The wind in your hair

In Axbridge

In Axbridge - Credit: Mark Whitchurch

WORDS: Mark G Whitchurch

Datsun at the motor museum

Datsun at the motor museum - Credit: Mark Whitchurch

A Great Drive for those who like a turn of speed and the wind in their hair across Somerset and into neighbouring Wiltshire before admiring examples of a more relaxed motoring era and sampling the offerings of a picturesque 17th century thatched inn.

We start our journey in the historic village of Axbridge, which can trace its history back to the reign of King Alfred when it was part of the Saxons’ defence system for Wessex against the Vikings.

Prospering as a market town in medieval times, its High Street and Market Square still retain their charm and character from these bygone times.

The Market Square is dominated by King John’s Hunting Lodge, which dates back to around 1460 and is now a museum.

Time to hit the road; join the A371 as its passes through Cheddar and through the villages of Draycott and Rodney Stoke on its way to Wells.

Remain on the A371 as it winds its way through tree lined valleys via the charming village of Croscombe with its medieval houses and beautiful 17th century church.

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Continue to Shepton Mallet and past the site of the Anglo-Bavarian Brewery, now the Anglo Trading Estate, originally established in the 1860’s.

It’s claimed to be the place where lager was first brewed in the United Kingdom!

Pass through the market town of Shepton Mallet to join the A361 towards Frome, a lovely flowing road.

Why not pause for breath at the East Somerset Railway near Cranmore for a steam train experience?

Before entering Frome, branch right to join the A362, an undulating road that passes through Corsley Heath and past the National Trust site at Cley Hill, a picturesque spot for a walk.

Then pass the entrance to the Longleat Safari Park and onto the A36, skirting the town of Warminster, continuing on the A36 towards Salisbury and turning right onto the B390 just before the village of Knook.

You are now possibly on one of the greatest driving roads in the South West. Enjoy the wonderful vista across Salisbury Plain with a road that twists and turns like those of northern France. As the yellow and green patchwork landscape whooshes past, slow for the immaculate village of Chitterne before more of the same.

At the junction with the A360, turn left and head towards the villages of West Lavington and Littleton Panell guide you to Devizes to pick up the A361 across the North Down and joining the A4 in the direction of Calne, where we pick up the brown tourism signs for the Atwell-Wilson Motor Museum.

A charming yet eclectic collection of motoring memorabilia started by the late Richard Atwell-Wilson and now a charitable trust run by a dedicated band of volunteers. Stunning vintage machinery rubs shoulders with a rare 9X prototype Mini and a fine collection of motorbikes includes an extremely rare Brough Superior SS80.

Located just a short drive along the country lanes from the Museum is the Ivy Inn at Heddington. We enjoyed a very tasty locally sourced ham sandwich, the perfect light lunch before another blast across Salisbury Plain and back into Somerset.

The Car:

Unveiled to a select lucky few at the Le Man 24 hour race nearly a decade ago, the Audi R8 was billed as just a concept car by the PR officials, a design study to gain interest in such a car, you know. With Audi just starting its long run of victories at the famous 24 hour endurance race, the R8 was indeed well received and rumours of production soon followed.

As the Audi race cars have evolved so has the R8, whilst the race cars have gained a roof the R8 has lost its. Now available with the 5.0 litre V10 motor shared the Lamborghini Gallardo, the R8 has moved up a gear to become a true supercar contender.

However clever Audi engineers have not only made a machine that is capable of 198mph, but is also happy to do the daily commute. Not many supercars can truly do that.

This phenomenon is partly thanks to the R8’s new dual clutch DSG gearbox, which replaces the old R-tronic robotized manual gearbox. Called S-tronic the new gearbox can be silky smooth in normal mode, making that trip to the office a comfortable one, or press the sports button and the F1 style paddles behind the steering wheel can be used to shift gears at lightning speed resulting in electrifying performance!

The brutish good looks of the R8 have grown on me over the years, it looks very much the supercar, low, sleek and wide as well as harking back to Audi’s race history with design ques from the legendary Auto Union Grand Prix cars of the 1930’s. Curiously the R8 never looks flash like a Ferrari or Lamborghini; it has this sort of understatedness about it, which makes it unique in its market place.

The driving experience mirrors the engineering, exhilaration but un-terrifying at the same time. The four wheel drive Quattro drive system and an excellent chassis, matched to that new gearbox and V10 engine combine to create a supercar that is useable on normal roads and doesn’t need to be taken to a race track for its exercise. Whereas a Ferrari would feel twitchy in damp conditions, the R8 remains surefooted and planted. You never feel you are near its limit of adhesion.

The interior is Audi at its best, class leading materials, mixed with leather and alloy to create a sculpture that doubles as an ergonomic cabin! A roof that raises and lowers on the move ensures you can dodge those British rain storms whilst making the most of the sun.

For me the lasting memory will be the howl from that V10 engine sitting inches behind your head, all I now need is the £100,000 to make the experience more permanent!