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Great British Drives: Volvo V60 Cross Country tackles the Peak District

Great British Drives
Jessica Salter with a Volvo V60 Cross Country in the Peak District  Credit: Andrew Fox 

In an age of busyness, there’s something incredibly indulgent and old fashioned about “popping out for a drive” on a Sunday morning. It’s not going to improve my physical health. I’m not running errands. I’m just going out to look at nature, from the comfortable surrounds of my climate-controlled car (my preferred climate on a blustery northern day that doesn’t realise it’s Spring, being tropical).

So, having pre-heated my seats via the app, I leave the toddler (and hangover-nursing husband) with my in-laws and strap into my Volvo’s sleek V60 Cross Country and head for the hills. The car is the equivalent of me buying a Barbour jacket and pair of Sorrel walking boots, because the V60 Cross Country is the estate that’s had a makeover: it has been kitted out so that it sits 60mm higher than the estate to get over any lumps and bumps (just as handy on my pothole-strewn London street, though), along with contrasting charcoal wheelarch extensions, large 20-inch matt graphite alloy wheels and skid plates to make it look more mountain-ready.

The rails running along the roof top are practically begging to be loaded with extra kit. The result is that it looks practical, without being a flashy SUV (which can scream west London mum on a school run).

Inside, the design is Scandi-minimalist chic. It has few actual buttons in favour of most of the controls being operated from the the central touchscreen, including all the safety features (like the excellent lane-keeping assist, which I love on long motorway drives, parking assist and a high-tech entertainment system).

Turning my music (it connects to Spotify) and heating (seats, fans and steering wheel) to the max, I leave the pretty village of Bubnell, that borders the Chatsworth estate, with the sun streaming through the rain on a chilly but beautiful morning and drive alongside a swollen river and flooded fields along the A6323 to Calver. The cliffs of Baslow Edge tower up above me and I know from past jaunts that it’s a great spot to go walking, with an even greater tea van at the end for coffees and cakes.

But today is not the day. If there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes (to paraphrase British fellwalker Alfred Wainwright), then it’s perfect weather but as it starts to hail I realise I’m in imperfect clothing and mindset. I’m staying put in the Volvo’s supremely comfortable seats (but I’m not a total idiot – despite living in London now, I grew up in the country, so I have chucked a spare thicker coat and wellies in the cavernous 529-litre boot).

Besides, this is the perfect way to experience the brutality of nature up on the Derbyshire hills. The trees, still stripped naked, seem to shiver in the low sun as I take a twisty road up to Froggart, the V60 masterfully embracing the turns. Having cruised up the motorway in the Comfort drive mode, I’ve flicked into Dynamic mode to experience a sportier experience and have fun flinging myself around the corners.

The hail starts to let up as I pass through the village of Grindleford and the sun streams out through the clouds. It’s made even more picturesque as I snake through the trees on the B601 with the light reflecting off them, go over a stone bridge and continue up, up, up. The New York Times recently said that Britain is drowning itself in nostalgia – and if that’s a trend, then I’m jumping on board. What better way to go?

A turn on the right leads to the David Mellor factory shop – a fascinating and super-chic, glass-fronted coffee shop and restaurant that exhibits Mellor’s best-known designs, from his street furniture (there’s a functioning traffic light in the space) to cutlery and glassware. It does a great cappuccino, too.

Hathersage remains one of the prettier parts of the UK Credit: Martyn Williams / Alamy Stock Photo 

Back in the car, I drive up a steep hill through Hathersage, packed with tea rooms, old stone houses and people wandering around in hiking gear, and wind up the dale. The hail restarts and up above I see the hills are dusted with snow. But should the weather totally turn, it’s reassuring to know that my car – with its off-road mode, including optimised engine speed, transmission and all-wheel-drive, would cope with the terrain, even if my shoes (flimsy plimsoles) – wouldn’t.

At the top of a winding road, I reach Hooks Carr car park, with Stanage Edge above. It’s not just Sunday drivers like me who have come up to breath in the views, but cyclists, walkers (toddlers in backpacks don’t get a reprieve, even in the wintry weather) and a minibus full of climbers, who lug their gear along the footpath. In the Peaks dedication to outdoor pursuits are as much as a devotion as a weekly service.

Ordinarily I’d stop for a walk, too, but today, with time limited, I’m keen to press on to the highlight of my trip – a view I’ve seen on Instagram (on the excellent account @peak.district which highlights the best spots in the area). So down I drive along a single-track road, a river running down with me, and grim, determined and very muddy cyclists battling up the other way. A sign points to Hope Valley Ice Cream – I’ll be back in summer for that.

Putting my foot down, I cruise past a ridiculous-looking couple on a tandem on the A6187 to Hope and packs of Lycra-clad, middle-aged cyclists before I pull into Castleton, with its low, historic buildings (the Olde Cheshire Cheese is a 17th century freehouse), narrow roads and tea shops aplenty. As I drive out of the village, the imposing ruins of Peveril Castle are nestled in the hills above.

The picture-perfect village centre of Castleton  Credit: eye35 / Alamy Stock Photo 

Then I’ve arrived at Winnat’s Pass, a limestone gorge in the National Trust’s High Peak Estate. It’s everything I hoped it would be: a road carved deep in the hills, with jutting rocks overhead. I sat through one too many university lectures about the sublime and Wordsworth, totally unappreciative at the time. But while he is linked with The Lake District, his descriptions could equally apply here: it really is awe-inspiring to drive though.

The photographer is keen to make the most of the landscape, too, and has me driving back and forth to get the perfect shot, which involves three-point-turns at tiny passing places, so I make the most of the 360-degree parking camera to make sure I’m not reversing off an edge. Car PRs hate it when you do that with vehicles on loan.

Once satisfied he’s got the shot (and have irritated enough other drivers), I press on. I was going to head straight to Chapel-en-le-Frith, but instead find a little off-shoot road that takes me over a cattle grid and alongside Mam Torr, also known as the shivering mountain, and a very popular walking route.

The crumpled hills of Winnats Pass, with Mam Tor in the distance Credit: richard wheeler / Alamy Stock Photo 

Pulling the car over to the side of the road I can see down into the valley of Edale – officially the most popular spot in Britain to start walking – and over to Kinder Scout, the highest point in the Peak District standing at 636m above sea level. I’m already shrouded in a layer of fog from my vantage point, and the photographer (a keen walker) assures me the weather will be even more bleak over there.

It’s time to start heading back if I’m going to make it in time for Sunday lunch and resume parenting duties. I wend my way down to Sparrowpit, a small village between Chapel-en-le-Frith and Peak Forest with an excellent Game of Thrones-esq name, and instead of the leisurely drive out, I put my foot down and glide straight back on the A623 through Stoney Middleton and back to Bubnell.

I’ve run and walked extensively around this area, but a drive on my own for three hours from inside my laid back, Scandi cockpit? Total decadence.

THE FACTS  

Volvo V60 Cross Country

PRICE from £38,270 (as tested £48,670)

ENGINE 1,969cc four-cylinder diesel

POWER 187bhp

TOP SPEED 130mph

FUEL ECONOMY 42.8-47.9mpg (WLTP)

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