A mad dash to Brighton
Vintage cars and the old-fashioned charm of the Four Seasons Park Lane in London never go out of style
“This is the wettest it’s been in the 30 years that I’ve being doing it; if it was colder they might have had to think about calling it off,” said Cliff Jowsey as he steered his 1902 Renault into a service station in the west Sussex town of Cuckfield. It was just after 10am, and Ed, his navigator Matthew, and I had been on the road for two and a half hours. The three of us were wet, soaked to the skin and loving every minute of our adventure.
The London to Brighton Veteran Car Run is a rally, involving pre-1905 vehicles, that takes place on the first Sunday in November each year (with a concours the day before in London). It’s organised on behalf of the Royal Automobile Club and first took place in 1896 as the “Emancipation Run” to celebrate the passage of legislation the same year that made it much easier for people to use cars, by raising the speed limit to 14mph and removing various other restrictions.
The event begins around sunrise in Hyde Park, with the finish line at Brighton’s Madeira Drive. In addition to petrol-powered cars, the line-up attracts steam and electric vehicles of the period, as well as motorcycles and bikes (including penny farthings).
Success is by no means guaranteed and we passed many stricken competitors on the side of the road trying to fix their machines (Jowsey himself admitted that some of his past runs have ended in failure). Overall, a quarter of the 364 vehicles that entered the 2022 race didn’t make it to Brighton, with some even failing to cross the starting line.
What made the event really special were the spectators who lined the route. Whether it was construction workers in Brixton, photographers in Streatham or the Scouts and Rotarians who greeted us in the villages outside Brighton, this was an opportunity for people to come together to celebrate British grit. It’s no wonder that the event has become a family tradition for many competitors, such as the Jowseys, with Cliff’s son Ed (a successful race driver) going from being a young passenger in the early 1990s to now piloting his own 1904 De Dion Bouton.
A hotel stay to savour
Just as a great meal deserves a fine wine, an event such as the Veteran Car Run deserves to be paired with an excellent hotel. While there are many nice places to stay in the immediate area, the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane is something special. This luxury hotel offers great views of Hyde Park and it is also an excellent jumping-off point for those who want to explore the capital.
The rooms, which are designed by Tara Bernerd & Partners, are luxurious to the point of decadence. In the past, I’ve stayed in suites with multiple rooms, but this time I counted no less than seven. In addition to the bedroom and two bathrooms, there was a walk-in closet, powder room, and a sitting room with another room leading out onto a balcony.
My suite contained every amenity you could think of, and the hotel’s dedicated and friendly staff were on hand to cater for your every whim. Indeed, not only was there a bottle of Champagne in my suite on my arrival, but I was even told that when I wanted to drink it, I should ring to summon a butler who would immediately replace the bottle with one that had been chilled.
The Four Seasons also has its own spa, with a small pool, sauna and nine treatment rooms. What sets it apart from its competitors is its rooftop, which allows for panoramic views across London. The hotel offers various spa packages, including the Exclusive Couple’s Sky Suite Experience. This includes a welcome drink on arrival, one hour of relaxation in a private steam room, followed by a two-hour spa experience, consisting of three 40-minute treatments.
The Four Seasons provides substantial in-room dining options, with a large selection of food available around the clock, so you don’t have to step outside your room if you can’t bear to tear yourself away. However, that would be a shame as it would mean missing out on the chance to dine in the hotel’s elegantly designed Amaranto Restaurant (there is also a bar and lounge). I enjoyed my dinner of creamy tomato soup, exquisite king prawns (with truffle French fries) and ice cream for dessert. Overall, this hotel is one to savour.
Matthew received a complimentary stay from the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane, fourseasons.com. Rooms from around £695 a night.