Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Leigh Woods Downhill, Part 2: Picnic Bench

The Picnic Bench downhill trails are probably the easiest to find and most well known in Leigh Woods. The moniker is derived, unsurprisingly, from presence of the picnic bench that sits atop the trail, with steep descents leading down the gully-side. These trails present a number of different routes, with varying levels of difficulty. The main technical features are switch-backs (sharp corners that where a trail descending sideways turns back on itself, while still heading downhill.) but the trails lack any significant drops or technical sections.

To find the picnic bench, the parking lot is probably the easiest starting point. This can be reached via the main road, or via the new manufactured blue trail, 'yer tiz'. If you go enter from the north road entrance to the woods and go along most of the trail until you reach a break, with an sign containing information about Leigh Woods and the car park on your left, you can leave the trail and turn back on yourself to head towards the picnic bench. This isn't the quickest way to get through from the beginning of the blue route, but I reckon the easiest to explain. Anyway, you take the track that goes away from the car park in the direction of the gorge, so slightly downhill. The track comes to a fork, each division of which goes along the opposing side of a gully. To reach the picnic bench, turn right.

The track leading towards the picnic bench;

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The left will take you towards the 'Knicker trail' and 'Paradise bottom', both of which are worth a look. The Knicker trail is the downhill run that's opposite the picnic bench, which I'll cover in the future. Turning right will take you along a track, which leads straight to the picnic bench. To the right of that track there's a stretch of single-track which ends with a moderate drop, which can be ridden instead of following the footpath.

The eponymous picnic bench: IMGP8686

There are two main trails, one that pulls left from the picnic bench and is the easier route down, lacking switchbacks, minimal technical features and only one steeper portion at the end, which still isn't particularly steep. Looking towards the gorge, the main run is to the left of the picnic bench, and should be obvious if you just walk to the edge of the slope and look down. The start is significantly steeper than the rest of the trail. There are a few ways to start, one on the left, which is rocky and rooty, a more subdued one to the right, and a rocky 'chute' on the far right, which is the least steep of the three. The main route down follows straight down after the steep beginning, and the remainder of the run is much shallower, and lacks any particularly problematic rocky or rooty bits. The main technical feature are the numerous switchbacks, causing the trail is zig-zag down the hill. Many of these switchbacks are eroded, and new lines are carved so all many of diversions and variations are possible, although the main trail is probably the most natural approach. The majority of the terrain is soft and loose, so be prepared to lose traction.

The chute, the least steep of the three starts;

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I go down the wuss start;

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The rocky start:

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A view of all three starts, from the bottom;
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There's also another downhill run starting on the right of the central trails origin, which looks fairly neglected. It can be ridden in such a way to feed back into the main trail.

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Once at the bottom of any of these downhill trails, you end up at a wide track, which you can head left (uphill) to a path, which forks to the right when the path gets rocky. The rocky path is difficult to ride up, but is probably the quicker way to return to the picnic bench. You carry on up this path, then turn left and left again, then straight along the footpath that leads to the picnic bench. Turning right at the fork is much more subdued, leading gradually up the opposite side of the gully ( to the picnic bench downhill) before reaching the top and curving back round on itself.

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One of the switchbacks; IMGP8886

At the top of this path, another downhill run begins, known as the 'Knicker trail', which is good fun if the picnic bench whetted your appetite. I'll discuss that soon. If you want to return to the picnic bench, follow the path round until you reach an intersection with another path, hang a left which will take you back to the start. Probably the easiest and quickest way back to the top of the picnic bench is to turn right at the bottom of the run, then right again and go straight back up the hill, to the left (nearer the river) of the runs.

The entrance to the gully, from the portway trail, which runs along west side of the river Avon;

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Friday, 6 April 2012

Leigh Woods Downhill, Part 1: Rocky Horror (AKA: the Devil’s Elbow, Ogun’s Vengeance.)

Despite being a bushwhacking, cross-country nerd, with the dorkiest bar-ends in the world, a pannier rack and an ergonomic saddle, I do like to chuck myself down a hill every so often. More often than not, this involves mincing and hoping no-one sees. Anyway, they’ve recently build a few miles of ‘blue’ graded trails in Leigh Woods, which are fine and weather-proof and whatever-the-fuck, but they’re tame. They always seem neutered, in a way that more natural single-track doesn’t. Anyway, I’m not too curmudgeonly, I enjoy the new trails, but they lack something. Fortunately, there’s still significant natural single-track that remains in the Leigh woods, Fifty Acre woods and Abbott’s wood. I’m going to focus on some of the downhill routes, with directions and photos of the notable features. The first one is ‘Rocky Horror’, which despite the name, is actually relatively mild, but somewhat (a shit-ton) rockier than the usual trails around these here parts.Here's the location on an O.S. map, I think. To find the start of the trial, take the blue graded route ‘yer tiz’ from the normal start at the gate in the stone wall and ride along it until you reach the ‘skills loop’ section, which has little signs and orange indicators all over the place. Whether you complete the skills loop of not, keep going towards along the trail and you’ll hit some wide footpath.

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Hang a right and go about one hundred metres along the trail. On the left will be a tree, and a shallow gully with a trail running down the middle.

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This is the beginning, which isn’t particularly steep or technical, although a lot of dead wood can end up on the trail.

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The rocky portion of the trail is fairly non-technical; you’ll just do it quicker with some guts and suspension. After the rocky run down the gully, the trail peels off to the right, and along a sloping, which slopes down (left) to a steep face. There’s a couple of roots in the trail, but if you maintain your momentum, you should be able to clear them easily enough.

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The trail then goes right, and you begin descending again. After the initial descent, the trail zig-zags back upon itself, before the final stretch. This corner isn’t tight enough to be considered a switch-back though. The trail then descends, with the majority of the trail features being exposed roots and a few rocks.

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You finally come to the train line, turn left and drop into an old quarry, with plenty of run-off space.

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The quarry has a few single-track paths leading into it, but they’re all fairly circular and don’t lead anywhere in particular. Teenagers have clearly used the spot as a spawning point evidenced by beer cans and nitrous canisters.

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There’s a temptation to explore the path on the opposite side of quarry. Anyone who has ridden down this, I salute you. A friend and I once decided to check it out, by pushing our bikes up it. Don’t do this. As you can see from the photos, this is a knife-edge ridge, with steep drops on both sides. This is in addition to the general steepness, rocky drops and exposed roots. It’s clear from the overgrowth that the trail is very rarely ridden, which I don’t find surprising. Anyone who can ride this, I salute your strong and plentiful balls, and pre-emptively offer my condolences to your mother.

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Instead of embarking up the knife-edge ridge, I’d go out onto the gravel path along the river and go either left or right. Left will take you toeither the bottom of the picnic bench downhill or ‘Paradise Bottom’. Paradise Bottom can be recognized by the stream originating from the woods and joining the Avon. It’s generally pleasant and offers some decent single-track. Heading right from the tunnel under the railway will take you to the bottom of a footpath that can be ‘walked’ back to the entrance of Leigh woods.

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Obviously, like everything around Bristol, this trail get sodden for large parts of the year.

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Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Wye Valley Loop (from Chepstow)

The Wye Valley is sweet. If you disagree, you're obviously wrong. There's kayaking, climbing, hiking, history and it's just really nice generally. I've walked and done road cycling here a couple of times, but I was pretty sure the 'Wye Valley Walk' that starts in Chepstow would make for compelling single-track fun, great views and all that shit. I went on a gray Saturday, which was to my advantage, because while bombing along the pathways I didn't have to stop for walkers or apologize for my illegitimate use of designated footpaths too often. Heading north along the valley valley walk is technically easy, except a couple of sections with stairs which will probably require pushing and a short steep rocky 'staircase' section which might present challenges. Despite the lack of difficult technical features, much of this route features steep slopes which lack any kind of barrier, but being as this is walking route, the max speed you're likely to reach, without being a dickhead, isn't that rapid anyway. As the spring progresses, this whole region will turn into a lush Welsh jungle and I can't recommend visiting enough for cycling, walking or whatever else. My one regret was that I was hoping to find some single-track in one of the forests on the return loop, but to limited success. Perhaps next time, with a guide. Here's the route I followed and I would only change a small section.
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The corner here features a particularly precipitous slope.

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Giant's cave.

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One of the few techy bits.

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Rocky staircase. Fun as hell to bomb down and make you glad of suspension and squishy tyres.

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Tintern Abbey,which I've been in before. Well worth a look.
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Playing around with exposure to get the 'fluffy' effect.

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Coffee in Chepstow park Wood. This was where I was hoping to find some single-track fun, although all I could find was one of two short descents, which were fun but swift. The main path I went along was disrupted by forestry operations, which seem to involve piling as much brush oto the trial as possible. It was still perfectly ridable. I've since found this route-guide although it doesn't look like there's too much more to be found, which is a shame, because these woods seem like they'd be ideal for an extensive single-track network. Still, a nice ride which I'd recommend, although it will get progressively busier with walkers who're actually permitted to use the path and might get irate.
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