From Coast to Coast; South to North
“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step”. Lao-Tze.
The first step on our two-thousand-mile journey started in the bar of ‘The Spotted Cow’, our club’s local just outside Chichester, while reminiscing over the events and runs we all enjoyed during the past summer months and while asking where we should go next year. There was a desire to stretch our MGs’ legs and to enjoy some real driving on quiet roads through spectacular scenery.
The Scottish Highlands and the ‘North Coast 500’ provided the answer, with timing in May between the two bank holidays. However, the number of cars and the time we should take were difficult questions to answer. While a few expressed interest in the tour solely for the driving experience and visiting John o’Groats, returning in the shortest possible time, others preferred a leisurely drive, stopping frequently at all the tourist attractions and visiting as many castles and distilleries as possible! Scotland is blessed with so much beautiful scenery and places to see; it is a real injustice to contemplate such a tour in less than two weeks. But a compromise was reached and a decision was made to avoid tourist hot spots, to see some spectacular scenery on quiet roads, and to average some 200 miles each day over a tour of 7/8 days. There would be no requirement to travel in convoy and the ‘Tour Runners’ would be encouraged to make their own detours and visit their own special places of interest. While some may prefer B&B accommodation, it was agreed that everyone should get together for evening meals.
“Long journeys amongst friends and enthusiasts are always the best”
Tim Moore, Highlands MGOC
With the route planned, the start date agreed, and our small hotel and pub accommodation selected, it was just left to sign up the ‘Tour Runners’. Six members from Chichester quickly confirmed their places on the Tour; MG TF LE500, MG TF135, MG SV-R (nicknamed the beast), MGC GT, MGB GT, and a Jowett Jupiter, while not an MG - a true British classic. Following an invitation to our neighbouring MGOCs and a mention in ‘Enjoying MG’, we attracted two more Tour Runners; an MGB roadster from Bournemouth & Poole, and an MGB V8 from the Durham MG Club.
So, on May 14th, in glorious sunshine with hoods down and sunroofs open, seven well prepared and polished cars set out from their homes in the south to a rendezvous at Tibshelf Services on the M1. It’s remarkable that after some 200 miles, all the cars including the Jowett arrived within 10 minutes of each other. (The eighth car from Durham joined us the following day). After a short rest, the cars left together joining the M1 north and the A59 for Harrogate, where we met our only traffic delay throughout the whole tour. It took most of us some 30 minutes to get through the town before finding our way in sunshine onto deserted B roads, into the beautiful countryside of the Yorkshire Dales, and onto the Clarendon Hotel, a traditional coaching roadside inn just outside Grassington. Arriving one by one, we were joined for a superb evening meal by our friends from the Yorkshire F Register, driving three immaculate MGs; MGF Trophy, MG TF160 and MG TF Monogram.
Having covered 300 miles on day one, with 250 miles to drive on day two, the Tour Runners set out together after a full English breakfast onto more scenic roads through the Yorkshire Dales, before joining the M6 in the Lake District, and moving onto the M74 in Scotland. The brilliant weather, blue skies, sunshine, empty roads and beautiful scenery were a treat, and just a taste of the week ahead. Pulling into the Annandale Water Services on the M74, we met our eighth Tour Runner, the MGB V8 from Durham. To avoid Glasgow and the busy tourist route along to the west coast of Loch Lomond, we cut across to Gourock, arriving at the ferry terminal within a few minutes of each other, enabling us all to catch the same ferry over the Forth of Clyde to Dunoon. Then driving in convoy over a single track road to Portavadie, we together caught our second ferry for our second night stop at the splendid Anchor Hotel, located right on the quayside in the pretty little fishing village of Tarbert on the Mull of Kintyre. For the first and only time during the tour, we had to put our hoods up to repel a little sea mist while on the ferry!
Before breakfast on day three, with the sun shining again and fishermen going to work on the quayside, our MGB roadster had a power-steering fan belt replaced. And just 50 yards around the corner, a local MG specialist checked out an intermittent starting problem on ‘the beast’. A temperamental fuel gauge on our MGC.GT created the only other mechanical problem experienced during the whole week!
Given our time restrictions, it was unfortunate that we could not drive down the Mull to Campbeltown, catch a ferry over to the Isle of Mull, or drive over the new bridge onto the Isle of Skye. So, after another superb breakfast, we set out north again to cover a 200 mile section along the west coast. Avoiding stops at the tourist hot-spots of Oban and Fort William, we first called in at Crinan to see a Clyde Puffer in the canal basin and to watch some expensive yachts heading out to sea. With a second stop at the pretty little village at Craobh-Haven to admire the scenery of Loch Melfort, we made a third stop at the Creagan Inn for refreshments and some spectacular views over Loch Creran. After lunch, a few of us visited Banavie to watch the steam-train leave for Mallaig and see more yachts motoring through Neptune’s Staircase down the Caledonian Canal.
Pressing on, we all passed snow-capped Ben Nevis and then joined the A87, the Road to Skye. With hoods still down, blue skies, the sun out, snow on the mountains and continuous empty roads, surely we were in heaven! After passing Eilean Donan Castle, we turned onto an unclassified single track road to our hotel in Plockton, a picturesque shore-side village with palm trees, highland cattle and seals on the foreshore. The Plockton Hotel provided lovely accommodation and served us all a fantastic evening meal.
With 250 miles to drive on day four, we split up into little groups after another hearty early breakfast and left this beautiful village to join the ‘North Coast 500’. Travelling in a clockwise direction as recommended, we followed the coast-road all the way to Bettyhill, mid-way along the North Coast. Stopping to admire the ever-changing, breath-taking scenery, we passed through the loch-side villages of Lochcarron, Sheildaig and Torridon with their colour wash cottages, and the fishing village of Gairloch. For those interested in naval warfare, the little village of Aultbea offered a worthy museum dedicated to the seamen and Arctic convoys of WW2.
Driving through Ullapool, the scenery became more rugged above the tree line with open scraggy moorland, but it was no less imposing. The roads were generally excellent and empty; with twists and turns, inclines and drops, offering views to die for. Even on the sections of single track roads, there was generally room for two cars to pass safely. With the warm sun still shining, we all reached the Bettyhill Hotel by late afternoon in time for a cold beer and a scrumptious dinner. Most of us had north facing rooms, and at 10.30pm those who had, were privileged to watch a majestic sunset over the Pentland Firth.
Day five was a milestone. All the Tour Runners had now travelled the full length of the British Isles from the south to the north coast. With more excellent weather, after breakfast a group ventured up to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of the mainland, for a view of the Orkney Isles and to see the little puffins on the cliff tops. While others visited the picturesque town of Thurso, before we all met six Highlands MGOC cars at John o’Groats for a photoshoot. Their two MGFs, MGB.GT turbo, MGB.GT.V8, MGC.GT and MGA roadster made an impressive addition to our eight cars under the famous signpost and attracted a lot of attention from the tourists. A few delighted children were invited to sit in the cars. After the photoshoot, the Highlands group set off for a three-day tour of the Orkneys, and the eight Chichester Tour Runners set out south along the east coast to The Crown Court Hotel at Inverness. The hotel provided a splendid exclusive room for a fantastic final dinner together, for our prize giving, and to meet three more members from Highlands MGOC.
The following day this beautiful small Scottish Highland city gave four of the Tour Runners an opportunity for a day’s rest to watch the Royal Wedding, and to visit a distillery or two before continuing south the next day, while the other four cars made their way south through the Cairngorms via Grantown-on-Spey and Balmoral, to the pretty little border town of Kelso. This was superb driving again with hoods down in more sunshine, on empty roads and past snow-capped mountains, before joining the busy A9 at Perth. The Cross Keys Hotel in the cobbled market square at Kelso provided the hospitality for a perfect last night in Scotland. The group from Inverness followed the next day, from where everyone made their own way home down the A68 through the Borders and into Northumberland; a splendid drive on its own. Perhaps our destination for next year?