Cardiff to Shropshire and back – 215 miles of Anglo-Welsh wonder stuff
WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY: Chris Finch
Those of us lucky enough to live in South Wales are spoilt for choice when it comes to good riding routes. The Brecon Beacons, Eppynt Mountains and Black Mountains are all easy to get to, as are the Welsh Marches – the border country of Shropshire and Herefordshire. This 215-mile circular ride to Stokesay Castle, nestled in the peaceful South Shropshire countryside close to the Welsh border, is a comfortable one-day ride, and allows time to enjoy a visit to the castle, lunch and coffee stops.
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Start from Junction 32 on the M4 and head north on the A470, the main trunk road running virtually north/south through Wales. The first 40 or so miles are fast dual-carriageway, but it’s still pretty good scenery nonetheless. But once single-carriageway takes over north of Merthyr Tydfil, both riding and scenery improve dramatically.
After about 60 miles on the A470 watch for the speed limit signs for Erwood and then shortly after, turn right on to the B4594 to cross over the River Wye. Once over, take a left on to the B4567 and follow for just 200 metres to find the Erwood Station Gallery and Café, nestled beside the tranquil Wye for your first coffee stop.
From Erwood Station, return to the junction with the B4594 and turn left. Climb up the steep hill and around the couple of hairpin bends at the start of the B4594, heading towards Painscastle. The road becomes extremely narrow in places, swooping and falling around blind bends through its roller-coaster 17 miles through Painscastle, Rosgoch, New Church, Hengoed and Gladestry to Burlingjobb, where it meets the A44. A quick left and then right across the A44 puts you on the B4357, another scenic road. Stick with this for about 10 miles through Evenjobb, Whitton and Rhos y Meirch to Knighton. From Knighton, turn east along the A4113 for four or five miles, then left on to the B4367. Follow for eight miles through Broome to meet a T-junction with the B4368. Turn right and follow to the A49 at Craven Arms. Turn right on to the A49 and Stokesay Castle is half-a-mile down the road. Some might prefer to take the shorter route of the A465 through Abergavenny to Hereford and then the A49 north to Craven Arms, but they cannot possibly be a serious motorcyclist!
Strictly speaking, Stokesay Castle is not really a castle at all, but the finest and best preserved 13th century fortified manor house in England. Two towers are joined by a buttressed Great Banqueting Hall, with long, gothic, gabled windows. Massive roof timbers, made from whole trees, dominate the Great Hall, standing alongside an elaborative Flemish overmantle, brought from Flanders by the Baldwyn family and fitted over a medieval fireplace.
Stokesay Castle began its life as a stark Norman stronghold, but was later transformed into a grand manor house. The Elizabethans added the timber-framed Jacobean gatehouse in the 17th Century, with ornate carved timbers over the gatehouse entrance depicting Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Nearby is the small parish church with tower – its list of ‘vicars’ inside starts in the mid-12th Century, so it’s been around a bit.
From Stokesay Castle, continue south on the A49 for about 18 miles, almost into Leominster, for a lunch at the kitsch American-style OK Diner (HR6 0DQ). Continue to Leominster and turn right on to the A44. If the OK Diner was closed or not to your liking, then Monkland Cheese Dairy is a working dairy producing artisan cheeses and, of course, has a tea room which serves proper leaf tea, homemade cakes, etc. It’s also well signposted on the A44 outside Leominster and just a hundred yards off the main road.
Stick with the A44 for about five miles before forking left on to the A4112, taking it all the way through Sarnesfield and Kinnersley to the T-junction with the A438. Turn right here and follow for 16 miles to the A479 at Bronllys (another very good coffee stop here at The Honey Cafe, if you can face more cake). Take the first exit off the roundabout on to the A479 for Crickhowell. At the next roundabout (only a mile down the road) take the third exit on to the B4560 and wriggle your way for eight miles along this lovely stretch of road, with views across the valley to Llangorse Lake, until the A40 at Bwlch.
Turn left through the village for about a mile and drop down a steep hill with a sharp double-bend. Take care here, because you need to take the B4560 on the right, right on the apex of the second left-hand bend.
Follow this B-road down the hill and over an extremely narrow stone bridge at Llangynidr, then left and right to cross the B4558 and onwards to cross the A465 at Garnlydan, just before entering Beaufort. A series of right turns through Beaufort has you exiting westward on to the A465 towards Merthyr Tydfil. Follow for six miles and fork left on to the A4060, which will take you around Merthyr to join the A470 south. Follow the A470 for about 20 miles to meet the M4 at Junction 32 outside Cardiff. You’re back.