THE HERITAGE COAST A GREAT ESCAPE!

A few years ago I got a bus from Beijing to the Great Wall. The bus pulled up and the wall was clearly visible on the big dipper hills above. I sat on the bus for a while hot and sweaty thinking that I could see enough from there without having to put myself to the bother of walking up to it. I sat and sat a bit more. Eventually I got out and walked along the wall but only because I didn't think I could go back home with a picture taken from a bus window.

If I couldn't be bothered with a hundred meter walk to one of the worlds wonders theres little chance of me getting involved in the 14 mile Glamorgan Heritage Coast walk right? Well what about doing it on 2 wheels? Now you're talking.

The fact that theres a 14 mile footpath is as irrelevant to me as the top speed on the R1 I used to cover the route. I wouldn't be troubling either of them any time soon. We kicked off from Llantwit Major beach - a blustery, pebbley strip where surfers picked up waves straight from the Atlantic. Heading up to Llantwit Majors' town square through the narrow winding lanes was fun but not ideal territory for our 1000cc sportsbikes - a Fireblade and an R1. The route we are taking along the coast is not for apprentice Valentinos or Jorges. You kind of have to plod along whilst humming the theme tune to Heartbeat. It's a good trip on any bike - you just wont be breaking many speed limits along the way.

The town square is surrounded by pubs shops and the Town Hall. Ride there, choose your beer garden table and then consider that all of the buildings you can see are older than the Great Wall. It could almost make you spit your shandy couldn't it - Something older than the Great Wall right on your doorstep that sells alcohol.

Riding westerly from Llantwit you pass St Illtyds Church. Yes, also older than the Great Wall the church is worth a look inside for the huge and colourful murals on the walls. Most other church murals were lost long ago making this a fairly unique place. The route doesn't qualify for a number, just a road name - Dimlands Road.

The countryside was filled with the gentle roar of the fireblade and R1 as we shot through the narrow roads with tunnels formed from trees leading us along the Coast to St Donats Castle - now home to the Atlantic College and various Art Galleries. It makes an interesting stop on the coastal route. The Castle was bought by the American publishing magnate Randolph Hearst, grandfather of Patti Hearst in 1925 after seeing photos in Country Life magazine. It was bought as a love gift for his mistress, actress Marion Davies. The couple threw lavish parties at St Donats and guests included Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill and John F Kennedy. Much of what you see has been brought from other castles and mansions around Europe.

A few more miles of winding roads - duck and quail eggs available to buy en-route, and we reach Nash Point lighthouse. Turn left at the Swan pub - nice beer garden if all this pottering makes you peckish. Wander up to the light house or just aimlessly ride your bike around the grassy cliff tops with no helmet, bouncing over the hills thinking you must look just like Steve McQueen. Surely you must right? You get wonderful views along the coast here and also clear across to North Somerset and Devon.

Back out along the Coast and now the road starts to open up allowing a bit more speed. More pubs and farm shops along the route before you head down to Southerndown. Now I liked Southerndown until the car park attendant asked for 1.50 per bike to use the car park. Luckily the shop sold Hot Chocolate to help us get over the shock!

After a brief breezy stop it was back on the bike and along the road from Southerndown to Ogmore. It's a great ride - Its worth doing it in both directions just so you catch all of the views up and down the coast. Mind the Sheep. The road hugs the hillsides along the coast for a few stunning miles. Take the turning down onto the beach where you can park and eat some more and drink some more.

Now for a few miles the road heads inland along the Ogmore River. Strange little places along the way - The Pelican in Her Piety - what on earth does that mean and why would it be the pub name? Anyway, a handy beer garden and good but slightly expensive food. Opposite you can wander the ruins of Ogmore Castle - obviously older than the Great Wall but a touch less impressive.



Stranger still as we move on. Now you remember me saying about Steve McQueen. Well have you heard of Island Farm Camp? Not many people have so don't feel bad. Island Farm Camp was a prisoner of war camp during world war 2 and is infamous for the largest POW escape attempt in the Uk. The camp was used to hold some of the highest ranking German Prisoners during the War including some of Hitlers closest advisers.

Arguments continue as to how many prisoners escaped through the 71 foot tunnel. The numbers range from 67 to 84. 67 were captured and the government asserts this as the official number of escapees.

A little further along the windy roads and we vroomed into the sandy car park at Merthyr Mawr. The fact that the dunes were used for filming Lawerence of Arabia should give you an idea of the sandyness. A good ending point on an interesting trip along the coast. Climb to the top of at least one dune and pretend you have been shot by an escaping German POW just to see how well you can 'death roll' down the dune.

The entire route is very short and would best suit those looking for a leisurely plod along the coast with lots of stops to eat, gaze at the sea or buy Gloucester Old Spot Pork. Sportsbikers will enjoy the route too but don't expect mile after mile of high speed twisties.

All this talk of the Great Wall and Germans. I think I better get a Chinese and settle down to watch the Eurovision song contest! Come on Jedward!

WORDS JONATHAN PHOTOGRAPHY KYLE
 
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