Scottish B-Roads in a Caterham. Mind the Sheep.
It wasn't a particularly early start for a Friday morning but the snooze function on my alarm clock was still liberally employed. From bed it was straight to the shower, then breakfast and onto the road for 06:50. It was early November and the Caterham needed one last drive before winter took hold of central Scotland.
As I left Edinburgh to pick up the car, heated seats working over time, it all seemed a bit naive. By the time I’d dropped into bucket seats bolted to the Seven the air temperature was under three degrees and I wished I’d stayed in bed.
Usually referred to as the 'hot seat'. Not so warm in November.
The first few miles were a little uncomfortable but my multilayered and cycling inspired approach to driving attire took the edge off the chill. Also, once warmed through, the engine radiated some much welcomed heat into the footwell. This had the unusual effect of creating two atmospheric conditions within a very small space - toasty from feet to waist but rather less warm from the bellybutton upwards.
Weather adaptation is only the thin end of the wedge when it comes to switching from a 'normal' car to a Caterham. Gone is everything that dampens sensations between road and driver. The road crowns, manholes and broken surfaces filtered away by a modern hot hatch scream out at you in a Caterham.
The steering wheel vibrates in your hands revealing every ripple in the surface while gravel thrown up by the rear tyres reverberates noisily within the arches like hail on a tin roof. It’s exhilarating but takes a little getting used to.
Though the user experience could easily be described as uncivilised the driving experience is anything but. The Caterham’s delicate and light on its feet. Its tiny Momo wheel requires virtually no lock to carve through corners and there’s something mesmerising about the view over the long bonnet.
Form the drivers vantage point you can see the front wheels bobbing up and down relative to the chassis as the dampers and springs work to keep the tyres locked to the tarmac. It seems fitting that such a raw car reveals its mechanical workings so openly.
By 09:30 I’d hit the B797, a beautiful road that runs from Abington to Mennock in Dumfries and Galloway. The area must see its fair share of motoring exotica as drivers head for the intoxicating blend or humps, bumps, bends and drops that make up the road.
The tarmac was sodden as I attempted the mountain pass with grey clouds blocking the sun’s attempt to raise the temperature. The Caterham’s feisty in the wet at the best of times but with the rear anti-roll bar connected and the loose surface of the B797, conditions were treacherous.
I built pace slowly as I travelled south gaining confidence in the grip available but never provoking the car as you might in the dry. Smooth inputs were the order of the day.
Only on the trip back to Abington on the B740 did I take things up a notch becoming more positive with throttle inputs and more assertive with my initial turn in. Despite the conditions the front axle was reliably direct and though the rear tyres transitioned from grip to slip very quickly, minor steering corrections were all that was required to straighten things out.
With the B740 complete I turned the car’s snout north for the journey home whereupon I discovered the Caterham's peculiar talent for collecting Autumn leaves. A frustrating clean up session ensued before the car cover was draped over the bright bodywork and the garage lights turned off.
Time now for hibernation.