Penmachno is not the easiest trail to get to when you live just outside Cardiff, but I had heard numerous positive comments about the trails, so organized to meet up with a couple of friends to see whether the trails lived up to their billing.

We organized to stay in the Betws-y-Coed Youth Hostel .  This is a great location if you are planning a trip in this area, it is adjoined to the Swallow Falls Hotel which serves evening meals, and is only a couple of miles from the centre of Betws-y-Coed. 

After 4.5hrs glorious driving up the centre of Wales, I reached Betws-y-Coed.  At which point somewhat bizarrely Google Maps managed to temporarily lose its mind, and ended up directing me through some sinuous narrow back roads when trying to locate the Youth Hostel near to Betwys-y-Coed.  As a result I arrived about 20 minutes later than planned.  Next time I will check the map !

Penmachno is less than 15 minutes drive from Betws-y-Coed, and there is a fabulous café Conwy Falls Cafe  on the way.  

As is traditional at the start of a big day on the trails we opted for a monster full English breakfast (its called the Snowden !), and this was excellent. 

The Penmachno trails are a similar basic setup to the trails at Brechfa.  So there is a trailhead car park, accessed up a short track from the tarmac road, and the trails. That’s it.  No loos, no shop, no café, no shelter …..

When on the trails you are also in quite remote, high and exposed locations, with no mobile phone coverage in many places.  Hence these are trail best ridden with atleast one riding partner, or if not then inform someone of your plans, and expected finish time.

Ok so what are the trails like ?  Well there are two named trails ; Dolen Machno  (19km) and Dolen Eryri (11km).  Both are graded red.  They are joined, so they form a continuous 30km loop.  

The branching off point occurs at about 7km into Dolen Machno, at which point you have obtained a good appreciation of the trail characteristics, and so are well informed as to whether you want to include Dolen Eryri for the full 30km, or just stick to Dolen Machno .

The weather for our ride was grey, mild , with occasional light drizzle.  This coated the prevalent slate and rock elements of the trail with a nice greasy top layer.  

You need your big boy pants on to ride these trails.  There is an immense amount of fantastic challenging narrow single track, with frequent rock surfaced mounds, drop-offs and loose slate bed. 

It’s a full-on concentration type of ride where you need to carry speed to enjoy the ride.  There are some fantastic views , but you need to stop to take them in, as you cannot (well atleast I couldn’t) take your eyes away from the trail if you want to remain upright.

Highlights for me were the rhythmical rollercoaster section around Gwel y Grib, the seemingly never ending single track of Sbwng (Dolen Eryri), and the boardwalk sections. 

I have ridden most of the trails in Wales, plus many of the UKs well known routes ; Peak District, South Downs, Glentress, Lake District, Ridgeway.  Penmachno delivers the highest proportion of true singletrack in 2.5hrs riding that I can recall.  It really is phenomenal.  

There were quite a few extensive diversions in place when we rode, meaning that we lost about 5km from the anticipated 30km. That being said we all found the ride much harder , and demanding than we expected, meaning that although we only covered about 25km, it felt like 35km !

Navigation around the trails was easy, the diversions were clearly marked, and we never had to question whether we had made a wrong turn. This was great as it kept the ride flowing. 

There are many comments online about the trails suffering from lots of standing water, and overgrown vegetation.  Well our experience was not consistent with that.  There were no areas where I felt the vegetation had overgrown onto the trail.  Yes there were some big puddles, but that is what I expect on a mountain trail in North Wales. But they were just puddles which you could simply ride through.  

(I had a far worse experience riding the Sarn Helen around Brecon where there were many sections where the whole trail was under 30cms or more of stagnant water for 30m or more).

So how do I rate the trails.  Fantastic.  A really wild, natural, challenging ride, that rewards speed and courage (even though I don’t have much of that) , with some great views, and in a great area to ride other trails (eg. Gwydir Mawr)

I rode my Giant Anthem X1 full suspension 26” wheel with 100mm travel. It was ideal.  

Here is the Strava Activity for the ride and the Penmachno Trails Web Site

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