Hirnant Pass, North Wales, UK
This Great Road was initially published in issue 91 of Total 911.
A good driving road for a 911 will often be open, with a marble-smooth surface quality and bends that allow for time to work the ‘slow-in, fast-out’ technique the rear-engined machines are famous for, while at the same time carrying some speed to feel the physics at work.
But if you judge roads only by those characteristics then they won’t always make for the best drives. I have a totally different offering this month, one that is about as opposite as you can get: the Hirnant Pass in North Wales. Connecting the tourist town of Bala at the north end of Bala Lake to the north-western tip of Lake Vyrnwy, just over the border into England, this route is neither open nor fast.
At times it weaves through a woodland, seemingly little more than a forestry track, and at others it suggests a rally stage. Indeed, the road is often used for classic car rallies, and in later sections it is a pure and simple mountain pass. So why suggest it? Well, for the simple reason that in a 911 any drive can be interesting, but the Hirnant Pass is something quite different to our everyday experience of the modern road network.
It’s a single-track road throughout, slowly weaving, threading and rising through the landscape, past the 626-metre-high Foel y Geifr and some superb Welsh scenery. To drive it is to perhaps hark back to a time when motorists took a tour of the countryside as a leisure activity on a route that didn’t bypass troublesome geographical features – real men worked out ways to make a road cross them.
Pale Hall, Bala Plas-yn-Dre restaurant, Bala White Lion Royal Hotel, Bala
Latitude: 52.912 -3.595.
Length of drive: 9 miles.
Points of interest: Snowdonia National Park Portmeirion Village Bala Lake Railway Adventure Mountain
Food and accommodation:
Abercelyn Country House, Llanycil
01678 521 256
Pale Hall, Bala
Plas-yn-Dre restaurant, Bala
White Lion Royal Hotel, Bala
The forest section had me wondering if I was allowed to be there, but fear not, it is fine for a 911. Shortly after this, you follow the Afon Nadroedd briefly, and appear at the edge of the trees and a picturesque bridge – an excellent spot for a mid-drive hero shot of the car. However, one of the best bits of the road is the view of the mountain from the bottom of the valley.
You’ll spot the road threading up the hillside, and it’s worth pausing to enjoy the sights. At the top by the Armco barrier, some patriotic wag has amusingly sprayed ‘ENGLAND’ on the road to mark the border. As you do. For those expecting a smooth surface there may be one or two sections, but they will be very short indeed. Watch out for sharp rises, poor sight lines and rough, uneven areas that on the mountain section could appear out of the blue, especially if you’re carrying excessive speed.
Be warned, you could bottom out or graze that Aerokit bumper if you get caught off guard. Don’t be put off by this word of caution, though. You will be fine in a 911, and I heartily recommend a visit when you fancy a nice tootle somewhere interesting. I did it solo in my 964 last year, and it was a real day to remember.
Though other road users looked at me like I was mad, I was enjoying myself. I was using my 911 to explore somewhere new. You may not come back sweaty-palmed with red-hot brakes and feeling like Derek Bell, but you’ll definitely agree it was fun.