Forest of Dean; The Gap Road in Brecon Park; Bike Park Wales.

Forest of Dean.

At Christmas a friends wife asked me what to get him. I said a jump course. She bought one, in bike Park Wales (BPW) for March. Now BPW is an uplift centre; you get driven to the top of the trails. As part of his course he received a free pass all day. So, as I would be going with him, in December I tried to book an uplift. Fully booked until May.


So my option was to arrive, then cycle the four or five miles to the top each time I wanted a go. Spent three months slightly depressed over the thought.

Then I had a eureka moment; buy a map and see what else is there. Turned out that the Brecon National Park was on the doorstep of the town we'd be staying in; Merthyr Tydfil. I figured I'd base myself in town and pop up to the mountains, meeting him at BPW.

He was disappointed in my poor attitude. I was quite looking forward to finding my way in proper mountains.


Come the appointed weekend, turned out his course started at 9am sharp, so driving down on the day was a no go. We had to drive down the day before, hence why we chose a place we could ride that day. My friend likes trail centres. So the Forest of Dean it was.

This is quite a small place as it turns out, a bit like half a Cannock Chase. The two main trails are small, at 7 and 3 miles each; a red and a blue. We did the blue first, getting around in under an hour. To be frank it was quite a surprise getting back to the café so quickly. The trail was fun, fair one, yet if you'd driven to get there, and that was to be the big day out, you'd kind of feel a bit short changed. It really is very short.

OK, let's do the red then. Again a very short trail, and if I'm being honest quite pants really. You climb up for a fair bit, come down a rooty trail that is no fun at all, then, well, that's it. It ends.

So, we'd done both the blue and the red. The blue was nice, similar to Leith Hill really. Neither were worth the three hour drive. We were happy though; the company was good and the weather great. So we got chatting to some other riders. It seemed they come here all the time, in preference to Afan and usually after BPW. Sorry? Why?

They showed us what the regular riders do and it all made sense then. They don't do the red at all - those roots. They do bits of the blue, but mainly they do little downhill pump tracks.

So that's what we did, and they were fun. Still not worth a three hour drive on their own, but as part of a longer trip well worth it.

Merthyr Tydfil.

Sorry. Cannot be positive about this town at all. It is a dump. We arrived Saturday night. Now I spent half a decade living in Wales, so guessed that a Saturday night would be an interesting affair. All fatties in short skirts; rugby topped men with beer bellies; all drunk.

And so it proved to be. It was awful and I felt sorry for my mate. Myself? Well five years living in Wales where the only entertainment is the weekend, I was at home. Could have drunk it all up, found a nightclub 'till 3am, kebab, sick....

I didn't. Wanted to. Could have. Didn't. It's one of life's cultural experiences. Crappy pubs and awful nightclubs are a Welsh speciality.

Rather oddly the next morning Frank Bruno was on Sooty.

The Gap Road / Bike Park Wales/ the Taff Trail.

Sunday morning he drove off to BPW, I decided to have a sneaky coffee and cake in Merthyr, then ride the Taff Trail to Brecon, pop back in to town for a light lunch, then do a circuit of BPW.

First disappointment being that in the day Merthyr was even worse. Rubbish everywhere and no cafes. OK, Taff Trail it is.

I may be stupid, but I did have a map and the town is not that big, yet finding the trail proved a little elusive at times. Like all UK cycle lanes it is a disjointed affair, going places no sane person would. At one point it dived off the road into a council estate, which was an interesting trip, only to pop back on to the road 20m further on. Why? I missed it again. Silly me; it goes in to that rubbish tip.

And this proved to be the case for some miles, for Merthyr is the fly tipping capital of Europe. Got some rubbish to throw away? Simples! Tip it in your front yard, the road, any recreational area, places of outstanding beauty, or anywhere in Brecon Park itself.

I don't just mean the odd crisp packet. Imagine if you will that for some insane reason you Dear Reader decide not to use any public amenities to get rid of your waste. Instead, each time you have something to throw away, just chuck it out the front door or from your car window. If it is bulky, pack it into your car and go find a picnic spot. Fine a place for dumping rubbish as any.

If anything I am under telling the story. The locals will also dump whole cars or any white goods.

In short avoid Merthyr at all costs, especially the Taff Trail.

The Gap Road.

Again this is a famous trail that A) I wasn't totally aware of, and B) didn't know where it was anyway. So it was a slight shock that through some random map reading, and picking something that looked interesting (anything other than the Taff Trail), that I found myself on it.

From the base it does look stunning, and somewhat daunting; stretching up into the mountains. However the actual riding was straightforward. Bit slippy, bit cold, yet the constant gradient meant an easy pedal. Gave me enough time to look at the view and admire how the people of South Wales are happy to despoil the countryside. Gel wrappers, old bottles, crisp packets.

By now I'd done some miles, all of it highlighted by climbing and the constant companion of rubbish blowing in the wind. I was not in the best of moods.

The top, however, provided I ignored the gel wrappers, old sandwich packets and plastic bottles, was a delight. The view over to Brecon was stunning and I could see the trail falling down the hill. Pen y Fan was covered in snow, as were little gullies that did not face the sun. Even looking back to Merthyr was gorgeous.

Now, by this time it was 12:00. I'd not seen a café, shop or anywhere else to refuel. By rights I should have turned around and headed back. Heading further North would be a bad call. Very bad indeed.

Merthyr and the unending rubbish, closed cafes and vomit.

North it is then, down that trail ahead.

Thoroughly enjoyed it. The rubbish stopped this side of the mountain and the trail rode fast if rocky. The views were fantastic.

Got to Brecon fairly fast, and again this seemed void of open cafes. There was a chip shop and coffee bar. Chips? Nah, don't fancy them so cake it was. Even though Brecon was closed, it seemed a tidy little town and the people friendly. The sun was out, and I was starving. Oddly happy - it really is a pleasant place. Ah well, quick spin back on the Taff Trail and all will be fine. Find a country pub somewhere.

Rode out of town for about two or three miles. All very pleasant. Had a chat with a nutty cyclist I'd met on top of the mountain. I asked her how far it was to BPW? She asked me how I was getting there. Er, by bike. "Good luck with that!" and off she went.

I rode on a bit more. Handy sign ahead. Merthyr 21 miles.


21 miles.

No proper food in my pack, no cafes or shops open.

A mountain to climb, literally.



Needless to say I did it. Got to the top of the Taff Trail one big sweaty mess. It was not pleasant. Still no food or cafes. Headed off to Merthyr, through all the rubbish that by now was seriously beginning to piss me off. Imagine ten miles of trail that is constant fly tipped nonsense.

And then, at Merthyr itself, the Taff Trail played a trump card. It went through a ribbon council estate that was spread down the valley. Now the household waste gave way to more hard core material; old cars that have not moved for a decade or more, white goods or building rubble. It did my mood no good.

Neither did there being any direct access from the Taff Trail to BPW. I had to get my map out and trace a route through fields and little wooded areas. It took time. Imagine that! A bike centre that has no cycle access from the one cycle path in town.

Anyway, it was now 4pm. I'd been riding since 8am and had eaten two Scotch Eggs and a bit of cake, some fruit and an energy bar. Apart from the top of the mountain and Brecon itself, the ride had been largely shit. It was a great day, the views were great, but the rubbish was too much.

4pm, the entrance to BPW! Sign saying café open all day. Joy. My name on it. Quick bit of food, do a lap.

Got to the café, looking forward to a burger.

"We don't do food after 3pm."

Sorry? What have you got? "Some shit coffee and a Mars bar?"

My mate sent me a text then. "You coming up? You can buy an uplift ticket for £4. It's great!"

I just replied that he could fuck off and could we go now.


I quite liked the Forest of Dean. On the way to somewhere else it was great. They even do uplift days and there were some serious bikes there. Strongly suspect hidden goodness. Everyone seemed friendly.

The Taff Trail out of Merthyr was hideous beyond belief. It should be gorgeous. The locals spoil it through serious and committed fly tipping. They should be ashamed. I'm never going back.

The Gap was lovely. I'd do that again, but starting in Brecon. Again looking at the map, and spotting people in the distance, I'd say there's some good biking here, hidden.

BPW? Can't really comment. My mate enjoyed it, yet for me the attitude of the café staff put me off. Also, and remember I'd not eaten or drank properly all day, their coffee was watery shite - I didn't bother with a second. Again even though it gets good reviews, it's in Merthyr and they treated me like shite; never going back.

And the irony? On the way out of BPW the road in to the centre was....

Fly tipped to hell and back.

What a dump.

A good note.

In Brecon there was an MG dealership selling not old shonky MGB's with dodgy history, but instead brand spanking new ones. Imagine that? New MG's. They kind of looked funny, yet seemed astonishingly good value at around £8k. For a little racer?

Coming out of Brecon and along the canal you come into a little town - no idea what it is called. Anyway the public toilets were needed, so I popped in. Whilst doing my business I read a little donations card. Seems the toilets are public, not council, funded. I liked that, so made another donation outside, this one financial. And just past the toilets was on old red phone box. It had been turned into a bookshop. Imagine that?

So although I hated the Taff Trail around Merthyr, did not think much of the town either, and was given poor service at BPW, the area itself I fell in love with. The Brecon side is lovely, with some positive touches. Everyone I met was friendly. There is a lot of riding to be had in the area, and on the climb over the pass there's a little area where the stream down the mountain forms pools. Children were swimming there.

All in all it was a good trip. Just avoid the Taff Trail around Merthyr, and that town itself, and all is well with the world.