Cannock Chase Ride

One of my goals for 2017 had been to “Ride the full Follow The Dog and Monkey Trail loops at Cannock Chase”. I’ve ridden them before, but skipped sections out and/or pushed my bike up the hills. Last Friday I managed to do the almost impossible – align my time off, Owen’s childcare, the weather and permission to escape for a day out on my bike. It was to be the day I tackled the full loop at Cannock Chase.

I almost fell at the first hurdle, I was feeling full of cold when I woke up and considered staying in bed. I was so glad I didn’t though, as it was a lovely autumnal day – perfect for mountain biking!¬†Still unsure if I was going to do the full loop, I paced myself for the first few sections to see how my legs and lungs felt. Although I could have done with some more speed over the new rock garden, as once you stop it is difficult to get going again. Just over two kilometres into the ride is “Cardiac Hill” – my nemesis. I have managed to ride all the way up it a couple of times previously, but it was always really difficult, with a particularly cruel increase in gradient right at the top. This time I feel like I conquered it, my legs were still burning and I needed a rest at the top, but felt in much better shape than I had before – probably a combination of stronger legs from my midweek rides and having lost some weight! At this point I knew I was going to do the full loop!

Crossing the railway and road onto the Monkey Trail felt much more remote, and I had a few more breaks to take in the view, watch the wildlife and consider how lucky I was to be there on my bike. The best view was at the top of “Over The Rainbow”, where the photo at the top of this post is from. By now I felt like I was riding the best I have ever ridden and hadn’t even noticed that I’d missed lunchtime! I managed to stay on my bike down the “Tom, Dick and Harry” rockgardens, which was better than my attempt a few years ago, when I went over the bars. At the bottom of “Upper Cliff” I managed to take a wrong turn, which resulted in some unnecessary climbing, before having to descend again to join the trail for the “Insidious Incline”, which leads to “Lower Cliff” – regarded as the best piece of trail at Cannock Chase. I’d never actually ridden this trail before, as it had either been closed, or I’d been put off by the extra climb. I had been missing out – the climb wasn’t all that bad and the descent was amazing. It felt more exposed than other trails at Cannock, Chase as the trees have been felled in that area, and there was lots of loose gravel waiting to catch out an unwary rider, but that all added to the fun! I even caught up to an other rider during the descent, not something that has happened to me before.

Crossing the road and railway again, back onto the “Follow The Dog” trail, I was faced with a long climb up “Kitbag Hill”, another section I’d never ridden before, having just gone up the fireroad on previous visits. My legs were starting to tire by the top of the climb, but I knew I was on the home straight and took things easy. By the time I’d got to “Son of Chainslapper” my legs felt much better and I could attack the last few sections of trail. This is the part of Cannock Chase I’ve ridden the most, mainly on the Leisure Lakes Demo Days, which use these last few sections of “Follow The Dog” as the demo loop. I found myself whizzing past places I would usually have stopped for a breather, which was another indication that my fitness has improved significantly over the summer. The very last section of trail is closed for renovation, but knowing how my legs felt and that I’ve ridden that trail loads, it wouldn’t have posed a problem. So I’m claiming a full loop of “Follow The Dog” and “The Monkey Trail” and ticking it off my list of goals for 2017!

I was still buzzing when I rolled into the car park, not only had I achieved a personal goal, it had been the best day I’ve had on a bike. To celebrate, and because I’d missed lunch, I treated myself to a Burger King on the way home, still smiling to myself at how much fun I’d had on my bike.

Llandegla

Last weekend I took a trip up to Llandegla, for what was probably my toughest day on a mountain bike. Llandegla is the nearest Welsh trail centre to Coventry, and had been top of my list of places to ride for a while. It also meant I could tick off one of my 2017 goals.

I left a grey and rainy Coventry, hoping that the forecast for sun in North Wales would be correct. Fortunately it was, with the rain clearing before I got to the end of the M54. I met my friend Andrew and his friend James at the visitor centre. We set off up the five kilometre climb, which is the start to all the trails at Llandegla. It is a fairly gentle climb, but felt relentless. My legs, and lungs, are used to much shorter climbs, so I struggled, eventually catching up with the guys at the top.

The ride down the hill was almost as punishing, mountain bike trails are graded like ski pistes: green, blue, red and black, increasing in difficulty. We took the red trail, but included one of the black loops off the main trail – my first time riding a black trail.¬†After the long climb I was expecting it to be downhill all the way back to the trailhead, but the trail was peppered with steep climbs. The downhill sections didn’t offer much chance to recover, they were rough and bumpy, with raised wooden sections and plenty of jumps. I was struggling due to being at my limits of fitness and bike handling skills. The guys had to wait for me to catch up quite a few times, but I eventually made it to the end in one piece, still buzzing from the ride down. As it was such a lovely afternoon we chilled out on the terrace outside the amazing cafe and I really felt like I’d earned my bacon sandwich and slice of cake.

Suitably refuelled and aware that I needed to work on my fitness, I decided to do a solo loop of the blue trail. I took my time on the climb, with a few stops to catch my breath and take photos. I made it to the top without having to push the bike, despite it actually taking longer than the same climb in the morning. Dropping in to the blue trail I was back in my comfort zone, the trail was much smoother and only had a few gentle climbs as it twisted back down the hill. It was also much quieter, I only saw a handful of other riders. After struggling on the red/black loop in the morning, the blue felt like the perfect place to concentrate on my technique and have some fun.

Both loops were enjoyable in their own ways. The red/black trails challenged both my skill and fitness, but the whole point of a sport like mountain biking is to push yourself. The blue trail was easier and flattered my riding. I was glad I went back to the top again. At two hours door to door, Llandegla won’t be replacing Cannock Chase as my usual trail centre – it is a full day out, rather than just a morning. However, I am looking forward to a return visit, hopefully my fitness will have improved by then too!

A day out in North Wales

Horseshoe Pass

This was one of those trips where lots of separate things lined up making for a brilliant bank holiday Monday!

For years I have wanted to drive the Evo triangle, a notorious route in North Wales, which regularly features in Evo magazine. So, when I found out I had to put some miles on a test car from work over the bank holiday weekend the Evo triangle was my first thought! Jen’s parents had also bought us an “Afternoon Tea” voucher for Christmas, which we were running out of time to use. One of the places we could redeem it was St Georges Hotel in Llandudno – just north of the Evo triangle. The next thing that lined up for us was the bank holiday weather, it was warm and sunny – perfect!

The drive up the A5 to the Evo triangle wasn’t too bad and we were there by mid morning, on the first (anticlockwise) sighting lap we were following a farmer’s Land Rover, so taking it easy, when the police helicopter flew directly above us at low level, as if to give us a “Don’t even think about it” warning. So, I pulled up at the lay by at the top of the triangle to take some photos and wait for a bit. Finishing the first lap, with no traffic in front of us was brilliant, the road more than lived up to the hype and would have been perfect in my MR2 (which was tucked up at work). At the end of the lap, we turned round and did another lap clockwise this time, there wasn’t traffic on either the A543 or the more open B4501, where I was able to really put the test car through its paces.

After the fun of the Evo triangle, it was on to Llandudno for afternoon tea. Despite the detour, we actually managed to get there early, so spent an hour or so exploring the promenade and the pier. Both Jen and I were pleasantly surprised by Llandudno, the town itself was nice and the pier had all the tacky seaside amusements you expect. After playing on the 2p machines it was time for afternoon tea, our table was at the front of the hotel, so had a good view over the beach, which was only obscured by the mountain of sandwiches and cakes put in front of us!

After struggling to finish all the cake it was time to get back in the car and head back to the shire. I’d heard about some tunnels on the A55, but either we missed them, or they were over hyped, but they were soon forgotten when we hit the Horseshoe Pass on the A542 (the panorama at the top of this post – click to see full-size), a great bit of road, with stunning scenery!

It was only a brief visit, but North Wales is certainly somewhere I’d like to visit again, the roads are almost as good as in Scotland but it is day-tripable from the shire!