Driv­ing a new Panamera from Lon­don to Ed­in­burgh on the Great North Road, AKA – the A1

911 Porsche World - - This Month - Words and pho­tog­ra­phy: Antony Fraser

The day­light moon looked qui­etly down

Through the gath­er­ing dusk on Lon­don town

A smock-frocked yokel hob­bled along By New­gate, hum­ming a coun­try song.

Chew­ing a straw, he stood to stare At the procla­ma­tion posted there:

“Three hun­dred guineas on Turpin’s head, Trap him alive or shoot him dead…”

...The five men laughed at him, trapped alive; And – the door crashed open be­hind the five!

Out of the sta­ble, a wave of thun­der, Swept Black Bess, and the five went un­der.

He leapt to the sad­dle, a hoof turned stone, Flashed blue fire, and their prize was gone.....

…He rode for one im­pos­si­ble thing; that in the morn­ing light the tow­ers of York might waken him­from Lon­don and last night…

…They woke, they rushed to the way­side door, They saw what the mid­night showed,A mare that came like a crested wave, Along the Great North Road.

What a mar­velously evoca­tive poem it is, Al­fred Noyes’ Dick Turpin’s Ride. Naysay­ing, fun-suck­ing en­thu­si­asts of his­tor­i­cal ac­cu­racy have poured scorn on the story, of course, brand­ing Turpin as a cat­tle-rustling ruf­fian, and the ride as a work of fic­tion, con­jured up from a much ear­lier ex­ploit by one John Ne­vi­son. The premise, as we schol­ars are all aware, (pay at­ten­tion at the back there) is that Turpin, hav­ing ac­ci­den­tally shot dead an ac­com­plice in an evening melée in Lon­don, rode non-stop to York on his leg­endary mare, Black Bess, in order to es­tab­lish an alibi, on the ba­sis that such a feat of speed would surely be im­pos­si­ble. As if to re­in­force the achieve­ment, a pur­su­ing posse grad­u­ally fell away one by one, as Bess’s pace proved too much for them. It’s the stuff of swash­buck­ling ro­mance, and no sel­f­righ­teous bran­dish­ing of his­tor­i­cal fact

can dent the na­tion’s love of an anti-hero, eh? I’m with Dick! Join me!

Turpin’s route, as we know, was the Great North Road, the coun­try’s artery from Lon­don, through York and all the way to Ed­in­burgh. These days, we tend to think of it as the A1, and that’s broadly the case, but the orig­i­nal route di­verges here and there, and goes straight through all the vil­lages and towns that to­day’s road (thank good­ness) by­passes. The ques­tion is, can you still trace Quick Dick’s tracks, and what are these places like now? There’s only one way to find out…

It’s an un­holy hour of the morn­ing that sees my own (very much alive) ac­com­plice, Rob, and my­self at the Lon­don end of the road, out­side a bustling Smith­field Meat Mar­ket, in the shadow of the one-time of­fices of Car mag­a­zine – so long ago now, they might have es­pied Mr. Turpin him­self through their grimy win­dows. Our choice of ride is a rosier hue than dear old Bess, but likely to be very nearly as fast – sport­ing, as it does, an ad­di­tional 549 horses. The Panamera Turbo has al­ways been a supremely com­pe­tent long-dis­tance high­speed hauler, and we’ve every con­fi­dence that this lat­est it­er­a­tion will be the best yet.

Time’s against us, as usual, and we need to reach into Northum­ber­land to­day, then on­ward to Ed­in­burgh to­mor­row. Quick snap­shot over, we jump in and go. Rob’s driv­ing, and jolly well too, but the car’s width, at very nearly two me­tres, is im­me­di­ately a bit of an is­sue in the nar­row back lanes of the cap­i­tal. Ir­ish meat wag­ons are all over the place, late night rev­ellers are still in the swing and lurch­ing into the road left, right and cen­tre, and we feel a grow­ing urge to be as far away from Lon­don as we can, as quickly as pos­si­ble. Spooky!

Up St John Street to The Angel, then Up­per Street, Hol­loway Road (chaos as al­ways), Arch­way Road, then onto The Great North Road and through East Finch­ley and Pot­ters Bar. We’re out of town at last, and ahead of the morn­ing rush. We know we won’t stay in front of it for­ever, but we’re go­ing the op­po­site way to ev­ery­body else, and that has to be a plus, surely? We are to dis­cover later that Turpin is said to have taken a more east­erly route at this early stage, with Black Bess clear­ing a twelve-foot-high toll­gate on the road to Ware. So, a bul­let dodged for us there, re­ally. If you want to em­u­late that sort of feat in a car, The Gen­eral Lee will al­ways be your weapon of choice. Ac­cept no sub­sti­tute.

As we reach Hat­field, we de­cide to hit the A1 and make a bit of progress; the thought of nav­i­gat­ing through Wel­wyn and Steve­nage proves too much for our re­solve, even at this early hour; quaint for­got­ten

Our choice of ride is a rosier hue than dear old Black Bess

back­wa­ters are rather fur­ther up our agenda. Our Panamera, now rather more in its el­e­ment, surges up to Bal­dock in no time flat. We can’t help mus­ing that our friend Dick would have given his right mus­ket for this kind of ground-cov­er­ing abil­ity. And his left mus­ket for the kind of un­der­stated silent lux­ury with which it’s achieved. So much more re­lax­ing than be­ing hurled along atop a wildly gal­lop­ing nag, all wind-in-the-hair and fly­ing oom­ska – plays havoc with your cape and your tri­corn hat.

Bal­dock is a bustling lit­tle town, even with­out one of the na­tion’s busiest roads rum­bling through the mid­dle of it. It puts a shud­der down the spine to imag­ine what the place would look like with­out the by­pass. We carry on, jump­ing on and off the A1, through Sandy and St Neots, to Al­con­bury, where our dandy high­way­man’s east­ern route is said to have re­joined the Great North Road. Next up is Stil­ton, with its im­pres­sively broad, straight high street. It’s very much the quiet back­wa­ter now, but grand coach­ing inns like The Bell hint heav­ily at its one-time im­por­tance as a stop­ping point. Trag­i­cally, our own stop is brief (not even time to sam­ple some of the fa­mous cheese) and we’re away up the road again, a flurry of capes and boots.

We give Peter­bor­ough a wide berth, and head for beau­ti­ful Stam­ford, awash with honey-coloured sand­stone build­ings, and clearly drip­ping with money for hun­dreds of years. No back­wa­ter this though, with the hub­bub of a town that’s about much more than just a road. The Ge­orge is a great ho­tel, and very tempt­ing, but to York we must go. Time’s a-wast­ing!

…And north­ward, like a blacker night, he saw the moors up-loom

And Don and Der­went sang to him, like mem­ory in the gloom.

And north­ward, north­ward as he rode, and sweeter than a prayer The voices of those hid­den streams, the Trent, the Ouse and the Aire…

We’re drawn in­ex­orably north, Col­ster­worth and Gran­tham pass­ing un­der the wheels in a blur. Full marks to the pro­pri­etor of Nur­burg­ers food cart on the edge of Gran­tham. We didn’t sam­ple the nosh, but we en­joyed the Nord­schleife graph­ics – I couldn’t help but be re­minded of the sim­i­larly amus­ing Carls­burger, on the Thet­ford by­pass. Back onto the A1, and it’s over the Trent and the Don, as we set­tle down and take in the new car’s in­te­rior. It’s a step up from the pre­vi­ous model, for sure, with the dash dom­i­nated by an enor­mous

cen­tral screen, deal­ing with the sat­nav, ra­dio, heat­ing et al. The seats are comfy and end­lessly ad­justable, and the gen­eral am­bi­ence is one of sub­tle, sen­si­ble lux­ury with­out too many flashy gim­micks. It’s the acme of long-dis­tance cruis­ing in­te­ri­ors, we con­clude. We cross the Aire at Fer­ry­bridge, then bound along the A64 to York. Turpin’s mare is said to have col­lapsed un­der him and died within sight of the city, leav­ing our hero to walk a short dis­tance to Mick­le­gate, in the hope of mak­ing an im­pres­sion on the lo­cals and se­cur­ing his alibi. He would have been rather dis­ap­pointed to find hor­ren­dous traf­fic, and road­works block­ing Mick­le­gate it­self, fur­ther re­strict­ing ac­cess to what is al­ready a no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult city to get around in a car. Feel­ing a lit­tle de­flated, we take a quick snap­shot and get out of town; Dick was even­tu­ally hanged in York, and we don’t want to risk the same fate. Be­sides, we have an­other press­ing en­gage­ment north of the Tyne. A fab­u­lous homemade curry awaits us, and only ter­ri­bly rude “peo­ple would be late for such a feast.

We cross the Ure at Bor­ough­bridge; a charm­ing lit­tle town, if slightly com­pro­mised by its oc­ca­sional propen­sity to flood. No such is­sue to­day though, as we re­join the A1 to Scotch Corner, then off to skirt around Croft Cir­cuit, then on to Dar­ling­ton, where we’re greeted by a minia­ture steam loco in the mid­dle of a round­about. The Stock­ton to Dar­ling­ton line was the first com­mer­cial rail­way, of course; per­haps this was where it fin­ished.

No south­ern lover of the arts could pos­si­bly travel this far north with­out a brief stop to see An­thony Gorm­ley’s Angel Of The North, on the edge of Gateshead. Sited in a rather com­pro­mised location, not quite at the top of a hill, it can seem a lit­tle

Dick was hanged in York and we don’t to risk the same fate

un­der­whelm­ing from the A1, but it’s worth the two-minute de­tour to go and have a proper look. Stand for a mo­ment or two, to ad­mire the am­bi­tious scale and the colour­ful beauty of rust. No, re­ally. And while you’re off the mo­tor­way, get your­self over the Tyne Bridge. It’s an iconic and un­mis­tak­able struc­ture, opened in 1928. Of­ten cited as the pro­to­type for Syd­ney Har­bour Bridge (com­pleted just four years later) it’s a beau­ti­ful thing, in a nonon­sense, form-fol­lows-func­tion sort of a way, and will re­ward a trip down to the Quay­side for a bet­ter look. For us? Not on your Nel­lie. The evening rush is in full ef­fect, and of course no­body’s re­ally rush­ing any­where. We es­chew the vis­ual de­lights of en­gi­neer­ing on offer, and crawl out of town on the Cen­tral Mo­tor­way.

With our curry within nos­tril range, we fi­nally clear the traf­fic and make for our overnight halt at Hart­ford Bridge as quickly as we dare. Which bears very lit­tle re­la­tion to how quickly we could get there, but nei­ther Rob nor I fancy the prospect of life with­out a licence. And this does throw up a gen­eral is­sue with mod­ern high per­for­mance sa­loons; they’re able to go so quickly, and with so lit­tle ef­fort from the driver, that they re­ally do stretch your self­con­trol to break­ing point. Are they the an­swer to a ques­tion no­body’s ever asked? Per­haps not, but with a 190mph top speed, we must be ap­proach­ing that point, cer­tainly in this coun­try. Parked at last, bags in the hall, tum­mies rum­bling, we just have time to give our ge­nial host a guided tour of our trans­port. I’ve al­ways re­garded the Panamera as a slightly un­gainly look­ing crea­ture, some­how amount­ing to slightly less than the sum of its vis­ual parts. Hav­ing blamed this on the over­all shape in the past, the lat­est it­er­a­tion has forced me to eat my words. The gen­eral form re­mains essen­tially un­changed, but a plethora of new de­tails (not least the 991-es­que tail lights) has, to me at least, made a great im­prove­ment. It looks lighter, leaner, less bulky some­how. We all agree it’s a win­ner. Now: din­ner! Day Two: Your brave but weary trav­ellers emerge from their fetid pits to face an­other gru­elling day on the road. Des­ti­na­tion: Ed­in­burgh. Now, gen­er­ally speak­ing, the Scot­tish cap­i­tal would be reached by sim­ply get­ting onto the A1 and stay­ing there un­til we bump into Auld Reekie. We,

With curry within nos­tril range, we fi­nally clear the traf­fic

need­less to say, have a bet­ter plan. With thoughts of Dick Turpin well be­hind us now, we’re free as the breeze to go wher­ever takes our fancy, and we fancy a bit of coast. No, what we re­ally fancy is a bit of toast. Stead­ies the con­sti­tu­tion af­ter a long evening of highly gen­er­ous hos­pi­tal­ity and merry-mak­ing…

Suit­ably fu­elled, we hit the road. We’re a few miles south of Mor­peth, and we cruise through to join the A1 and head north for a while. Pass­ing the vil­lage of Shilbot­tle is pretty much im­pos­si­ble with­out at least a snig­ger, as we cast our eyes over the re­sults of the cease­less bat­tle be­tween the high­ways agency and the lo­cal wags. Cross­ing the first ‘l’ to make a ‘t’ is some­thing of a lo­cal tra­di­tion, which no amount of un­cross­ing seems to be able to stamp out. And there are an in­or­di­nate num­ber of signs, too. To­day, the wags are win­ning.

On­ward to Al­nwick Cas­tle, de­signed by Robert Adam and much used as a movie location (Hog­warts, any­one?) but also justly fa­mous for its ter­rific gar­dens and mil­lion-pound tree house. It’s a ma­jor tourist at­trac­tion, but we’ve a sched­ule to keep. Bam­burgh Cas­tle beck­ons, a highly im­pos­ing ed­i­fice atop a huge rock on the seashore. It’s fab­u­lous, but we’re also very much en­joy­ing the nice quiet back-roads around it. It would be wrong to claim that the Panamera shrinks around you as you press on, but for a big car, it copes very well with a tra­di­tional pocked Bri­tish B-road. We leave the sus­pen­sion in its soft­est mode and mar­vel at how com­posed it re­mains over the bumpy bits, and at how well the body can be con­trolled with­out hav­ing to stiffen the ride to an un­ac­cept­able de­gree. For a two-

For a big car, the Panamera copes well with Bri­tish B-roads

tonne car, it’s very im­pres­sive.

We’re aim­ing for Lind­is­farne now, and pass the tiny ham­let of Ross, on the main­land, home of the Lind­is­farne Oys­ter Farm. They’ve been grow­ing oys­ters on the site since 1381, so, er, a bit of his­tory be­hind them then. Sorely tempt­ing though it is, we have to pass. Time and tide wait for no man, and high water’s not far off, which could make for a soggy trip over the cause­way to the is­land. Or worse, leave us stranded there when we need to be crack­ing on. In the end, we ar­rive very close to the top of the tide, but it’s neaps the fol­low­ing day and the high water’s not very high at all – just a mi­nor rins­ing of the low­est part of the cause­way. Noth­ing to worry about, you might imag­ine, but it’s amaz­ing how many cars de­cline the chance to fol­low us over. Sadly, the is­land’s pri­ory turns out to be com­pletely cov­ered in scaf­fold­ing, which puts the mock­ers on a touristy snap­shot or two. In­stead, we set­tle for a look in the stilted refuge hut at the cause­way’s mid­point. Mulling over what it must be like to sit in there watch­ing your car float away on a spring tide is a sober ex­pe­ri­ence, but af­ter the pre­vi­ous evening, we could do with one of those.

Ber­wick-upon-tweed is our next tar­get. Just a cou­ple of miles from the Scot­tish Border, it’s the most northerly town in Eng­land. We stop for some pic­cies, and take the op­por­tu­nity to glance into the Panamera’s engine room. OK, all you can see is a plas­tic cover (why?) but there’s no ar­gu­ing with the fig­ures; 550 horsepower from 4-litres is an im­pres­sive feat, even for a tur­bocharged motor, es­pe­cially when you con­sider the colos­sal 770 new­ton me­tres of torque. We’re parked in the shadow of The Royal Border Rail Bridge, ap­pro­pri­ately; this car truly does go like a train.

From here, it’s a straight run up to Ed­in­burgh. We can’t believe our bad luck, but it’s as dis­ap­point­ing as York! There’s a huge cy­cle event go­ing on. All well and good, I’m sure, but it’s brought the al­ready very busy city to a to­tal stand­still. Bug­ger. We can’t get to the cas­tle, so opt for a drive by the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment build­ing. HOW MUCH!?! Yes, that’s right – £414 mil­lion. It’s hard to know how they man­aged it. With 129 MSPS, that’s over £3 mil­lion each. Ouch. At a shade un­der £137,000 our Panamera looks pretty cheap now, eh?

We leave Ed­in­burgh to the pan­de­mo­nium and head south again, to­wards our chums in Hart­ford Bridge, this time along the scenic A68 and A697. So, what have we dis­cov­ered? There’s some fun to be had ex­plor­ing slightly off the beaten track, for sure, but it doesn’t half eat up some time. If you have that kind of time, you’ll be able to en­joy Olde Eng­land in a mea­sure of un­spoilt charm. And if you have £137,000 you’ll be able to do so in tremen­dous com­fort and style (and pace!) with­out be­ing flash and vul­gar. Hard not to rec­om­mend it, re­ally. PW

No ar­gu­ing with the fig­ures: 550bhp from 4litres is im­pres­sive

Even with the elec­tronic sus­pen­sion set to soft, the Panamera ex­hibits im­pres­sive body con­trol and ride com­fort

Left: Bam­burgh Cas­tle is an im­pos­ing ed­i­fice. Be­low: There re­ally isn’t any­thing quite like the Panamera and there’s no mis­tak­ing that it’s a Porsche

The Angel of the North. It’s a bit rusty, but worth the walk to get up close and ap­pre­ci­ate the scale of it

No mis­tak­ing the Tyne Bridge or the equally great struc­ture in the fore­ground

The Panamera’s gen 2 makeover has cre­ated a much sleeker ma­chine. Yes, it’s still huge, but it’s more sculpted and less slab -sided, mak­ing it look­ing rather more ath­letic

No time to stop but you’ve got to love the end­less cre­ativ­ity of Bri­tain’s burger ven­dors, when it comes to a brand­ing op­por­tu­nity

The Ge­orge Ho­tel in Stam­ford is typ­i­cal of the coach­ing inns along the route and a very fine place to stay. Stil­ton rather speaks for it­self

Be­low: In case any­one is in any doubt – it’s a Porsche Panamera Turbo

It’s an early start from Lon­don’s Smith­field Mar­ket. Co-driver Rob at the wheel. Driv­ing the Panamera in town re­quires deft space aware­ness thanks to its girth

For­tu­nately for Dick Turpin, he wouldn’t have had to ne­go­ti­ate the traf­fic jam­ming Black Cat Round­about

Above: On the cause­way to Lind­is­farne. Right: Scot­land ahoy!

Be­low: Scot­tish Par­lia­ment Build­ing makes the Panamera look like rea­son­able value for money!

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