Coed Llandegla Wales mountain bike trail centre review.

Trail centres.

I rarely do trail centres. They're for the big boys, with knee guards and mega full suspension bikes. They're for people who want to be airlifted out every other week. Those that enjoy splinters of bone sticking out of their various arms and legs. Such people generally have no teeth and use ancient words such as "Rad" or "Gnar". I'm a cross country mincer.

Muddy Wife, however, knew nothing of Coed Llandegla when she booked our annual holiday. She wanted an holiday on a farm overlooking mountains. She wanted isolation - and she got that; the nearest proper shop [i.e. one not selling tea towels and Welsh spoons] was in Ruthin, 9 miles away. Ruthin I must say was quite a nice town.

What she didn't know was that the house she'd booked was 3 miles from Coed Llandegla.

Coed Llandegla.

I wanted to go, but also didn't. I've done Swinley, and Coed y Brenin several times, first going in its' first year oddly enough. They're fun, yet I never clicked with the concept. I'm happy with maps, with getting lost, and having a selection of cafes to attend to my needs.

It was my 8 year old who made me go. I'd just bought him a mountain bike you see.

So, my first taste of Llandegla was a quiet Wednesday morning. There were a few people there, yet none of them seemed to be on big bikes. My Orange 5 was up there as being a bit excessive. I looked like the Big Boy, the one happy to break things. Actually this is a lie. My riding kit is worth at best 50p, I have self cut hair and have a dorky, twattish look to me. I probably looked scared.

The café and bike shop.

Ah, the café. I spent a lot of money there. Coffee is great, cakes are fantastic and the food truly lovely. By a lot of money, I mean £4 per visit. Ten times though? Live in Surrey and this buys you a shite watery coffee from a van on Headley. In wales £4 is a lot to spend on café food, and for that I got a wonderful home made cake the size of Poland and freshly ground coffee. I'm dribbling now writing about it. It's an infinitely better café than the one at Brenin by the way. There's nothing wrong with the Brenin one - it's fine. It's just that this one is lovely.

The bike shop? Horny for their products - top end bikes to die for really. Not sure I heard a single member of staff engage in conversation with anybody though. It's a normal bike shop then. It had everything you need though, so no worries there. I've never bought clothing from a physical bike shop, not really ever in twenty years mountain biking. Here I bought three tops. It's a great shop.

Be warned though not to leave your bike unattended outside. It may vanish. It would be so easy for a man with a van to steal a number of bikes. Dress in bike gear, park the van near the café, watch and wait. There will soon be an unattended £4k bike left in plain view.

Our first taste - broken shoulder and the long climb.

I felt a fraud, especially when we set off on the blue route. Timid mountain biker me, off into the trail centre wilds.

Now, Coed Llandegla is rather famous for one thing; that sodding long climb up to the start of the blue and red trails. It does go on rather. No idea how long it is, but it must be a few miles. Long enough for you to get bored. In all my time there, there was a headwind, making it even worse.

For my wife and children it was not fun. It's also a bit of a problem with the centre in another way. Chatting to a local rider his opinion as to why they get two ambulance visits a week is due to the tame start. People get bored, people think "this is easy" and so once the trails start proper, they go off on one. But once on the trails, the experience ramps up quite quickly and soon enough you need to be a proper, experienced biker.

Our first day, half way up this climb, a guy came down the other way having broken his shoulder. We knew this as my wife is a bit of a bone specialist in the NHS. He'd broken his shoulder on the World's easiest bit of trail.

This kind of tempered my wife's enthusiasm I can tell you.

The long climb is an integral part of the centre. It gets you to the trailheads; they all splinter off it at some point. You can try and avoid it; there's a fire road up. I tried this. It's worse. There are a few local routes in, one using the Offa's Dyke.... Just buy a map and you'll find them.

Coed Llandegla has several graded routes. Green for total novices; Blue for those wanting to try a bit of off-road; Red for those that know what they are doing, but who are not quite so fit; Black for the fit people who like a challenge. Then they have the beyond Black stuff.

I managed to try them all, except for one beyond Black bit and a Red route section.

The Green.

Totally harmless. Easy for ages. The climb up may test some youngsters, but the ride around the lake is lovely. Very pleasant. The end, however, will test some as it goes around the end berms of the Blue route. These are quite big.

Be warned about the lake. I was playing around, riding on the stones.

Puncture. My only one all week.

The Blue.

Actually there are two Blue runs. One runs through the forest, using small jumps, berms and fast downhill sections to get through. Fine if you go slow, but gets more challenging if you want to go faster. Again I quite liked it as it is more cross country than trail centre. I rode it a few times as a link section to the café as the end of the Red route is a bit of an arse.

The second Blue kind of goes around the edge of the forest. It follows a small stream and is quite atmospheric. It holds no challenges but was a lovely place to be. It also cut out a lot of zig zagging up and down the hill. Indeed I quite liked the Blue runs just as rides. You can turn off, think a bit, get your breath back or short-cut to the lovely café.

The Red.

Now it gets complicated. The Red is in several sections and is used to link some of the beyond Black jump and drop sections, where they often use boardwalk. Part of the Red is a distinct route, the start of which leads to the Black. Now this starting section is lovely, with some great views of Snowdon. It flows nicely, has a few drop offs, rocky sections and even some boardwalk. The start and end of this bit is linked by some fireroad, so you could just do this bit over and over. Which at times is what I did. For a time it was my favoured bit.

Once the Red goes back into the forest it just gets longer, winding its' way up and down the hill. The end of the Red wasn't my favoured part, and in the end I found ways to avoid it - climbing back up to the proper start of the Blue for instance.

There were trail diversions in place whilst I was there, so I got a bit lost and managed not to do some mid red sections.

The start of the Red, after a bit of rain, is very wet. Surprisingly so for a trail centre. It has some big, deep puddles that cannot be avoided. It is also out of the forest, up a big hill in Wales. You want to experience what bad weather is like? Ride this bit on a rainy, windy day then.

The Red is perhaps the most appropriate and fun trail if you've been biking a bit. It's very much a Leith Hill type of trail, except made of rock not sand. It's really quite fun.

The Black.

The start of this is at the end of my favoured Red section. It takes no prisoners. It's fine if you are a bit quick witted and do not show off. It's the trail most mountain bikers come to try, and is indeed the most fun in an attention deficit kind of way. It's there, in your face quick as is.

It runs down a steep hill, then back up again. Repeat this a few times in a kind of zig zag, and you have the nature of the trail. It's actually a great thing, but fast downhill, slow first gear back up. You will sweat. If you are not fit it will bite you.

I was shown around it by a local, Roy, so my taste was quite fast as he tried to lose me. In many ways he did, especially on the first bit of boardwalk - that takes your breath away as it just dips down and away. On the climbs I clawed back everything.

This game was fun. He'd gain some time on the down bits, which I'd take back on the climbs. It oddly made us very even as riders. He didn't have to wait for me, and so could have his fun, yet at the same time we got to chat on the ups. His views on trail centre life were very interesting.

The Black, if you are from Surrey, is harder than Barry Knows Best. Think of it as a more fun Barry.

Beyond Black.

These things are odd. They're jumps, drops, berms or boardwalk. You, like I did, can roll all of them really. That's not the way though. You're supposed to attack them, get some air.

Actually one bit I just looked at. A ten to fifteen drop off over bed rock. It looked like it could be rolled, but I suspect the proper riders jump it.

Initially the boardwalk stuff is funny to ride on. It's covered in chicken wire, which moves around making a funny noise. Off-putting at first, but by the end of the week I didn't notice.

The skills area.

They have a few of these and for me they were great. Initially avoided as they looked a bit tame. Once I'd stuck my head in to see what they were about, well, each ride had to have thirty minutes playing. My favoured section was the drop-off area, as I'm crap. You can progress here from 10cm to four foot. I progressed to.... 30cm. That's a big deal for me.

You want to do boardwalk, berms or table tops? Got them.

It was also here that I found out that all of us rad, gnar fest full suspension mad keen mountain bikers are all a bit crap. I was watching some guys on coil sprung downhill bikes get some air. They looked impressive.

They did until some guy on a full on cross country hard-tail bike came along. Seat post way up high, front suspension on maximum hard setting, clipped in to his pedals, narrow handlebar. Off he went and did all of the stuff they were doing, and with more flair. He looked 16. He had all the skill. Whilst they were high fiving each other, at the same time you could see them looking at this guy in a bemused way that clearly said: "how the heck is he doing this stuff on THAT bike??"

It was my first view as to what a proper cross country rider is capable of. It was impressive. I'd seen some out and about and had assumed they were mincing the fire roads. Nope, they were attacking everything at some speed.


Ah, the slobs amongst us. There's a lot of rubbish at Llandegla. The Snowdon viewpoint is especially bad. Tins, wrappers, inner tubes and bits of clothing litter the site. It's not everywhere, but there's enough to spoil things a bit. On the Red I came across three inner tubes thrown on the trail. I picked them up and moved them aside - I'd have taken them all*, but my pack was full and I knew full well that hanging from a tree later on there'd be more.

Why are people such slobs?

*I took one. It was inflated, my size, so why not?

A local riders viewpoint.

Ride in Surrey and you'd be forgiven for thinking that mountain bikers are a reserved bunch, unwilling to engage in conversation. You know the score; you've a puncture or such and are engaged in fixing it off the trail. A rider approaches. As they get near either they see something in the far distance that takes their attention, or they become naturalists and spot an interesting leaf on the trail opposite you. There is no social engagement whatsoever.

My experience at Llandegla was different. You still get the odd arse who doesn't want to engage, but for the main you couldn't stop people talking. True the bike shop staff were typical bike shop staff, and at the café people stick to themselves. Out on the trail though many people would literally stop for a chat. And I don't mean "you OK mate?" off they go type of thing. I mean full on life story stuff.

My solo rides were never solo rides for long, and so I got a bit of an insight into some different views of Coed Llandegla. It was Roy who condensed them all and summed up the centre; you're either a rider, or a jumper. If you are a jumper, the centre isn't for you - go to Coed y Brenin instead.

If you like to ride, then Coed Llandegla is great. True the long climb up is a chore, but a bit of local knowledge can mitigate against this to a degree. In the end it was just a spin up, a chance to chat to people, take in the views. Once on the graded trails the climb was soon forgotten and the fun started.

Overall Llandegla is a kind of training ground for the more extreme, attention deficit type of trail centre such as Coed y Brenin. Where Brenin is in your face right from the off, Llandegla takes some learning, some appreciation before you can really enjoy it. It's not a trail centre to drive up to, do and then move on. You'd be missing the point of it then. It's more a local riders training ground, the type of thing people do over and over again.

It grew on me by the end. It was like living on Leith Hill, which is no bad thing.

Example: I'd have an hour to play. Here in Surrey that hour may well expand to 90 minutes, excuses made once I get home. At Llandegla that hour was never an hour; it was never less than three, sometimes seven. Excuses were made, but they wore thin. Pretty soon my wife gave up on me returning.

For me there were two interesting observations, both relating to being out in the proper wild; outside the fence if you like. The first was from a really nice guy I rode with. Fast guy, at home in the Black runs. We got talking about "The Outside" trails and it soon became clear he was afraid of The Outside. What would he do if something happened? He didn't specify, but it seemed an odd attitude. He wanted to ride some wild areas, but wasn't about to until there was a group available. Here, by wild, he meant Penmachno - that's not wild by any stretch. Wet, not wild. It was an odd view.

That was until my wife saw the trail I'd ridden down one of the mountains. She is fit - runs a lot - but took one look at the climb and asked me how I got around it? Er, I didn't dear; I rode down it. She suggested I was an idiot and I was not to tell her what I do, ever. Her comments being that the trail centre was far easier than the natural stuff.

So please take my comments about Coed Llandegla with this caveat. I'm at home in the wild, doing as I please. I feel slightly ill at ease with directions, or knowing that stuff can be ridden but that I can't. It makes me feel bad inside. My review of the centre, although positive, may well not fit in with your needs or wants if you are a regular user of such venues.

Staying in the area.

Most of the visitors I spoke to - and in a week I must have spoken to twenty different riders - were locals using the trail after work. It never really closes, but officially can be ridden until well after dark. Can you imagine that? Black runs using lights? Crazy mo'fo.

Then there were the Sunday drivers - 2 hours away being the norm. One chap I spoke to had popped up from Surrey for the day. Four hours up, four hours down. The riders that drove in, well they seemed happy to drive in time and time again. I'm fairly confident that if my rides involved a four hour drive each time, I'd find something more local. However the appeal of Coed Llandegla was great for them - and these were boys on proper, £5k bikes who rode everywhere and could comment on any centre. They were mad keen, mad honest blokes. For them to keep returning over and over again?

The odd one, like myself, were there on holiday. Muddy had rented a house, which sounds flash but was cheap at £1,000 for two weeks holiday. One guy I spoke to was camping, moving around Wales in his van. That seemed cool, and I noted three campsites within a mile or so of the centre. One was right opposite the entrance.

What bike to take?

Easy; your best one. You'll be riding up to your limits, so why not take the best bike? Sure you can do it on a short travel hardtail, as many people indeed do. You'll have more fun with that full susser though, especially if it's a light one.

Follow me on Twitter @muddythatbike