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Land of the Red Dragon

“4op. Any of you got 40p?”

We weren’t sure who the lady was. Given the street we were on—a rundown section of a rundown town in Wales—the logical answer seemed off. 40 pence? That amounts to about 60 cents back home. This didn’t add up, but she had walked passed our car full of fish and chips at least three times in five minutes.

The alleged lady of the evening and a searing cod sandwich were my first impressions of Wales. We arrived in Newport, a mid-size city just across the English border, after dark. And by morning, my entire impression of this country would change dramatically.

Newport, Wales

As the sun broke over the old forest, the first full day of this journey dawned at our top secret AirBnB (just off the A40 near the town of Monmouth). The previous day, ending with our late night dinner in Newport, was more of a test run from London to the countryside—where the real meat and potatoes of Souled Out Europe will be served.

Dishing out the first week of the journey is U.K. local, web design guru, turned Twitter friend, turned real-life friend Conor Ashcroft. It was Conor’s idea to hit the road, and hit it big. Over the next few days, we’re slicing a path from the coasts of the English Channel to the Scottish Highlands. Thanks to AirBnB, we’re doing it for cheap. And thanks to Conor, we’re doing it in style with an upgraded Souled Out Mobile complete with a drone, action camera hot plugs and a roaming wifi hotspot.

The whole setup is topped with a Souled Outside wrap, which is already drawing attention from locals.

“Top Gear!” an excited Welsh woman shouted, from behind the counter of her roadside food truck. “They film Top Gear on that road right there!” she gestured wildly, before playing a game of 20 questions about what we were doing eating from a truck in a sheep pasture.

We were taking that road right there.

The road was stage one of Conor’s route to Scotland. A few hundred yards from the food truck, it blazed a path through Brecon Beacons National Park, where one can see sheep—and a stunning, two-lane road that looks part Blue Ridge Parkway and part Park City, Utah. It’s not the fastest way to Scotland. In fact, the majority of our 3,000 mile route consists of ridiculously windy backroads that dart in and out of villages and panoramas.

If you’re looking to get somewhere on time, our route is garbage; but if you’re looking to live…it’s fantastic.

Brecon Beacons

We knew, of course, about Top Gear. It’s why we chose the road. Like millions around the globe, Conor and I grew up watching three British idiots circumnavigate the globe in various sports cars and trucks. So, it’s fitting then, that the trip would start like this: on their road, surrounded by their sheep.

It sounds ridiculous to say that a t.v. show influenced reality, but for us, it did. In the days before YouTube truly took off, before Instagram brought the world into your pocket, Top Gear showed us the world.

Today, it showed us Wales.

“It’s the exact route taken by the show,” Conor said, as we rounded another bend at the Beacons. “It’s Clarkson’s favourite road.”

11 hours after we started the day at the Beacons, we arrived at our second AirBnB in the land of the red dragon. What we found, in a country filled with humbling countryside and humble people, was absolutely astonishing.

Two rooms at Llantysilio Hall—which opened just four weeks ago as an AirBnB— didn’t cost us much more than 40p.

I may never stay in a hotel again.

Llantysilio Hall

Editor’s Notes: A huge thank you to all of you readers. If you’d like to subscribe to the blog, please entire your email address below. If you’d like a chance to win free Souled Outside gear like t-shirts from Parker Prints and travel bags from Deuter, hit the link to our travel fund below.

Week one’s U.K. road trip is looking great, but we’re still raising money for week two in France and week three in Sicily. Merci.

Tomorrow, we visit the host of Most Haunted in Manchester, so I can learn all about the ghosts I hope I don’t see in Llantysilio tonight. Though it’s a Victorian mansion that served as a boarding school during World War II, and its former chapel has been converted into a snooker room, and we’re the only two guests in a 19-room house, and the owner’s got it for a bargain just a few years ago, I’m sure it will be fine.

Until next time. #GetLost

-JS

Written by

When an urban developer bought my apartment building in 2016, it pushed me out of the soulful streets of Memphis, and outside, into a life on the road. I soon found out that travel was both a cure and an addiction. And I plan to keep going, with readers alongside, for as far as this road can stretch.

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