Just a small piece about a car, a country and a special cat…
Wales is a place that holds a very special place in my heart, from camping trips in the torrential rain as a child to the embarrassment of getting locked in a multi storey car park in Llandudno as an adult. Wales has given me some of the best (and funny to look back on) memories, so the land of valleys and dragons always has a real pull on me as a place of pilgrimage whenever I buy a new motor (assuming they last long enough for the trip, my corsa did not but that was a hateful car).
(En-route to Betws-y-Coed)
With the Midas however, I was even more drawn to a trip into the mountains, partly because its the coolest thing I have ever owned and perfect for the roads out there, but also because it has a very strong connection to my first car.
Me and my Mini shared our first real driving adventure under my own steam with a fully pink license thundering around Snowdonia. It was an exciting baptism of fire into the world of driving, on fun but also very dangerous roads. All the time I could not stop thinking about the South Yorkshire fire department’s ”License to kill” slideshow at my Sixth Form base of similar 17 year olds in cars with vastly superior crash protection being hosed off from the roads.
Despite the initial uneasiness, I enjoyed every mile of the trip. It gave me a good feeling of how my car behaved and also it taught me the importance of mechanical sympathy.
This trip made me understand driving much more than my many lessons in reversing around the corners of Rotherham ever did, and I returned to my homeland as a confident new driver with a hunger for more road trips. That journey was almost nine years back now, and many many more adventures ago, but it still sticks with me as a pivotal moment in my driving life.
It had been eating at me since buying the car, I knew I had little time before the kids would be off again and the roads would be full of sluggish caravans. It was now or never, so when a booking site gave me an offer to stay at any hotel half price, it was set. We left that Tuesday in a car that I was still not completely confident in, so a fitting tribute to the my nerves eight and a half years ago when I first made this voyage.
A route was set via Manchester to pick up my girlfriend and thanks to the new ‘smart’ motorway system of getting rid of the hard shoulder, I decided to click the filter in Google Maps usually reserved for new drivers and my mother.
Yes, ‘avoid motorways at all costs’, which added a satisfying hour and a half to the journey and meant I could avoid the beautiful but overdone North Wales expressway and see all the brilliantly named villages on the way.
The destination was the beautiful and rugged coastal town of Barmouth, or ‘Abermaw’, in Gwynedd, North Wales. After a trip through some of the amazing Snowdonia National Park and a slight detour to try and retrace my favourite picture of my first car of course.
Me and the Midas made it to Manchester in good time for ten o’clock, and the site of an Alfa Spider seemed like a good omen for the 4 hour journey that lay ahead. The weather was glorious and sunny, which, in the Midas, meant boiling and sweaty. Thankfully, once I had passed Chester and the spot I had broken down on a mere week or so ago, I could see that Wales was blessed with the rains that Toto are always banging on about.
Due to my stereo being haunted and playing tricks with my car’s electrics, we had to make do with two Bluetooth speakers. This made the various traffic jams, due to some ‘Cheshire horse dancing and show off your Range Rover event’ thingy just about bearable. Driving amongst the many SUV’s of Cheshire I discovered what real fear was. Still, in the Midas, traffic jams are just a means of socialising. Every time a new car gets alongside me, it’s question time, which usually consists of… “what is it?”, “what powers it?” and “how do you fit in there?”
The last one is always a strange question from the Captain’s chair, as the Midas is almost Tardis-like on the inside. There was more than enough room for everything me and my passenger needed, and more for a trip much longer than this. It’s definitely got a bigger boot than in the Mercedes, it’s just a bit more awkward to use. Still, the conversations keep me going, but there is only so much traffic you can take and I could almost taste those quiet mountain passes on the horizon.
Once across that Gymraeg border three things became apparent: the roads here were still absolutely to die for, the Welsh didn’t like to hang about on them and, finally, it was very clear that petrol stations were few and far between.
This gave me a problem: the Midas has a very small capacity fuel tank, which I have never managed to get any more than £17’s worth of fuel into. This fact did not mix well with the hobbyist approach to the electronics, which has meant the fuel gauge does not work.
Well, it does work, but not as British Leyland had intended; unfortunately, when the car is full, the needle only goes as high as half a tank, and where half a tank should be is empty. Meaning for at least half of the time, I have absolutely no idea of how much petrol is left. Erring on the side of caution and the thought of the long waiting times for the RAC to get to me on the incredibly inhospitable mountain passes, I had plenty of stop offs. The first was Bala, where I got to fill up as well, with a delicious Seafood Bolognese at the ‘Y Cyfnod Cafe & Bistro’ on the High Street which I highly recommend!
I was glad I had gotten the chance to refuel as the A4212, which connects Bala in the East with Trawsfynydd in the West, completely circles the magnificent Lyn Celyn reservoir like a race track and is an absolutely belter of a driving road with some truly stunning scenery. I must have been lucky not to have been stuck behind a HGV, as I got to enjoy the great sweeping bends as fast as the law allowed. The car was in its element and I had a grin from ear to ear.
The road was all the more exciting due to the 600kg or so of plastic Midas fighting a terrifically brutal storm. All of the braking was done through the gearbox, so the noise was terrific. It’s a great road that’s definitely worth seeking out.
Once I made it to the other side, I knew the all-important shot that inspired this trip was so tantalisingly close and once I had reached Harlech Castle, I had to retrace my steps. Luckily, it did not take long to find the side road that would take me all the way to the beautiful and very secluded Bycham Lake in the Rhinogydd Mountains.
The lane was small, even for the smallest car I have ever driven, and all the memories of squirming at each scrape of the exhaust from my last trip came flooding back to remind me why until now I have never been back.
It was the longest 15 minutes, praying that none of the blind corners were hiding a Land Rover going at the ungodly speed that they can go on roads that farmers know like the back of their hands.
We made it to the end after passing lots of sheep, one suicidal pheasant and a lot of spooky fog. It was hard to find the exact spot, but to me it was close enough and I needed to get to my hotel.
After another anxious 15 minutes back down the mountain along a slightly different route through Llanbedr, it was a short drive down the coast to the night stop of Barmouth, a place I bought many cockles and ice creams as a kid.
The road was nearly empty, so I gave the A-series the beans, taking all the swooping turns at what felt like break-neck speeds and I knew I would be at my destination in no time. The roads got windier and thinner by the coast and I could not think of any car this side of a Suzuki Cappuccino that would have been more capable or fun. The advantage of being small became even more apparent when I hit a standstill behind endless caravans that just couldn’t get passed a coach travelling in the opposite direction. I suppose it wouldn’t be a real holiday in Wales without at least one caravan ruining the road. Still, once this 20 minute hiccup was alleviated by making the coach reverse by a knife edge cliff to the sea (braver than me), it took no time to find my hotel.
The car had conquered North Wales with ease and speed, but me and my passenger were very happy to get out of the noisy, hot bounce box for a while. Walking up the drive of my bed and breakfast (Aber House by the way, which was very good!), I passed two cats chilling on the garden. One ginger that relished in the fuss and attention, and a second timid, mysterious toirtoiseshell that really did not want to say hello. The owner of the house told me that these two cats were abandoned by a previous neighbour who moved, which explained this cat’s mistrust of humans. It just broke my heart. Once the room was sorted, I needed to collect all of my travel junk from the car. Much to my surprise, the cat that I struggled to get anywhere near had fallen asleep on my nice and toasty warm bonnet. Getting anything in and out of the Midas is always a loud and clattery affair, so I was even more surprised to see that she just wouldn’t move. I even managed to get a meal and take in the town, and every time I walked past the car park there was the cat. She really took a shine to the car, and I’d like to think she would have made a good job at being a security alarm and guard for it (not that they have that sort of worry in Barmouth).
Cats, by nature, usually hate the loud and constantly moving nature of the automobile, so I’d like to believe that this cat in some way was a rare connoisseur of classic Kit Cars. I was glad that before bed, I got to say a nice goodnight and thank you to the cat who kept my car company for the remainder of the day.
The Wednesday was much of the same as the day before; the Midas took all of the mountains in reverse order with as much, if not more, excitement from the terrific storm and the incredible adhesion of the tyres. This car is quick, very quick. You just need to learn to trust it and hold the wheel firmly with both hands and it will go wherever it’s pointing.
I was sad to be leaving such a beautiful part of the world, but I had accomplished everything I intended to do. Like my first trip in the other Mini, I left with a new sense of confidence but this time in the car instead of in my own driving. The Midas felt like it just needed a good run in anger after a year in storage to blow the cobwebs away, as somehow everything just felt tighter and more enjoyable to use. I was also glad we both made a friend, but once I pulled up to my house I realised how neglectful I had been towards my Tiger Tank since getting the Toy Car.
Sat stupidly (because of me) under a sap-spitting tree for a week, the car looked like it had been left for years by an owner who had been deceased for many a year.
I had to sweep off the leaves and offer my deepest apologies, as I knew that on Friday I would need it to be on its best behaviour and get me to a gig in Bristol.
Eeeeek, not a good week for pump prices to be soaring!