Harptree delights to military might

The Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe at Harptree Court.

The Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe at Harptree Court. - Credit: Archant

From Harptree Court to Bovington Tank Museum - more like a magical mystery tour than a Great Drive

A close up of the tower

A close up of the tower - Credit: Archant

The Route:

On a Great Drive that pays tribute to the brave souls that fought for King and country 100 years ago, our scenic tour journeys across the west country linking ship builders that supported the war effort to revolutionary mechanised machines that changed the course of the Great War.

Custodians of Harptree Court, Charles and Linda Hill, are the decendants of one of Bristol’s largest and most prolific ship builders, Charles Hill and Sons. During World War One the company built transport ships for the war effort with illustrious names such as SS War Musket and SS War Rapier.

Nestled in the Chew Valley, between West and East Harptree, Harptree Court with its beautifully landscaped parkland is today a luxury 5 star Bed and Breakfast and has featured in various television programmes, most recently the backdrop for The Great British Bake Off in 2012 and 2013. Its tranquil surroundings offer a very special night away from the pressures of life. Waking up with views over the parkland was pure heaven. Full after a hearty English breakfast, we set off southward across our county.

Join the B3114 in the direction of Litton to pick up the A39 in Chewton Mendip. Head due south over the Mendip Hills and into the city of Wells, remaining on the A39 now with signposts to Glastonbury. Negotiate the town centre passing the Tor on your left hand side and continue on the A39 until you reach Street, where you pick up the B3151 through Compton Dundon.

Skirt the charming town of Somerton and continue on, enjoying the sweeps and turns of the B3151 to the junction with the A372. It’s straight over here with signposts for Yeovil. Hook up with the A37 and enjoy the fast straight that leads you to the suburbs of Yeovil. An effective traffic management system will see you through this bustling town to remain on the A37, now with sign posts for Dorchester.

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The A37 widens out and undulates, whilst steadily gaining altitude. Shortly after passing Clay Pigeon karting track, look out for signs for Cerne Abbas with a turning off to the left hand side. Join this narrow country lane, to descend into a valley, through a ford and steeply ascend again to the plains above. Feeling more like a magical mystery tour than a Great Drive, continue to Cerne Abbas and the A352, where it’s straight over to admire this pretty village and to join another country lane, now with a bearing towards Piddletrethide and the B3143. Travel south on the B3143 to Piddlehinton and the B3142 to join the A35. Enjoy a short blast on this modern trunk road to the junction with the B3390. Join the B3390 in the direction of Crossways and then follow the signposts to Bovington. Once you start to see military vehicles invading the country roads then you know you are close to your journey’s end!

Advertised as the world’s best collection of tanks and situated in the centre of an active military base, The Tank Museum covers the complete history of one of the most formidable military machines from its British inception during the Great War of 1914 –1918, to the recent conflicts in Afghanistan.

The interior of the Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe

The interior of the Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe - Credit: Archant

Tanks first arrived in Bovington in 1916, today this beautifully presented modern museum features an extensive area depicting the battles of the First World War, starting with a trench warfare experience opening out into a hall of tanks from the Great War, vividly bringing to life the grim statistic that more tank crews died of carbon monoxide poisoning than from enemy fire.

Stirring stuff, but for me the highlight was the extremely rare Rolls-Royce armoured car. Built upon the chassis of the legendary Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost and fitted with armour plating that increased the weight to nearly four tonnes and limited top speed to 45mph! Chosen by the War Officer for their robust engineering, these machines were effective scouting vehicles in their day.

The Tank Museum was a great day out for the family; we particularly enjoyed the warhorse to horsepower exhibition and of course traveling in a tank around the purpose built arena!

Tank Museum 01929 462359 or tankmuseum.org

The Car:

It seemed fitting that we visited one of the oldest and most significant Rolls-Royce’s whilst enjoying the grandeur of one of the marque’s most imposing modern equivalents. The Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe is a car that evokes a spirit from a golden age of motoring. Oozing with art-deco styling and opulence, this is a machine to bring out the 1930s playboy in anyone who is lucky enough to take to the wheel.

The sculpted form is altogether more sporting than the four-door Phantom. The sleeker trademark grill and frontal area gives the Phantom’s regal looks a more streamlined stance. The same goes for the windscreen aperture that can be specified in brushed aluminium. The Coupe roofline with its accentuated rear buttresses completes the rakish form that speaks of opulence and prestige, but in a less formal way compared to its limousine cousin.

Slide into the cabin basking in leather and wood that has been stitched and hand formed for hundreds of hours by the master craftsmen. Beautifully polished piano black wood helps to bring the spirit of the external styling within. Sumptuous leather seats cosset you like armchairs. Whilst the dashboard echoes those of Rolls-Royce models from half a century ago, it also bristles with the latest technology, thanks to parent company BMW.

Press a button to simultaneously reveal a full size sat nav screen and i-drive controller; cleverly placed cameras make parking in tight spaces a breeze. Close the theatrical suicide doors via discreet buttons and clasp the beautifully slim line steering wheel.

The ghostly quiet 6.75 litre turbocharged 12-cylinder engine provides ‘ample’ performance according to Rolls-Royce, with a power reserve gauge instead of a rev counter to demonstrate this. A new eight-speed gearbox changes gear so seamlessly you don’t even notice. The ride seems magical and not even the most vicious of British potholes can unsettle the perfectly smooth ride qualities.

Wafting along quiet B-roads doesn’t get any better than in a Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe! The hushed refinement and comfort relaxes your mood and you soon find any urgency of your trip is lost in the Coupe’s luxury. As the sun starts to set, illuminate the celestial roof lining to keep your rear seat passengers entertained, even on the longest of journeys.

With a starting price of £279,100 - and our test car costing considerably more - the price of a Phantom Coupe is as imposing as the car itself. However the opportunity to hold that beautiful steering wheel, admire the Spirit of Ecstasy at the end of the bonnet and experience the seamless power was a dream come true.

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