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 d├ęcor 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.