South Wales: Adventure at your own speed

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The hills and shores of Carmarthenshire provide the perfect territory for mountain biking and kayaking, says Chris Moran

Five years ago George and Louise Rashbrook left London to take over the Black Lion in Abergorlech, an oak-beamed pub with an idyllic beer garden overlooking a medieval stone bridge. The pub came with some cottages, which they now rent to the growing number of people like me who come for a weekend of adventure in their Carmarthenshire village.

"We moved here so the kids could grow up in a nice place," says George, as we watch a tractor negotiate its way over the narrow stone arches. "Nothing new in that I guess, but wow, it was a great move."

Their relocation neatly coincided with the Forestry Commission, Visit Wales and the EU combining budgets to create a world-class mountain-biking trail centre in Brechfa Forest, right on Abergorlech's doorstep. The trails are colour-graded for technical difficulty and athletic stamina, and fan out through the ancient forest. "Brechfa is amazing," says George. "The kids love riding there, we love it, and it brings in people from all over the country. The pub is buzzing."

Carmarthenshire is the lesser-known adventure spot in South Wales; the Devon to Pembrokeshire's Cornwall. It describes itself as "The Garden of Wales". Less touristy than its neighbour, it's also closer to the main population centres in England. It also happens to be blessed with the perfect attributes for a range of up and coming sports: fast-flowing and exceptionally clean rivers to swim, canoe or raft down; the wild Brecon Beacons to walk and run over; expanses of sea and sand that capture the wind and waves; and wooded hills to hike or cycle over.

I meet Rowan Sorrell, who helped build Brechfa's trails, and we hit the red-graded "Gorlech" trail, a 12-mile loop which twists and turns like a rollercoaster through the woods. "We built them for all standards of rider," says Rowan. "Good riders can push themselves and go as fast as they can, but on every run there's something for beginners. We made everything roll-able."

"Roll-able" means you don't have to jump over the lumps. And what lumps there are: using rocks and timber from the forest, Rowan and his team have an intuitive feel for how a bike should ride through the contours. The corners are banked so you can lean the bike and keep off the brakes, and straight sections have jumps and rollers that can throw you high into the air if you hit them with speed. Go slowly, and they're as easy as rolling off a kerb.

Later, we lean our bikes against the wall of the Black Lion (next to a sign claiming "muddy bikes welcome"), and sip some cold Cokes in the beer garden. "Don't worry about the bikes," says Rowan, "They won't get stolen around here."

Later that afternoon, landlady Louise suggests a trip up to the lake at Llyn Y Fan Fach, half an hour's cross-country drive from Abergorlach. I follow a course down hedge-lined lanes, passing signs offering eggs for £1 a dozen (use the honesty box) and a farm gate advertising sheepdog puppies for sale.

When the road runs out, the Brecon Beacons begin. After a two-hour hike followed by a scramble up a steep slope I find myself at the top of Bannau Sir Gaer, a 2,457-foot peak with views stretching from Cardiff to Tenby. The foreground hills are a vibrant green, and the Bristol Channel reflects the sunset in the distance. Behind me the Black Mountains complete the stunning panorama.

The next day I head for Llandysul Paddlers, an outdoor adventure centre on the banks of the River Teifi, which is run by Gareth Bryant, a former Welsh canoeing champion. The centre specialises in taking people down the clear waters of the Teifi in rafts, canoes and kayaks, or for open-water swimming. When I arrive, their adjoining campsite is a sea of camouflage tents: the army is staging a small canoeing competition and has decamped to the river.

After a quick assessment on Llandysul Paddler's practice lake, I'm cleared for river rapid take off. I "seal launch" from the bank, sitting in the kayak and sliding down the grass into the river. Then it's straight into the rapids. "If you paddle faster than the water then you're in control," says Griff, my guide for the day, who shows me how it's done. I row into the whitewater and use the oar like a rudder to control the direction. There's undoubted danger, but the water looks inviting.

That afternoon I head to Pendine Sands, a seven-mile stretch of beach washed perfectly flat by every outgoing tide. Dylan Thomas described it as a "yellow coldness going away into the distance of the sea". In the 1920s it was where Malcolm Campbell and JG Parry-Thomas contested the world land speed record.

Today, Morfa Bay Adventures is one of the few businesses allowed to open the throttle on the sands, though its wind-powered land yachts, speedy as they are, can't match the 170mph racked up by those racers of old. On the day I visit the wind isn't blowing, and so with my new-found kayaking skills we take to the sea instead and explore the caves and sea cliffs around Gilman Point to a hidden cove with a pebble beach. Jono Owen, an instructor for Morfa Bay, is clearly entranced by the area. "I did my teaching degree in London," he says as we try to kayak-surf some small waves back to the beach. "But I couldn't help being drawn back here. I don't know from day to day whether I'll be coasteering, surfing or kite surfing. I can't complain though," he says, surveying the scenery. "It's not a bad office, is it?"

Travel essentials: Carmarthenshire

Getting there

* Arriva Trains Wales serves Carmarthen; connect from the rest of the network at Swansea or Newport (08457 48 49 50; nationalrail.co.uk).

Staying there

* The writer stayed at The Black Lion's Cothi View Holiday Cottage (01558 685271; blion.co.uk) in Abergorlech. Weekend rental from £260; sleeps six.

Visiting there

* Brechfa mountain bike trails open daily, free.

* Merlin Cycle Tours (01554 756603; merlincycletours. co.uk) offers bike hire from £20 a day and can deliver bikes to the Black Lion.

* Llandysul Paddlers' "Run the Rapids" whitewater kayaking session costs £25 for half a day, including equipment hire and guiding.

* Morfa Bay Adventures (01994 453588; morfabay. com) offers a half-day of sea kayaking for £30 including equipment and instruction.

More information

* 01267 231557; discover carmarthenshire.com

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution