The recent opening of a £2m, state-of-the-art mountain bike centre has cemented the Welsh Valleys’ burgeoning reputation as an adventure sports hub. Rough Guides writer Shafik Meghji went downhill fast as he braved the Welsh mountain bike trails.
As I approached Melted Welly, a winding trail down the 491-metre-high Gethin Mountain, my biggest concern was not my own safety, but that of my bike, hired for the day and worth a cool £2,400. Although only an intermediate trail, Melted Welly’s sharp turns, precipitous descents and loose, uneven surfaces looked certain to provide ample opportunities for broken frames, dislocated handlebars and bruised saddles, particularly for a novice mountain biker like myself.
Yet as soon as I set off any lingering concerns swiftly vanished in the sheer exhilaration – and occasional moments of terror - of the ride, which snaked through forests, rocky sections and even a tunnel. There are also stunning views across the countryside of South Wales, though it was only when I reached the end of the trail unscathed that I was really able to appreciate them.
Located just outside Merthyr Tydfil in the Welsh Valleys, a 30-minute drive from Cardiff, BikePark Wales (one-day pass £5, one-day pass with uplift £30) is the UK’s first full-scale mountain biking centre. It is best thought of as ski resort, but for mountain bikes: instead of snow-covered pistes there are 23 downhill trails – each with idiosyncratic names like Melted Welly, Coal not Dole and Pork Belly – tailored for everyone from beginners to pros. They were designed by Welsh downhill mountain bike champion Rowan Sorrell and are maintained by the UK’s only full-time mountain bike trail crew.