we hurried to the Newfield Inn at Seathwaite. We attempted to dry out here over lunch. I remember doing a similar route here in the early 2000s when I used to drink a few beers at lunch time to enhance my riding performance. Not any more though. You can’t enhance perfection.
I really enjoyed the big climb up to Walna Scar itself. Visibility was low, rain was lashing us but it wasn’t really cold and it was quite an experience. The camera wasn’t too happy about it though.
The weather had focussed our minds on getting down so we all made short work of the descent. I remember one really good rock drop and lots of loose rocks. It’s certainly worth a proper look on a dry day.
We finished off with a simultaneous bike wash and road ride back to the parked cars.
Verdict: great route. Not that long. Worth doing on a dry day when you can see.