Thursday, 27 October 2011

Porridge with Whisky and some Haggis for Breakfast!

It was clear that the cows had only recently been herded down the road as their fresh excrement splashed the underside of the car. I imagined the mess and the cleaning that would be necessary on our return home. However I was not plunged into too much misery as the road was a beauty, one of many roads in Scotland that are single track with passing places and this one was taking us from Farr, the village where we were staying, to Fort Augustus in the Great Glen.

Fort Augustus
Apart from a couple of rail trips to Edinburgh and a brief caravanning holiday in Galloway, it had been forty years or so since my wife Helen and I had driven in our 1936 Morris 10/4 fixed head coupe (cost £30 in 1964) up to the Highlands. On that occasion we eventually reached Mallaig after an involuntary stop in Balloch, south of Loch Lomond, to replace the brushes in our dynamo. Bearing in mind that the car was then around thirty years old, the fact that the appropriate brand new Lucas item was produced from within the dusty recesses of a tiny local garage almost immediately, is remarkable by present day standards. Anyway there had been no similar incidents on this trip as our 4/4 gobbled up the miles with gusto.
After the usual deliberations about what size of bags we were going to take, a discussion that turned into a rather one sided affair, concentrating as it did on whether or not I felt I could manage with one small bag containing a pair of trousers, one shirt and a sweater for the ten days, we finally set off from our home in Poulton-le-Fylde in Lancashire.

South East of Farr
 It was some 6 hours and 340 miles later that we arrived in the small village of Farr, just south of Inverness, where we self-catered in the South Gatehouse at the Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed home of fellow Morgan owners, Hans and Ria Van Kessel, whose advert we had spotted in ‘Miscellany’ What a lovely couple and what wonderful accommodation. With the Morgan cosily garaged, deer roaming the garden, red squirrels at the nut feeder and fascinating bird life, this enchanting place is highly recommended. Incidentally, neither of us had heard the sound of a cuckoo for a very long time and were therefore delighted to hear them here and throughout Scotland.

Outside the South Gatehouse
Our first day was spent, leisurely getting to know the spectacular area around Loch Ness, including a splendid local Inn where we watched the Monaco Grand Prix with the locals and enjoyed a good real ale that, at £3.60 a pint needed to be slowly savoured!
On the following day we decided to be more ambitious and tackle the long 270 miles, 7 hour round trip to John O’Groats, primarily because it was there, using the same rationale as mountaineers considering an attempt on Everest! It was worth the effort, a wonderful coastal drive, amazing views from the quayside at John O’Groats towards the Orkneys about 8 miles away and interesting to consider that we were then at around the same latitude as Stockholm.

John O'Groats
 We then drove along the coast road to Thurso passing the Castle of Mey, the Queen Mother’s favourite bolt-hole, before driving south. Passing through Inverness we saw a red Morgan travelling north with a loaded luggage rack. Unfortunately our cheery waves were lost across many lanes of traffic but ironically, later in our holiday, we met a man who had stayed in Thurso and had seen a red Morgan there on the day after we’d seen it. So it appears that we were not the only Morgan at the mainland’s northern frontier.
The island of Skye beckoned and on a murky day we set off for the Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye Bridge, which is gloriously free and a more stable crossing than the Cal Mac ferry, especially on a windy day. Skye, impressive as it is, certainly whet our appetites, but sadly due to the overcast weather we did not see the island at its best and did not linger but departed with the firm intention to return.

Skye Bridge
 Back over the bridge we visited the beautiful village of Plockton whose shore is blessed by the Gulf Stream, a fact that was lost on my wife as she wrapped herself even more tightly to keep warm as we ate a picnic on the harbour wall. The local Inn was warm enough though and there we savoured a locally produced ale before heading back by the northern route to Inverness, the road following the route of the railway for much of the journey. The scenic beauty of the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh line is widely known and ranks alongside the Fort William to Mallaig route as one of the most spectacular rail journeys, both enhanced occasionally by steam hauled trains.
It would be sad when journeying in Scotland not to include a whisky producer and so, under great duress, we made our way to the Glenlivet Distillery in Speyside where we had a guided tour of the plant, although it has to be said that little came from the tour in the way of understanding due in part to the rich Scottish accent of our guide! The gratifying part of these tours is the tasting session that follows! Suitably fortified, it was on to the Glenfiddich Distillery to visit their shop and then back to Farr, on a blistering drive through the Cairngorms National Park that caused my illustrious navigator to remark that the drive had been like taking part in the Monte Carlo Rally without the snow.

View from Skye towards the Crowlin Islands
After a splendid week we motored down the Great Glen and on to Benderloch, 8 miles north of Oban, to a gorgeous B&B culled from Alastair Sawday’s Guide. Called ‘Dun na Mara’, it’s gardens sweep down to a pebbly beach with views across Ardmucknish Bay with the Isle of Mull in the background, an incredibly romantic spot that brought to mind a scene out of a Daphne du Maurier novel. Certainly its ambience suited the Morgan well, but then again on reflection, after hearing many comments from the fairer sex with regard to the car’s undeniable eccentricities, it’s possible that Morgans may have caused many a romance to founder! However, it is with quiet confidence I can say that in our case, the 4/4 has brought us even closer together, being some 3 inches narrower than a Plus Four!

'Dun na Mara' Benderloch
When you peruse a breakfast menu that includes porridge with whisky and a full Scottish breakfast including haggis, it has to fill you with a good measure of expectancy and it did not disappoint. Nothing about the place did, it’s gorgeous and proved to be an excellent base for circular tours.
The first of these took us down the west coast, visiting the Isle of Seil and passing by Loch Melfort, through Lochgilphead,  Inverary and Lochawe. The second took us through the beautiful Glen Orchy, where we had to drive on to the grass verge to manoeuvre around a fallen tree en route to Bridge of Orchy. Then it was across the desolate Rannoch Moor, through Glen Coe, Ballachulish and down the coast road and back to Benderloch. Fabulous! Yes fabulous, apart from a very near miss with a Seat Leon that was overtaking a line of cars up the other side of the blind summit we were approaching. Utterly frightening, the result was another trip up the grass verge and a cloud of smoke from burning rubber as our wheels locked. Oh dear, I said, as I pondered the possible consequences!

View west from the Isle of Seil
 Oban is an interesting place with lots of shops and like any port, plenty of waterside activity to watch. The seafood is a must and we had a great evening meal in a local seafood restaurant that overlooked the harbour. Earlier that day we had been sitting with a local lady who, as well as entering into a long discourse about the many and various attractions of her home town, warned us about the seagulls that were swooping down above us, saying that they were not averse to the odd egg butty or fish and chips, so we must take care if we were eating any of the aforementioned consumables!

Loch Melfort
 After three days in Argyll it was time for the journey home, the route taking us along the shores of Loch Lomond, through Glasgow and south through the Borders and Cumbria, arriving home some 5 hours later after a good drive, that is if any long drive on motorways can be described as good. We had travelled 1700 miles and remarkably, due to generally fine weather, 95% had been completed with the hood down. This brought the mileage on our 2008 car to 11100 miles, so it’s just run in!

We’ve now enjoyed two touring holidays in France and this one in Scotland and look forward to many more. We love the car, which is also appreciated and admired by the many people we meet on our travels and can’t understand why some owners just don’t seem to use theirs. It’s almost becoming an embarrassment to have clocked up the mileage we have, when you see so many cars advertised that are 10 years old and completed very few miles. However, I am satisfied that we are doing what the car was built for....driving it, and what is more, driving it with passion!

PLEASE NOTE : 'Dun na Mara' is now a private residence. Very nice too!

Article first published in 'Miscellany' July 2010

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