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by Patrick Cruywagen, 28th July 2017

Are the Cyfannedd Woods the toughest pay and play site in the UK?

I  have been off-roading on this mud island for a tad over four years now. In that time I have never ever visited a pay and play site. So when my good mate Stu Pickering, the Shropshire GLASS rep, invited me to join him and the lads at the Cyfannedd Woods 4x4 site, I jumped at the opportunity. The site lies on the west coast of Wales. Life is all about new experiences. Well that’s my philosophy anyway.

Wales is one of my favourite parts of the UK; well, just like me, the locals love both rugby and singing. Plus, if you’re into your outdoor pursuits, the place is like a home away from home. Our day at the site was scheduled for the Sunday, so I drive up on the Saturday afternoon. Thanks to the sleet, rain, sheer volume of traffic and mileage on country roads, it is dark by the time I arrive at the Kings Hostel in Dolgellau. I straight away know that I am at the right place as there are several Land Rovers in the car park. Sleeping in a dorm takes me back to the days of my school trips. They were memorable times. Nothing much has changed since then except for the fact that we all have less hair and bigger bellies.

The banter flies about after lights out. Who is going to need a recovery in the morning? Who will snap a side shaft? Who farted? Snoring does not bother me and soon I am in la la land. No to be confused with the current musical movie. Morning breaks cold and grey. Weather does not really matter when you are in a Land Rover though. If car marques were a corps in the army, then Land Rovers would be the infantry. They can operate anywhere and under any conditions. As the pay and play site is many a mile away from the nearest McDonald’s, I do allow myself to indulge in the great fry-up breakfast.

I justify it by telling the chaps that being a photographer can be tiring work, as you have to run around to get into the best positions for the perfect pictures. It does not take us long to drive to the ten or so miles to the site. What a spectacular little drive it is, the Irish Sea is to our right and the beautiful Mawddach Estuary just behind us. We are met by Emlyn Roberts, who takes £30 per Land Rover and makes us sign the obligatory indemnity form. His only rule is to stay on the existing tracks. This is done to protect the trees and pristine grasslands. While we are concluding the formalities a few more Land Rovers join us, they have driven up from Shropshire for the day. I can’t believe that they are only a short drive away from this beautiful coastline and forest. We are six Land Rovers in total.

Actually there are a few more in attendance but only six of them will be attempting the tracks on the site. Chris Leo is in his shortened Defender 110; it is anything but standard. It has twin lockers, a Warn 8274 winch, Gwyn Lewis suspension and 35-inch BFG mud tyres. It seems as if this pay and play site is not for standard vehicles, unless you want to damage them. His brother Dave is in a former army Defender 110; it has been lifted two inches and, not to be outdone, it too has a winch. Time will tell if brotherly love extends to winching each other out of trouble? James Brotherwood is in his Defender 90 Td5.

Among this car’s off-road enhancements are front and back lockers, Gwyn Lewis suspension and off-road tyres. His dad Mark has come along just to make sure that he does not break anything. Tom and Kate English are in Tom’s standard Series III though he has put a decent set of mud tyres onto it. It has a roof rack, on whichvrests a seriously large ladder; it looks ready for that famous seventies Darien Gap crossing. As I walk around it I notice that it has a funny sticker on the back that reads ‘if you think this is slow, wait until I go uphill’.

Then there are two Discoverys. Aussie Kieran Aubrey has a Discovery 2 complete with off-road bumper, protection plates but Yokohama AT tyres. That is like wearing sneakers with a fancy suit. Last but not least are Ryan and Claire Jenkins in a Discovery 1, which has been lifted and sports BFG mud tyres. Claire arrived in her shiny Defender 110 Td5 but it won’t be joining us. We are good to go. “You can probably get around the site in a standard Land Rover but then you will be restricted to the network of hardpacked trails around the site.

However if you want to explore all the other many little offshoot tracks, you are going to struggle in a standard Land Rover,” explains Stu as we head off. As we climb up the gentle main access route, the sun comes out and lights up the Mawwdach Estuary far down below us. That is where the eight-mile Afon Mawddach meets the sea. In the 19th century, shipbuilding was the main industry in the area, but today it is tourism and the area is awash with walkers. In fact, on a decent summer’s day the never-ending sand banks are jam-packed with people. After a short safety briefing by Stu we take one of the tracks towards the top lookout. I can see that the tracks have been made by huge pieces of forestry equipment and not other Land Rovers. Things don’t start well for the Discovery 1 and it is struggling for traction.

As it makes its way through a muddy section, only the front wheels are spinning. It has snapped a rear shock and the rear diff is not doing what it is meant to. It has to be recovered. Forward first, as this is the only way out. Once out it is turned around and heads down the hill where it will have to wait until we are finished for the day. We have barely travelled a mile and already we are one Land Rover down. I jump in with Chris to see what the track ahead looks like. Chris is an experienced off-road driver and, as things get rougher and rougher, he expertly steers the Defender over the thousands of tree roots which lie across the track. At times it feels as if we are in a scale model Defender, so big are the ruts and obstacles. As the tractor and forestry vehicles are much wider than a Defender, staying in the tracks is near impossible, so Chris places two wheels on the higher middle section. “I don’t think the others will make it up here,” he announces. I inform the others on the radio that the convoy will have to turn around. We have to go and find somewhere else to play.

Soon we are on a track adjacent to Bomber Lane, a popular greenlane in the area. The story of Bomber Lane is a tragic one and takes us back to 1945, at the end of the Second World War. A plaque on Craig Cwm Llwyd marks the spot where an American B-17G Flying Fortress from the 511th Bomb Squad, 351st Bombardment Group, crashed on the first leg of its journey back to the USA. There were no survivors. How sad that those poor servicemen survived the war but then died on the way home. We turn away from Bomber Lane into a seemingly impenetrable forest. It is dark in the forest, making it the perfect place to shoot a horror movie. It seems as if the forest was once home to a 4x4 horror story of sorts  because everywhere I look there are broken off bits of 4x4. We pass an IPF light cover, smashed rear view mirror and even a whole Daihatsu that has been abandoned.

They should adopt a rule that if you break bits off while here then you should pick them up or else pay a cleaning up fee. The one big positive when off-roading on a private site is that there are no ramblers or horse riders looking at you as if you have just nicked their lunch. You can just get on with the business of concentrating on the off-roading. After a splash through some shallow water and mud, we take another secondary track. There are so many to choose from. The muddy ruts are deep and stepped. Soon we are faced with a rather.

Where we stayed
YHA Kings (Dolgellau)
This friendly and comfortable hostel, set on the slopes of the Cader Idris mountain range, is only a short drive away from Cyfannedd Woods pay-and-play site. It serves a mean curry, cheap beers and a top-notch fried breakfast. Our group occupied one of the dorms so we had to take along sleeping bags, but the rest was provided. Owner David went out of his way to make our stay as comfortable as possible. They also offer camping options for 4x4 clubs or groups in the summer. A great place to spend a few days because after visiting the pay-and-play site, the sandy beaches, steam railways and imposing Snowdonia is not far away. For more, see yha.org.uk/hostel/kings.  
Cyfannedd Woods 4x4
You will have to sign an indemnity form and pay £30 per vehicle before entering the site. For more details contact Emlyn Roberts on 07540769339. Postcode of venue is LL39 1LX.

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