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.
Quite busy this week so I earned a few pennies. You couldn’t earn a living doing this driving work because it is very poorly paid. I think of it as a pleasant pastime with the bonus of a bit of pin money. Enough for the weekly gruel ration and to fund my wife’s turmeric habit. This golden spice is the latest superfood discovery in our household. Half a teaspoonful in porridge (I haven’t plucked up enough courage to try it myself yet) apparently ensures eternal life and cures every form of illness known to humankind, except jaundice. Well, it may cure jaundice but since turmeric turns you yellow, it is difficult to tell. Anyway, here’s what I drove this week:-
Monday: Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 R-Sport manual and Land Rover Discovery Sport TD4 180 HSE auto, Rockingham, Northamptonshire to Leicester
Tuesday: Vauxhall Vivaro van, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire to Aldershot, Surrey; Peugeot Expert van (2012), Aldershot to Blackbushe Airport, Surrey
Thursday: Bentley Mulsanne Speed (2015), Leicester to Southend-on-Sea, Essex
Friday: Mercedes E220d AMG Line auto, Nottingham to Leicester
So, mostly quite posh fare this week apart from the two vans on Tuesday, although the Vivaro (a Renault Trafic with a Vauxhall badge) is a lovely van to drive.
You may have noticed I delivered cars to Rockingham twice last week and collected a couple from there on Monday. That’s because horse trials were held on Rockingham Castle estate last weekend (scene of one of my best driving days out!). Apparently, the atmosphere at the trials was tense as five horses were found guilty and two were acquitted. One horse was sentenced to life imprisonment. That’s a lot of porridge and, if he adds turmeric, a very long time. Daylight Robbery is still protesting his innocence but with a name like that, I think he’s flogging a dead …. Sorry, think I better stop there.
Driving the Jaguar XE back from Rockingham confirmed a niggle about this car that I had when I drove another manual example last year – the whole experience of changing gear leaves a little to be desired. The gear change itself is not the slickest, I don’t find the flat-topped, brushed aluminium gear knob very tactile (maybe that’s just me) and the slightly high, fixed centre armrest under your elbow doesn’t leave your arm in a totally natural position for changing gear manually. Maybe they forgot about the manual version when designing the armrest because it would not be an issue in an automatic (by all accounts, the eight speed automatic available in the XE is very good). Apart from that niggle, the XE is great. You really feel a part of the car, the steering is sharp and precise, it rides well and there is plenty of punch from the 180hp diesel engine.
Taking a Bentley on a trip to the seaside on one of the hottest day of the year sounded nice and indeed, until I got to within six miles of my destination, it was. However, my plans to have a quick peek at the sea en route to the train station after delivering the car were scuppered by a serious incident on the main route into Southend-on-Sea. I sat stationary on the A127 dual carriageway for quite a while as emergency vehicles picked their way between the two lanes of traffic. Eventually, a policeman wandered along (on foot) and started getting the cars and vans just behind me to turn around and drive the wrong way down an entry slip road. Then it was my turn. So, there I was coaxing the 5.6 metre, 2.7 ton, £200k+ leviathan round 180 degrees across two narrowish lanes of the A127 under the watchful eye of the policeman and several of my fellow motorists sitting in Golfs, Clios and Transit vans. Half of them were probably thinking “Damn fine motor car. Best of British”. The other half: “Filthy rich b*****d” or worse. I wanted to wind down the window and assure everyone that the car wasn’t mine. However, that may not have been a terribly good idea in front of a policeman. Could have led to an awkward situation (although I don’t think I look like a car thief but then again, I am a bit biased).
It took me well over an hour to do the last six miles and I had a train to catch, so no glimpse of the sea. The Mulsanne Speed I drove last year had an all-black interior. Thursday’s car had lots of off-white leather to lighten the mood and, in my view, looked much better for it. In fact, the almost white leather together with all the very shiny chrome embellishments gave the interior a nautical feel, like the interior of a super yacht. The fact that the Mulsanne is the size of a pocket battleship and its long bonnet noses majestically ahead of you like the bows of said battleship (complete with winged Bentley figurehead) furthers the nautical impression, so at least I had some sort of maritime experience. If you want to read more about the Mulsanne Speed (and a visit to Middle Earth) check out my epic two-part post here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).
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.
Monday: Kia Optima Sportswagen 1.7 diesel, Coventry to Wakefield, South Yorkshire
Tuesday: Ford Focus 1.5TDCI Zetec estate, Rotherham, South Yorkshire to Peterborough
Wednesday: X-wing fighter, I mean Ford Transit Connect van, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire to Brentford, Middlesex
Thursday: Mercedes A220d AMG Line auto, Leicester to Thurmaston, Leicestershire; Mercedes E220d AMG Line auto, Nottingham to Newark, Nottinghamshire; BMW 520d auto (2013), Newark to Bruntingthorpe, Leicestershire
Then a big day out today at the Practical Classics Classic Car and Restoration Show at the NEC in Birmingham. I had intended to take lots of photos so I could include a few in this post but there were so many fantastic cars and I couldn’t take photos of them all. Plus I didn’t want to spend the whole day looking at the cars via the screen of my phone, waiting for people to get out of the way…… blah blah. In short, I took virtually no pictures at all so here’s a photo of an interesting classic downloaded from the interweb :-
Sorry, that was really cruel. I hope there are no young children reading this because they may have nightmares. Actually, I think there was an Allegro there, in a corner with no-one near it.
The show was huge with virtually every type of classic car you could think of and a few more of questionable classic status (a Hillman Avenger?? Come on….). It is difficult to pick out highlights, but I will have a go:-
Downright gorgeous: Jaguar XK150 plus so many others too numerous to mention
Eye-opener: Aston Martin DB6 – non runner, very shabby interior and suspect paintwork, a snip at £220,000
Best oddity: Rover P5 coachbuilt motor caravan
Nostalgia trip: Matra-Simca Bagheera S – as a very young kid on holiday in France, I remember being astonished when I first saw this futuristic car. A three seater sports car from the Seventies. I tried to persuade my parents to buy one so that we would have to get rid of my sister. I had almost forgotten this car existed until I saw one again today.
Of most personal interest – two Spridgets. An Austin-Healey Sprite in marginally better condition than mine but on sale for a lot more than I paid. Encouraging. Also, a superb looking MG Midget in an original BL colour which I think is called Damask Red. I have often thought whether or not I would change the colour of my Sprite if I ever had it re-sprayed (which it probably needs). My Sprite is a non-original Nightfire Red, a metallic colour from much later MG Rover days. It does look good (if you ignore the blemishes) but reverting to an original period colour may be nice. Have to broach this with the wife though……..
Monday: Mercedes C350e saloon (plug-in hybrid), Leicester to Derby
Wednesday: Mercedes C350e saloon (plug-in hybrid), Derby to Leicester
Friday: Volkswagen Caddy, Kettering to Bury St. Edmunds
The Mercedes plug-in hybrid was interesting – might be a full post in due course.
Meanwhile, we had a day out in the Cotswolds last weekend, an area of south central England famous for its quintessential Englishness. Rolling green countryside and picturesque towns and villages whose buildings have been chiselled out of solidified honey. We stopped in a couple of the more well-known places, Moreton-in-Marsh and Bourton-on-the-Water, the charms of which are well-documented. However, I will mention the rather brilliant Cotswolds Motor Museum and Toy Collection in Bourton, a wonderfully ramshackle place where you are guided through the history of motoring from its earliest days to the 1960s and 70s.
The cars on show include Austins, Morris’s, MGs, Jaguars, Rileys and a 1938 BMW 327. The information accompanying the BMW explained that the first BMW cars were Austin 7s manufactured under licence. Every day an education! The car that caught my eye, simply because of its name, was a 1911 Alldays and Onions. These were probably manufactured under licence from the German company, Jedentag und Zwiebeln GmbH. Or was it the French company, Chaquejour et Oignons SA? Not quite sure.
In addition to cars, there are motorcycles and old caravans and an astonishing array of memorabilia and old enamel signs covering virtually every inch of the walls. The memorabilia and signage are not just limited to cars. There are artefacts and advertisements for all sorts of things, plus of course the substantial collection of old toys. This is not just a journey through motoring history but a truly atmospheric and nostalgic look back at life in bygone eras.
Away from the bigger villages/towns, we also came across a couple of interesting places off the beaten track that are probably missed by most people:-
Longborough. This was really the main purpose of the trip – to look around the church in this quiet, pretty little village. My wife and daughter are heavily into genealogy and had traced some ancestors back to Longborough in the 18th century. These ancestors went by the family name of Tombs. So there we were looking around a graveyard for Tombs. I kid you not. Apparently, there was a Scottish branch of this family – the MacTombs – who were well-known race horse owners in their day. Unfortunately, the search was in vain because the older gravestones had eroded very badly. However, the village was charming and came complete with an inviting looking pub – the Coach and Horses Inn – but we had no time to sample it.
Donnington Brewery. En route from Longborough to Bourton-on-the-Water we drove down some interesting, narrow country lanes. Descending a small hill, we glimpsed what we thought was a large old house below us. It was nestling snugly between the hill and a lake. As we drove past, we saw a sign “Private Road Brewery Only” and then “Donnington Ales” on the side of the building itself. Wow! Is this the UK’s most scenic brewery? We didn’t stop but I have since looked it up. It is based in a 13th century watermill and the mill wheel is still used to drive machinery. The same family has brewed beer there since 1865. Unfortunately, there are no tours of the brewery but, according to their website, you can stop there and buy the beer! There is also a 62 mile circular walk (the Donnington Way) which goes past the brewery itself and 15 of the brewery’s tied pubs. Might be a bit wobbly by the end. The abovementioned Coach and Horses Inn in Longborough is a Donnington Brewery pub.