WEEKLY CAR DIARY – BARGAIN INSIGNIA & KNOLE PARK, SEVENOAKS

Bit late with this week’s diary because we have been to visit family in Sevenoaks in Kent, a county in the south east of England known as the Garden of England. Fittingly, we had far too much good food. Fantastic. An early morning Sunday walk through Knole Park made us feel good about ourselves – and also made room for a delicious lunch. Knole Park surrounds Knole House, one of the largest stately homes in England. The building of this impressive pile was kicked off by an Archbishop of Canterbury in 1456 and bits and pieces were added over the centuries. Knole is Kent’s last remaining medieval deer park, so if you want to know what medieval deer look like, see the pics. The park was beautiful in the watery winter sun and the deer were out in force. The whole place is owned by the National Trust but you can enjoy the parkland for free. We didn’t have time to go around the house but I am told that you can only access a limited part of it. That includes the impressive Gatehouse Tower from which you get spectacular panoramic views. We actually missed a trick there because climbing the steep spiral staircase to the top of the tower would have made even more room for dessert at lunchtime (although to be fair, the three helpings I had were probably sufficient).

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Knole House with the Gateway Tower in the centre. And below green parkland, blue sky, rusty trees and lots of deer.

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Car-wise, this past week was not quite as interesting as the previous week but that’s not to say the Audi A3 and the Mercedes C-class are not fine cars. In fact, I particularly liked the Audi, as good to drive as the Audi A1 but a bit bigger:-

Monday: Audi A3 S Line 1.5TFSI (150hp), Leicester to Kibworth Harcourt, Leicestershire

Wednesday: Seat Ibiza 1.4 (2006) chase car, Leicester to Bicester, Oxfordshire

Friday: Mercedes C220D AMG Line auto, Nottingham to Bournemouth

I’m actually going to jump back to the previous week because I am keen to tell you about a new budget car brand I have discovered: Vauxhall (or Opel if you live outside the UK). I hadn’t realised what good value they are. I knew the latest Astra was a good car but en route from Southampton to Old Sarum, I discovered that the new Insignia Grand Sport is a decent car too. Wider and lower than the old Insignia and very handsome with it, the new model (sporting a grand title to distinguish it from its predecessor) is also lighter and cheaper. Solid feeling, quiet and relaxing to drive with a modern interior that could hold its own against most of the obvious opposition, it’s a traditional, full-size family car (which may be a drawback because everyone wants SUVs or smaller cars with premium badges these days).

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The handsome Insignia Grand Sport safely delivered to Old Sarum, virtually in the shadow of the Iron Age hill fort described in my last post.

But if you have a family to transport and don’t care two hoots about fashion accessories or badges, an Insignia Grand Sport could be yours for just £17635. That’ll come with plenty of kit and what looks like a perky a 1.5 turbo petrol engine with 140 horses. In the UK, you’ll pay £1.8k more for a Mondeo and £4k more for the Optima from budget stalwart, Kia! And bizarrely, you will pay £2.5k more for the cheapest and smaller Ford Focus (yes, really – the cheapest Focus in the UK is £20135 which is more than the entry-level version of its big brother, the Mondeo).

I delivered a 110hp 1.6 diesel Insignia Grand Sport to Old Sarum and it did the job just fine. Funnily enough, at 70mph on the motorway it was just as fast as a Lamborghini Aventador doing 70mph. So, if you want a version of the new Insignia that does 70 miles to the gallon, you will have to part with £19,075 but that’s still less than the cheapest Mondeo which is petrol powered (one of those little one litre wonders but may be a bit out of its depth in a Mondeo??).

And finally, to confirm Vauxhall’s budget credentials, there’s a huge £3.6k difference between the cheapest Vauxhall/Opel Astra and the basement Ford Focus in the UK.

Colin

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HEREFORD – MOATS, MAPS, APPLES & CHAINS

We had never been to the very old city of Hereford before; in fact a lot of the area west of Birmingham to the Welsh border is a mystery to us. All we really knew about Herefordshire is that it is famous for apples, cider and its own breed of cattle. So, it was time to put that right last weekend. En route, we stopped at Brockhampton Estate, a National Trust property in Herefordshire just off the very scenic A44 (nice drive). What a hidden treasure this is. Not the usual, grand stately home but a remote manorial farm house surrounded by a moat and hills. Built sometime between 1380 and 1420, this half-timbered house sports a wonky gate house which was basically a 15th century status symbol since electronic gates had not been invented. We were so lucky to visit on a quiet weekday and in almost sunny weather. It is such a truly magical, rustic place that it was surely built by pixies. For a short period of time, the pixies lived at Brockhampton, bog snorkelling in the moat each morning in search of the much-prized white bog truffle (slice, pan fry in butter, add a handful of chopped, wild grungewort for a traditional accompaniment to roast pop weasel on pixie feast days).  In the fields around Brockhampton, the pixies could be seen bareback badger racing (brock is an old English word for badger by the way) until a reckless wager with a human saw the estate pass to one John Dumbleton in settlement of a crushing gambling debt (actually, it may have been Mr Dumbleton who built Brockhampton). Pixies have lived underground ever since. Eventually, the estate passed into National Trust ownership in 1946 (when badger racing and bog snorkelling on the estate were promptly banned).
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Brockhampton farm house complete with moat and gate house. Beautiful. Makes your quaint bone tingle.
On to Hereford; not in the Premier League of quaint historic cities like Bath and York but capable of some giant killing – as Ronnie Radford proved in the 1972 FA Cup third round replay against Newcastle United. Radford’s 30 yard wonder strike helped non-league Hereford United beat top-flight Newcastle and became one of the most famous and muddiest FA Cup goals ever. Today, Hereford’s giant-killing wonder strikes are the Mappa Mundi, the Chained Library, the 12th century cathedral and one of four originals of the 1217 Magna Carta still in existence (not the first version famously signed by the infamous King John in 1215 which was actually a bit of a failure). The picturesque River Wye adds to Hereford’s attractions. The city itself has a long and eventful history involving civil wars, fire, sieges, executions, bishops, flirtations with Welshness (during which inordinate amounts of cheese on toast were consumed) and a castle that has long since vanished, although part of the moat remains (no bog snorkelling though).
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Hereford Cathedral viewed from a Victorian suspension (foot) bridge across the River Wye.
It costs an entirely reasonable £6 to see the Mappa Mundi, Chained Library and Magna Carta which are all housed in a modern building attached to and styled on the cathedral. The Mappa Mundi is a map representing the Christian world in or around the year 1300 when the map was produced by one Richard of Haldingham and Lafford while he was still at enfants school. No, I mustn’t joke. Yes, at first glance it appears childishly simplistic but actually if you rotated it through 90 degrees, pulled and stretched it somewhat, it’s quite a good representation of Europe, Asia and Africa (the known world in 1300 unless you were a native American or kangaroo). Being a religious map, it has Jerusalem at the centre and the east at the top. Considering the majority of people in that era probably travelled no further than their local corner shop, the map shows a remarkable level of knowledge. It measures 1.59m by 1.34m (the largest medieval map known to exist) and is drawn (or painted?) on vellum – calf’s skin to you, me and the poor baby cow. It’s a wonderfully “busy” picture, covered in hundreds of place names (most recognisable in today’s world) and little graphics like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Sphinx in Egypt and the Labyrinth on Crete. We spent a good while studying the original and an English translation of the map … but we still couldn’t find Wally. You may remember the map making the headlines about thirty years ago when a man from Sotheby’s valued it at £7million. Part of Hereford Cathedral was falling down and the bishop or whoever considered selling the map to pay for the restoration. Happily, donations flooded in, the Cathedral was repaired, the map stayed in Hereford and everyone went home for tea as happy as can be.
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Where’s Wally? Hereford’s Mappa Mundi. Amazing.

After a long, interesting chat with the guide about the map and a brief peruse of the 1217 Magna Carta, it was into the Chained Library, so called because there are still dusty skeletons chained to the walls as a stark warning to users of the library. The penalty for overdue books and for not shushing when shushed at by the librarian was harsh in those days. No, hang on, that was just a nightmare I once had when I forgot to take a copy of The Railway Children back to our local library on time. In reality, the Chained Library contains rows of books chained to their early 17th century bookcases, clearly for security reasons (the need arising after Rufus Gable, a shady roofing contractor, stole several editions of What Tiler from the library in 1601). There are many ancient manuscripts and crusty old printed works, some dating back to the earliest days of printing – 1473 is the oldest printed book. Each weighty tome is tethered to a metal bar on the bookcase by a chain attached to the leading edge of its front cover.

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The Chained Library. Books go in spine first because of the chain. The framed document hanging on the end of the bookcase provides a key for locating each book.

The cathedral itself is not in the major league in terms of size but it is still impressive. Last year, a new stained glass window and memorial to the UK’s most famous (but still secretive) elite military unit  – the Special Air Service – was unveiled. The SAS is based in Herefordshire and there is an SAS cemetery in another of Hereford’s churches.

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Hereford Cathedral in a distinctive pinky stone. The building on the right is the modern annex housing the Mappa Mundi, Chained Library and Magna Carta. “Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?” Tony Hancock in Hancock’s Half Hour (Twelve Angry Men).
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The new SAS memorial in the cathedral. Above it is a striking new stained glass window, also part of the memorial.

After that dose of history and culture, we did something very unusual for us – we went on a guided tour of the city for more of the same. We normally like to explore places on our own but it was worthwhile tagging along with a guide. Hereford has loads of old buildings, churches and history and our guide had plenty of anecdotes to bring it all to life. I asked him where the statue of Ronnie Radford was and was a bit shocked to learn there isn’t one. Later in the afternoon, I was tempted by Hereford’s Cider Museum but we were quite exhausted by that time so gave it a miss. To make up for it, I had a bottle of Herefordshire cider when we got home (by coincidence, we happened to have a bottle of Henney’s Exhibition Cider ready and waiting in the fridge – excellent buy, £1.29 at Aldi!). Another coincidence we discovered over the weekend – with the exception of Chrissie Hynde, all of the original members of The Pretenders came from Hereford. We are going to see The Pretenders in Nottingham tonight. The Chained Library was the inspiration for their hit, Back on the Chain Gang. No it wasn’t.

Colin

RED WARTS KILL ENGLISH FURRY TOADS (… OR CAMPING IN THE COTSWOLDS)

Last weekend, we went camping in the Cotswolds – under canvas as we don’t have a camper van or an exploding toilet these days. We were joined by some very old friends (meaning we have known them a very long time, not that they are totally ancient) and a very cute four-legged mop with a death wish. Chewing through a mains hook-up cable is a potentially quick route to a shocking end but you will be pleased to know that Harley the Cockapoo’s misdemeanour was spotted in the nick of time.

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“Wot me? Wasn’t me. Honest.” Harley the Cockapoo

The venue for the weekend was a field behind the Greedy Goose pub in Oxfordshire, about five miles from Moreton-in-Marsh. First impressions were not great. A row of dilapidated, algae-covered caravans down one edge of the field, no hot water in the toilets (which were the pub’s main loos) and only two showers which opened directly onto the pub’s car park (but just so there’s no misunderstanding, there was a door to each shower). Add to that, the sky was a threatening shade of battleship and we just managed to get our tent up before a depressing drizzle set in. Our two lots of friends were not so lucky and there was no let up in the drizzle for most of the evening.

So, all a bit of a disaster then? No, not a bit of it – we had a brilliant time with loads of laughs. We spent the drizzly Friday evening in the pub (which we had planned to do anyway) having a very good meal and after that, the weather got better and better. Despite the limited facilities, the campsite was absolutely fine; we had a good space to put our three tents in a circle triangle cosy sort of three sided square with one of the campsite’s wooden picnic tables in the middle. Plus it was dirt cheap – £10 a night for the two of us with electricity (despite Harley’s best efforts)! None of us bothered having a shower, instead we relied on the smoke from Saturday evening’s barbecue to mask anything unpleasant and as we all smelt the same anyway, who cares? In any event, there was actually only one operational shower because nobody wanted to share the other one with the resident family of house martins nesting in one corner of the ceiling. I knew they were house martins by their distinctive song which you could hear at precisely 6pm as you walked to the pub: “##It’s ha-ppy hour again … I think I might be happy if I wasn’t out with them ….##”. *

The lesson here is that company is far more important than your surroundings. We had just as much fun on this basic campsite as we would have done on a five-star site or even in a five-star hotel (where making your own bacon and fried egg sandwiches and dribbling yolk down the inside of your sleeve may be frowned upon). In the evenings, as well as catching up on news and sharing remarkable facts about Sandi Toksvig and flatulence, a few silly games were played, one of which involved coming up with random/bizarre/silly newspaper headlines** (“red warts” and “furry toads” may have cropped up here). Also, being in the countryside away from any light pollution, we were able to spot shooting stars as the Perseid meteor shower peaked on Saturday night.

During the day on Saturday, we visited Batsford Aboretum and Chastleton House and Garden, both within a short drive of the campsite. Batsford Arboretum is a sloping expanse covered in trees (obviously!) and paths with some ornamental landscaping thrown in. It is part of a large estate (the long straight drive up to the Arboretum is a clue) and there is still a grand old house there but this is private. The Arboretum is a pleasant and calm place to wander and there is a large garden centre and café/restaurant too.

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Batsford Arboretum and ……
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…. more Batsford

Chastleton House (National Trust) is fascinating. A Jacobean country house in typical honey-coloured Cotswold stone, complete with church and gardens, nestling in a secluded spot in the Oxfordshire countryside. The house was built between 1607 and 1612 by a wealthy wool merchant. The family became increasingly impoverished over the centuries so it has remained largely unchanged, unlike a lot of stately homes which were often enlarged and improved with the times. When the National Trust took it over, they decided to preserve it (warts, cracks, cobwebs and all) rather than restore it. Charming, picturesque and, inside, it has a real sense of age. You can even enjoy tea and cake in the graveyard; we did.

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Chastleton House
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A peaceful corner at Chastleton aka my attempt at an arty door photo. Why do doors make an interesting subject for photos? Discuss.
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Never seen melted topiary before. Looks like Chastleton may have had a visit from Salvador Dali.
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Doves were obviously much bigger in the 1600s. Judging by the size of Chastleton’s dovecote, they must have been about the size of turkeys.

Colin

* I actually have no idea whether or not they were house martins but it’s entirely plausible. Anyway, there was never a pop group called The Swallows or The Swifts who had a hit called “Happy Hour”, so house martins it is.

** The Headline Game. Give everyone a pen and a bit of paper, come up with six letters at random (we used a random letter sequence generator on a smart phone) and then everyone has to think of a six word newspaper headline using the random six letters as the first letter of each word (and in the order the six letters were chosen). Obviously, the sillier the headline the better (especially after a glass of wine) unless you consider yourself a mature person in which case this game (and probably a large portion of my blog) may not be for you. So, the letters SFTGBS are chosen: “Scottish Fish Take Balmoral Guards By Surprise” or maybe BPBHFE: “Brighton Promoted, Blackpool Have Flasher Ejected”. With reference to the title of this post, you have probably guessed that one six letter combination we had was RWKEFT. When everyone has come up with a headline, you read them out in turn, hopefully have a good giggle and then choose another six letter combination and do it all over again. For each round, you can even choose categories, e.g. celebrities, current affairs, sport, animals. Have fun.

HIDCOTE MANOR GARDEN & A PLUG FOR THE NATIONAL TRUST

Last Wednesday, when I had the day off from driving round the country, I, er, drove around the country. This time with my wife and we headed to Hidcote Manor Garden, a National Trust property near Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire (on the northern edge of the Cotswolds). I have mentioned the National Trust in a few of my posts and not everybody will know what it is, notably foreign readers (I know there are some – thank you so much for dropping by my blog!!). So, I have added a section further on in this post telling you what the National Trust is all about. If you are visiting the UK for an extended period of time and you are interested in historic buildings and gardens, becoming a member of the National Trust may be something to consider – it could save you money on admission charges.
Back to Hidcote Manor Garden which according to a website called Great British Gardens is a top ten British garden and “one of the greatest in England”. Now, gardening is not my thing; mowing the lawn, trimming hedges and digging where I’m told is about as green fingered as I get. But admiring someone else’s handiwork is a different deal, especially when it is hidden away in the depths of beautiful English countryside and lit up by glorious sunshine. Hidcote Manor Garden was created in the early decades of the 20th century, around a 17th century manor house, by a well-travelled horticulturalist, Major Lawrence Johnson.
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Near the house, the gardens are divided into several “outdoor rooms” each with a different feel. The gardens then open out into larger spaces, ending in some places at a ha-ha with far reaching views over the neighbouring countryside. There are some formal lines, man-made features and clean cut topiary (how do they do topiary? It’s so clever. Cutting hedge technology, no doubt) but just enough to counter-balance the many exuberantly overflowing informal borders that give the gardens a mostly tumbledown air (in a good way). During our visit last week, there were no real “riots of colour” (other than acres of vibrant greens) but splashes of subtle hues with just the occasional bright red or orange catching your eye. All very calming. Since my gardening vocabulary extends only marginally beyond that of Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men (flobadob, Little Weed), I’ll leave the photos of Hidcote to do the rest of the talking about the gardens.
Our day out was complemented by a tasty light lunch in the National Trust café in the company of my wife’s best friend from school days (who lives not far from Hidcote – in the quaint Worcestershire village of Inkberrow which I described in an earlier post). We then sat for a while in the shade of a tree looking out across the Cotswolds eating ice cream. Not bad.
As promised, there are a few words about the National Trust after the photos!
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THE NATIONAL TRUST
We have been members of the National Trust for many years now and feel we have certainly had our money’s worth. It is an organisation dedicated to preserving cultural heritage and areas of natural beauty in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (there is also a National Trust for Scotland). There are about 500(!) places run by the National Trust and membership also gives you access to the National Trust for Scotland. On the National Trust website (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/) you can search for NT places to visit by county, town, postcode or place or view them on a map (remember to zoom in to your particular area of interest!).
The NT owns/preserves buildings of historical, architectural, industrial and/or social interest and also areas of countryside such as forest, woodland and coastline (most notably, Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland). As well as stately homes, abbeys, gardens and castles, the NT owns properties as diverse as a restored water mill in the centre of Winchester, a Victorian workhouse in Southwell (the guided tour was fascinating), a Roman gold mine in Wales and a lighthouse near Sunderland. Individual admission prices for non-members vary from property to property but can be around £15 per adult for a large house and garden such as Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire. Smaller properties will be cheaper – for example, the fabulous Corfe Castle is £9.90 per adult and the Winchester watermill, £4. However, if you are a member, you get in to all these properties for free! Currently, joint membership for two adults costs £108 for 12 months (single adult £64.80, young person [25 and under] £32.40 and family membership just £114.60). This includes free entry not only to NT properties but also stand-alone NT-owned car parks (often found at the coast). Areas of countryside owned by the National Trust are usually free to access. So, if you plan to visit, say, four to six larger NT properties within a 12 month period, becoming a member could save you money. You can join the National Trust at any NT property.
Because the properties are free for members, we often use them as a place to break a long journey in preference to a motorway service station, even if we have no intention of doing the full tour of the property in question. Most properties have good quality restaurants and/or cafés, a shop (sometimes a second-hand bookshop and/or garden shop as well) and, very importantly, decent toilets!
If you are coming to the UK but to visit Scotland only, then I’m guessing membership of the National Trust for Scotland (http://www.nts.org.uk/Home/) may be cheaper but I have not researched this.
If anyone from the National Trust happens to be reading this (slim chance!), I accept payment by cheque, cash or any valuable commodity such as gold, coronation chicken or Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
Colin

WEEKLY CAR DIARY AND MORE SUFFOLK

Our break in Suffolk plus the Friday bank holiday meant little time for work!:-

Wednesday: Volkswagen Jetta GT 2.0TDi, Leicester to Northampton
Thursday: Audi A6 Avant 2.0TDi Ultra SE Executive S Tronic, Leicester to Wakefield; BMW 520d Estate Auto (2013), Wakefield to Leeds.

First “normal” Audi A6 I have driven (apart from the bonkers A6 Allroad BiTurbo). Very nice. Might have to be a full post about that in due course. After dropping off the BMW at an auction site in Leeds, I made my way to the train station where I had a bizarre exchange with a member of staff. The full story of that will definitely follow at some point.

In last Tuesday’s post, I described a very pleasant drive through beautiful Suffolk. However, the route I described was outside the officially beautiful part of Suffolk! The whole of the Suffolk coastline is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and justifiably so. I exhausted my meagre descriptive capabilities in Tuesday’s post so here are some photos. These include a couple from Ickworth House, near Bury St. Edmunds, which we visited on our way home; still in Suffolk but not in the AONB. One disappointment was not being able to get to Orford Ness, a shingle spit shrouded in military mystery from both hot and cold wars. It was the birthplace of radar in the 1930s, for example. It is now a National Trust nature reserve but you can only access it by ferry which only starts running this weekend!

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Southwold. The only place in the UK with a lighthouse in the town centre? Taken from the seaward side! Probably needed to guide workers home from the Adnams brewery.

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Framlingham Castle. The Castle on the Hill (well, bit of a small mound really).

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Sunset from the Castle on the Hill

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Aldeburgh. The dinkiest seafront house in the world? Looks like it’s made of Lego.

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Aldeburgh.

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More Aldeburgh (We liked Aldeburgh!)

Aldeburgh Beach
Guess where!

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Orford Castle under a brooding sky.

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Orford Village – perfection?

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Ickworth House – a large birthday cake with wings.

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Grounds of Ickworth House
Colin

PART 2: TO MIDDLE EARTH AND BACK IN A BENTLEY MULSANNE (AND AN AUDI A6 ALLROAD BITURBO)

For those of you who read Part 1 of this tale (posted 15th February), I hope you have been able to cope with the suspense over the last week. What was I going to do? Now that we were close to somewhere near Evesham, where could the Mulsanne and I spend an hour or so in total safety, with appropriate facilities? As the forefront of my mind churned away, the answer appeared before my eyes. In the form of a brown tourist sign pointing the way to a National Trust property. Brilliant! I am a member so I could get in for free.

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The property in question was Coughton Court and as I serened glided up the drive to this imposing Tudor mansion, I waved regally to a few of my subjects. With the Mulsanne parked safely, I enjoyed the sunshine, a quick look round the ornamental gardens and grabbed a bite to eat. The same family has lived at Coughton Court for 600 years, managing to survive their involvement in the Gunpowder Plot of November 1605. Attempting to blow up King James I and the Houses of Parliament was a slightly risky thing to do.

Then it was time to get back on the road. On the final leg of my journey to somewhere near Evesham, the Mulsanne’s sat nav took me through a magical place with the achingly quaint name of Inkberrow. Inkberrow is a verdant dale, the slopes of which are dotted with heavy oak portals concealing labyrinthine, underground dwellings. These are inhabited by small hobbit-like creatures wielding extravagantly sized, inky quill pens. They are the self-appointed scribes of Middle Earth, recording the history and legends of this ancient land. Of course, that’s all twaddle. But “Inkberrow”? Surely, that name comes from the inky pen of J.R.R. Tolkien? After all, this was (more or less) his childhood stomping ground. Apparently, he used to frequent nearby towns such as Alcester, Alvechurch and Bromsgrove and the Clent and Lickey Hills, all of which are said to have inspired the Middle Earth setting for the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.

In reality, Inkberrow is a traditional English village, fully equipped with churches, two pubs and a village green. There’s not a hobbit, elf or orc in sight and its name owes nothing to ink at all. One of the pubs, the Old Bull, is a picturesque, half-timbered building with a roof made of gingerbread. The Bull pub in BBC Radio 4’s long-running drama, “The Archers” is based on the Old Bull in Inkberrow (I know I have wandered off into the realms of fantasy a bit but that’s true). Inkberrow also happens to be home to my wife’s best friend from school days (also true). I sailed right past the end of the small cul-de-sac in which she lives but by now I had no time to stop. Anyway, drivers of Bentleys do not knock unannounced on the doors of mere commoners (I may get into trouble for that bit).

Finally, I arrived at somewhere near Evesham and dropped off the Mulsanne to its keeper for the next twenty-four hours. The deal was that he would lend me a car from his “stable” to go back to Leicester. The car I was given for my return journey was an Audi A6 Allroad BiTurbo (3.0 litre diesel with 320bhp), a four wheel drive A6 estate on stilts. The What Car website mentions the “sheer bulk” of this car but when I jumped in, it felt like a roller skate after the imposing Bentley. And when I got on the move it felt like a rocket-powered roller skate. Whilst the dignified Mulsanne disguised its brutish power behind opulence and serenity, the Audi just felt like it wanted to show off. Like a hyperactive dog, it felt like it wanted to be let off its lead.

Well I was having none of that (well not quite, but we’ll get to that bit in a minute). In the meantime, I had a couple of interesting toys to contemplate. The first was the massage seat. This didn’t give you a gentle, soothing massage; that would be dangerous because there would be a risk of dozing off. Instead, it reminded me of the last time I had physio when the therapist used firmly planted thumbs and then the point of her elbow (with some weight behind it) to effect the treatment. However, having the Audi’s mechanical thumbs and elbows running firmly up and down my back was far more pleasant than having a physiotherapist dig sadistically into a torn calf muscle.

The second toy was the head up display; a projected image of key information seeming to float above the car’s bonnet. The technology was developed originally for military aircraft so that pilots did not have to glance down at their aircraft’s instruments; instead they could keep their eyes peeled for bandits or bogeys or whatever. Now this was all very weird. Do you remember those geometric patterns that were all the rage a few years ago? If you stared at the pattern long enough and relaxed your eyes a picture would emerge. If you were hopeless at this, your eyes eventually felt strained. Well that’s how my eyes felt now. Looking ahead at the road, my eyes kept getting drawn to the HUD and were trying to focus on two things at once. I felt like I was going cross-eyed. Since there was little risk of incoming enemy MiGs, I could probably have done without this optical embellishment.

However, I will grudgingly admit that the HUD did come in useful on one occasion. Just as I had done in the Bentley, I came up behind a car on the motorway with the active cruise control on. The Audi slowed of its own accord. Then I signalled to pull out into the outside lane in order to allow the clever cruise control take the Audi back up to the preset 70mph. Wo!!!!! All hell broke loose as the Audi took off like a weasel with a rocket up its backside. The  HUD was telling me that the cruise control was set to 115mph. How? Why? I quickly braked (with my lightning reactions, I got nowhere near 115mph) as it dawned on me what had happened. Cruising along with my hands at a relaxed twenty past eight on the steering wheel, I hadn’t flipped up the indicator stalk when changing lanes – I had flipped up the cruise control stalk (set just below the indicator) thus increasing the set speed! All very interesting and it proved two things: 1) the Audi is a quick car (0-60mph in 5.5 seconds) and 2) diesels can sound sporty.

The rest of the journey was uneventful so I was soon home where I could uncross my eyes and have a nice cup of tea.

Colin

WEEKLY CAR DIARY

The first part of the week was spent on a break with my brother’s family in the Lake District so work this week was limited to:-

Thursday: Mercedes A200d, Leicester to Enderby, Leics and Mercedes E220d Estate Auto, Leicester to Nottingham

Friday: Nissan Juke, Leicester to Bognor Regis, West Sussex

The trip to the Lakes entailed some interesting driving in my own time. The journey up there was quite dramatic as we negotiated the A66 from Scotch Corner to Penrith in snow. The outside lane was covered and we slowed right down, plodding along through a blizzard. I have crossed the country on the A66 a few times in the past year and it is dramatic whatever the weather. A great scenic route – if you have the opportunity, try it.

The next day there was a complete change in the weather, brilliant sunshine and almost mild. The wind was a little fierce at times and one of my young nephews thought it smelt of chicken!?? We had a great drive from Keswick to Buttermere via Newlands, Birkrigg and Keskadale then back over the Honister Pass. Narrow lanes, hairpin bends, steep inclines and stunning scenery. Fabulous. In between, we had a wonderful walk around Buttermere, a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. Then there were welcome hot drinks in one of the cafes that the village of Buttermere has to offer. The drinks included hot Butterbeers for my nephews!

On our return from the Lakes, we stopped at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden – a National Trust property and UNESCO World Heritage Site near Ripon in North Yorkshire. I am amazed that this place is not more well-known in the UK. The ruins of Fountains Abbey are huge, the remains of a vast complex built up by Cistercian monks over a period of 400 years until the abbey was closed down by Henry VIII in 1539. The abbey is set in a picturesque valley with the River Skell flowing around and under the buildings. There is also the Elizabethan/Jacobean Fountains Hall, a mill and other estate buildings to explore.

The small green valley, like a broad fairway on a golf course, leads away from the abbey. On one side of the valley is the River Skell set against a backdrop of trees; on the other, a cliff of yellow rock eventually gives way to woodland. About half a mile down the valley you come to Studley Royal Water Garden. This testament to wealth and flamboyance was created in the 18th century by a former politician, John Aislabie, who also purchased the abbey ruins to incorporate into his estate. The water garden comprises ornamental canals, ponds, lawns, follies, statues, tunnels and a lake. Beyond the lake is a large deer park. Although on a grand scale, the simple lines of the water garden make it a restful place which can be enjoyed close up or from a path on a ridge overlooking the valley. At one point on this elevated path is “Surprise View” which affords a spectacular vista back up the valley to the abbey ruins in the distance.

studley-royal-water-gardens

This is a stunning place for a day out and I cannot recommend it highly enough. There are good walks to be had and a modern National Trust visitor centre with the usual shop and restaurant (great Red Thai Squash soup!).

Colin