Huge expansion at popular Eryri attraction that's facing uncertain future

Riders can 'picnic by the river' or sail across one of its bridges
-Credit: (Image: NRW)

The UK’s first and arguably best trail centre has undergone its biggest development for many years. More than 100km of new gravel routes have been created at Coed y Brenin in Eryri (Snowdonia) to offer a “completely new type of cycle adventure”.

Six waymarked trails have been added to the forest’s network at Ganllwyd, near Dolgellau. Offering an alternative to the centre’s traditional mountain bike trails, site manager Natural Resources Wales (NRW) say they have been developed for the “pure pleasure of cycle enjoyment”.

The site’s expansion comes amid continued uncertainty over Coed-y-Brenin’s visitor centre. It is one of three visitor centres under review as NRW looks to make spending cuts, the others being at Bwlch Nant yr Arian, near Aberystwyth, and Ynyslas Visitor Centre, between Machynlleth and Aberystwyth.

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While there are no plans to close Coed y Brenin’s visitor centre, NRW may look to bring in private companies or community-led groups to take over the running of its café and building. A decision had been expected by late March but NRW said ongoing savings have bought the visitor centres more time to enable discussions on “alternate delivery models”.

The six new gravel trails open on Saturday, May 25. NRW said the “mostly traffic-free” routes will offer riding for cyclists of all abilities the chance to experience some of the forest’s wilder areas.

Andy Braund, NRW’s recreation ranger for cycling and mountain biking in northwest Wales, said: “These new routes cater for families that want to have a picnic by the river, recreational cyclists, and the more adventurous gravel rider. It will allow them to explore one of the most beautiful forests in Eryri National Park with fine views of the surrounding mountains that are full of historical mine workings and old farmsteads.”

The new trails were developed to increase the site’s accessibility without the need for costly new construction. Existing forest roads, bridleways and permissive ways have been waymarked into easy-to-follow routes. Sign up now for the latest news on the North Wales Live Whatsapp community

They’re pitched at riders who don’t want to attempt technical mountain bike trails. NRW hopes the new routes will introduce people to adventure cycling and perhaps encourage them to attempt the new Traws Eryri cycle route launched last year by NRW and Cycling UK.

All six trails have been named after Welsh myths and legends. They vary in length and challenge from the shortest Coblynnau (Goblin) at just over 9km to the 36km Y Wrach Wen (The White Witch).

Trail surfaces vary but will include forest roads, hard-packed tracks and some narrower trail sections. Some steeper sections on the longer trails may require riders to walk their bikes a short distance. Get all the latest Gwynedd news by signing up to our newsletter - sent every Tuesday

Each year some 100,000 people visit Coed y Brenin, the UK’s first purpose-built mountain bike centre when it opened in 1996. As 20 people are employed at the centre – which also offers walking and running trails – it is an important part of Meirionnydd’s rural economy.

The new gravel routes offer views without spills for novice cyclists, families and experienced riders
'Alternate delivery models' are being considered for Coed y Brenin visitor centre as NRW looks for external partners

News of NRW’s review sent shockwaves through the local area. It prompted Mabon ap Gwynfor, Senedd Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, to call for a new marketing plan to attract visitors back to Coed y Brenin. He also urged the Welsh Government to develop a long-term business strategy aimed at promoting high adrenaline tourism destinations.

Elsie Grace, NRW’s head of sustainable commercial development, said the environmental body was under pressure to make cuts as it aims to meet its Corporate Plan objectives, mainly focused on the nature crisis. She added: “We have already taken significant steps to reduce our financial pressures, such as tighter recruitment controls and reducing use of agency and temporary contracts.

“This has given our Board and executive team more time to consider our priorities. Our visitor centre review sits within this wider work. We continue to discuss alternate delivery models with partners over the longer term.”

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