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From city to village

PUBLISHED: 10:17 23 October 2014 | UPDATED: 10:18 23 October 2014

Stourhead

Stourhead

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WORDS: Mark G Whitchurch

Ston Easton Park is a nice stop for refreshmentsSton Easton Park is a nice stop for refreshments

This month’s Great Drive joins two suggested picturesque walks with contrasting vistas.

The Route:

The MINI at Bristol docks at the beginning of the journeyThe MINI at Bristol docks at the beginning of the journey

The floating harbour in the city of Bristol is a wonderful place for a morning walk.

Surrounded by an eye-catching variety of architecture ranging from renovated industrial warehouses to the brightly coloured homes that look down from Clifton. Sharp new apartment blocks act as a reminder that this is a largely residential area these days, but there are plenty of reminders of its industrial past, history that helped Somerset prosper and undoubtedly shaped its culture.

The M Shed, Bristol’s flagship museum, does a good job of bringing this culture to life for all ages. Set in former transit shed ‘M’, the museum not only depicts the industrial importance of the city but also the culture and history of the people that made the city so important.

Admire the cranes that once loaded the ships, inhale the fumes from either the resident steam engine or one of the museum’s working steam boats, both of which offer trips around the harbour at weekends. Or simply read the stories of the people who lived in the city with its patchwork of cultures and influences from all corners of the world.

Leave Bristol on the A370 in a southerly direction, at the end of the Long Aston by-pass, bear left to join the B3130 through the charming village of Barrow Gurney and join the A38. Head away from the city for less than half a mile to turn left again to re-join the B3130 now on a course for Winford and Chew Magna. Continue until you reach the A37.

Turn right on the A37 heading for Pensford, continue to follow this flowing A-road through Temple Cloud and Farrington Gurney, up the hill before descending into Ston Easton, where Ston Easton Park could provide refreshments and a short interlude in your drive.

The A37 continues to undulate as it navigates the Mendip Hills before arriving in Shepton Mallet, where we leave it to pick up the A361 in the direction of Cranmore and the wonderful East Somerset Railway – another excuse to stretch your legs and soak up the atmosphere.

One of my favourite roads in the county, the A361 weaves through the countryside and villages with a succession of sweeping corners. Continue on until you reach the B3092, just past the turning for the market town of Frome.

Head south on the B3092, now nearing our journey’s end. Travel through the hamlet of West Woodlands and onwards to Maiden Bradley with its pretty church. Enjoy the views into the countryside beyond until you pick up signs for our final destination, Stourhead.

Now owned by the National Trust, Stourhead and the village of Stourton epitomises a perfect West Country village with sandstone cottages and a petite church. The main house is spectacular like so many of the National Trust’s treasures, but it’s the gardens that we particularly enjoy.

Inspired by Italian paintings and architecture, the numerous walks around the lake and surrounding woodlands are particularly stunning in the autumn with some spectacular views across the lake.

The Spread Eagle pub in the centre of the village is popular with walkers, so arrive early to avoid disappointment. It’s child friendly and with an appetising food menu as well as good local ales for those non-drivers.

The Car:

Now in its third generation, MINI continues to grow. Fresh to the roads of Somerset and tested in Cooper S guise, the all new model feels even more like a ‘mini’ BMW. From behind the wheel this is a car loaded with every conceivable extra, from fighter pilot style heads up display to radar control cruise control – straight out of a BMW 7-Series.

Superb plastics, use of aluminium trim, subtle lighting and an abundance of leather creates a sense of premium quality like no other MINI before it. There is also the usual sense of MINI fun, you can select from a range of colours for your mood lighting and the symmetrical dashboard with its central speedo housing, now home to the sat nav, is a great retro throw back. Change from Sport to Mid to Economy performance modes and different coloured LEDs glow around the dashboard to inform your chosen setting.

Now boasting a 2.0 litre turbo-charged engine, performance remains similar on paper to that of the outgoing model with the economy improving to just under 50mpg. The six-speed gearbox snicks through the ratios to keep the power flowing. Handling remains hot hatch sharp with an improvement on the ride quality when compared to the Mk2 model. Whilst the exterior proportions of the new car have grown considerably, the interior remains compact and bijou, particularly in the back and boot areas. Exterior styling continues to draw from the classic Mini’s heritage, bug eyed headlights now drawn to more of a point boast LED sidelights for the modern look. The rear is a little more compromised with enlarged rear lights looking out of proportion with the rest of the car in my view. Such details are all about disguising the girth of this new model.

Undoubtedly the new MINI is the car to be seen in in 2014 and will be a hit across the county, thanks to its cheeky looks, superb engineering and quality. For me, however, the bigger it gets the less of a Mini it becomes. If you go for a test drive, experience the Cooper as well as the Cooper S. The former has a 3-cylinder 1.5 litre turbo motor which presents a compelling case for a more balanced approach to performance verses economy and thanks to a lighter engine, certainly has more of a ‘grin factor’!

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