Great Drives of Somerset – SS Great Britain to Lynton & Lynmouth

This month Somerset Life marks the 160th anniversary of a great British endeavour with a tour of the county's Victorian landmarks

Great Drives of Somerset – SS Great Britain to Lynton & Lynmouth 

This month Somerset Life marks the 160th anniversary of a great British endeavour with a tour of the county’s Victorian landmarks   

Words Mark whitchurch

The Route:

This month’s Great Drive is inspired by the Victorian’s determination to conquer the sea and land with mechanical genius. We start our journey at the SS Great Britain at the centre of the historic ‘floating harbour’ in Bristol. 2012 marks the 160th anniversary of this, the first iron hulled steams ship’s maiden voyage to Australia. After a fruitful career and then decades of decay in the Falkland Islands, she now sits majestic again in the dry dock in which she was originally built. Thanks to lottery funding to revitalise this seafaring landmark, she is now a superb attraction with entertainment for all the family.

We head south from Bristol on the A38 past Barrow Tanks, another Victorian feat of engineering to provide the city of Bristol with clean water. Continue for some 30 miles to Bridgwater, still a thriving industrial town but more importantly for our drive, the gateway to the Quantock Hills. Join the A39 heading west first to the market town of Cannington and then onwards to Nether Stowey with the imposing bracken covered Quantock Hills stretching out before you.  As the road starts to narrow, look out for the Castle of Comfort at Dodington. This charming 16th century building is rumoured to have once been the meeting place for pirates of the English coast to dispose of their loot! Now a delightful coffee stop, if the mood suits.

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The A39 continues to Williton. Select the B3191 to the beautiful harbour town of Watchet complete with chic boutique shops. The B3191 then hugs the coast on its way to Blue Anchor before rejoining the A39 at Carhampton, where a visit to Chris’s Crackers antique and reclamation yard is an eye opening break from the drive. Or with just a few miles to Dunster Castle, how about a visit to this enchanting castle, perfect for an affluent Victorian family.

The A39 now tracks the coastline with the Exmoor foothills starting to rise up to the left. Dropping down into Porlock provides the option of continuing on the A39 or selecting one of the picturesque toll roads that wind up to the top of Exmoor, either way the vista at the top on a sunny day takes your breath away and reminds you why we put up with all the rain in this country!

Near journey’s end, we continue to enjoy the views and fast roads that stretch out across the moor before descending down Countisbury Hill to Lynmouth. A wonderful town to explore, but don’t miss out on a trip to Lynton via the cliff railway, opened in 1890 to link the two towns for commerce and tourism, a job it maintains to this day.

“This charming 16th century building is rumoured to have once been the meeting  place for pirates of the English coast to dispose of their loot”

The car:

Bentley Motors has come over all environmentally self-conscious with their latest model. Back in 2008, whilst the world was losing its financial head, Bentley made a promise to make its thirsty Continental GT model 40% more efficient. A monumental challenge which they have achieved with the help of parent company, Volkswagen.

Introducing the Continental GT V8. Identified on the road by its red label badges and figure of eight shaped exhaust pipes. Externally, this V8 model otherwise maintains its classy, with a hint of reserve, chiselled good looks. Our test vehicle with its dark grey metallic paint and cream leather interior complemented with piano black wood provided motoring of the highest luxury with the dark hue contrasting sharply with the bright blue sunshine.

Under the skin this is an entirely different car to the existing 6.0 litre W12 offering. A new twin turbo 4.0 litre V8 engine developed in conjunction with Audi, also part of the Volkswagen Empire, is brimming with technical brilliance.  Functions such as only running on four cylinders whilst on light throttle help to make big economic gains.

Combined with a new seamless eight speed gearbox, fuel consumption has increased from the W12’s rather rude 17.1 mpg to a slightly more sociable 26.1 mpg. Performance-wise, on paper this new model lacks the punch of its W12 cousin. The new V8 engine produces 500bhp, providing a potential top speed of 188 mph and a sprint to 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds. All statistics that would be beaten by the W12 in a game of top trumps!

However, on the road, thanks to that new gearbox keeping the engine in its peak torque range for a greater amount of time, performance is little affected in relation to that of the W12 model with warp speed acceleration on tap at a press of the accelerator. Such performance combined with a 1,000 mile range fuel tank combine to make this a stand out car in its market.

Technical enhancement hasn’t just been reserved for the oily bits. An upgraded interior now features an eight channel, eight speaker stereo system, with 15 GB of storage for music., which can be played via an iPod, MP3 player, the car’s own six-disc CD changer or even an SD card.

I am a firm fan of the Bentley Continental GT, which beautifully combines Germanic engineering with British craftsmanship. This new V8 model maintains this delicate blend, whilst giving a polite nod to its environment impact, surely making it the Continental GT model of choice.

Now starting at �123,850.

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