Please note that the recce report below was written in August 2020, before the postponement of the Rally. This may mean that there are some changes to the route for 2021.
Ever since announcing our intention to run the Highland Thistle Rally in October, all of us at Rally the Globe have been hanging on every announcement from the British and Scottish Governments waiting to hear when we would be able to recce the route. Finally, the announcement came that Scotland would be “open for tourism” from 15th July so arrangements were made, the Hilux tyres were pumped up and St Andrews was entered into the SatNav.
Our hotel, set amidst the world famous golf courses of St Andrews, is a great place to start and finish a rally with lots of space both inside and out for all of the pre-start formalities. ‘Space’ and its current synonym ‘social distancing’ is of course the latest must-have commodity for all of us. Fortunately it is something that the Scottish Highlands are not short of, with a population density of only 8 people per square km.
Following the pre-event checks and a Sunday evening welcome in St Andrews, Monday will see crews heading towards the west coast but not before an early morning ‘wake-up call’ at a drifting circuit near Glenrothes that should blow away the last of the lockdown cobwebs.
The route then heads through the southern reaches of the towering Grampian mountains via legendary rallying roads along Glen Quaich, Glen Lyon and past Ben Lawers which rises to the northside of Loch Tay. The day will end with a well-earned visit to the award-winning Inverawe Smokehouse before an overnight halt in the resort town of Oban.
Tuesday’s route is every bit as outstanding crossing Rannoch Moor and then through atmospheric Glencoe and past Fort William in the shadows of Ben Nevis before a lunch halt on the shores of Loch Lochy in the Great Glen. Once refreshed, it is then west, past the iconic Eilean Donan Castle and on to the truly remarkable roads and vistas of the Isle of Skye before a well-deserved overnight stop in picturesque Portree.
Further driving on Skye follows the next morning before a return to the mainland for lunch at the serene outpost of Applecross, but not before tackling the breathtaking ‘Bealach na Ba’ or ‘Pass of the Cattle’. Both Tuesday and Wednesday nights are spent at the luxury Achnagairn Castle Hotel close to Inverness with the fourth day’s driving adventure taking crews north west to Ullapool and back via tests at the Littleferry kart track north of Dornoch.
The final day includes visits to Kincardine and Glamis Castles as well as more great roads through both Speyside, with its world famous whisky distilleries, and through the snow gates of the Cairngorms National Park. After crossing the Tay Bridge, the final – and perhaps decisive test – will be set on the heavily guarded Leuchars military base outside St Andrews.
Our week-long recce trip reminded us what a treat it is to explore the open roads of the Highlands. This treat seemed even sweeter after emerging from the recent travel restrictions. There really could be no better way for us to get back on the road again.
While we have set out to create a real celebration of post lock-down freedom, in the current climate that comes with added responsibilities and complications. All the venues and hotels we are visiting are rigorously following the latest government guidelines and we will be adopting all the relevant recommendations for rallies as issued by the sport’s governing body, Motorsport UK. This is inevitably going to mean that the Highland Thistle will operate differently to our previous rallies in some respects, but the simple pleasure of driving your classic car on classic roads in stunning scenery will never change.
Interest has been soaring ever since lock down regulations have started to ease. There are, however, a few remaining places open to those seeking to blow away the cobwebs with a memorable five-day, late-summer drive through the awe-inspiring glens, across the vast moors and alongside the mystical lochs of the stunningly superlative Scottish Highlands.