|Highland 3 Day Tour. by Mike Smith||
|The 3 Days
Prior to the start.
It was all very last minute. Having met tour organiser, Mike Raven for the first time at my committee meeting debut and having learned that there was a place available on the tour due to a cancellation, I was left with only a couple of days to persuade my better half that a thousand miles plus trip to the Scottish highlands in the BJ8 works rally replica was a good idea.
Hitherto, my long suffering wife, Ilma, had only ventured into the car on the odd, reluctant, occasion and invariably with her hands clutched to her ears to keep out the noise of the engine and exhaust together with the loud whine of the square cut gearbox.
I had been planning to sell the car and purchase a more basic version, but we agreed to give it one last chance and to see how we enjoyed what was to be our first classic tour of any length.
Some half inch sound deadening and the luxury of a carpet was quickly added, and the Thursday saw us heading up the motorways for Glasgow.
A stop at the services proved interesting, as, when we returned a second Healey was parked alongside ours, with a pair of feet protruding from underneath. It was the first time I had met Mike Raven's recently completed 3000 Mk1, which was on literally it's first outing and had had an argument with a speed hump, holing the sump.
Fortunately he was able to get it repaired by a local garage, who applied copious amounts of plastic metal. This enabled him to eventually continue and to successfully complete the whole of the tour.
The motorway around Glasgow turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. An accident meant that we were crawling along at less than walking speed for around half an hour. My car was decidedly unhappy about that, a rally Healey is not designed to crawl and we were in danger of breaking down at any minute, I thought. After half an hour of this we cleared the traffic and managed to arrive at the Erskine Bridge Hotel more or less on schedule.
17 cars had made it this year, less than the usual full compliment of 30. Normally this is run under the auspices of the AHC Northern Centre, but this year Lancashire Automobile Club had taken on the role with a view to extending the entry to other marques. 10 of the entries were big Healeys with one Sprite. Also entered were a TR6, a Mini Cooper, a DB5, a Morgan 4/4 and an MGB. An AC Aceca due to take part had broken down in France the previous week and its owner was using his everyday Subaru rather than miss the fun.
An early start with over two hundred miles scheduled for the day. The tulip route books were handed out and my navigator quickly came to grips with them. We headed over the Erskine Bridge and along the West bank of Loch Lomond. We then turned off to Garelochhead, passing Faslane and turned South along the penisula to Kilcreggan. According to the map the road stopped dead at Coulport but the organisers knew differently. The military had built a new road which linked back to Garelochhead. We then drove along the banks of Loch Long then headed up past the Rest and be Thankful (photo) to Inverary on Loch Fyne.
Through Glen Aray, Glen Orchy and Glen Coe (where I was passed by a white Mercedes van man doing around a ton), we arrived at Onich on the banks of Loch Fyne for a lunch stop at the Onich Hotel. The weather was good and we regretted that the BJ8 had a hardtop. All the others, with the exception of the DB5 and the Subaru were relishing the fresh air. The weather, in fact, was particularly kind and stayed fine throughout the whole tour.
The afternoon took us through Fort William and along the banks of Loch Lochy to Invergarry where we turned off through Glen Shiel down to Loch Duich. A turn off through the narrow twisting roads led us to the small remote ferry at Kylerhea (photo) to be transported to the Isle of Skye. A familiar sight in the adjacent car park greeted us, a pair of feet protruding from beneath a Mk as the Clerk of the Course was, this time, fixing his exhaust system, which had had an argument with the Scottish roads. This was sorted by the time the ferry was leaving and he managed to shoe horn himself on to the ferry, which is designed for six vehicles and he was the seventh.
The 'white' road across Skye to Broadford, where we were to spend the night, was a real pleasure to drive in the Healey. We stayed the night at the Dunollie Hotel, a few of us enjoying sampling the local Scotch as we came to know each other better.
One of the Healeys was having brake problems, but with a degree of help from some of the others entrants it was sorted out. (photo) We did not have the time, apparently, to explore the rest of Skye, (the last time my better half and I were here was before we were married and on a Dayton Flamenco scooter, in the early sixties!) and headed over the bridge at the Kyle of Lochalsh, turning off to drive the back roads to Plockton, where a regularity section was introduced. The route then took us over a fantastic, twisting, narrow, hair-pinned tracked to Applecross. We had hoped to get a photo, but the mists came down on the top and visibility was minimal for a short while.
I was almost out of petrol in Applecross and had to fill up at considerable expense. As soon as I stopped, the car generated significant interest, which turned out to be the norm thereafter. The route then took us through Glen Torridon and Strath Bran, where we joined an unusually straight, wide section of road. An adrenalin rush had me changing up the gears into overdrive top and enjoying this burst of high speed. Unexpectedly a man appeared in front of us waving his arms wildly. Thinking this must be an emergency I carried out an emergency stop, blessing the restorer of my car that he had had the presence of mind to fit discs to the rear. I wound down my window and was excitedly told, "I used to have one of these, where are you all heading?" He was hoping to join the meet.
We stopped for lunch at a really excellent hostelry, the Garve Country Hotel in Garve and then headed on through the Muir of Ord, through Strone, Beauly and Drumnadrochit and along the lengthy, bonny banks of Loch Ness to Invergarry. Then along the banks of Loch Lochy to Spean Bridge and into Fort William, where we were to spend the night at the Highland Hotel.
A shopping excursion resulted in the purchase of a couple of bottles of malt whisky which were previously unknown to me.
The morning saw us heading through Glen Spean and along the banks of Loch Laggan with views of the TV's Glen Bogle castle. Through Dalwhinnie, the Pass of Drumochter and Glen Garry, where we turned off for a regularity trial along a twisting 'white' road. The route then took us along Loch Tummel with a pause at the Queen's View ( a favourite spot of Queen Victoria (photo)) and a stop for a splendid lunch at the Tummel Inn nearby (photo).
Thereafter, a long, torturous but spectacular route took us through Glen Lyon and down to Loch Tay. A cattle grid took several entrants unaware and a number of exhausts were rearranged, not all of them were Healeys. I was feeling smug, because I still had my sump guard fitted.
Then it was through Glen Ogle, tuning through the Brig o' Turk and into Aberfoyle where we were to stay for the final night at the Covenanter's Inn.
A good dinner party with presentation whisky glasses all round (everyone finished the course) concluded the tour (photos).
We decided to spend an extra day heading back home to the Peak Distict, and diverted through the delightful scenery of Dumfries and Galloway, spending the night at a coastal inn on the Solway Firth.
Having arrived home, we decided that the Healey, which had performed well over the 1300 miles or so and averaged 20 mpg, was to stay in the family with a view to touring significantly more in the coming year. A substantial amount of work is now underway changing it back to a soft top, but retaining the full rally, hardtop option and improving the quality of the interior including the fitting of black leather XJS seats. But that is another story.
We enjoyed the tour and the company of our companions so much that we are already planning to enter again next year, when the route will be quite different and starting from Perth. The event will be back under the auspices of the Austin Healey Club Northern Centre, although other classics will be accepted. Get your bookings in early to avoid disappointment. The web page is listed on our links page. There you will also find other letters and photos of this and previous events. Alternatively contact Mike Raven. The familiar sight of whose legs can be seen below.