Great drives: Abergavenny to Aberystwyth

Turn right to discover the Welsh for Nürburgring

Great drives

I’VE JUST decided on my favourite road sign. It’s a red rectangle with white lettering and it reads “Arafwch nawr”. In Welsh, that means “Reduce speed now”.

And no, that’s not because I’m the proud owner of a new Nissan Micra. It’s because I’ve just driven from Abergavenny to Aberystwyth, through the heart of mid-Wales. This route is mostly in Powys; a county that, despite being three times the size of Surrey, has just 12% of its population. And in a landscape as empty as that, what Arafwch nawr really means is: “The fun starts here.”

To be precise, the fun starts on the A479, 12 miles northwest of Abergavenny. One minute you’re crawling along the A40, stuck behind Mrs Jones on her way home with the weekly shop from Aldi. The next, you hang a right, flash past your first Arafwch nawr and — suddenly — the road starts slithering about like a hyperactive serpent. Around you, the Brecon Beacons beg for your attention, throwing up all manner of scenic wonders.

But for anyone with a decent gearbox, there’s only one place to look: at the spot on the road where you’re going to change down, hit the accelerator and power through the next turn.

At Bronllys, the road sobers up a bit, turns into the A470 and straightens out along the Wye Valley. But it can’t keep up the pretence for long. Just outside Rhayader, it starts to wobble again and dives into what must be one of the most beautiful bends in Britain — an endless riverside switchback that plunges through the trees. It feels more Nürburgring than A-road Britain and it’s the prelude to the best section of the drive: the long climb up into the Cambrian Mountains towards Llangurig.

Great Drive: Wales

There are so many things to marvel at here. The quality of the tarmac for a start. It’s as smooth and creamy as the icing on a wedding cake. Then there’s the lack of traffic. I drove it not at 7am on a Sunday, but mid-afternoon on a Tuesday. I saw only a handful of other cars. One lorry even pulled over to let me pass.

At Llangurig the road divides. The A470 ducks back inland, while the A44 heads west towards Aberystwyth and the coast. This last bit is rougher, more abrupt and altogether more technical. It’s time to shed some speed.

Then, finally, on the outskirts of Aberystwyth, the excitement evaporates — burnt off by the sudden heat of supermarkets and mini-roundabouts. This is journey’s end: on the beach front, with your trousers rolled up and your feet in the cooling waters of the Irish Sea.

Great drives: Abergavenny to Aberystwyth

Car You want speed, you want handling, you want to see the sky. Pray for sunshine and take an Audi R8 Spyder V10.

Sounds At times you will feel like JPR Williams, sidestepping your way through the English defence at Cardiff Arms Park. So the tune is the Welsh national anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, as sung by the crowd.

Companion Catherine Zeta-Jones. Tell her you’ll pick her up at the Esso garage in Abergavenny.

Where to stay Check into the AA’s hotel of the year: Llangoed Hall (01874 754525,, doubles from £175).


Sunday Times Travel Insider city Guides