Great Drives: A welcome heaven in the hillside (B4391)

Great Drives: A welcome heaven in the hillside (B4391)

And Cameron Diaz came, too

Great Drives: A welcome heaven in the hillside (B4391)

CAMERON DIAZ was furious. “You bring me all the way to north Wales for a drive — and you give me this?” She waved her hand dismissively at the cavalcade of caravans in front of our Aston Martin. “I’d rather drive around a Walmart car park.”

Well, OK, Cameron wasn’t in the passenger seat but if she had been, she would undoubtedly have had something similar to say about the queues that form along the A494 in Gwynedd. No petrolhead would be impressed by the slow, meandering drive. But stick with it until you get to Bala, because escape beckons. It comes in the form of an innocuous little sign saying: “Llangynog B4391”. Don’t ignore it, because it points the way to an hour of motoring bliss.

Three things make the B4391 special. The first is that — on Saturday afternoons, at least — no one seems to use it. The second is that it has recently been resurfaced, and it has the kind of velvety veneer that will make your tyres sing. Third, there’s the small matter of the scenery, which turns from pebble-dash utility to moorland magnificence as the road climbs out of Bala and onto the Berwyn mountains. Oh yes, and for a B-road it’s beautifully engineered too.

Admittedly the gentle, unhurried slope of the mountains’ northern flank probably helps with that. But at some point in its history the B4391 has clearly been the recipient of some serious love from a road builder. This is not one of those tortuous switchback climbs but an arrow shot into the heavens — fast, straight and full of purpose. The sightlines are good, the bumps that afflict many mountain roads have been ironed out, and the cambered turns feel luxurious. As you accelerate uphill through 50mph — with the engine roaring its approval — you can’t help but feel euphoric.

The view from the top seals the deal. One minute you’re skimming across bleak, flat uplands. The next the ground parts in front of you and opens into one of the most perfect Welsh valleys you’ll clap eyes on — a great U-bend of crags and bracken, with a brilliant strip of green at the bottom. It’s called the Tanat Valley and it runs northwest to southeast, with England at the far end: wide, fertile — and full of traffic. It’s a bittersweet moment. The beauty of the road urges you onwards. But each passing mile brings you closer to its end and to an altogether more humdrum motoring experience.

When I first drove the B4391 I thought hard about stopping here. The story goes that it was along the line of the Berwyn mountains that the Welsh prince Owain ap Gruffydd defended his homeland against Henry II back in 1165 and sent him packing. Part of me longed to get out and listen for echoes of medieval Britain. But I couldn’t. After all, what would Cameron Diaz have said?


The beautiful B4391

Car Jeremy Clarkson drove the B4391 as part of his famous and elegiac Top Gear film about the Aston Martin Vantage. Thanks for the recommendation, Jeremy: the V12 will do just fine.

Sounds Stick Candi Staton’s Young Hearts Run Free on just before the Tanat Valley comes into view — and then as the chorus begins, whack the volume up to 11.

Companion If you think Cameron Diaz is going to kick up too much fuss, how about giving Liv Tyler a call? It’s not hard to imagine the smile that’ll break across her face when you reach the top of the climb.

Stay At Bryniau Golau (01678 521 782,, one of Britain’s best B&Bs. Set on the southern shore of Lake Bala, it’s a recently refurbished Victorian summer house, made special by the owners’ attention to detail, its sensational views and its enormous bedrooms. The four-poster Berwyn double is the one to go for and costs £110 a night, including breakfast.


Sunday Times Travel Insider city Guides