|The capillaries of tarmac that network across the landscape are British B-roads at their most savage|
Nice and smooth with a few orange speckles in the otherwise charcoal-coloured surface. Not so small that it’ll get lost in the glovebox, but not so weighty that it’ll feel like a crime carrying it in the Lotus. It is a good pebble, and it is now a pebble with a journey ahead of it…
We’re standing between the groynes on the beach at St Bees, just down the road from Whitehaven on the Cumbrian coast, and the sun is already starting to drop towards the Irish Sea, silhouetting the massive cliffs to our right. Turning round and crunching back up the beach to the waiting Evora, I’m excited about the journey that lies ahead. In the 1950s, a chap called Alfred Wainwright came up with a walk that plotted a course from coast to coast across England. It starts here at St Bees, traverses the Lake District, crosses the Pennines, delves through the Yorkshire Dales and meanders over the North York Moors before finally winding up at Robin Hood’s Bay. It’s about 190 miles in total and seven years ago a university friend and I trudged its length over 11 days of our summer holiday, carrying tents and a pebble from one sea to the other. It’s an extraordinary slice of country because you can avoid civilisation for almost the whole stretch and I remember thinking then that it would make a fantastic drive…
But it’s a trip that will require a car of specific talents. The capillaries of tarmac that network across the landscape are British B-roads at their most savage. Ruckled, cambered and lumpen, they can look and feel like no more than an asphalt rug laid on a ploughed field – which is why we’ve brought the Evora. The new Lotus has wowed everyone with its ability to soak up bumps and float across the road; it made even a Cayman S feel a little heavy-footed when we drove them back to back at the launch event in Scotland (132). You might wonder why we’re starting so late in the day, but as it’s still the holiday season we want to give ourselves a fighting chance of avoiding tourist traffic and getting a good run at the roads.
Dropping into one of the Evora’s Recaros isn’t the easiest of movements as there’s a bit of a letterbox to negotiate, but I like a bit of drama and once into the low-slung position there’s a surprising feeling of space. The wrap-around windscreen lets a lot of light into the cabin and both driver and passenger have plenty of elbow-room without anything feeling baggy. We have of course already tackled several hours of motorway to get to St Bees and it’s as much a tribute to the Evora as our tiredness that both Matt and I slept when we had stints in the passenger seat.
A narrow street heads up out of St Bees onto a strangely cambered B-road which takes us south to the A595 for a couple of miles before we turn properly inland and start heading towards the craggy mountaintops in the distance. The roads here really are narrow too, like leafy, stony versions of a Eurotunnel carriage and it’s a relief not to have to reverse too often. When we do have to back up, the optional rear-facing camera helps us sneak into the shelter of a passing place from where we can watch the tense potential wing-mirror clash unfold before saying things like ‘you could fit a bus through there’ when it’s obvious there’s enough room.
The only obvious way directly through the heart of the Lake District is over the Honister Pass – Britain’s steepest road. It’s a road we visited with a couple of MX-5s not long ago (issue 131) and I’m slightly nervous that where the little Mazdas shone the Evora could feel clumsy. But I needn’t have worried. Even when Matt Vosper makes me stop on what should be called (in a big booming voice) ‘The Impassable Hairpin’ or ‘The Switchback of Doom’, the Evora never bats an eyelid. As we crest the summit of the pass it feels like lining up a catapult as we look down the valley towards the only marginally less severe Wrynose Pass wriggling over the V in the hills at the end. By the time we’re over that too, it feels as though we don’t really need to go any further to answer the question of whether the Evora can cope. It has simply blitzed a road that I thought would make anything more than a hot hatch, let alone a junior supercar, feel as awkward and frustrating as eating peas with a knife.
Round Ambleside’s one-way system, then round it again, then stop to have a look at the map, round again, one more look at the atlas then accidentally stumble over the small road signposted ‘Kirkstone Pass’. The roads so far have been a good test and well worth the effort just for the feeling of driving through Middle Earth in the evening, but the Kirkstone is a much more enjoyable driving road. It still bucks and weaves, but there’s just a bit more width and pace to it, which allows you to relax with the car and find a rhythm. The wonderfully communicative steering is a well-known Lotus strong point, but the pedals in the Evora deserve praise too. They all have a beautiful feel and progression under the balls of your feet that makes them a pleasure to use. The spacing seems just right too and using all three to brake-clutch-blip-clutch is a joy rather than the clumsy toe-tying exercise it can be in some cars.
It’s definitely night by the time we round the elbow in the dark blue volume of Ullswater. Sweeping through the trees with the headlights picking the way ahead and the moon (or possibly the Evora’s paintwork) shining off the surface of the lake, it feels good to be travelling at night. I love a good car interior in the dark; the first I really remember was the Mk4 Golf’s with its blue backlighting, but now you have subtle multicoloured glows like the Evora’s – splashes of red with white for the dials, turquoise behind buttons and dots of green.
Eventually we reach the A6 and turn right. Just as it did when I walked it, reaching Shap seems to have taken a disproportionately long time out of the overall journey, but it has been spectacular. As we drive past a likely looking pub with the word Vacancies in chalk on a board we decide that enough is enough for tonight. We’re too late for food other than crisps but Hawkshead Brewery’s finest (it really is very good) ups the calorie intake and to be honest I’m just pleased that this time I’m sleeping inside the pub and not camping in the back garden…
The alarm on my Nokia goes off at 5am. Ten minutes later I’m stumbling downstairs as quietly as I can. Matt’s waiting – we’d agreed to get up early and press on while the roads were still empty. There’s no night porter behind the reception desk, which is a bit odd. Must be doing the rounds. We decide to pack the car up and then come back and pay.
‘Here, I’ll get the door, you’ve got the cameras.’
‘Try turning the knob.’
Five minutes later, after close examination of all available doors and windows, we conclude that we are quite definitely locked in. So, frustratingly in sight of the Evora, we settle down to wait. And wait. At 7.30am someone arrives with a cheery ‘good morning’ to be greeted by two unshaven ragamuffins on sofas and a hurriedly brandished credit card.
Fortunately there isn’t actually a morning rush hour to battle with in the middle of nowhere on the road to nowhere else, but it’s been raining, which doesn’t make life easier for Matt. It should make life more difficult for the Evora, too, as we head out of Shap and follow the B6261 which swoops under the six lanes of the M6. We’re heading for the Pennines now and the roads we’ve chosen look like they’re used by nothing with an underbelly lower than a New Holland or Massey Ferguson. There is standing water everywhere and avoiding it is impossible, yet through it all sails the Evora, its big single wiper sweeping back and forth. You get confidence from what the hydraulic power steering is communicating through the magnesium wheel and it never gives the sense that it might suddenly wash out underneath you. Several times through cruel dips in the road I catch my breath as I think we must have carried too much speed into the compression and the nose must surely scuff. But each time silence reigns.
We pass through Kirkby Stephen and out across the lonely moor towards Keld. Between the snow-poles and raindrops the road fires unusually straight for a while, like a 200-mile piece of string pulled tight right in the middle. Two hundred and seventy six Toyota bhp doesn’t sound a lot these days – it might dissuade some people from buying an Evora. But it shouldn’t. It isn’t sensationally quick but there is a lovely tall-geared feeling of reach to each ratio, even though the V6 revs to only 7000rpm. The soundtrack is, bizarrely, quite old-school supercar. It’s cultured and multi-layered so that you get a deep growl if you floor it in sixth on the motorway with a more musical multi-cylindered timbre if you drop down a couple of gears to overtake. It’s a drivetrain that wants to be worked but it’s satisfying to do it.
It seems to take an age to reach Keld out in the middle of the bleak and boggy moors; on a morning like this there isn’t a lot of romance to living in a remote stone cottage. We then get stuck behind a latter-day James Herriot delicately trailering some morbidly flatulent calf all the way to one of the strangest places I have ever been – Reeth (very much a local village for local people). We decide to breakfast in the Black Bull, then decide not to have a go on the fun fair or have a pint of Theakston Old Peculiar (robs you of your legs) or join in the brass band parading round the village in the rain at nine o’clock on a Wednesday morning…
Reeth also marks a very definite shift in scenery from desolate moorland to leafy dale. Swaledale to be precise, and the road that runs parallel to the river is smoother and more flowing. Keep the revs high, turn in carrying speed, feel the car roll slightly and the weight behind you settle into the corner, then pick up the throttle and you might even coax the rear into a small slide through the rest of the bend. Repeat all the way to the metropolis of Richmond.
Yesterday, before I came up here, in fact before I’d even driven it on the road, I put the Evora round the West Circuit at Bedford Autodrome and it was beautifully balanced. If you look at the engine all the way back in the chassis you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Evora could be a handful that could get away from you very easily once its mass started to move, but in reality it was smooth and hugely enjoyable through all the high-speed corners on the West Circuit. Although perfectly nice at road speeds, the gearbox wasn’t as good on track, feeling vague and awkward to engage when rushed. The fact that the chassis could handle a lot more power was also very apparent, yet the Evora still posted a Boxster S rivalling time of 1.28.4.
On the road is undoubtedly where the Evora truly shines though, and the North York Moors hide the perfect road to show it off. There’s no route that that cuts directly west-east, so we decide to take the A170 along the bottom then head north across the moors before heading west again towards the east coast. There are several options for doing this but the best in my opinion is to head for Hutton-le-Hole. Go through the village, up a hill, buzz a cattle- grid and then you’re released onto the most wonderful high plateau of empty moor, covered in rich purple heather.
It feels like the moment in an aeroplane when you burst through the clouds into sunlight. Up here the corners seem just the right speed, there’s a good line of sight so you can carry speed, and the road’s surface is just uneven enough to appreciate the Evora’s damping. Many of the roads on this trip have been exciting to drive along because of how extreme they are or the breathtaking landscape they wiggle through, but this one is first and foremost a great driving road.
As we pass Whitby and descend the final few miles to Robin Hood’s Bay, ready to lob my pebble at the North Sea, the Evora has well and truly endeared itself to both me and a now soundly sleeping Vosper. It has proved to be a really usable GT car, yet it has also played the junior supercar role in a way I hadn’t expected. It still hasn’t got the feeling of solidity that Porsche imbues in its cars, but as a package the Evora has a lot of similarities with the multi-talented 911. Although I don’t think even a 911 would have coped so well with our genuine cross-section of British roads. Make no mistake, this is a very special car.