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MTB (Mountain bike) riding in the South East of England for all tastes (including XC, Freeride, Enduro and Downhill riding)

Trail review: Penmachno vs. Marin Trail

On our recent trip to North Wales, myself and Dandy rode both these purpose built trails. They couldn’t have been more different. But which one is better?

There’s only one way to find out -Trail Fight!

We tried the Marin Trail having already been up and down Snowdon that day. After we returned to Llanberis we grabbed some much needed food and Dandy had a cunning plan to drive back to our lodgings at Betws-y-Coed and pick the Marin Trail up part way around.

Firstly, on leaving the B&B, we had an impromptu pit stop as Dandy realised his rear wheel was collapsing as he rode. A huge number of spokes had worked their way lose and it was wobbling all over the place. I’ve never seen a wheel just disintegrate entirely! After some fettling with a spoke key we headed up the road to pick up the trail. UP is the key word here. It was a road climb worthy of crampons, not what you need after already been up Snowdon earlier in the day. Our master plan was not looking so masterful after all. Dandy made light jokes about expecting some hills in Wales while I cursed privately and wished him death by a thousand sprocket cuts.

After some relentless spinning we finally reached the trail crossing the road and began the loop at a rather later-than-planned 5pm. It’s fair to say we were both rather disappointed with the Marin Trail. It seemed as if there was an awful lot of fireroad in the loop. Our negative view probably wasn’t helped by our weary bodies but I don’t believe even with fresh legs we would have come away eager to return. Just between you, me and the internet we didn’t actually finish the loop.

By 7pm I was flagging and suggested we cut a corner off to save some time. Thankfully Dandy agreed and we consumed the last of our meagre food rations and finished the trail before dropping back down the road somewhat faster than we rode up. Dandy had clearly been thinking long and hard about a pint of beer on those fire road climbs and he was not about to pass by a pub without some liquid refreshment. Having endured the hard work of Snowdon and ‘most’ of the Marin Trail the pint felt well deserved.

Penmachno couldn’t have been more different. It seemed like it was nearly all singletrack and ranks up there with the best man-made trails I’ve ridden. It really was great fun and I would definitely recommend it over the Marin trail.

Penmachno has stunning scenery, moss covered woodland, a board-walk section that tries to confuse the mind and the final descent is a real blast. Just when you think it’s all over there is another cheeky section that takes you right up to the car park to ensure you leave on a high note. Brilliant stuff. It’s maintained by volunteers so don’t forget to pop a contribution in the donation box to help its upkeep. There’s no fancy trail centre and organic cafe serving frappuccinos, just a widened bit of fire road. Turn up, ride, go home happy.

Now, over to you…

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7 comments on Trail review: Penmachno vs. Marin Trail

  1. Dave Fisher says:

    Sadly… by missing the end of the Marin, you missed the best bit. The last 15 – 20 mins is all stupidly fast, bouncy downhill…

    Overall, you’re not wrong though, Penmachno beats the Marin comfortably… every time.

    • Dandy says:

      I’m not sure we did miss that bit, Dave. Because we joined half-way round at the ByC end, we did enjoy the descent into the ‘official start’ of the Marin Trail, i.e. the end of the trail if you start at ‘the start’!

      You’re right, that was the best part of the trail, but unlike Penmachno, those Marin fire roads seem to go on for ever :-(

      Also, I’d suggest that the Penmachno descents were every bit as good if not better, and there were more of them :-)

      I guess what Jez and I are are saying, and I think you agree with us, is that if you’re in the area and have time for one trail, head for Penmachno over the Marin Trail.

      For those that may have read posts like this and have ridden Penmachno a few times, and never ridden the Marin Trail, try it – you may like it. If you think our opinions are wrong, tell us why you disagree.

  2. Tony says:

    I’d have to agree gents. I’ve ridden the Marin trail a couple of times and it’s not one of north wales finest. Not that memorable.

    However the Penmachno (although I’ve only done the first half) is one of my favourite centres. The big swooping descent around the big valley along the “pavement” is just a blast and the finish is a geat way to finish.

  3. Ben says:

    Further to Tony’s comment, I’ve ridden Penmachno and would agree it is some of the best trail riding I’ve done and combines the best elements of natural and man made effortlessly. That said the 20k main loop is the one to do. The additional 11k loop is mainly pedally and very wet! Not done the Marin and given that I’m in the area on Saturday (and this review), doesn’t look like it’ll get done anytime soon either :)

  4. Sharon says:

    Went and did the Marin on Sunday with daughter, friend and my hubby. First time I’d ridden a ‘natural’ trail as ‘degla is our stomping ground being just round the corner. Have to say I was heard to mutter on numerous occasions ‘how much more “up” can there be’! Personally I didn’t think the UP was even vaguely offset by the down. I rode pretty much all of it bar some of the steeper hills towards in the second half, daughter was flagging by then so it was a good excuse for me to walk. I’m not terribly keen on new rides so was pleasantly surprised that I was able to ride pretty much all of the single track – did walk part of Dragons Tail tho, sensory overload! Summary from me would be ‘Far too much effort for not enough fun’….. just my humble opinion. Hoping to get out to do Penmachno soon altho hubby isnt keen on it, think its like marmite, you either love it or…………. :)

  5. Dandy says:

    I think you’ll find Penmachno delivers more fun for your uphill efforts, Sharon. Most seem to agree it’s a more enjoyable trail, and also more technical. All perfectly rideable, i.e. no big drops or massive rock fields, just moderate your speed to ensure you’re riding within your limits – at least for the first lap ;)

  6. Andy jones says:

    Marin is 45% uphill (according to strava!) and I agree, it could do with more fun downhill sections to compensate for it. I’d say its definately worth a visit though. I’ve only done loop 1 of penmachno but hoping to do both loops in the morning so il see how it compares. After being spoilt with all the fun sections at llandegla thoug, there never gonna live up to it in my opinion.

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