Time for a bit of mountain tripping and myth-busting!
You are mad they said. You’ll freeze they said. You won’t know cold like it they said. And god forbid what they said about my levels of comfort and what this treacherous little car would do to my hearing, let alone if it rained. Does it even have a roof???? Crazy crazy idiocy was all I heard in the two weeks after my friend and owner of this supposed nutty vehicle, Tom Ashmore, had invited me to co-pilot with him in his beautiful brand new Gulf Blue Caterham 7 across the Pyrenees from Santander to Mallorca. Well, for those that know me well enough all these warnings of doom and gloom had the exact opposite effect and made my stubbornness flare to the ceiling as my determination to ‘grin and bear it’, no matter what (with the aid of a hastily packed hot water bottle) shone through.
Well…first off, grinning, yes, but bearing was not required. It has a roof. Albeit a removable roof, but a roof nonetheless. And this has a very interesting effect when combined with one of the many optional extras that Tom had specced the car with, a heater. And this had the curious effect of making the car warm. In fact not just warm but toasty warm, to the point that for one of the legs of the drive we were literally in short sleeves. My poor little hot water bottle never stood a chance.
The next thing that I realised after I had ungracefully clambered my way through the lifting window/door entry to the car for the first time, when Tom came and picked me up at Stanstead, was actually how roomy the it was. My legs literally didn’t reach the end of the footwell. I know I’m not the tallest at 5’6” but even a 6 footer would have no problem stretching out in her (depending on the amount of luggage of course). So that was another myth scratched off the list. Roof – check. Warm – check. Spacious – check. Comfortable – double bucket seat check. All that was really left was the noise…
The noise, oh my god the noise. I still hear it in my dreams now. And yes, dreams, not nightmares. The noise that car makes rumbles through you like living adrenalin. It turns every head, makes small children point and old men smile. It is deep, guttural, throaty and just wait until you get into a tunnel. How we didn’t set off landslides I’ll never know. It is a living part of the car. They are going to have to make an electric version at some point, but it’s going to need to come replete with some sort of vibrating sound system, because without that noise it simply wouldn’t be a Caterham.
The only teeny downside of the gun roaring, mind melting, grin inducing noise is that it makes it rather hard to chat. Not impossible, but when we did attempt it there is a large likelihood that we were having very different conversations… “Look sheep”. “Really? I thought it was quite expensive”. But Tom, being Captain trained had thought of everything and we were fully commed up with cans and mikes. A little surreal at first hearing your own voice, but we soon figured it out.
So once we had quickly worked out that the car was none of what most people thought or think it was going to be, we were ready for the off. Starting out with a village awakening, rip roaring early start at 4am in order to get us down to the very fancy newest Brittany Ferry Galicia for our 30 hour journey over to Santander. For anyone doing this leg, upgrading to the C Club lounge with unlimited food and drink, and reserving a cabin, is an absolute must, as it means you arrive in Santander bright and bushy and ready for the road trip ahead.
And what a road trip it was set to be. We would have loved to stop in Santander but we were on a deadline to Barcelona for 5 days later and had a route plotted that would take us through the most incredible scenery, perfectly placed rumble tunnels and round some of the most exciting switchback and long sweeping roads that we could have wished for.
After a wonderful four hour drive where the car and Tom’s handling of her really came into its own we arrived in Pamplona at the El Toro Hotel. An ancient country house that was moved brick by brick to its new location several decades ago, it was a wonderful sight to behold. We parked up in the prime spot right in front of the entrance and proceeded to admire her (the car that is), for quite some time. She really was beautiful in the evening darkness surrounded by twinkling fairy lights.
After a fabulous meal and a good night’s sleep we sadly discovered that our plans to breakfast in Pamplona were somewhat scuppered by the weather, so in an attempt to outrun the rain we beat a hasty exit on the next leg of our journey. Although we did agree that we need to return to see the amazing cities that these wonderous roads connect
This day was to take us high up into the mountains on some deliciously winding roads that would eventually bring us to the viewpoint that was our goal. At one point we were considering popping over the border into France but not knowing the restrictions we’d decided against it. As it turned out, the weather had other plans as well. I think my famous last words of “I doubt we’ll see snow with this drizzle happening” lasted two crazy switchbacks and about fifty metres of altitude. Sure enough, as we rounded the corner the car was suddenly engulfed in a snowy down. Not wanting to risk the tyres in those conditions we went just a little bit higher past a group of workmen who clearly thought we were mad, found some actual snow on the ground, leapt out of the car and proceeded to partake in some speed snow tourism. Yep, we took photos of the car next to snow on a mountainside and were back in the warmth in under one minute.
Needless to say this meant we needed a bit of a navigational rejig and as we backtracked I found a couple of potentially interesting roads that would get us to our final destination just north of Huesca. And what roads they were. Huge Roman straights where Tom was able to put the pedal to the floor, followed by sweeping curves and ever more dramatic scenery. We didn’t talk much during the times in the car, jut punched each other’s shoulders sometimes as the next awe inspiring snow-capped mountain presented itself around the corner.
We obviously did stop off for a couple of quick photo shoots. I mean, who wouldn’t on those roads and in that car. But after waving to several big lorries that we were able to overtake and outrunning a BMW that thought he could keep up, we came to the turning to our next stay. This time it was the wonderful Airbnb, La Abadia, in San Vincente, run by the fabulous Lilian and her husband. We were staying in the lovely vicarage attached to the church in the middle of what in the UK would probably be called a hamlet. It was literally in the middle of nowhere down a fabulous dirt track that took on the big boys curve for curve, and proved once again just how reliable this car is.
One fabulous home cooked meal in our stomachs, followed by a stunning breakfast the following day, we wiped the frost from the car, turned the ever reliable and effective heater up to 11 and bid adieu to our gracious hosts, with a less than gracious roar of the engine. This was to be the final, most beautiful and longest leg of our journey, taking us to friends Pete and Lesley just north of our ferry destination of Barcelona, in Tamariu.
I think we eventually worked out that we spent 9 ½ hours in the car that day. And the amazing thing…it didn’t feel like it. It’s actually quite hard to describe the experience. Time bent in so many different ways. Because we were going from one epic road to the next as we slowly and joyfully picked pour way across the north of Spain, not one view was the same as the next. It was a fascinating smorgasbord of Spain and France and Andorra. From mountains to plains, russet autumnal forests to quaint villages. And most excitingly, Mother Nature finally did her thing and let us put the roof down! And that is a whole different experience of the car. Wind in your hair, sun beating on your face, 1300 metres up and a photogenic cow. There is nothing more to be said. Time quite literally flew by.
After a final pit stop for an understandably exhausted Tom in the friendliest town, Ripolli, in Spain, we finally found ourselves at the home of my surrogate family, The Brents. Two days of festivities, winding down and admiring the beauty that is that Gulf blue Caterham, marked the almost end of what had been, quite frankly, a jaw dropping trip.
Waving a final final farewell with all our belongings eventually with us (my fault), we took an almost uneventful (the Spanish motorway system’s fault) trip to catch our ferry home. Choppy seas, loud Italian TV and a freezing ferry actually seemed like a fitting end to an almost picture perfect journey. Only to be topped off by a wonderful group of RPRCYC friends who had braved the cold, and an unreasonable hour in the morning, to come and greet us at Placa Puente with Mimosas and bacon sarnies. Jerry, Mel and Kel you were the cherry on top of the most beautiful Gulf Blue Caterham cake.
Enough thanks cannot go out to Tom Ashmore for letting me share in his adventure.
For anyone interested in catching the wind in their hair in their own Caterham 7 then please feel free to contact the wonderful Ian at Krazy Horse
By Victoria Pearce