The Llanberis Pass
Apart from their compulsion to sing the moment alcohol passes their lips, I’ve always liked the Welsh. When I’ve been in said company, usually in a public house, I’ve found them warm, grounded, usually smiling, and always with a tale to tell. Couple this with their amazingly beautiful homeland and they have a pretty compelling case for the rest of the UK to get off their arses and explore this part of the world. The more I drive about on my Jack Jones looking for great roads the more my fondness for this part of the world grows. Take Snowdonia National Park, 838 square miles of some of the most stunning scenery you’ll ever see. Every year 6 million visitors come here; boots, ropes, bikes and canoes in tow in preparedness to get stuck into the rugged Celtic landscape. But for those of us without a Blacks loyalty card there is hope – the roads coursing through this landscape will allow you to enjoy this spectacle without the aid of GORE-TEX.
Sitting at the top of Wales is the A4086, a road that takes you from the small village of Capel Curig, to the Royal Town of Caernarfon, but not before sneaking past the Glyderau and one of Britain’s busiest mountains; Snowdon. Setting off from Capel Curig your journey starts and, after a few wiggles, so does the show. Leaving evidence of man behind, you enter a more natural world. Green trees lie to the left, crystal lakes of Llynnau Mymbyr sit in the foreground, and in the distance there are mountains that stand watch with superior elegance; complete with a thin layer of cloud around their shoulders for that extra bit of theatre. The road cruises along the waterside for a mile and a half before bidding it farewell, then it’s straight into the open arms of 3 tasty miles of fluid tarmac. Lazy turns and subtle gradient changes are rapidly eaten up and, before you know it, it’s time to turn right (to stay on the A4086) and up onto the Llanberis Pass.
As you climb, the road quickly tightens and is soon framed by angular climbs and ever-growing drops. Just as you’d expect, the higher you ascend the more impressive the view is to behold but leave that to the birds as I’m sure you’ll find that the stone walls either side will not offer much resistance in your bid to become at one with nature. If you find yourself roof down and in the passenger seat then this road is already looking good, and for the driver it’s even better. You reach the summit of your journey all too quickly and you’re soon on the descent to Llanberis. Heading downhill the road remains busy. Swift turns, walls that obstruct your view and the occasional wing-mirror-swiping boulder keep you alert. Heading down along the stream the road becomes more direct as it slices through hillsides scattered with rocks and boulders that have slowly broken loose over the centuries. Soon you reach civilisation again in the form of Nant Peris, this signals a calming in the route and 2 miles on you reach Llanberis. The road continues on to Caernarfon but burns itself out by the time you reach Clanrug.
The thing about a truly great road is you don’t have to give your engine a slippering to be thrilled while driving it, you can enjoy it at moderately low speed, even when sharing it with fellow tax payers. This is one such road, fantastic to drive and for the passenger a joy to witness. Sitting with the Welshies in a Caernarfon pub I supped my drink quietly smiling to myself. Pleased that I’d experienced another great Welsh road and safe in the knowledge that the only singing I’d be doing that afternoon was of the A4086’s praises.