The 2016 Historic Endurance Rally Organisation (HERO) Scottish Malts Reliability Trial is one of the many Historic rallies that HERO organises, but it holds a very special place in my heart for many reasons. Firstly, I am undeniably Scottish, secondly Scotland is often referred to as 'God's Country', thirdly the roads and scenery are spectacular, fourthly (and I could go on forever!) it is rather well known for producing the finest ‘water of life’ anywhere in the world. As you may have guessed, this is likely to be a recurring theme throughout the days to come, not that we are complaining. Here’s my diary of the event.
Sunday 24th April
Angus Forsyth, Robert Lumley and a 1973 Jaguar E Type Series III Roadster
The three of us belted north for the 370 mile drive to the start of the event at the beautiful Cameron House Hotel on the shores of Loch Lomond. While the event is not due to start until tomorrow, and regardless of how much time you think you have, it is always a slightly unnerving time. Registration, scrutineering, greeting fellow competitors, adorning the car with decals, recalibrating the trip meter on the official ‘measured mile’, setting all stop watches to 'rally time', studying the route maps and tulip books, ensuring the car is ready to go first thing in the morning, and of course not forgetting the opening night welcome dinner!
This year’s arrival did have a slight sting in the tail. We were informed that a client of ours, who had intended to participate on the rally, had stayed overnight in Edinburgh. On awaking the following morning he was horrified to discover his beautiful Alfa Romeo Giulia Spring GT had been stolen. The Hagerty/HERO facebook pages leapt into action and word started to spread like wildfire. Amazingly, by 11pm that evening, and after over 100,000 views, a facebook follower recognised a car in a back street of Edinburgh in the process of being stripped down. The police were alerted, the car recovered, and relief all around.
Monday 25th April
Not a great surprise but it is raining heavily by the time it is due for us to leave and for the first time in the four years of partaking in this event Rob and I take the decision not to put the roof down! There is always an element of nervousness before you start but almost as soon as you are on the road things settle down and you get into your rhythm. We were treated to a relatively easy day with both tests and regularity being kept fairly straight forward, or were we being lulled into a false sense of security. The route took us up to Oban and a short ferry crossing onto the stunningly beautiful Isle of Mull. We had a mutual friend who resides in the imposing Duart Castle, home of the Clan Maclean for over 650 years, so we stopped in to pay our respects (read into that what you will, but I’m sure a wee dram was involved!)
Tuesday 26th April
Day two was exceptional with every season under the sun experienced at some stage during the day, cobalt blue skies, torrential rain, snow, sleet and really quite spectacular rainbows. The teams effectively drove pretty much every inch of available tarmac on the island, none of which were straight for more than about 20 metres! The imposing twists, turns, blind crests and innumerable hairpins made for exciting driving in the E-Type, both driver and navigator continually wondering what was over the next summit or round the next corner. Red deer played a big part along with Highland cows and the odd sea eagle! Mid-afternoon and all the cars departed in batches from the tiny port of Craignure. A smallish ferry was able to accommodate a fine array of classics, all resembling tiny, colourful matchbox cars packed into a large box. On reaching the mainland, another treat was in store in the form of the road along Loch Linne, possibly one of the finest driving roads in Europe. A welcome break, in the awesome shadows of Ben Nevis and more importantly the Ben Nevis Distillery, for the final test section of the day before returning to Oban for the overnight stop.
Wednesday 27th April
We departed for Inveraray Castle and the first tests of the day which are always exciting here with impressive ornate humped back bridges, forest sections and the odd speed bump. A short hop up the road to the wonderful Loch Fyne Restaurant (the original one) before tackling ‘Rest and be Thankful’, considered to be one of the finest hill climbs in Scotland. The remainder of the day consisted of further tests and regularity sections through the Trossachs and Cairngorm mountains to our final halt at Grantown on Spey. The E Type has been faultless throughout, purring along and taking great delight in gobbling up the most delightful scenery and Scottish roads regardless of what the weather has thrown at us!
Thursday 28th April
The penultimate day and no less disappointing than any of the others. Traditionally Day four of the Malts is ‘Distillery Day’ and being in the heart of Speyside one could often smell the distilleries before you saw them. Great and famous names spring to mind, Aberlour, Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Knockando, and Dufftown which proclaims itself to be ‘The Whisky Capital of the World’. Magical sections of road through the Darnaway Forrest, the Moray coastline before reaching Elgin and the start of the return journey to Grantown. The final evening before our last full day on the rally was much enjoyed by all, great company, excellent fare and of course tales of everyone’s trials and tribulations over the course of the week. Severe weather warnings are issued later that night, so we all retire wondering what surprises tomorrow will bring!
Friday 29th April
We all awoke to an Arctic scene of snow covered cars and a bitingly cold day. Not exactly a surprise and the harsh conditions had been forecasted for a couple of days, but it did another dimension. We’ve not driven the E-Type in snow before, in fact I would hazard a guess that it has never seen it in its 46 years! The start was delayed as the organisers patiently waited to hear if the Cairngorms were passable or not. A backup plan had been prepared and it was this that we finally ran with an alternative route that saw us stopping for a coffee break at the House of Bruar. Always dangerous on account of the fantastic array of shops, but a good opportunity to stock up on Scotland’s finest smoked salmon, haggis and Tunnock caramel wafers. The final run back to the Cameron House Hotel was uneventful, but a welcomed glass of chilled champagne was handed out as we crossed the finishing line. A quick change into black tie attire, or kilt in my case, and we were off to the prize giving dinner and some well earned libations!
It has been a fantastic week thoroughly enjoyed by all and no doubt the fabulous and varied array of classic’s also appreciated having their legs stretched in ‘God’s Country’. Our thanks go to the HERO team and the plethora of support personnel that go with it. The HERO Scottish Malts is run every two years, so next edition 2018! If you love your classic, enjoy regularity, have a taste for fine Scottish malt and want to experience some of the best driving roads in the World, this is definitely one for you.
Slainte (Scottish for ‘Your Good Health’.)