Welcome back, car lovers! Your fellow petrolhead is taking you on another road trip this week (you may remember me from such articles as ‘Born to be wild! – a UK coast-to-coast road trip to try’!). I’m in a bit of retro mood this week, probably due to TFI Friday returning to our screens. Thankfully, Lord Christopher of Evans didn’t attempt to recreate the very, very slow-motion car crash that was that Lewis Hamilton interview. Anyhow, enough nostalgia, onto the stuff with wheels!
To balance out last time’s Northern focus, this week we’re driving as South as you can on the British mainland, with a trip from Margate to the Western edge of Cornwall through some classic UK seaside and retro options!
What do I drive this time?
A couple of considerations this time round. This road trip is a biggie – over 400 miles – so we want to be relatively comfortable and not reach Cornwall with several dislocated vertebrae. It might also be nice to be a little understated this time in contrast to our previous Jag F-Type or Mazda MX-5, so we don’t stand out too much in the smaller seaside towns on route.
The solution: hot hatches – sensible small-to-mid sized cars on steroids. The ‘ST’ variants of the Ford Fiesta and Ford Focus are great starting points, both combining the practicality of their parent models with sub-7 second 0-60 times. Renault also offer a spicy small and mid-sized pairing with the ‘Renaultsport’ versions of the Clio, and Megane, the latter being particularly hardcore. There are even more pairs: Seat’s ‘Cupra’ Ibiza and Leon, and Vauxhall’s ‘VXR’ Corsa and Astra. A final one to throw in for consideration – the Peugeot 208 GTI. This had to be here as it’s the first Peugeot to decently honour the memory of its legendary predecessor, the ‘80s Peugeot 205 GTI, a car I still lust after today.
Where do I go this time?
We kick off in Margate (right at the south-east tip, down and off the M2/A2), which is an up-and-coming seaside town. And I genuinely mean up-and-coming – not like when a London estate agent says an area is ‘up-and-coming’ which really means that your best-case scenario is to avoid getting mugged on the way to the tube. There’s now the Turner Contemporary Art gallery there, they’ve re-opened the vintage Dreamland theme park complete with ‘scenic railway’ wooden rollercoaster, and there’s loads of those little artisan shops selling stuff my mum loves.
Next stop is Dover to see the white cliffs – they’re obligatory, and actually quite awesome with a cool castle on top and a clifftop path to stroll, right at the end of the A2. Hastings is close by, so swing by there (via a nice stretch of coastal A-road) and learn something other than “it happened in 1066”. An easy hour-and-a-bit drive brings you onto Brighton next for some camp partying, great food and piers. Try to ignore the hordes of Londoners who are unreasonably excited about seeing the sea. Also, try to keep your engine under 2000rpm to avoid alerting any preachy Green Party voters to your presence. (No, I don’t want a Prius. No, buses are horrible. No, trains are stupidly expensive and slow.)
By now you’ve earned a decent break, so book yourself into Butlins Bognor Regis, another hour westward on small coastal roads, for an Adult Music Weekend. Take your pick of 70s, 80s or 90s acts – I warned you I was feeling retro. It’s fun, provided you maintain a keen sense of irony throughout.
You start the next day near the New Forest, so you could crack on an hour via motorway past Portsmouth and Southampton, to take time to get out of the car and go for a walk amongst the trees and other miscellaneous nature.
If you haven’t yet had your fill of seaside towns there’s Bournemouth and Poole nearby via easy A-roads, or else branch off for an hour northwards to visit Yeovil Aerodrome (where you can check out Alan Partridge’s worries about that party hosted by Jet from Gladiators…).
We’re on the home stretch now, but first blast down to Dartmoor National Park and cross it roughly heading from Exeter to Plymouth to find some nice twisty roads over the moors where you can give your tyres a healthy dose of lateral G-force.
Finally, we can head into Cornwall, having of course asked permission from seafood king Rick Stein who pretty much owns it all. If your wetsuit is in the boot, you can surf in Newquay (about 1.5 hours from Plymouth), before heading a final hour down the National Trust Heritage Coast to end your trip in Penzance – where you can enjoy singing along with those musical pirates.
Enjoy rediscovering the South Coast, retro-style – and if you need help on your road trip, find your nearest Perrys dealership and contact them.