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Great drive: On safari

PUBLISHED: 09:00 01 July 2014 | UPDATED: 13:09 04 July 2014

Longleat House

Longleat House

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Mark G Whitchurch takes a Peugeot RCZ from Goblin Combe to Longleat

Goblin Combe & RCZGoblin Combe & RCZ

The Route

Goblin Combe, near the village of Cleeve, is a wonderfully relaxing place for an early morning walk. The dramatic landscape with its deep, gorge-like combe contrasts with the high vantage point of Cleeve Toot, which, with its impressive views out to sea is well worth the hike.

A protected site of special scientific interest, nature mixes with the archaeological remains from a late Bronze or early Iron Age settlement with boundary banks, house platforms and quarry pits still visible today.

Full of fresh air and knowledge of how our fore-fathers lived, travel up Cleeve Hill Road in the direction of the charming village of Wrington. Admire the quaint Somerset architecture as you continue to the A38.

Head south and take the A371 for Cheddar to enjoy the views of the famous gorge. A century ago this would have been a popular pilgrimage by holiday makers from the coast to the caves of Cheddar.

Ascend the gorge at a leisurely pace to admire the views of the cliff climbers and wild life. As the road wiggles its way to the top the wilderness of the Mendip Hills stretches before you. Continue on the B3135 to Green Ore and the A39, straight over the crossroads with some fast undulating roads to enjoy a spirited lick of speed.

At the A37 proceed southwards to the charming market town of Shepton Mallet. Join the A361 along the valley floor to Cranmore and an opportunity to board a steam train at the East Somerset Railway.

Back behind the wheel, join the A362 towards Corsley Heath where the Longleat Estate is clearly signposted leading you along a well groomed horticulturally lined driveway.

Back in 1966 the 6th Marquess of Bath, in a partnership with showman Jimmy Chipperfield, agreed to allow wild lions to roam the grounds of his country estate. In what is now seen as a visionary move to generate income to maintain his family’s wonderful and historically important Elizabethan house, the Marquess in a pioneering act created the first safari park in Britain.

Of course, the safari park is the main focus. If you arrive by motorcycle or convertible you will need to experience the park via the bus. But if you are in a tin-top car, I thoroughly recommend the driving experience. There are not many places in the northern hemisphere that you can drive around roaming lions, giraffes and rhinos! Oh, and you can avoid the monkey enclosure!

Allow three hours to fully experience the safari, with feeding the deer proving to be a favourite with the kids. We enjoyed a picnic by the side of the river, a tranquil way to relax after the excitement of the safari park.

There are plenty of new attractions to enjoy including a wonderful penguin experience as well as old favourites such as the safari boat, a trip on the steam train, and of course, the imposing house, full of impressive artwork from the past.

The Car:

Famous for the slogan “the drive of your life” Peugeot has introduced the RCZ to its range in an effort to revive this once coveted marketing catch phrase. Daring styling and a wide range of engines from both petrol and diesel camps, this new coupe represents a number of firsts for the French marque.

The first of a series of ‘special cars’ to create a sense of chic exclusiveness, the RCZ is also the first model in the company’s history not to have a ‘0’ in the centre of its name!

Tested in GT THP 156 format, this attractive coupe certainly caught the eye of other road users. A bold design that succeeds in blending design ethos’ from the company’s past coupe models, such as the elegant 504 model of the 1970’s, together with the signature aspects of the current Peugeot range.

The roof line with its double bubble effect and rear haunches are particular design successes. The charcoal paintwork sharply contrasts with the alloy roof bars of the model tested. Together with attractive alloy wheels, the RCZ definitely lives up to Peugeot’s claims of a sensuous and sleek sports coupe.

Within the cabin the leather lined dashboard, standard on the GT model, with piano black plastics help to create an ambiance that is as special as the exterior. Light and airy thanks to that special roof, leather lined seats and a sporty steering wheel help to give the RCZ an individual look whilst incorporating Peugeot’s standard range of instruments and switchgear from the 308 model.

Rear seats are suitable for carrying small children with their booster seats just fitting into the tight space, but again this was workable thanks to the glass roof that gave plenty of visibility. Boot space was also generous, a benefit of the external profile.

On the road the 1.4 litre four cylinder engine, boasting a reasonable 156bhp felt zippy and responsive. Tested with a 6-speed manual gearbox, there is also an automatic transmission available with this model, the RCZ always felt involving to drive. Whether it be dashing across Somerset’s A-roads, or bombing up the motorway, the RCZ gave the feeling of a practical and fun to drive small car, but with the added bonus of that chic coupe design.

For me – this was the RCZ’s unique selling point; taking the user friendly technical and mechanical elements of a small Peugeot hatchback and cloaking them in a chic French coupe design. The RCZ manages to remain practical for everyday use whilst providing a special sense of individualism. With a price tag of £24,495, the RCZ means that we can now all look as fashion conscious as our Continental cousins!!

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