TRAIL BLAZERS ADAM STALLARD, ELAN VALLEY
Mountain Bike Rider|February 2022
If Mid Wales is mountain biking’s faded classic, one man is on a mission to give it a makeover and turn it into a masterpiece
Sim Mainey

It’s dark and noisy. To my left two metres of concrete separate me from several million tonnes of water, to the right an artificial waterfall tumbles past a small window to the river below. Stood in the heart of Pen y Garreg dam in the Elan Valley, it’s hard not to be impressed by the determination and dedication of the Edwardian age. One of six dams in the valley, it was completed in 1904 and the contents of the reservoir it created, along with four other reservoirs, continue to supply water to Birmingham some 70 miles away. There have been a few updates here and there over the years, but essentially things haven’t changed a whole lot.

It’s a similar story when it comes to mountain biking in the Elan Valley. The area has long been one of mid-Wales’s go-to riding destinations, the combination of stunning scenery and rugged terrain making it the perfect place for a big day out. That’s still the case, and for a traditional XC ride it still hits the mark. But mountain biking has changed, grown and evolved. While a good day out in the hills is still the reason a lot of us ride, we’ve also come to expect a little bit more from our riding. Whether that’s dedicated graded trails that deliver repeatable thrills, more natural feeling trails that test our skills or simply facilities like a cafe, bike wash and somewhere to park. Like the dams, what is needed are some updates that keep the area relevant without losing what already works.

BIG POTENTIAL

Dwr Cymru, Welsh Water, who own the Elan Valley estate, provide water to the majority of Wales and parts of England. They are a not-for-profit company, and with no shareholders to keep happy, any profits they do make are reinvested into the business, used to reduce bills or put into provisioning other resources. Like mountain bike trails.

Adam Stallard is a ranger for Welsh Water, a role that covers everything from behind-the-scenes jobs like fixing stiles and clearing drainage to more customer-facing activities like guided tours of the valley and making sure the estate is being enjoyed responsibly. As the resident mountain biker he, along with others within Welsh Water, has been keen to bring the riding in the valley up to date, and the first steps in this process have met with much approval.

Before I get to see what Adam has been working on, we go for the kind of ride the Elan Valley is best known for. Mid Wales is big, expansive. It feels like you could ride all day and not find the edges. It’s a place to lose yourself in, possibly literally.

From the top of the open hillside above the valley, Adam points out that everything we can see as far as the horizon, in every direction, is owned by the Elan Valley Estate; its 70 square miles accounts for 1% of Wales. That’s a jaw-droppingly huge area. The potential for having a land owner of this size take interest in and, crucially, invest in mountain biking is equally huge. Adam says the size of the estate means there’s very little friction between different users on the trails, something other tourist-oriented areas often find, and even introducing more riders onto the bridleways here will do little to change that.

ABOUT THIS SERIES

One of the most exciting things about mountain biking is that it’s always changing. From the bikes we ride, to how and where we ride them, things never stand still for long. And here at mbr we’re convinced things are getting better.

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