Wales by bike

5 Oct 2008

Ever since I got into biking the idea was that it was a great way to see the world, and last week I finally got around to taking the Uly on its first touring trip. Laura and I went on a holiday split in two parts: firstly we spent four days up on the Wirral and in Liverpool, and then we spent four days biking through Wales.

At this time of year in Liverpool it’s art-tastic – firstly Liverpool is European city of culture for 2008, and secondly the Liverpool Biennial arts festival is also running. Thus we spent a good while wandering around seeing a lot of what was on offer. In addition we walked out to Hilbre Island at low tide, and did a half day kayaking course at the West Kirby marine lake:

A photo of blue water and sky, which a thin strip of West Kirby buildings in between. In the water you can make out three red splodges that are us kayaking.

(that pic shows, left to right, the tutor, Laura, and me, and was taken by Laura’s Dad)

After four relaxing days we took to the road, and headed south into Wales. This was only my second time to Wales, and for me it was great to be back into somewhere with gradients after so long in Cambridgeshire. Wales didn’t disappoint:

A view looking down at the motorbike parked on a tight corner, with a hillside sweeping up behind it.

We drove down through Snowdonia, stopping off at Bodnant Gardens and Rhug Farm on our way to our first night’s hotel in Mallwyd. To get to the hotel we went over Bwlch y Groes, which is the highest pass in Wales, and used to be a test track for the old Austin motor company, back when the route was known as Hellfire Pass! Here we are at the top:

A picture taken from the camera balanced on the motorbike so you can see the screen and handlebars, looking at me and Laura stood by a viewpoint sign and the view of rolling hills.

For other bikes I can recommend the A5 and the road from Rhug down to Bala – wonderful sweeping bends that really made me appreciate all the work I’ve been doing with the IAM training for my advanced motorcycle test – these just wouldn’t have opened up for me without Mac’s training – thanks Mac!

That night we stayed at the Buckley Pines Hotel, which I’d recommend if you’re in the area. Amazing scenery, and we could easily have just spent a day in this area alone.

The next day we headed down the coast, stopping occasionally, but the gems came once we’d passed Fishguard, and we found the hidden gems of Porthgain and the nearby beach of Abereiddy. Porthgain is a tiny village on a bay overlooked by a disused slate mine. It also has a very nice pub that we wished we could have stuck around to sample its dinners. Around the corner is the beach at Abereiddy, which was also amazing, with calm, clear waters that people were swimming in. This also gives you some idea of how good the weather was for our trip – amazingly lucky for late September.

Laura stood by a cliff, looking out over the sea. Next to here is a large white stone cairn.

Above, Laura on a cliff by Porthgain. Below, me on the beach at Abereiddy.

A photo of me paddling in the sea, mostly in my biker gear still.

After a brief trip to St David’s, we went to a hotel in Narberth for the night. Whilst in Narberth we ate at the Carreg Restaurant, which had some great food served to your table on a hot slab of granite, so you could sear your food just the way you like it :) Very good food, and at a very reasonable price too – so we were glad they found us a table even if we did look a little shabby compared to the other cliental :)

The next day we started the crawl back east. Our destination for today was the Brecon Beacons, and in particular the Touratech Travel Event 2008. Touratech are the people whom you go to if you want to do any sort of motorbike adventure touring, from trips like ours to the Dakar rally, so I was really looking forward to getting there and seeing other bikes and kitted out bikes.

On the way there we took a detour that captured what I loved about the parts of Wales we went by. Laura spotted a view point just a few miles off the busy road we were meant to take to get to Touratech. Once there, I asked google maps how we should continue, and it suggested we continue on the narrow tiny trail over the hill – who was I to argue? :) The route took us up high over this hill, showing us a reservoir and magnificent views, along with some fun ascents and descents – the Ulysses had never met roads like these, but handled them all without a hesitation, even loaded up with two people and full luggage – what a great bike!

We made it to Touratech in time for lunch, and to watch some MX racing, and Charley Boorman whiz around on an off road segway. There were an amazing range of bikes, and I had to fight hard not to spend a lot of money on upgrades for the bike :)

A photo of countless adventure motorcycles and their owners part outside the industrial unit that is Touratech's Wales branch.

Hats (or perhaps helmets?) off to Touratech, who let us try out the new seat for the Uly without supervision or fretting – it was a very relaxed environment, and we had a good time.

But the roads were calling again, on of we headed up into the Brecon Beacons were we found more great back roads, some nice waterfalls, and more amazing views:

A picture down a green valley from atop one side, with me sat on my motorbike looking at the photographer.

That night we stayed at a wonderfully ecentric guest house called Glangrwyney Court, just before Abergaveny on the A40. This definitely is the place you have to stay if you’re in that area. They don’t do dinner, but they have a nice grounds, a lounge stocked with a wide range of books and a well stocked honesty bar. The Uly even had a nice courtyard to stay in:

A photo of an old brick courtyard with a bright big yellow motorbike parted in it.

The final day wad mostly motorway home, but we did manage to fit in one castle on the way, just before leaving Wales. Raglan Castle is quite impressive as it’s still quite intact, unlike the other castles we saw in the area. But after that it was a dash back to Cambridge, ready to be back at work the next day.

But it was a great trip. Laura seemed happy to be on the bike, and I had a great time driving. Even though it was just a few days I’d quite got into my routine of breakfast, biking around with not much aim, food, drink, sleep, and then repeat – it’s a good lifestyle :) I’m wonderfully lucky that Laura copes with my biking habit and has said she’d be happy to go on more – it’d not be the same without her!

The bike also performed flawlessly, and got a bit of a work out:

A close up on the bike's dashboard, showing a tripometer readout of 794.3 miles.

I did learn that I need new biking gear. I was riding in a generic cheapish suit I got a couple of years ago, and for long days it wasn’t up to much, so now I’m trying to make decisions between better bike gear – specifically something more vented so I don’t over heat!

You can see a rough map of where we went, and there’s lots more photos..

Looking forward to more trips like this, and indeed to exploring more of Wales that we only touched on, like Porthgain, which deserve more time than we could give them on this short trip.