The United Kingdom drives on the left side of the road, just like India. But that’s about as much similarity as you’ll find between the two countries’ roads. We take the Mercedes-AMG C43 for a spin from Barnstaple to Newquay. By Bunny Punia
Freedom means different things to different people. For me, it translates into solo road trips, which help me escape from the daily 9-to-5 grind and explore new destinations with breathtaking vistas at my own pace. In June this year, my voyage was on the scenic ocean route from Barnstaple to Newquay in the United Kingdom in one of the best performance saloons in the world—the Mercedes-AMG C43.
My official reason to be in the UK was to attend the MGLive! 2018 at the holy grail of motorsports in the country, the Silverstone Circuit. The road trip started at Kettering, which was my base for the weekend, and it was here that Mercedes- Benz UK delivered the stunning AMG C43.
There are two ways to reach Barnstaple from Kettering—the quicker one includes a series of motorways, but the scenic option passes through countryside stretches via the ‘A’ roads. I took the latter, of course, driving with the sunroof open. My first pit-stop was Stevenage, where a hot Indian meal awaited me. By early noon, I was back on the road for the four-hour drive to Barnstaple.
You cover ground rapidly in countries like the UK, courtesy of generous speed limits (112 km/h on roads with a divider and 96 km/h on others). This, coupled with excellent road manners, means that it is easy to cover 90 kilometres every hour without even trying. But when you are new to a country, you want to capture as many vistas as possible and end up stopping a lot. There are designated parking stops by the highway for this.
Barnstaple is often referred to as the oldest borough in the UK, situated just a few kilometres away from the Bristol Channel. Days being extremely long in June, daylight persisted till 9 pm, and I continued to the famous Watermouth Castle, a 200-year-old structure that now houses holiday apartments.
With less than an hour left for sunset, I made a quick dash to a popular vantage point for a bird’s-eye view of the Hele Bay and the little town of Ilfracombe. What better way to start an ocean run than wide views of the open sea and beach- side cliffs. The drive back to Barnstaple was in the dark with the optional performance exhaust of the AMG C43 belting out the purest form of motoring music echoing through the countryside.
Day two began on a late note. I opted for an early brunch at the beaches of Barricane, Woolacombe, and Putsborough. These three touristy spots are located one after another and make for the perfect pit-stop, thanks to multiple cafes and ample secluded spots to sunbathe at. I journeyed onwards on my ocean route but not without a detour—the narrow and challenging Challacombe hill road that rewarded me with a splendid view of lush green valleys. These places also allow you to enjoy a car like the AMG C43 as the winding roads invite you to put the car through its paces while enjoying all those crackles, pop-corns, and burbles via the exhaust.
The A39 leading to Newquay offers its own share of views. There are ample detours going down to the ocean side, but I had already experienced that aspect. Laid-back roadside cafes are rare, but if you do find one, stop and bite into local delicacies. I was also surprised by the number of windmills, including a pretty vintage one, which proved very Instagrammable.
Set by the Atlantic Ocean, Newquay is a surfer’s paradise. The town is pretty big
and has an old-world charm infused in its architecture. My overnight accommodation here was quite different, as I wanted to experience the communal nature of hostel life and mingle with tourists from around the world.
By 3 pm, I had parked the Mercedes and embarked on a walk—first to Huer’s Hut, a 14th-century lookout that overlooks the Newquay Bay. It took me to the Fistral Beach, considered one of the most popular surfing beaches in the UK. The town area satiated my shopping urges and hunger pangs.
With my flight back to India scheduled in the afternoon the next day and a 400-kilometre drive ahead of me, it was wise to leave early in the morning. And although speeding cameras are common on both ‘A’ roads and motorways, I could not resist the temptation of testing the 362 horsepower of the 3.0-litre V6 engine beneath my car’s hood. That last day saw the C43 push itself to 100 km/h in less time than what it took you to read this sentence. (Just 4.7 seconds to be precise.) With the windows rolled up and the drive mode set to ‘Sports’, I sped along the A30 and later the M3 motorway to Heathrow airport.
DRIVING TIPS FOR THE UK
- You drive on the left, just like you do in India.
- Honking is a big No
- Change lanes only after giving an indicator.
- Fuel is expensive : Rs135 per litre
- Fuel stations are self-service. You fill, walk in, and pay.
- Speeding fines are heavy. Stick to the speed limits.
- On a circle, one who is already in the roundabout gets priority.
- Park in designated zones only; most are paid.
- Car rentals from Heathrow are economical, if booked online.