Sunday Herald, July 2014
In the fast lane to my affections
With the key to a classic convertible, the deep throaty roar of the engine and the dramatic glacial landscape of the Lake District, Susan Barr is smitten.
Some rituals, when performed, can transport you through time and take you to forgotten places. For example, slipping vinyl out of its sleeve and on to the record player. Or the gentle winding of an old watch. Or the thump-thump-thump of the typewriter keys. First there is joy as memories come flooding back. Then there is a sad, wistful smile and contentment washes over us as as remember with affection the mountain of scrunched-up pieces of paper thrown wearily into the bin and crackly old record trundling around as the needle casually bobbed up and down.
So it was with the turning of the key in one car's ignition. A convertible classic car in a gorgeous ruby red and sporting a tasty biscuit-coloured leather interior, Carmen was a cheeky little girl with one aim - to capture hearts. For those of a more practical nature, this was a fully restored 1971 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Cabriolet built on the same chassis as the much loved Beetle.
Carmen may not have power steering, but she did sport an electronic clock and built-in fog lights and this was the fastest production VW of its day, winning much appreciation among car enthusiasts.
Now it was time for Carmen to work her magic on me. I had arrived well prepared, armed with maps, picnic and headscarf (to avoid the Bridget Jones moment) and, after a brief formal introduction we were left unchaperoned.
Fortune was smiling on us. The sun was beaming through the clouds and Carmen's roof was down, revealing the classic beauty in all her glory.
The rounded, smooth lines of the bodywork was a sharp contrast to modern aerodynamic lines designed to cut through the air and reduce fuel consumption. To rediscover the real joy of driving there had to be sacrifices and an extra visit to the petrol pump seemed a small price to pay.
I had planned a route, but it soon became apparent that Carmen was taking me on a very different journey. Even hours spent trudging around the muddy fields of classic car shows and admiring the old wrecks lovingly and painstakingly restored to their former glory had failed to prepare me for what lay ahead.
With the turn of the key, the deep, raspy engine fired into life. That was the moment I was transported back to my childhood and memories of our first family car - a light-blue Ford Anglia. It had none of the trappings of modern cars, but oozed character. Sometime just before the appearance of a wistful smile, I remember thinking 'how on earth did we manage without power steering?'
Then I remembered the answer... and the finely honed arm muscles. The steering wheel was big but manageable, the brakes felt strange and the gear lever was tall and lanky, but Carmen was quirky, fun and fantastic to drive.
It was like rummaging in the back of your wardrobe and unearthing that old jumper your Auntie Jean knitted. You know it might not be the height of fashion and the design isn't perfect. You may even have newer jumpers and warmer jumpers. But sometimes that old misshapen jumper just feels right.
Tentatively we ventured on to the roads of the Lake District. They were narrow and tortuous, flanked by old stone houses. Carmen effortlessly coasted round the bends, her compact chassis the perfect match for the winding streets. It was as though this little car had found her spiritual home.
Modern cars are a testament to advancements in engineering that have brought more gizmos than you can shake a stick at. As a classic car, Carmen had different attributes - poise, presence, personality and the ability to turn heads - that brought their own rewards.
She made friends with everyone. Tourists, farmers, shopkeepers and other motorists all admired this little bit of motoring history. Children waved and drivers waited patiently, giving the Karmann priory at junctions. Heading away from civilisation and deep into the dramatic glacial landscape, we were dwarfed by the hills along Kirkstone Pass that leads from Ullswater to Windermere. The car hugged the bends and the engine roared as it climbed, the sounds echoing through the valleys.
Arriving in Windermere, we headed for a well-earned rest at a luxurious country house hotel nestling high above the town with breathtaking views over the lake.
While Carmen sat soaking up the admiring glances from owners of luxury cars twice her size, I indulged in a spot of afternoon tea and a rest in a luxurious suite overlooking some of the sprawling 14 acres of well-manicured grounds.
The old-fashioned standards with the highest quality service combine with modern, well-equipped facilities to earn Linthwaite a fine reputation. Attention to detail really is everything, with staff providing service that is faultless. A particularly impressive touch with the turning-down of beds, with housekeeping leaving a personalised note giving the weather forecast for the following day. Ideal for walkers and those lucky enough to be venturing out in a cheeky little red car. There are even in-room spa treatments available for residents.
Linthwaite House is also the epitome of fine living and fine dining. Head chef Chris O'Callaghan brings a passion for eclectic British food and combines the best of local produce with exact culinary techniques.
It was the taste of luxury, quality and old-fashioned style... and, just like Carmen, the cause of much wistful smiling.