The Welsh gods decided to give the mountains a break over the bank holiday and allowed the sun to shine on one of the most exciting weekends in the Welsh trail rider's calendar - the Taffy Drwg. Yes, I know it's an unpronounceable word and means nothing to those outside of the village but there's a reason for that. The all-weather trail-riding weekend in the Brecon Beacons used to be called the Taffy Dakar but some French lawyers for some reason thought that was confusing the orienteering event with it's beer-swilling, hog roast munching, bucking bronco antics for a rather more serious deal held in South America. If only they had bothered to come to Wales they may have been convinced otherwise. Drwg is of course pronounced 'Droog' and it's said this is a tongue in cheek reference to some strange weed that makes your head go all funny. But that's just hearsay, I've not had that confirmed by any Welshfolk to date. So what's this 'Droog' all about?
It's mostly about a jolly good piss up in the Welsh mountain air, if I'm honest. With some amazing riding thrown in during the sober patches. Around 300 entrants with team names such as 'Two Strokes with Smokes', 'Three Mustget Beers' and 'Gnarled Nobblies' took part this year with a huge variety of bikes (ABE - Anything But Enduros, motocross and race bikes) in a quest to locate answers to clues that could be found on 6- or 10-digit OS grid references. The 140 questions were spread over roughly a 30-mile square over and around the green mountains and it was up to each team to decide the order and the amount of clues they wanted to tackle, ensuring a display of a certain amount of skill at riding on all terrains, map-reading, planning and mild to moderate cursing. This isn't pretending to be any kind of a competition, however, just a fun weekend of camping and riding with the occasional points thrown in and prizes. No-one really understands the scoring system but that's all part of the fun. It means anyone can 'win' this non-competitive, point scoring event.
As well as plenty of orienteering practice, the organisers threw in three marshalled 'special' sections - an enduro course taking in steep hills and loose gravel, a technical piece (involving slow speed control, not unlike your riding exam) and a woodland trail which required a degree of technical skill in order to get through the bush, trees and shrubbery. A handful of sharp 90 degree turns and roots meant this was no walk in the park. Although it did look a bit like a park, with trees and green stuff. It most definitely did not look like a South American desert. (Just saying.)
Our team was called the 'Norfolk Hall Riders' (say it quick, but not near grandma), I was riding my Yamaha TTR250 with my mate Ray on his BMW 650 Sertao. Both bikes were easily up for the course but I wasn't, at least in some parts. I most notably came a cropper on the eduro section, not giving enough gas going up and stalling just feet from the top. Anyone whose been out on the trails knows that stalling on a hill means almost certainly you're going to have to go back down and try again. Finally reaching the top and identifying the numberplate clue I then proceeded to have trouble in exactly the same section, sliding on my side on the loose mud.
It was as I was gritting my teeth and wondering if I was going to go over the edge that my phone helmet comms system decided to randomly play Lionel Richie's 'Hello?' at full pelt in my ears. No, dear Lionel, I wasn't looking for you just some kind of purchase on the loose soil for my back wheel. Suddenly remembering the importance of body posture I pulled myself right back on the seat, (moving my weight above the back tyre and getting better purchase on the soil) and finally managed to get down the slope and all the way to the bottom where a gorgeous, chocolate brown puddle was waiting. Brilliant.
But this weekend was really primarily about having masses of fun and making new trail friends from Wales and as far afield as Portugal, Scotland and Ireland, who incidentally put on their own version called the Paddy Dakar. (At least it still is at the time of writing.) South Wales offers the most amazing roads, byways, mountain tracks and jaw dropping scenery in the Brecon Beacons and it remains one of my favourite places to ride in the world. That's saying something, I've ridden over quite a few mountains in Europe now but still, something about the Brecons just leaves me breathless.
Ivariably as part of the weekend you end up taking wrong turns, meeting animals and farmers and asking strangers for clues but that's what it's all about. The organisers were keen to stress how important it was to be respectful to the communities we went through and it was great to notice everyone taking heed and I didn't see any gratuitous displays of noise or speed during the whole weekend. In fact, I heard more loud noises in the night from my tent than I did on the road..
Although held over a weekend there was just one day of orienteering which culminated in a 'prize' giving ceremony at the end of the day which, because Christian is such a wag, had everyone rolling around the floor.
The beer flowed and one by one everyone forgot how much they were aching, and instead started spirited recollections of various triumphs and failures during the day. In an unprecedented turn of events, the same team received the trophy as last year, 'My Hog Won't Spark' must have got up at the crack of sparrows to knock out so many answers to the clues. I have no idea where the 'Norfolk Hall Riders' came just yet, it'll probably take a few months for the tallys to be added together. But it really doesn't matter. Or maybe it does, just a little bit, because we did actually try this year. Not to win of course, because this was not, as you know, a competition...
If you're fan of trail, beginner or experienced, you should head to the hills and support the TRF to ensure these amazing trails stay open and the beauty of the Welsh countryside remains accessible to everyone. www.taffydrwg.co.uk