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Aston Martins Celebrated a 100 Year ‘Road Trial’ Following the Route to Scotland


To mark the Centenary of a road journey between two British capital cities - London and Edinburgh - a touring event for Aston Martin cars had been arranged by the AMOC taking place between 5th and 9th June 2019. This principally because the oldest Aston Martin known to have been built, affectionately known as ‘Coal Scuttle’, had taken part in a ‘reliability trial’ with other cars approved by Motor Cycling Club (MCC), Britain’s oldest sporting motor club for motorcycles and cars. The principal path, along which Coal Scuttle and the other vehicles initially followed, was the old Great North Road, also called Ermine Street when referring back to its original route, up to York, as constructed by the Romans

© 2019, Classique Car Conduits

On 6th June, 1919, Lionel Martin (yes he, being the co-founder of the company with Robert Bamford) began his trip from Highgate, north London, and this was the starting point for the Aston Martins re-enacting his journey, after the previous evening’s dinner at the Royal Automobile Club. Completing the first full day, they would pause for an overnight stop in York before turning north west, through the Pennines to Carlisle, and finally on to Edinburgh in central Scotland. Additional dinners, places of interest and guest speakers for the participants in 2019 were included for the Centenary event as a whole.

An opportunity arose for me to catch up with them during the early stages of the drive when the Astons arrived, and broke for lunch, in the historic village of Stilton, just off the A1. Luckily it is now a short distance away given, at that point, the A1 is an eight-lane highway. However, it roughly follows the same path as the original Roman construction, though now skirting around historic towns such as Stamford, Grantham and Newark as it continues towards Yorkshire.

And indeed, the village of Stilton gave its name to the world-famous cheese, although it is made in counties slightly further into the Midlands. The lunch stop was taken at a 17th Coaching Coach House, one of the England’s finest surviving examples and this building, ‘The Bell Inn’, dates back to the year 1642. In fact, The Bell has stood on its present site since 1500, with records of previous incarnations known back to 1437. But now, as a high-quality traditional hotel, it’s thankfully no longer being disturbed by thousands of modern vehicles each day thundering past its front door.

It was The Bell’s landlord, Cooper Thornhill who, between 1730 and 1759, popularised the cheese made by his sister-in-law, Frances Paulet (Housekeeper of Quenby Hall, near Melton Mowbray) and named it Stilton after the village in which it was sold and served. Word spread rapidly owing to its quality and Thornhill’s entrepreneurial skills and business acumen. Therefore, this was an ideal venue for the Aston participants to take on board refreshments, before continuing the longer journey to their overnight stop at York.

The Bell Inn itself had received famous and infamous visitors from its earliest recorded history, right up to relatively modern times. For example, it is said they included Highwayman Dick Turpin who was in hiding, for nine weeks, from pursuers determined to bring him to justice for his crimes of robbery and worse. As they arrived, legend has it he escaped by jumping out of an upper storey window directly onto his faithful steed, Black Bess, and galloping away.

In contemporary literary circles, author Daniel Defoe wrote about Stilton and its cheese then, around eighty year later, it is known poet Lord Byron slept at the The Bell in 1813. Moving to the earlier part of the 20th Century, the inn was frequented by many American pilots and military servicemen stationed at, or visiting, US airbases across East Anglia and south-central England. These included Hollywood actor Clark Gable and world champion heavyweight boxer Joe Louis.

In 2019, popularity continues for just as the various Aston Martins were preparing to leave, a small wedding party appeared to enjoy the sunshine after their lunchtime reception. Fortunately, the bride and groom were delighted to have some of their pictures taken amongst the cars, while creating personal memories of their own celebrations. Although numbering around 25 vehicles, a wide cross section of cars from all eras of Aston manufacture were represented. One being a 1934 MkII which, ironically, had been photographed only three weeks earlier at the AMOC Spring Concours. By contrast, parked next to it was very powerful 6 litre V12 Vantage Roadster built only last year, sporting a very well chosen - and appropriate for the marque - registration number, which included the letters forming the word SPY, and numerals 007.

From the middle, in terms of production period, were a couple of sister cars both owned by one enthusiast, the second of which being driven by his friend. These were a pair of 1959 DB MkIIIs. One a saloon and the other, only twenty-seven chassis numbers earlier and in the same colours, an even rarer Drophead coupé. These cars were among the last to depart from the venue and their distinctive exhaust ‘Burble’, echoing around the stone buildings of Stilton as they left, was much appreciated by a few gathered photographers and locals.

As they moved off the lead driver, from his open window, threw out a few sweets to the modest audience as a nice gesture. Perhaps this was reminiscent of serious road-rallies conducted in the 1950s, such as the Monte Carlo or Mille Miglia? Obviously, a bit of nostalgic imagination here by the writer - conspicuously over indulging in history and geography, no doubt - but it was a fitting conclusion to the afternoon.

Report and Photos: John Godley