Wet & Wild Welsh A1 Winter Adventure.

Wideopenmag friend George Ian King took an adventurous plan, concocted in the pub, and made it happen on possibly the wettest weekend of the year. This is what adventure is really about. Not the highest, most glamorous or, indeed, sunny setting, but mates getting out and exploring regardless of the weather.

When was the last time you found a route on a map and just went out exploring? A real adventure is only a wide-eyed discussion away from happening. Pick up a map, find a friend (Mike and Noah in this case), set a date and go for it! Many times, you’ll remember the adventure forever with fond memories, no matter how crap it was.Wales Bothy Adventure Riding Winter Mountain Biking

“On a hill it is possible to sense the unity and the continuity of life, a rhythm that sends men and worlds on their way. Life and death no longer seem isolated events, but a part of some pattern woven on the looms of eternity.” Frank S. Smyth

It started, as most of the best, and indeed worst, ideas start, in the pub.

The summer’s riding was a distant memory and thoughts were turning to the New Year and trips to plan and look forward to. I had a desire to try a bit of the adventure side of riding, getting off the beaten track, away from the trail centers. Something a bit different and less accessible, a bit of old fashioned suffering and the greater rewards a healthy dose of misery can bring. Fortuitously my drinking companion that evening is a like-minded and thoroughly agreeable chap and a plan was hatched. Of sorts, at the very least, an adventure was to be had.

Wales Bothy Adventure Riding Winter Mountain Biking

Actually, the only thing we actually planned in the pub that evening was a to set a date. First weekend in 2016. Might as well start as you mean to go on and all that. Luckily for me Noah, my co-conspirator, makes it his personal duty to read the entire internet and quickly found an old blog post detailing a ride that visited an interesting place. So we had a destination ‘Moel Prysgau bothy’ (I have no idea how to pronounce it either) and a rough route to take in and out.

Wales Bothy Adventure Riding Winter Mountain Biking

The chap who had ridden the loop before described it as a 4 hour loop, so accounting for a roughly 2 hour trip out we looked to find some other riding in the area, such as the singletrack up at Strata Florida, to bulk out the ride. A third rider, Mike, became interested and the team was formed. A1 was GO. (A for adventure should you be wondering).Wales Bothy Adventure Riding Winter Mountain Biking

In week leading up to the ride there was the obligatory bike and kit faff that occurs before any self-respecting trip, but this time it was compounded by the fact none of us had made an expedition like this before. So there was plenty of agonizing over kit choices, frame bags, backpacks etc. After plenty of studying of the OS map and comparing it to various online descriptions and routes we had our route planned with a few extensions or variations built should we have the time or inclination.

And then we were off! Heading west and away from it all. The weather forecast for the Saturday was nothing but rain but when we arrived in our little car park, that had been marked as our departure point, it was dry. However, by the time we had built bikes and loaded up, it definitely had started raining. We were in Wales. In January. It was to be expected.Wales Bothy Adventure Riding Winter Mountain Biking

I realise at this point of writing there isn’t much point in giving a detailed account of what we rode and why we went this way or that but I will say that there was a bit of fireroad bashing, some bridleway meandering and push up through a boggy gully mixed in some weird off piste stuff. The off piste stuff was the best really, it came in an attempt to break up the tedium of a fireroad slog and generally included plunging through thick plantation, deep pine needles with definitely no tracks to follow. It was meant to be an adventure after all.

Wales Bothy Adventure Riding Winter Mountain Biking

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After more rain and with the fireroad bashing, that felt like a constant-slight-uphill-with-a-puncture type of surface, a time check was taken and a with little bolt of panic it was registered we only had, at best, one hour of light left. Map check, references made and the decision was taken to cut a big corner which meant dropping into (via a very steep and sketchy bank) a plantation which quickly became very tight before flattening out and becoming unrideable and then very suddenly turning into a forest the likes of which I have never seen, so dense and damp whilst vividly green. The moss grew on everything, seemingly even the air. The ground bellowed and swayed underfoot, a most remarkable place. After a while of pushing and groping our way through we emerged, practically into a river, near the bothy that was to be our haven for the night.Wales Bothy Adventure Riding Winter Mountain Biking

We were sodden, wet through. Despite various companies promises of waterproofness and breathability, 5 hours in the best of a Welsh winter had defeated them all. The bothy, stocked only by other people’s generosity and kindness, exceeded all expectations. It is amazing how a log fire, whiskey, good food, stories and the wilderness is the perfect nourishment for the soul. Evenings like that live forever.

Wales Bothy Adventure Riding Winter Mountain Biking

We woke to blue skies and weren’t in any particular hurry so enjoyed a lazy morning of porridge and fresh coffee, restocking the firewood and taking in our surroundings. No one fancied a grand tour of bogging fireroads so with the rain closing in we decided to head out along the green lane that runs along the valley floor. That, and the road return over the Devil’s Staircase in the falling snow, saw us return to our departure point in the little car park and our adventure was complete.Wales Bothy Adventure Riding Winter Mountain Biking

And there it was. DUN. A1 complete.
I can only offer words of encouragement to anyone considering doing a similar trip; we are already planning our next adventure. I have rewritten this closing paragraph several times trying to avoid all the clichés that arise but there is something wonderful about heading out to the hills, carrying all you need to survive, with a couple of good friends. Aside from the odd passing car, I am not sure we saw another human for the 2 days we were out and in a world of hyper connectivity and over sharing, it was all very refreshing.

Please give generously to the Mountain Bothy Association.



Post Script.

I woke on the Monday morning after this trip to learn of the passing of David Bowie who has been constant source of inspiration to me. I was comforted that I had spent the previous 48 hours out of the ordinary.

Wales Bothy Adventure Riding Winter Mountain Biking