A couple of months ago, I managed to take a week off work for a long-overdue adventure with my Dad. We had planned to take a Petrolhead Tour of the Highlands to celebrate Dad’s 70th birthday in 2020. COVID had meant the trip was delayed by a year. So, when October and the much-anticipated trip arrived, we were well and truly ready to get on the road.
My Mercedes CLK500 was to be our vehicle for the duration. It proved to be an excellent car for the trip. Plenty of space, super comfortable, and, when conditions allowed, performance on tap. We were in great company, with over twenty other vehicles, some double crewed, and some driving alone. It was a lovely mix of people, a couple of whom were existing customers of ours, and of course, we know Pete and Dan, the Petrolhead Tours managers.
Other cars on this particular Petrolhead Tour included BMW M2s, probably just about perfect for this sort of tour. There were also some Porsche 911s, Audi R8s and BMW M3s. But, the star of the tour for me was a Suzuki Swift Sport. It may have been massively down on power compared to everything else there, but the owner is a very talented driver and knows his car inside out. He showed that a well-sorted car, with excellent forward observation and planning, is more than a match for something far more powerful on those sorts of roads.
Petrolhead Tour of the Highlands – Itinerary
The tour covered approximately 1100 miles from our starting point on Loch Lomond. Via a carefully curated route, we travelled clockwise around the Scottish Highlands. We enjoyed some fantastic driving roads and truly breathtaking scenery.
Loch Lomond to Fort William:
Day one took us from Loch Lomond, up through The Trossachs National Park, towards Glencoe (including the famous James Bond ‘Skyfall’ road). We headed right out to the west coast before turning back inland towards Fort William, passing the railway bridge at Glenfinnan, known to all Harry Potter fans from the films. We finally arrived for our overnight stop in Fort William.
Fort William to Thurso:
The next day was a big one, with lots of miles to do due to a last-minute change of plan. Unfortunately, our overnight stop in Tongue, right at the top of Scotland, had to be moved due to a confirmed COVID case at our hotel. Thankfully, our organiser, Pete Osborne, arranged an alternative hotel in Thurso, near John O’Groats.
As we left Fort William, we drove towards Fort Augustus at the bottom end of Loch Ness. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t on our side that day. But we made our way up the west coast and enjoyed lunch at the beautiful Eilean Donan Castle and a fuel stop at Ullapool. Other highlights of the day included the Kylesku Bridge, Corrieshalloch Gorge and the Achnasheen Valley. By the end of that day, some 350 miles later, we were glad to arrive at our hotel in Thurso. We were greeted with fantastic food and comfortable beds!
Thurso to Aviemore:
Thankfully Wednesday saw us looking at blue skies and sunshine. That said, a group photo at John O’Groats was still absolutely freezing! Back in the cars, we followed the coast for a short while back the way we came to Tongue. After this, we headed South towards Inverness. The coastal road and the small communities we passed seemed a million miles from anywhere. It appeared pretty desolate but very beautiful at the same time.
Once we passed Inverness, I enjoyed being on roads I know pretty well and use regularly. We were near the Auto Curators Scotland office at Nairn. We followed the dramatic ribbon of tarmac that dips, crests and swoops to the ski resort of Aviemore and our penultimate overnight stay.
Aviemore to Loch Lomond:
The final day would see us complete our loop, finishing back at Loch Lomond. We had quite a mix of scenery that day. Departing Aviemore saw us drive up and over the Cairngorms, finding our way through an unexpected dump of snow overnight! Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres are simply brilliant in pretty much all circumstances, but they struggled a bit in fresh snow!
Once over the peaks, we continued through the Cairngorms National Park, brushing the Royal Balmoral estate in glorious sunshine. We eventually enjoyed lunch in the picturesque town of Braemar. The last bit of our route took us back into the Trossachs National Park and delivered us safely to a stunning hotel on the shores of Loch Lomond. We enjoyed our last night and a final dinner with everyone at this hotel.
Highlights & Memories of the Tour:
- The food all round was great. A special mention has to go to the Pentland Hotel in Thurso. Here, we enjoyed the most amazing dinner of the week using local produce. I spent the entire week enjoying as much haggis as possible, and the occasional dram, too!
- After spending so much time in the car, my Dad and I deccided to walk into Aviemore from our hotel, which was just outside the town. Sadly, I was ill prepared for a sudden change in weather (I spend enough time in Scotland to know better). At the point we were furthest away from our hotel, the rain just started to pour. With no choice but to walk back, we arrived in the hotel bar wet through – even my underwear was soaking wet!
- The number one highlight of the tour for me, and it’s a general observation, is the scenery. If you’ve never been to the Scottish Highlands, you’re missing out. Everywhere you look is just so breathtakingly dramatic and beautiful. The road to Glencoe, where Skyfall was filmed, is a great example of that. The moody weather and dark skies only adds to that. We were also treated to a beautiful sunrise over Loch Lomond as we were preparing to drive home, and to just stand on the balcony with a coffee, enjoying the serenity and splendour was a privilege.
- Above everything else though, I enjoyed the chance to spend some quality time with my Dad, something that seems to be scarce in the chaos of modern life.
More about Petrolhead Tours:
I would wholeheartedly recommend Petrolhead Tours. The whole event is brilliantly organised and very professionally run. We were lucky enough not to have any car issues during our trip, but a couple of people did. Pete Osborne, the owner of PHT, has a fantastic little black book of contacts to reach out to and in-depth knowledge of places and resources to resolve almost anything.
For me, I value that everything is just organised, and the biggest decision I had to make was what to have for dinner. The route is brilliantly thought out, with perfectly placed stops for a break and for fuel. Hotels are carefully chosen and previously tried, so there are no bad surprises. Best of all, for me, it is the expected quality of driving that is made clear from the outset. Pete and Dan want everyone to have fun but make it very clear that all other road users (and each other) are to be respected, extreme care should be taken through villages and any other areas where people live, and as a result, we can enjoy our tour without having a negative impact on other people. That level of care and professionalism makes Petrolhead Tours stand apart in the best way possible.