Now I have a bit more free time, it is easier to go away for a quick break. So last weekend we headed north to Bangor for a night in The Salty Dog, which must be the most pet-friendly hotel on this island.
All the staff treated the accompanying pooches as guests in their own right. When we sat down for dinner or breakfast, out came a rug for Ziggy and a bowl of water. OK, he would have preferred my bacon, but that he could actually stay with us was a treat enough.
The trip was also a chance to give the Ford Focus Active Estate a decent run. The Ford Active range is an attempt to bridge the gap between SUVs and saloons/estates by adding a certain amount of cladding and style, raising the body a bit and tweaking the dynamics. On the whole, and I have now driven three variants, it is a success. Largely keeping the good driving for which the company is renowned, but giving just enough style changes to make the vehicles stand out in the car park.
It wasn’t enough for my partner, who is keen to go the full SUV route. This was a bit disappointing, as I thought the pricing of the Focus Active Estate at €26,579 for a fairly high-specced model, was pretty good and definitely made the car affordable. There are diesel and automatic models available but we had the 1.0 Ecoboost engine linked to a versatile six-gear manual box.
The Focus Estate is a true family car with oodles of space for luggage, people and pets. The wide load area was especially useful after we fell for a painting on show in The Salty Dog bar.
We just knew it would look great above the fire in our lounge. Before checking out, we emailed the Belfast artist Maria Mitchell, made a deal and left with the painting carefully placed on our luggage, but safely hidden from view by the tonneau cover. That night, it took up residence in its new home. It could be joined by others, as Maria Mitchell is having an exhibition up the road at DCU’s Helix Theatre for a month from September 9.
We did a lot of mileage in the Focus Active Estate, twice visiting the wonderful Mount Stewart Estate and driving much of the Mourne coastal route. It is a very easy car to drive, goes exactly where you point it and if there is a slight bit more body roll in being 30mm or so higher that doesn’t take from the very good dynamics that the Focus has always given. In fact it makes the Focus Active, in both hatchback and estate forms, an absolute optimum mix of comfort and driveability.
It was interesting driving around some of the lovely villages on Northern Ireland’s so-called Gold Coast. In some places, but thankfully not Bangor itself, there was probably a surfeit of Union Flags flying. I can respect their right to do this, but when accompanied by the standard of the Parachute Regiment it became gross.
Bangor is a very fine town that can be reached in around two and a half hours from Dublin and the Focus Active Estate was a good solid car for the chase up there on a very windy and wet day.
I liked the car; it is attractive, versatile and confident. It will make a lot of families very happy if they can be diverted off the full SUV route. And we will be back, soon, to the Bangor seafront and The Salty Dog. Our pet insists on it and he tells me that they have a great range of craft beers.