Looking across to the snow capped alpine mountains seen from the back seat of a motorcycle

Home Travel StoriesTywyn 2014

Into Mid Wales

By Ren Withnell

It's the Easter weekend. It's good Friday. The gf has to work on Saturday and she's out partying on Saturday evening which means I am left to my own devices. A 42 year old male running amok without female supervision could be a recipe for disaster. Sod it, I'm off camping on my own. Great!

Thing is I might have left it a bit late. It's already 1000 by the time I've finished watching stupid videos on Facebook. By the time I've located and checked the tent it's 1030. By the time I've found all the other gear it's 1130. Then I realise I've nowhere to charge my phone on the bike. On the now traded in Fazer I had fitted a lighter socket, I have no such thing fitted to either the 125 or the 250. Damn. If I'm honest with myself I'm looking for excuses not to go. I'm not sure I'm in the mood.

a car accessory socket aka lighter socket, and a usb charger
Essential touring equipment in this modern age.

I spend the rest of Good Friday taking a ride to Haworth in Yorkshire because the club plans to ride there soon and I'd like to know where to park, and a good hour fitting a newly purchased lighter socket, now known as a "Car Accessory Socket", under the seat of the 250. It's far too late to go camping now. At least I've got time to organise myself.

I'm awake on this Saturday at 0630. No alarms, no noises, I'm just awake. Well there's no point lying here doing nothing so I get up. I am going camping today. Definitely. For sure. Positively. Except I want to take the 125 which doesn't have a "Car Accessory Socket" to charge my phone. I am going. Absolutely. I fit the socket to the 125 by 0730 so there's no more excuses. I check the weather, it's not going to rain today. No more excuses. I load the bike up with all I need and more besides. Is it overladen? No, not really. No. Stop looking for excuses. Just get on and ride.

So at 1000 I set off for Wales. I've been to North Wales many times and I do rather like the place. It's pretty, picturesque and there's plenty of campsites. The downside is that I've done it to death over the years, I'd like to go further South. I'd like to think that I could easily make the South Peninsula, maybe Fishguard, considering the success of the 267 mile trip the gf and I covered a few weeks back on our 125s. Yes, lets head to the Southern part of Wales, the bit that I barely know. As I cruise down the motorway at 55 mph and my little motor screams I'm starting to relax.

I'm relaxed until I realise I've forgotten a pipe. I have a petrol powered stove and to fill it I need a pipe to get petrol from the tank into the stove. Damn. I've packed rice and some tins to eat, I've got all my brew gear and I've nothing to fill the stove with. Damn and blast! I could go back, but I'm already passing Warrington and that would be a 40 mile return trip. Damn. I'll have to use my cunning and guile to come up with another solution.

a plastic pipe hanging from a fridge magnet
The pipe I need to fill the stove, on the fridge not in my bags.

I relax again after cursing myself for a while. I come off the motorway and catch the A49 only to promptly get lost trying to follow signs for either Chester or Wrexham. I soon find myself on a familiar road that I know will take me to J&S, Cheshire's big motorcycle clothing store. At least I can get a brew there and have a mooch around, I'm in no rush. Maybe I can find a pipe.

As I park I notice a distinctive Eliminator 600, I know that bike. Sure enough sat outside the cafe is the owner, a lady who I've only met once before briefly. Despite not knowing me she's happy to sit and talk a while as I drink my brew. This is good, this is what I was hoping for, just a chat and a chill while on the road. I decide against going into the shop and looking at things I'm too tight to buy so after my brew I bid the lady, who's name I don't know, farewell and hoist myself onto the bike again.

kawasaki eliminator 600 at j and s
There's not many Eliminators, and none quite like this one.

I did say I wanted to chill, as in relax. I'm chilling as in blooming freezing though. The sun pokes out from time to time and when it does it feels good, otherwise the day is dry but the air is cold. It's the middle of April, maybe I'm expecting too much from the weather. Last year it remained cold right through till the end of May, I hope we don't get a repeat of that this year. I wonder if I should put my waterproof jacket on. 

I'm blooming well lost again too. Not lost as in desperately seeking a way out, I just don't know where I'm going. It's almost lunchtime, the sun should be roughly South so when it makes an appearance I keep it in front and to my left, South West. It takes a little while before I pick up signs for Oswestry and the A5. I know the A5 will take me to somewhere I know. 

Llangollen. Ah yes, I remember Llangollen. The gf and I spent a rather slow day here once displaying her art at some kind of hippy event. It's actually a very pretty place but on this dry, sunny yet nippy day it's filled to the brim with tourists like myself. I'd like to stop and get a few pictures of the rocky river running through the town but every space is taken with cars, pedestrians, kid's prams and panting dogs. It's mayhem, maybe I'll just pass through, I hope the rest of Wales isn't so busy.

a chicken mayow sandwich packet and a twix wrapper
My travelling lunch, "triangle" sandwich and a choccy bar. Sorted.

Lake Bala is one of those stops on the biker routes. It's also a place I don't recall having been to myself, oddly enough. As I get closer I'm curious and excited as to what I might see. A beautiful lake? The perfect biker cafe? A road filled with bends and smooth tarmac? Nope. I find a small town and on the far side a car park and the Bala Leisure Centre. I pull in, spot a few bikes, decide I'm unimpressed and carry on. I guess it's a lot more fun with your mates there.

lake bala from the car park with the sun shining
Lake Bala. It's pretty...but it's not The Alps.

I'm sure I've been through Dolgellau before. I know I don't know Mid and South Wales that well but I'm sure I've been this way. Thing is I recognise nothing, which is good because it's all new to me. As I draw nearer to the town I spot a sign for Tywyn. Why do I know that name? I've not been there have I? Someone...someone I know is going soon, or been, or is there. Oh I don't know. Stuff it I'll follow the signs.

Following the signs is a little confusing. I'm expecting to go through Dolgellau and see the town, you know, shops, guest houses, little narrow streets with ancient slate Welsh Cottages. Each time I spot a "Tywyn" sign I take it and feel I'm going the wrong way. Somehow I end up back at the first junction I came to? I follow the "Tywyn" signs again and this time I end up out in the countryside, never having seen anything of Dolgellau. No matter, I'll get there one day I'm sure, if I haven't been already.

I find I'm on broad flat land surrounded by rugged Welsh hillside in the near distance. I guess I'm in an estuary, close to sea level therefore close to the sea. I like the sea. I can't explain why, maybe it reminds me of holidays as a child, maybe it's the vastness and size, maybe the sea usually marks the end of my journey, maybe it's the majesty and force. I don't know, but I know I'm close, but I can't see it. It's well into mid afternoon now, I'm starting to doubt I'm going to make it to the southern peninsula. It doesn't matter, who am I trying to impress anyway?

Fairbourne, that's not a very Welsh name is it? I'm no longer travelling to make distance, I'm in exploring, having a look around mode. I take the turning as it seems to lead towards the sea. I pass through what can at best be described as a "sleepy" little town with seemingly no old houses or ancient history. As I head for the sea I find I can't reach it, my path turns to run along what I suspect is the coastline and next to a tiny narrow gauge railway line. Ahh, Wales and the obsession with railways, especially narrow gauge steam railways. This is why my father used to bring us to North Wales. I do have some happy memories of the smell of oil and steam.

I park the bike along the narrow road among a light sprinkling of tourists and walkers. The sea must be hiding behind the sea defences and coarse dunes, I figure unless I desert the bike and take a hike I'm not going to see it just yet. These tracks are too small even for a narrow gauge train, this looks more like a miniature railway. As I dig my camera out I see I'm correct, a small yet perfectly proportioned steam train complete with shrunken carriages approaches. The engineer and occasional passenger look massive, giant. I'm at a passing place, I watch as the track token is handed from one engineer to another. This all happens at less than walking pace.

a small steam train in the sun on the narrow tracks
What is the obsession with steam trains? I don't know but I want a go!

As I ride away a few things fall into place. I remember now who is in Tywyn and why they are there. Just like my father a friend of mine is railway mad. Although he works full time on the national network as a signal and telecoms engineer he's VOLUNTEERED to work a week on the Talyllyn Railway! His wife and young son will spend the week with him in an apartment. I wonder, will his son be building those same memories I have? Steam, oil, seaweed, sand in my shoes, castles, cold sea, mountains, sheep and the endless noise of waves dragging shingle up and down, up and down, up and down the beaches. I hope so, lucky lad.

Another sleepy town, no, it's tiny, more like a hamlet. This one is much older and has nothing more than a train station and public toilets. I stop a moment to use the facilities then have a look. This is a main line station complete with full size tracks and official timetables. The platform however is tiny and looks deserted, seldom used. The Llwyngwril station is so quiet there's a phone, you have to ring someone to ask the train to stop! Coming from the sprawling, overpopulated and overcrowded North West this seems quaint, almost funny. With a little reflection it's easy to see this "quaint" little station is probably a lifeline for the locals.

the phone on the tiny platform at Llwyngwril
The phone on the platform at Llwyngwril.

The road along the coast finally allows me to see the sea. I ride along a narrow ledge looking over bluffs and down, way down at times, to the broad ocean. This is more like it, these are the kind of scenes I like to view while I bimble along. It's still cold although the waterproof overjacket is helping keep the chill at bay. The sun is trying it's best to make an appearance and from time to time the clouds lighten, even part in the promise of a nice evening. I'm relaxing now. I've decided I'm not going to make it to South Wales so somewhere near Tywyn will be my stop for the evening. 

I relax even more when I spot a campsite clinging to the the cliffs. I often worry if I'll find a campsite so having spotted at least one I can always come back here. I spot a couple more on the road into town and this makes me smile even more. Now, if I can find a way of filling the stove everything will be just perfect. I'm usually very good as working out practical solutions using bits of string and old plastic bags but this afternoon my pipe conundrum resourcefulness is failing me.

Tywyn comes into view. This is on a broad open plain surrounded by the rugged Welsh hills again. Another estuarine valley as far as my limited geographical knowledge can work out. The town starts with another campsite, an ice cream parlour, a builder's merchant and then the distinctive style of Welsh houses lead me into a small and perfectly formed town centre. I find myself on the promenade so I stop for a moment to take in the sea and the beach. As I sit on a bench I notice something unusual, I'm warm. The sun has won the battle with the clouds, it's just a little late in the day to be a scorcher now.

the promenade and the benches alongside tywyn beach
Tywyn Promenade in the ever warming sunshine. 

I easily find a large Co-op in town and take a while to look around in search of the final piece of this puzzle, pipe. Maybe a turkey baster? Nope, can't find one. There's a pack of straws? I've had several mouthfuls of petrol in the past, it's not nice, not at all. Plastic bag? Dipped into the tank then poured into the stove...I'll just end up with a plastic bag floating round inside the tank. No matter how hard I think there's no solution forthcoming. This food based Co-op is not set up for camping bikers with petrol powered stoves. Understandable really, it's a small market.

I could spend the rest of the day looking for a shop that sells something suitable but it's already after 1700 and on this Easter Saturday I imagine any store holder with any sense will have locked up and gone home to enjoy the holiday. I head out of town to see what the nearby campsite is all about. Maybe I can tap a fellow camper up for a piece of pipe. I don't like to ask but sometimes needs must.

The Pall Mall Caravan Park (pallmallfarmcaravanpark.co.uk) greets me with a lady who relieves me of a mere £7 for a night's camping. I'm directed to a large field at the far end of the site. There are more than a handful of campers and caravans around the entrance of the field and I choose a pitch on the outskirts of this collection. Damn! Another missing item, I've forgotten my "puck", the disc of plastic that stops the side stand sinking into the grassy field. I really am not prepared for this weekend am I? Luckily this patch of grass is solid enough for now but I'll need to improvise something soon. 

I'm also a little rusty pitching the tent. At least I've remembered everything here, the tent poles and the pegs, as well as the tent. I've also remembered my sleeping bag and ground roll. Soon enough I'm pitched and settled and I have now achieved the dizzying heights of being hot! I'm hungry too so I strip off some layers and ponder how to fill the stove. Out of curiosity I get the stove out and open the cap. Wahoo! It's filled to the brim! I'm only here for one night, I reckon this should see me through the evening. Mind you that petrol is at least 7 months old. I hope it's not gone off.

With some trepidation I light the stove, success. I heat a pan of water for a brew then realise I have forgotten the goddam blooming blinking cup too. Note to self. Read the camping list you yourself created on your own website you complete and utter buffoon. I put the tea bag in the pan, some sugar and some milk. It's fine actually, it's just awkward and strange drinking hot tea out of a large pan. At least I remembered the pans. After the brew I rustle up a pan of baked beans and a pan of rice. It's hardly nouvelle cuisine but it is tasty, healthy and filling. The baked bean can, squashed, makes an ideal "puck" to put under the side stand to ensure the bike doesn't fall over in the middle of the night. With food and drink, a tent and a puck it's all starting to come together.

tea, rice and bean all in separate pans, camping food
Tea, rice and baked beans. It's a camper's food and drink of the gods.

It's hot in the tent as I catch up with facebook on my mobile. As I lie there I'm tired and soon enough I drop the phone and nod off with the doors open to the evening air. Kids fight and scream outside, sheep bleat and cars come and go along the gravel track. I don't sleep deeply I just nod in and out of conciousness quite comfortably. 

Before the sun sets I make to walk into town. It's all very well and good riding around a place but to really see it I need to walk it. The campsite is only 10 minutes easy stroll from the now quiet town. The beach is almost deserted and the setting sun makes for an atmospheric vista. The housing estate is ordinary. The Talyllyn sidings are deserted, I wonder if my friend is still here or back home. The town is empty too. Inside myself I'm calm which is a most pleasant sensation. I wonder, am I learning to become at ease with travelling? I spot a pub and fancy a drink and to rest my feet.

Tywyn beach with clear evening skies, it is empty save for a few locals
Tywyn Beach in the crystal clear evening skies. 

The pub serves me with a glass of coke and the time to sit and watch the locals. The locals are like any other, some lads watch the football and take the rip out of each other, older groups talk quietly, a couple or two sit without talk - already knowing what the other is thinking and I sit sipping coke feeling just a little out of place. Each time the door opens I wonder if my friend will walk in, now wouldn't that be surreal.

By the time I've walked back to the campsite the sun has set and darkness is almost upon us. The one thing I always forget is the one thing I have with me, my torch. I settle in for the night. The warmth of the early evening has all but gone, I can tell it's going to be a chill evening so I leave a few layers on under my sleeping bag. I fight with my pillow, rolled up trousers, and remember how thin and uncomfortable this ground roll is. While it's not the comfort of a real bed and a warm room my spirit is in the right place. I don't know what is different but I feel right at home tonight. Now, if someone could shut up those screaming kids it would be perfect.

failing light over the tents and caravans at pall mall campsite tywyn
View from the tent as night falls.

Into Mid Wales Ren's ride down to Tywyn on the Welsh coast. Cold and warm, lost and found and a new area to explore.
Home From Tywyn Ren rides home after a night in Tywyn. It's grey and grim and it looks like rain.

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