It's sometimes hard to believe we're two years into working from home now. In fact, PH has spent more time working in isolation than we did together in our 'new' central London office. Despite this, I'm still struggling to adjust to the lack of driving. The daily jaunt to the train station might not have been much, but it was enough for me to enjoy being in my car. And when you consider that I used to drive up to 2,000 miles per month commuting to our old office in Twickenham, it's quite the contrast to the 300 measly miles I've covered since my last fleet update two months ago.
But it's not all doom and gloom. Keeping the mileage down is no bad thing (especially with the current fuel prices) and at least it means I savour every inch covered when I do head out for a drive. Which is exactly what I did when a group of us from PH headed to Wales for a weekend back in October.
I was lucky enough to move to the Welsh border when I was 16 and spent countless hours driving to and from Rhayader early in the morning for a few laps of the Elan Valley. We've got staffers from the US, New Zealand and Bulgaria at PH, so where better to take them for some of the best roads the UK has to offer?
Heading towards Wales from various parts of the south east, Caffeine & Machine made for a perfect meeting point, which remarkably none of us had been to before. We almost had the place to ourselves being a Friday morning (although we did get the full C&M experience a few months later with our first Sunday Service there in December). After a coffee and compulsory photos, we set off westward, managing to squeeze in a surprise visit en route to a PHer's impressive private car collection (more on that soon).
Of course, Rhayader is where the fun really started. I've driven around the Elan Valley on my own more times than I can remember, but being there with a group of friends with the sun setting was a completely different experience. They are not roads that can be tackled at huge speed, but the scenery and elevation changes as you flow through the valley makes it a spectacular drive.
We paused at the old Cwmystwyth mines on the B4574 to admire the view and also marvel at the eclectic mix of cars in attendance - Subaru, Renault, Audi, BMW, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover all in attendance. Chasing RacingPete in his Impreza into the sunset as we headed for Aberystwyth was my favourite drive of the whole weekend; helped along by the fact that we didn't come across a single car. We stayed overnight at Aberystwyth at Glyn Garth Guest House and ate at Light of Asia - both highly recommended!
The next morning, we headed north to a certain well-known triangle at Cerrigydrudion. There are average speed cameras there now, but we still enjoyed cruising around the deserted roads before grabbing lunch at Bala (Y Cfynod Café & Bistro - also great). If there's one must-drive road in North Wales, it's the B4391 from Bala to Ffestiniog. It pretty much has it all: twists and turns, undulations, dazzling views, and more often than not there's no-one else on it. Except sheep, of course.
Our final stop was a break at Beddgelert before taking in the breathtaking Llanberis Pass. Which, after almost two days of sunshine and quiet roads, was wet and packed with traffic. It had to happen sometime. But catch it early in the morning and you'll have it to yourself, which is exactly what we did before heading home after a night at the Royal Victoria Hotel (again, highly recommend when you're knackered from two days of near constant driving).
This was my first big trip in almost two years, and despite having owned my Megane for more than half that time, it was the first proper opportunity to really explore its potential on an extended period. It never ceases to amaze me how capable these cars are, even in the company of more powerful machinery, the drive served as the perfect reminder of why I bought the car in the first place. Not for nothing, but the time away also works wonders for your headspace - which is more important than ever right now.
If you don't need to go via Hereford on your way to Wales, then here's a tweaked route from Caffeine & Machine for day one (the Flying Dutchman in Leominster makes a banging coronation chicken sandwich if that lines up for a lunch stop). And here's the route for day two. If there are any great roads we missed, let me know in the comments for next time!
Car: 2015 Renault Sport Megane 275 Cup-S
Run by: Ben Lowden
On fleet since: September 2020
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