Camchain and tensioner seen up close in a cutaway bike engine

Home Travel StoriesSouth Wales 2017

Exploring The Brecon Beacons

By Ren Withnell

There was more rowdy behaviour last night. Not all caravanners are quiet gentlefolk who like to spend an evening watching TV or playing cards with friends. Some enjoy getting drunk while shouting to their friends across an open fire at 0330. Of course she who must not be disturbed remained undisturbed through it all.

This morning while the rain has stopped everything outside the tent is drenched and the kit that got wet yesterday is still wet this morning. We do our best to select dry clothing before we put on the moist bike gear. There's nothing like squeezing your head into a cold damp helmet in the morning. 

The first order of the day is to re-ride the Black Mountain Pass which we rode but did not see yesterday. As soon as we turn onto the A4069 at Llangadog I see rainbows upon the still wet tarmac. I can't smell diesel, maybe it's oil but whatever it is there's enough to slow me right down.

As we start to climb the rainbows remain with us. Typically if there's a large swathe of rainbow this indicates a diesel powered vehicle with an over-full fuel tank. The diesel will be on the outermost radius of either left or right hand corners as centrifugal forces slosh the fuel to the fuel cap then out. Oil tends to be dripped from engines forming  a long line, varying with speed.

An oil slick on the inside of a curve along the Black Mountain Pass road
I haven't worked out how you spill diesel on the inside edge of a curve.

These rainbows fit neither description. They're on the inside of this left hander then the outside of that left hander. There's little to none on the straights. As I delicately ride each bend some have no rainbow while others are vibrant across the whole road. I cannot figure out what would cause this pattern. I'm suspicious this may have been intentional.

No matter, if we have to go slowly then we have time to enjoy the views. 

A small bridge over a brook set in among hills covered in hardy grasses and boulders
Oh dear, we'll have to ride slowly. What a terrible shame.

The scenery here is softer than the mountains in North Wales, I'm reminded of the remote and wild places of The Yorkshire Dales as I look around. As the road twists its way upwards the grasses turn from green to hardy brown clumps requiring the sheep work harder to for their nutrition. 

The road is famous, apparently. It featured in "Top Gear" a few times presumably with expensive high powered exotica powering around its curves. As such we see a fair few wannabes in their Porsches, Mercedes and even a McLaren. Given the Pass's fame the council have seen fit to set a 40mph limit. While many drivers and riders will be mortified I do understand why. Despite my reservations all the posers in their flashy cars are behaving themselves and driving quite safely today. Maybe they've seen the oil on the road too.

An old red Porsche crosses the misty moors and hills of the pass, quite safely
This wasn't the most exotic car of the day, but it is still a Porsche.

Out of the hills we're back into the small towns. I'm peckish and there's too much blood in my teastream as we approach Ystradgynlais (don't ask me to say that). I lead us into the pleasant town as the sun makes another appearance and we park the bikes. There are some rather smart places to eat but we agree we just want a brew and a snack, Greggs it is then.

A couple play guitar and sing outside a small shop at Ystradgynlais
A little light entertainment to accompany our pasty. 

I am wonderfully lost once again. Somewhere between Ystradgynlais and Trecastle I think but it matters not. Single track, grass down the middle, the odd farm, hills, fields, sheep, trees, gates, rocky outcrops, no cars and slow speeds. I could wander like this all day. No u-turns too thankfully, I don't know how I manage that.

Sharon on her bike behind Ren's bike seen from Ren's point of view
Do you ever get that feeling you're being followed?

Usk Reservoir, well that's what the sign says. I'd better consult the maps on my phone, time is marching on and I'll be needing another tea infusion sooner or later.

A broad car park, quiet among the hills and next to the reservoir
Usk Reservoir for a little breather.

Llandovery is very busy indeed. It is patently obvious we are here on the day of some event. Back at the campsite we learn it is the annual Llandovery Sheep Festival. What? Yes we heard right - a sheep festival. It's all about all things sheep. Well we're here, we might as well go and have a look, we can get something to eat too.

LLandovery is another fine Welsh town, it's even better now it's dry with a sprinkling of hazy sunshine. Between the shops and the pubs and the banks and the architecture the festival is in full swing. There's huge bales of wool for tough men to carry and impress the ladies. There's stalls, little of which are sheep related. There's a Welsh choir trying to be heard over the din. There's a lot of people milling about. This isn't really my thing but I'm happy to wander a while as it feels relaxed, it's not taking itself too seriously.

Llandovery main street with stalls, bunting, people and merriment.
The Sheep Festival - not many sheep but much merriment.

We find a chippy and purchase our tea. It is good, we eat outside on the tables provided. The locals mix Welsh with English as easily as I mix milk into my tea. Big strong rugged farming men tease each other and their wives are equally cheeky. I am a stranger here but it feels very familiar. I'm quite liking Llandovery.

By Sharon Parker

Urgh. It is morning and it is cold and damp. Now if the sun was shining and warming the tent up nicely I may be tempted to get up. But my cold nose needs a little warmth so I disappear back inside my sleeping bag.  Ren as usual is up and about so eventually when I think he has reached his waiting around tolerance level limit I force myself out of my comfortable warm zone. 

Yuck. The floor is cold, my bike gear is damp, yes I have got the post pod blues. It is all very well spoiling oneself but when it ends it is back down onto the muddy earth with a squelch.  

On the plus side it has stopped raining and we are heading back over the Black mountain pass, this time in the opposite direction. Hopefully we will actually get to see some of it today. Because my riding has not been up to par on this holiday thus far I do feel nervous about the switchbacks. However excitement wins over fear so I am on my bike and ready for those twisties.

I remember my own advise to breathe slowly, calm myself and affirm that I can indeed do this. I am capable, I can ride this bike, I know I can. As we begin to climb the mountain road I am feeling good, the self belief is working a treat. However Ren points to the floor. I look down to see rainbows. No not those lovely rainbows you see in the sky or the rainbow drops that Unicorns poop. This is the devils own spawn...diesel. It is everywhere so we have no choice but to slow down and take those rainbow corners carefully. 

Sharon Kawasaki in a rugged rural landscape with Ren in the distance behind a wall
Maybe the Rainbows scared Ren, pee stop

The views are stunning though even on a damp grey day like today. I look around, take a few pics and smile. 

Looking down the cut of a stream we see over countryside and towns from the pass
Ren and Sharon's motorcycles set against the rugged moors and hills of the Brecon BeaconsThis is why we ride. 

As we climb higher I am handling the hairpins with comparative ease. Go figure, the mind is a strange thing at times. The mist begins to descend as we reach the upper limits of the mountain, obscuring most of the views. It is still a big improvement on yesterday. 

Sharon looks out across misty moors and a lonely road on The Black Mountain Pass
Sharon's Z250SL in the foreground with the moorlands and mist behind
Misty mountain high

All too soon the mountain road is done. Unlike yesterday when I could not wait for it to end today I am sad it has ended. I really enjoyed riding this road. It has cheered me up no end by helping restore some of the flagging confidence. 

The sun eventually puts in an appearance and it turns lovely and warm as we park up in a little town for lunch. Then it is back on the bikes for more fabulous riding. The sun is out and we are riding down tracks surrounded by fields and trees and sheep. My cheeks are aching from smiling so much. This is why we put on those soggy helmets in the morning. Because bikes take you places you would not go in a car. You get to find little wayward deserted tracks. You get to feel the heat of the sun as you ride. You get to smell the wood-rows. It is just so so what I Iove to do. My happy place.

We end the day once again back at the campsite with a walk into town for tea. There is a festival going on in Llandovery. Go on have a guess what type of festival it may be? Oh go on have a guess, don't be a bah humbug. Haa that is right, it is a sheep festival. See what I did there? Did you get my clue or did I pull the wool over your eyes. God I am RAMing those funnies in now. Ok sorry I will stop before you all LAMBast me. Oh well err sorry again and anyway anyone for chips and curry then because that is what I am having for tea. As always they taste great eating them outside while all manner of things sheep flock by. Oh it happened again...somebody stop me.

Pigs that have a thin covering of very curly wool in a pen at the sheep festival
More half sheep half pig creatures at the Llandovery festivalEven the pigs are turning into sheep at the festival. 

Back at the campsite and we have acquired some very close neighbours. Jeez there is a whole field available but these folks have decided to park up inches from us. My personal bubble has been well and truly invaded. I like a little space. I consider moving the tent in a huff but hey ho maybe they are infected by the whole sheep festival thing and are now acting like true sheep. To bed I go. I sure hope I do not have to rely on counting sheep to get to sleep as I think I have seen enough of them today. Ha just as well I like them. 

It has been a grand day out, I may have started the day a bit sheepish on my bike but I ended up with some of my old confidence coming back today. Did I just mention sheep again, arghh I am going to sheep I mean sleep. I will just get into my fleecy pjs and oh no what have I done ??? I am fleecy it it's too late I too have been infected, there is no escape. Baaahhhhh. 

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Not Even Wales! With a storm set to cause havoc across the UK is this day the best day to set out on a camping holiday? Maybe not.
Into Tywyn Finally Sharon and Ren get themselves out of the house and onto the road. They've set out, but have they got everything?
Exploring Around Tywyn Mid Wales provides an engaging, gorgeous and sometimes challenging landscape to explore. With all the sea, hills, mountains, valleys and single track lanes that go nowhere, our explorers are exploring.
Bracing Winds And Wobbly Hobbits Between the rain and the beauty Sharon's riding is creating mixed emotions for her and Ren is getting giddy over a TV programme.
Exploring St Davids - On Foot It is time to leave the bikes for just one day and set out on foot to explore the tiny city of St Davids. The city is small and pleasant, the cathedral is just sheer delight.
Exploring Around St Davids In the land of a thousand coves Sharon and Ren are looking into a handful of them. There's a chance Ren's 500 might not be getting out of one of them though.
Is Tenby Really Utopia? Tenby has been much lauded to both Sharon and Ren but now it's time to see if the reality will live up to the hype. Will Tenby be amazing or an amazing flop?
Exploring Around Tenby Between the endless cute coves, splendid coastal resorts and curiosities there's time for some field repairs. The big worry now is the forthcoming weather.
Spoiled Rotten In Gower Sharon is for once actually preying for rain and Ren is wondering if Sharon is going to kill him. What on earth is going on?
Exploring The Gower Peninsula Considering the day was supposed to be a washout Sharon and Ren get to look around the Gower Peninsula in good conditions. There's only one problem with Sharon's perfect beach - the walk back.
New Friends And Llandovery While the weather is very much against them Sharon and Ren enjoy the day with new friends and a lot of hot tea. They're heading a little North in South Wales.
Exploring The Brecon Beacons After yesterday's deluge will the soggy campers get chance to dry out and actually see The Brecon Beacons? Sharon is bleating out some awful sheep puns too.
Epilogue - South Wales 2017 Once again another trip comes to an end and it is time to return to the reality of everyday life. Neither Sharon or Ren are ready for it to be over.

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