welsh flag

Rwy'n caru Cymru hyd yn oed yn y glaw*

(go on, check out Google translate)

Or, Pino’s Brecon Beacons bash – 2017

Well after 7 weeks of dry roads it was inevitable that our mini tour to Wales would start in pouring rain as we gathered at Lymm Services for the off. Nine bikes were set to go, with John and Margaret on the RT due to join us in the Elan Valley following a fuel issue – basically the bike had run out following repeated fuel gauge issues!

Pino and Jane  headed the ride on the V Strom, with Ducati Ken, Dave and Roger on their Yamaha TDMs, Alan the Hornet (well he does deal with pests for his day job!), Pete on his Kwaka, Terry (Lord Derbyshire) on his GS and Chris and I on the Tracers. I opted to be TEC, a role that I enjoy and which allowed me time to play and to stop to take photographs when I needed to.

Day one was a jaunt of 180 miles into mid Wales with a first stop at the small and attractive market town of Oswestry, these days often by passed of course on, well, you guessed it, the by-pass! After leaving the floors dripping wet, we set off via Newtown (also soon to be by-passed) and onto what might just be the best road in Wales, the A483 from Newtown to Llandrindod Wells. It was quiet today but can be a highly policed race track at weekends and Bank Holidays!

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First stop – day one at the Elan Valley Visitor Centre

Our first stop was at the Elan Valley Reservoir complex visitor centre with the threat of sun breaking out! John and Margaret rolled in (fully fuelled) just as we were taking our helmets off – perfect timing. This reservoir complex, like so much of our infrastructure was built by the Victorians to supply water to Birmingham, and still does to this day of course.

Now this is an area I know well from other pursuits so it was great to ride familiar roads in such amazing scenery, often referred to as the ‘mid Wales desert’ because of its endless rolling moorland hills, often devoid of trees but with plenty of sheep!

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        The mid Wales desert. Is this the most remotest phone box in the country?

After the big loop round the reservoirs we headed south via Rayader and Builth Wells and over the mountain road towards Brecon. Despite the wet weather, Wales was looking splendid with burgeoning hedgerows full of Campion, Blue Bells (more of those later), Wild Garlic (easily scented of course on a motorbike) Buttercups and many more. The rain and milder weather of recent days meant that everything was green and lush.

From Brecon to Crickhowell and then over the tops into the south Wales valleys. There is an abrupt change in geography here as you leave the rural farmland of the Wye and Usk valleys to enter the (once) heavily industrialised Welsh valleys that drop south off of the ‘heads of the valleys road’ one by one. A lot of European money has gone into their re-development, ironic then that this area voted heavily to ‘leave’ in last year’s Referendum!

Day two dawned a little colder (a cold front had arrived over night) and a little wetter still. 170 miles today would take us through the Brecon Becons and the Black Mountains and into the quiet roads of Monmouthshire and Herefordshire, two exquisite counties that are often overlooked. More fun for us a then, on sweeping A and B roads with little or no traffic, apart that is for one overly ambitious artic’ that had miss judged its exit from a farm yard and had ended up stuck across the road and was going nowhere fast! The Sat Nav soon got us  back on track and the ‘drop off’ system worked efficiently to ensure a smooth and progressive ride to our first stop of the day for a welcome tea and cake, and to leave another dripping floor.

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1st stop day 2 – Lord Hereford’s Nob in the background – honest! It’s a well-known high point in the Black Mountains

The counties of Herefordshire (renowned for its apple orchards which were in full bloom) are characterised by red (iron rich) soils and the recent rains meant that there was a lot on the roads, the bikes ended up plastered!

Another feature of riding at this time of the year is of course the very fact that hedgerows, trees and all other vegetation is growing rapidly and have not yet been cut back (local authorities, under financial pressure are leaving ‘trimming’ until much later in the year) meaning that vision becomes much more restricted.

Our route was essentially a huge looping figure of 8 which now took us over the Brecon Beacons, down towards Swansea and then high back over the Black Mountains in the east of the National Park. The superb Black Mountains Pass (A4069) stretched out ahead of us in a sinuous black snaking line across the high moorland. Speed restrictions to 40mph were frustrating to say the least but understandable given the heavy presence of military vehicles and personnel using the area for training on this and every other day. Seeing large groups of ‘squaddies’ preparing to ‘yomp’ across the moors makes you realise how much we should value their contribution to our freedom to ride, pretty much wherever we want, when we want.

BB-4.jpgA gratuitous picture of my bike, high on the Black Mountains

Dropping back down into the Usk Valley our next stop was at Llandovery in a great little café. If you go on a Pino ride you are guaranteed great places to eat and drink.

Back now to Crickhowel and the superb climb up past the Brecon Beacons on the A road to Cardiff before turning left and North East up alongside the Talybont on Usk Reservoir. The rain was easing now but the roadside streams were in full flow and there was plenty of mud on the road, which means only one thing – there would be plenty of bike cleaning at the weekend!

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     The bikes would need a good clean

Our third and final day would dawn bright and sunny, yes it does shine in Wales. Our 204 mile ride back to Lancashire took us through sublime countryside, often over looked by the masses. The roads were consistently drier than expected after two days of rain and we made great progress along flowing roads to Brecon and then into the deepest recesses of Mid Wales north onto the Mynydd Eppynt MOD firing ranges, with big skies and stupendous views before the steep descent into the Irfon Valley and the highlight of the day into the Abergwesyn Common. On a day like today you really can’t ride anywhere better than in Great Britain.

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Photo opportunity in the Abergwesyn Valley

As well as abundant spring flowers the sheep and lambs were abundant too and as I followed Ken on his Multi Strada he showed that he knew how to handle sheep!

Not for the first time on the tour we were delighted by millions of Bluebells (the original English ones, not the blousy European imposter which has colonised so many areas in recent years) which turned the sloping hillsides either side of the road into carpets of deep blue.

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Shame that this picture was spoiled by a motorbike!

Now the Abergwesyn is famed for the Devils Staircase, a very steep (25% plus) section of sharp switchbacks, think of Hardknott and Wrynose Passes in the Lakes. As TEC I would have liked to see the riders in front taking a slightly quicker pace into the steep hairpins (you wouldn’t want to stall!) but everyone cruised through fine. In reality there are several similar sections to the ‘Staircase’ and we all enjoyed the challenge. As we dropped down to what is renowned as the most remote phone box in the country we were treated to the spectacle of Red Kites (Barcud Coch in Welsh) soaring just above our heads as they caught the lift over the hills. At one time, due to hunting and poisoning, there were only 22 known birds in the entire country with mid Wales being their final stronghold. Now with captive breeding and numerous feeding stations they are common in mid Wales and have been re-introduced in England and Northern Ireland

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        The majestic Red Kite, Barcud Coch, whose stronghold is mid Wales

Heading north now I’m on my home patch and really enjoy roads that I drive many times a year. As TEC I can hold back a little and play with the sweeping bends on the A44 to Llangurig, passing yet another wind farm development. Mid Wales has become a focus for this form of renewable energy, despite local objections. It is interesting to note that in April of this year we had the first 24 hours of energy generation in the UK, without any input from coal, since the 19th century. Electric bikes anyone?

The roads slowly get busier as we head north into Cheshire and finally to pick up the ever busy M56 at rush hour as we speed towards our final stop at Lymm. In this melee of traffic it’s hard to believe that just a few hours ago we were in the sublimely peaceful Abergwesyn Valley.

Thanks to Pino for putting together a superb mini tour.

*and for those of you who don’t speak Welsh, I’m sure there are a few, it means, ‘I love Wales, even in the rain’

 

Colin Stanfield

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