Tag Archives: wales

You’re a bloody idiot

wales copy copyIt seemed a bit harsh. The bloke in the blue car who’d chased me down the M6 and wound down his window to deliver his verdict hardly knew me. I didn’t think I’d done anything particularly idiotic – changed lanes, discovered the  one I was in was about to dump me off the motorway into darkest Birmingham, changed back. Maybe he was fulfilling the role of Caesar’s slave, because frankly I was feeling pretty immortal.

There are few things as good as driving a car that was a basket-case when you first got it, hearing its barbaric yawp from the engine that you rebuilt,  and knowing that you and your doggy sidekick have got three more days of road trip ahead – and a weather forecast promising lots and lots of sun, which is unusual for the Welsh National Rally.

As already noted, this was my first solo run – though it isn’t ever really a solo run, not even a little bit. Steve and Jim, the Twins-soon-to-be-separated-by-a-CrossRunner were at the bunkhouse already, so Thursday night was fish and chips and a pot of tea. On Friday they were off towards St Davids, while AdventureDog and I were heading down the border towards Hereford and then heading into the mountains for what should have been a five-landmark day. The satnav foiled this plan by deciding, after I missed my turn to a landmark in the valleys, to shrug its electronic shoulders and decide we had been close enough, no need to tell me. Well done for trying. I didn’t notice for another half an hour. Bloody annoying but a good lesson for the Rally – always go point-to-point, don’t trust the technology! And the consolation prize was a drive down an amazing twisty road across a miniature moorland which I had no idea existed in this former mining heartland – stunning views interrupted by the occasional heart attack when a local came bombing round the hairpins not expecting to find a small blue roller skate in the middle of the road.

wales1 copySalt was rubbed firmly into the wound when I got back to the bunkhouse and the Twins pointed out that the back road from my final landmark to the one I dropped for lack of time was about 10 miles up a goat track, not the 40 mile detour that the Garmin wanted me to take.  It has turned into some sort of nanny, making its own decisions for me. ‘Not that way, dear, it’s not safe for you.’ It needs a telling!

On Friday evening the rest of Team RBR turned up – JD, and the Bell brothers, standing in for dad. Maps were checked – my tatty paper Wales Touring maps from my first RBR in 2003, Jim’s laminated A4 cards with route info and a photo of each target, the Bells with an amazingly detailed plan of attack and a GoPro.

We set off on Saturday morning. I got lost trying to find the petrol station, which wasn’t the best of starts, but it did mean my arrival at Castle Caerinion was perfectly timed to get my card stamped and get going.

I wanted a Dragon this year – I had worked out that to do the extra four locations added only 40 miles or so to the route, the sun was shining, and I would never have such a good chance again. But time gets away from you so quickly. This may have been because I spent the first half of the rally going up the goat tracks just for the entertainment value. On my second road I rounded a bend to find a BMW pilot covered in mud from knees to neck and his partner helping him fetch the bike out of the hedge. ‘It gets worse,’ they said. ‘You’ll be OK though.’ And it’s true – roads I wouldn’t dare on the Triumph are a breeze on three wheels. Shakey looked a bit alarmed when we headed sideways in a three-wheel drift towards the fence but it ended well.

At 4pm we were still somewhere the wrong side of Machynlleth. But there was only one WNR location and one Dragon left and the sun was still shining .We pulled in to Dinas Mawddwy, which sounds like one of P Diddy’s aliases, to be greeted by thumbs up and cheering from a group of blokes outside the pub. Cool. I stopped 200 yards further down the road to dive into the ladies. Not so cool. But they did give me directions to the Merion Mill, and that was my silver in the bag. The miles to the last reservoir were some of the best of the rally – empty roads, late afternoon sunshine, a happy dog under blue skies – perfection. And then the last miles back to Castle Caerinion were under a biblical thunderstorm with thunderbolts, lightning and torrential rain. Still, if you are gong to be soaked, far better to be soaked at the end when you can gain bragging rights but go home to dry out!

Standout memories of the day? A big cheery wave from JD who was heading south while I was heading north to the Dinas Dinlle airport. No, it’s not a Morgan. Finally escaping the 20-mph sightseers and powering round the sweeping curves of Snowdonia to see the granite soaring skywards. Incredibly polite Americans asking what on earth I was driving. A much-needed Mars Bar in the Co-Op car park. And my fabulous new coaster! Same again next year?

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Filed under Lomax, Round Britain Rally, spring, Welsh National Rally

Cabin Fever

My rally is usually like a cask-strength Macallan – savoured slowly and with a lot of water added. This year it was more like an Ardbeg Supervona – a smack in the throat with a blunt instrument. I mislaid anticipation and forward planning and have had to scrabble for LMs in the margins of everyday life. No week-long trip to Scotland – for the second year running – to ride under the pines, dodge the deer and get nibbled by the midgies. And I was thwarted in several attempts to get to Wales…

Have I become one of those people for whom riding can only happen when the demands of real life have been satisfied? For the rub there is that the demands of real life are infinite and hydra-headed, and if I allow it to take over there will be no time for frivolities like visiting Venta Silurum at dusk.

Still, better a rally of rags and patches than no rally at all. Admiring Panamaniac‘s photo albums at Conkers, I was amazed to find I’ve been doing this since 2003. Some people will see 6 years of landmark-bagging as little more than an astonishing waste of time and petrol, but (at the risk of sounding like REO Speedwagon) it’s taken me to places that on my own I’d never find. It’s made me a better rider – goat tracks and the Road of Baas would not have been attempted if there hadn’t been points at the end of them. I’ve peturbed and baffled the locals. I’ve been to John O’Groats. I’ve stood on a plinth. And I’ve eaten too many of JD’s bacon rolls.

This year was good, because there is no such thing as a bad ride. Next year will be better – because what’s the future for if not to look forward to?

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And the winner is…..(maybe!)


“I’m emailing you on behalf of DVLA Personalised Registrations Bike Vistas II, the on-line photographic competition you entered earlier this year.

First, I would like to say the response to this year’s competition has been phenomenal with the caliber of images totally stunning. I am pleased to inform you your entry has been short listed for the final judging panel so congratulations. We will inform you in due course of the final voting!

Could you please contact me to discuss further.

Kind regards”

How exciting!!

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Don’t tell me not to ride, I’ve simply got to…

How bad does a weather warning have to get before it justifies cancelling a trip? When you’ve had the leave in the works calendar for weeks, and wrestled with the on-line booking systems of VisitWales, Premier Travel Inn and the Youth Hostel Association in order to put together a sensible itinerary (which also includes a stop in Stoke to catch the speedway), things have to get pretty bad. No-one wants to be a wuss. Or a Fair Weather Biker. And so, when I logged in to the Met Office and the entirety of England and Wales was bright red with “severe weather” in big letters, I thought, can’t get that bad, while digging my all-in-one Belstaff wet weather gear out of the cupboard as a precaution, the Bank Holiday having taught me that water-resistant is not the same as waterproof.

Like the Inuit with their fabled (but apparently fictional) hundred words for snow, I think bikers could describe at least a dozen different kinds of rain, all of which landed on my helmet over the next thousand miles.

On Thursday we had Paradox Rain – when there are no clouds ahead but it still manages to be raining. Paradox Rain is my downfall, I hate riding in waterproofs, so as long as I can see some blue sky I persuade myself it isn’t too bad and refuse to stop to perform the chicken dance which is required to stuff myself into them. Over the mountain between Llangollen and the coast, there were huge raindrops bouncing off my chest in a very painful demonstration of precipitation – but the sky ahead was blue, so I held out …and held out…. refusing to allow soggy jeans, wet gloves, and the unpleasant trickling feeling of the rain sneaking through my boot zips to convince me that yes, it was really quite heavy. In the end reality bent to my will and we broke back through into the sunshine, the air clear and bright and the roads gently steaming as they dried out. North Wales – roads so hot they’re smoking!!

Just before going to sleep in Criccieth I could see the mountains on the far side of the bay, and hear the sweep of the waves on the shingle.

When I woke up, I could see about 20 feet through the low cloud and hear the drumming of the raindrops on the roof – yes, Friday brought Unbroken Downpour. But, like exercising, visiting the dentist, and writing essays, riding in the rain is much grimmer in the anticipation than the performance – especially now that I have lovely heated grips to stave off hypothermia. My plan for the day should have wrapped up the remainder of North Wales and come out via the Wirral and Lancashire for a stop at Ingleston YHA but by the time I crossed the border at 3pm I was done being brave and made a swift descent through being stoical to finish at plain miserable. Giving up in Chester seemed the better part of valour, so a big thank you to the call-handler at Premier Travel Inn who found me a room in the city despite it being the first Friday in the school holidays, and the staff at McDonalds who didn’t mind me leaving large wet patches all over their easy chairs while this was being sorted out.

According to the BBC on the Travel Inn telly, one month’s rain had fallen in the last 12 hours, which presented a bit of an ethical dilemma – I’m a good citizen, am I being irresponsible by continuing to travel? Does the RBR really count as “essential”? It’s essential to me, I decided, so Saturday unfolded as mostly windmills and bridges – and also an RBR treat, with “Another Place” – something I’d read about and been interested it but would never have made the journey to see if it hadn’t been a landmark. Very tempted to put my helmet on the art for the photo but decided it would probably get stuck and then I’d need rescuing, so behaved myself and respected Mr Gormley’s creations instead. Saturday’s rain included False Hope – when it brightens up a bit, I think, blimey, it’s stopped, but am swiftly contradicted by the sight of the impact circles in the nearest puddle. And when there are huge puddles there’s Secondary Soaking – there will always be some muppet who thinks it’s funny to send up a sheet of spray. Thanks.

And Sunday – miracle of all miracles – it stopped raining! So I got to cruise the Peak District in lovely sunshine and make a sneaky detour down Winnat’s Pass before the rain found me again in Leeds. Lots of people out on their bikes to ride the roads round Leek and Buxton despite big yellow signs saying “bikers beware!” beware what? Alien abduction? Bob Geldof? Maybe the powers that be could decide we’re a boost to the tourist economy, not some dreadful plague to be frightened away.

The forecast for Monday was “more of the same” so it was back into the Dri-Biker and take your seats for a trip the entire length of the M1. As Chinese Proverb almost says, the journey of a thousand miles ends with the M1 roadworks – soon I will have to move, if only to get new motorways to filter. One of the flaws of my RBR planning seems to be that, as the year winds on, the landmarks near home get picked off, so later trips start and end with mile-covering mind-numbing motorway slogs. Though if the weather had been better I’d have made a detour down the A5 to Jack Hill’s Cafe at Towcester for a celebratory cheese toastie.

So: landmarks bagged:

Melverley Village Church, small but perfectly formed and definitely not in Wales, according to the lady who lives next door; the bridge over the river at Bangor – one-way only and not in the direction of my approach (an RBR certainty!); big shiny harp in Llangollen which marks the Eisteddfod field, which would have been more helpful if I’d known where the Eisteddfod field actually was; Nefyn Well House (quite wet); St Seriol’s Well (very wet), manned by enthusiastic attendant who tried very hard to persuade me to make better use of my one pound parking fee by going and looking at something else on the site; some ancient stones in Llangernyw churchyard (well-wrapped rambler and I dripped at each other in sympathy); Alleluia Monument, cunningly hiding behind a large herd of cows. Many lighthouses in the Wirral. Another Place (short walk); Charles Gerald Forsberg in Morecambe – also spotted Eric Morecambe’s statue but no extra points on offer for a pair! Rather like Hotel California, you can get into Morecambe any way you like but you can’t leave – the signs to the M6 take you north and then peter out. Didn’t like Prestolee Packhorse Bridge – big thumbs down to landmarks in locations where you can hear the sound of banjos. The Wooden Horse of Nantwich is my favourite of the rally so far but there was no sign of Eric Bana or Brad Pitt hiding in it. The Mermaid is about as far from the sea as I think you can get in the UK; Mytham Bridge Toll Gates appear to be marking bus stop, or at least I can only assume that’s the point the bus driver was trying to make as he took his double decker within a quarter-inch of my exhaust as I was getting my photo. Silkstone Pit Disaster Memorials were terribly sad and also very topical, marking the drowning of children in a flood; Lord Dacre’s Cross was helpfully marked on my map; and Foxton Locks makes a disappointing cup of coffee but at least the sun was shining.

Scores on the doors:

Landmarks in the bag: 19
Miles travelled: 1000
Inches of rain falling on head on Friday: at least five
Seaside landladies thankfully unperturbed by lady guests arriving on motorcycles: one
Number of laps of Prestolee looking for the right road to the bridge: four

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Me and the bike in Wales

Me and the bike in Wales, doing a good impression of Death Valley.

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Collective Nouns

The collective noun for a group of mountains is, of course, Wales. They are my mountains and I get very upset when other bikers arrive – especially when they sweep past me in the villages because I’m observing the speed limit like a good citizen and then they can’t pass a white van half a mile down the road. London riding may not be much good for handling small twisty rural roads – though Wales is giving me lots of practice on them – but it does teach you how to overtake White Van Man (as quickly as possible because the smaller they are in your mirrors, the safer you are!).

The collective noun for a bunch of BMW riders I am less sure about – I pulled in for petrol in Mallwyd, Snowdonia to a filling station swarming with GS Adventurers – at least 30, maybe more. The one lonely car driver looked deeply uncomfortable and others simply drove on. Is this an image thing – bearing in mind that a shiny new GS costs on the upside of 10 grand, I don’t think this was a group liable to erupt in violence! – or maybe they were just too worried about manoeuvring to the pump without causing a very expensive domino race? ! The GS boys were off to ride through some fords. I’ve done a couple to get to landmarks on the other side – the first was nice and easy, the second I took a bit quick (overconfidence!) and nearly came to grief, the current was much faster than I expected and nearly had the back wheel from under me. No idea how we got to the other side – I think the bike took control and saved itself! Anyway, I think the collective noun for GS pilots is probably a Gore-Tex, given that the majority of the throng were wearing their Ewan-and-Charlie approved, all-weather adventure suits.

Today was mostly about riding down very tiny back lanes. I remain suspicious that Dave the Disorganiser doesn’t actually prepare the rally on a motorcycle at all but in fact drives some huge Humvee-type ATV – “road less than four feet wide with a giant stripe of crap down the middle, leaving a strip of tarmac only just wider than a tyre? No problem!” When I was riding round these in Pembrokeshire in the morning looking for Dewi Emrys (the landmark remained elusive until I turned round at Fishguard and tried finding it from the east, from which direction it was surprisingly easy – see Rule Two) I consoled myself with the thought that once this landmark was found, the rest of the day would be on B-roads.. But no! The road to Flounder’s Folly is even smaller and narrower, and if I hadn’t been waved at by 2 rallyers coming back down it on their giant Honda, I’d have given up. Because I have promised the bike that this year, I am not going to drop her on some gravel-strewn backwater and have to rope in passing dog-walkers or house renovators to rescue us.

Then just to finish my spine off, the road to the hotel was a mile of corrugated concrete. I think I still have all my fillings but tomorrow I am having a day off to count them.

Today’s photo is of the Welsh coast nowhere near anything to do with Dewi Emrys at all.

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For everything else, there’s…

Filtering the North Circular on a grey Friday morning – 90 minutes
Getting bored to death on the outside lane of the M4 – 2 hours
Thawing out over a Little Chef baked potato – 35 minutes
Riding over the Severn Bridge as the sun comes out – priceless

Despite predictions of a Bank Holiday Sizzler Friday started both overcast and chilly – so I had to dig into the winter riding pile and get my flask back out. Maybe I hang out with the wrong crowd but the drug of choice among UK bikers seems to be a sensible thermos of coffee…

The RBR landmarks were exactly where they were supposed to be according to my map reading – it’s just making the map resemble the facts on the ground that causes me grief. Part of this challenge is due to the first two rules of Round Britan Rally:

The first rule: given a choice at a junction, you will always choose the wrong direction. This rule applies even if you try and fool it by saying, normally I would choose left, but that would be wrong, so I will go right instead. Right is still the wrong direction and you should have gone left.

The second rule: the signpost is always obvious in the direction you are not approaching from.

These are mere Rules, while the First Commandment is, Thou Shalt Not Give Away Landmark Locations until the Rally is Over. So I can’t really tell you about the stops, except to say that the Maharajah’s Well is splendidly incongruous in the stockbroker belt, the Berkshire Museum of Aviation looks exactly like what would happen if someone stopped collecting garden gnomes and started collecting aeroplanes, Kellaway’s Pillar is the kind of bonkers slice of English history that I do the rally for, Pure Life Pure Water earned my undying gratitude for having a parking spot right next to it (one day I fear I am going to get smeared across the landscape trying to Frogger my way across a dual carriageway, camera in one hand, control card in the other), Blaenavon Ironworks made me glad I have a desk job, and Swansea Jack is a much bigger hero than Captain Jack and deserves his own TV series too.

Since pictures of these lovely things are not allowed until October, here’s a picture of the car park of Swansea North Travelodge.

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