PANAMERA ROAD TRIP
Driving a new Panamera from London to Edinburgh on the Great North Road, AKA – the A1
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
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
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
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 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
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
Above: On the causeway to Lindisfarne. Right: Scotland ahoy!
Below: Scottish Parliament Building makes the Panamera look like reasonable value for money!