A few firsts for me this week including the mighty Renault Kangoo which has a lot in common with the Fiat Doblo – a van with a silly name but a surprisingly comfortable and relaxed long distance companion. By the way, in case you are wondering about the photos, you are right – they have nothing to do with the contents of this post. Fine cars as they are, do you really need to see pictures of modern day Kangoos, Sciroccos, Polos or Golfs (even a Golf R)? No. Better to look at the two beauties my son and I spotted at another classic car gathering at the Great Central Railway a couple of weeks ago. So, back to this past week:-
Monday: Renault Kangoo Maxi 1.5TD (110hp) van, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire to Clevedon, Avon
Wednesday: Volkswagen Scirocco R-Line 2.0TDI (184hp) DSG, VW Scirocco R-Line 2.0TDI (150hp) DSG (2015), VW Golf GTD (2015), VW Scirocco 2.0TDI (140hp) (2011), all in and around Leicester; VW Golf R (2015), Leicester to Wymondham, Leicestershire
Thursday: Volkswagen Scirocco R-Line 2.0TDI (184hp) DSG, VW Golf S 1.2TSI (85hp) (2015), VW Golf 1.6TDI, VW Polo 1.2TSI DSG (90hp) all in and around Leicester.
Volkswagen Sciroccos are like buses. No, that’s not an derogatory comment on the way they drive, but I had never driven a Scirocco before and then three came along at once on Wednesday! I spent two days this week working for the local Volkswagen dealer, collecting and delivering cars for the Service Department. It was pure coincidence that everything I drove on Wednesday happened to be a VW with sporting pretensions.
I wasn’t 100% sure about the looks of the current Scirocco when it was first launched (which seems a very long time ago). However, it has grown on me and now I think it’s a good looking car although a little oddly proportioned from some angles. From the brief time I spent in each, it was difficult to get a full impression of what they are like to drive but they seemed grippy with accurate steering and firm ride. I liked the interior which was typical Volkswagen (i.e. smart and an above average feel in the quality stakes) plus a few sporty accoutrements. These included three extra instruments on top of the dashboard – oil pressure, turbo boost and a stopwatch. The latter would be very useful if you want to boil an egg on the go. I believe this is a throwback to the original Mk 1 Scirocco but I wonder how many Scirocco owners have ever used it. All three Sciroccos were diesels and I am sure the 184hp version goes very quickly when you want it to. Very much like a Golf GTD which I also drove on Wednesday and have also commented on in a previous post. However, these Scirocco diesels did seem a little bit old school in terms of noise. I’m sure the same engines are a bit quieter in other VW applications.
The pick of all these sporty VWs (and the only petrol powered one) was of course the Golf R. Wow! A searingly hot hatch: two litre turbo power, 296hp, four wheel drive and 0-60mph in 4.9 seconds – this DSG (automatic) version being a fraction of a blink of an eye quicker than the manual. A facelifted Mk 7 Golf (a sort of Mk 7.5) was introduced earlier this year and the R is now more powerful (306hp) and quicker still. VW didn’t really need to bother because the 2015 Mk7 I drove was brilliant. Unlike the Sciroccos and Golf GTD, I tragically had to drive the R for about 25 miles out into the Leicestershire countryside. It was fun. Naturally, it felt very quick and, with loads of grip, it was flat and unfussed going through the bends. Could be addictive. In this day and age of seven, eight and even nine speed automatic boxes, the Mk 7 Golf R “only” has six. This was a good thing in my view because driving it manually via the steering wheel mounted flappy paddles (which is far more interesting than letting the car do its own thing) was much more manageable and instinctive if you are used to driving five or six speed manuals. Inside, the Golf R has to make do without the Scirocco’s three extra sporting dials but surprisingly that does not hinder progress. It does however have racy luminous blue needles for the two main dials found in most cars, so that’s obviously the real secret to the R’s extra pace. The seats were great too.
Finally, an honourable mention in despatches for the 1.2TSI (turbo) Polo, again another DSG (automatic) and another first for me. What a great way to get around the city – like a little go kart. Smooth, refined and it felt really quite punchy (0-60mph in 10.8 isn’t bad for a humble supermini). Would liked to have tried this Polo out on the open road. This “old” 1.2 petrol engine is now sold alongside a new 1.0 turbo in the Polo, which is more powerful, quicker and more economical than the 1.2. What modern day wonders these tiny one litre engines with spinny things are.
Back to work this week after our hols in Cornwall. All decent vehicles but nothing out of the ordinary and no particularly interesting destinations, although the new town of Telford is just a few miles north of Ironbridge Gorge which only happens to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution (and an interesting place to visit if you have the chance).
Tuesday: Audi A3 1.8T Sport (2014) & Audi A6 S-Line 2.0TD manual (2013), both Rugby to Telford, Shropshire
Wednesday: Volvo XC60 SE Lux Nav D5 (2.4D) auto (2016), London Heathrow to Leicester
Friday: Ford Transit Custom, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire to Reading, Berkshire
Now I did go somewhere interesting last Sunday – one that played a small but important rôle in World War II. Beaumanor Hall in the Charnwood Forest area of Leicestershire is a stately home built in the 1840s, although manor houses have been present on the site since the first was built in 1330. Beaumanor Hall was requisitioned by the military in 1939 and it became a “Y station”, intercepting enemy radio traffic and passing the signals to the more well-known Station X at Bletchley Park for decrypting.
If memory serves me, Beaumanor Hall also featured in Robert Harris’s novel, Enigma, a fictional thriller set against the backdrop of Bletchley Park’s efforts to break the Germany’s Enigma code. It is widely rumoured (in real life) that the Beaumanor Hall listening post had intercepted intelligence about the Katyn massacre very early on in the war (in April and May 1940, the Soviets massacred about 22,000 captured Polish officers and other citizens in the Katyn Forest in Russia). The information allegedly received by Beaumanor Hall and the need to hush it up in deference to Britain’s Soviet allies provided a sinister sub-plot in Enigma and the subsequent film of the same name. Incidentally, the producer of the film was Mick Jagger who happened to own an Enigma machine which was used as a prop in the film.
The reason for visiting Beaumanor Hall was (surprise!) a classic car show. The hall is not normally open to the public but it does hold various events throughout the year. Here are a few photos:-
After an illustrious rallying and racing career, Donald Healey was famous for designing and building sports cars in Warwick. However, he was born in Perranporth, Cornwall and between 1961 and 1971, the Healey family home was Trebah just above the Helford River in the county of his birth. I suspect he didn’t commute from Trebah to Warwick on a daily basis. Even for an ex-rally driver, the 520 mile round trip would have been a bit of a drag. In fact, if you lived at Trebah you probably wouldn’t want to leave at all because it’s a bit of a paradise. Trebah had been set out as a pleasure garden in the mid-1800s with a large colonial-style house sitting at the top of a wooded valley leading down to a small beach.
During World War II, the beach was concreted over and used as the embarkation point for 7,500 men of the 29th US Infantry Division heading for the infamous Omaha beach as part of the D-Day landings. When Donald Healey purchased Trebah in 1961, he removed the concrete and military infrastructure, built a new boat house on the beach and set about restoring the gardens. That restoration work was later continued by Major Tony Hibbert (a veteran of Arnhem and other World War II campaigns) and his wife, Eira over a period of almost 25 years.
Today, Trebah is a stunning subtropical garden open to the public (unfortunately, no discount for Austin-Healey owners) and you definitely don’t have to be a green-fingered god or goddess to enjoy it. There’s something for everyone as you work your way down from the smart visitor centre and restaurant (decent Cornish pasties!) at the top of the valley. Kids will love the Tarzan play area and probably The Bamboozle (39 varieties of bamboo – mostly very tall) and Gunnera Passage too. Walking under the green umbrella created by the mass of giant Gunnera (like monster rhubarb) is quite something. Can’t decide whether it’s like a set from Avatar or Jurassic Park. Maybe a bit of both. There are several routes through the garden and you’ll spot various ponds, waterfalls, bridges and statues amongst the plants, flowers and trees.
Eventually, you’ll reach an ornamental lake and then the secluded, private beach set in a gorgeous sheltered bay with crystal clear water. In Healey’s Boat House (teas, coffees and ice cream), there is a large board with a time line of Donald Healey’s life and career. His early working life was spent in aviation – an apprentice with Sopwith Aviation then joining the Royal Flying Corps in World War I. Intriguingly, after opening his first garage in Perranporth in 1919, he also established the Perraphone Radio Company (no more information given!). His later exploits racing and building cars are more well known, including winning the 1931 Monte Carlo Rally. In 1973, he was awarded the CBE by the Queen for services to export (i.e. selling lots of cars to the US). He died in 1988, aged 89 in Truro, Cornwall.
A mid-week diary because I’ve finished work for the week prior to our hols. We are off to Cornwall for a couple of weeks in search of Poldark and his scythe (for wife and daughter) and Cornish pasties and clotted cream (for me). The clotted cream is for combining with scones by the way, not pasties but there are probably many ladies up and down the country who wouldn’t mind combining clotted cream and Aidan Turner. My wife’s sister’s husband’s sister (hope you kept up with that) might be one of those ladies. She rallies the troops via Facebook just before every episode (“Come on Ladies, get comfy, glass of wine at the ready…..”) and then I think they keep up a “shirt off” count as the story – and Ross’s clothes – unfold. Apparently, you can get a Poldark app which tells you where they filmed which scenes in Cornwall. Fortunately it took up too much room on my daughter’s phone so she had to get rid of it. Unfortunately that means we will have to spend two weeks looking for the clifftop that Mr and Mrs P gallop along six times every episode. Who knows, we may even bump into the man himself – probably having a chat with Doc Martin about a nasty scythe injury (oh dear, the Doc’s just passed out). Anyway, here’s what I got up to in my shortened working week:-
Monday: New Land Rover Discovery 3.0Td6 HSE Luxury; Jaguar XE S supercharged 3.0 V6 (340hp); Jaguar F-Pace S 3.0TD V6
Tuesday: Bentley Bentayga diesel, Crewe, Cheshire to Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire; Volvo XC90 R-design D5, Lutterworth, Leics to Gaydon, Warwickshire to Leicester
Wednesday: Volvo XC90 R-design D5, two Bentley Bentayga diesels and a Ford Transit Connect in and around Leicestershire
After more than a year of doing this driving work, I have driven a car which I actually covet! Up to now I have only lusted after a van (the VW Transporter Kombi) but the Jaguar XE S is a car I really would like to take home – discrete looking but fun to drive. The journey from Bruntingthorpe airfield (where the local JLR dealer had been displaying some cars at a show) is quite short but covers several miles on twisty country lanes. Perfect territory for the XE. I have driven a couple of manual diesel XEs and described in an earlier post how well the XE goes round corners. However, I wasn’t that impressed by the manual gearbox (despite normally preferring manuals). But this XE S was a very different proposition with a decent automatic box and some fairly serious petrol power. So, think of all the clichés you can about feeling a part of the car, fine handling, balance, grip and turn-in and add smooth gear changes, sprightly acceleration and a decent sound. The sound is not in the same league as a Bentley V8 but interesting enough. A more revvy engine than the lazy V8, it reminded me a bit of a motorbike but with a deep voice. I was following a colleague who said the XE just totally looked the part in his rear view mirror as it negotiated the bendy bits.
By contrast (and I know I shouldn’t really compare), the new Discovery was a bit of a fish out of water on the country roads. Like the Range Rover I drove a few weeks ago, it wallowed round corners and got thrown around by the lumps and bumps. Ironically, it presumably finds its niche on much bigger lumps and bumps off-road and no doubt it would be right at home on the motorway where there are no bumps at all (or rather where there’s not supposed to be any bumps). It was nice inside though.
A fairer comparison would be between the Discovery and the F-Pace so it was interesting driving them back to back. In short, if you like going round bends and must have a 4×4/SUV thing, buy an F-Pace. More accomplished and confidence-inspiring….. unless, you have serious off-road requirements in which case (by reputation not my own experience) you’ll probably want a Land Rover product. It was whilst contemplating the issue of bumpy roads and their effect on the Discovery and the F-Pace that I realised I couldn’t remember bumps registering with me at all when driving the XE. So, along with the Ford Fiesta and my Sprite, I think I have a new favourite car. And guess wot??!! We won the Premium Bonds this month!! So …….. unfortunately, it was only £50. But I suppose that will buy quite a few pasties and tubs of clotted cream. Possibly with some left over for Poldark and Demelza action figures for my wife and daughter.
Finally, a few photos from Birdingbury Country Show that I went to on Sunday. Classic cars, commercial and military vehicles, steam stuff plus loads of tractors. This meant a sixty mile round trip in my Sprite to the venue just south of Rugby. The Sprite performed perfectly.
Following my incarceration in IKEA the other week, I was subjected to a new sport last weekend: IKEA sliding door wrestling. I eventually won but only after extra time and penalties. Didn’t feel much of a victory though. Bit like when I was in the Cubs and we scraped a 1-0 win over the Brownies at football but only because our centre forward, Jimmy “Rewind”* Spannerfoot, tripped over his own woggle in their penalty area and won a dubious spot kick. Hollow. Started building an IKEA wardrobe Saturday afternoon, finally finished Tuesday afternoon after several hard fought rounds with the sliding doors (OK, I did do a few things in between – like eat and sleep and a little bit of work). Most cricket test matches are shorter these days. Although I won, I do not intend to defend my title; at least not for a very very long time. IKEA is an acronym for the Swedish equivalent of “Death by Allen Key”. Didn’t know that? No, I wouldn’t believe a word I say either. This whole episode proved what I have known for many years: that DIY is not my forté (until recently, I thought Screwfix was a seedy dating agency). Still, at least I had the foresight to build the wardrobe in our bedroom. Not like my brother who once constructed a wardrobe downstairs in the lounge so that he could watch television at the same time. You can guess the rest of that sorry tale (which is, in fact, absolutely true). Don’t worry Little Brother, this will only be read by three other human beings and a computer-literate cat in Basingstoke so your secret is more or less safe.
….. * “Rewind” because he was not a fast forward.
Fortunately, there was some work to enjoy this week (more of a lightly-spiced korma after last week’s vindaloo):-
Monday: Volvo V40 R-design D2, Leicester to Rockingham, Northamptonshire.
Wednesday: Range Rover Evoque TD4 and Jaguar F-Pace 3.0d S, Rockingham, Northamptonshire
Friday: Ford Focus 1.5TDCi Zetec (2016), Leicester to London; Nissan Note 1.2 Acenta Premium, London to Swindon
First Jaguar F-Pace I have driven. Nice. Plenty of laid back muscle from the 3 litre turbo diesel, restrained black leather interior (no traditional Jaguar wood) and comfortable. Only drove it 25 miles – in pouring rain.
Had time off for good behaviour on Saturday morning (thus putting off the wardrobe building) to go to a small classic car event at the nearby Great Central Railway in Quorn together with my neighbour who has an immaculate MG TF replica (a Gentry kit car for those in the know). The Great Central Railway is, apparently, “the UK’s only double track, main line heritage railway and the only place in the world where full size steam engines can be seen passing each other”. So there you go. Actually, its great to visit, even if you are not a train buff.
The GCR runs for just over 8 miles from north of the city of Leicester to the market town of Loughborough. There are four stations along the line, each restored to represent different eras: Leicester North (1960s), Rothley (Edwardian), Quorn and Woodhouse (1940s) and Loughborough Central (1950s). All wonderfully atmospheric! There are moves in progress to link the line to a heritage railway in Nottingham and to build a new museum at Leicester North. If you are tempted to visit, check the Great Central Railway’s website for any special events that may be happening (e.g. 1940s weekend, modelling events, real ale train!!). You can also dine on board.
We only spent a couple of hours at the very quaint Quorn and Woodhouse station because the weather was a little gloomy. A good portion of that time was spent in the Butler-Henderson café having a cuppa with my neighbour and two “Friends of the Great Central Railway”. A lot of conversation revolved around railways and, I must confess, I didn’t understand all of it. Butler-Henderson? Yes, there is a connection with Vicki Butler Henderson (well-known petrolhead, motoring journalist and TV presenter). Captain The Honourable Eric Butler-Henderson was the last new director of the original Great Central Railway, appointed in 1918 and the great grandfather of VBH.
Another short working week with bank holiday Monday and off to Kent on Friday for a family wedding:-
Tuesday: Ford Transit Connect, Ashby-de-la-Zouch to Brentford; Ford Transit 350 Dropside, Redhill, Surrey to Old Dalby, Leicestershire.
Wednesday: Toyota Auris Estate 1.6D Business Edition, Burton-on-Trent to Bedford.
Thursday: Toyota Avensis 1.6D Estate Business Edition, Burton-on-Trent to Sheffield.
The two Toyotas were delivered to a government agency but I can’t tell you which one or I would have to kill you afterwards. Good to know HM Government has a Toyota Avensis and Auris to aid the fight against the forces of evil. Both cars had satnav so they should be able to find the baddies more easily. The bigger Avensis felt a bit lazy with the 1.6 engine but impressively refined. It was the other way round with the Auris, a little bit peppier but more engine and road noise. All what you would expect really.
Tuesday was a long day – 7.00am to 10pm. After dropping off the Transit Connects we had about a four hour wait before we could leave for Redhill. Fortunately, the nice people at Sky (see Stormtroopers in Transit) let us use their staff room and free drinks machine. On the same industrial estate there were a couple of interesting businesses: Bristol Cars and a large classic car dealership. So I had a wander round and took some photos. There were some interesting cars outside the classic car dealers but loads more inside but I couldn’t get in (they must have known about me). Had to make do with a couple of shots from the doorway.
We have just come home after a short break – two nights in a wonderfully wonky and beamy old apartment above a bistro in Framlingham in Suffolk (look up Upstairs@The Lemon Tree if you are interested). The design brief for this higgledy-piggedly bijou dwelling was obviously that there must be no vertical or horizontal lines or surfaces. It was all very quaint and special. Framlingham is a small, characterful market town where Ed Sheeran was lucky enough to grow up and we were literally a couple of hundred yards from Framlingham Castle, the “Castle on the Hill” of his recent, autobiographical hit.
Getting there was quite special as well. Or at least the latter part of the journey was. It was last Sunday and the warmest, sunniest day of the year so far. Going down the M1 from Leicester and then east along the A14 was routine (i.e. dull) but trouble-free. Then we turned off at Stowmarket and followed the A1120 which was actually sign-posted as a tourist route. And what an absolute treat it was. A great road to drive and beautiful scenery to go with it. Now we are not talking spectacular mountain passes, hairpin bends, majestic lakes, the Serengeti or anything seriously dramatic but rather picture postcard England at its very best.
The part of Suffolk we saw is not like its East Anglian neighbour Norfolk, with its flat, sometimes featureless landscape and straight roads and ditches. No, Suffolk’s landscape undulates as English countryside should and is broken up by hedgerows, trees and church spires aplenty plus the occasional windmill. And the A1120 twists, dips and turns sufficiently to keep you on your toes a bit. Despite the tourist route tag, we hardly encountered any traffic to hold us up as we swept along past so much green, interspersed with splashes of white and pink blossom and bright yellow rape. All that colour was complemented and enriched by a totally clear, bright blue sky. Between villages, the A1120 allows you to flow pleasingly through the bends before having to slow down to pass through the small pockets of rural civilisation. But slowing down to a relaxing bumble is not just a legal necessity. A gentler pace allows you to drink in the charms of each little village. There were several picturesque places to pass through, each eliciting so many oohs and aahs from my wife and daughter you would have thought the route had been lined with the world’s cutest puppies. “Ooh, look at that.” “Aah, isn’t that lovely…”. And there were many adorable buildings, a lot of them pastel coloured or rusty old brick, some thatched and all seemingly well cared for despite their age. Each village had its fair share of chocolate box pubs too, some with people sitting outside making the most of the fine weather. All very tempting. With the sun working its magic and those time-warped villages casting their spell, it was all very beautiful, transporting you in more ways than one such that nothing else in the world seemed to matter. A journey to take your cares away – except the niggling concern that we may encounter Ed Sheeran driving at 90 down that particular country road in the opposite direction. After all, sing Tiny Dancer too heartily at that speed and who knows what might happen – could be messy.
Actually, later in the day we thought we had encountered Ed Sheeran in the equally picturesque (but rather overcrowded) seaside resort of Southwold but it turned out to be a bloke holding his candy floss in front of his face.
In all, it was 26 miles along the A1120 from Stowmarket to Yoxford before we joined the A12 to carry on to Southwold. With all the villages en route, I guess those 26 miles took the better part of an hour but it was not a journey to rush unduly. It would have been wonderful in my Austin-Healey Sprite and sensational in one of these old Lagondas that we encountered the following day (all 1930’s I assume; I am not an expert). But even in our everyday Skoda Octavia estate the journey was hugely enjoyable. Away from the A12, there are many great country roads in that part of the world so the driving enjoyment did not stop at the end of the official tourist route.
After Southwold, we stopped at a much quieter Dunwich Heath to do a bit of beach combing before going on to Framlingham to find our accommodation and have a quick stroll around the town. It had been a wonderful but exhausting day so we eventually climbed thankfully up to bed. Not up any stairs you understand, we just had to scale the floor of our wonky apartment.