Classic MTB Ride: Coed y Brenin's Tarw Trail
Above: The trailhead at Coed y Brenin and the beginning of the Tarw Trail
24 degrees and clear blue skies greeted us as my sons and I rolled into Coed Y Brenin's visitor centre, perched on the valley side with dramatic views down the valley toward the imposing bulk of Cadair Idiris. I'd been to CYB before in somewhat chillier weather to take on the MBR trail, but this time it was the forest's latest offering, the Tarw Trail, that was to be our challenge. My sons, who had never visited before, were blown away by the setting and the ‘Ewok' visitor centre and were to be similarly blown away by the trails.
Before we started there was the obligatory faffing around session in the car park, getting gears and brakes working and checking bags for tools and food supplies. We also took time to check out the visitor centre, which really is a stunning centrepiece and focal point for all the Coed Y Brenin trails, which range from the 10.8km Yr Afon beginner's trail, through to the 38km black rated ‘Beast'.
Above: Plenty to look at on the ups...
The Tarw opens at the now iconic Red Bull copper horns and cascades through the first of a series of rolling rock chutes, giving you a taste of the trademark rocky CYB experience. And the adrenaline lift is much needed as there follows the long climb through the trees to around 300 metres elevation. Time to hit the granny gear and spin up - much better to save the energy for the downs, especially today with temperatures and humidity soaring. Enclosed by trees on much of the ascent, it was difficult to gauge the height gain, but our legs and lungs certainly knew about it.
Above: The Tarw's first rocky cross cultural reference, Heart of Darkness. Would the bike make it or would it be more a case of Apocalypse Now?
Soon we were at the top and the second of the signature singletrack, Heart of Darkness - a quick, steep, twisty and rocky drop that got the brakes cooking and the fork travel blown through. Then came the cluster of rocky singletrack sections, Snap, Crackle and Pop that hit like a prize fighter - a couple of jabs with the left and the hard right of Pop to get the endorphins pumping. A quick climb calmed the nerves before the Endor like loveliness of Camlan, before the trail climbed remorselessly out of the dense tree cover beneath the crags of Craig y Ganllyd, one of the high peaks of the Rhinog Mountains.
Above: Tom drops into the Heart of Darkness...
The forest road was cleverly interrupted by Al's Loop - a techie climb toward the summit before a steep rocky drop off section back to the fireroad. The route reached its highest point, with a scorching early afternoon sun baking down on the backs of our necks. We stopped at the bench with a fine mountain and forest vista spread out in front of us, where we downed energy gels, malt loaf and water, in preparation for the second half of the ride.
Above: Mad dogs and Englishmen and all that - Sam checks the map in the midday sun
Pretty soon we were greeted with an ominous sign - Rocky Horror Show - and it certainly lived up to it's name - a fast, dusty and (you guessed it) rocky drop down to the foot of another stony doubletrack climb. The heat of the day was beginning to take its toll on us, with the longest sections of rocky singletrack still to come. The first of these was Mantrap, which somewhat predictably claimed its first victim of the day. Sam put a front wheel a couple of inches too far to the left and quit the bike via the handlebars. Slightly ruffled but unscathed, we continued along a trail composed of huge boulders and rock slabs, the trail intersected what seemed an ancient landscape, cutting through rugged dry stone walls and across a landscape littered with moss covered, long-fallen trees, with shafts of sunlight beating down through the canopy.
Above: Mantrap sure looks pretty, but it can bite back as we found out...
The singletrack continued almost uninterrupted through Pins and Needles, which rattled out a few fillings before spitting us out onto a fire road which runs parallel with the Afon Mawddach and the main road to Dolgellau. Down below we could hear cars and motorbikes barrelling along and knew we were in for the treat of a long final descent. But not before one final climb to the start of the rocky plunge to the main road.
Above: The final masterpiece of contour hugging singletrack back to the main road and the visitor centre.
This was without doubt the definitive part of the trail - a rollercoaster ride with drop offs and step ups everywhere keeping concentration and adrenalin levels high. All too soon we were retracing our steps beneath the main road and along the side of the farm, where the wooden pagoda of the visitor centre suddenly appeared. And not a moment too soon, as one of our triumvirate was beginning to cramp up and we were all fresh out of water and food. Not to worry though, because the CYB cafe had a fine cake selection that we eagerly leapt into, washing it down with drinks on the veranda, before piling bikes into the car and heading back to our campsite, full of 'my favourite bit was' stories.
Tarw Trail Facts
Time: 1.5 - 3 hours
Grade: Difficult (Red Graded)
Summary: If you like it on the rocks and you've got the legs, you'll love the Tarw Trail.
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