Adventures in the Afan Valley, South Wales

Last week a group of friends and I ventured out into deepest darkest Wales for a much needed holiday in the Afan Valley. We set up our base camp in the small village of Cymer (Cymmer), an ex-mining community that over the years has become a hotspot for British mountain biking and walkers alike. For those interested in possibly booking their own trip, I would thoroughly recommend staying at the Afan Forest Bunk House (07980 411510) situated right at the heart of the village. It’s run by a fantastic lady called Annie and was a great place to be able to come back to at the end of the day and rest your weary legs before venturing forth to the local pub.

As someone who doesn’t even own a bike, I was pretty nervous about the challenges that lay ahead. In fact the last time I had gone mountain biking was around 10 years ago up in Dolgellau in North Wales and I came off my bike more times than I care to remember. Therefore, although very much looking forward to getting back on the saddle and chucking myself down a mountainside once again, I was suitably anxious about avoiding any broken limbs. Having strapped on extra knee and leg protection I set about hiring a bike from the old bike centre a couple of miles down the valley. This was reasonably priced at £30 for a bike with front suspension or the other alternative would have been £40 for full suspension. We decided that we were going to try and tackle the Whites trail which was pretty tough going to start of with, as it winded up through the wooded hillside for several miles. I was told this was relatively unique for the UK and something that certain mountain bikers relish. With my legs feeling the burn and my brain focused on the track, it was pretty mercerizing especially with the fantastic views out across the valley whenever there was a break in the tree line. Before we knew it we had made it to the top and we were ready for the main event, we had a quick break and chomped down a trackers bar and a banana but unfortunately couldn’t rest for long as the midges seemed to think it was their lunchtime too and we were the main course.

The downhill sections were phenomenal, each one slightly different, ranging from BMX type trails with big ups and downs to the boarded sections of track precariously travelling above the forest floor. Some of the rockier sections had gut-wrenching drops that had me clinging on for dear life. After 3 hours of thrills, there had surprisingly been no spills, and as we were descending the last part of the trail, leading down toward the safety of the bike centre, I was thinking how well I had done. Pride however comes before a fall, and a fall it was, as I ended up face planting quite dramatically into a tree stump. Thankfully my helmet took that brunt of it and I hopped back on to my bike with just a few grazes and a slightly dented ego.

We ended the day at the new bike centre, which apart from the lack of bike hire was great. Resembling a ski chalet, it has a fantastic little café where we could rest our weary bones and tuck into a pizza and a few paninis, ready for the rest of the day.

Apart from mountain biking, the Afan Valley was a great base to explore the rest of the region. Less than an hours drive away is the Gower peninsular where there are some absolutely amazing beaches. Depending on how adventurous you may be, feeling I’m sure there’s probably a good chance of finding your own private beach in some of the smaller hidden coves that are scattered along the coast. We decided however that we’d try our hand at surfing at one of the larger beaches at Rhossili Bay. If you’ve never been to Rhossili before, it’s an absolutely amazing place with 3 miles of sandy beach, backed by steep hills and sand dunes creating the perfect spot for a bit of parasailing. For those that are big Dr. Who fans, whilst we were there, one of my friends pointed out that the beach had recently been used in the spin-off, Torchwood. Rhossili is a  great surf spot, and is probably one of the best on the peninsular; so we grabbed our gear from Sam’s Surf Shack (£17 for board and wetsuit) and headed down to catch some waves. We had a great time and to be honest I’d forgotten how tiring it could be, that said I did make some progress and managed to get quite a few decent rides in. After battling the waves and with a bit of a dodgy tan we ended the perfect day with an ice cream before heading home. We found a great ice cream place just opposite the surf hire that does all their own flavours, they even made a gin and tonic flavoured ice cream!

Surfing, mountain biking and ice cream, what more can you ask for? The great British holiday is alive and kicking, the only problem is you might need an extra holiday afterwards just to recover.

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