MERCEDES-BENZ S350D DRIVE:
EACH year I make a coast-tocoast cycle pilgrimage through the northern Lake District before slogging further east over the Pennines to the North Sea. But this year, owing to an arthritic knee, I was forced to forgo the ride and decided instead to drive it. In an S-Class Mercedes no less, and boy, I can tell you which is the easier.
An S350d pulls faster than Chris Froome and its computer is more fun to talk to. I borrowed it right at the last minute from Sytners in Carlisle, the big Merc dealership, after I’d been let down badly by a manufacturer of inferior cars (who shall remain nameless).
After an effortless whoosh across the Cumbrian fells the grey and threatening Irish Sea hoved into view, lurking with intent below the rich undulating farmland. And then I saw the granite silhouette of my destination, Moresby Hall, partly hidden in a sleepy hollow in the long evening shadow of a church tower.
With ancient royal connections and an erstwhile owner knighted by Henry V after Agincourt, Moresby has its origins in the 12th century. I had long wished to stay at this house, which owes its current appearance to Inigo Jones, the 17th century architect of London’s Covent Garden and the Queen’s House at Greenwich.
Being just outside Whitehaven, it’s a popular first night stop for cyclists setting off on the famous C2C (coast-to-coast) cycle route and was packed that night. But in the morning when I came down for breakfast they’d all vanished, like Scotch mist.
Speaking of vanishing, human bones from long ago have been exhumed and the place was featured in the TV series,
Most Haunted. The bones of someone who starved to death were found when the hall was last tiled. I hasten to add that this was long before current owner Jane Saxon took charge of the kitchen (I was very well fed).
I was curious to get back behind the wheel of the great silver behemoth as it’s not every day that I get to cruise around in £75,000 of highly honed German technology. I was struck by how in control I felt, despite my remoteness from the uneven tarmac. This isolation from cowpats and potholes – and I have no problem with this – is enhanced by the lack of noise: the S350D is quieter than a Bentley Flying Spur. As quiet, possibly, as Melania Trump at breakfast time.
I tootled off to Cockermouth for morning coffee, which gave me the chance to put the Merc through its paces. But then I saw a speed camera and decided not to. The A595 is not an autobahn and the 6-cylinder diesel engine can blast the 2.2 tonne beast up to 60 in under seven seconds, before surging on to 155mph. One thing I noticed was the lack of movement from the fuel gauge, so I checked: it does an incredible 50mpg.
I watched the familiar scenery passing by like a movie on mute and felt a little like a passenger in the car I was driving. Bassenthwaite Lake, the only lake in
The calm waters of Bassenthwaite Lake, above, the only ‘lake’ in England’s Lake District, the rest are all waters. Below, Mark Porter with the super-smooth Mercedes S-Class