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From water to rail

PUBLISHED: 07:00 09 June 2016

Take a trip on the East Somerset Railway

Take a trip on the East Somerset Railway

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Mark G Whitchurch has a great family day out on this month’s Great Drive

The carThe car

THE Route:

From a brisk walk where the views are breathtaking and the breeze is your friend to a jaunt under steam made possible by an elephant, our Great Drive this month will ensure you have a memorable day with the family.

Constructed in the 1930s to capture the abundance of water cascading off the Mendip Hills and from the springs in Cheddar Gorge, Cheddar Reservoir today provides water to the surrounding Somerset villages and is pumped to the Barrow Treatment Works in Bristol.

This six million cubic metres of water is also home to the Bristol Corinthian Yacht Club. Attracting members from across Somerset, this friendly and active club for sailing and windsurfing holds races on Sundays and Wednesdays in the summer months with more casual sailing on a Saturday.

Parking in the car park accessed via Axbridge, we took scooters and bikes with us and the kids had a great time riding around the reservoir perimeter path whilst we strolled along afterwards. Admire the sailing boats and the stunning vista of the Somerset Levels.

Ready for the off, leave Axbridge to join the A371, heading towards Cheddar. Skirt the edge of the town to turn left onto the B3151 with signposts for Wedmore. Negotiate the network of lanes as they wind their way across the levels to Wedmore, where The Swan inn can be recommended for a good quality lunch, possibly followed by a mooch around the variety of boutique shops.

Join the B3139 from Wedmore with signposts for Wells. Then pass through the hamlets of Panborough and Henton with stunning views of both Wells Cathedral and Glastonbury Tor. Go through Wookey and into Wells to rejoin the A371 and circumnavigate the city via the series of traffic lights to briefly join the A39.

Opposite Stoberry Park and as the road starts to rise on to the Mendip Hills, turn left on the Old Bristol Road for a more relaxed ascent on to the Mendips. This steep road passes through the hamlet of Upper Milton before travelling through forest and out onto the hill tops, punctuated with dry stone walls that seem to divide the land up into random pieces of a patchwork quilt!

At the junction with Hillgrove Road it’s straight over for a section of road, lined on the right with a dense forest that reminded me of travelling through Austria! On reaching the B3135, turn right and travel to the top of the hill. As the road descends with a sharp turning to the right, turn left on to Torhole Bottom. This rollercoaster of a road will take you down to the A39, where it’s right and immediately left to join the B3114. Wiggle your way through Emborough and turn left onto the B3139, which will whisk you to the A37, heading south.

After all the back roads, enjoy the flow of the A37 as it passes through Gurney Slade. Just after the left turn to join the A367 or Fosse Way, turn left on to the Old Frome Road for more of the same. At the junction with Long Cross Bottom, turn right and proceed to the A361.

Pick up the brown tourism signs for the East Somerset Railway and continue straight over onto Piers Road. Created in 1855 as a broad-gauge line to Weymouth, this commercially unsuccessful stretch of track was revived in 1971 by the well-known wildlife artist David Shepherd.

Following a sell-out wildlife exhibition in New York, David purchased two nearly new steam engines in 1967. After building an engine shed and clearing up the site, the East Somerset Railway opened in 1973.

Today this beautifully preserved 2.5 mile slice of British industrial history is a wonderful place to get the younger generations interested both in the past and mechanical engineering.

THE CAR:

Originally launched in 2005, the Audi Q7 has offered a premium SUV experience to rival the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport, with an image that sits neatly between the two. Spawning the Audi Q5 and Q3 models, Audi now has a full SUV line- up to make the most of the company’s legendary Quattro credentials.

The second generation Q7, launched in 2015, is a machine to reflect a decade’s worth of engineering progress, as well as keeping Audi’s flagship SUV at the top of its game. Available with two variants of the same six cylinder 3.0 litre turbo diesel motor, and mated to an eight speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox, the Q7 is 325kg lighter than its predecessor, thanks to extensive use of aluminium in its construction.

Tested in the 272bhp S-Line specification, first impressions are that this is a machine that could challenge my affections for the Range Rover Sport. Slightly shorter and narrower than the outgoing model and thanks to that huge weight reduction, the Q7 is a surprisingly agile thing.

With the Q7 you are making a considered motoring statement, not regal like a Range Rover or with sporting intent like a Porsche Cayenne, the Q7’s exterior design reflects this understated stance.

Whilst the grille is indicative of the marque, LED lights that sweep into a muscular swage line that runs from fore to aft helps to accentuate the Q7’s crisp, honed from solid stance. Blistered wheel arches filled with 20-inch alloy wheels, hark back to Audi’s glory rally days.

If you are still in any doubt about the Q7, step inside to be convinced. In my view Audi remains at the top of the game for interior design and the Q7 adds another compelling reason for my opinion. The attention to detail is peerless. Alloy, wood, leather and the latest technology are fused in an artistic, sometimes theatrical way, whilst being perfectly ergonomic. Interior perfection!

I particularly liked the virtual cockpit that replaces the traditional dials with an LCD display that can either present analogue style gauges or a superbly detailed satellite navigation screen. On a practical note, the leg and headroom for all seven seats is increased, even though this new generation Q7 is smaller than the old variant. Boot space is easily accessed thanks to the electrically operated tailgate. A wide, low access sill and all that space means most of the impractical things you can think of in everyday life will fit in a Q7!

Whilst the Q7 is not designed to compete with the Range Rover Sport when off road, it has to be said that if you are looking for a superbly built SUV with a premium statement of intent but without the slightly snooty connotations of the Range Rover Sport, this could be the perfect match. Prices start at £52,970 for the 3.0 TDI S-Line model tested.

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