Sunday, 4 November 2012

Calling all Scottish petrolheads

NOT SO long ago I got my first invite to a fully-fledged car launch. Champion commitments meant I couldn’t have taken two days, but it was a tempting offer – flights, accommodation, grub and the chance to drive a new car.

Most tantalisingly of all, it would have offered me the chance to put a car through its paces in a place I’ve always wanted to drive. The Highlands of Scotland.

Having lived just over the border in Carlisle for three years, I’ve ventured into Scotland on a string of occasions, most notably in 2007 when I used the Caledonian Sleeper as part of a feature to travel the length of Britain using public transport alone. I’ve also sampled some of Scotland from behind the wheel, but thrashing a Renault 5 to Dumfries and back is only scratching the surface.

Anyone who read my piece on Skyfall will already know the remoter bits of Scotland are a wonderfully scenic place to take a car, but with places like Glencoe and Aviemore being a long, long way from the Champion’s circulation area and petrol currently at a crippling 138.9p a litre you can understand why I’m a little reluctant to follow in Bond’s footsteps and take my own Sixties GT car on the same journey.
That’s why I’d like to go all Guardian on you and crowdsource a solution; what is the best, and most affordable, way to get your motoring kicks in the Highlands?

Taking your own car is the easiest and most convenient way to do it, obviously, but aside from the wear ‘n’ tear there’s the hours on the motorway and the petrol involved. As much as I’d love to see the shot of my MGB GT overlooking a misty loch, it’d take eleven hours and £150’s worth of premium unleaded just to get there and back.

Nor is hiring a car for the long trip up especially appealing either – sure, you’d save big time on fuel and it’d be a much comfier, quieter and less stressful drive, but when you’re presented with somewhere like the A82 as it winds its way towards Fort William you want to be something a little more memorable than a Chevrolet Aveo. A stage as grand as the Highlands ought to be experienced in something a little more agile!

The romantic writer in me loves the idea of boarding the Deerstalker as it screeches into Crewe at midnight, sleeping as it chugs its way through the Scottish countryside, and hiring a car at Fort William, but it’s a lot of money when you risk being lumbered with a diesel Vauxhall Corsa. Another option, until not so long ago, would have been to fly up to Inverness Airport, but the Liverpool flight I used to get back five years ago is long gone and Easyjet have dropped their Manchester flights.

So I’m stumped, haunted by an appealing idea which sounds like great full-throttle fun but which, thanks largely to the price of petrol, I’d struggle to do on a budget. That’s why I’d love to hear from anyone who’s ever ventured up there to find out what’s the best way to experience a stunning stretch of the British Isles.
The Dales, the Lakes, Snowdonia, the windy lanes of Cornwall and the Cat and Fiddle Run – I’ve driven them all and loved every mile. I’d love to add the Highlands to that list.

Life On Cars readers are also reminded that the PetrolheadPub Quiz takes place in Southport on Sunday, November 18. If you’d like to take part, it costs just £2 per person and starts at 7.30pm...

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