I was at Heathrow early on Saturday morning, so the obvious first step was to head to Bracknell, which is surprisingly close to the airport. Based on this if you are planning a trip to the UK for some riding you could do a lot worse than rebuilding the bike when your flight lands and getting a first opportunity to ride it within a few miles of the runway. I arrived at Swinley not long after the gates opened and rolled out into the misty woods as the sun slanted and spattered through the trees.
There’s not much to say about Swinley that I’ve not written before, but the ride was a nice early morning loop before it got busy, the ground well drained but damp enough to be grippy, and the morning sun lighting up the fog was beautiful. As autumn settles in the section closed all summer for nesting birds was reopened as is the old first section of the red trail, now re-signposted as the end. This is a nice swoopy scar-ride that still probably works better as the start of the trail, not an afterthought.
After the ride around Swinley it was still early, and it seemed a shame to waste the day so after setting up beers and a bed for the evening, I jumped on the M4 with an excellent podcast for company and was soon changing tops and shoes in another carpark before attacking the rocky lift up onto the edge of Blackdown. The Mendips are getting muddy and are just on the edge of being ridable before the winter makes it worth switching to the road diversion. This time I went over the top, and ploughed through the deepening peat. On top of the hill I lined up for the flowing, rolling descent that always sits somewhere in the back of my head as a benchmark for fun.
Back at the car some gingernuts made an early lunch and I settled into being a non-cyclist for the rest of the day. As ever that’s not something that lasts long and on Sunday morning I woke up in a 6-year-old’s bed (the usual occupant was camping out on his brother’s floor) next to a cuddly stegosaurus with the need to go riding back in my legs. I got up, folded back the vehicle-themed duvet and got ready to get back on the bike.
Breakfast and an hour or so later I was changing again in the third carpark of the weekend, then kicked out onto the Cwmcarn Cafall trail. Tech issues and huge groups of slow riders blighted my early climb, but both were left behind for a bit on the switchbacks. I climbed clumsily through the remains of my beer and curry hangover and got caught behind another slow group who seemed oblivious to my stalling out behind them as the inched along the trail. A muttered passive aggressive comment was all I could manage as they eventually stopped in the middle of the track with their friends and I was free for a bit of riding at my own pace, luckily dropping one rooty section next to yet another guy pushing his expensive bike down.
After this frustration I decided to take a friend’s advice and head down the hill on the Pedalhounds DH track. I have to confess to having been intimidated by the DH rating in the past due to an underestimation of my ability or an over-exaggeration of the technical level that it represented, but this DH run was well within my capabilities and was a whole load of fun. Winding between trees, dropping steep chutes, rocks, berms and a series of fast drop-offs, the track drops fast and engagingly down the valley. It’s a shorter, faster way down than the rest of the Cafall trail but it’ll be hard in future to avoid taking that option again.
Oh and for the record I beat my friend’s time down the track.