By Eddie Smyth
A day ride out, from the west midlands, down lovely roads to Abergavenny and then north and west through some beautiful Welsh countryside with two target destinations, and home in time for tea. What better way is there than to spend a day on the bike. This journey would suit folk residing in and around the west of Birmingham and those touring from afar that find themselves close to the Welsh border.
My brother in law Gareth, who lives in South Wales has a brand new bike. A Suzuki GSX1250FA. The Blackbird we shared many a trip with has gone to pastures new and the big man dipped deep into his pockets to acquire a perfect road/touring bike to accompany the Yamaha BT100 Bulldog that I just love to bits. So, there was a method to our means for a day’s ride. The Suzi needs running in for the first 1,000 miles and this seemed like a great way to strip quite a few of them away.
I set off at 08:40 from home, just a few provisions in a tank bag but my textile clothing was all zipped together for the first time in a few months as the recent, cooler night time air and intermittent rains suggested the extra linings would be needed at some time today. My first destination was Abergavenny, where I had arranged to meet Gareth in a layby just outside the town. It’s always a nice sight; seeing commuter traffic lining up all the way out of town when you are on a day off and heading along an empty lane in the opposite direction. The A451 to Stourport gets choked coming into Kidderminster most of the day and negotiating the fiddly one way system through Stourport’s centre isn’t much fun but as you cross the river Severn, heading for Great Whitley the smile soon returns to your face. The road opens up once you are free of the town boundary and the successive dips, bends and sprint worthy straights offer a full on appetiser of the main course ahead.
A right and then a sharp left turn at the Hundred House Hotel keeps you on the A451 all the way to Bromyard. This is one of my favourite local roads. It takes you through brilliant Worcestershire countryside, across the Teme at Stanford Bridge, passed the Baiting House and up through forests, passing isolated churches and gorgeous cottages in tiny hamlets. The bends don’t let up and if there is any traffic in the way, there’s plenty of places to slither passed. 22 miles from home and Bromyard is reached. The main drag has plenty of pubs and cafes if this is as far you get and a few interesting shops to browse in but not today.
Cutting around the town or nipping through and taking a left to meet the A44 you need to take a right and then a sharp left to get on the A465 which leads you to Hereford and by a nice coincidence all the way to Abergavenny.
This road is also an absolute peach. The countryside scene continues right into the centre of Hereford, punctuated by the not unpleasant essence emitted at Stoke Lacy from the Wye Valley Brewery. It’s bigger than a microbrewery but still retains that reputation of a real ale for real beer drinkers. At 09:15 hours I did not stop to see if the off licence was open. I’m sure the web site would tell me what they do with visitors.
Hereford is but 12 miles distant from Bromyard and its rubbish traffic control system cannot be avoided. Beware of a sign that states, next left A465. As you find an appropriate lane in the congested melee you will note that next left over the lights is not the A465, it’s a side road to a supermarket. The next left is not it either, that takes you up to the front door of the hospital. Carry on to the end of the street altogether where the signs and light system clearly informs you to take a right and follow the course until you reach a staggered light controlled junction. Abergavenny to the left ONLY if you are riding a bike over thirteen feet in height because the A465 is born right onto what looks like a local road but that’s the one you want. Traffic through this town is as hectic and congested as when I came here to the cattle market back in the days when some lorries still ran on petrol.
Back to the present day and the prickly stress of outdated town centres is quickly alleviated by a return to the pleasant and green pastures of mother England. Only now we are dicing with the border of Wales. It flits for a few miles almost parallel with the road you are riding on, like a mischievous elf lurking behind the trees, but A: You are hardly aware of it and B: I don’t care. It’s a brilliant road, with so many laybys on both sides even the weakest of bladders won’t have to wait long to find relief. Many of these are crescent strips behind copses and I spotted one or two housed snack vans too.
Another aroma sneaks up your nostrils along here, the Pontillas timber yard makes a very pleasant change from the farm yard smells and freshly cut grasses. There’s plenty to distract the eye on this barely used road by English standards. Wales suddenly and finally makes its presence known by a big sign and the village names take on an almost comical tone from this point. Pandy for a start, which is almost on the border, then comes Llanvihangel but I want to live in Panty Gelli. I hope Gelli is not Welsh for gusset.
As you near Abergavenny there is a big pointy hill to the left called Skirrid Fawr it’s quite a sight. It is also named Sugarloaf but later in the day I find another hill of that name so I’m not sure whether that is correct but it can’t be missed.
I met Gareth at the layby right on schedule after travelling about 60 miles so far. The road from Hereford to here is absolutely brilliant; wide enough and rolling enough to allow quick progress and with gorgeous scenery throughout. “You’ve seen nothing yet” quoth my Welsh companion as he then leads the way up into the Brecons for the main course of the day.
Circumventing Abergavenny via a stupidly large and clumsy roundabout we took the A40 road towards Crickhowell. You can be doubly adventurous here and take the A4077 if you like. White lined but narrower and with comparable views and quaint villages to pass through but we trundled happily behind an HGV followed by a police car for a few miles before they both turned off as we approached Crickhowell. Wow, this is a fine place. Gareth knows it well. He broke down here on the Honda Blackbird recently. The bike had a major electrical failure, which refused to be fixed after several attempts, which is why he now has the Suzuki to run in. You could stop in Crickhowell, like you could stop in Abergavenny (there’s a biker café there) but we had plans for lunch farther into the land of mystery and names without vowels.
Llandovery is our target for today. Plenty of vowels but the double ‘L’ names always have me lisping like lunatic to even begin to get the pronunciations right. The A40 is actually a terrific road despite it threatening to be a wide and straight bore like many major ‘A’ roads. The stretch that is a dual carriageway is useful as it bypasses Brecon completely and gives you a chance to clear some fumes from the exhausts, if you catch my ‘wink’. The road twists, rises and dips in even more pleasing terms than the road I took to get here. The vistas are wonderful as hills and valleys, straight out of Postman Pat’s pop up books are laid out in every direction. Clouds gathered and squeezed rain upon us once or twice but it came to nothing more than a finger wipe across the visor and a double check of the road surface for slippery bits.
The turning for Brecon is reached after 22 miles but the bypass keeps us right on track.
I could have halted a dozen times to photograph, well just about everything. Even pretty girls in the villages as we passed. Trecastle is particularly photogenic, with our without the local damsels on view. There are so many stopping places you may never get to your destination. We pressed on, we are pioneers on a mission.
An alternative route to Brecon could be found on the B4558, alongside canals and the lovely village of Talybont if you have a phobia for too much ‘A’ road riding.
There’s plenty of fuel stops available too. Sennybridge for a start. It looks nice there too.
Just before Llandovery is Halfway, the home and workshop of Jaden Rose guitars. If you want to look super cool on your bike, sling one of these hand-made babies over your shoulder. They are custom made and about as desirable as a Welsh maiden with a twinkle in her eye.
We finally arrived in Llandovery some 42 miles from Abergavenny, just about ready for a cuppa and maybe a bite to eat. The West End café is the place to be and a biker’s haven on a good day. Today the only other bike parked at the front was a very tidy vintage Triumph 500. It looked very well looked after and as we nodded a hello to its owner sitting at a table nearby I felt the routine rush of gratitude that what my modern day manufactured Yamaha lacks in character and vogue it makes up for in brilliantly capable oil seals and suspension.
Being of weak minds both Gareth and I opted immediately for a roast dinner. It was almost midday anyway. The café has space for a lot of customers. Everyone around us were more of the ‘retired’ class or workmen at lunch. And obviously very local. But it’s not a place just for locals. Even we English ‘can come in yer’.
We lingered long over a lovely lamb lunch. We had nothing to rush for but eventually tore ourselves away to mount the bikes and head off towards Rhayader, the second destination of the planned trip for today.