Blitzing the Buttertubs in a Caterham

Car: Caterham Roadsport 125

Drive: Buttertubs Pass, Yorkshire, UK


What do you do if you’ve got a Caterham at your disposal for a day? Go in search of a cracking bit of blacktop, of course. 

In northern England, that would be the Buttertubs Pass, a short, but wild, rollercoaster ride through the stunning scenery of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The name reportedly comes from the 20 metre-deep, hollow limestone rock formations into which farmers on their way to market would lower their tubs of butter and cream to keep cool in warmer weather. 

A long-time favourite of sporty car drivers and motorcyclists alike, the secret to this little piece of driving nirvana was revealed to the world-at-large by a certain Jeremy Clarkson, who anointed it as “England’s only truly spectacular road”.

You don’t so much fit into a Caterham as wear it, particularly the Roadsport 125 model that I’ll be steering.

This is the model used in the one-make Caterham Academy race series.

As such, it’s light (even for a Caterham) and narrow-bodied so as to offer up subliminal performance. 

Supposedly able to accommodate drivers up to about 182cm and 95kg – exactly akin to my dainty proportions (at the time!) – I find the 125 a wee tight, particularly in the pedal box area.

Things are more restricted here than I remember in any open-wheeler I’ve driven – Formula Ford, Vee, First or Renault. 

Under the long bonnet is a Ford Sigma 1.6-litre inline four.

By retarding the inlet cam, Caterham has managed to screw out another 25 per cent power, making for 91kW – 7kW more than the Rover K-series powerplant it replaces.

A dry weight of 90kg means the Sigma is a useful 10kg lighter than the K-series, but the standout improvement is by way of a fatter spread of torque. 

Whereas the Rover peaked with 147Nm @ 3000 rpm, the newcomer stays strong from 3000-5350rpm, topping out at 163Nm.

‘Add lightness’ of just 525kg all-up and the 125 shapes up impressively in the all-important power-to-weight stakes.

A claimed 0-100 km/h time of 5.9 seconds actually sounds a tad conservative. 

Twist the key and the Sigma kicks into life. Blip the throttle and there’s a suitably sporty and surprisingly deep note burbling from the exhaust that now snakes along the driver’s side. 

With four-point race harness secured, hood down despite the indifferent weather and daft caps on, we set off from Roadsport Hire – our vehicle provider in gentile Stamford Bridge, outside York – and the town of Hawes keyed into our borrowed TomTom (yes, the Caterham does have an auxiliary power socket).

The B6164 takes us to Harrogate and then the A61 to Ripon.

Harrogate looks so inviting with its manicured parks and well-kept, honey-coloured sandstone buildings that we wish we had to time to stop, but we’ve underestimated how the pace can slow chronically when stuck behind the hay-carting tractors that proliferate the English countryside in summer. 

However, stop we have to, just outside the city, when dark clouds overhead dump on us and it’s a race to put on the Caterham’s top. 

Ripon comes into view, its cathedral spire a landmark across the rolling countryside.

There, we pick up the A6108 to Leyburn and then head left on the A684 to Hawes.

On entering the town, we’re expecting to find a sign along the lines of ‘Buttertubs Pass – this way’, but there’s nothing.

So, it’s into the visitor information centre for assistance. ‘Hardraw Road’ is the signpost we need, and then it’s time to see just what the 125 has got.

The road winds between well-weathered drystone walls on each side; the occasional farmhouse and barn close by, and over an arched bridge barely wide enough for 1.5 cars.

Then, the perspective through the tiny windscreen changes from blinkered to big-screen 180-degrees as we break into open countryside where ubiquitous black-faced, long-haired Swaledale sheep graze alongside the road and wander at will.

The thought occurs – what would Roadsport Hire say if we return their car with half a hogget on board?

The patchwork-quilt blacktop asks questions of the Caterham’s bump absorption and I’m quickly reminded of the little 125’s smooth, hot mix suspension set-up. 

However, the moment the open-radius, gentle curves give way to tighter twists, these same track-biased settings and latest generation ‘metric chassis’ (some 12 per cent stiffer) enable me to ride the rollercoaster like there’s no tomorrow.

Grip from the super-sticky Avon CR500 boots (fitted to R300 Anthracite rims) is prodigious.

But, keep the Sigma firmly within the sweet spot of its torque band in 2nd and 3rd, pre-set the tiny steering wheel with a smidgen of lock attacking a corner and it’s possible to kick the back out into what feels like a perfectly neutral and natural slide. 

That said, I resist the temptation to push too hard. With the foot well so cramped, I’m not confident of finding and modulating the middle pedal the way I’d like. 

The road twists and turns, falls and rises, but the actual Pass is all of about 5km, so a drive along it is over way too quickly.

The great thing is, when you get to a T-junction at the B2670 – from where the choice is left to Thwaite or right to Muker – you can throw a U-turn and go back and do it all over again.

And I do . . . 

Approached from this direction, it’s an even better drive because the road initially climbs rather than descends, inviting plenty of satisfying, 2nd gear pull out of the corners.

But driver beware. Going this way takes you literally to the edge of the Pass, where there’s only an ominous-looking, metal cable ‘safety’ fence between you and what seems infinity.

And in something approximating a Clubman car’s height, said cable is alarmingly about head level. 

Eventually, the gathering gloom of another heavy shower approaching and shrinking fuel level, regrettably bring about an end to our strafes along and back the Pass. 

The drive ‘home’ provides the time for reflection and two things, in particular, came to mind.

One, that with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I should have opted for the comparative comfort and practicality of Roadsport Hire’s second Caterham, the wider-bodied 1.8-litre SV model which can reportedly accommodate occupants up to 196cm and around 108kg. 

And, two — as a road and not track drive — punting something like a Caterham is an uncompromising experience.

The top is a pain to have to put up and down in a hurry. Ditto doing up a four-point harness, instead of a retractable lap/sash belt, meaning you really have to plan your drive so that you don’t have to get in and out often. 

That said, this is a car that connects driver with road. And when that road is the Buttertubs Pass, the connection is absolute.

Triple Treat


As great as it is, Buttertubs Pass does not have a mortgage on stonking driving roads in Yorkshire.

Due-east about 100km drive away, is the North York Moors National Park and, therein, three north-south (or south-north), side-by-side roads that should be on your hit list.

Each has something different to offer.

Coming from the direction of the Buttertubs, first is the B1257, from Stokesley to Helmsley.

Unlike the other two, this does not course through sprawling moorland but instead scythes its way through woodland and hedge-lined fields. 

Piggy in the middle is the road from Hutton-le-hole to Castleton, which starts with a narrow lane under a canopy of overhanging tree branches in tiny picturesque H le H itself.

The village confines give way to a big sky as the road climbs and winds across Blakey Ridge and past its landmark Lion Inn, a welcoming 16th-century freehouse which, at an elevation of 400m, affords sweeping views over the Rosedale and Farndale valleys.      

The fast and flowing A169 from Briggswath to Pickering, though, is the one that will best exercise your mount and raise your pulse rate.

A short detour leads to the village of Goathland, which viewers of 1990’s British TV series ‘Heartbeat’ would know it as Aidensfield).

Well worth a visit – if you can pull yourself away from the warm embrace of the Lion and this treble of great roads.


Caterham Roadsport 125

Basic price new: £19,495

Engine: 1.6-litre DOHC 4-cyl

Power: 91kW @ 6100 rpm

Torque: 163Nm @ 3000-5300 rpm

Transmission: 6-spd manual

Weight: 525kg

Drive: Rear-wheel

0-100km/h: 5.9 secs


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