Wales, Snowdonia and the Evo Triangle

There are several important factors one must consider when choosing a location for a long weekend away. Suitability of accomodation, local attractions, quality of restaurants, proximity of good coffee and things to do are all important. But there’s one more factor, shining brightly as the most crucial element to investigate before making a decision. What car stuff is there to do?

The initial suggestion to visit the Snowdonia National Park was driven by a mutual desire to climb Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales, and to stay in some sort of old stone English manor house. Years of reading Evo magazine and watching the Evo, Chris Harris on Cars and Drivetribe YouTube videos had taught me long ago that Snowdonia was full of excellent driving roads, as well as being the location of the famed Evo Triangle, and was located strategically close to the Anglesey Circuit. The idea quickly gained traction – driving the Evo Triangle has been on my list of car things to do for a while, so we had the makings of a cracker weekend away. A date was chosen, a hire car booked, and a large map of northern Wales acquired.

 The Evo Triangle is a relatively short loop of roads made famous by Evo magazine as their preferred route to properly evaluate a car. Good driving can be found outside of the Triangle, indeed most of Snowdonia and a fair part of Wales is full of excellent roads too, but for better or worse this is the loop that has become famous. Like having a photo pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, driving the Evo Triangle is just one of those things you have to do if you like cars and you’re in the area.

As such I wanted to give myself the best possible chance of having a good run, so I woke early and excused myself from bed at a quarter past five. Unfortunately I had no old classic or fire breathing supercar at my disposal, but the choice of a Mk7 Golf rental car was a strategic one that I was so far happy with. The GTI is obviously king, but even in stock standard form these Golf’s have a brilliant chassis that begs to be exploited. They are a truly competent car, and certainly the best tool for the job that Hertz keep stock of. It was even petrol, too.

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to going for a drive I am extremely particular with how the car is arranged. There can be nothing floating loose in the car; not even a phone or a set of keys. I find the constant kerrrr-chh, kerrr-chh of something sliding distracting; the need to take photos means I have to pay special attention to wedging my camera bag in somewhere solid but still accessible. Music is an interesting one. In an older car where there is the real chance of mechanical issues to keep an ear out for or in something that sounds good, I am a staunch believer in having no music. But in a bulletproof modern car that doesn’t sound particularly nice, I do like a bit of soft background music to create ambience. I want to concentrate fully on driving so it can’t be anything overly ‘chorussy’ or distracting, and in my experience I’ve found that either classical or some smooth hip hop are ideal. I don’t even really pay attention to it or even notice the music, but it breaks up the silence.

Two days earlier when I’d busted down to Birmingham for The Corolla Brotherhood’s Retro Toyota Gathering, it was locked on BBC Classic FM. But for the Evo Triangle I’d found an ideal playlist on Spotify. Perfect.

The standard Golf even had a small handful of vehicle settings to play with. Steering was set to Sport to increase the weight, and I didn’t use Adaptive Cruise Control but I set it to Sport anyway. I left the shift patterns (Drive) in Normal mode, however. In Sport it held onto gears rather awkwardly around town. Given that I shifted the DSG manually when on twisty roads anyway, I left it in Normal to make it as smooth as possible when cruising.

Even though I much prefer to navigate from a physical map in these situations as it gives you a bigger overview of the area and makes it easier to spot fun roads, having the car’s Sat Nav on screen is a useful tool for driving unfamiliar roads. At a quick glance it allows you to get an idea of what the road does ahead, giving warning of any particularly tight corners or junctions to keep in mind.

The roads were dry but there was heavy cloud cover, and the just breaking sun had no chance of peering through. With high-beams on I headed down the narrow wooded driveway and onto the main A470.

With about a half hour drive to reach the Triangle from the accomodation, the Golf was nice and warm by the time I reached my starting point in Cerrigydrudion. I decided to drive it anticlockwise first, but then afterwards I turned around and did it again in the other direction. Threading up the road through a narrow gap between two old stone buildings, I began by heading North up the B4501 into the heart of the Denbigh Moors, toward the Llyn Brenig reservoir visitor centre.

Leaving the village, the road was initially relatively straight with a few fast and flowing corners. It would be possible to reach some serious speeds here, and I’m sure plenty have. But the Gatso signs located seemingly every few kilometres had me on my toes.

Araf is Welsh for ‘slow’, but it might as well be Welsh for ‘this is where the road gets good’. I had no intention of slowing significantly.

All of a sudden I discovered the meat of the Evo Triangle. The road is seemingly constructed on top of the scenery, rather than slicing through it as is the modern way. It follows its every contour, twisting and turning, bumping up and down every which way.

By this stage I’d had a couple of days driving the Golf through the roads of Wales, including a particularly memorable blast chasing an MX5 RF across a fast and wide road through a slate mine at sunset, and it had never felt anything less than completely composed. But on this stretch of road it began to come undone. At speed, there was just too much going on for the dampers to properly react, and you had to be really careful with weight placement, and steering and brake inputs. I imagine that in a powerful car you’d need to be particularly judicious with throttle application as well, but this wasn’t an issue with the little 1400cc TSI in the Golf.

The road opened up once more as it swept through a pine forest, providing ample opportunity to stretch the legs of a faster car.

After a handful of miles the B4501 intersects the A543 toward Hatford-Dinbych, and the Triangle calls for a left turn. The road continues smooth and fast, but you need to not forget that you are in rural Wales and as such there are plenty of animals on the road.

Sheep graze happily on the verge…

… as do horses. On my second lap these horses hadn’t moved, in fact as I stopped the car in the middle of the road they walked right up and stared at me for what seemed like ten or fifteen seconds. Eventually they walked around the car and continued to graze on the roadside. Initially I figured they must have escaped from a paddock, but then I noticed a group of people standing outside the ‘Tafarn Yr Heliwr’ and they didn’t seem terribly concerned about it. This might be the status quo.

Here the road gets into proper Evo territory, and even though I’d never been here before it all seemed strangely familiar. It was a feeling that would appear several times throughout the weekend, when you suddenly end up on a stretch of road that you’ve seen countless times before, even though you’ve never physically been there.

I guess I’m really no different to the majority of film location tourists. Some people go to Ireland or Croatia to see where Game of Thrones was filmed. I go to Wales to see where the Evo guys go. Same same.

The stretch from the junction to Hatford-Dinbych was my favourite of the Triangle. It’s just bumpy enough to get the car moving about but it doesn’t completely bring it undone, and you can really build a nice rhythm as the road slices and dips its way across the moorland.

It’s the type of road where even a lowly Golf rental is plenty quick enough to have some fun. Obviously a McLaren 675LT would be better, but you do the best with what you’ve got.

There’s a constant threat from the Gatso signs but I didn’t see a camera anywhere – it’s been over a week since I did the drive and Hertz haven’t made contact yet, so I think I’m in the clear. In fact, I barely saw a police car in all of Wales and in most places the 60mph (96km/h) speed limit is plenty fast enough to have some fun in something like a Golf. The Police in Wales don’t resort to the types of guerrilla tactics that ours in Australia do, and you’ve generally got to be doing something pretty silly to run into too much hassle. Traffic flows quickly and smoothly and their society doesn’t seem to be crumbling as a result. I bet their road traffic revenues aren’t as healthy as ours, though.

The A543 hits a t-junction at Pentrefoelas, and turns left to head back toward Cerrigydrudion on the A5. This stretch is largely uninteresting as a driving road due to its straight direction and heavy main road traffic. In road testing a car it would be useful to use this stretch first as it would provide a new driver the ideal opportunity to settle into a car, adjust the seat and wheel position and generally get ready for the twisting roads to come.

The Evo Triangle is probably not the best stretch of pure driving roads in Snowdonia (it’s not technically in Snowdonia either, but close enough). The best bits are among the best I’ve driven but they only account for about half of the Triangle, and there are other longer roads in the area that are just as much fun. But in the context of evaluating a car, I’ve never driven a set of roads that cover all possible bases quite like the Evo Triangle does. There are sections that are so technical they will make a good car feel terrible, which means that if a car is good across the entire Evo Triangle, it’s an exceptional engineering achievement.

Even though I probably wouldn’t go all the way to northern Wales to solely drive the Evo Triangle, I certainly would travel that far again to drive the roads of Snowdonia. And given that the Evo Triangle is a short hop across from the best Wales has to offer, it’s certainly worth incorporating it into your trip.

With Snowdon conquered and the Evo Triangle driven, we packed up and headed north to spend the afternoon on the Isle of Anglesey.

Anglesey Circuit seems to have become the default track used for YouTube car reviews, and given how we would be there on a Tuesday I had a vague hope that we might chance our visit when something cool was being filmed.

Sadly the only thing circulating was a tractor mowing the grass – no Harris or Bovingdon antics to be seen.

Never mind. With views stretching out across the Irish Sea in one direction, and Snowdonia in the other, it was a particularly pretty circuit. I’m hoping to do a handful of track days next year, and Anglesey Circuit is right at the top of my list.

YouTube will have to suffice for the time being.

The final part of the story isn’t strictly car related, but jets are awesome so I’ll post the photos anyway.

After leaving the circuit we continued heading out to the tip of Anglesey to try and spot some sort of rare seabirds on the Isle of Holyhead. We were casually cruising through a small country B road when a pair of fighter jets flew super low overhead, coming in to land. Stunned, we turned down a small road to follow their direction, and found the most bizarre area where a small beach trail through the dunes from the town of Rhosneigr wound right past the end of the RAF Valley Air Force base runway.

The base is used for fighter pilot advanced training and a squadron were running missions in Hawk fighter jets. Two or three would take off at a time, fly a ten minute mission and then come back to land. We even saw a few touch-and-go’s.

I couldn’t quite believe how close to the runway we were. These three Hawkes all throttled up at the same time, and then took off one after the other. We were close enough to feel the heat radiating from jet turbines as they built thrust.

It’s not uncommon to see military aircraft in Snowdonia as it is regularly used for training purposes from the nearby bases. There’s an area of valley’s called the Mach Loop which are used for high speed low level training. You can hike up to the top and look down on large aircraft as they fly past at extremely low altitude. Unfortunately we didn’t make it to the Mach Loop, but from halfway up Snowdon we did look down on a large transport aircraft as it flew through the valley beneath us.

I’ve never been this close to planes taking off and landing, let alone a trio of RAF fighter jets. It was a highlight of the weekend for sure.

The key to an enjoyable long weekend away is the strategic incorporation of automotive related pursuits. And a dawn attack on the Evo Triangle.

Words and photos by Andrew Coles.

 

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