Ever since the days of driving here, there and everywhere in my first 106 Rallye, there had always been one area of this country that I had been keen to revisit. North Wales holds memories of both a Christmastime drive out with friends and a leg our 'no motorways, no dual carriageways' Lands End to John O'Groats challenge. 

I had considered this as a trip with a few friends along, but through lack of interest, it had been on the backburner for some time. Then came this week, and I now have the perfect excuse, visiting a friend in Wolverhampton is about the closest I'm going to get and I now have the S2000 that will love a hoon through the Welsh mountains. Originally, I had considered a two day trip, but with lack of funds and other plans for the following day, I now have as much of the country as I can fit into a single day.

The signs are good. All weather forecasts are predicting Friday 10th August to be the climax of a mini heatwave and the S2000 is all prepped for the off, brimmed with a full tank of V Power. After some consulting with the Pistonheads forum, I have a vague 'full tank worth' route in my head and at 10:30 am we head off through the traffic of the city in search of driving bliss.

After navigating the suburbs, the first stage of our journey takes us down the M54 and around Shrewsbury on the A5. There's nothing particular of note to see here, so it's a foot down slog to make up as much time as possible. After seemingly endless dual carriageway section separated by copious roundabouts, I spot the sign I'm looking for on the approach to Oswestry and it's time to head out on the B roads. This stretch looks typically mid-welsh, not massively hilly but also not flat, loads of twisty narrow roads that go on forever. I have to pull in to check the map as the 16 miles to Bala sign that I passed seems like an hour ago, and I'm still not in Bala... As I do so, the old man in the Skoda Fabia that I had got past ten minutes ago trundles past again. Luckily, a small straight sees him in my mirror again and as we pass through the small village of Penybontfawr a gap in the trees gives me a glimpse of the road ahead as it snakes up the hillside in an almost alpine fashion. This is about to get fun! This recently resurfaced section is super smooth getting higher and higher above the valley on my left hand side. The view is spectacular. As I cross the summit, the road changes to a windy descent with plenty of open corners. I enjoy every minute of this. The miles are being raked in now and it's not long before we reach Bala and decide on our first break of the day, two hours into the trip. We have time for a drink and a small snack (a 'potato dog' from the local Spar was surprisingly pleasant) under the shade of tree and then we're back in the baking black leather under the cloudless sky. The windows go down and we head onward.

Our next section leads us onto the A4212 behind a convoy of traffic, along the shore of Llyn Celyn to Trawsfynydd. We maintain a comfortable 60mph all the way along this road, despite the traffic, making the most of the open air at cruising pace and saving fuel for the empty roads ahead. Now we head north to Porthmadog, past the gloomy looking power station on the side of the lake, again just going with the flow of the traffic. Our next turn off is in the direction of Beddgelert, this road gets tight and twisty quickly. It's fun at low speed, I don't want to push too much along here, although I get the feeling that the Insignia driver behind me would beg to differ. I commit myself to a narrow bridge, only for a woman in an oncoming Focus to do the same. I cringe as I expect the bang and I watch the mirror ping back into place as she squeezes past. I'll have to inspect the damage later, though it could have been worse. 
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Along the shore of Llyn Celyn
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A4212 towards Trawsfynydd
Before long we arrive in Beddgelert. Slight distraction from chuckling at the hotel name (see below) meant almost missing the turning off down a narrow side road, signposted to Llanberis. We're now on our way to Snowdon. The road is a little wider but as it climbs through the mountains it's still full of fun corners. It doesn't take long to catch up with a slow moving Freelander, so when the opportunity arrives, I pull over in a layby with a great view out over Llyn Gwynant for a five minute break and a photo. Once we set off again, it's only a couple of corners further and we can see the Llanberis Pass jutting out from one of the spurs ahead of us. We're still climbing as we turn off and as we reach the point that we had seen from lower down, the views get only more amazing looking back in the direction we had come from. It's only a matter of a few seconds before we cross over the summit of the pass and we're now into a downhill section. The road is fairly quiet, considering the time of year, and with little in the way of oncoming traffic, I'm steering more towards the middle of the road to avoid contact with the brick walls lining the roadside. Overall, the pass lives up to it's hype, though I had preferred the uphill section before. Soon we end up back on the flat, now headed for the north coast and our (late) lunch stop at Llandudno. With a slight lapse of concentration, this time I miss the turning signposted to Bangor. Luckily I realise straight away and turn around in a side road, only to then almost miss the turning from the other direction. 
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Mildly humourous hotel name resulting in nearly missing a turning
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S2000 takes a well earned break over Llyn Gwynant
The next stretch along the A4244 is less memorable, though quick, and leads us straight onto the A55 expressway. We can up the pace a little along the dual carriageway and it's only a matter of ten minutes or so until the Great Orme of Llandudno comes into sight. The coastal scenery relieves some of the monotony of this stretch, while two small tunnels, followed by the longer Conwy tunnel sorts out the rest. A second gear blat up to the 9k redline and the tunnel reverberating to the sound of VTEC will always make me giggle like a small child... I get a little over excited at this point and leave the A55 a junction too early. Never mind, the route now takes us along Llandudno's quieter western side and I try to work out my bearings to navigate towards the Great Orme Marine Drive.
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Orme ahoy!
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Coastal scenery brightens up a less exciting stretch
On approach to the toll booth, it almost appears that one of the days highlights is in jeopardy. A man in a hi vis blocks the road with a traffic cone, while an old cretin (I can think of no better word to describe this person) executes the world's slowest three point turn to come back in our direction. I at least have to try my luck and pull forward to ask if the Marine Drive is open. It's a yes, but only a partial yes. The toll is reduced to £1, though I can get less than half of the way around the Orme. I've travelled 150 miles so far to get here. I'm going to spend my pound and make the most of it. And it's most certainly worth it, even for just the couple of miles that is open. The main bonus is that this is a one way toll road. I don't know whether to drive it slowly and make the most of the stunning scenery, or to drive it fast and make the most of the lack of oncoming traffic. I kind of do an inbetween, driving fairly quickly, though having fun nonetheless. A road closed sign signals the end of the Marine Drive for today, and  we're forced to turn off through a couple of Alp-esque switchbacks to the summit. The car park is packed, though as luck would have it, I roll straight into a space being vacated. A little confusion ensues with regard to parking charges. Some people have a ticket, some don't. The internet says this is included with the Marine Drive toll, though the pay and display sign makes no reference to this. I apprehensibly decide to leave the toll ticket in view in the windscreen and we make for the cable cars... 
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Great Orme Marine Drive - a must do!
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S2000 basks in the sun on the Marine Drive
Cue a rather long break from driving. It's now 3:30 pm and we're ready for some lunch. There's no shade up here and there's still no clouds in the sky. The queue for the cable car ride is taking longer than we expected and as such we consider the tram ride instead. But we've already waited quarter of an hour, we might as well wait? Eventually at just after 4 pm a light blue car comes around and it's our turn to ride the mile or so down to the town of the proclaimed 'longest cable car system in Great Britain'. It's an enjoyable ride with views across the sea, the Orme and the seaside town, though in hindsight probably not worth the 40 minute wait, or the £7 one way ticket price. 
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Orme summit is quite busy
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Cable car is the quickest and easiest way between the town and the Orme, except for the wait
It's well past 4:30 pm now and we're quite hungry. I vaguely remember a KFC from a previous visit about 10 years ago, so we make off in the general direction of my memory in the hope that it's still there. My memory doesn't let me down and we give ourselves half an hour to refuel before wandering back along the seafront. Ice cream is considered, though with still having to get back to the car, we decide the safest bet is to head straight to the tram terminal in the hope of a ride up the hill. On arrival it seems eerily quiet. I stand at the counter for a few minutes waiting to be acknowledged, before confronting the cashier with the dreaded question. The answer 'There's no more return trams today' worries me for a second, until I clarify what he was saying. Once he understands that my car is at the top he informs me that the last tram to leave for the summit is due in about ten minutes. Phew! Once the tram arrives it leaves almost straight away and makes a very slow and steady ascent. Upon reaching the mid way station we then have to change for the last tram to the top. The driver changeover takes an eternity and by the time we reach our destination it's past 6 pm now. With no time to lose and another 150 miles to cover back to Wolverhampton we get straight in the car and make our way back down the side of the Orme. The car in front of me is going painfully slowly, though like me, seems slightly lost in making it's way out of the town, so I sit behind and follow. Eventually, we're back on the A55 at the point we left earlier this afternoon.

I do no more than get up to speed, half way past a slower car when the exit for Betws-y-Coed is upon me. I have no choice but to put the anchors on (much to the dislike of the driver behind me) and quickly leave for the A470. I had been advised of a couple of alternative routes here, though not wanting to waste any more time, I keep to the main road. The traffic is moving at a fair enough pace and the wooded sides of the valley here give some much appreciated shade. The only happening of note along this stage is a low flying aircraft, a Hercules if my days as an air cadet serve me correctly. Moments like this only make the soft top even more magic. We reach the A5 and now turn east, again a road I'd been told to avoid if possible, I only planned the minimum possible, though I'm pleasantly surprised. The traffic is light in both directions and the 5 mile section is in fact, quite fun! As we approach the next step of the journey, around the corner in a layby, I spot a familiar looking silver Renault. It's time to be led around the Evo Triangle by Davo in his Megane R26.
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Hercules (unless any plane spotters want to correct me)
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Follow the boost to the Evo Triangle
I’m slightly apprehensive as we turn off and I question this roads status as an A road. Past a farm and a tight left hander, the stone walls get further away from the roadside and the road slowly opens up. It’s completely deserted, a real delight and as the sun sits low in the sky the moorland is lit with a golden glow. This is classic petrolhead territory. The road flows from corner to corner through gentle brows and dips and keeping the Megane in sight I can plan my route through the bends, hitting the apexes without fear of oncoming traffic. The R26 is impressive, or maybe it’s just Davo’s gutsy driving style. Either way, I’m having to get in the VTEC on the straights to make up for a slower pace through the corners. We reach the point of the Triangle and turn back for the next section, the road now unfolds through the forest and along the shoreline of Llyn Brenig as the gradients become more pronounced and the corners longer and wider. The nature of the road allows me to stay closer on the heels of the Megane until inevitably we catch some slower moving traffic, finishing the final five minutes of the Triangle behind a white van. 
We close in on the A5 again, though as we do so, we make a left turn again in Cerrigydrudion and we’re now driving north again on our way to Ruthin. It’s another good road with little in the way of other traffic to spoil the fun, though after the Evo Triangle, it’s not quite on par. Through the tighter sections the Megane becomes a distant blob again. On passing the signs for Clocaenog Forest, I have fond memories of a frosty December morning years back thrashing through the dusty gravel tracks with a group of 106s. I’m half tempted to go and play, though I know the S2000 isn’t the car for it. Onwards to Ruthin it is then, where we instantly turn back on ourselves again. A few miles later, as the road ducks under the the cover of the trees, a large white sign announces the beginning of the next notable stretch, the Nant-y-Garth Pass. This is only a short, flat run for a couple of miles, though the shade from the trees gives it somewhat surreal feeling and the windy nature of the road gives it a fun factor too. It takes less than five minutes to cover and before we know it, we turn off again, this time down a single track, in pursuit of one of my all time favourite photo locations.
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Nant-y-Garth
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Almost caught up with that Megane again...
This narrow lane starts off smoothly as we effectively cut the end of Nant-y-Garth short and head to Bryneglwys. We cross the A5104 and the next lane takes us up to a familiar cattle grid, where the road surface deteriorates rapidly. Again, the last time I had driven this was in a rattly Peugeot and as much fun as it had seemed at the time, it was clear this wasn’t exactly an S2000-friendly route. With the sunlight now fading fast, we reach the summit for a ten minute break and a low light photo opportunity. Once Davo has finished trying to rip the splitter off the front of the Megane on the uneven ground and found his way back onto the slightly more even tarmac, we descend the hill on the southern side, back towards the A5 again where we part company and start the slog back along the less exciting roads.
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It was a quick silver beast but it wasn't up to off roading...
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The red roadster however coped well with the terrain
It’s 8 pm before we pass Llangollen and all that remains is for a brief service station stop at Oswestry for a snack and to restock on Drench for the rest of the journey home. I have my doubts but my passenger agrees to complete the trip with the roof folded back, allowing me to stay true to my topalwaysdown mantra. It pays off, affording us a fabulous view of the Perseid meteor shower as we cruise back effortlessly. The last bars on the fuel gauge extinguish one by one, although I know the driving distance is decreasing all the time and as we coast through Tettenhall on the final bar we have arrived back having covered 302 miles since we began. Not a bad way to spend £70 worth of V Power, I’d say…
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As the last of the light faded we waved goodbye to our tour guide
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The state of the front end of your car says a lot about how good a days driving has been. If it's dirty, you've probably had fun!
 


Comments

28/03/2013 15:07

As I see it, your vehicle may to cross a lot of kilometers.

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