Lamborghini Aventador SV in Edinburgh and the Borders


I’m taking a rest stop at delightful Dalemain House in Cumbria, trying to recall what I wanted to be when I was young. The zingy aftertaste of Dalemain’s famous marmalade, enlivened by shreds of grapefruit peel, and the bright glow of the log fire in the café are stirring up memories.

Perhaps it was prime minister? No, that must have been Boris’s wish. But wait, didn’t he want to become “world king”? 

Don’t dwell on the past, we’ve heard often enough, and so it is with anticipation tinged with uncertainty that I’m returning to Edinburgh University for its annual boat club Bow Ball.

Former Bank of England policymaker David Blanchflower recently unveiled a study contending that the average age of 47.2 – more or less my age now – equates to maximum unhappiness for people across the developed world. The despair has to do with that old devil called loss, or at least the perception of it. 

Whatever we aspired to be at the age of 21, it’s unlikely we’ll get there if we haven’t arrived by 47.2. Letting go of goals allows things to improve later in life, and indeed the study reveals a remarkably consistent U-shaped happiness pattern over our lifetimes.

However, letting go can be hard to do. What if I’d worked harder earlier, wading in deeper when the fish were rising? Or, perhaps there’s time to fulfil ambitions yet? 


The long, low, electric blue Aventador certainly caused a stir outside the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh


Credit: Chris Watt

One thing I do recall is my dream car. A distant inventor-uncle owned one of the first Lamborghinis in the UK and, from an earlier age, they sounded impossibly glamorous. When I left university in 1993, there they were, massive V12 engines howling and yelping through London’s most exclusive postcodes.

Borrowing one from Lamborghini London in South Kensington for this quest, I couldn’t help marvel anew. The Aventador Super Veloce Jota Roadster is a 6.5-litre, 770 horsepower monster. It is rare (one of only 800 made), expensive (more than £460,000 including VAT) and rumoured to be a last iteration of Lamborghini’s naturally-aspirated V12 engine. And like most Lamborghinis, it bears the name of a famous type of fighting bull.

Certainly, driving out of London, it caused camera-phone flashes, yet the ferocious growl from the ‘naked’ exhaust pipes half way up the back of the car was soon tamed by M4 traffic. It requires just 2.9 seconds to hit 62mph – a speed I was yet to reach more than an hour into my trip. By the time I ran into contraflow roadworks near Stoke-on-Trent, I was beginning to ruminate on the final, aplomado (weighed-down) stage of the bullfight as set out in Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon. It is the state of the bull shortly before it dies. 


Left-hand drive and 700 horsepower aren’t ideal on Edinburgh’s rain-slicked streets


Credit: Chris Watt

Off the M6, wind turbines twirled against a dim sky, reminding of how our world is moving inexorably towards clean energy. University students today, concerned with saving the planet, would doubtless connote the Aventador with a dinosaur rather than a celebrated bull. But I wasn’t ready to give up as I pulled truculently into the car park at Dalemain House, finding myself alongside a muddy Tesla. Certainly this wasn’t the time to dwell on the possibilities of Tesla speeding past Lamborghini’s owners in terms of stock market valuation.

The rest stop proves unexpectedly revivifying, however. “Michael Bond and Paddington were on to something with marmalade’s rejuvenating powers,” says Jane Hasell-McCosh, Dalemain’s owner, with a sparkle in her eye.

Sure enough, my spirits lift as I drive on into the Scottish borders, where the landscape becomes starker, rainswept, more remote – and where the A-roads turn twisty. Glimpses of silvery section of river flash by. A ribbon of bright light delineates the horizon and illuminates vivid greens and browns in-between. 


Jane Hasell-McCosh, owner of Dalemain House in Cumbria, spooning its famous marmalade

And the beast comes alive. I’d assumed the rear wing was primarily stylistic – a homage to the 1970s Countach, which started that tradition. But no, the wing is attached in three places now, and with good reason. It is an active participant in the ‘aero-vectoring’ system initiated when I shift to Corsa (Italian for race) mode.

When cornering, this system focuses downforce on the inside wheels, counteracting roll. It’s like skiing, turning mainly by transferring weigh between legs (do students still ski, or is that passé?).

The scene darkens as I plunge down into wooded valley floor. Re-emerging on to open ground, the rain is more insistent. Views of distant hilltops, softened by atmospheric haze, open up only infrequently now.


One thing is for sure, nothing else looks quite like a Lamborghini


Credit: Chris Watt

Yet there’s plenty to occupy attention in the foreground. The speed with which I can corner with confidence proves euphoric, the car chattering with road surface feedback. A timely warning comes in the form of a sheep, standing perilously close to the side of the road and hurtling towards me at eye-level, so low is the car, its glassy-black eye passing within inches of the wide door mirror.  

It turns out that the aero-vectoring system is so sophisticated that it can shift all of the downforce from one side of the car to the other within 500 milliseconds. Could such engineering prowess not serve electric cars of the future, with one generation helping another, teaching new dogs old(er) tricks?

But before I know it, I’m pulling up to the Balmoral Hotel in the heart of Edinburgh. When I was a student, this was the classiest hotel in town. Forte Group lost control of it in 1996 after being taken over by Granada, but Sir Rocco Forte bought it back the following year. Now his daughter Lydia, who lives near me, recommends that I stay at their “beloved Balmoral”.


Edinburgh doesn’t seem to have changed much, although the mode of transport certainly has


Credit: Chris Watt

It’s not something I could have considered doing as a student, but, everything else remains unchanged: the sense of arrival, the dramatic architecture and, inside, evidence that Edinburgh University Boat Club (established 1867) is still in safe hands.

Club treasurer Ben Dickens is a second year Classics student. What might his life look like in 30 years time, I ask at the ball? “Never mind that,” he says, finishing his drink at the bar. “The Ceilidh is starting.” He beckons me to join the fray. “Dum vivimus, vivamus.” While we live, let us live.

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