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.
The Llanberis Pass runs through a primordial landscape so moving even a heathen would struggle not to question their lack of faith on beholding such raw natural beauty. Capel Curig to Caernarfon is a stunning journey and a glorious drive, probably over too quickly but the best often are. Get yourself Welsh-side and enjoy their amazing roads, then get yourself in one of their pubs and enjoy their infectious banter.
At a glance
Things you'll love.
The beautiful surroundings and of course the engaging drive.
Look out for
Tightening of the road as you head through the pass.
In and around Capel Curig to Caernarfon
Snowdon Mountain Railway Tel 08444 938120
Let Snowdon Mountain Railway take you on a journey of a lifetime to the rooftop of Wales. Snowdon, at 3,560ft dominates the landscape of Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. Claim this mountain peak, the highest in Wales, as a lifetime's achievement. With stunning scenery and awe-inspiring views it's all part of a great day out for you and your family in North Wales.
Caernarfon Castle Tel 01286 677617
Mighty Caernarfon is possibly the most famous of Wales's castles. Its sheer scale and commanding presence easily set it apart from the rest, and to this day, still trumpet in no uncertain terms the intention of its builder Edward I.
Electric Mountain Tel 01286 870636
Set against a magnificent backdrop of the towering mountains and the magnificent scenery of Snowdonia, Electric Mountain is First Hydro Company's Visitor centre in Llanberis. Its split level layout contains a gift shop and cafe and is the starting point for the tour of Dinorwig Power Station.
Caernarfon Air World Tel 01286 830800
Formerly RAF Llandwrog, Caernarfon Aerodrome hosts a small museum which portrays the history of aviation in North Wales. The airfield played a vital part in the development of RAF Mountain Rescue and air-sea rescue units, and this aspect is also fully covered in the museum.
Dolbadarn Castle stands above Llyn Padarn, between Caernarfon and Snowdonia. Built by the Welsh Princes it dates to the 13th century and built by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. Of simplistic design it remains in solid condition and predates the English fortresses of the Edwardian conquest and provides evidence of the extent of Llywelyn's influence and ingenuity.
Redline indoor karting Tel 01286 669515
Boasting Indoor Karting at the lowest prices but without compromising quality. Located in an area of outstanding natural beauty, Redline Indoor Karting is situated in Caernarfon, Gwynedd, North Wales. Within close proximity to Anglesey, Conwy and all other parts of North/Mid Wales and the North West.
Welsh Highland Heritage Railway Tel 01766 513402
The Welsh Highland Heritage Railway is a short train ride and museum in Porthmadog. The original Welsh Highland was one of the greatest white elephants of Wales's industrial history. It opened in 1922, and closed in 1937, lasting just 15 years.
Driving in Britain
The UK is the only country in Europe to measure their speed in Miles Per Hour, not Kilometers. Along with Malta and Cyprus they are the only country in Europe to drive on the left hand side. The UK speed limits range from as low as 20mph in built-up city areas up to 70mph on the motorway. It's understood that Police will allow you to drive 10% over the speed limit but it's the speed cameras you need to look out for. They are scattered everywhere and will take a picture of your car / plate while speeding. If you're driving a hire car when caught by a speed camera you'll probably be tracked down through your rental agency and issued with your ticket! Speed cameras are always accompanied by warning signs so look out for them while enjoying your drive.
The law states that it is illegal to ride a motorbike or drive a car while you are using a hand held communication device. Hands free phones may be used, but they are ultimately a distraction and you are still open to a charge of careless driving should a police officer think you are driving poorly while using one.
Things you might want to have with you
Driving licence (if from UK both card and paper licence)
Vehicle registration form
Headlight beam deflectors
First aid kit
High visibilty jacket
For more information on driving in Europe visit the European Traffic Police Network website www.tispol.org