Friday, 13 October 2017

A Motoring Holiday In The Scottish Highlands

I wrote the following for the forum of the Jaguar XK Enthusiasts Club – to which I belong. Then I thought - maybe some of the SkyeCalling blog audience would also find the post of interest. A member of the XKEC (not me…)! is organising a Highlands Tour for 2018. I hope to be able to join the tour for at least a day or two when they come here. It will be something of a novelty to see another XK on Skye!  

What is the point in having a car which will do nought to sixty just a few nanoseconds and has a top speed faster than Starship Enterprise, if you spend most of your time in a traffic jam being overtaken by cyclists and looking at the tailgate of a Ford Transit?

Yes – you need to take your Jaguar on holiday… The ever-increasing popularity of taking a touring holiday in the Scottish Highlands has prompted me to think of those of you who might be contemplating a trip ‘over the border’, and to offer a few words of experience from a Jaguar XK owner who actually LIVES here…

In the Scottish Highlands, while the minor roads are often single-track and severely pot-holed, the main roads are two-way, mostly well-surfaced, and, out of the peak tourist season, pretty-much traffic-free. (Peak season is June to September).

When driving in the Highlands, you need to be very aware of animals on the road. Sheep grazing with heads down on the roadside verge are unlikely to be a problem and can largely be ignored, but beware in spring when there are lambs about, or if there are sheep on both sides of the road – they may cross to be with their mates without warning. Cattle in the road are pigs… Urmm… by that I mean that cattle will stand still in the middle of the road and look blankly at you. Hooting your horn will have no effect on them whatsoever. If you are brave enough, you will need to get out of your car and apply a hefty whack to the rump of the nearest bovine. This may get things mooving in more ways than one. I’m sorry – there are very few car-washes in the Highlands… Then there’s the deer. We have lots of them in the Highlands. They sometimes gather close to roads, especially in winter when there is snow on the hills. Deer can move very fast when alarmed. Red deer are big – the size of a pony – so hitting one at 60mph can write off a car– so be VERY aware.

Then there’s the weather… It rains a lot here, so don’t come with balding tyres, fit new wiper blades prior to your trip, and pack a waterproof jacket for when you get out of your car. In winter – you may encounter snow. You will see snow on the hills much of the time from November to March. Snow can fall during the same period at road level as well, though the Council gritting trucks do a pretty good job of keeping the roads open. However, it is a bum-clenching experience to drive your precious wide-tyred Jaguar on 3-inch deep slush…

Having said that, there are also periods of time between October and May when the sun is shining, the roads are dry and deserted, and the scenery is sparkling. I can think of very few more rewarding experiences than that of unleashing your car on such roads. Of course, I am quite sure that no responsible Jaguar driver would ever exceed the national speed limit, which is 60mph here, the same as in England. However, there are many stretches of Highland roads that seriously tempt a little extra pressure on the right pedal. As far as I am aware, there are no fixed speed/safety cameras in the North West Highlands - though be sure - the local police regularly patrol using unmarked cars, and also employ mobile camera vans. It is up to you to drive responsibly and safely.

This is Puss in Glencoe - before she had her 'PS55' registration 

Where are the best routes? Well – once you get north of Perth or Crianlarich (depending on which way you come here) there are not that many roads to choose from. However - the A9 from Perth to Inverness is one to avoid, being busy with trucks and dotted with 50mph limits and average speed cameras. The A82 from Tyndrum through Glencoe is awesome – both the road and the scenery. The A887/A87 from Invermoriston to Skye is one of my personal favourites, second only to the A832/A890 from Garve to Skye. You wouldn’t regret a trip up the A835 from Tore (Inverness) to Ullapool either, and the Isle of Skye itself has some fine roads and even finer views. The scenery gets ever more spectacular the further north and west you go. Spending some time on Google streetview when planning your route will forewarn you of any stretches of single-track road that you may encounter.

When you visit – and by now, you should be convinced that you must – I do urge you to plan ahead. You will want to spend several days in the Highlands. In tourist season, there are so many overseas visitors here, you must book accommodation well in advance of your visit. Out of season, many accommodation providers close for winter, so you STILL need to book well in advance. At any time of year - don’t expect to find any eating places serving food after 9.00 pm. Also - keep your fuel tank topped up – garages are few are far between. Petrol on the Islands is subsidised by the Government to the tune of 5p per litre, but there’s no supermarket fuel here, so expect to pay more per litre than in most English towns. If you are a fan of super-unleaded – you may not find it available at every filling station.

If you are not already on your phone or computer booking your trip to Scotland, and have any questions that I may be able to help you with – please ask-away. I look forward to seeing photos of your trip in the forum…

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