We had a trip to Wales planned for June for my brother’s 50th birthday. Steve’s first proper bike trip was to Wales with me and my son Callum two years ago. He loved it, we loved it. Didn’t hurt that it coincided with a heatwave. Steve doesn’t normally ride in the wet, but what were the chances of it not raining in Wales twice?
It poured down during our dates in June, but, of course, fate had intervened and we didn’t get to go.
Steve had booked a really cheap cottage for the trip two years ago. It was near Llanderfel. Callum and I shared a room, which was fine, but the beds were tiny. It was basic but perfectly adequate. Very good value for money. This time, I searched for cottages and we agreed on one in Oswestry, just this side of the border. Much nicer.
When it came to rebooking for September, it wasn’t available, so we ummed and arred and ended up booking a static caravan at the same place we’d stayed before. It was even cheaper than the cheap cottage, but had an extra bedroom. Turns out the beds were even smaller!
We kept checking the forecast, even though we know it’s wildly inaccurate more than a day or two in advance, and it gradually got better, with no actual rain likely.
We loaded up my panniers and Steve’s topbox (didn’t really need the KTM panniers as no women were involved in this trip!) and set off around 8.30am on Wednesday morning. We had made the potential error of providing Steve with Helen, my wife’s, intercom so he could tell us when he was desperate for a pee (apparently I didn’t notice when he pulled up alongside me desperately gesturing on our last trip) or needed petrol. His GSX1250 has a smaller tank and poorer economy that the Guzzi or Callum’s Super Duke. He’d filled up on his way to us and as it turned out we only needed to stop once for petrol on the way. Steve had been filling up as soon as the warning light came on previously, but he can go much further, with a bit of encouragement. We had a few drops of rain, a couple of places where the traffic slowed, but other than that it was a clear and easy journey and the Guzzi was comfortable. I did find that the mpg reading, normally 10% high, reads way low at motorway speeds. Or maybe it was filling up with still a fair amount of petrol in that confused it.
After hours of motorway, Shropshire and then Wales is like a breath of fresh air. At first it’s just green and gorgeous, then as we start to ride upwards on the B4391 it becomes more dramatic. The drop to the left on this road is slightly worrying but reveals a stunning valley. The road narrows on some of the twisty bits, and you wouldn’t want to meet oncoming traffic on those bends, but is generally easy riding. Then it levels out onto more open moorland, with a couple of tight turns and plenty of undulations, and one bit where you can see far enough ahead to get some speed up. The Guzzi excels on this sort of road. Getting close to our destination now, we avoided a right turn down a particularly narrow, steep road that has an awkward junction at the bottom and took the slightly easier way round. There’s still a tight hairpin to keep you on your up after a long trip. We parked up on the farm, trying to find somewhere fairly even and solid in the parking spaces. It was around 2pm.
We probably should have gone for a ride that afternoon but chilled out around the farm. Later, we got excellent takeaway food from the pub just up the road, The Bryntirian Inn.
The next morning, we were awake early. One person couldn’t so much as roll over in bed without waking everyone else up in that caravan! We were out by 8.30am.
I’d planned a route on the TomTom satnav app on my phone. I’ve been using TomTom for a couple of years, and before that CoPilot, and both work well. Steve was keen on visiting various dams in the Elan Valley and getting some photos, though he doesn’t drag his proper camera out now.
We headed out to the fast and scenic A494 alongside Bala. We were having fun already. Then we headed down the A487 and stopped at the Mach Loop car park. The landscape around here is stunning. We got some photos and a nice old guy offered to get one of all of us. Steve struck a slightly unfortunate pose that provided for some giggles later!
This road continued to be good for a while, but then we got a series of roadworks, including one where we had to follow a convoy vehicle through, something I’ve only come across in Wales and Cornwall.
We turned off before Aberystwyth and stopped for another photo on a small road overlooking the town.
I’d promised Steve I would stop more often for photos on this trip, and with the intercom he could nag me to. I have a tendency to just keep riding!
The road to Devil’s Bridge was scenic, and we stopped there briefly for some more photos.
At this point, my satnav stopped working. It was still showing where we were, but wouldn’t work out any routes. Well, never mind, there’s always Google Maps. Except there’s no phone or 4G signal. My brother, on a different network, got it working but I’d never used it before and immediately took a wrong turning up a really tiny road that just got smaller. Stone walls on either side and no room to pass oncoming traffic. A pick up truck kindly backed up some distance to let us through.
Eventually, we made it back to the ‘main’ road, and headed for a dam. We didn’t do our original route and missed one or two dams as Steve’s phone lost signal as well and I ended up just looking at a map on the phone and trying to head in roughly the right direction. The roads heading towards the dams went through the most beautiful countryside.
Google Maps was now working again and I made sure it was routing us along the A483 from Llandrindod Wells to Newtown. I’ve ridden this road two or three times before and it’s always been decent, but this time it was sublime. We may have passed a car or two at the southern end of the road, but after that it was completely clear of traffic and we could just swing round bend after bend at good speed. It was one of the best, fastest rides I’ve ever had. The Guzzi isn’t really quick but it feels delightful on this sort of road and Callum and Steve were impressed with how well it went. They were having great fun, too. It was like reaching a state of nirvana where everything just comes together.
From there we headed back towards the caravan up the excellent A4391.
The next day, we left a bit later as we were planning on breakfast at, or at least outside, The Ponderosa Cafe on Horseshoe Pass. We went through Corwen with the fake policeman propped up on a post.
Last time Steve was with is, he was on a virtually new Fireblade and less than impressed when we came across a long section of stone chippings. This time it was clear.
After some breakfast baps, we headed towards Llanberris Pass. Pleasant enough roads but it doesn’t get really good until you turn off onto the A4086.
We rode across open moorland alongside a lake. Wonderful. Then it’s up a mountain, a twisty road with a steep drop to one side, and, by now, strong winds trying to blow us off it. Over the top and down towards Llanberris. This is one of my favourite places in the world. Steep, rocky slopes beyond mountain streams. All divided by a narrow, twisty but well surfaced two lane road.
From there, we went through Llanberris and ended up on the A487, which was busy and went through urban areas that weren’t much fun. The antics of a BMW estate in front of us kept us entertained – from a safe distance!
The car had a small plate above the bumper stating ‘Police’. This may be a genuine things in Wales, but I doubt it. The driver kept overtaking or trying to overtake in dangerous places and nearly had a couple of head-on crashes. He would pull right out into the other lane looking for opportunities to overtake, regardless of oncoming traffic or blind bends. Eventually, we parted ways and after a while on faster roads, we came up behind a queue of traffic behind two tractors. Now, I’m quite a cautious rider, but when the road opened up ahead onto a long, clear straight with room for us to overtake the whole lot, I went for it. Aware that one of the other vehicles might also be thinking about overtaking, I gave them a wide birth and was ready to brake. What I didn’t really expect was for one of the tractors to swing out to overtake the other. Just as I was about to pass it. I braked without too much drama, and found that there was still room for me to go round it. The others followed, giving the driver the appropriate hand signals!
We were heading for a lakeside cafe near Blaenau Ffestiniog. We found ourselves on good roads again, ones we remembered from previous trips.
The cafe was in a mining area and near to a power station.
From there, it was a fast blast towards Bala, but rather than take the quicker roads around the lake, we headed along a small road through some beautiful countryside. We all could have ridden further really, but we had another long day on motorways to get back home the next day.
The return journey was uneventful, with speeds increasing as we got nearer to home. We’d had a fantastic couple of days riding, with no more that a light, brief shower and a few drops of rain here and there. The Guzzi had performed admirably, economically and with good comfort.