A Week in the West Country

Saturday morning was bright and dry, as three bikes gathered at Charnock Richard services. Steve Ball was first to arrive with his Tiger 800, then Lynn and I on our FJR1300, closely followed by Mark and Leela Burns on their Explorer XCa. Another two bikes and bikers were there, and turned out to be Devon Advanced Motorcyclist riders on their way home from the Lake District.

After bidding the two DAMmers farewell, we set off down the M6, onto the M56, then off at J10 A49. We went south-west, through Llangollen and Bala before stopping for a brew. Off we went again, and coming into one of the small Welsh towns, who should we see sitting outside a cafe in the sun, but the two Devon bikers!

After lunch, some lovely, almost empty A and B roads saw us eventually arrive at the Neuadd Arms Hotel in Llanwrryd Wells, where we have stayed before on one of Mark's trips. (It's the one with a huge sculpture of a Red Kite bird on a stand opposite the hotel.)

AWIWC 1a

A lovely meal in the hotel, a few 'scoops' and a natter about the day's ride, then off to bed.

Day 2 started with a good breakfast and fine weather, and we moved off about 10am. East towards England, but not before we spied a small teapot sign at the side of the road.....off down a narrow road to a large property which looked like a cotton mill owner’s house (if it had been in the north-west).  Off the bikes and in through the lovely hallway and rooms and out onto a terrace looking out over hills and valleys. Fabulous! Tea and scones at a very reasonable rate!

 AWIWC-2.jpg

 Back on the bikes, towards Hereford, Cheltenham, Cirencester, then south-west skirting Bristol, through Cheddar Gorge where we stopped (with loads of others) for an ice cream, then past Glastonbury and on to our hotel at Bridgwater - the same place that Mark and others stayed at on the Ride For Mike. (Ask Mark about doing 110mph+ with the Police in close formation.)

Good food with plenty of choice, and we were joined by Michelle and Tom (both serving police officers). Good beers (Hobgoblin and Marstons) and good rooms, with a massive bed (ours was, anyway). Early to bed, though Mark and Steve stayed for another scoop...

 Monday dawned bright and dry (again!) and after a good Full English, we waited for our guides to arrive. Michelle, a traffic officer, on her BMW F700, Simon (ex-police) on his orange Grinnall Rocket 3 trike, and Phil on his Pan European 1100. After the intro's (Michelle helped organise the Avon & Somerset section of the Ride For Mike two years ago) we set off. We had coffee in Wells, near the Cathedral, lunch of fish & chips in Lyme Regis, and ice creams in Exmouth at the harbour!

AWIWC-3.jpg

Back for the evening meal, with our tour guides peeling off towards their own homes. A lovely 120 or 130 mile day, and with Michelle at the front, all at a leisurely pace...

 Tuesday, we had Michelle again to guide us firstly over into Wales, over the M48 Severn Bridge to coffee/tea at Tintern Abbey, where it started to drizzle. Onwards to the outskirts of Gloucester to collect Andy on his 1200 Bandit. Andy, Michelle and Phil are members of the Blue Knights - a bike club for serving and retired officers of the law - police, prison, customs, etc.. Michelle had asked on their website for help in the area, and Andy had answered, so we all met him for the first time!

Onwards to Bourton-on-the-Water for lunch - very picturesque - then on to Arlington Row in Bibury - very old and even more picturesque! Finally, Andy led us to Cotswold Airport, near Cirencester. There were 6 or 7 'planes, including a Jumbo 747, all for scrapping! The airport is very small, but has an aero club and clubhouse, where we had afternnon tea. The clubhouse has an immaculately restored  New Hudson bike (1930's?)

AWIWC-4.jpg

After he led us out from the airport, Andy waived us goodbye, and Michelle led us back 'home'. On the way, I got a puncture in the rear tyre. We all stopped, but the tyre was beyond repair. The others left Lynn and I at a filling station (in the dry) awaiting recovery back to the hotel.

 Wednesday was a quiet day for us. I rang and ordered two tyres, and Mark followed me to a local tyre depot, and gave me a lift back. (I've never been a pillion before) Leela, Lynn and I went into Bridgwater whilst the tyres were delivered and fitted. Mark and Steve went to Minehead, Porlock, Lynton and Lynmouth, then back over Exmoor.

 Thursday saw Michelle and Phil take us south again to Dawlish (coffee), Torquay, Paignton and Brixham (lunch on the seafront), Princetown (afternoon tea) and over Dartmoor to Willington near Weston-Super-Mare for an evening American car show with live music included, at a pub. Then back for food, drink and bed - another 200 mile day!

AWIWC-5.jpg

 Friday, we set off for home after breakfast. Up the M5 then over into Wales again. On to the A449 and A49, we 'lost' Steve in Ludlow around lunchtime. We were home by 6pm, after a few queues on the short distance we did on the M6 - normal tea-time traffic, I guess...

What a trip! Epic! We did nearly 1,100 miles in the week. Sunshine nearly all the way. Plenty to see and do in a smashing part of the country, with some great roads.

If you want a gentle amble through the countryside, then Mark's trips are not for you. I you want to 'make progress' (where appropriate) then sign up for the next one.

Keith Bridge

Reflections on the joys of touring …

Rather than the usual, day one we did this, day two we did that, ad nauseaum, I thought I’d share a few reflections on what will (and won’t) happen on any foreign tour of any great extent. Now don’t get me wrong, any tour that includes the Col d’Iseran, the Routes Des Cretes, the Nochalm Strasse, the Timmelsjoch, Grosslglockner and B500 has to be awesome, but……………….

  • You (and your bike!) will need a pre tour service and ‘no, that slightly (?) worn tyre won’t last the distance – get it replaced!
  • Motorways in the UK will be jam packed, so you will need to filter – period
  • The drought in Southern England will break on the day that your tour starts.
  • The Eurotunnel will be experiencing “unexpected delays – Merci pour votre patience”
  • You will get to know the meaning of the words, ‘Route Baree’, Gravillons, and Rollspitz

SLS-1.jpg

  • Road calming works
  • All of this (and more) means that you will only average around 30mph a day
  • 3 Sat Navs will each give different route directions
  • Bloody Robbie Williams will be performing in town for the one night you are there meaning all the restaurants are full – time he retired
  • The Hotel owner will show you your rooms and then lock you out of the hotel when you go to get your tank / saddle / pannier bags (but the nice Italian lady across the road will help you to avoid sleeping on the street)
  • Southern Europe in the summer will be experiencing a ‘heat wave’ – it’s a called the ‘summer’ and it will be ‘scorchio’
  • Italian drivers will be, well, ‘Italian drivers’. They will use their vehicles as weapons. Oh and while on the subject, forget solid white lines, they mean nothing! (Sorry Pino but you know it’s true)
  • Credit / Debit cards won’t always work / be accepted, often when most needed – e.g. when fuel is getting low
  • Those quintessential little market towns that we all love will have ….. you guessed it ….. markets, and these will slow you down, divert and block your route
  • Your route will be blocked by an earthquake (honest)
  • Various creatures of European origin, mad dogs, deer, sheep, cows, goats, et al will be in the road. They can be at home and just ‘cos you’re on tour doesn’t mean that their foreign counterparts are any more road ‘savvy’

SLS-2.jpg

  • You will choose the wrong queue / line at the Peage/ Petrol Pump because each one seems to operate in a different way, pay first, pay after joining the auto route / strada or fuelling, self-serve , service, cash, card, the permutations are endless. And yes there will always be an irate Italian, French, German, Swiss, Austrian (delete as appropriate) behind you in the queue (Mind you, you may get lucky and have two attractive young French girls in a Renault 5 help you to nip under the barrier at the same time as they go through. Oooh Papa!)
  • You will (at least if like me and you have a healthy sense of ‘school boy’ humour) chuckle inside your helmet at foreign road signs such as ‘Gutfarht’, or at a garage offering ‘Turmoil’ for sale, and the classic Italian roadside warning for , ‘precipitationi atmospherica’ – aka rain! Why use one syllable when you can use so many more!

Arrivederci!

Colin Stanfield

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!

BB-1.jpg 

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!

BB-2.jpg

        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.

BB-3.jpg

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!

BB-5.jpg

     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.

BB-6.jpg

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.

BB-7.jpg

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

BB-8.jpg

        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

Latest SLAM Events

02 Dec 2017
08:00AM - 05:00PM
SLAM Fylde Ride
07 Dec 2017
08:00PM - 10:00PM
SLAM Social - Presentations
21 Dec 2017
08:00PM - 09:30PM
Fylde Social

Login

SLAM Tips