Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Great car, great road: tackling the Buttertubs Pass in a Mazda MX-5

NO WONDER I was a bit knackered. I had, after all, driven nearly 500 miles yesterday in my bid to get to Yorkshire, drive some new cars and then get back again.

But at least 50 of those miles I could have avoided, had I not insisted on going the long way home, and heading north up the A1 in a hunt for the Yorkshire Dales, rather than driving south in a vaguely homeward bound direction. When you're in North Yorkshire and you've got a sports car at your disposal, it'd almost be rude not to take it over what arguably is the most exhilarating stretch of road in this part of Britain.

The Buttertubs Pass.

It's a route I'm more than familiar with - once you're off the A1, you head to the picturesque village of Leyburn, and then dart over the tops of the hills past a tank training ground to Reeth, and then work your way west along the windy little road through the Swaledale valley, until you reach Muker. This is actually quite an enjoyable drive in itself - although at gone 5.30pm yesterday evening driving straight into the autumn sun made it surprisingly hard work - but it's only then you reach the start of the Buttertubs Pass, which takes you back over the hills towards Hawes.

It is an absolutely incredible stretch of road, and while I've enjoyed it before at the wheel of a Renault 5, a Rover 214 and - best of all - someone else's Suzuki Swift Sport, I felt yesterday as though I'd brought a car which was in its element. The MX-5 could have done with a bit more power on some of the steeper bits, but in terms of precise handling, communicative steering and open air thrills the little Mazzer was a joy. Big, big fun.

I came down - in more ways than one - from the thrilling Buttertubs Pass and pointed the Mazda's pop-up headlights towards the very-nearly-as-good Cliff Gate Road, which runs past the Ribblehead Viaduct towards Ingleton. It was getting dark. My hands were numb from the cold, wintry air rushing in from all directions. I was more than seventy miles from home, in a particularly remote bit of the middle of nowhere, and the effects of driving hundreds of miles in a string of different cars was beginning to catch up with me.

Not that I cared much. Piloting a great car over the Buttertubs Pass has got to be one of the best motoring thrills Britain can offer.

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