THE author Robert Louis Stevenson coined that often-quoted phrase, “To travel hopefully is a better thing
THE author Robert Louis Stevenson coined that often-quoted phrase, “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.”
Indeed, the car trips we take for pleasure are good illustrations of this sentiment.
We set out for a new destination — as many people have done during this peak holiday season — hoping that the place will live up to our high expectations.
So we were in a similar frame of mind this weekend when we took this week’s drive — the Vauxhall Insignia Hatch — to Malmesbury in the Cotswolds as part of my summer series of great places for a day trip.
And I have to report that the Abbey House Gardens, in this most ancient of English towns, delivered far beyond our highest hopes.
Two things stand out about Abbey House Gardens, Malmesbury — the delicate beauty of the Abbey House itself and the labour of love over more than two decades that has produced gardens rich in content and surprise.
A simple board at the entrance headlines what is to come, including 3.8 acres of informal river gardens, 15 waterfalls, ponds and fountains “packed with rare fish and wildlife”, the UK’s largest private collection of roses and — my favourite — Long Tall Sally, said to be Britain’s tallest tree fern.
What the board does not convey, but a personal visit to these gardens does in spades, is the sheer intensity of passion and commitment behind its creation.
This is all down to Ian and Barbara Pollard. The Pollard family came to live in the Abbey House in 1994, where Ian was able to indulge his love of gardening.
Some 22 years later the visitor experiences as soon as he or she steps through the gates of Abbey House Gardens the sheer enormity of Ian Pollard’s achievement.
With abundant planting of such variety, a relaxed walkabout invites you to lose yourself for hours on end in this garden’s hidden delights.
In short, this is well worth the hour-plus drive from Henley (it’s about a 130-mile round trip). One tip: when you arrive in Malmesbury look out for the brown tourist information signs indicating the way to Abbey House Gardens. In a day of such pleasant surprises, the Vauxhall Insignia hatchback also impressed in ways I did not expect.
I have always had a bit of an issue with cabin ergonomics when it comes to Vauxhall models of old.
This may be due to my rather sensitive back after many years and many miles of driving.
But I think that all car makers should strive to equip their cars with the best possible comfort and safety available.
It may be that some think this should only be available in prestige or more pricey models. But increasingly, as we drive further and for longer hours at the wheel, I think cabin ergonomics are essential no matter what a car’s spec level.
I’m pleased to report, then, that the car I was driving — the Insignia Hatch Tech Line 1.6CDTi ecoFLEX — had adjustable lumbar support and good seat positioning that resulted in some comfortable miles on board.
The 1.6-litre diesel engine was impressive, achieving copious miles per gallon in eco mode and not hanging about when I needed power and speed.
The official combined miles-per-gallon figure of 74.3 does look achievable, but as always this depends on how you drive.
However, with some cars you know when fuel is disappearing more quickly than expected; with this Vauxhall Insignia I was more than pleased with its frugality with fuel.
I do not usually dwell on places where one might stash a water bottle on any given car.
But what some car designers do not seem to understand is that when a car has a manual transmission the last thing the driver wants is a bottle holder placed awkwardly near the gearstick.
Vauxhall seems to have solved this problem with the Insignia by offering a cutaway position for the bottle on the central console, thus eliminating any possibility of interference when changing gear. Simple, really.
For more on Abbey House Gardens go to www.abbeyhousegardens.co.uk
Insignia Tech Line 1.6CDTi ecoFLEX S/S
Prices start from £16,279
Test model: £23,669
Five doors, six-speed manual
Colour: Shiny Rock
Economy (combined mpg figure): 74.3
CO2 emissions (g/km): 99
Standard features include:
• Navi 900 IntelliLink
• 17-inch seven-spoke alloy wheels
• Automatic lighting control
• Rain-sensitive Â windscreen wipers
• Electrically operated rear windows
• Digital radio
• Bluetooth connectivity
• USB connection and aux-in socket
• CD/MP3 CD player/stereo radio (R400 Colour)
• LED daytime running lights
• Cruise control
• Electric four-way lumbar adjustment on driver’s seat