The UK often gets overlooked when it comes to thinking about Europe’s best biking roads. Consider it worthy, however, and North Wales rises to the top as a must- ride region.
My favourite roads in North Wales have been found by exploring new areas with no route in mind. Some would call it getting lost. A great example of this strategy working is the route between Llanidloes and Machynlleth. From the A470 join the B4518 which snakes its way towards Staylittle. From there turn left onto the mountain road towards Machynlleth and within minutes you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of Dylife Gorge.
A patchwork quilt of major roads allows easy navigation in North Wales. The dual carriageway A55 is coastal and runs from Chester in the east, past Bangor, and right onto Anglesey. The A5 follows its route but starts further south from the English border, while the A494 and A470 run north-east to south-west, meeting each other in Dolgellau in southern Snowdonia National Park. These roads will be busy in summer and are a mix of drama and monotony. For the most Welsh fun leave these A-roads behind and dive off onto routes less travelled.
Veer off the A5 on the approach to Snowdonia National Park from the Midlands by taking the B4501 at Cerrigydrudion, and back down the A543 where you rejoin the A5. Known as the Evo Triangle, this is a detour that’s well worth riding thanks to 20 miles of glorious twisties, but be warned it gets busy with both cars and bikes. Ride it mid-morning or in the shoulder seasons for less traffic. Stop to refuel at the whitewashed Sportmans Arms Inn on the right as you turn onto the A543. Frequented by local sheep it’s the highest pub in Wales.
Wales as a whole, but particularly the north, has a reputation for having some of the most officious traffic police in the UK. It is rumoured they have, in the past, taken a particular shine to bikers, often conducting random stops and penalising for minor offences. Enforcement has eased up recently, but you should still expect to see police presence around key biking areas. Expect marked and unmarked cars. My advice: put your baffle in, ensure your plate is the correct size and be mindful of speed limits. Another thing to be aware of is the suicidal tendencies of Welsh sheep. If you are riding through an area where sheep are kept, reduce your speed and keep your wits about you as they will often run into the road without warning.
The A542, known as the Horseshoe Pass, is an incredible road that runs between Llandegla and Llangollen in the North East. This delicious stretch of tarmac offers a mix of big sweeping corners as well as good runs of looser curves. This is a route to ride first thing in the morning, timing a stop at the biker friendly Ponderosa Café for a big breakfast with all the trimmings, for less than a fiver, before heading westwards into the mountains.
Off-bike thrills can be had further up the A5 towards Bethesda. Turn off left to Zip World where you can ride the longest zip line in Europe, which also happens to be the fastest in the world, reaching speeds in excess of 100mph. A ticket will cost around £60 (zipworld.co.uk) and if you are really keen it might be a good idea to book online before you get there. Apparently it’s the closest thing to flying you can experience... without actually flying.
WALES: BEST ENJOYED WHEN THE ROADS AREN’T BLOCKED BY PEOPLE-CARRIERS CRAMMED WITH HOLIDAYING SCHOOL KIDS
Accommodation in North Wales is a mix of holiday cottages and bed and breakfasts. A guest house will generally set you back between £60-£90 per night booked anywhere between three months and a week beforehand. Cottages are often more economical if travelling with a group of friends and airbnb is a good option when you are looking for places to stay. Make sure you book well in advance.
Four or five days is ample time to really enjoy North Wales’ roads. Add another 48 hours and you’ll be able to enjoy more off-the-bike activities like a day visit to Portmeirion – just off the A487. It’s a tourist village designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in an Italian style. It was made famous thanks to being the setting for the TV series, The Prisoner.
Take the M54 west from Birmingham to Shrewsbury and then the A458 to Dolgellau. From Manchester, take the M56 west and join the A55 to Snowdonia National Park. Ride North Wales with Laura on her next trip 25-29 May, 2017. Four nights including breakfast as a rider sharing a room is £480. Go to theendlessroad.co.uk for more information.