Where is the best place to take your wheels for a spin and properly let off some steam? This month’s Motorcar Meanderings knows just the place
Car events are all very well. February’s Retromobile in Paris is a wonderful excuse for a sojourn to the French capital and an immersion in all things motoring, from bric-a-brac to some of the very finest classics (this year’s highlight was the Artcurial auction of the Baillon collection, the greatest ever barn find, which realised a staggering €25m). And the fabulous Goodwood Members Meeting in March, which is basically the Revival but chillier and without the crowds. But if all that standing about looking at (and talking about) cars makes your palms itch for the feel of Moto- Lita, then it’s time to pull the dustsheet off the old girl and take her out for a spin. But where?
The pub on Sunday afternoon is a bit of a cliché, and the half hour there and back is fun but it’s hardly going to blow off the cobwebs. What about France? Nice idea, but not at it’s best quite yet. The place to go this Spring is Scotland. If you’ve never toured the Highlands in a suitable motor, then you’re seriously missing out. The beauty of Scotland is that, unlike Provence, the Alps, Tuscany and any other continental location you care to mention, it’s great whatever the weather. No, really. Okay, if you luck out and pick a sunny spring weekend, then that’s going to be hard to beat. But the Highlands are all about the moodiness of the fast-changing weather on the tumbling burns and towering pine forests and peaks. It’s about blasting through a windswept glen and lapping a twenty-mile loch, returning to the hotel’s fireside bar for a dram of something local. If a dramatic landscape is a prerequisite for a great drive, the Scottish Highlands is the place to come.
Depending on where you’re coming from, the downside is that it can be a bit of flog. Your journey north is likely to include some of the dreariest motorways in Britain. In which case it might be better to keep your prized classic wrapped in a blanket for another month or two and instead fly and pick up a rental at the airport. No, I’m not suggesting you tour the Highlands in a Meriva, an Antera or a Mokka (no, it’s not a coffee. Apparently it’s a Vauxhall – I just looked it up). No, these days you can rent some pretty snazzy wheels from Glasgow and Edinburgh, and my suggestion for this weekend tour is the Jaguar F-Type Convertible.
The F-Type was launched in 2012 to huge critical acclaim. The long-awaited spiritual successor to the E-Type, the F-Type is a proper sports car in the old-fashioned sense; it’s a 2-seater, it’s quick and it’s loud enough for the in-laws to disapprove. It’s also stunning to look at, with modern, aggressive lines and the cutest rump since the Ferrari F355. But that’s not why I’m recommending it for your Highland tour. I’m recommending it because it’s outrageously good fun to drive. Its short wheelbase ensures predictable, sure-footed handling and the growling exhaust induces a crackle (and a smile) every time you change down. (The F-Type is available to rent from Avis).
So now you’ve sorted your wheels, where to go and where to stay? Fly into Glasgow and drive 25 minutes north-west into the Trossachs National Park and you’ll find Cameron House Hotel on the southern shores of Loch Lomond. It’s not a small hotel but they have cleverly created an intimate, hunting lodge atmosphere. Make sure you get a loch view room and you’ll wake to an unforgettable view across Loch Lomond and the peaks of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park beyond it. (A tour of the loch in the hotel’s own seaplane is highly recommended, as is a table at the Michelin- starred Martin Wishart restaurant).
After a hearty breakfast head north up the western shore of Loch Lomond (past the famous Loch Lomond Golf Club and Rossdhu House) and you’ll soon find a choice of back roads that will take you through some of the finest scenery in the UK. Wind your way through the Argyll Forest Park and on the other side you’ll find the perfect lunch stop at the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar and Restaurant (don’t worry if you don’t like oysters – they do superb confit duck leg, grilled langoustines and hand-dived scallops with black pudding). Inveraray Castle, just a few miles further on, is well worth a visit. From here, head north for Kilchurn Castle and you can then loop back towards Loch Lomond or head further west for a longer tour.
The following day take a drive up the magnificent A82 to Glencoe, a wide and gently twisting ribbon of tarmac that snakes through the glens to the west coast. From Glencoe head south along Loch Linnhe for lunch in Oban (try the lobster ravioli at the Waterfront Fishouse Restaurant), from where there is a choice of a short (1 hour 45 minutes) or a long (2 hours 20 minutes) route back to Cameron House or Glasgow Airport. Either will satisfy your craving for more of Scotland’s magnificent scenery.
This year’s Concours of Elegance (previously held at Windsor Castle, St James’s Palace and last year at Hampton Court Palace) is heading north to the Palace of Hollyroodhouse in Edinburgh, and if you find yourself in that neck of the woods on the first weekend in September, spend the day ogling some of the World’s rarest cars at this quintessentially English, or rather Scottish, garden party.
Please contact me with your comments, thoughts and questions – firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Bucknall is a writer, publisher, The Grand Tour motoring event organiser and all-round petrolhead, having inherited his love of cars from his father, who owned, raced and crashed some of the finest cars of the 1950s and 60s.