Summer! Most of us detest this season in India. Our sub-continent has really hot summers, while our winters are pleasant even if it is cold in certain parts of the country. It is the other way round in Europe, where the winters are unbearable with the sun out for a few hours and even no sun for a few days or even months. Sun is their true saviour. So, spring is one the best times to visit Europe and that’s what our plan for this year’s spring in England. We decided to visit, the Lake District— one of the most scenic spring locations to visit in the United Kingdom.
As several roads in Lake District are narrow, we picked up a vehicle that was small, efficient and yet quick. We choose the Fiat 500 Twin Air— although we as Octane Addicts would have preferred the Abarth version. Due to unavailability, we had to pick the 500 Twin Air. This was an 85bhp hatchback, however the surprising bit is the engine displacement of only 875cc.
This is the latest technology developed by Fiat to further extract better performance from the existing turbo petrol technology and also result in better fuel efficiency. This is the most powerful 500 engine and also the smallest in size— amongst other current ones.
The Lake District is located in the Yorkshire district, and my journey began from Gaydon, post my Range Rove Sport drive at the plant. After driving a 5.0-litre supercharged 510bhp monster, I had moved into an 85bhp producing teeny-weeny.
This is a twin cylinder, turbo-charged engine and with this engine Fiat claims it to achieve 24km/l. Well this was appealing as I could cut down by cost. But is it really efficient? We found out on our trip.
Day one, I drove off to Huddersfield, a town in Yorkshire to visit my colleague and partner for this trip. As Lake District is a part of Yorkshire, it was a good halt for me for the evening. I had to prepare for my trip, unload my suitcase at my friend’s home and get some knick-knacks for this amazing trip and also tank up.
The first stop in Lake District was Windermere, which was a good 160kms away from the Huddersfield, by the M6. If you are travelling on your own, and will need guidance on where to stay, we suggest you Manchester to be a good option. Else if you wish to stay closer, then there is only a Travelodge that’s on the M6 (Northbound) a good 35-40kms away from Windermere.
Our trip began from Huddersfield, on a rather dull morning. It seemed like the sun was on a vacation, and had sent some grey clouds and some shower to keep us busy. Halfway through on M6, the clouds disappeared and the sun made its come back. The feeling of spring was now evident and we were delighted as some warmth was syncing into our bones.
The 500’s TwinAir was constantly maintaining a speed of 70mph (about 110km/hr) as that is the speed limit on the UK motorways. The engine didn’t feel skirmish or out of breathe. However, the power band of this engine is fairly limited, and the exhaust note doesn’t hide the fact that this is a two-pot mill.
On the highway, the 500 was returning a fuel efficiency of 16km/l, however once we got off the motorway, the fuel efficiency reduced further and the engine also had to be worked out more to extract better performance. The engine began to struggle. On roads where the speed limit was 60mph (97km/hr), it took us a while to reach that figure.
The suspension of the 500 was soft and the body roll was evident. We have loved Fiats for their ride and handling, but the 500 has softer set-up as it has been designed for city driving. So, driving on twisty roads wasn’t as much fun as maybe a Fiat Punto. But the short wheelbase and the light body weight of the 500 made it quicker than what a Punto will be, if we had the same engine.
As only two people were travelling, a two-door 500 make a lot more sense, than a four-door Punto. For Octane Addicts like us, the best bet would have been the Abarth 500. Twist roads, bends and hills are the home ground for this Abarth-tuned micro-car. We visited Windermere as the first destination, where we got the entire geography of the District and we made a plan around it.
The whole of Lake District has several hotels to lodge in, but remind you most are old English-styled, and so is the food severed by them. So, there is no McDonalds or Burger King for you, however there are several Costas, Tescos and other joints that serve burgers, fish and chips and you shall Indian (or rather Bangladeshi ones that pretend to be Indian) restaurants too.
One point to view the Windmere lake as at the Queen Adelaide’s hill, or if you wish get in the lake, then come down the hill and there is spot to park your vehicle, and rent a boat. There is also a mini train ride for children, and several other stalls for your entertainment— for instance there is a stall to learn how to hold an owl.
A bit ahead from Windmere is the Holehird Park, which is a botanical garden, which has one of the rarest flowers and plants that might not have been seen anywhere else. From here, one can head to Ullswater Lake, which is an absolutely scenic and an absolute driving paradise. After the Pooley Bridge, there are several teahouses, for a quick afternoon break. A few of these places are facing the passing by river, and it a pleasant feeling when you sit there, sipping some hot tea with some sweet bread with butter, jam and cream.
There is also there Aira falls, which you could miss out as there is a small board that reads parking spot for Aira. You need to park your vehicle there and head walking up on the mountain to the Aira fall. This is another picturesque place to visit. You could spend your night in any good hotel in Lake District, as there are several. We advise not to stay in Windermere, as they will be a lot more expensive as it is the entering point from England.
The other direction to head into is towards Keswick from Windmere. For this you will have to pass Queen Adelaide’s Hill and head in the direction where it points to Keswick (A591 and B5289). Keswick is another small town, that has a lot of places to visit, and you again have the lake right next to you.
If you want to eat something other than conventional English food and wish to shop head up north to Buttermere. This is a town that has several food joints, places to shop and what not. Fish and Chips, Burgers, Sauages, Italian, Indian, Greek all kinds of cuisines are available. As you head further north from Buttermere, there is a small uphill route to Ashness bridge.
This is another point to see the Lake from a hilltop. The road is small, and it becomes difficult for two cars to pass as well. As you further head north, Honester Pass is the last stop before you hit M6. The hill up to this Pass has one of the most epic topography. Grass in different shades of yellow does make it charming. On the way to Honester Pass, you can see the old coal mines and this place is windy, and there is also a waterfall visible. This road connects to M6 south-bound, which is your exit back to home if you are heading towards London.
Despite its size, the 500 performed well even though it took some effort to make this twin-pot work. The overall fuel efficiency of 42mpg (about 13-14km/l) wasn’t impressive either. We have loved the multijet and possibly the diesel would have returned a higher figure and even the torque is more on the oil burner.
Hence, our pick is the diesel mill, despite the fact that diesel is expensive than petrol and also the cost of the Twin Air is similar to that of the multijet engine option on the 500. As an overall, we loved the 500 not only for its cute looks, but also easy to drive vehicle. If you have to drive it in city, then you have to keep the revs higher on the TwinAir as the engine vibration at low speeds shout for its clear struggle to pull this light micro-car.
Driving is still a lot more cheaper, as we spent about Rs 7000 bucks on a total travel distance of 1400kms, train and coaches would have not just been inconvenient to carry the luggage but even the cost of transportation could have been almost thrice of this. So, even if you rent a car in the UK, it turns out to be cheaper especially when there are 3-4 people travelling.