The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS - MARK PORTER

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

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