Heart of the county

Outside the George Inn

Outside the George Inn - Credit: Archant

The Route

Wraith interior

Wraith interior - Credit: Archant

A Great Drive to the heart of the county, taking in some of the best roads Somerset has to offer culminating in a gathering of precious metals and fine dining! Starting off just over the border in Bradford-on –Avon, where a stroll along the canal to admire the brightly coloured boats sets you up for a scenic countryside jaunt.

Leave Bradford-on-Avon on the B3109 to join the A366 heading for Farleigh Hungerford and its Castle, complete with 14th-century chapel and gatehouse. Cross over the A36 to remain on the A366 to be greeted by The George Inn at the junction with the B3110. The George Inn was made famous by Judge Jefferies who used the Inn as his court when prosecuting those who took part in the Bloody Assizes which followed the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685.

With that chilling thought, continue straight over the junction to continue on the A366 with its high hedgerows and sweeping bends. Press on through Faulkland, looking out for the 16th-century village stocks and onwards to the crossroads with the A362.

Stocks at Faulkland

Stocks at Faulkland - Credit: Archant

Continue straight over to join the B3139, down the hill and under the railway arch on your way to the picturesque village of Kilmersdon. Continue on the B3139 though the hamlet of Charlton to the junction with the A367, where it’s left to join the Fosse Way with signposts for Stratton-on-the-Fosse, where upon arrival you will find Downside Abbey and School situated on the right hand side.

Our Great Drive coincided with the Downside School concours d’elegance, organised as part of the school’s bicentenary celebrations. The inaugural concours event was an instant success with exhibitors and visitors alike. The Wraith rubbed shoulders with past masters from Rolls-Royce’s history, including a delightful Phantom 1 which towered above the already substantial Wraith!

Other cars of interest included one of only seven Squires made by Adrian Squire in the 1930s. Adrian was once a student at the school and many of the Squire family gathered to witness the return of one of Adrian’s cars. However for me the star of the show was a jewel-like 1927 Bugatti Type 37A! A roaring success, this sociable and intimate event will no doubt return in the coming years and is a must for your diary.

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As is becoming traditional with our Great Drive articles we finish with a visit to a great eatery; situated a couple of miles from the school is the Holcombe Inn in the village of Holcombe. Boasting AA 5 star accommodation and some truly mouth watering food, this well-appointed country inn is now on my top 10 list of great pubs of Somerset! May I suggest a short post lunch walk to the ancient Saxon Church of Holcombe? Of significant historical significance, the church has a memorial in the church grounds to Captain Scott of Antarctic whose parents once owned Holcombe Manor. It’s amazing what you can find in Somerset!

Rolls-Royce Wraith with the Phantom

Rolls-Royce Wraith with the Phantom - Credit: Archant

The Car:

Rolls-Royce Wraith

Power, style and drama are the choice superlatives that Rolls-Royce use to describe the latest motoring masterpiece to join its exclusive range of motor cars. Named the Wraith, Rolls-Royce has revived a name first used by the company in 1938; chosen for its potent, agile and spirited connotations, which perfectly encapsulate the design philosophy of this driver-orientated model.

This is the most powerful machine in Rolls-Royce’s history (without wings or a hull). In the past it was traditional for vulgarities such as performance figures to be simply described as ‘adequate’, whilst the Wraith boasts of its 624 bhp produced from a 6.6 litre, twin turbo-charged V12 engine, as well as its rest to 60mph time of just 4.6 seconds. The experience can only be described as turbine-like with a seamless wall of power relentlessly building like an aircraft taking off and never appearing to peak.

Feeling poised, agile and engaging on Somerset’s sweeping country roads, the Wraith responds in a way no contemporary Rolls-Royce has done before. The beautifully proportioned steering wheel is a delight, with appropriately weighted power steering suiting the Wraith’s engineering ethos. Subtle growls from the potent V12 engine permeate the cabin, along with the occasional crackle from the exhausts completing the sensory experience.

The Wraith features Satellite Aided Transmission. Using GPS data and the navigation system to predict the road ahead, the gearbox automatically chooses the right gear to ensure power delivery remains seamless. Electronically controlled air suspension creates that obligatory magic carpet ride, whilst the eight-speed gearbox never appears to change gear, providing the perception of an infinite first gear. The Wraith’s driving experience really can only be described as the perfection of refinement and driver engagement encapsulated in one machine.

Entering the cabin feels akin to boarding a luxury yacht. Open the coach-styled door to be greeted by an interior that delivers on the promises of the rakish exterior. Contoured open grain Canadel wood door panelling set at 55 degrees provide a contemporary signature statement. The finest Phantom-grade natural grain leather adorns the minimalist designed seats and dashboard whilst your shoes sink into soft wool carpets. Book-matched carpentry and Art Deco influences provide design continuity to the rest of the Rolls-Royce range. The attention to detail can only be described as flawless. I particularly liked the the blood orange needle tips for the speedometer and power reserve gauge, subtly alluding to the Wraith’s agility and performance capabilities!

The Wraith is undoubtedly a sleek powerful machine that would have appealed to co-founder and pioneering aviator Charles Rolls if he were alive today, whilst conforming to the engineering principles of Sir Henry Royce, whose philosophy was to ‘take the best that exists and make it better and when it does not exist, design it’. After spending a week with this beautiful machine, I just didn’t want to give it back – motoring perfection!