Trail running, rock climbing and abseiling with Merrell in the Brecon Beacons. They know how to pack a lot of cool stuff into a weekend!
I’ve been a big fan of Merrell kit since I started reviewing their brilliant hiking boots and I’m pretty obsessed with their blog, full of inspiring interviews and epic trails around the world, so I was very excited indeed to get out into the hills and put their latest trail running shoe, the Bare Access, through its paces.
We all stayed at Perth y Pia, a cosy 15th farmhouse turned bunkhouse smack between the Sugarloaf and Table Mountain. After getting kitted up we headed out trail running with lovely (and insanely fit) Merrell Ambassador Jake Thompsett, who runs an expeditions company based in the Beacons. He suggested we aim for a 5k, which sounded like a doddle to me until I realised that the first 2.5k would be straight up a vertical mountain face. I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much. Fell runners are hardcore.
When we finally dragged ourselves to the top of the mountain it was all worth it for the epic vistas, and the adrenaline-fuelled sprint back down the hill was amazing fun. The only problem with trail running in the incredible landscape of the Beacons is that a casual jog around town now seems rather tame…
The next day we headed into the Forest of Dean for a climb at Symonds Yat Rock. Jake led the way to a looming rock face hidden in the woods and started us off on some easy routes – the climbing level here is ideal for beginner or intermediate climbers and it was the perfect place for me to finally get to grips with belaying with a Grigri (under Jake’s watchful eye, to make sure that my test subjects lived).
Last up, we walked up through the woods to an epic viewpoint looking out over Symond Yat’s glorious gorge, which seems rather more imposing from a lofty height as it does when you’re canoeing along the river. Jake slung a rope around a hefty tree and we all tried abseiling down the cliff face, all heroically pretending not to terrified (except Sam, who was so casual he took a selfie on the way down). Serious fun. This is how adventure-packed I know want all my weekends to be.
I tested out Merrell’s new Bare Access trail shoes (£85) over the weekend. Designed for minimalist, barefoot-feel running, these babies are amazingly lightweight and comfy from the get-go. Their upper is mesh, which means they aren’t waterproof – not a problem on quick stints or training runs but properly not ideal for ultrarunning or trails in the midst of winter. The grippy soles feel really stable on wet grass and rugged rock, even if you’re flying over the terrain. Their light, flexible design makes them perfect for chucking in your rucksack if you’re off on adventures, as they’re versatile enough to go pretty much anywhere.
Sam tried Merrell’s Mix Master road shoes (£85). The verdict? “They’re really light, comfortable trainers and most importantly, really versatile. They not only grip trails really well but pedals too.” This is a boy obsessed with the outdoors so I’ll take his word for it.