Harry’s Travels to Bath and Castle Combe – you are never too old to be a racing driver!

Travel Talk

City of Bath, EnglandI am the Eastbourne tour guide with my wife Pam, and the season had finished, so no restrictions as to what nights we could get away. I have always wanted to take a racing drivers course, so had a look at the map, realising that Castle Combe in Wiltshire is less than half an hours’ drive away from Bath. The driving day was booked for a Friday, so we stayed in Bath for the nights before and after.

The directions to the Bath Hilton were excellent, no satnav, maybe one day. Paused outside the entrance to offload luggage, then parked in the underground that has an arrangement with the hotel for a cheaper overnight rate of £15. They have over 170 bedrooms, with the hotel being purpose built some years ago. It overlooks the river, is in a very good position, usual amenities such as bar and restaurant on the ground floor. Why, when they design these new hotels, don’t they ever have sufficient lifts? Just two for the whole hotel, but we had to use the stairs one morning because there was a coach party of Koreans checking out at the same time.

Bath is one of those cities that can be appreciated any time of year. The River Avon runs through, with the main Bridge, the Poultney, spanning with old fashioned shops actually on the bridge. The boat trips weren’t running while we were there, but the Bizarre Bath sight-seeing walks were. Hilarious, won’t spoil it for you, suffice to say that Spencer the Escapologist Rabbit is the star. The sight-seeing buses run all year.

We had dinner in the hotel’s Atelier restaurant both evenings, both times they served a complimentary amuse bouche, Thursday pate, Friday salmon terrine. Thursday dinner we shared the boxed camembert as a starter. Plenty of baguettes, followed by 8oz fillet steak with fries, mushrooms and tomatoes for Pam, and rack of herb crusted lamb ribs for me with ratatouille and potato gratin. Wine by the glass was a mouth-watering almost £10, we only managed one each. The meal had been so filling that we denied the pudding option.

Superb breakfast, the scrambled eggs were fresh, bacon just right, sausages not too herby, all good. Pam didn’t have cooked, as we were off to the race track.

Castle Combe racetrackCastle Combe race track has been there since 1950, and they have allocated track days for public to learn more driving skills. It’s not that far from the M4 motorway, but is in the middle of the countryside, close to a little village of the same name. The signposting is excellent, again satnav superfluous, (my wife is an excellent navigator so I call her Pamnav), short drive from the road to the circuit buildings. The Paddock has more than enough parking, three buildings, one with an indifferent catering facility but completely adequate for keeping warm, the other two for administrative purposes as well as being in use on race days. The main one used for vehicle checking also has an excellent observation area on the top floor so you can see what’s occurring without getting too cold.

It started with a driver briefing for our group of 30 or so, then two pupils quickly went out in a Ford Focus with the instructor, who in our case was Richard Ames. So calm. Three laps, faster each time, never feeling the slightest bit anxious. Then one by one we went out for three laps, instructor telling us where to brake, when to steer, all calmly said. Then we were marked out of 100, the reality being to ensure that were sufficiently competent to drive a Formula Ford single seater racing car.

Castle Combe racetrackWhat a superb experience, and it’s for all ages. The oldest they have had is 85! Afterwards, there was a driver debriefing, with an award to the driver of the day, which for some strange unfathomable reason was not awarded to me, but some unkempt younger person who had far fewer skills. The two or three hours went very fast, too quickly really, and I was very glad that we took lots of photos. It really is something that you will remember for years to come, learning more about how to drive properly.

Beforehand, I have never seen Pam so nervous, not even on our wedding day all those years ago. There was no way that she wanted to get into the single seater, no problem for Richard, he arranged for her to have an extra track session in another car. It was her option not to drive the single seater, but they immediately suggested an excellent alternative. That is quality service.

The photos above show Pam behind the wheel of her racing car, the other me receiving instructions before my session. They are a perfect illustration that it is for all ages, as I was not the oldest participant – makes a change!

Sally Lunn's, Bath. EnglandAfterwards, back to Bath, driving sedately (almost), to a welcome cocktail which was superbly made and reasonably priced, then dinner, this time moules followed by boef bourguignon for me, Pam enjoyed pate and pan fried chicken wrapped in bacon, stuffed with brie. We shared the cheese plate, blew the budget on two glasses of wine each.

So, our impressions. Loved Bath, so much to do any time of year, budget accommodation is easy to find, the shopping centre is new but doesn’t look it, have a meal in Sally Lunn’s, the best savoury/sweet buns you will ever eat, do the touristy things, and if there’s time, go and drive a racing car.

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Harry Pope

Travel writer & Eastbourne tour guide

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