Thursday, 5 December 2013
The sun is shining and we’re gliding but as I look up at the sky I see heavy pregnant bellies that look ready to burst. Even the radiant dazzle of the yellow rapeseed and cornfields are imbued with a heady blue. Ewe trees and topiaries and thatched roofs and soft sandstone flash by as we pass through Presteigne and Leintwardine. The blood red splatter of poppies in the fields pierce my eyes as we ride past the green, green, green, metal flake and handlebars and sky and stars, is all I see and the clouds take on a new look, like blankets waiting to spoil the day, but it’s ok as the Gods are on our side as I look behind the Big Man and ride.
The delicate turrets of elder and fennel flutes scattered on the road side leave trails of white amongst the lily leaves and trees as we split the countryside, riding through the hills and valleys of Radnor. The mountains are hungry in Wales and they hoard all the weather, leering down at us on either side of the road. They throw a red deer in our way, we break, and watch the young buck bounce back to safety on the other side. As we carry on I look up at the mountains smiling at us, glad they can hold onto their clouds and rain and let us pass through dry and free.
We come to the beach and the clouds have been reclaimed by the mountains now. The sharp wind that braced through my leathers is now replaced by a welcome warm breeze that flows around me as we pull up. Aberystwyth is a typical seaside town; fish and chips, ice cream and piers. The sea breeze smells like seagulls and seaweed and we wonder through the town and eat by the sea. On the way back a white van spills petrol out of its exhaust, put putting splutters of the distasteful fuel into the Big Mans mouth. His beard flails in the wind and catches splodges of the spilling petrol. The white van takes a left, we go right. We pull over by a field for a break and watch sheep graze and bellow whilst the farmer zooms over the hills yeeahoooowwwing like a cowboy on a quad bike, rounding up his flock.
The hills of Snowdonia roll around us and though they are dotted with the fingerprints of man, with solid slate cottages that seem to have been there forever, they are nothing in comparison to the lifetime that these mountains have already lived and will live past when all we know is forgotten. We travel through forest roads and I look up to notice the grey light has been replaced with soft beams that trickle through fresh forest leaves. I smell the pine and moss and bark and see the newly shaven sheep wobbling their skinheads like bopping Beatles grazing on the grass. As we wind our way to Welshpool we get caught up by a tractor trundling along over a bridge. We watch the water. The Big Man speeds past and catches flies in his beard whilst I nearly have a meet and greet with the hedgerow round a corner, coming a little too close to the blushing grasses it shields.
Next day we set out after a lazy morning for the Cotswolds. Everything is different down here; the space, the light, the colours. The golden grasses kiss each other rippling in the breeze and bulrushes promise to explode by streams as we flash by. The fields look like Van Gough paintings as crows, disturbed by the sound of the bike, fly upwards into the crooked old English trees and towards the blobs of Constable clouds in the sky. The sweet moist smell of the rapeseed flowers fills my lungs and makes me feel like I’m breathing in the sun. The sun is shining and it’s warm, everything looks bright and alive. We trench up the steep Fish Hill onto the top of the Cotswolds Way. I have to sit up and hold on tight and my need for a wee break is tested!
As we reach the top we take a left and turn off for Chipping Campden, down a forest road, ripping through the low hanging canopies of Ash and Oak, Honeysuckle, Foxglove and Birch. Once in town we get some food and wonder around. The whole village is made of earthy sandstone carved into marvellous medieval cottages. The sunny lemon sorbet roses bloom, jostling for attention in front of the 16th C archway windows and heavy grotesque iron door knockers on wooden doors.
Back on the road and up on the Cotswolds Way the fresh air blasts up my nostrils as we glide through Stow on the Wold, past open fields and steely stone walls. We found parking in the centre of Bourton on the Water, although the motorbike park was about the size of one car space and we were only allowed to stay for an hour and a half for free…We were going to spend the rest of the day there but with that parking notice we decided to just wonder around and spend money on lunch elsewhere! ‘Bourton’ is marvellously manicured. The little low bridges arching over the rivers through the town look quaint as we get an ice cream and watch the little ducklings wade manically against the flow of the river. The mother duck trying to show them that going with the flow is always easier!
Back on the road we decide to meander back home in no particular direction, passing through Cheltenham and Gloucester and heading out towards Ross on Wye. We take a beeline for Ledbury to get a coffee but everywhere is shut and we end up wondering underneath the old medieval market square and up cobbled streets with monochrome Tudor buildings, chocolatiers and French brassieres. There’s no refreshment for us here so as we glide through the sunshine and up the majestic hills of the Malvern’s. We decide to stop in Great Malvern to get some food and find a meadow just outside Upton on Severn to eat in. We save pudding for Bewdley and sit by the river watching the swans and geese drift by in the evening sunshine, the musk of dusk bringing out the midges and smells of wood smoke from fires burning in the riverside cottages.
Today we’re heading out into Wales again but the first mission is to get breakfast so we go to the café at Quatt. This is our usual Sunday morning ritual where the carpark is usually littered with hundreds of different bikes. Today there’s only us and a few youngsters getting some food before college. We down two coffees and breakfast sarnies quickly and then blast down the Shrewsbury road. There’s a heady smell of lavender and dog roses and the temperatures are so mild that the only way I can tell it’s windy is through the rippling of the leather against my legs and the fact that im being throttled about back and forth on the back of the bike. My head nodding yes in continuous agreement with the rhythm of the wind that soars over my helmet, drying out my eyeballs. I tuck in behind the Big Man’s shoulders as the crosswind makes the bike drift a little. I peer out at the road ahead, through the Big Man’s beard tickling my visor. The buffeting of the wind gets even more brutal as we hit the A5 and our speed picks up. Fast feels even faster in this wind and I hit the Big Man several times in the chest to let him know I’m not happy about the speed we’re doing, but he takes it on the chin and I decide it’s easier to snuggle down, holding onto his back like a little black leather rucksack, gripping on tight as I get used to the tussle and struggle in the air flow.
As we glide down through the rolling landscape of Llangollen, the road slows and the historic hills topped with ruins of abbey’s and stone cysts fold out opening up to the quiet black and white buildings of the town. The road is dotted either side with elaborate Victorian iron gas lights matching the black railings, which frame the bridge and old steam train railway. Bursting flutters and flaps of steam puff out of the train as it shuffles into the station to meet the picturesque river. We bypass the town and head straight to the Llangollen Motor Museum. A treasure trove of machines, the Big Man is in his element! The place is filled with old bikes and cars, with a teddy bear mascot for each one. It’s owned by a couple, in their later years, running it for their love of their life with these old machines. It’s places like this that keep people like us coming back. After a wonder around town and a bit to eat we tear up the Horseshoe pass, peering down the steep slopes below and sit on the summit with a drink and take in the views.