Just below Snowdonia National Park sits the tiny town of Machynlleth, barely bigger than a village. It has all the hallmarks of a Welsh town, a clock tower jutting proudly from the centre of it, a disproportionate number of pubs for its size (some dog friendly too), and most importantly its shrouded in rolling hills, pine forest and has a backdrop of incredible mountains. What's less usual about this tiny town, well, there's a few things. First of which, is the Dyfi Mountain Biking community.
In 2001, a group of volunteers began work on The Mach Trails, 1, 2 and 3 - which criss-cross the Dyfi forest 2.7mi to the north. Their vision was 'to protect, promote and develop biking and off-road trails for cycling in the Dyfi Forest and the surrounding area', hoping to 'develop?a network of the best mountain bike and off-road cycling trails in the UK'. The area has been alive with trails since the 1960s, when motocross-ers started using the land. Since the advent of mountain biking, it's been visited by local riders also keen to make use of its beautiful surrounds. After four years creating the Mach 1, 2 and 3 by using the public rights-of-way, the volunteers built the ClimachX trail - 15km of punchy downhill singletrack. It's not for the casual rider, with technical rocky sections, rock slabs and drop offs (and if you don't know those terms, don't try the ClimachX).
Now working in partnership with the landowners of the Dyfi Forest and Natural Resource Wales (NRW), the volunteers are pioneering a new style of trail network - a mix and match of combination trails that can be ridden in multiple variations. What's most exciting, is how they're creating them, using new methods of managing existing 'wild trails', protecting the trails from tree-felling by agreeing to a re-instatement programme with NRW, and working with organisations like Trash Free Trails to encourage riders to look after these incredible wild spaces.
So, who are these trails for, and how good do I need to be to use them? Well, mountain biking trails come in grades, like ski slopes. Green is easy, and suitable for almost every type of cyclist or bike, blue is moderate and whilst still suitable for most riders - a basic mountain bike is required. Red is difficult and needs a more proficient mountain biker as well as a more serious mountain bike. Black is for experts and needs a good quality mountain bike. For the experts, there's even a whole other grade: Orange. Orange is a whole different ball game, separate from the other colours, as it requires a whole different skillset to perform (mandatory big air jumps, and elite technical ability).
Mach 1 is blue, Mach 2 is red, Mach 3 is black and ClimachX is also red. So if you're new to the game, you can try out the Mach 1 as long as you're equipped with a basic mountain bike or mountain bike hybrid, in good health and fitness, and have the basic safety gear. Otherwise, you're better off leaving the red and above trails to the pros. If you're looking to get into the sport, or you're a keen voyeur to the downhill art - keep an eye out for The Dyfi Enduro, a non-competitive, 35-mile mountain-bike challenge endurance ride. It draws 1000 riders, as well as spectators, to Machynlleth every year. The proceeds go towards keeping the trails in good nick, as well as helping to fund the local mountain rescue.
The closest town to Dyfi Forest, Machynlleth is famed for its mountain biking community, but it's not the only point of interest in this tiny town. It's also home to MoMA Machynlleth (no relation to its New York namesake), which has seven art galleries and a concert hall. MoMA Machynlleth houses 400 works from mostly contemporary Welsh artists, in an ever-changing carousel of colours. As well as hosting regular exhibitions, it holds concerts and events in its concert hall, as well as classes and workshops that range from pottery, to life drawing, to painting.
For those interested in local environment and ecology, Machynlleth is just down the road from the Centre for Alternative Technology. World renowned, the eco centre showcases practical solutions for a sustainable future - and it's exactly as cool as it sounds. They have one of the steepest railways in the world, two carriages that take people up and down from the car park. Onsite you'll find a hidden world of working examples of renewable energy, organic gardens, a vegetarian café, green buildings fuelled by experimental tech, all encircled by sustainably managed woodland.
The town itself has quite a mix of shops and restaurants, but some you'll want to keep an eye out for. Strolling the main street, Heol Maengwyn, you'll find Ty Medi - vegan and vegetarian café, Number 21 - restaurant serving up locally sourced ingredients mixing traditional and contemporary styles to create incredible dishes. Still hungry? Wander down the street to Studio 13 Ice cream & Desserts for bespoke ice cream flavours, milkshakes, cheesecakes and plenty more.
Staying awhile? If you're in town for more than the day, pop down to Dyfi Whole Foods for all the vegetarian and vegan wholefood needs you can imagine. Stock up on locally sourced ingredients, refill your toiletries, and grab a couple of pints of the local organic cow's milk. Of course, no stay would be complete without a local loaf, so pop into Clay & Bake on the high street, grab some sourdough, vegan chocolate muffins, almond croissants or whatever's on offer that day, and start the morning right.
Now what should be the hard part... made easy. Four miles up the road from Machynlleth lies the Beudy Banc glamp site. With six cabins and two treehouses, it's surrounded by miles of woodland, epic hills and fresh Welsh air. Head up to the ridge above Beudy Banc for views that stretch across the Dyfi valley, all the way to Cardigan Bay, Cader Idris and the Cambrain mountains. And if you're in the mood for some gentler slopes before taking on the Machs, there's a downhill track onsite to test your readiness. Each space is original, with its own set of advantages - from a perch up in the trees, to lakeside views - it's the only way to wake up, and explore Machynlleth, and the best place to crash after a day hitting the tracks.