Letter From The UK: When Speed Isn’t Everything

  • With so much to do in a given day, we often drive with purpose instead of for pleasure. 
  • Maybe it’s time to take a road trip? A slow drive with someone special to just enjoy the scenery? 
  • Geoff Maxted packs up a modest Ford Galaxy with his wife for a journey into the UK’s rich history.  

Great Britain is a country of contrasts. From blue remembered hills to golden shores; the dangerous, rocky coasts to rugged open moorland, there is so much to explore on a relatively small island and, crucially, almost all of it is accessible by road. From Lands End in the South to Cape Wrath at the Northernmost point, the car is an essential tool for getting about.

This begs the question:

Which Car?

You see, for most of my time I am yearning tragically for high-performance experiences I will probably never have. Recently I have written about the new Porsche Speedster and the Aston Martin Valkyrie, for example. Both hugely desirable, neither are at all suitable for exploration along the broken minor roads and tracks of the UK. Furthermore, at the opposite end of the scale, a full-blown four-wheel drive mud-munching behemoth is also totally pointless.

A good all-rounder, that’s the answer.

The Journey

On this trip via the north coast of the Counties of Somerset and Devonshire and taking in the low, bucolic Quantock Hills, our ultimate destination was Exmoor National Park. It was the two of us for just a few days but to make allowances for the amount of luggage my beloved Lady requires (“You can never have too many accessories”) the chosen vehicle was Ford’s capacious Galaxy.

In this country, cars of this type are known as MPV’s (multi-purpose vehicles) and very useful they are. Ideal for moving small items of furniture as much as families, vehicles like the Galaxy make the ideal touring machine. Not quick but full of purpose, the Ford did all we required of it without pausing for breath.

Photo: DriveWrite Automotive.

It was the two of us for just a few days but to make allowances for the amount of luggage my beloved Lady requires, the chosen vehicle was @Ford’s capacious Galaxy. Click To Tweet

The Car

Our Galaxy came with a 2.0L diesel engine; just the right powerplant for this trip. Thrifty, yet producing 148bhp, this engine took everything in its stride thanks to a chunky 350Nm of torque.

To be honest, this car is getting a bit long in the tooth now and must soon be in line for replacement. The slow demise has already started as some catalogued colours, including the splendid “Deep Impact” blue you see before you, have been de-listed.

In typical Ford style, the dashboard was adequate with all the usual technology, but doesn’t come near the luxury of, say, an Audi. This is however reflected in the price of £30,000, which in this country makes this motor a real bargain. With seven seats available (at the expense of trunk space) this people carrier is both comfortable and reliable.

We recorded over 50 miles for the precious gallon in mixed driving. Yet, when the occasion demanded, the car was entirely up for a bit of spirited overtaking. You can take the man out of the performance car but you cannot take the performance car out of the man. You can quote me on that.

Photo: DriveWrite Automotive.

You can take the man out of the performance car but you cannot take the performance car out of the man. Click To Tweet

The Terrain

Approaching our first destination, the small coastal village of Lynmouth, involved first tackling Porlock Hill. From the East side the hill starts with a sharp u-bend at an inclination of 25 percent, requiring diligent use of low gears. The road up the hill sometimes narrows dangerously to one car’s width while passing through tiny hamlets. It varies from really steep to OMG!

Historically, that is to say in the last century, it was often the case that passengers had to alight and assist the engine with a hefty push. This is why a strong diesel with a decent amount of torque was called into action. Even today, our tiny modern blown engines could struggle, especially in the hands of a novice.

Okay, it’s not like driving up the side of some mighty eminence but it’s enough.

It is worth it too. The views of the coast and of the expanse of Exmoor are superb from the top of Porlock Hill. Or rather they would be if it wasn’t for persistent low-rolling clouds obscuring the view. At some points, it becomes so dense that you can’t see the dozy sheep wandering about in the road until the last second.

Photo: DriveWrite Automotive.

The Funicular

Finally though, the sun broke through as we descended down into the steep gorge where, at the confluence of the East Lyn and West Lyn rivers, we arrived at Lynmouth. This charming little coastal village twins with the village of Lynton way up on the other side of the gorge.

You can walk or drive up but the true tourist takes the Funicular railway, the highest and the steepest totally water-powered railway in the world. Going strong since 1890, it’s the easiest way up but the faint-hearted should not look down.

The Village On Exmoor

The main purpose of our trip was to visit the small Church in the village of Oare, deep in the heart of the Doone Valley and the setting for R.D. Blackmore’s famous novel Lorna Doone. Born in Oxfordshire, Blackmore’s origins were from a local family. He later returned to the area to research the novel, writing it in 1867. The real-life Doune (original spelling) brothers were a band of brigands who terrorised travellers on this remote part of Exmoor.

Blackmore’s grandfather was Rector of Oare church, which in the novel is used as the setting for the marriage between Lorna Doone and John Ridd, the hero of the story.

Sadly, I am unable to offer images as, again, the mists descended. We viewed the area as if through a thick veil. Look it up; this area is very beautiful. On top of the moors, however, the views were spectacular. I only managed to bog the Galaxy down once, forcing me to risk a steep downhill reverse to a sheep track via which we finally escaped.

Maybe a 4×4 would have been useful after all?

I only managed to bog the Galaxy down once, forcing me to risk a steep downhill reverse to a sheep track via which we finally escaped. Click To Tweet

Sunday Driving

The fact is we can’t go fast all the time. Sometimes driving for purpose should be replaced by driving for leisure, especially with someone special by our side. Speed isn’t everything. The Ford Galaxy took us where we, and all of our luggage, wanted to go.

Slowing down means that even from the driving seat we can see more of our world. Sometimes it really is okay to stop and stare.

Geoff Maxted is a motoring writer, photographer, and author of our Letter From The UK series. Follow his work on Twitter: @DriveWrite

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