Great drives: around Jane Austen's Bath in a Lamborghini Huracan

Period re-enactors with the author and not-so-subtle Lamborghini Huracan Spyder Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton
Period re-enactors with the author and not-so-subtle Lamborghini at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton

If Jane Austen’s characters were alive today, what cars would they drive? Mr Darcy might have a Range Rover. Mr Bingley, also from Pride and Prejudice, a classic Land Rover. But in Northanger Abbey, half-set in Bath, wem eet another great character creation, John Thorpe. And he would drive a Lamborghini.

I’m discussing this with one of the world’s most dedicated Jane Austen fans: my father, who is my co-pilot for this adventure. This year marks the bicentenary of her death, and so we set off for Austen’s world from Lamborghini London on the Old Brompton Road in a vivid-yellow Huracán Spyder.

This car is not for the retiring. The Huracán is named after a fighting bull. Camera phones point at us on the westbound Cromwell Road. There’s barely a chance to stretch the legs on the M4, but the exhaust note is ferocious and uncompromising.

At junction 11 we turn off and dare to drop the top (the seating is low, giving the feeling of being looked down upon in traffic). Travelling south into Hampshire on the A33, I let the engine open up. It’s a naturally aspirated, 5.2 litre V-10, producing 400 horses per ton. 

Traffic cameras prevent me flooring it, but as I accelerate through the seven gears, the old man and I are pinned back in the our seats. Beyond fun.

The first stop is Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton: a brick cottage with idyllic gardens where she lived later in life, and where she finished most of her novels. Outside are a duo of Napoleonic re-enactors. Assuming the lady to be Catherine Morland, heroine of Northanger Abbey,  I recite John Thorpe’s lines: “What do you think of my gig, Miss Morland? A neat one, is it not?”

From Chawton we have the choice of the M3 down to Winchester Cathedral,  where Jane is buried, or over the M3 to the small village of Steventon, where she started life. We choose life, the Lamborghini carving sure, sweeping curves through sunlit green fields and woodland. Carbon-ceramic brakes are there if required, or you can enjoy the animalistic woof and snaffle, decelerating through the gears.

St. Nicholas church in Steventon, Hampshire, where Jane Austen's father had been rector Credit: Alamy

Reassuring too is the impeccable roadholding. “It would take a lot to roll this car,” I think aloud. The old man grimaces.  The small 12th-century church in Steventon is where Jane worshipped in her youth. Her father was the Rev George Austen and her biggest intellectual supporter. A boy from the village stares open-mouthed at the car; I let him press the engine start button on the centre console that has a red flip-cover; perhaps he imagines he’s in a stealth bomber.

Then on to Bath, to which Jane moved in 1801.  For nobility arriving in Bath in Austen’s day, the Abbey bells would ring (they had to pay for the privilege). Our arrival is marked by a crowd of foreign tourists heading in our direction, camera phones held up.

Jane didn’t love Bath, but it gave her great material. Many here were either on the make or desperately trying to cure ailments (or both): apothecaries recommending binge-drinking the spa waters; property developers involved in get-rich-quick schemes; and matchmakers, of course. For what interested and amused Jane most was the notion of Bath as grand marriage mart.

Suitably splendid accommodation in Bath

We drive on to the Royal Crescent Hotel and Spa. Unloading is a swift affair, certainly compared with Georgian times. No trunks or hat boxes. There’s just about room for two bags in the ‘trunk’ and two jackets hung behind the seats. You can’t help take a moment to admire Royal Crescent – the famous ionic columns (all 114 of them), the prospect over the Avon Valley – the “fresh air of better company”, in the words of Northhanger Abbey. But behind the uniform façade lay great variety, and behind number 16 hides something unique today: a one-acre garden with fragrant roses and lavender, foxgloves and wild flowers, all surrounded by that warm Bath stone.

Bath was considered the pleasure capital of Georgian Britain, and one great pleasure was the food. Sugar was a status symbol; syllabubs, flummeries and sweet meats were in demand. A six-course menu with wine pairings allows us to imagine these delicacies. Dessert is Eve’s Pudding and salted caramel, paired with a flute of Taittinger Nocturne. “Happy Father’s Day,” I toast dad. Somehow we make it back to our room, which features a balcony over that garden, where we enjoy breakfast in the sunshine.

Living in close quarters was another reality of Georgian life, I learn, walking to 4 Sydney Place. Jane lived there between 1801 and 1804, sharing a bedroom with her sister. 

Ready to depart the Georgian splendour of Bath

Reluctantly we depart. But we’re not through with John Thorpe yet. “Are you fond of an open carriage, Miss Morland?” he asks. “I will drive you up Lansdown Hill tomorrow...” We drive over it and on to the A46, heading for the M4. There, I play with the different driving modes available via the red Anima (soul) switch on the steering wheel. This will shift the engine mapping, suspension and steering into “sport” mode (louder) and “corsa”, or track mode. Corsa is thirstier and manual only, necessitating use of the paddle gearchangers attached to the steering column. As we re-join the London traffic, I return to the more docile “strada” (street) setting.

Before this trip, I had mixed feelings about Lamborghinis. You hear them around the Brompton area in London, howling at low speeds as though in some exotic zoo. But now I understand. Virtually all other cars on the road feel domesticated, tame by comparison. Colours become brighter, sounds more acute; the world turns into a more vivid place driving one of these.

Long live the Huracán, and the rich characters of Austen’s world. 

Rooms at the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa start at £295 including breakfast: 01225 823333; royalcrescent.co.uk

THE FACTS

Lamborghini Huracán Spyder

Price: £205,000

Engine: 5.2 litre V10

Power: 602bhp

Top speed: 201mph

Acceleration: 0-62mph in 3.4sec

Fuel economy: 22.9mpg

 

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