Family adventure in the Welsh hills

Family adventure in the Welsh hills

It’s that time of year again where trying to find meaningful activities away from the screen in every teenager’s grasp seems harder and harder. Sometimes you just need to get away from the real world and enjoy nature. Where better to do that than a visit to the hills of Wales.

Now I’m all for retaining regional cultural heritage, but I’m not totally sure the insistence on using names for things that are unpronounceable for major tourist hotspots is perhaps the best way to attract new visitors. I mean who’s going to visit somewhere they can’t even ask Siri to find directions to?

The Welsh seem to be clawing back their heritage one mountain range at a time with ‘Snowdon’ being replaced with it’s Welsh name ‘Yr Wyddfa’ and the ‘Brecon Beacons’ similarly renamed ‘Bannau Brycheiniog’. Apart from the few remaining Welsh speaking locals, most of us will continue to use the old name in fear of looking like a plonker trying to pronounce a word with letters in unnatural sequences, so as to not create any further confusion, we spent the weekend in the Brecon Beacons or more specifically in Merthyr Tydfill (pronounced merther tidfill).

Despite their unpronounceable names, the mountain range within the Brecon Beacons National Park is really worth a visit. They are much less overcrowded than Snowdonia and what they lack in spikey summits, they make up for with green lush hills and flowing waterfalls!


Merthyr Tydfill has had a pretty rough life, and it shows in places! Famed for it’s now obsolete ironworks, and made infamous for the Spoil Tip disaster in 1966 killing 116 children and 28 adults. I don’t think any town would fully recover from such a horrific event, and there does seem to be a bit of grey cloud hanging over the place (That may just be the traditional Welsh weather!).

Despite it’s traumatic past, Merthyr Tydfill is now a thriving place to visit, with many amenities. Recent years have seen a huge upswing in visitors thanks to the local waterfalls, proximity to the Brecon Beacons, and the now world-famous ‘Bike Park Wales’. The park is most well known in the downhill mountain bike community for it’s miles of high octane trails and huge jumps. It attracts around 300 adrenaline junkies per day and in peak seasons can get very booked up. Parks like this, can be pretty intimidating for beginners. That was certainly the initial reaction I got from my wife and daughter when I suggested they might like to spend the day hooning down steep bike trails with a bunch of testosterone fuelled bike nutters. Trepidation turned into excitement after a bit of conversation and explanation of the ‘Ticket To Ride’ activity.

The ‘Ticket to Ride’ is the ideal place to start for any riders looking to build confidence on a bike, and to dip their toes into bike park life. The session starts off in the classroom, with your trail expert and guide for the day. Here you will be taught some fundamentals of bike control, and a little bit of what to expect from being out on the bikes, along with getting kitted out with full face helmets, arm and leg protection. Next stop is the bike hire, where everyone gets fitted for a correctly sized bike and any suspension tweaks to make sure the bike behaves itself perfectly for your weight.

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Then it’s time to ride over to the ‘uplift’ and get on the bus up to the top of the hill ready for the first run down the trail they call ‘Kermit’ (It’s a green graded trail and frogs are green, say no more! The trails all have some pretty unique names with my favourite being popty-ping). The uplift is a real selling point for Bike Park Wales, regardless of the trails you’re riding. It removes any exertion, and means you focus all your energy on the fun bits rather than slogging up hill (there is a bike route for any masochists).

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Kermit is one of the longest green graded trails in the UK at 5km in length. It, like all of the trails at the park, have been specifically designed for the grade of rider and provide excellent skill progression. This might be a green graded trail, but if you hit it hard and fast, it’s a absolute dream to ride on. Hard and fast isn’t what you will experience on the first run down with your guide, with the less experienced riders taking the front under close supervision. Frequent stops at key features will provide a chance to examine the trail closely, and perfect your skills like cornering, and bike handling.

Our guide was brilliant and patient with the beginners and yet provided useful insights for more experienced riders like myself so there really is something for all in this activity. By the end of the first run, even the most reluctant riders in the group were building confidence and cornering with more speed and control. It’s a long run, and after the first run we returned to the park cafe for much needed refreshments. The cafe is really good by the way, and well worth a stop off for lunch!

After a bit of chatter over a drink it was time for run number two. This time the riders were sorted in competence order, with the most confident at the front. It was time to really get a proper feel for this trail. It’s fast, really fast! With high cambered berms, and twisty paths through the woods. Whilst this trail is suited for beginners, it’s a lot of fun for experienced riders too, and is often used as a warm up trail for even the most experienced riders at the park. This is because it’s super fun to ride.

There’s no big jumps or scary features, and providing you ride to your ability and don’t get too overconfident you will be fine.


The faster you go, the more technical it becomes, and that provides plenty of challenges on the way down. The whole session lasts around 4 hours, so the perfect morning or afternoon activity.

The price for the ‘Ticket to Ride’ activity starts at £85 per child, with a family price of £325 for 2 adults and 2 children, this includes bike hire, protection, uplift, guide for the session and the half time refreshments. I would strongly recommend this to anyone wanting to try out more adventurous mountain biking, and will evaporate any nerves about being at a bike park full of very experienced riders and technical trails. There were seven in our group in total, with a mix of families and adults keen to build confidence on the trails. One of our group was a mad keen cyclist, but felt intimidated by her friends egging her to join them on more adventurous trips, and just wanted to build confidence without the peer pressure, before going out on the trails with her mates, so this is ideal for solo visits too.

The park also runs kids clubs and more advanced training sessions. If you have already got some good experience in trail park riding, then you can book a session with bike hire and uplift or simply bring your own bikes, and pay for entry to the park and the uplift (£18 per rider and around £50 per rider for the uplift). This might seem like an expensive day out, but the trails, facilities are some of the best in the country and benefits from some of the best first responders who you will hopefully never meet, but will be super grateful for if you do ever need them.

The park isn’t just about tearing up the forest with bike trails, it’s also super active on it’s regeneration and ecology too, already well on it’s way to becoming carbon neutral! The community impact is also impressive, with the impact on tourism in places like Merthyr Tydfill being very welcomed. 

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I’ve ridden all over the place, and Bike Park Wales is my favourite in the UK, the trail’s are really exceptional, and the fact that it books up to capacity week in week out is testament to it’s quality. So book now without delay and get out on those trails.

Merthyr Tydfill is a super base for a weekend or holiday break. We stayed with Sleepy Stays who have loads of local properties at very reasonable prices. There are also loads of other activities and attractions nearby making for a perfect weekend or short stay base.

We spent a day out hiking in the Brecon’s and exploring the many waterfalls. In the summer, there are many opportunities to cool off with a refreshing dip in a waterfall pool, so don’t forget to pack a towel. There are also lots of opportunities for gorge walking, kayaking, climbing and caving in the area.

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You can Book the Ticket To Ride activity directly on the Bike Park Wales website.

For decent, accomodation at a very resonable price I can recommend Sleepy Stays or lots of other options on Airbnb.

For other activities nearby, check out Brecon Beacons or Visit Wales