The A1 is generally thought to start at London (A406) and finishes at Edinburgh (A199), covering a length of 380-420 miles (depending on who you ask) and is the UK’s longest numbered road system and probably the most famous. The modern Great North Road still does what it has always done, namely, link the two capital cities of London and Edinburgh and allow for relatively easy travel between the two. With accepted history suggesting that the A1 is based around the original Roman road, it came as something of a shock when in June 2014, a Mesolithic settlement was unearthed by researchers alongside the A1 near Catterick in North Yorkshire.
The site is believed to have been a kind of overnight shelter, used by people travelling north and south thousands of years ago. After much careful archeological digging, a number of flint tools dating back to between 6000 and 8000 BC were discovered at the site. Steve Sherlock, Archaeological Clark for the project, is recorded as saying, “This was a place that these people knew of – a place they could return to on many occasions, to stay sheltered overnight during their travels. It is telling us there is evidence for people using the route and moving through the area over periods of time.” All of which points to the route predating the previous claim that it was built by the Romans.
And yet, how many of us know anything other than the speed camera locations and traffic black spots on one of Britains most consistently busy roads? Certainly MotorMartin was recently very surprised to discover that alongside the A1(M) near Peterborough, a Norman Cross Memorial close to junction 16, marks the former existence of a camp for French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars where 1,770 died. Amazing.
Just above Newark-On-Trent and mere metres from the A1 is the pretty village of South Muskham where you’ll find St Wilfrid’s, a stone-built, Grade I listed building. This particular church is well worth taking time out to view as the north aisle is particularly narrow, approximately 4ft wide and almost certainly dates from the 14th century; the north door is 13th century and was most likely moved when the north aisle was added whilst the tower has stonework from the 13th, 14th and 15th century. The south aisle window even contains glass showing the arms of William Smith, bishop of Lincoln 1496-1513.
Remaining in the past is easy all along the A1 as with a little research you can end up at places like Flag Fen, a few short miles from Peterborough. This is a site that allows you to experience what life may have been like 3,500 years ago for our prehistoric ancestors as Flag Fen is regarded as possibly the finest Bronze Age archaeological site in Northern Europe. Discovered by Francis Pryor in 1982, the remains of a prehistoric causeway can be seen and marvelled upon before taking in the rest of the site.
I could go on, there are many, many different sites and sounds that are completely missed by the vast majority of drivers and their passengers when travelling up and down the A1 for business or pleasure. Perhaps it’s the pace of modern life that we hear so much about, perhaps it’s the pressure that people are under to get the job done, make the sale or expand the business? Whatever it may be, this green and pleasant land that most of us call home, can offer up surprises and experiences at every turn, the commute that you could complete in your sleep is, more often than not, hiding treasures aplenty.
All of which brings me rather nicely to the Kia Optima 1.7 CRDi ‘4’ DCT 7-speed, the handsome saloon that MotorMartin has been lucky enough to be testing recently. So why all the mentions of the A1? In MotorMartin’s opinion, cars like the Kia Optima make travelling the long distances that the A1 allows, a piece of cake. Comfortable and quick is the perfect combination for a car like the Kia and it’s the job of the Optima to provide the driver and passengers with everything that they need to complete their journey without distraction.
The issue that you have when travelling in something quite so accomplished is precisely that which has been discussed already. Missing so many unique sites and sounds as you pass within a few 100 metres, is easy as you head to where you need to be. Yet, with a little forward planning you can use the incredible mile eating ability of the Optima and the quality SAT NAV to your advantage and move off from the monotony of the dual carriageway to the smaller lanes with the ultimate intention of visiting somewhere with more class, history and style.
One of the major factors behind the excellent mile eating ability of the Kia is the amount of technology that is fitted to the Optima 1.7 CRDi ‘4’ DCT 7-speed to help it in its everyday driving. When sat at 65/70 mph you really do get a sense that this is a car that has been designed to make your journey as comfortable as possible. With increased head, shoulder and rear-seat legroom, beautifully comfortable ventilated and heated seats and all the cabin space you need, this is indeed a special place to spend time.
Indeed, MotorMartin is particularly impressed with the Advanced Smart Cruise Control (ASCC) fitted to this particular Optima as once more, it helps to create a relaxing mile eater of supreme ability.
Cruise control? Yes, a feature that was once viewed as being rather aspirational and therefore expensive, can now be found on some of the most humdrum of everyday cars. The reason that the Optima’s stands out quite so much, in MotorMartin’s opinion, is that it features Kia’s adaptive element. Let’s listen to Kia as they explain this incredible system, Advanced Smart Cruise Control uses a radar sensor at the front of the car to monitor the distance to vehicles ahead. If the pre-determined safe distance is not being maintained, the system will reduce the speed, and even stop the car, until the vehicle ahead proceeds. Out on the road during ‘real life’ motoring the system really comes into its own and becomes a valuable safety measure as well.
Set the Advanced Smart Cruise Control to 70mph and the distance between the Optima and the vehicle in front to 3 (out of 4) blocks and just let the Kia get on with transporting you towards your destination. You really do have to recalibrate your brain and put your trust in the Optima and its abilities, as when travelling from Bradford, West Yorks to Peterborough in Cambridgeshire, along the A1 of course, the Optima had plenty of opportunities to strut it’s stuff. It’s certainly a strange sensation, feeling the large executive saloon slowing down unaided by yourself as it reacts to the traffic in front, in fact the Optima can and does slow right down to a stop if necessary. Incredible.
All of which brings me, in a roundabout way, back to where we started, travelling along the A1. The Kia Optima 1.7 CRDi ‘4’ DCT 7-speed is the perfect car in which to travel the length and breadth of this green and pleasant land of ours. Driving along the A1 in complete comfort allows you to think about the destination rather than the journey as the Optima is just so damm excellent at its job, that of transporting a family in complete comfort for as many miles as they need whilst still arriving both relaxed and refreshed.
Catch up with MotorMartin and the Kia Optima for part 2 when I’ll be looking more at the technology present and the driving experience itself.
Where will you go?