In May 2017, four sports cars and their crew went on a road trip around Scotland. Following the course of the North Coast 500, over a 5 day period, two Jaguars, a Mercedes and an Aston Martin followed the 500 mile route (with some detours) making the most of the scenery and the open roads.
This account follows the fortunes of a 2007 XK (X150) convertible, which extended the trip before and after the NC500.
Getting There .......
Our journey started from Merseyside, via Carlisle to stay with family, and then up to Almuree near Dunkeld, to stay with friends. An absolute must was to go over the Forth Road Bridge, and so we took the A702 through Biggar, calling in at the Big Red Barn for lunch (brilliant home cooked pies). A brief stop off in Crieff before ariving for a most hospitable overnight stay meant that the trip got off to a flying start.
From Dunkeld (with a brief detour to see the Osprey at Loch Of The Lowes), we made our way up the A93 from Blairgowrie, through Bridge of Cally, Glenshee and to Braemar (for lunch). After lunch we pressed on through Balmoral, to Timontoul, Grantown-on-Spey and then to the A9 for the final blast into Inverness for the night. The weather held beautifully throughout the day, and the top remained firmly down. This was a lovely route, and beats the heavy traffic on the A9 up through Pitlochry and Aviemore. Our reward was a pleasant evening's walk alongside the Caledonian Canal in Inverness.
The golf club on the northern shores of Loch Carron presented a fabulous opportunity for coffee and views to die for. Not only was the scenery fantastic, but we were able to watch a golden eagle soar over his territory, probably having a far better view of us than we did of him !
Following our refreshments, it was time to tackle Bealach na Ba - a challenging but very beautiful winding road to Applecross.
The trip to Applecross takes about 30 - 40 minutes (not including stops .... of which there will be plenty on a nice day). The views across to Skye are just breathtaking, and really do need to be seen to be best appreciated.
Applecross itself is a charming coastal village, with a lovely pub and caravan selling the freshest of fish and chips. After a short break there, we continued around the coast through Fearnmore and Ardheslaig, past highland cows and new born lambs, finally ending up in Kinlochewe for the night.
Kinlochewe to Ullapool
Day 2 dawned rather damper than we would have liked ... in actual fact it was down-right wet. This meant that the hoods stayed up for the whole of the day, which was a shame but did not spoil the day.
First stop was Gairloch, with its beautiful beaches and otters playing in the sea. We were joined by our fair share of the 64 million midges which had hatched during the previous week, so a stop at the local hardware shop was in order to pick up some spray.
Our plan then was to travel to the peninsular of Cove - well defended during WW2 to protect the Russian Convoys. Our intentions had been to see the otters play, but no-one told the otters, and so we were left on our own with the birdlife in this ruggedly beautiful part of Scotland.
Pressing on through Poolewe (and past the Inverewe Botanical Gardens), we made our way towards Ullapool. In doing so, we passed the phonominal Corrieshalloch Gorge on the A832. This is a breathtaking cleft in the rock down which a significant waterfall flows. The gorge is spanned by a suspension bridge which really does add to the drama of the place. The depth of the gorge and the movement of the bridge can be quite an experience, which really should not be missed !
Ullapool to Durness
After the damp day before, mother nature looked after us on day three, with a stunning ride to Durness. This was a day of gems - the first of which was an impromptu detour off the A825 at Drumrunie, towards the Summer Isles and Lochinver for lunch. This is a magnificently beautiful route, which was awe-inspiring (although a little difficult to find places to stop and photograph). Without doubt, this is a detour worth doing, however the roads are very narrow and peppered with blind summits with very little margin for error. However, if you can cope with that, then this is a must. Once again, the power of the jag meant that the summits and descents were coped with without any difficulty.
Durness to Wick
The air at Durness is absolutely splendid - clear and fresh and revitalising. So after an evening spent watching the sun setting over the sea, we headed East ... but not before paying a visit to Smoo Cave itself. This sea cave has been a refuge for many things over the centuries, including smugglers and undertakers (!). If you fancy walking down a well laid out flight of stairs, it is well worth visiting.
Further east, the scenery remained stunning. Fabulous white beaches and azure seas - looked like they were straight out of a Mediterranean travel brochure. Roads here are a mix of single tracked and two way, but the views are great and they are a pleasure to drive.
Eventually, following a visit to the Castle of Mey and to the Rock Rose Distillery, we found ourselves at John O'Groats for the obligatory picture at the signpost at the most northerly point of mainland Britain. I have to say that this part of the journey (past Dounreay, through Thurso and down to Wick) was probably the lease inspiring part of the trip, and one which I might detour past on the A9, when I return for a further dose of Scottish hospitality.
Wick to Inverness
After an uninspiring night in Wick, we were glad to be back out onto the open road heading towards Inverness, past multiple east coast fishing villages, each with their harbour, and back into top-down sunshine and lush landscapes. The run down the A9 was fairly uneventful, apart from the Berriedale Braes - a twisting and steep road through a gorge which presents something of a challenge for the larger vehicles on the road.
Just north of Golspie (a charming village) is Dunrobin Castle - the ancestral home of the Dukes of Sutherland. Not universally welcomed in the Highlands (owing to the historical clearances of the local crofters), the castle that remains is beautiful and sited in well maintained gardens. Well worth a stop.
Loch Ness to Onich
Having bid farewell to the rest of the cars, we decided to take a gentle drive down the south road alongside Loch Ness on the B852 through Dores. This is another single track road (but nowhere near as severe as some we have taken), and is thoroughly beautiful and picturesque. It has plenty of lay-bys alongside the loch, and at the time of our visit was really quiet.
Onich to Carlisle
As if sensing that he might have made a slight error, the weather god presented us with the most magnificent of days for our run through Glen Coe. A trip that should have only taken an hour or so, easily doubled as photo after photo presented themselves. And so this stretch of the journey was punctuated by regular stops as we enjoyed the jaw-dropping vistas.
Hopefully, this will have helped to inspire others to make the trip. If that is the case, you might like some thoughts from me ....
Taking enough kit for a 12 day road trip in a 2 seater sports car can be a challenge. I have to say that the luggage provide by Colin Surman at BagWorld (http://bag-world.co) proved to be a godsend. It allowed us to pack and repack the car daily, knowing that the hood would go down easily. If you plan on touring with your car, I would recommend them
All photos copyright of Geoff Cheshire 2017. No reproduction without prior agreement.