This is a meditation retreat turned up a notch – or 434 notches to be precise, which is the exact horsepower count of the striking sunburnt steed you see below. Wales may have its red dragon, but I too have a fire-breathing heathen. Cue an epic adventure...
The English may have given us the language, but it’s spoken in such varied accents across the United Kingdom itself that you wouldn’t be blamed for scratching your head while attempting to identify which dialect of the British isles is reverberating within your eardrums. Then, of course, there’s the mystical land of Wales, in the Southwest of the island, where they do actually speak a ‘foreign’ tongue. It’s mystical, though, not because of the spoken word, but because the landscape has a raw Lord of the Rings quality that’s truly alluring.
It’s also a topography that lends itself to some of the best driving roads known to man. No surprise, then, that I’ve been planning a road trip to Wales for longer than I care to remember.
Finally, though, the stars aligned – the dates were blocked, a Porsche Macan GTS was reserved, and maps were prodigiously poured over. The plan was to collect the Macan from the headquarters of Porsche Cars GB at Reading, an hour-and-a-half out of London, and head West on the M4, cross the Prince of Wales Bridge (Pont Tywysog Cymru in Welsh) and head straight to the Gateway of Wales, Abergavenny – the access point for the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons National Park.
'A single lane road leads you through a rugged countryside – the curves of which flow in unison with a creek that snakes alongside'
Even as you drive through Abergavenny you get a sense that you’ve entered a different realm. It’s a small town with a Medieval feel, narrow roads – which will soon become the norm – and an imposing clock tower. But the true realisation of entering a different world comes when you exit the town and enter the national park. A single-lane road leads you through the rugged countryside – the curves of which flow in unison with a creek that snakes alongside. Dark clouds add to the drama. Of course, rain is always in the offing – this is Wales after all!
The Macan is proving to be just the right size. The elevated driving position provides the perfect vantage point, while the striking Papaya metallic hue – which makes heads turn everywhere – means that oncoming traffic can literally spot me from a mile away. And that’s useful because you can only pass an oncoming vehicle at select cutouts in the road. Clearly, this isn’t meant to be a thoroughfare.
In fact, one of my favourite things about the Macan has always been that it’s just the right size and shape. In this combination of orange and black, it’s drop-dead gorgeous too! The 21-inch rims give it a stout stance that makes it appear incredibly purposeful. The compact dimensions mean that it’ll not only squeeze past traffic in Delhi and Bombay, but it’ll also fit perfectly in a lay-by on a Welsh country road.
The Abergwesyn Pass
The first port of call is the Abergwesyn Pass, which runs from Llanwrtyd Wells to Tregaron – my stop for the night. Anything with ‘Pass’ in its name translates to a twisty mountain road, which is what we’re here for. The Porsche is just starting to flex its muscles – all 434 horses and 550Nm worth. And Abergwesyn doesn’t disappoint. The best stretch, by far, is when you turn off for a pit stop at the most remote Chapel in Wales – Soar y Mynydd, or ‘Zoar of the mountain.’
This entire stretch is just moors, sheep and you. I didn’t see another human being until I turned back onto the main highway in order to head towards Tregaron for the night.
The chapel itself is about as unassuming as you would expect, given the lack of habitation, but the road there and back is tremendous. The drizzle was thick and ever-present and the surface slick, but the Porsche takes no notice of this. It’s intent on putting all of its prodigious power down all the time, no matter the conditions. There’s simply no slip and no missing a beat – just pure power and precision. Essentially, that’s the mantra – with little or no scope for any diversion. Power & precision. Rinse & repeat!
What a welcome to Wales. The town of Tregaron, meanwhile, welcomes all its visitors with the open arms (or wings I should say) of that fire-spitting red dragon that takes centre stage on the Welsh national flag, which you see just about everywhere – on walls, flagpoles, buntings, signs, you name it. They obviously take national identity very seriously in this neck of the woods.
Black Mountain Pass
The destination for the next day is the Black Mountain Pass, which runs from Llangadog to Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen. You sense immediately that this is a proper playground, because it attracts everyone – from locals, hikers, cyclists and super-bikers to boy racers – taking in both the ribbon of tarmac and the stunning vistas at either end. As you climb, you head straight into the clouds. Pretty soon, the moors are just as you’d imagined – with a thick layer of mist just above ground level and a horizon that stretches only about a few feet. In the midst of all this are the fast, flowing corners that truly bring the Macan into its own.
The 2.9-litre twin-turbo six sings all the way to its 6,800 redline. And the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox is in sync every step of the way. I’ve always said that the lighter, simpler, single-clutch 8-speed ZF gearbox does the job just as well, but it’s only when you’re in the midst of precision like this that you begin to appreciate the benefits of the over-engineering that Porsche is famous for. In every mode, in any condition, the Macan simply hunkers down and propels itself towards the horizon – near or far – in such a composed manner that you can’t help but revel in the experience.
In fact, this match between Welsh mountain pass and German automotive royalty is so good that, on reaching the small town at the base of the mountain, I simply turn around and do it all over again. This time, at speeds more suited to smelling the roses and enjoying the sights.
Speaking of sights, if you ever do make it to this astonishingly beautiful part of the world, do check out the Carreg Cennen castle – or the remnants anyway of this 12th-century castle. It’s set at the top of a limestone cliff with commanding 360-degree views. Incidentally, the portion of the castle that’s perfectly preserved is the passageway to a cave that’s carved into the rock directly underneath the castle. If you’re intent on venturing deep into the cave, be sure to carry a torch – but you’ll have to stay away if you have even the slightest hint of claustrophobia. Needless to say, you’ll appreciate the vistas that much more once you’re back above ground.
'This match between Welsh mountain pass and German automotive royalty is so good that I could simply turn around and do it all over again'
Vistas for the Soul
Some people need a meditation retreat to cleanse their soul, I found that a solitary park bench in a Welsh national park works just as well. The immensity of the landscape reminds you of your place in this vast universe. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have Zuffenhausen’s finest to ferry you around. I must admit that I’ve always loved the Macan. It’s immensely playful and allows you to quickly get into a rhythm if the conditions are conducive – and boy are they conducive in this part of the world. But even back home – or especially back home – I believe this is possibly the best sports car for our conditions. Ride height: check; practicality: check, and yet it provides the driving experience that you expect from something with the Stuttgart coat of arms on the bonnet.
Thank you Wales, and thank you Porsche, for collectively cleansing my soul. Now, let the planning for the next Cymru adventure begin…