The Continental Tour Report, by Neil Sims
When we first heard from Jeremy Dickson (at the E-type Club day in August 2012) about the plans for this event, we were hooked. A trip across northern France taking in various gastronomic experiences, to Luxembourg for some of the best driving roads in Europe, was not to be missed. As time went by, we were surprised that so few E-type owners were joining us, but this eventually worked to our advantage because the event was combined with the XK Club trip the following week, which meant we enjoyed much better weather and the company of some very sociable XK owners.
The organisation by Jeremy and his wife, Jennie, was excellent. As always it is the attention to detail that makes any event a success. Everything from the carefully planned route using detailed tulip diagrams to the delightful hotels was clearly the result of long experience. We were free to follow the route in detail or head off our own way using motorways – as we pleased. Most days we only had to drive for about 150 miles, so there was plenty of time to stop off on the way for places of interest.
The route went through many of the scenes of historic conflicts in the 1914-18 war. The number of military cemeteries was sobering and it was poignant to visit some of these by Neil Sims places to give thanks for the sacrifice of an earlier generation. The most impressive of these is Verdun, where over a million men were killed between 1914 and 1918. The sheer scale of the monument with its symmetrically arranged headstones is most humbling.
There were lighter moments: we went through the Champagne region, so stopped off at some of the tiny Champagne producers for the ritual degustation. This takes place in the producer’s home, usually in the dining room, and involves studying a list of the wines produced and having a small taste of a few of them. Unfortunately an E-type with a week’s luggage for two does not leave much room for bottles, but with vintage Premier Cru Champagne for less than €20 a bottle, we managed to find space for nearly a dozen bottles – not all of which made it home! The hotels were well chosen.
The first night was spent at the Chilston Park, hidden away in the country near Maidstone. The building, dating back centuries, was most impressive with its oak staircase and highly decorated ceilings. As the afternoon went on, more and more XKs and a total of three E-types gathered on the gravel forecourt until there was assembled in the bar, a healthy contingent of Jaguar enthusiasts. Jeremy welcomed us and handed out the impressive route books. We then assembled for a most sociable and alcoholic dinner – a harbinger of things to come. Early next morning we set off for the ferry from Dover to Calais. This was a good example of Jeremy’s attention to detail. We had priority booking and use of the Club Lounge on the P&O Ferry. This meant we were first on and first off the ferry with no awkward ramps to be negotiated by the E-type’s low slung exhaust. Getting together in the Club Lounge gave us an opportunity to get to know each other better over a glass of Champagne.
It was surprising to find than no less than five of the 15 XKs were driven by doctors. This was reassuring, but thankfully we did not need to call on their services – unlike those of the car doctor, Simon Hemsley, but more of that later. The other overnight stops on the way to Luxembourg were at the Château de Ligny, where the food was outstanding, and the Château de Fere. The “new” Château de Fere was built around the 17th century in the shadow of the ruins of the original moated château. Here we relaxed by the openair swimming pool in glorious sunshine, listening to the birds and the burble of XK engines as our fellow travellers arrived. The freezing water was very refreshing after a long hot day with the top down.
A visit to the Reims GP circuit with its restored pits alongside the D27 and opposite the still to be restored grandstands was not to be missed. Above the Jaguar pit is a plaque commemorating the exploits of the Jaguar drivers of the 1950s who enjoyed such success here – a great photo opportunity. We were amused to be joined by the Crumball Rally comedians on their Italian Job tour (www.crumballrally.com). Luxembourg is a great place for a driving tour. The roads are interesting, wide, wellsurfaced and relatively traffic-free. It is noticeable when you leave Luxembourg for Belgium how much worse the roads are. The scenery is beautiful and petrol is exceptional value – 98 octane for €1.39 a litre. On the Saturday a driving tour had been organised by Goy Feltes. He clearly knows the local roads!
By Saturday we had been joined by XKs and E-types from around Europe and some 200 cars were assembled for the start. This tour left the Echternach Abbey grounds at 09.30 and soon took us out into mountainous roads with plenty of gradient changes and hairpin bends. We were treated to a timed hillclimb, a lunch stop, a visit to a local Jaguar restoration specialist with an immaculate and well-equipped workshop and finally to a superb private collection, the icing on the cake.
A quick change of gear and we were into the coach for a dramatic drive through a spectacular thunderstorm to the Vianden Castle for dinner. Fortunately the rain had stopped by the time we arrived for the mountain climb up the cobbles to the entrance to this fabulously restored building. The dinner was very well attended and we were welcomed by Philip and Julie and enjoyed an interesting interview with Ian Callum. He commented that he loved the pure design of the XK 120 and the E-type.
Sunday was a little disappointing because of the weather but, again, there was an excellent turn out. We had a problem with the brakes – perhaps a result of the spirited driving between the downhill hairpins on the Saturday. Fortunately, Simon was on hand to check out and bleed the brakes.
We started our return journey on the Monday with another lovely drive through Luxembourg and the Ardennes. We found ourselves on a wonderful stretch of wide, winding, traffic-free road and began to catch the very quick XK 150S of John and Pauline Eyre. I attempted a change down from 4th but the lever just moved around like a spoon in a bowl of soup – ooops! We were stuck in fourth. We managed to travel on using the tulip route until we found Chris and Liz Beauvoisin’s C-type parked outside an attractive-looking restaurant in the middle of the Ardennes. We ordered lunch and hoped Simon would also be following the route and we would be able to flag him down. If the worst came to the worst, we did have our AA Recovery insurance and the restaurant had rooms!
Simon is brilliant. The gearlever had become detached from the linkage because the nut had come loose from the bolt and the bush had gone missing. Simon made up a bush from two Bakelite acorns from a distributor and put the linkage and lever together with a new bolt and Nyloc nut. Many thanks to Simon and his navigator, Jackie. My navigator, Alison, was her usual very efficient self, not missing a single turning until the end of that very long day when we missed the final turning and found ourselves on closed roads with a great many Hi-vis jacketed marshals and spectators behind barriers. For a minute, we thought The Continental had attracted considerable support – until we realised we had found ourselves on the route of a cycle race and the marshals, far from encouraging us, were trying to get us out of the way of the plastic-helmeted, lycra-clad fraternity.
We were very close to our final hotel but couldn’t reach it for the closed roads. Eventually a local Jaguar lover offered to guide us through a long detour to our destination. He was rewarded by the sight of 20 beautiful, if travel-stained, classic Jaguars.
This final hotel, Le Chartreuse near Bethune, was wonderful – beautifully appointed and the food was excellent – recommended for the final stop on a long continental tour leaving only a short hop to Calais and the hypermarket.
The trip was memorable for many of the reasons stated, but more than anything for the company. We had a most enjoyable week and made a number of new friends. We were so pleased the E-type tour was combined with the XK Club tour, because XK owners are also brilliant company.