National Lampoon's Staycation
Lockdown road trips - Driving for distance in two disciplines.
If you're like me, all lock down did was increase your want for adventure - waking up every day like Father Jack; "I'm still on that feckin' island!". The travel bug runs deep & being denied something you love makes you want it more than ever; in my case 2020 has denied me SE, I mean intercontinental road trips, something I love dearly. Like everyone I had grand plans for 2020 - a European trip with a visit to Le Mans and the Pyrenees which were cancelled immediately when the bats took hold. But I didn't want this year to be a loss so once travel internally was allowed I hit up the WhatsApp group with a task; a fun day out on good UK roads to satisfy our needs for adventure.
What makes a good day road trip?
Pretty easy really; good company, good roads, good cars, good grub. I personally find the goods roads part the hardest to plan for, everyone knows Europe is full of hidden gems and famous passes but the UK, especially England, didn't get that memo. Sure everyone knows the saying 'good roads are everywhere, you just need to know where to find them' but that's easier said than done if you don't know where to look, and don't have unlimited free time and fuel to go exploring. Google searching for good routes also doesn't lend much help if you're in the Midlands either, some Facebook posts come up with some Pistonheads threads from the bronze age but it's hard to get a straight answer - I've been lucky enough to have found a very good group of experienced car friends to fill that Google-Gap. Through them and various drives we've done I have been able to put together some 'good' routes, so if you're reading this and looking for a decent UK route in the Midlands or going from the Midlands please help yourself:
Circa June 2020, stunning weather and the first variant of the route around the peaks.
Circa September 2018, days road trip with Matt & Dale to the lakes. Image by Matt Fairbrother Videography.
The Soup of the day.
We started off with wanting to go to North Wales, none of us had driven the Evo Triangle or the roads near by, so we started planning a route & rallying the troops, however no sooner had we got some hype together the Bats had a different idea and banned travel from England into Wales; so it was abandoned. Having done a drive in June to the Peaks, just three of us, we decided another route around the Peaks would suit, but differing somewhat to before and adding the famous Snake Pass to the mix. The cars to join us this time are in no particular order; 2019 Mazda MX5 2.0 ND2 (The Anime), 2006 Ford Mondeo 2.2TDCi (The Pension), 2014 Alfa Romeo Giulietta QV (The Espresso), 2016 BMW 330d M-Sport (The Rep), 2020 BMW M2 Competition (The M-Deuce) & 2020 Ford Fiesta ST MK8 (The Asbo).
Quit Stalin, tell me about the drive.
You saw through the web links adding to the word count did you? Ok fine, the drive on this day was unfortunately a little hit and miss; part of the nature of covid road trips I suppose. In the beginning there was nothing... then later we met at McDonald's in Chesterfield and talked shop about each others cars; we hit the road and headed north - if you start in Chesterfield on the route up to the Peaks you get a good few miles of dual carriage way to stretch your legs before the twistier stuff. That blows by quickly and you're at the lovely tree lined roads and small hamlets; sadly crammed with people & other living things preventing any real pace to the point of a full stop traffic jam at the cattle crossing on Winnats Pass; as caused by moving wool.
Unlike I, the sheep we're uninterested in my driving Skittles.
End of Act 1.
Act 2. The brief but repeated steep hill starts was too much for The Espresso's TCT gearbox which promptly overheated exclaiming 'See Manuel'. Unaware of this myself and the two cars in front of the limping Alfa got past the sheep and got some sweet, sweet open road time. The roads up here really are amazing, and while people do know about the peak district its just not thought of usually when thinking of UK driving roads... NC500, the Lakes, the new Forest and Yorkshire Mores fine but the Peaks are a seemingly forgotten gem. Sparrowpit Buxton A623 is a new local (or semi-local) jewel, the drop on the left and shallow wall on the right give a European like feeling of height; fantastic views down the valley with nice flowing bends, nothing crazy but just very enjoyable & when left alone the road is big enough to use some variable valve timing - the type of road to make you say things like "she's built like a Steakhouse but she handles like a Bistro".
Back to Giuseppe the fallen Alfa, I'm writing this from my point of view (obviously) and I wasn't there so I can't say for what comedy ensued - it was quickly noted that we were down some members and made a beeline for the Morrisons Chapel En Le Frith car park to regroup.
Kia not part of our group.
End of Act 2.
Snake Oil and Lambing
Act 3. After regrouping, draining our collective lizards in the urinals, and stocking up on more driving Skittles we headed off again up to the Snake Pass. A road that is known among our community as a bit of gem, and also quite infamous outside of our community for accidents; however it is also a road that all of us have driven previously in solitude with satisfaction and not done in any of our current cars, so it was a must have. If you're going to do a drive in the Peaks and you haven't been before its basically a 'Best of the Peaks' in one road, provided its quiet of course.
And it was quiet for us, so quiet in fact it was closed. Google Maps did try and warn us in fairness as we got closer to it, but as the straight shooting men we are, we chose to ignore that and go anyway figuring a can-do attitude that put men on the moon. And I'm glad we did, as if we didn't we wouldn't have found the A624; a road that didn't look anything special on Google maps, just a normal-ish A road that none of us had driven before and didn't bother to Google Street view beforehand, but this turned out to be the our favorite road of the day. Similar to the A623 mentioned earlier, lovely views down the valleys, tree lined with Autumnal colours but nice and open, flowing bends, hardly any traffic - its probably quite fair to say it shone brighter than it normally would have if we had gotten a quiet Winnats Pass or any Snake Pass at all, but driving up to the start of the serpent road, and back down to the lovely Lamb Inn pub we saw on the way up we got a very good feel for this road with one of us describing it as the 'lovely pass'; not me of course, that's not pretentious enough for me to have come up with it.
Onto the Lamb Inn. We saw it on the way up, noted the location, car park & the probability of beer after a failed Snake Pass. In to the car park, and into the pub in one smooth move, quickly told it was full... so we settled for outside. A little chilly but beverages and delicious roasts kept us warm.
Sorry Mondeo, you parked elsewhere.
And we come to the point I want to make with this post, even on a not perfect driving day like this was thanks to early shade and excessive traffic at the start - I think I speak for all us that given the difficulty this year as given; being together, talking cars, enjoying a drive, chatting crap and having a laugh was very much needed - man love. Stop sniggering at the back I didn't say men in love, just man love.
Sorry for the sop, but very happy to have a group of friends like these, good company, good roads, good cars, good grub.
End of Act 3.