Last week I rode an iconic and somewhat controversial Welsh lane, “Monks Trod” . It’s a trail originally established in the twelfth century by Cisterian monks trudging between two Abbeys, one located at Llandindrod Wells and the other at Strata Florida [mentioned in a previous blog]. The ‘Trod has been closed at various times due to erosion and some of these closures have promoted heated debate between off road enthusiasts and Powys Council, who are responsible for its upkeep.
Until last Thursday I’d never ridden it but a combination of a lifting of the TRO [traffic regulation order] which had closed it off and the impending visit of some riders wanting to retrace parts of the old ISDT routes prompted me to put the bike in the van and go and have a look. Monk’s Trod sticks out on the OS map like a sore thumb, the reason being is it forms part of an intriguing group of lanes grouped in a sort of large triangle in the heart of ISDT country and would make an obvious route for a ride. The ‘Trod has also been the missing link in a plan I’ve been developing to offer an ISDT experience to owners of classic dirt bikes.
So, I took the afternoon off , parked the van up and set off on one of the Pamperas . En route I was overtaken on one of the lanes by a couple of riders moving briskly in the general direction of Monk’s Trod, catching them up at a junction one of the riders turned out to be Dean Clements, proprietor of Clements Moto, the UK importer responsible for the enduro side of the Gas Gas product range. Dean had come up from Kent to enjoy a couple of days trail riding in Wales.
Having established Dean was also heading for Monks Trod I asked if I could tag along behind them and soon the three of us were traversing a shallow river and heading up a steep slippery bank to higher ground. Dean romped up it with me in pursuit but unfortunately his riding buddy struggled to find traction with his heavy ‘ol Husky four stroke. We waited at the top for some time until Dean decided to go back and help, meanwhile I elected to continue alone.
Gas Gas and Gas Gas on the grass. Note the mist, more about that later…
Further up the trail I waited at a deep water splash for a photo opportunity of my new riding companions but they never showed and so I presume they decided to call it a day. In hindsight it was a wise decision…
Pressing on I found the going to be tougher and tougher. A lot of these long Welsh trails are defined by long open sections of very boggy ground and evidence of deep erosion in the peat by years of passing traffic is all around. When I say deep I’m talking about metre deep ruts seemingly designed to wedge to the crankcases of any passing Pampera. I found myself having to ride faster and faster to avoid getting bogged down. It’s not a sensible way of riding when out riding solo but I was worried about getting the bike stuck. To compound matters I’d dropped the front wheel into a couple of unexpectedly deep ruts clouting the handlebar mounted petrol tank with my chest and had to proceed using an uncomfortable mix of clumsy blunt-edged, leg-out enduro style riding interspersed with delicate feet up trials stylee.
The terrain was truly brutal and, if I’m being honest, not particularly enjoyable. Bear in mind we’ve had one of the driest summers on record here in the UK and the trail has been free from vehicles some time. This means Monks Trod must be in the better condition than it’s been in for years and it was still barely passable. Battering on along deeply recessed peat ditches flanked by marsh grass I must have cut a pathetic sight ploughing a lonely furrow across this inhospitable landscape. And then the track disappeared. Don’t ask me where it went, it simple melted away and I lost the faint imprint of a rear knobbly I’d been following for the past few miles, presumably left by another intrepid solo rider some time in the past week or so.
Find myself in the middle of a dried out upland marsh I quickly became disorientated in the featureless scenery. Where’s a Cisterian monk when you need one? A mist was settling over the moors and it dawned on me things could quickly go pear-shaped. I parked up the Pamp and climbed out of the ditch to get a better view. The mist was obscuring any distant reference points and so I cast around hoping to pick up the trail, hopping from tussock to tussock looking for tyre marks. In the end I decided it was too risky to blunder on across the moors in this manner- a mechanical breakdown or an accident could potentially leave me in a very compromised situation and so I went to get the Pampera to head for home but, and here’s the rub – I couldn’t find it. I kid you not, I’d parked it in a gully in a vast landscape of identical gullies and I couldn’t find the bloody thing. A systematic quartering of the territory eventually led me to it and I very gingerly retraced my tracks through the peat until I hit the trail once again and headed back to Rhayder .
Now I don’t want to over dramatise anything but it just goes to show how things can go wrong trail riding in remote areas. If I’d remembered to pack a compass I’d have been OK but I hadn’t and in the mist I has no visual reference to determine where North was. Would a Satnav help? Perhaps , but I’m not sure how reliable the signal would have been in those conditions.In future I’m going to take a large ball of wool with me and lay a trail so I can find my way home.
So what did I make of the Monks Trod experience? If I’m being honest, not a lot. Some of these long Welsh trails with long sections of boggy ground to cross are very over- rated . Lots of riders love ’em but they’re not for me. It’s not as if a bit of riding finesse can bring some sense of satisfaction of a job well done. You simply have to bludgeon your way through. Fortunately, after this disappointing start to the week, things very quickly improved and I had some fantastic rides with some very interesting customers culminating in a two day booking with seven riders. Now , under normal circumstances I’m not a fan of large riding groups but my customers on this occasion were highly experienced riders used to riding with each other. They were also able to cover ground very quickly and over the course of two days we rode almost two hundred miles of trails and unclassified roads. Here’s a few pics taken during the course of the week
Rob, pictured above was a great sport and agreed to do some exploring of long forgotten, overgrown lanes [see below]. We had a grand day out riding the Long Mynd and Kerry Ridgeway.
One of my favourite trails, this is Rob climbing up Long Mynd with Stiperstones Ridge in the background looking over towards Wales.
Same spot, different day, different rider,different style. Dick was one of the riders from the larger group on the two day ride and was warming up for a competitive event the following day.
The Radnor Arms, New Radnor. A well known watering hole for trail riders exploring the Welsh borders. New Radnor was a medieval walled town and its castle had the dubious reputation as being the unluckiest castle in Wales being virtually destroyed on four occasions and during one particularly troublesome period of unrest was conquered and changed hands 12 times in eighty years. The walls of the town remained until 1840 but the stone was then used for a program of building within the town and only the earthworks now remain.
Taking in the scenery. Descending from the Kerry Ridgeway towards Sarn the views over the Vale of Montgomery are spectacular.
Happy customers enjoying a rest on Long Mynd, Wenlock Edge can be seen in the far distance.