Tuesday, 22 December 2020

A couple of days in the Welsh valleys

Wales, take 3.  Wales had defeated me twice before.  In 2018 torrential rain stopped play for planned couple of days on the way home from The Somme and again in June 2019 when a huge storm swept in from the west bringing gale force winds and, funnily enough, torrential rain.
As rain seems to be constant companion whenever I think about Wales I decided to leave the tent at home and go for a camping pod.  After a bit of hunting I found a basic camping hut with power and heating for £40 per night, a bit pricey for a shed I though, but it would be nice to have heating to dry out the bike gear.  The wife had just booked a Premier Inn elsewhere for the same week and said it was cheap as chips.  A quick search on the interweb and I was booked into the Oswestry Premier Inn for £42 per night.  No contest!
I was planning to spend all of the first day wandering down through the Lakes and then over to the Dales before jumping onto the motorway and heading to Oswestry.  The sound of the rain hammering on the garage roof as I packed the bike didn't make the Lakes or Dales sound so appealing after all.  That is how I found myself spending the next 5 miserable hours on the motorway...
After apologising for flooding the check in with 5 hours worth of motorway rain and spray, I made my way to my room.  I stripped off the bike gear and hung it up over the bath to try and dry it out.  The room hair-drier came in handy for warming my fingers and toes and drying out my gloves!
A meal in Table Table restaurant next to the Premier Inn followed by a couple of beers while checking the maps and notes for tomorrow wiped the days miserable ride from my mind.

After a sound nights sleep, I made my way with trepidation to the curtains with fingers crossed mumbling "please be dry, please be dry".  I threw open the curtains after glancing a glimmer of blue at the edge.  Wales was spread out before me under cloudless blue skies, was I dreaming?
Within half an hour of leaving the hotel I was carving my way along streams in the lush green valleys and climbing the steep twisting passes before dropping down into the next valley.  Today was going to be a good day!

After negotiating a few difficult single track roads I found myself at Llangynog and I picked up the B4391 for Bala.  The lush green grass and tree lined road sweeps up the side of the valley, suddenly the trees disappear and the valley opens out in front of you.  Once at the top, the view back down the valley looks amazing under the sun and blue sky.
After getting to the summit at the end of valley the road starts to carve through the barren highlands between the valleys.  Seeing the road stretching out in front of you encourages rapid progress over the brilliant road surface, just keep a wee eye open for suicidal sheep!
The superb roads continue as I rode down the valleys through Dolgellau and then north to Caernarfon.  I was enjoying the roads too much to stop to take pictures.  The roads continued to be superb.  There are very few surprises to catch you out, most of the bends have excellent visibility and are superbly profiled.  The only issue is gravel, because of the rain and landscape there is a lot of it in the centre of the lanes.  After about an hour of superb riding I stopped at the side of the road next to a steam for a drink.  Like everything else so far, it was stunning.

I jumped back on the bike and continued on to Caernarfon.  The soft green scenery started to give way to more rugged mountains the closer I got to Snowdon.  The roads were getting narrower and twistier, still fast and with enough space to get past the increasingly busy traffic.

I decided to give Caernarfon a miss and headed for the Llanberis pass.  The roads were fairly boring until I got to the water at Llyn Peris.  After getting there the rugged hillsides of Dinorwic reflect in the lake as the road hugs the shore.  With the lake slowly vanishing in your left mirror the Llanberis pass opens up in front.  The road twists around the landscape and huge fallen boulders and is an incredible 5 minutes of scenery and riding heaven.

Rain, what do you mean rain!  After I crested the Llanberis Pass the dreaded rain struck again.  I rode down through Blaneuau Ffestiniog in the pouring rain, amazed at a town surrounded by the steep sided slate mines.  The rain was not showing any signs of easing up so I stopped in a bus stop and checked a weather app.  It looks like it is only local rain, so I set the GPS for the Horseshoe Pass to try and get away the rain.
It turned out to be a good choice, as I rode further away from Snowdon the rain continued to ease.  Eventually the roads dried up and I could just see the hills in the background from where I had left a hour ago.
The dark skies followed me all the way back to the hotel, but at least the rain stayed away.  The A542 was absolutely heaving with traffic and insane motorcycle riders!  I pulled over to let some traffic clear and get some space on the road.  The long sweeping bends that climb up through open fields make for some great riding, but look out for speed cameras and I also passed 2 police cars in about 10 miles.  Once you pass the  Ponderosa Cafe you are at the highest point of the road and the views over towards England are, once again, stunning.  The ride down and around the Horseshoe is, in my opinion, more about the views than the road.  There are one or two interesting corners, one of which had claimed a casualty.  The corners at Berwyn Quarry at the horseshoe itself are fast and grippy, followed by long flowing curves all the way back down to the A5.
Even the rain couldn't put a damper on the day.  The roads were superb, fast, flowing and fairly easy to ride.  The views were amazing switching from lush green rolling fields to rugged slate mine lined valleys to blue lakes in matters of minutes.
Another meal, maps and beers back at the hotel laid plans for the Elan Valley tomorrow.

Well it couldn't last could it, when I woke up I could hear the rain beating on the windowsill.  On opening the curtains the rain was falling straight down and bouncing in to the standing water in the carpark.  Over a coffee and a couple of breakfast biscuits I check the weather and it is not looking like it is likely to improve.  Still wanting to visit the Elan Valley, I dragged out the maps and decided just to head south on the main roads and forget the back roads I had planned.
Getting the bike gear on in the hotel lobby to stay dry, I then walked round to the bike and headed south in the rain.  After about an hour I was doubting my decision to ride today.  My hands were already wet and the traction control had already kicked in a few times as there was so much standing water.
The barista looked at me sympathetically as I got a coffee at Rhayader once again flooding a commercial establishment.
I squeezed myself back into my soaking gloves and headed out for the Elan Valley reservoirs.  The single track roads were a challenge, the rain had washed mud and gravel onto the roads and the passing places were now small lakes.  The scenery was, once again spectacular.  Small streams cascaded into waterfalls feeding the reservoirs and as the rain had raised the level of the reservoirs the white water in the rivers linking them are equally impressive.
About halfway around the loop the rain eased off so I stopped and grabbed a couple of quick snaps.


As quick as the rain went off, it came back with a vengeance.  I continued back to Rhayader after negotiating a treacherous mud and gravel strewn uphill hairpin junction.
I had planned to come back up the west coast, but the rain was beyond a joke now.  I just put the hotel in the GPS and head back to the hotel as quick as I could.
With the gear hanging over the bath it was back to the restaurant for a final meal and a couple of beers, I wouldn't need the maps this time.
The next morning the rain hadn't let up, so it was 5 hours home on the motorway again...

Wales was amazing, even in the rain.  The roads and scenery were well worth the soaking.  This was a  quick tour to scout things out for a longer trip with the wife and I will definitely be back, but no rain next time though please.
Oh and if I can keep getting digs for about £40 -£50 a night, my camping days may well be over!


Thursday, 10 December 2020

Review: Cluanie Inn

Riding down the side of Loch Cluaine with the mountains rising up on either side of you, you truly know that you are in the Highlands of Scotland.  The white speck you have been seeing every now and again as you ride the long sweeping curves of Glen Shiel slowly turns into the remote and welcoming Cluaine Inn.

After a long, tiring and sometimes wet Scottish day the friendly and smiling staff even made the COVID briefing welcoming.  In no time we were checked in and unpacking in our simple but comfortable and dare I say it, stylish room.  The room we had was fairly small, but remember this is an Inn and not a big fancy hotel.

Cluaine Inn Standard Room

After unpacking and settling in to our room, we headed to the bar for a drink before dinner.  The bar area is small, but there are plenty of cosy areas to sit and enjoy your drinks.  The bar staff were friendly and attentive, delivering our drinks and checking regularly to make sure we were OK and if our drinks needed refreshing.


Rumbling stomachs had us searching out the restaurant, and the casual décor of the lounge and bar area continued into the eating area.  The menu is a fusion of Scottish and Indian with a splash Asian.  We stayed for 3 nights and never had a problem finding exciting and tasty variations to keep us happily full.  The burgers were really very good and the Indian and Asian inspired dishes were tasty without being overpowering.

After a great nights sleep breakfast was equally as good as dinner.  The cold selection was a bit lacking, but what was there was of good quality.  The cooked breakfast is just what is needed to set you up for a day of exploring the Highlands and enjoying a second coffee while looking out over the moor really puts you in the mood.

On our second night before dinner the wife started franticly looking for her phone in the room, excitedly mumbling camera, camera!  I wondered what was going on until I went over to the window to see some visitors had turned up...


All through our stay the staff were friendly and helpful.  The Inn has that rare mix of professionalism and friendliness and combined with Scottish charm and location it is a must stay if you are in the area and we will definitely be back!

Our experience at the Cluaine Inn will also see us checking out the other Black Sheep Hotels

Oh, and it has dedicated motorcycle parking and a self serve petrol station!

This stay was paid for in full by ourselves and was in no way influenced by the Cluaine Inn or Black Sheep Hotels.

Friday, 13 November 2020

Escaping lockdown

Like everyone else in the country, our plans for touring in 2020 were decimated early in the year with the world wide realisation that COVID-19 would necessitate unprecedented changes to the freedom of movement between countries and even within countries themselves.


Last ride out before lockdown un March 2020
Last ride out before lockdown in March 2020

As we scrapped plans for a German, Austria and Italy two up tour I began to look for alternatives closer to home.

Wales was still high on my list, but trying to organise anything around the constantly changing rules on travel was becoming a nightmare.  We decided just to play it by ear and get out and about as best as we could.

As soon as the restrictions on travel were eased I wheeled the RT out of the garage, dusted off the cobwebs and headed for a day out in the Scottish borders.  The plan was to run down the fast and twisty Dalveen pass then head north and back over the Mennock pass through Wanlockhead and follow the A & B roads back home.  It all started out great, the Dalveen pass is always a winner in my book and the deceptively fast road that carves through the stunning Lowther hills always ends way too soon.  My high was soon a low though as I approached the turn off for the Mennock pass and the road closed signs brought proceedings to a halt.  I headed for Sanquhar to get fuel and have a look at Google Maps.  Crawfordjohn looks like it might be an interesting wee diversion.  Ha! was I right or what.  The road starts off looking decidedly unpromising, narrow and lined with muddy ditches and farm detritus.  Give it a mile or two and it opens up as the road follows the sinuous burn that flows along the bottom of the shallow valley.

On the Sanquhar to Crawfordjohn road

The run back home is over the Lanark hills and through the Levenseat / Tormywheel wind farm, how can the scenery change so much in half an hour?

Desperate for a night away a few weeks later we booked a night in Gretna.

We trundled down the west coast, picking up the A77 after passing Trumps big white hoose at Turnburry.  The A77 is one of those roads that really should be rubbish and only for getting to the Ferry terminals, but I actually quite like it as it hugs the rocky shore with the sea on your right and Ailsa Craig off in the distance.


After a quick coffee and cake stop at the excellent Dnisi in Stranraer we headed back inland making progress along the wide open A75 for Newton Stewart.  Jumping off the main roads we swept through the bottom of the Galloway Forest Park.  As the trees closed in around us the scenery became decidedly more rugged with hills rising steeply on both sides of the now twisting and turning road.  All of a sudden the Clatteringshaws dam rises up in front of us as we climbed up to the loch of the same name.

Strangest name of the day goes to...

After leaving Clatteringshaws I just set the sat nav to get us to the digs, I have come to the conclusion that there is hardly a bad road to be had down here!  Two hours later we were booked in relaxing with beer and wine in the Hunters Lodge hotel.

Sunday morning dawned grey and misty, but at least it was dry and the forecast looked good as well.  Over breakfast Audrey decided that she wanted to go north up the Dalveen pass, that suited me as I was keen to get back on the Mennock pass as well since I had missed it the previous month.  After breakfast the sun had come out and we headed north for Dumfries and then onto the A76 to pick up the Dalveen pass at Carronbridge.  It was OK, as usual!

Dalveen Pass

  At Elvanfoot we headed straight for Abington and down the Mennock pass through Wanlockhead.

I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere as we ended up in Lanark when I though we were heading for East Kilbride.  Never mind, it is all good!  After a quick stop for a coffee it was the usual bleak roads home.

September saw me in Wales on my own hunting down roads and sights for, hopefully, a longer two up trip next year.  You can find the full Wales story here.

So that was really it for 2020, apart from a few days out.  At least we got out and about and managed to get in a lot more miles and sights that a lot of people.  The tribe has been healthy up to now, so for that I must count myself lucky.


Who knows what 2021 will bring, will we be able to tour again as in years pre COVID?  Like I said I have been lucky so far, but the dark clouds of redundancy are gathering on the horizon, so who knows what the new year will bring.


Thanks for reading, stay safe and enjoy every mile!

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Ride Guide: Lawers Dam and the Sma' Glen

Getting fed up with the usual A85 rides and all the traffic chaos that goes with it?  Looking for something a little more off piste?  Try this one, it has it all - fast sweeping A roads, technical and tricky single tracks, great scenery and relatively quite roads. 
Starting off in Callander head north on, in my opinion, the best part of the A85 as it snakes its way along the side of Loch Lubnaig.  Continue through Lochearnhead, stick to the 30mph limit as this is a favourite spot for the local police, and over Glen Ogle to Lix Toll.  Turning right for Killin and Loch Tay you ride over the impressive Falls of Dochart before turning left for the single track climb up to Lawers Dam and Lochan na Lairige.  From here to Bridge of Balgie the single track road dips and dives through fields as the livestock look on.  Keep a look out for stray sheep and gravel on the tight and technical bends.  After a quick stop for refreshments at the Bridge of Balgie Post Office and Tea Rooms the road heads east through small hamlets and farms, following the river Lyon.  The road then turns south before once again once again running along the side of Loch Tay for a fast and glorious 20 miles through Kenmore before you arrive at Aberfeldy.  Picking up the road for Crieff from Aberfeldy the now incredibly fast, sinuous, but most importantly empty road carves through Amulree and the Sma' Glen before you arrive at journeys end in Crieff.

Lawers Dam on Lochan na Lairige
Callander to Crieff    Image © Google Maps

Turn by turn:
  • Head north from Callander on the A85
  • After 31 miles turn right onto A827 at Lix Toll
  • After 7 miles turn left onto unnamed road signed for Bridge of Balgie
  • Continue on unnamed road for 6 miles and turn right after crossing the river Lyon
  • Continue east for 11.1 miles and then turn right
  • Continue for 1.9 miles and then turn left onto A827
  • Continue on the A827 for 9.7 miles through Kenmore to Aberfeldy
  • At the traffic lights turn right onto the A826
  • Continue on the A826 for 9.1 miles
  • Turn right onto A822
  • Continue for 12.2 miles before turning right for Crieff 
  • Total: 81 miles 

Starting out just north of Callander on the banks of Loch Lubnaig
The Falls of Dochart at Killin

Single track road climbing from Loch Tay to the Lawers dam
Beware the locals will try and steal your lunch at Bridge of Balgie!
The single track road that follow the river Lyon from Bridge of Balgie
The Sma' Glen
Lochan na Lairige

Visit Loch Tay:  Visit Loch Tay
Bridge of Balgie tea room:  Tea Room

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Monday, 13 January 2020

Ride Guide: Mainland Orkney

Orkney has something for everyone.  Ancient monuments and ruins, World War history, amazing scenery and of course some stunning roads.  Getting there with your bike, of course, requires a ferry.  The two options for getting to and from Orkney are Northlink Ferries or Pentland Ferries.  If you want to do a bit of island hopping while you are here the the inter island ferries are run by Orkney Ferries.
This route start by climbing up out of Stromness before heading west on single track roads passing the standing stones at the Ring of Brodgar and then onto the cliffs at Yesnaby.  Heading north on a mix of normal carriageway and single track roads the road sweeps back on forth from the coast passing Skara Brae, the Bay of Skaill and Marwick head before arriving at the north west point of the route at the Brough of Birsay.  Heading for Kirkwall the road now becomes fast and open, sweeping through Evie and Finstown before arriving at the Islands capital, Kirkwall.  A short single track detour from Kirkwall will take you to the spectacular beach at Inganess, along with a half beached wreck.  Heading south from Kirkwall the road opens up and the long lazy curves speed you to the beaches of Dingyshowe Bay.  The single track roads return, but this time with the added complication of a lot of wind blown sand, take care!  The road then meanders it's way to white sands of Newark bay and the scar hewn into the rocks by the sea that is The Gloup.  Retracing the road back to Dingyshowe Bay the road crosses the island with the expanse of Scapa Flow opening up in front of you.  Turning south the road once again becomes fast and inviting as you ride over the Churchill Barriers to the eventual end of the road at Burwick.  Once again there is only one way back to Kirkwall, but with a road this good who cares!  Getting another view of the barriers, their beaches and the islands is always worthwhile, plus you could stop off at the Italian Chapel on Lamb Home on the way back.  As you approach Kirkwall avoid the town and head for Scapa bay and ride along the sands of the bay before heading back to Stromness along the ridiculous fast and entertaining A964 with Scapa Flow on your left for company.

Scapa Bay

A loop around the Mainland of Orkney      Image (c) Google Maps

Turn by Turn:
  • Leave Stromness on the A965
  • After 4.6 miles turn left on B9055 passing the Ring of Brodger
  • Continue on B9055 for 4.4 miles and turn left onto A967
  • Continue on A967 for 1.2 miles and turn right B9056
  • Continue on B9056 for 0.3 miles and turn left onto Yesnaby road to arrive at Yesnaby in 1.8 mies
  • Head east on Yesnaby road for 1.8 miles and turn left onto B9056
  • Continue on B9056 past Skara Brae & Bay of Skaill for 6.2 miles
  • Turn left onto unnamed road to Marwick head RSPB
  • Return up unnamed road and then turn left onto B9056
  • After 2.2 miles turn left onto A967
  • After 0.8 miles turn left onto A966
  • After 1 mile arrive at Brough of Birsay
  • Leave Brough of Birsay on A966 heading for Finstown
  • After 18.1 miles turn left onto A965
  • Continue on A965 for 6.5 miles
  • At the roundabout, take the 3rd exit onto Pickaquoy Rd
  • At the roundabout, take the 2nd exit onto Junction Rd
  • Turn left onto Union St
  • Continue onto Clay Loan
  • Turn right onto Bignold Park Rd/A960 
  • Turn left onto Inganess Rd
  • After 1.4 miles arrive at Inganess Bay
  • Return along Inganess Road and take the first then second left onto A960
  • Continue 7.2 miles to Dingyshowe Bay
  • Continue on A960 for half a mile and turn right onto Geo Road for Newark bay
  • Return along Geo Road and turn right onto B9050 for The Gloup
  • Retrace your route to Dingyshowe Bay
  • After 2 miles turn left on B9052
  • After 3.6 miles turn left onto A961
  • Continue on A961 for 13.4 miles to Burwick
  • Head north on A961
  • After 19.8 miles turn left onto Holm Branch Road
  • At the roundabout take the first exit to New Scapa Road
  • After 0.9miles turn right onto Old Scapa Road
  • Continue on Old Scapa Road and the turn left onto A964
  • After 14 miles turn left on A965
  • After 2.6 miles take the second exit and arrive back at Stromness 
  • Total: 125 miles, dependant on detours 

The cliffs at Yesnaby
Bay of Skaill
Bay of Skaill
Inganess Bay
Dingyshowe Beach
The Italian Chapel

Ferries to Orkney:  Northlink ferries  &  Pentland ferries 
Places I have stayed:  Stromness hotel  Polrudden guest house  The Ferry Inn
Orkney Council Campsites:  Council campsites
Other Info:  Orkney trip planning

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