Brexit. The catastrophe that was the general election. Not to mention all of the car stuff that happens on this little island and the roads that are waiting to be discovered, it’s an exciting time to be in the UK. AGR’s visit to the UK is a little more permanent than the last trip here in 2013, for the next year or two at least anyway. Unfortunately this comes with added responsibility, and the realities of not being on holiday means it just isn’t possible to get out and see as much cool stuff as the last time I was here. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun, right?
Our departure came with a tinge of sadness, of course there’s the family stuff, but it also meant having to put my Fiat X1/9 away in storage in my Dad’s shed – thanks Dad! The little Fiat is finally running like a dream and I had an absolute hoot using it as my daily transport for the few weeks before we left, and it will always be there waiting to be driven on visits home.
…. we landed in London, the home of street parked classic and supercars. Unfortunately we had several tasks to attend to and only a few days in which to do them which prevented too much automotive exploration, but there’s always time for a little bit.
We found time for a quick stop at the Imperial War Museum where they had this Land Rover media vehicle used by Reuters to report on one of the Middle East conflicts. Maybe us photographers need something like this to cover rallying in the more remote parts of the country? There was also a Spitfire hanging from the roof that fought in the Battle of Britain – very cool.
Like any big city, London is one of contrast. Yes, the rent is vaguely ridiculous and I’m told that the midwinter weather can get pretty depressing, but there is so much going on and there are things in this city that you just don’t see anywhere else. I walked around a street corner in Westminster to find this Aston Martin DBS parked on the street…
There was a DeLorean, a bunch of old Alfa’s, a Mustang, Land Rover’s and a variety of Porsche’s. It turns out that I’d chanced upon transport day for one of the major UK auction houses, where winning bidders have a certain allocated window to collect the cars they had won. Some were carefully loaded into transporters, others were driven off with glee.
Unfortunately there was not a huge amount of scope to really get involved in the Scottish car scene as we settled in and found our feet in a semi rural town on the coast, but there were a few highlights.
I made a trip out to Glasgow’s Riverside Museum largely because I’d been told that Colin McRae’s 1995 WRC Championship winning Subaru was on display. Unfortunately my tip was old and I was about two years too late to see it, but the museum incorporates the Scottish transport museum which meant the journey wasn’t completely wasted.
A nice surprise was seeing the pair of BMW GS motorcycles that Ewan McGregor rode in the famous Long Way Round and Long Way Down documentaries. I’m a bit of a fanboy of the series, and surely like thousands of others it has inspired me to one day complete a long distance journey on two wheels.
The cover over the luggage alludes to the fact that it was actually quite wet on this day, and the two occupants were dressed in full motorcycle wet weather gear. I had a quick chat to them and it didn’t seem to be dampening their adventure at all – I guess it’s to be expected when you choose to cross Europe and tour Scotland in a Morgan, even in summer.
Speaking of the bizarre, I spotted a genuine M-Sport Edition Ford Transit van in Glasgow, complete with factory fitted rear diffuser, bucket seats and gravel inspired OZ Racing wheels. Excuse the rubbish photo, but this is proof that at least one person actually bought one.
Our time in Scotland drew to a close, so last weekend we rented a car and headed South for our next stop on the Isle of Wight. The AMG A45 is a little rocket and one of the best premium hot hatches available, so I had moderately high expectations that our rental A-class might contain just a pinch of that magic. Sadly it turned out to be a base A180, hardly a powerhouse and barely able to get out of its own way. But at this point I hadn’t driven a car for over five weeks which meant it was a joy just to be behind the wheel of something again – anything!
The journey started out on traditional Scottish B and C roads, and our plan was to avoid motorways at all costs and head south via the Lakes and Peak districts. We had two days to complete the journey, and I was more than happy to spend some time behind the wheel again hunting out some decent driving roads.
We explored little roads, we stopped at small English pubs, and the weather was unseasonably stunning (even for summer) so we camped the night in the Lakes District. I asked our host if the weather was normally this nice, and he responded with a rather blunt “nah it’s normally shit”, and pointed to a plaque above a stone chair that said “dedicated to the memory of a warm sunny day”.
It was quickly becoming apparent that travel on English B and C roads is a fair bit slower than I’d expected and that we simply wouldn’t have time to cross the country without resorting to motorway use. After leaving the Lakes District on Sunday morning we decided to take it slowly and really enjoy the Peak District, and then hit the motorway at lunchtime and skip over the rest. Areas like The Cotswolds and towns like Oxford would have to wait for another trip.
We struck it incredibly lucky and had one of the best mornings of our time in the UK. First was an encounter with the L’Eroica Britannia cycling event. L’Eroica originated in Tuscany and is a weekend vintage cycling festival that seeks to capture the adventure and endurance of the glory days of mid century road cycling. The highlight of the festival is the Sunday ride, either 25, 55 or 90 miles in length. The course incorporates huge hills and many dirt roads, and must be completed on pre 1985 racing bicycles.
It is not a race, indeed the aim for many is to complete the course as slowly as possible. We were lucky to find the course of the ride as it passed through a small village, so we grabbed some traditional style Margherita pizza from a roadside stall and watched the riders pass through.
I began to think we’d gone too far when we ended up on one lane so narrow that the bushes brushed against the mirrors on both sides of the little Mercedes. There were hairpin bends and little stone bridges, and it was a minor miracle that we didn’t encounter any oncoming traffic.
We stopped in Bakewell for a look around. You might be cool, but you’ll never be popping down to the High Street with the kids in a vintage Bentley cool. It was freakishly perfect day, so it was with some regret that we left the Peaks District and headed for the motorway. We had several hundred kilometres to travel if we were to make the ferry that night.
Do you have any suggestions of cool car things to see and do, or any interesting cars to feature? Let me know in the comments below!
Words and photos by Andrew Coles