Wye we ride
The Forest of Dean gives up its singletrack secrets with a new bespoke uplift service from Wye MTB. Wye Valley off-piste!
The Forest of Dean keeps its secrets close – barely ridden singletrack lies hidden deep within its vertiginous folds just waiting for questing tyres. Yes, the Pedalabikeaway centre gives easy access to some of these incredible tracks, but it just pulls back one fold of the curtain and allows a chink of light into the dark and mysterious forest. A glimpse that leaves us wanting more.
Now a little company called Wye Mtb aims to satisfy riders on its Wye Valley Off-Piste Adventure, where a day of guiding reveals a network of these long lost trails.
“Locals have nothing to fear though,” explains Gareth Sheppard from Wye Mtb. “Where we’re guiding is a little further away from the Pedalabikeaway centre, so it’s not impinging on people’s local riding. And we stayed away from Staunton and those other honeypots because they’re well known anyway.”
For guides Gareth and Dave Windebank, Wye Valley Off-Piste is just the beginning too. They also have plans for a Brecon Beacons epic, another FoD back country expo, and a three-day getaway in South Wales. Get a group of friends together and you can pick your dates to ride, or Wye Mtb has a monthly date in the diary if you want to tag along on an existing trip.
The Wye Valley ride starts in the same place as the usual Pedalabikeaway uplift, but it’s a different experience. Covering around 35km of uplifted riding, this isn’t just a glorified downhill session; there’s pedalling required to link some of the trails together and the riding is more all-mountain than DH. The Land Rover acts as a support vehicle too, with spares on board, and the terrain is varied, with steep and technical rocky descents spliced in with fast and flowy trails. You need to be a good rider with a decent level of fitness, but if you can ride red and black trails, Wye Mtb says you’ll be up to the challenge. Book yourself on for £89 – wyemtb.co.uk
Wye we ride
A sleek, silver Land Rover Defender is parked outside the Pedalabikeaway centre in the Forest of Dean, its chunky off-road tyres, snorkel and oversized headlamps at odds with the dry Indian summer. Behind it a trailer with space for just eight is already half full of colourful bikes while their owners – dressed equally vibrantly – talk of pizza and IPA for lunch, the cake that’s been reserved for after the ride, and the flat white they’ve just sipped. We’ve got eight descents to tick off, 1,500m of descending over 35km and seven hours of daylight to do it in, but no one can tear themselves away from the anticipation of what mbr editor Danny has told us is the best riding experience in the Forest of Dean.
The spell is broken as the Defender’s engine thrums into life, we cram inside and pull out of the centre, past the regular line of the uplift queue and away up the hill. It’s a different feel inside to the minibus, closer and more intimate, and we can talk as a group of friends rather than having splintered conversations. We feel privileged to be going somewhere special too; it’s exiting to heading off the beaten track within the big, dark, sprawling fabric of woodland rippled into steep hills and deep valleys that knits together England and South Wales.
We’re all from the London area, but we’ve ridden in these woods so often it’s known as FoD to us, like it is to many riders within a few hours of the place. We’ve uplifted, raced, crashed, frozen, near-drowned, sunburnt and laughed here so many time. But strangely, we’ve rarely been beyond the downhill tracks that stick close together on one hill. I’m thrilled when we miss the usual turn-off the uplift bus takes and carry on, higher, into the hills. The roads get smaller, tighter and narrower and the hedges closer and higher as the road sinks furthers into the hill, before at last we break out into a little car park with a view of what must be Monmouth to the west. The bikes come off the and I’m less relaxed now; the hill looked steep and I know the Monmouthshire mud can be slick, throw in some roots and things can get more interesting still.
What follows is a montage of some of the best trails this side of the Alps. There’s that usual Forest of Dean feel to the trails – sometimes steep, often rooty, occasionally rocky, but always under trees and pressed in by the forest but it’s devoid of other riders, and the covering of leaves tells us it’s been that way for a few days. In the afternoon we ride a trail that starts open and fast before dropping into the steep side of a wood, littered with bombed-out and cracked pillboxes. Except they aren’t relics, instead these natural obelisks have stood here for millennia and now they funnel is between corridors of rock. We shoot pictures among the stones, moss and monkey puzzle trees (escapees over generations from a local country estate arboretum) for over an hour and not a soul passes. For riders from the South-East, that’s like being Neil Armstrong on the moon.
Lunch is laid on by Kingstone Brewery. We eat home-baked pizza in the sunshine next to a big wood-fired oven, just an underarm stone’s throw from the hop fields while head brewer Mark Gardner and wife Emily pull their latest brews for our sampling. It’s hoppy, citrusy, crunchy and cheesy. Their kids shout and play on bikes and take turns to stare at the strange arrivals, and it really feels like we’re in Italy. Ed tells us they have log cabins and tents you can stay overnight in, and even book out their big taproom for parties or functions.
It’s hard to get going again after lunch, but there are a couple more trails to tick off. Gareth from Wye Mtb says there’d usually be a load more, but with photos slowing our pace and autumn’s early dusk approaching we’ll have to call it. It turns out to be a cracker though – deep loam studded with little mossed-0ver rock sections that give you the choice of jumping over or swerving round. A sniper takes me down but I come up grinning, Danny overcooks a steep chute but saves himself heroically by hucking over a ditch to the fire road, and with that the ride’s over. We’re left high-fiving and grinning ear to ear, exhausted but looking forward to that orange cake… and an excuse to do it all again.