By Victor Wanchena
I remember the roads … winding, snaking, ribbons of tarmac perfect for motorcycling. It had been three decades since I had been to the U.K. My first visit all those years ago was when my parents and I returned from Africa, where we had made
some friends with visiting Brits.
Those memories served my wife and I well.
I can honestly say there are few bad roads in the U.K. Most of the roads are the product of foot trails and cart tracks that evolved over the kingdom’s long history into roads. Their organic origin means long straight sections are uncommon. Combine this with mild winters that keep the roads in nice condition, and you have the right ingredients for great motorcycling.
Our plan was simple. Fly into London, take a train to the new home of Triumph – Hinckley – ride for 10-days without much of a plan, tour London, and fly home. We booked our first and last night’s hotel room, but otherwise plunged into the countryside without an itinerary. I had been told that Wales, often overlooked by tourists, was a wonderful area to visit.
The bike pick up was un-dramatic. I surprised the gate guard at the factory by arriving on foot rather than a vehicle, but was soon ushered in to a reception area. The Triumph factory is a non-descript series of buildings in an industrial park. A few minutes later the Tiger was rolled around front, I was thrown a set keys and I was off to pick up my wife.
We loaded up and headed out of Hinckley that morning. We had planned for the smallish bags on the Tiger. I packed light, and Tammy brought a backpack. The first few miles of riding on the left was weird, but it got more comfortable as the day went on. We headed north toward a region known as the Peak District. As the name suggests, this area is filled with low mountains and charming towns. The lunch stop was our first foray into real pub food. What a shock. The rumors of bland English food were unfounded.
Leaving the Peak district we headed west for a town named Chester. The Olympic torch had come through town that day leaving the town with Olympic fever. After some aimless wandering, we happened upon a perfect hotel tucked away on a cobblestone back street. We spent the evening poking around the ramparts of the town that dated back to Roman times.
The next morning we set off to do what the Romans had done 2,000 years ago; conquer Wales. The rough and craggy landscape of Wales made it tough for the Romans, but perfect for motorcyclists. The roads continued to supply mile after mile of winding fun. Wales has much to offer the touring motorcyclist. There seemed to be castles everywhere (over one hundred still standing) and roads even more remote and winding than England.
We made our way across the northern coast of Wales heading for Mount Snowdon. The mountain is the highest point in Wales and commands quite a view when the weather cooperates. Plunging into the foggy interior of Wales we began our climb of Snowdon. We broke out of the fog at the Pass of Llanberis. Several trails run to the summit here, but they weren’t our goal. Instead we came to bring some of the ashes of an old friend to spread on the land of his ancestry. It was a bittersweet moment on our trip.
Turning south at Caernarfon, the site of a really big castle, we plunged into the wild and wooly interior of Wales. I say wooly because the sheep seemed to outnumber the residents 4 to 1. It was interesting to hear the Welsh language still spoken to a large extent. Roughly related to Scottish and Gaelic, Welsh is now taught in schools as a matter of national pride.
We continued on our route following the coast of Wales. The road seemed even narrower as we snaked down the coast. Occasionally we would turn inland winding into the highlands of Wales. Everything was scenic and that made route planning a breeze. Pick a road and go. Even the main highways were wonderful.
In southern Wales we crossed a region known as Brecon Beacons. The wide treeless mountains of the area are home to some wonderful roads. Viewers of the British car show Top Gear would recognize the area, as it is a favorite of the boys for filming because of the dramatic scenery and winding roads.
Leaving Wales, we headed for the southwestern portion of England. This part of the U.K. is full of small farms and broad moors. Our goal was Lands End, the most westerly point in England. The area is known for it’s picturesque seaside towns and mild weather by British standards.
Having touched the Lands End, and with our time on the bike coming to an end, we headed east and north back to Hinckley. A small side trip was made to Stonehenge. I visited the site 30 some years ago and it seemed much bigger then. We eventually made it back to Hinckley and reluctantly handed the Tiger back.
Touring in the U.K. is very easy. The common language and western customs were all very familiar to us. Bike rentals are plentiful. The majority of bike rental companies are based out of London. There are companies based out of other cities, but the transportation costs to get there usually offset the savings away for London.
The weather is, well, in a word “British.” The island is farther north than most people realize. Summers are usually mild, but rain is also common. Our time in the U.K. was unseasonably cool and rainy, but we survived. You should be prepared for cool days and packing raingear is a must. July and August typically have the best weather.
For lodging, we found accommodations easy to obtain. Most towns offer some sort of establishment – oftentimes pubs, which keep a few rooms for travelers. The pub rooms were typically inexpensive by UK standards, convenient for post day refreshment, and breakfast was always included. Again, the rumors of bad British food were unfounded.
The only downside we found during our tour of the U.K. was the price. The cost of living is higher and the unfavorable exchange rate didn’t help matters. The Euro isn’t used in the U.K. so don’t bring any. They’ve maintained their use of the British Pound. During the course of our time on the bike we averaged $200 dollars a day in expenses covering lodging, meals, fuel, incidentals (beer), and the usual tourist junk. This doesn’t figure in the cost of a bike rental or airfare.
If riding overseas, don’t forget your International Driver License. It’s a simple to obtain document that is internationally recognized and states that you have a valid driver’s license and, more importantly, a motorcycle endorsement in your home country. Locally, I’ve obtained mine from AAA for a small fee. The IDL is valid for one calendar year.
In all, it was a wonderful trip. The U.K. is a wonderful destination for a rider looking to experience other countries and experience great roads.