Camping, Riding Sugarloaf Mountain & Bike Park Wales

See my YouTube of this trip here

Being back in full-time employment and camping/riding at weekends was really tiring me out, so I took two weekends out relaxing at home to re-energise myself.

We’re having a nice hot sunny summer here in the UK, it’s rained a little today in Banbury, the first time in around 7 weeks. And that was a heavy shower, but the heat keeps on coming. It’s fabulous, can’t believe so many people are complaining about it! For me, walking out of my freezing cold air-conned office into the heat makes me throw my arms in the air every time, praising the sun! I love it!

After having two action-less weekends, I really wanted to get away camping and riding. I wanted somewhere within three hours driving distance, so I could leave straight from work Friday night and have enough time to set-up camp before dark. I wanted to take in a trail ride and a bike park ride.

North Wales is too far a drive, so it would be somewhere south/west. I was keeping my eye on the weather patterns, and thought Exmoor would be a good bet, finding a campsite not too far from the beach. For a reason that I can’t remember, possibly because there wasn’t a bike park near by, I decided against it late Thursday night. And that I would return to the fab Middle Ninfa Campsite near Abergavenny in Wales.

I was in two minds whether to go at all as rain was expected in the south/west late Friday afternoon and would continue into the night. Also another point was than when I contacted the the lady that runs Middle Ninfa on Friday morning, she said I couldn’t have the pitch I wanted.

I really wasn't sure whether to go, I was thinking it would be a complete washed-out disaster. But anyway I set off from work around half five Friday, the traffic was atrocious. The M40 was stop/go, the M42 was stop/go and after an hour I’d not got far at all. It was like a bad omen, and that really I should turn around and forget it. As well as the heavy traffic it was raining too!

I persisted with the journey, and although heavy traffic, the M5 was moving well. The rain was heavy at times. I arrived at Middle Ninfa Farm at around 8pm. It was raining when I arrived. The driveway up to the farm is a very steep concrete road, and it was wet. It took me around six attempts to get my car up it, with either the wheels smoking or my clutch slipping. I was beginning to think I wouldn’t make it! Again, with the rain and hammering my poor car, it felt like another bad omen and I was regretting coming out at all.

Eventually getting up the drive, Rohan the lady that runs the campsite greeted me. She is a lovely elderly lady and sounds just like Hyacinth Bucket! So funny, it makes me giggle! She informed me that I could have my favourite pitch, Hollow Beech! My first bit of good luck, which boosted my resolve and I took my tent up in the wheel-barrow and set-up in the rain. By the time I’d got my two other wheel-barrow loads up to the top of the hill it was just drizzling.

The parking arrangements at Middle Ninfa are quite strict, you can’t turn left into the parking field, you must drive up to the farm, turn around, drive back down the hill and turn right into it. I really wasn’t happy about parking in the field again as last time I got stuck. After telling Rohan how I’d struggled to get up the drive she offered me a parking space at the farmhouse. Another bit of good luck!

By the time I settled at my pitch the rain had stopped, it was a cloudy moody evening but warm enough, and I could still see the Skirid mountain in the distance. I made a campfire, had something to eat then shut myself away in my tent. I can’t wait for bedtime at camp, I just love the feeling of locking myself away in my hermetically sealed pod, it makes me feel so content.

I hadn’t decided where I would ride on the Saturday, I had a lazy breakfast and did a bit of research online to see where I could go. Cwmcarn is around half an hour away, it has some forest and downhill trails, so that was my likely destination alas there had been a forest fire there the week before and although it had said the trails were open, a Facebook post on MTB Divas had said they were closed. I tried to research the situation and got conflicting results, the uplift wasn’t running anyway so I decided against Cwmcarn. I haven’t been there and it’s supposed to be a really good riding venue, so for another time.

Last time at Middle Ninfa, which is on the slopes of the Blorenge mountain, I had ridden to the top of the Blorenge. The Blorenge is part of a three-peak challenge, along with the Skirid and the Sugarloaf Mountain. I decided to ride the Sugarloaf Mountain, it’s the other side of Abergavenny, so I drove out there late morning.

The mountain road up to the car park climbs up for around 5kms, it’s a surfaced single-track road. Often you come across cars coming the other way, so must reverse into a passing place every so often.

Although a little cloudy, it was a very hot day. I made my way up the, at first, gentle slopes, on my trail bike, Bay. In between the clouds the sun was very hot, and there’s no shade at all. So it was a hot and sweaty two kilometres or so in the blazing sun, on the bridle paths, surrounded by bracken laden slopes either side. The views of the Black Mountains whist riding were quite beautiful.

I was using my GPS software called Komoot, on my phone mounted on my bike. I’m not getting on that well with Komoot, it’s quite annoying, sometimes it doesn’t tell you when to turn, when you try to pause the program, it won’t! Bloody annoying! I actually rode most of the way, along the bridlepaths, as they weren’t too steep.

As you near the main ascent the path narrows and is mostly a trail that has sort of footstep-type gouges in the soil like steps, they are quite deep, perhaps eight inches or so, it’s also rocky and gets steeper and steeper. Pushing a bike up them, as it was too steep to ride, was quite exhausting and I wondered if I’d actually manage to get to the top. But persisted and scrambled up the final part to the summit.

There was around 30 people at the summit. It’s a long ridge line, so wasn't crowded like Snowdon, there's plenty of room up there. I took some photos for other groups of people, and a couple of them took photos on my phone of me, which was so much easier than trying to set-up the timer and get into a fun position!

There's a 360-degree view of the Black Mountains from the top, quite beautiful in the sunshine and clouds. I’d forgotten to take any sarnies with me, so clambered around on the rocks at the top for a while before making my way down.

I carried Bay down the first 20 metres or so, then rode the, at first rocky, then less rocky trail down. I’d lost my bearings on my way off the summit, Komoot was bloody useless, so I got a little lost, which spoilt the ride a bit, as I had to keep stopping to try and work out which way to go.

Another problem with Komoot is that if you turn your phone off, which I did because I couldn’t stop the stupid program! When you turn it back on, it keeps trying to send you back to the summit, even though I turned it back on at the summit! So annoying!

Anyway, it was a fun, and at times fast ride down, taking around half an hour. In all it had only been around three hours in total, from camp back to camp.

I was planning on visiting my friend Maria in Abergavenny, but the clouds were quite dark by the time I started to drive back through Abergavenny. I didn’t want to have to go up the Middle Ninfa driveway in the wet, so decided to go straight back before the rain came, which had been forecast.

As it turned out, it got very dark but didn’t rain at all at my camp, I had a fab afternoon playing my guitar and generally chilling. In the evening I lit another campfire, I wasn’t sure whether I should due to all the wild fires that had been burning in the scorched UK, but other campers had fires, so I guessed it would be OK.

It was the most sublime evening, with the campfire, my guitar and not another person in sight, just the beautiful views.

Sunday morning was another lazy one, again I hadn’t decided where to go, the choices were the Black Mountains Bike Park or Bike Park Wales. I’d been to Black Mountains three weeks prior, so plumped for Bike Park Wales. Wish I hadn’t though, bad decision, the Heads of the Valleys road is completely closed, due to roadworks, and the diversion is completely shite. It should have taken me less than half and hour, but it took an hour.

It was the busiest I’ve ever seen it at BPW, it was very hot and sunny too. I sat and had a cup of tea and a Marmite sarnie in the car park, then got ready to ride. Whilst at the trail centre a lady came up and asked me if I was going up to the top and could she join me as it’s her first ride.

So Jenny and I stuck together for the afternoon. There’s many new trails at BPW, but Sixtapod and Willy Waver are my old faves, and also I thought they’d be good for Jenny on her first-time riding, as both are flowy and have nothing scary on them.

Neither of us had booked the uplift, so had to queue in the peasant’s queue, where you have to wait until the ‘booked’ queue is empty before the uplift guys will load you. The booked queue kept getting loaded, then more people would arrive. We waited for around half an hour, around eight to ten bus loads before we got on an uplift. But at least we had got on one, someone had complained of waiting an hour and a half!

We had two fab runs of Sixtapod and Willy Waver, then went to the café, where Jenny ate and I had a cup of tea. It was around three o’clock by then, and I decided to call it a day, whilst Jenny went for another run.

She's quite a fascinating lady, being an Instructor for BMW off-road motorbikes, and travels the world training BMW customers! This explains why she was able to ride BPW on her first mountain bike ride too, as any other beginner would struggle I think.

Two runs may seem hardly worth going all that way for, but I’d had two fab runs, and was happy to finish there, with a three hour drive ahead of me. Last time at Black Mountains I way over-did it, and was falling asleep at my desk the week after, it took me a week to recover. So sensible head said go home. Which I did, the traffic wasn’t bad at all, and I made it in less than three hours, arriving home around 7pm.

So another fall-free, perfect weekend was had, after my initial misgivings as to whether I should even bother! Such a lucky thing aren’t I!!

Info

Camping at Middle Ninfa Farm, make sure you read the blurb because it is not suitable for everyone - here

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