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South Wales

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During my recent visit to the U.K., they were experiencing unseasonably warm weather for this time of year. In the U.S., they would call it an Indian Summer. I dunno what they would call it in Wales. A Druid Summer?

I arrived in Nottingham and reunited with my Triumph Thruxton after a two year absence. The Trumpet fired right up as if it were only yesterday. We set off towards Wales under cement gray skies but, with an improving forecast. When I say cement gray skies, I don’t mean cement-colored but that, it actually looks like the sky is filled with cement. A thick pea soup mixture that dulls everything it touches. The grayness persisted for the entire first day of the trip so, not many pictures.

After overnighting in Brecon, Wales, day two dawned under similarly gray skies but, the weatherman was calling for patches of sun as I headed south across the Black Mountains. As I crossed over the top of the mountains, the fog was so thick that, I had to slow down considerably and had to allow a car towing a caravan (camper) to pass 😮

By 10:30 A.M., I was beginning to detect some brightness through the mist

Mist

Fall colours

Fall

Welsh backroads tend to be a tad narrow, down to one lane wide in places with pullouts to allow other traffic to get by

Backroad

By noon, the sun was out in full force as I approached Swansea on the south coast

Sun

After getting through Swansea (a lovely looking city), I made my way to the Gower Peninsula. I stopped at the seaside village of Port Eynon for a lunch of fish & chips. I talked to a couple of local riders, one on a Harley and the other on a beautifully maintained, 30 year old Kawasaki Z900. I continued on to the town of Rhossili where, I found lodgings at a hotel overlooking Worm’s Head

Worm

Looking north from Worm’s Head to the wide expanse of beach. The little black specks in the water are surfers. Yes, surfers in Wales…in October

Surf

Sunset over Worm’s Head

Sunset

The next morning, I was so taken by the beauty of the locale that I had to snap a few more pictures

Morning

Exploring the narrow roads along the coast. In the U.S. this would either be a bicycle or golf cart path. It’s hard to make out due to the brightness of the sun but, that’s the Bristol Channel on the horizon

Path

On my third day, I left the Gower Peninsula and made my way around the Loughor Estuary, following the coast towards the Pembrokeshire National Seashore. The rugged Pembokeshire coast near the town of Bosherston

Bosherston

Continuing westward, there were many other people out enjoying the fine autumn weather

Westward

Looking back eastward along the narrow, coastal road

Eastward

I spent the third night in Haverfordwest before continuing the next day towards St. Brides Head in far Western Wales

St Bridehead

The village of St. Brides is as peaceful and idylic as they come. Location, location, location

St Brides

Nearby, two fishermen were setting their pots

Fishing

I continued north along the coast, trying to stay as close to the shore as possible by following the narrow, one-lane roads. Less sport and more touring really. Looking back south along the coast

Coast

Approaching the town of Broad Haven

Broadhaven

Coastal farms were in abundance

Farm

A solitary stroller enjoying the fine day along one of the broad, Welsh beaches near the town of Newgale

Beach

Time was beginning to run out and I had to begin to make my way northeast towards Nottingham. The mysterious Preseli Hills from which the bluestones of Stonehenge eminate, hove into view

Preseli

I rejoin the coast at Cardigan and follow the coastal road northwards past retirement and vacation homes. Near Aberystwyth, I find a nice country hotel with a splendid view and a fine restaurant. I enjoy a nice meal with accompanying adult beverages for my last night on the road. Wales is the closest place I’ve found that matches the beauty of Northern California. Sonoma County or Wales?

Wales

The next morning dawns bright and shiney and after a full Welsh Breakfast, I point the bike eastwards back towards England but, not before getting a few final pictures of the stunning Welsh countryside

Welsh

Welshh

Valley

The roads open up as the terrain begins to change. The Triumph falls into a relaxed pace as if trying to delay the journey’s end. It seems happiest when just puttering along at 65 to 70 mph on a lazily sweeping two-laned roads. A steady, unhurried beat like a Miles Davis composition 🙂

Home

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for better weather. To expect 4 days of continuous sunshine in October is to be tempting fate but, somehow it was as if I flew through the eye of a needle. I get the feeling I may have to pay on a later journey.

Route map:

Map

Trip stats:

Riding Days: 5
Rest Days: 0
Mileage: 800
Police encounters: 0
Deer encounters: 0
Sheep encounters: 1,000,019
Bee stings: 0

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Wandering Wales

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I had some free time so I decided to escape from the summer heat in Saudi for some cooler British climes. As I had never been to southwestern Wales, I decided to make that my destination. I picked up my trusty Trumpet in Nottingham and made tracks towards the southwest, splitting Birmingham & Manchester.

Crossing the Welsh frontier near Newton at midday, I immediately headed south on the fantastic A483. I’ve raved about this road in the past, slicing north to south through Wales, it’s a fun-filled festival of high speed sweepers.

I continue in a southwesterly direction on the A483 under sunny skies, skirting the Brecon Beacons National Park, arriving at Haverfordwest around 4 P.M. After securing a hotel for the night, I decided to make the most of the sunny weather, as the next day’s weather forecast called for rain. I continued west to St. David’s Head, a headland in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Near Solva, I catch a glimpse of St. Brides Bay.

After negotiating several miles of goat trails, I finally make it to St. David’s Head. Looking south along the rugged coastline.

From this point, I turn and head northeast, following a small, single track lane along the northern edge of the peninsula.

a bustling seaport near Abereiddy….ok ok, a sleepy fishing village then…

The Pembrokshire coastline, is the only part of the British coast dedicated as a national park and I can see why. I thought it was nicer than even the rugged Cornish coastline. Another shot of the coast.

From the coast, I began to make my way inland through the Preseli Hills. The Preseli Hills are often referred to as mysterious, haunting or atmospheric. A place where strange things have occurred and where the waters are reputed to have healing effects.

The bluestones used at Stonehenge, have been traced to the Preseli Hills. The stones, weighing up to four tons, were somehow transported some 250 miles to the plains of Salisbury.

An ancient dolmen, Pentre Ifan is also located here, overlooking the Irish Sea. Dating from 3500 BC, this was supposedly a communal burial ground. Originally a small mound surrounded the stones, explaining how the massive capstone was put in place.

It was now getting late in the day, so I began to make my way down the Preselis to the hotel near the coast.

The next day was raining as per the forecast. It’s never good when the weatherman uses words like Biblical and flooding. This was supposed to be fun, so I made a command decision that watching STNG and eating Cornish pastys out of a paper bag was more enjoyable than riding all day in the rain. The rain was supposedly going to taper off late in the afternoon, so I decided to go visit the home of Dylan Thomas nearby.

A bit of a bohemian, by many accounts, Thomas was a bum, a filcher and a drunkard. His only redeeming feature was his booming voice and his writing, and boy could he write. He apparently made an impression on the New York beatnic scene, so much so that rock stars appropriated his name. In 1953, after another drinking bout, he slipped into a coma and died. He was 39 years old.

While in the UK, he lived in the coastal village of Laugharne in a house overlooking as estuary where he wrote most of his poetry. A darkened view of Thomas’ writing shed.

The view from the workshop overlooking the estuary.

Thomas was buried in the village churchyard in an unpretentious grave.

A picture of Laugharne Castle built by the Normans. Wales is dotted with the ruins of many castles, recalling a history etched in violence.

The weatherman lied and the rain continued to come down, giving me a good soaking on the way back to the hotel.

So you want to ride in the UK, Exhibit A:

Day three began with the weatherman calling for “improving” conditions, whatever that means. As I left the hotel, it was still raining but I sought consolation by telling myself “it’s gonna improve”. Three hours later, I was still muttering “it’s gonna improve” as the rain continued to pelt down.

So you want to ride in the UK, Exhibit B:

I was headed back northwards along the western flank of the Cambrian Mountains. A multi-hued Welsh village.

At the village of Cwmystwyth, I cross over the Cambrians along a narrow single track.

Finally, at around 3 PM I get a respite, as the sun peeks through. The motorcycle gods are merely taunting me as an ominous darkness lurks on the horizon.

I’ll be the first to admit that the Thruxton is a bit of a poser’s bike, the Triumph struggling to keep up with faster, more powerful competitors on the open roads, yet when the roads become tight and narrow like this, the little twin mill really enters its own element. The engine’s healthy torque is accompanied by what has to be one of the most enjoyable soundtracks in all of motorcycledom. The twin’s snarling bark never lets you forget you’re on a proper motorbike.

Triumph country:

There’s just something intrinsically right about riding British iron on British roads. The two seem to be perfectly compatible with one another. When you’re out by yourself on a lonely backroad, listening to that lovely rumble, it’s all to easy to imagine that you’re back in the 1960s when the British motorcycle industry ruled the world. It’s a shame the engine doesn’t have about 20 more horsepower.

Fortunately, I play dodge’em with the rain clouds for the rest of the afternoon, only getting a few sprinkles here and there.

At around 4 PM, I pull up and take stock in my situation. I’m soaking wet and right now would be a nice place for a hotel to materialize before my eyes. While staring at the map, I notice a lake with the word “Hotel” written next to it. Strange. It must be nice if it appears on the map. I head towards the lake and, sure enough, there’s a hotel overlooking Lake Vyrnwy. Quite a nice one too. It turns out the Lake Vyrnwy hotel is a former hunting lodge for the city leaders of Liverpool. I get a nice room with a view of the lake. More importantly, the room has a hair dryer so that I can dry out some of my soaked gear.

The Beatles drank from these waters, as the lake serves as the reservoir for Liverpool’s drinking water. Gerry & the Pacemakers also drank from these waters, so make of that what you will.

Day four, my final day on the road, began the same as day three, with the promise of improving, but unsettled conditions, meaning “a roll of the dice”. I head north from the lake taking another scenic single track.

A typical Welsh predator lurks by the roadside. Usually, a blast from the mighty Triumph’s exhaust pipes were enough to send them scurrying for cover.

The single track continued climbing out of the valley…

up and over the top and down the otherside. Somehow, the misty weather in this photo perfectly captures the mystical Welsh countryside. A sunny picture just woudn’t convey the same feeling.

Early morning puttering through a small village as smoke rises from a farmhouse chimney.

I find the B4391 and it takes me towards home. What a nice farewell to Wales!

Wales lives up to all its accolades and more. From stunning, fast sweeping bends, to narrow single tracks, the Welsh terrain encompasses all types of motorcycling pleasure with its majestic natural beauty added as a bonus. The people are extremely warm and welcoming, especially after they hear an American accent.

On the way back to Nottingham, I make a small detour to explore some interesting roads in the Shropshire Hills. Mercifully, I was fortunate and managed to escape any major drenchings on the last day. the motorcycle gods must have had their fill of entertainment.

Fun for the entire family…that is if mom rides a GSXR.

Route map:

Days: 4
Miles: 800 (would have been more if not for the day 2 washout)
Police interaction: 0
Bee stings: 0
Deer encounters: 0
Sheep encounters: about 2 brazillian
Bike problems: 0

The West Country

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team orson recently had the opportunity to escape the blistering summer heat in Saudi for some cooler climes in the British Isles. Arrangements were made to meet with ST.N member and fellow Guzzisti, Martin Barret. Martin is entered into the Round Britain Rally which is sort of like a photographic scavenger hunt with landmarks all over Great Britain. So, I would tag along while Martin nabbed a few of the landmarks.

As I left Nottingham, weather was “unsettled” as the English tend to describe weather that can change from sunshine to downpours to sunshine and downpours to sunshine, all within one hour. A late start and a wrong turn meant I was “only” an hour and a half late when I met up with Martin at a rest stop just south of Birmingham. We made our way west towards the Welsh frontier. A missed turn led us into the maw of a torrential downpour for about 15 minutes. Not knowing any better, I thought this was “typical” English biking weather and dutifully followed behind Martin. Shortly after, we were back on the correct path to our first landmark.

We must have paid some sort of penance for afterwards, the skies cleared up and we enjoyed glorious sunshine for the remainder of the day. One small set back occurred when my gloves mysteriously went missing at a gas stop. Fortunately, I had some back up winter gloves to use. Our last landmark for the day was the Blaenavon Iron Works in southeast Wales. This was the spot that marked the birth of the Industrial Revolution. It was here that new smelting procedures were used that led to the widespread use of iron for industrial uses. This would lead to trains, ships, skyscrapers and yes, motorcycles such as Triumph and Nortons.

The remains of the Blaenavon Iron Works

By then, it was getting late in the day. We made our way to Brecon, the gateway to the Brecon Beacons National Park. We sat down for a dinner of fish & chips before Martin began his ride home & I sought out a bed & breakfast.

As I watched the weather forecast the next morning, I saw the weather down south would be much sunnier so, I made the spur of the moment decision to head southwest…to the West Country. This is the term the English use to refer to the finger of land that juts out into the Atlantic culminating at Land’s End.

In the county of Somerset, I passed through the Cheddar Gorge, the largest gorge in the United Kingdom.

While riding with Martin the previous day, the Triumph felt flustered and out of breath as it tried to keep up with Martin’s mighty, mighty Goose. However, riding without the pressure to keep up, the Triumph felt transformed and in its element. trundling along the narrow English backroads at around 70 mph, the Triumph was a joy to ride and that sumptuous soundtrack only added to the enjoyment. After the previous day’s showers, this day was turning into a glorious display of English sunshine.

Somewhere on the backroads of Somerset…

Continuing in a southwesterly direction, I entered the Exmoor National Park which straddles both Somerset & Devon along the Bristol Channel.

rolling terrain near the entrance to the Exmoor…

Turning north, I headed towards the coast and the picturesque village of Lynton, where the Exmoor meets the sea. Lynton is a quaint if not a bit touristy and a nice place to stop for an ice cream made from fresh Devon cream.

The Devon coastline near Lynton

Continuing west along Barnstaple Bay, I ended the day in Horns Cross where I found the delightful Hoops Inn. Built during the 13th century as a traveller’s inn.

Of course I had to partake in the local liquid mead. The Golden Pig ale is guaranteed to pound yer head in the dirt and make out with yer little sister before the night is through.

Followed by a dinner of pan fried duck in a raspberry reduction with some fancy, schmancy potatos and local veggies

The following morning I set out to explore the nearby fishing village of Clovelly, famous for its steep, cobbled streets and picturesque harbor.

The village is closed off to vehicle traffic. The view of the harbor…the white building at the far left is the village hotel.

The view from the weir looking back at the village…

From the coast, I began to make my way south through the rolling countryside of Devon. Again, the Triumph was in its element. Long queus of vehicles stacked up behind slow moving farm machinery were dispatched with ease.

By mid-afternooon, darkening skies were beginning to make their presence felt. I was sprinkled on a few times but continued to enjoy mostly sunshine.

Dodging rain showers in the distance…

I passed through the Dartmoor National Park on my way south…

The arch spanning the middle of main street in Totnes. Saddly, the original Elizabethan arch was destroyed by fire in 1990.

Time was beginning to expire on my journey so I turned and headed north through the pastoral Devon countryside. Again, the Triumph…in its element…narrow country lanes and thatched roof farm houses.

thundershowers threatening the quiltwork Devon countryside…

The beautiful village of Bickleigh. I swear, sometimes I think the English hire Disney Imagineers to make achingly picturesque villages for us tourists.

Leaving Bickleigh…the town church steeple in the distance…

By now it was almost 4 P.M. and the showers continued to try to pen me in. Showers to the east blocked my path so, my only alternative was to head north on the M5 Motorway. I proceeded north, with blue skies ahead yet, the dark, ominous clouds in my rear view mirrors following me all the way. Not wanting to end the trip one day early, I opted to take a hotel room just south of Birmingham in hopes that the weather forecast for the next day was wrong. I was hoping against hope that I might enjoy one last day of riding. Alas, I woke the next day to rains pelting down.

Time to pay the piper for all my frivolity. I suited up and headed back onto the motorway accompanied by steady showers along with the spray thrown up by the lorries. By the time I made it back to Nottingham, the rains had eased up. Down south though, the rains were wreaking havoc. I just made it into Birmingham on the last train before all the trains were cancelled due to the weather…a narrow escape.

Summary:

Total mileage: 950 miles in 3 days.
Puckers: 0
Police interaction: 0
Bee stings: 0
Drenchings: 1

Route map:

Welsh Waltz I

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September ’05

Team Orson mounts a cross border expedition into Wales. Wales most definitely lives up to the hype in British bike magazines. We came away thoroughly chuffed about the Welsh roads.

On the first day, I left the Shropshire town of Whitchurch and promptly crossed the frontier into Wales. Before long I was into the Cambrian Mountains with its picturesque towns of Llangollen & Betws-y-coed. From there, I veered north towards the coast to the seaside town of Conwy and its massive Conwy Castle.

Here is a shot of the north coast of Wales. Conwy Bay looking west towards the rugged Isle of Anglesey.

The following day, I had made arrangements to meet some of the lads from the v11lemans.com forum for a tour of some of northern Wales’ finest tarmac. The appointed meeting place was the Ponderosa Cafe at the summit of Horseshoe Pass just north of Llangollen.

The view on the road up Horseshoe Pass to the Ponderosa Cafe.

Parked up before the ride…

After wolfing down a full English breakfast, we made our way with local rider Baldini taking the lead. These blokes don’t dally! They rode quickly but not recklessly, taking good lines through the corners and none of this knee out histrionics 😀 It made things easy for me as I could see their braking points as well as which way the road was turning. We blasted up I-5 towards the Snowdonia peaks. Nearing the coast near Caernarfon, we turned inland through the spectacular Pass of Llanberis.

From there we headed towards the western coast of Wales, stopping for a spot of tea near a classic railroad station. Wales was full of turn of the century locomotives. Here, a flotilla of Guzzis park up for tea (or is that a gaggle of Guzzis?). The sight and sound of 4 Guzzis roaring through the Welsh valleys really made my senses tingle. Whether the Guzzis or the locomotive have the most torque is certainly debateable.

Pious Guzzisti don’t like to make much of it, but the more devout amongst us kneel and pray in the direction of Mandello del Lario 5 times a day. Either praying for the speedy delivery of spare parts or praying that they avoid having one of the Guzzis built on a Monday morning 🙂

Actually, the lads are poring over a map and plotting our route after stopping in the seaside village of Llandfendigaid for another dose of fish & chips. From the coast inland, the terrain really reminded me of the hills of Marin county in northern California. The roads were mostly smooth, fast sweepers which was good since Guzzis & fast sweepers go together like coffee & cream…like Lennon & McCartney…like Godzilla & Tokyo city buses…like…well, you get the picture. The A470 coming from the coast. This is the part that sorta reminded me of Marin County.

After continuing south along the coast to Aberystwyth, we turned inland, making our way to the town of Welshpool. As it was a weekday, traffic was relatively light and we maintained our…ahem…”brisk” pace. Guzzis can be ridden at a rapid clip. Don’t let the antique engineering fool you. The v-twin roar only makes it that much more enjoyable…with 3 other Guzzis…it was bliss. We stopped at a pub at about 6 P.M. It had been a long but exhilarating day for me. While nursing a pint, I marveled that the lads kept such a brisk pace without fear of the rozzers. I had read much about the rabid police enforcement in Wales. They said you had to pick your spots and that most of the enforcement came on weekends. From there, we bade our farewells and made our ways home. I returned to Whitchurch and promptly collapsed in bed without food or a shower.

Pulling into the pub for apres-ride refreshments…

The third day, I decided to make an overnight trip to southern Wales. I made my way south along A483. South of Newtown, the A483 turns into a rollicking rollercoaster ride. BIG fun with more fast sweepers interspersed with the occassional tight bend made for a thrilling ride. South of Brecon I was into the Brecon Beacons National Park. I made it as far south as Cetn-coed-y-cymmer before having to turn and head north if I was to make it back to Whitchurch the next day.

View of the Black Mountains. More fast sweepers to your heart’s content.

When I reached Llandovery, I started looking for a place to stay. Everywhere I stopped was full up! I suddenly remembered that it was Friday. On top of that, this was the weekend that the World Rally Car boys were doing their Rally of Wales. I continued north, stopping at every inn along the way with no success. Finally made it to Builth Wells which was far enough north to be away from the rally fans. I found a decent hotel with a pub downstairs (is there any other kind?).

The following day would be my last. I decided to head back to Snowdonia in hopes of getting some better pictures with sunshine. That was the plan anyway. Unfortunately, as I got closer to snowdonia, the clouds moved in. Still there was no rain, so I wasn’t complaining. I continued north along the A470 through tiny quaint villages with names I couldn’t pronounce.

Heading north from Builth Wells…

Another view of Pass of Llanberis.

I came around the backside of Snowdonia. Impressive peaks with more fast sweeping curves. I’ve always rated Northern California roads at the top of my list, however, I’m going to have to list Welsh roads up near the top along with the south of France. Fast, smooth roads with nice scenery.

All in all, the trip was a smashing success. Though the skies threatened every day, I only recieved a smattering of rain. Got to learn some killer roads with the help of the local lads. About a 1000 miles over 4 days with only 1 cop sighting. I’ll definitely have to go back in the spring for a refresher course.