The competiton

In October we asked members of the public to submit their 'ultimate journey' on our Facebook page for a chance to win an Astra GTC for 3 months. The submissions were open to the public vote and with over 500 votes five lucky winners made it to the top. You can follow their progress as they review this incredible new model right here and on our Facebook Page.

Friday, June 8

Final few weeks with the GTC! 

Seeing as the weather has been so amazing the past week or 2, a bunch of us decided to go camping up Loch Lubnig! Its so nice up there, and I love Callander. Of course I had everyone's tents and sleeping bags in my car!! It wasn't until we set up our tents that we realised there were 5 highland cows and a big black bull joining us!! They didn't seem to bother about us though fortunately! We got a little camp fire started and had a dip in the Loch! On the way back I stopped at the most amazing fudge shop in Callander and the Woolen Mill. If anyone hasn't been to Callander then I suggest you go, there's something there for everyone.

I've also been visiting Peter Vardy in Kirkcaldy quite a lot recently and decided to treat myself to a new car from them. Not the GTC I'm afraid, although it was in my top 2! I decided on a new Mini Cooper so I picked that up a few weeks ago. As always, great service, great knowledge, and none of the nonsense sales patter you can receive from other garages - just the facts & their personal opinions. That's what I like about Peter Vardy. They did prefer the GTC to the MINI so they nearly changed my mind but I love the MINI and I'm glad with the choice I made. If you happen to be in the Kirkcaldy branch and see a car, I'd also recommend Sean King to help you out. If he's not around, Mark Gunn is the man for the job, he's been selling cars since before I was born!

Overall, in all honesty, I would highly recommend the Astra GTC to anyone. It's not specifically for younger people, or older people. It's for EVERYONE! Good insurance group, amazing on fuel, and all the latest technology and gadgets you need. There is so much space in the GTC, even people with small children who would usually go for a 5 door car could go for this. And the deals that Peter Vardy are offering at the moment, there's really no excuse. Starting at £39.99 a week, (T+Cs apply obviously) anyone can afford it.

I've had a great time with the car, no problems with it and I'll be sad to see it go :(. 
(If you decide you want one, go for it in white or red! STUNNING!)

Monday, May 21

Spirit of Adventure: What does this button do?

The Astra GTC has a button on the end of the indicator-stalk that seems to serve no function.

I assume it has a purpose in one of the higher spec variants of the car, but in the example I have been driving, it seems to be redundant.  Whenever you see a plain plastic panel where there obviously should be a button or control of some kind, you are reminded that you are driving something at the lower end of the model's range. Which makes it all the more amazing that I should find this lower spec GTC such a fantastic car.  Things can only get better as you move up through the options and, with the top-of-the-range VXR model going into production, the Astra GTC range now reaches from “Good” to “Spectacular.”

Now that my time with the Astra GTC has come to an end, I can only look back with fondness and admiration.  Returning to Peter Vardy Vauxhall, in Perth, I took it on one last fling among the back roads of Central Scotland, cutting up through Torrance, and Kirkintilloch, taking the Kilsyth road to Haggs, before cruising up the M9 to Perth. Handing over the keys and walking away was a difficult moment. If I was in a position to buy it there and then, I would not have hesitated.

Vauxhall have done remarkable things with the GTC.  In fact, they have done pretty well with the Astra in general.  I was happy to hear, last week, that the Ellesmere Port plant has been given a huge boost by GM to keep production of the Astra going well into the future.

But the Astra isn't the only important model in Vauxhall's future.  Earlier this week, I paid a visit to the Peter Vardy Dealership in Edinburgh, where I was introduced to the amazing new Ampera.  I had seen this car, briefly, when I was down at the factory, but the good people at Peter Vardy were kind enough to let me take their demonstrator for a test drive.

Before I even mention the game-changing technology involved in this model, I have to say it's a very well finished, nicely designed car. It feels substantial and safe, and the EuroNCAP tests confirm that it is one of the safest cars on the road. The leather seats are the most comfortable I have ever sat in, and I've sat in many a comfy chair! The steering wheel is very similar to the one in my Astra GTC but, shaped in soft leather, it's far more comfortable. If this ergonomic steering wheel is available as an option in the GTC, I would definitely recommend it.

I was surprised that the Ampera was only a four-seater. The centre console reaches right through the cabin, similar to an option found in a Bentley or Rolls-Royce, providing two rear passengers with  cup-holders, extra storage, and a power socket at a convenient height.

The reason for this centre console is that the Ampera is driven by an Electric Motor which is powered by a huge battery pack, positioned through the middle of the car for the perfect centre of gravity. There are fleeting moments when you can sense the additional weight of the batteries but I found the car to be very well balanced, and when tackling some of my favourite roads it handled the twisty stuff fantastically. It's little wonder it has been named Car Of The Year 2012.

You may have heard people talk about “Range-Anxiety” when it comes to Electric Cars. This is something I experienced when I tried a small, “city” electric car, recently. I spent the entire time worrying about the state of charge, unable to enjoy the drive. The Vauxhall, on the other hand, has the ideal solution for this. They've engineered a small “back-up” generator into the system, fuelled by standard unleaded petrol, which can keep the electric motor powered for hundreds of additional miles if you let the battery charge go down.

In most cases, you can drive back and forth to work and go all the places you normally go in a car, running only on the electricity you put in at home. In theory, one tank of petrol could last for months or even years, as opposed to the couple of weeks any other petrol car lasts between £60 fill-ups. Even when I ran down the charge and used up all the fuel, as I did on my 100+ mile test drive, the Sat Nav automatically offered me the choice of the nearest filling stations. I thoroughly enjoyed the drive, with absolutely no concern about the possible range.

Driving the Ampera feels much like driving any other premium automatic car, but a little mind-set tweaking is required. It's only once you've driven an electric car, that you realise how much information you normally get from the sound of an engine. In the Ampera, the only noise is the wind and road noise, which above a certain speed is much the same as you'd experience in any other car. But at low speeds the car is exceptionally quiet.
"Almost too quiet."
The people at Vauxhall have recognised the concern that pedestrians may step onto the road, not realising the stealthy saloon is approaching. While most cars already have a device fitted to alert other road users of their presence (the Horn) Vauxhall have come up with a secondary alert which is far less aggressive, or alarming. The Ampera can give a discrete, but noticeable “Chirrup” sound to catch the attention of anyone who is clearly about to step out into your path.

How do you make this sound?

There's a button on the end of the indicator-stalk for that.

Thursday, May 10

Final Week in London with the Astra GTC

Goodbye Astra

Having had the pleasure of driving the Astra for the past three months, it is almost time up!  I thought that for my final weekend with the car I would put it to the test in central London.

As always the car handled well in both heavy and light traffic, cyclists could see me coming and I didn't need to use the horn once.  In fact, I was amazed at how many cars let me in! I perhaps went a little mad with photos in front of land marks but as this is the final blog, I decided that you can never have too many photos. Check out horse guard parade - seating all ready for the beach volleyball!

To conclude this three month drive, here is a little evaluation:
Favourite features: Its magnetic look, Size of the boot, Sporty feel, Fabulous handling and 6 gears.
Worst feature: Automatic wipers - I almost always have to over ride them due to not kicking in.
Top tip: Practice using the clever little hand break button before setting off for the first time - it takes a bit of getting used to.

Finally, I would do almost anything to keep this car for another three months.  Not owning a car, it provided essential transport for the Kilimanjaro training team, taking us up to the highest peaks in the UK plus it has given me quite a bit of street-cred amongst the kids at school.  I have enjoyed every moment of every drive and I will be first in the queue to buy this car.

Thank you so much Peter Vardy for allowing this crazy chic to drive your car up and down the UK.

Tuesday, May 8

Spirit of Adventure: Closer to Home

The last week or two have been pretty quiet for me, having arrived home from my Ultimate Journey around Britain. Taking three weeks out to explore this spectacular country has been a tremendous experience, and I can only thank Peter Vardy, and those who voted on this competition, for giving me the opportunity to take on this adventure.

Since my return to Glasgow, the Astra GTC has had to settle into the more mundane role of a commuting vehicle. From time to time, when I'm not delivering cars for people, I am asked to don a uniform and drive for a local chauffeur service. I've been doing that for about 8 years now and every job brings up something new and interesting. The other day, after signing out from the garage, I realised that I hadn't been anywhere interesting in the Astra GTC for a while. With the sun shining, and a few hours to kill, I decided to take a drive out to the sea-side town of Largs.


If you're feeling adventurous, I'll recommend the hidden gem of a road I discovered that afternoon.

I headed along the M8 motorway to Port Glasgow, and followed the main route into Greenock. After a few roundabouts I came to the junction at the Fire-Station and turned left. This road is sign-posted as an alternative route to Inverkip and takes you up-hill through a residential area, by-passing the town centre. Just before the road peaks and heads back downhill, there is a small road on the left, signposted “Scenic Route”. Shortly up this road you'll see another road to the left – the Old Largs Road. This is where the fun begins.

Roads like this developed from footpaths trodden over hundreds of years, so the narrow slither of tarmac, kept in good condition, meanders casually over the hillside, through open moorland, and along side small lochs and reservoirs. A handful of cars were abandoned by roadside as opportunistic anglers made the most of the good weather, trying to catch some dinner. Just 20 minutes from Glasgow City Centre, I felt like I was back in rural Wales. The scenery just got better and better as I followed the unpredictable route through the landscape.

Old Largs Road
The Astra GTC found its mojo again and was loving this new environment. Out here, in the wild, is where a car like this demonstrates its real potential. The GTC could do the morning commute as well as any other car, but few cars can match it out here. For the first time since my tour had ended I could hear the engine singing its heart out, and for those 20 minutes on that road, all was well in my world.

Gradually, civilisation began to take up residence along the roadside as I found myself descending into Largs.  Down by the promenade I stop to take in the view down the Firth of Clyde. Greater Cumbrae seemed a lot closer than it did when I used to go there on school trips. For a brief moment I considered jumping on a ferry to do a quick lap of the island but my fuel gauge suggested I shouldn't.

While it is a nice place to visit in its own right, there were two things that validate any trip to Largs: Fish & Chips on the sea-front, and an Ice-cream at Nardini's. Thankfully, after a long period of closure, this world famous restaurant, cafe and ice-cream parlour is fully open again, and looking greater than ever.

As the evening closed in, I got back on the road and this time took the slightly faster, but equally fun cross-country route home via Dalry and Barrhead.  Despite being a professional driver, I still find a drive in the country a fantastic way to refresh the mind and de-stress. I arrived home feeling good, and loving the prospect of one more month with the fantastic Astra GTC.

Monday, April 30

Kilimanjaro Sucess

Jen had some great news for us last week at Peter Vardy HQ. She successfully summited Mount Kilimanjaro! 
"All the team would like to thank Peter Vardy for the transportation for the training weekends to enable this epic adventure to happen.  It was one of the hardest but most brilliant weeks of my life."
Here is a video of her epic adventure:

Tuesday, April 24

A night out in Blackpool

So I've not been to Essex yet and I'm absolutely gutted :( It turned out only 2 of us could go so we thought we'd wait until all 5 of my friends can go down in the next few weeks. That just means the best is yet to come!!!
  My boyfriend invited me to the Rangers Legends game a few weeks ago! Not to be polite, just so I would drive and he could have a beer!! It's this kind of situation where you fall in love with the eco-friendliness of the GTC!! I genuinely think we sat in traffic longer getting in and out of Ibrox than we did watching football! But the car just turns itself off thanks to the startstop technology - you save fuel, and lots of it! It wasn't all a bad night though, Ally McCoist scored the one and only goal in the whole game and the crowd went wild. It was my first time at Ibrox too, and the Stadium Bar after! It was an experience!!

Talking of saving fuel, I can't believe all the panic buying at Petrol Stations!

  Linzi and I decided to head down to Blackpool for our night of glitz & glamour. By glitz and glamour I mean vodka & redbull, and chicken kebabs!! Blackpool is the poor man's Las Vegas and I love it!! It’s amazing!! The drive down is just one long straight road and I just put the cruise control on let the car drive itself! And we used just under half a tank of petrol to get there!! If we'd taken my old car it would have probably been about 2 full tanks just to get there! But we got to Blackpool and back home on 1 full tank! Perfect :)

Lucky for us, the weather was lovely in Blackpool! Windy as always but perfect for "seeing the sights!" ha! We had a great breakfast in the New Yorker Cafe, and because we got lost, we ended driving down the entire length of the promenade! We headed straight out as soon as we got to our B&B to enjoy the nightlife and had great fun! We even had a little dip in the sea!!

The weather the next day was horrible so as you'll see from pictures we didn't get out of the car very much! But we still loved it and we're thinking about going back down soon!! Next on my list is Alton Towers which we will definitely be going to on Thursday 3rd of May (as I have a free tickets!) I am hoping that Essex will follow soon after!! 

Gretna Green Service Station

Monday, April 16

The Last Leg

After a second night in Edinburgh, I took to the road for the last time on my epic journey. I crossed the Forth Road Bridge out of Edinburgh and, with a motorway ban still imposed, I turned onto the A823 leading into Dunfermline. Following this route through Dunfermline requires a fair bit of concentration as the route is not straightforward, but having travelled this way many times over the years, I soon found the road leading north out of Dunfermline signposted to the National Motorsport Centre, at Knockhill.

On a dry day, with little traffic, and in a good car, this road is unbeatable. With a few long straights, brilliantly cambered corners, and fantastic dips and climbs, this road has as much variation and character as the famous racing circuit it passes. The Astra GTC had found a road that was built for it, and every mile just seemed to get better and better, as the sporty hatchback displayed precision and personality, powering through the wilderness towards Perthshire.

North of Yetts o'Muckhart, the road begins to climb through Glendevon. A combination of tight, wooded corners, narrow bridges, and long open stretches meet with approval from the GTC as it's engine sings it's heart out, revelling in the playground it's been let loose in. But the best section of this road is saved to last, and as I reach the summit, the view opens up to reveal the most fantastic descent into Gleneagles.

What a view!
The descent is fast and free-flowing, with visibility clear, allowing some of the wiggles in the road to be straightened out if you pick the right line at the right time.  At the foot of the hill, just before the road crosses the A9, there is a tight turn across a narrow bridge, so take it easy at this point.

It would be rude to get this close, and not stop in at the world famous hotel and golf resort, so I turned in for a short break at the magnificent Gleneagles Hotel, before returning to the Dual-Carriageway for my last stint.

After about 15 minutes on the A9 I finally made it to Perth, and Journey’s End. 18 days and 2500 miles after leaving the Peter Vardy Dealership on Dunkeld Road, I was back, and the fantastic little car, hadn't let me down once. And it truly is a fantastic car. Not only have I become quite attached to it, I have been able to forgive and forget the little things that I criticised on day one. I have become used to the slightly awkward handbrake position on the Sport Model, and the Start-Stop function, which I thought I'd be over-riding all the time. That system is so smooth and quiet that I barely notice the engine cutting out at all at traffic lights. At idle the engine is tremendously quiet anyway, but give it the beans and the sound the car makes is terrific. As a regular visitor to my local Glasgow Chiropractic centre, I was concerned my back would be in all kinds of trouble after a journey like this, but the seats, even in this basic model, were perfectly comfortable, and I had no problems at all.

Peter Vardy Perth
I said I would keep an eye on the thirst of this car.  Despite all the eco-features, the car isn't the most frugal of hatchbacks, but then again, you'd probably have to invest in a classic to get more smiles-per-gallon than you get from the Astra GTC.  As a Car Delivery Driver I have had the opportunity to drive many great cars, but I can honestly say the Astra GTC is, by far, the most impressive.

And so, after all that, it was time to go home. Now that the journey was over, I decided to lift my self-imposed motorway ban and take the A9 and M80 back to Glasgow.

That plan lasted all of 5 minutes when, mid-way between the Inverlalmond and Broxden Roundabouts, I saw the sign to Crieff.

I couldn't help it.  The A85 takes you across Perthshire, through Crieff, and onto Callander, and any serious driver will know where I'm heading now.  Just before reaching Callander I turned onto one of the most famous driving routes in Scotland.  The Duke's Pass rises from the banks of Loch Achray, through the Trossachs and down a hairpin strewn hill into Aberfoyle.  This is a spectacular route on a summer's evening, but even in the misty dusk, it was a tremendously atmospheric drive.

The Dukes Pass
From Aberfoyle, the route south passes Glengoyne Distillery and through Strathblane,  before bypassing Mugdock Country Park & reservoir, dropping straight into Milngavie, and along the road known as the “Switchback” to Anniesland in the extreme West of Glasgow.

Twenty minutes later I was home, and while relaxing with a nice warm cuppa, I couldn't help pondering where the Astra GTC was going to take me next.

Friday, March 30

The Road Back to Scotland

After a nostalgic weekend in Warwick, finding my old car, and meeting up with some great friends, I thought I'd indulge another little trip down “Memory Lane” and visit the city where I studied a few years ago. Memory lane turned out to be a fantastic little back road from Haseley to Kenilworth, zigzagging around Warwickshire fields and farms, before stretching out into the long, arrow-straight A429, passing the illustrious University of Warwick and into the not-so-illustrious City of Coventry.

The city centre is, by any standards, a bit grim, but it was nice to be back in familiar surroundings. After a satisfying coffee and a slice of the best carrot & walnut cake in my old favourite café, “Brown's,” I got back into the Astra GTC for the next stage of my journey.

Brown's Café

I eventually managed to negotiate Coventry's fantastically complicated road system and after half an hour of wishing the good people at Peter Vardy Vauxhall had selected the Sat-Nav option for this car, I found the motorway and began powering northwards, up the M1.

The Astra GTC performs well on the motorway, but despite being among the fastest roads in the country they are still incredibly dull. Not a lot happened between Coventry and my overnight stop in the grand old City of York and I think even the car was thoroughly bored with the 70mph cruise.

So the following morning, I imposed a motorway ban! OK, there wasn't much motorway left to use, but the principle remained. The Astra GTC seemed quite happy with this decision too, as it got back to doing what it does best, through the Yorkshire Moors. I love the sound the car makes when I give it the beans. The turbo gives it the slightest of asthmatic wheezes when lifting off the gas, but it adds tremendous character to a tremendous car. The smile on my face was matched only by the smile on the car's grill as it bobbed and weaved through the land. The car feels totally planted and still, after 2000 miles of relentless punishment, it revels in the twisty stuff, with the clever new mechanical bits under the skin keeping the car level in the corners, when it really should be wallowing into a ditch at the side of the road.

The control you feel in this car is immense. I never once felt that gut-churning sensation that I had taken a bend too fast, yet I am pretty sure other cars would have struggled to cope with some of the corners at the speeds I was comfortable doing in this car. There is an obvious warning, then, with this car. It is hugely competent, and inspires a great deal of confidence, so you always have to be aware of the speeds you are doing. If I was driving something else, and found myself being overtaken by an Astra GTC, I wouldn't even try to keep up. It can do things other cars just can't.

All too soon I arrived at Darlington, and time for another coffee break As my road-atlas starts to fall apart (a sure sign that I'm on a good journey), I plan out a route to the A68. The road that will bring me to my final overnight stop, in Edinburgh.

This is a pretty impressive piece of road-building, albeit a very dangerous road. South of the Border, the road consists of impossibly long straights stretching out beyond the horizon, but continually rising and falling with some long steep climbs and descents, interspersed with small hidden dips and blind crests. The sensation is similar to a “Big Dipper” style fun-ride but it's easy to let the concentration slip when there are no corners for miles.

Further North, I made the final border crossing of my journey and I rolled back into Scotland where, immediately, the roads got interesting again. However, the Electronic Speed Limiter had to be deployed, as the roads in the Scottish Borders have (probably) the highest concentration of Speed Cameras in the country! On roads where I need to be fully focussed on the road ahead, watching out for deer, sheep and other motorists, it's good to be able to let the car worry about the speedometer. The Speed Limiter will even beep if I get onto a long steep hill where gravity starts to pull the car over the set limit, encouraging me to cover the brakes to avoid any unnecessary fines.

Scotland - England Border
It wasn't long before I reached the City of Edinburgh, and arrived at my accommodation. The following day I head across town for a fantastic lunch with two of the “Polar” Bears (The Sporting Bears in Scotland) who helped make my journey come together. From there I visited the Headquarters of CHAS – The Children's Hospice Association in Scotland.

Visiting CHAS
I had a fascinating chat with Kirsten, from the fundraising team at CHAS, about the two hospices they run, Rachel House in Kinross, and Robyn House in Balloch. They hold open days and guided tours throughout the year so people can come and see some of the fantastic work they do for families with children who have life-limiting conditions. On the CHAS website, Ewan Macgregor (no stranger to adventure, himself) explains what CHAS does:

CHAS Website

CHAS has received almost £20,000 from the Sporting Bears Motor Club. Much of this can be attributed to the fantastic Dream Rides events held throughout the year. If you own an interesting classic, or modern sports car, why not join the Sporting Bears and bring it along to one of these events, taking people out for a ride to raise money for great charities like CHAS. The annual membership fee for the club is just £20 a year, and this covers all the club's costs allowing every penny raised through events and tours to be directed to the children's charities.

Sporting Bears Website

Wednesday, March 28

Climbing Snowdon

The final leg of my great drive took place last week end.  From Scafell we took the windy A595 onto the A590, enjoying Lake District scenery before hitting the M6 until junction 20a where 20 miles on the M56 takes up into North Wales.  The A494 joins the A55 and more breath-taking scenery awaits.  My passengers are very happy with the comfort and ride, stating that they are not sure if it my driving or the car that is to congratulate. The road runs along the coast providing a wonderful backdrop for the drive.  

We join the A5 for a couple of minutes before picking up signs for Llamberis and the A4244. Traffic was very quiet on this Saturday morning and the car again did us proud.  Our ETA of 12:00 was beaten by 30 min and we took to the mountain kitted and watered.

The Llamberis trek is one of the longest but easiest routes, hopefully emulating aspect of Kilimanjaro. Three hours and up and two down resulted in a well-deserved pint (not for me), before returning home, reversing much of the above route.

The weather began to cloud over producing a moody backdrop of lakes and mountains. Queen entertained us as we pulled in loose ends as this was the last time we would be together before meeting in Tanzania.

There will be no blog for the next few weeks, however I will be doing a lot of filming as we climb, leaving the beloved GTC in Heathrow car park.

Thanks again Peter Vardy for this great car!   

Wednesday, March 21

A sunny weekend shopping at Braehead

So, it was quite sunny last weekend and didn't feel that cold so me Linzi, Katie and Katie's little boy Jay decided to go to Aberdour and go to the beach! I really wanted to go to St. Andrews because it's my favourite place (I don't know why, there's just something about it) but we'd never been to the beach at Aberdour so we made a last minute detour. It wasn't very sunny and we spent most of the time in the car – not that this was necessarily a bad thing!! Absolutely freezing but still managed to go in for a wee dip and pretend we were on holiday! I never noticed how much room was in the back seats until wee Jay was sitting in them – he couldn’t kick his mum in the front seat which is a first!

Shopping Spree
I was also in dire need of some retail therapy so last Saturday me and my mum decided to go to Braehead Shopping Centre and spend some money!! Considering the GTC is quite a large car, it's surprisingly easy to park! And that's a bold statement coming from me, I couldn't even park a Corsa when I had one!! I've noticed quite a lot of cool things about this car which I wasn't told about to begin with, I suppose I had to figure them out for myself. For example, if no one told you how to open the boot, you would probably be like me and spend 15 minutes looking at it.
Coming back with what seemed like 60 bags of clothes and shoes, instead of dumping them on the ground, all I had to do was jab my elbow against the big Vauxhall badge and it opens :) the downside of having such a large boot is it means that me and my mum get to shop more to fill it!!

Never been to Knockhill before and really wanted to see what the fuss was about so on Sunday me and Linzi decided to go for a drive. There wasn't any cars racing but the gates to the track were open and I was really tempted just to drive in and rally the GTC about . . . but I knew Peter Vardy would probably have a heart attack (as would my insurance company!) so decided just to have a nosy at the cars that were up there. There were loads of amazing cars! All done up and covered in stickers. None as cool as the GTC though ;) maybe I'll suggest to Knockhill they should make the GTC their new track car! 

Beautiful wee Corsa VXR Nurburgring

Also had a little nosy up at Gleneagles to see if I could spot Gerard Butler - no luck but I'll find him one day!! For now I'm just counting down the days until the 7th of April when I go to ESSEX!!