Cash strapped by the credit crunch, my wife and I decided to take our summer holiday in Wales this year. To help keep things cheap, we waited till the end of September when the cottage rents came down, and took nothing with us but a few books and our bikes for entertainment.
It turns out – lest you've forgotten – that biking really is the prefect activity when economic times are tough. While we ended up splashing out on a few nice meals, as well as some castle entry fees, one of the very best days of our week away cost us absolutely nothing: a day's mountain biking in the hills around Betws-y-Coed.
Snowdonia really is a mountain biker's paradise, with more than enough trails to keep you going for a week if you've got the energy. Better still, most of the routes are clearly signposted, and there are various options for bikers of all abilities.
The main attraction round Betws-y-Coed is the Marin trail – a purpose built 25-kilometre course that offers some fantastic single-track descents (as well as a number of gruelling climbs) – set within the beautiful Gwydyr Forest, with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and lakes.
The course has some fairly technical and steep downhill sections on it, which means it's certainly not suitable for absolute beginners. But all of the tough stuff is easily walkable if you're attempting it, as we did, on a weekday when it's quiet. At weekends, however, it can get very crowded – so it's best avoided at these times if you're not a confident biker.
My wife's relatively new to mountain biking, having only taken it up when I bought her a bike last Christmas – so I knew the Marin trail was going to be her hardest challenge yet. And while there were a few moments where she looked like she never wanted to get on a bike again, I think she came away with loads more confidence. Most importantly, she had her first fall – and made the realisation that coming off your bike can hurt, but it probably won't kill you.
One of the best features of the Marin trail is that there's no need for a map, as there are 78 numbered signposts around the course, which not only tell you where to go, but give you an idea of how far you have to go.
It's a must for any mountain biking enthusiast – and if you want more details, visit mbwales.com .