THE EXPEDITION CENTRE
A visit to the Expedition Centre, which is situated in deepest Powys (central Wales) currently stands as a weekend two night, two-and-a-bit day format. Clients (although maybe we should call them guests) arrive early on a Friday, leaving lunchtime on a Sunday. Currently Nick can accommodate up to 12 at a time. There is no set agenda and Nick likes to canvas his guests for their wishes. Not that he’ll necessarily concur with their wishes. This is the Nick Sanders way, he’s not one to pander to the public – not even to paying guests – so be ready to find yourself challenged. Nick, on his own website, confesses to his hosting style being a bit Fawlty Towers and if you arrive with that in mind then you’ll be well-prepared. Go with it and you’ll find yourself enjoying yourself more than you might imagine.
Riding is the main activity and Nick is keen to introduce the spectacular local ‘white roads’ (that’s an OS map reference for the smallest of B roads) to his visitors. And they are spectacular, he’s right, although it’ll help to have a blue sky day to really appreciate them at their best.
There is off-roading available too, and here Nick defers to his collaborator Tony Williams. Tony’s a local lad, through and through, with a good knowledge of local trails. He’s also an experienced instructor, something he demonstrated with a couple of off-road novices on the weekend we attended; Tony did an excellent job of imparting the base skills. Particularly Matt, who had wobbled along the track to the Expedition Centre somewhat nervously – and seated – returned, standing with elbows up looking like a trail regular and certainly exhilarated by the knowledge he’d gained. Tony’s a typically accomplished Welsh trail and enduro rider, used to guiding, so whatever your level he can accommodate you. The centre also has a small fleet of Yamaha XT660s available to hire at a very reasonable rate, so there’s no excuse even if you’re currently without a bike.
The evenings are based around the dinner table within the main building – a newly built barn specially designed for the job, compete with professional-standard kitchen, 32-seat cinema, mezzanine area for relaxing and reading, and of course the main dining area (open plan onto the kitchen with everyone eating together).
The cuisine, by Nick’s partner Caroline (Dr Caroline Taylor that is, she’s a GP by profession), is a fusion of Welsh traditional and fine dining that will far exceed anyone’s anticipations. The two nights’ meals were simply outstanding. And of course the dining table is the best place for discussion. Again, don’t go asking Nick banal questions such as ‘metal panniers or soft bags?’ (unless you enjoy short, pointed rebuffs) – and anyway Nick’s the wrong guy to ask, he’s not one to use either! However, get Nick onto a more juicy travel related subject, up a few cerebral levels, and he’ll open up nicely. And anytime Nick tails off – he may become bored – then Caroline, who’s accompanied Nick on many of his ends-of-the-earth guided tours, ably steps in.
The sleeping accommodation is separate, there being a choice of ‘glamping’ (that’s glamour-camping) options situated on Nick’s land, starting with an authentic Mongolian yurt, through wood cabins (all with wood-burning stoves) to a Unimog truck and trailer brilliantly converted. Each is uniquely furnished – be it Mongolian, American, Moroccan etc – the theme being each represents a memorable place Nick has visited and takes tours to. Given this is Wales, though, for eleven out of twelve months you’re probably well advised to stoke up the wood burners just to keep the chill off! Also know that there’s just the one washroom facility to share between the group (in the main barn), which is a wet room with loo. For those that do get caught short in the night you’ll find a po (you know, chamber pot) under each bed – although blokes being blokes chances are you’ll lurch off in the dark toward the nearest bushes instead.