Scottish Malts Trials
By Geoff Wheatley

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Geoff Wheatley

The "Historic Endurance Rallying Organization", based in Worcester. England, have organized a six day "Scottish Malts Reliability Trial"
Geoff Wheatley, 2012

I have always had a deep appreciation for "Uisge Beatha", (The Water of Life"), Better known to most of us as Scottish Whiskey. As far as I am concerned it need not be 12 years old or of the pure Malt variety, but having said that I have never refused such a delight when offered. Believing that an individual should have more than one hobby I am also a dedicated classic car enthusiast, therefore the combination of both of these leisure interests was, to say the least, appealing.

For the past six years "HERO" The "Historic Endurance Rallying Organization", based in Worcester. England, have organized a six day "Scottish Malts Reliability Trial" starting in the fair city of Edinburgh and progressing north to "John O' Groats, the most northern tip of the Scottish mainland, then west to the Atlantic and back across the highlands to Inverness and Aberdeen. From there turning south to the lowlands and Bamoral, the Scottish country home of Queen Elizabeth. The final leg is on to Scone Palace, once famous as the home of Scottish kings. Like many others I had been aware of this annual event since it was first staged in 1998 and often told myself that one day I would scrape up the Four Thousand pounds, (approx $6,500 US) to enter. In December a few years ago that "One Day" arrived as I sat looking at the winter snow falling over my back garden in New York State. The classic cars were in deep freeze in my garage and would remain there until April, when with luck spring would burst forth for our short but ever hectic summer. Obviously, I could not ship one of them over to the UK in time for the Trials, so who, in the UK would lend me a car to be a competitor?

For several years I have enjoyed A good relationship with the MG Owner's Club based in Cambridge, England. From time to time I have written various articles for their excellent club publication and our friendship was such that I felt a request in that direction would not be out of place. My Email enquired if they might know of anyone who would be willing to lend or hire me a suitable vehicle. Within twenty four hours a response came back.." We will lend you a Suitable vehicle, send us the details". At that point my fate was sealed, no turning back, send off the entry money and start to plan for the adventure. I should add that my decision to enter was also motivated by the fact that I had recently survived open heart surgery which reminded me that none of us are immortal. When you plan to drive over 2000 miles in a MG through the highlands of Scotland another requirement is a co-driver. Who did I know in the UK that might be willing to share six days in a small car over some fairly demanding routes? My wife had made it quite clear that she was not interested despite the fact that she originally came from bonnie Scotland. Her idea of a return visit is a five star hotel and shopping on Princess Street in Edinburgh. On top of that on the few, make that very few, local car club, afternoon rallies we usually get lost a few miles from the starting point resulting in silence for the next few days.

My cousin Ivor, who lives in Oxford, England, had recently retired after thirty or more years with the BMW/Rover/MG Company. In fact when he first started the name "Morris Motors", was on the factory wall. A phone call, a few words of encouragement, and he agreed, the "Wheatley Team" was ready to blaze a trail through the Scottish highlands in early May . The event is called the Scottish Malt Trials because during the five day event we would visit no less than nine distilleries and would be given small but attractive samples of the local product. We were forbidden to open these during the day, no booze while driving but there was always the evening or we could keep them as mementos to gaze at on some future moment in time in company with the "Trials Awards", we were going to win!.

The car that the Owners Club made available was a 1969 MGB which fitted nicely into the entry list, divided into various age categories. : 1919 to 1930..1931 to 1940..1941 to 1952..1953 to 1959 and finally 1960 to 1974. Obviously no one expected a 1920's Bentley to match a Mini Cooper S. Each age section had its own time allotment and was weighted to maintain a level playing field. In short, the older cars had a less demanding schedule. On the other hand us guys in modern vehicles, a 1969 MG was certainly considered modern compared with the majority of the other competitors, could have had a time advantage so all this was taken into account and suitably compensated in the final results with awards for age groups etc.

In January I flew to the UK and visited my friends at the MG Owners Club to discover that the car I was going to use was something of a unique vehicle. In 1979 Eddie Mc Gowan, the original owner of the car, made the first solo drive from London to Moscow and back in his MGB, a distance of about 3000 miles. On his return he was interviewed on BBC and invited to Buckingham Palace. In July 1987 Eddie returned to Russia in his MGB with a view to beating his 1979 record by putting another 2000 miles on the clock. Regretfully the car suffered various mechanical problems and eventually died a few miles from Moscow with a broken crank shaft. Repairs were unsuccessful and Eddie was stranded. The Russian State Highway Police came to his rescue and arranged for him to be towed back home, or close anyway, by an Army truck. The total distance recorded was 1,223 miles across Europe. This was, and still is, the longest recorded tow in the world and is entered in the Guinness Book of Records. On his death Eddie left the car to the MG Owners Club who have maintained the vehicle and allowed it to be used in various TV features and as a test vehicle for motor publications.

MGB: Image provided by Geoff Wheatley

As all the entries for the Trials have to be original, the car was returned to its factory condition, no fancy aids like electronic ignition, a set of old fashioned points were the order of the day in company with a MG plate that covered the space where a modern radio had once been fitted. OK I had a car and paid my entry fee so the next consideration was getting to England and collecting the MG in time for the Trials. Reading the national papers both sides of the Atlantic one could get the impression that the airline business were seriously seeking passengers especially those who wanted to fly overseas. In consequence it would not be unreasonable to assume that any airline would be happy to serve my needs. Not quite the case! My first problem was to get to London Heathrow, the most convenient location for my co-driver to pick me up. After contacting four major US Airlines it became clear that the capital of the United Kingdom was not on their schedule. I could go to various other UK locations but not Heathrow. I eventually booked with KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) who could get me to London via Amsterdam. This also meant that I would fly backwards to Detroit to pick up the KLM connection. Now for the real surprise. The plane that took me to Amsterdam, and returned me to the USA, was an American national carrier. I guess it all makes sense to the airline operators but for us less enlighten mortals it seems a strange way to run a business! We collected the MGB on Friday with a deadline to be in Edinburgh by 3 pm Sunday to have the car inspected by the officials and to register. The distance from the local pub next door to my cousin's house to the center of Edinborough was just over 400 miles. After due consideration and intense study of the road conditions, over a warm pint of ale we decided that we could easily cover 400 miles in eight hours.

Two pints later the time had been reduced to around six hours so with these calculations firmly established we enjoyed the rest of Saturday evening remembering to set the alarm for an early start. I am pleased to report that we did hit the road at exactly 8 am after spending some time trying to fit two small bags into an even smaller boot that also contained a spare wheel and various items in case we experienced mechanical problems. An important consideration on such trips is underwear. Six days with no access to a laundry can be demanding, the quick sock wash in the bathroom sink can relieve some of that problem but other items require more intense attention so a major part of our luggage consisted of such items as under pants and similar. Also sweaters. It's cold in Scotland in early May and it has been known to be damp, so suitable rain wear is also required. Our schedule of evening events included a couple of fancy receptions. What to take for such things was also a burning question. The black tie outfit would be rather crushed in the remaining storage space so we threw caution to the wind and decided that a couple of smart sweaters would suffice. In reality this proved to be the case. The car gave sterling service as we cruised along at around 4500 RPM hovering between 70 to 75 MPH. on the motorways. However, our estimated time of arrival was to say the least a touch ambitious. We reached the outskirts of Edinborough by 2 pm but it then took a further hour to sort out the street system and find the scrutineering location, adjacent to HMS Britannia at the Ocean Terminal. Had intended to visit this ship, but time ran out and we only just squeezed in for inspection before they shut up shop. (in moments like these I do believe in a good GPS, also forbidden by the organizers of the Trials!)

A check over the car, kick the tires, inspection of documents and we were presented with our competition plates.. Number Eighty Eight. From then on all we had to do was find the "Crown Plaza Hotel", park the car, register and clear documentation. Strange as it may seem this was easy, we just followed the map given us by scrutineering staff and the hotel was first on the left after various other roads and streets some with cobblestones to test out the suspension! Documentation was simple, show the special insurance cover for the Trials, ownership details, driving license and receipts of payment then collect your Scottish woolen sweater with "Malts Trials" inscribed over the left breast! Remember what I said about dress for the formal events? Well this was it, a nice green sweater in Scottish wool. Thank goodness I did not give in and bring the dinner suit, would have been mistaken for one of the waiters!

The first night was a splendid reception and dinner at the "Museum of Scotland", where amongst other things you can see a stuffed "Dolly", the sheep who had no parents to speak of! As the location was just a few streets away from the hotel most of us decided to walk. Needless to say half way there it started to rain, an omen for the next five days. The Champagne flowed as we stood in the center of this magnificent building. The whole complex is a show case of Scotland and if you are ever in Edinborough it's a must on your tourist list. This type of reception is usually the place where you get to know a few of your companions and as I had spoken to a British MGB owner who had a car in the trials before leaving the USA, I intended to introduce myself. As I was searching for the right name tag an American voice said "Hi Geoff, I'm Brad. We talked on the telephone". This was another fellow competitor who had called me a few days prior to my departure to the UK. He was shipping his own car over from Florida and had noticed my address in the list of entrants.

Brad: "You guys have got to be in the American Team" Me: "Don't think so we are not competitive and are only here for the ride". Brad: "You have to or we don't have a team". It seemed that any national team required at least three cars and although the original entry figures showed a total of four including our car, one of the cars had not arrived. The owner was there but his car was still on the high seas enjoying an extended sea cruise. Me: "OK count us in but don't expect any Paddy Hopkins stuff". (I understand that the missing car did eventually arrive in time for a major part of the adventure but that's another story.) Brad was driving a Datsun 240Z so unless is was down hill in a traffic jam we would never keep up with him in our MGB what's more we had no intention of trying! A second glass, or was it the third, of the good stuff and I was beginning to feel relaxed after our long days drive when my cousin came over with another contestant who had noticed our name tags. It was my new friend from Cornwall who had taken the trouble to call me in New York and had given me a few tips on what to expect this being his second "Malts Trials". Him: "Geoff, I've been telling Ivor that you two must be on the MGB team". I once again explained that we were not competitive and were only here for the experience of driving to, through and over the highlands of Scotland during the next five days. Further more we did not see ourselves walking away with a silver badge or similar trophy at the end. Another drink and we were part of both the American and British MGB Team, truly multi-cultural in every sense of the word! At this stage of the evening had the Rolls Royce owners approached us with the same proposal I think we would have said yes on the principle that you can't have too many friends in the wilds of Scotland! A very enjoyable evening was had by all with a warm welcome from a prominent Scottish politician to set the right tone for the next five days.

The departure time for the first cars to leave was 6.30 a.m. from Edinburgh Castle. As we were number eighty eight our departure was 7.45 a.m.. It was still raining so most of us had some difficulty finding the castle despite the fact that it dominates the whole city skyline. A piper stood at the start line drenched to the skin, or should that be Kilt, as he was in full highland dress, trying to give the competitors a musical send off. The office traffic was just about to pour into the city and other travelers were trying to get out. To say the traffic was dense is a complete understatement! The allocated miles to reach the "Forth Bridge" to cross the river was 9.87 miles from the castle, we crossed it at 9.35 a.m., about an hour behind our scheduled time. Not a good way to start any timed driving adventure and one has to ask "Why start from the middle of a major city on a working Monday morning? Surely Sunday would have been a better choice or if it had to be Monday pick a location outside the city!

We were not alone in our frustration, some of the cars that had left before us were still lined up at the toll booth on the bridge which was doing a roaring trade at this time in the day. We eventually paid our toll and in a few minutes were on the open road. For those of you that have never been to Edinburgh a few words about the city would not seem out of place. The Royal Mile as the name implies is the center location leading to and through, the main thoroughfares of the old town Holyrood House, Scotland's Royal Palace, is still the official residence of the queen and is adjacent to the Royal Mile. The city also boasts a wonderful collection of early Georgian buildings dating back to the mid 1700's. The original foundations of the city can be traced back to Roman times when this was a major trading harbor. The castle is about 950 years old, but no one is quite sure of the exact age. The site was a military fort during the period of Roman occupation and its location at the top of the highest point of the city indicates how important it must have been. Today, the castle is famous for military tattoo with massed pipe bands and three million tourists every year. The "Forth Bridge", our first point of reference is a fairly modern structure built in the 1960's to span the famous river of the same name, (Firth of Forth.) It sits adjacent to a wonderful Victorian Iron railway bridge that regretfully seems to have lost its purpose in today's modern world. Sure trains still pass over it, but it is no longer the gateway to Scotland. Over the new road bridge and onto "Knockhill Circuit", Scotland's only permanent racing track. Here we had our first ability test.

Each car was required to do one lap at our own chosen speed and then do four more maintaining the same performance. Sounds easy? You try it! Your first lap is usually slow as you get used to the curves and bends then, as you get more confident you speed up despite the fact that you think you are maintaining your original speed. Our recorded performance illustrates this. First lap 130.92.. Second 124.80.. Third 118.20. Need I go on! If we had been doing ten laps I am sure the MGB would have hit 114.00 without either of us being aware that we had reached the standard time for the circuit. (Note: I said standard time not winning time!) The next contest was a drive through a timed maneuverability course, tight turns and slim obstructions even for a MGB. The Bentley in front of us had a difficult time and I shudder to think how the Rolls Royce boys got on! Out of the racecourse and on to the open road for another 47 miles with two timed check points, passing Gleneagles to arrive at the Glenturret Distillery in time for a hasty coffee and our first samples of the Scottish brew. By now I estimated that we were at least two hours behind our scheduled time from Edinburgh Castle and felt like opening the samples on the spot, but common sense prevailed and we set off for a further 49 miles to Killin for another driving test.

Thinking about lunch but unable to stop, we drove on to Blair Castle for yet another test, this time on a hill! There was a scheduled visit to Athol Distillery en route but we gave this a miss due to time constraints…However, in retrospect this was not a good decision! Thank goodness we were not the only ones who were well out of their time allocation at Blair Castle, so in consequence we did have time to stretch our legs and take a couple of pictures. The rain had stopped around early afternoon but we then faced snow as we worked our way over the Monadhliath mountains towards our first night stop at the Coylumbridge Hilton Hotel, built to cater for the growing numbers of people who visit Scotland to enjoy the delights of the snow covered ski hills, even in May! It was at this point that I became aware that miles in Scotland are certainly longer than any where else on the globe. My tally for the first day was around 250/280 miles including the wrong turns that we managed to achieve as the snow was followed by fog for the last twenty miles of the trip. The hotel turned out to be comfortable and the general atmosphere was of good fellowship and enjoyment despite the damp weather. Each evening the results of the day are posted on a notice board for the keen competitors to study. As this was the first night these results were not posted until after a splendid highland dinner with bagpipes, haggis, Scottish dancers and all the other cultural delights of Scotland, like enjoying that long awaited glass of highland malt at the end of the meal. After a long day in a small car we were both ready for bed. A quick nightcap with a couple of German competitors and then off to dreamland. That was the general idea, however as I was about to put down my empty glass the day's results were posted and about fifty people rushed to the notice board to see their official figures. I am told, although I was not present at the time, for obvious reasons, that protests were still being filed at One A.M. over the day's recorded performance and breakfast conversation the next morning confirmed this fact!

At this point in the review it would seem appropriate to explain the system of time calculation used by "HERO". Please understand that my technical knowledge is limited in such matters, even the use of this writing machine requires about 90% of my technical ability and even then one can never be sure if the material will eventually reappear . The system is known as the "Liege Time System". Each competitor is issued with a clip board holding time sheets and fixed at the bottom of the board is an electronic chip. At each control point the recorded time is transferred from a control clock to the chip, at the same time an electronic record of the chip is installed in the memory of the clock, so there are two time values available should there be any dispute. The marshals also fill in the time sheet and also keep a duplicate copy at each check point. The time is always recorded are the exact time that the car crosses the time line, which is an electronic measurement not a line on the road as was the case in bygone days! Should one or more cars turn up at the same check point at the same time the marshal can freeze the time on the clock and apply that recorded segment to both cars. The system is almost foolproof, no misunderstandings over written figures, no am and pm errors. What you see is what you get recorded, rain, hail, snow or sunshine. The clipboards are the property of "HERO" and have to be handed back at the completion of any event.

At the end of the first day a total of 136 cars were parked at the hotel representing 25 countries. The list of vehicles included some of the most attractive vehicles produced between the 1920's to the 1970's. To mention just a few that caught my eye let me start with the six Bentleys from 1924 through to 1961, the latter being a rare S2 Continental. Seven Aston Martin's from 1933 onwards. A James Bond DB4 and a nice DB6. Twenty one Jaguars covering virtually every pre 1972 model. Four Maserati's, five Alfa Romeo's, six Morgans, a 1937 Delahaye from France. A Denzet from Austria, various Mini Cooper S types and an equal number of Mercedes and Porsche. At the other end of the economic scale these were MGB's, a couple of nice MGTF machines, (The original ones), a MGTD and a MGA driven by a honeymoon couple from Belgium. (What a great way to start a marriage.)

Bentley Continental S2
Image Submitted by Rick Feibusch

Those of us in this economic bracket were the poor relations compared with the majority of the other competitors but our fuel bills were lower! Talking of fuel the average price was around eighty pence a liter, which translates for my American readers to about four and a half dollars a US gallon. We averaged about 300 miles a day not including the distance we all drove to get to Scotland so if you think of the Rolls, and the Bentley's, not to mention the Jaguars and Mercedes their daily fuel bills must have been interesting. Even in our modest MGB I was filling up the tank every day at a cost of about thirty five pounds..($50 US). The further north we traveled the more expensive the fuel became. Strange as we were in the heart of the oil rig country so one would think the prices could be lower! Tuesday started with bright sunshine as we were flagged off for another day of map reading and driving on narrow roads, (The further north you venture the smaller the road surface to drive on!) Included in the morning run was another visit to a distillery then on to the famous Loch Ness and its ever popular monster, first sighted back in 548 A.D. by a local monk at the old abbey? We do not know if he was in charge of the wine cellars at the time but it is certainly recorded in the local records that some thing was sighted late in the evening after supper! Where the abbey once stood is the remains of a castle dating back to the eleventh century. It has undergone siege no less than four times by various advocacies, the last being the English Redcoats who blew the structure to stop any other Scottish rebels from utilizing this excellent vantage point over looking the loch and the principle road. All that is left to explore is a granite skeleton of its former glory. "Nessey" has been sighted for the past 1,500 years so she or he must be a little old in the tooth by now. No one took the idea seriously until the early 1920's when two photographs were published showing a shadowy figure breaking the surface of this huge span of inland water from about two miles off shore. The tabloids of the day published these pictures and ever since it's been a tourist attraction for millions of visitors. The local tourist boards have encouraged this for obvious reasons and the national boards have also done their share to keep the idea alive. A few years ago a survey was carried out by an American team with sophisticated sonic equipment and underwater camas, nothing was found apart from a few sonic images that had little substance. Never the less a leading naturalist of the day, Sir Peter Scott, produced a picture of his interpretation of Nessey which was featured on the front page of a national paper. It looked like a whale with large fins which is interesting as these Lochs are interconnected with a water system, is it feasible that what was seen and photographed eighty years ago might have been some species of whale?

We took a little time off from the timed driving schedule to explore the area which is truly beautiful. The fact that we were now way behind our allotted time schedule may well have influenced this decision! Next stop was Leys Castle for another maneuverability driving test, then on to the "Little Kart Circuit", for more action on a very difficult race track. Needless to say we did not excel and by now in company with a few others decided that touring had more appeal than heavy competition. We would still follow the course but not bother about trying to maintain timed stops. I also noticed that as the week progressed the groups of people who had rushed to the posted achievements each night had become smaller! Also the general conversation each evening was more inclined to drift towards cars than time clocks! Sure there were some who ate a hasty meal then disappeared off to their rooms to study the next days timed route in earnest, but they were certainly a small minority by day three! From Littleferry we progressed north stopping at Strath Broa and Glen Loth for time checks. The drive along the coast was breathtaking with cliffs that drop down to the North Sea at the edge of the narrow road. There are passing places set into the cliffs and the drive is about fifty miles at a very modest speed. However, there are always a few idiots in every gathering and ours was no exception! I counted four cars bearing trials plates speed past us on the wrong side of the miniature road at seventy miles an hour trying to make up for a few lost seconds. No wonder the locals regard these competitive events as both stupid and dangerous, if I were one of them I would feel the same simply because we had a few people who behaved like children rather than grown adults! On one stretch there was only space for single vehicles so we pulled in to a passing area to allow a farm tractor to pass. A few seconds later two "hot to trot" Malt Trials cars screamed by throwing stone and mud all over the place to come face to face with the large farm vehicle. By some grace of God no one was hurt but the driver of the tractor was not pleased and expressed his views in a very strong Scottish accent leaving nothing unsaid!

As we progressed further north I caught my first view of the famous oil rigs that stand out of the water like small steel mountains. We were in the repair area for the rigs that spend up two years fixed to the bottom of the sea drilling for oil. I always thought that they were towed out to sea by tugs but this is no longer the case. On the end of each leg is a powerful motor and a propeller. When the rigs need to move they simply start up their engines, pull up the hydraulic arms from the sea bed and move off at about ten knots, steering the rig through the engines. If you wish to turn left just shut down the left power unit, same for right turn. To reverse you simply turn the whole power unit a full 180 degrees. We are now on our way to Wick just a few miles from "John O Groats" the most northern tip of the Scottish mainland. Hotel accommodation in this part of the world is, to say the least, Spartan. The group were allocated various hotels within ten miles of each other and we ended up in Castletown, a small harbor community about twenty miles north of Wick and an equal distance from John O Groats. In reality you can't get any further north unless you board a boat to the Isles of Orkney. The hotel was certainly small yet cozy. The rooms were adequate although I did miss the convenience of a shower. Seemed important at the time but in retrospect no big deal! We had about fifty competitors located here who soon filled up the small pub that was part of the hotel accommodation. A warm fire in an open heath kept out the chill winds that followed us up the east coast line, to and from Wick. The evening meal was excellent, real simple home cooking that tasted just right after another long days drive. Some of the locals joined us to share a pint and contributed to the conversation although sometimes it was a touch difficult to understand the local dialect. It was here that I discovered the secret of the power drives on the rigs. Two of the local customers worked at the repair facility spending three weeks away and one at home. From their conversation it would seem that the future of "North Sea Oil" was not that secure. Within five years the current oil fields will be pumped out and the rigs will have to move further out to sea. This will mean larger rigs and of course higher investment not to mention a higher risk of injury for the workers. The odds of getting injured whilst working on a rig is about three times higher than any normal risk in a comparable industry.

Day three started with no rain but that chill wind had turned into a gale that seemed to lift the MGB from one side of the road to the other. As it was only a few miles out of our route to visit John O Groats, we threw caution to the wind, (no pun intended), and decided to double back and at least set foot on the most northern tip of the Scottish mainland. To give you some idea of how far north we were it did not get dark until eleven p.m. and was light again by 4.30 a.m. Remember this was May 14th, a full six weeks away from mid-summer. It was during our detour to John O Groats that I noticed how many lambs there were either in the fields adjacent to the road or on the road itself! I think every lamb in Scotland had congregated on the A836 to see Eddie's MGB drive past they were everywhere with their Mothers carefully watching our every move. John O Groats was, to say the least uninspiring. A closed summer hotel, three trinket shops, and an empty dock where the island ferry usually rests. A quick photo, jump back into the car and double back on route to Thurso, the last large town between us and the Irish sea on the western shores of Scotland, yes we were going to cross the top of the country. Our return route took us past the Castletown Hotel were we spent the night. Parked outside were two of our fellow competitors whose car had broken down. To be more precise the breaks had stopped working, not a healthy situation in the Highlands of Scotland where the ability to stop is as important as the ability to start! A phone call to the "HERO" support team from the hotel produced the repair guys complete with a pick up truck and I understand that they were back in the race, sorry, on the road again within a few hours. I was impressed with such service.

There were various tests scheduled for this section of the trip but again as we were running late we did not cover them all. In short the sheer beauty of the hills, lochs and coast line were more desirable than racing up one hill and down another to see who could do it in the fastest time! We did smile at the Time Marshals as we handed in our sheets at various time checks and I got the impression that they felt we were not taking this whole thing seriously..(Can't understand why!) A few miles beyond "Thurso" is the "Dounreay Atomic Power Station". This establishment is now facing a difficult future, it is due to be decommissioned and the technical challenges include the retrieval of radio active wastes. The media has been less than kind with revelations of contaminated beaches etc. A timed maneuverability and handling test was scheduled at this location. As we did not want to return a glowing MGB to the Owners Club we also gave this challenge a miss.

The A838 is a combination of single track with passing places..(Seems like we have been here before!) and short sections of double track, make that almost double track where there are a few houses. The coastline twists and turns leaving ocean inlets with small Finger Lakes sporting names like "Kyle of Tongue" or "Loch Enbolt". The view with the mountains one side and the sea on the other with a background of wild hillside supporting sheep and highland cattle completing the picture. Years ago when I was at school I remember a picture in the headmaster's study of a magnificent Stag with six foot antlers standing on a ridge in the highlands. The picture was called "Monarch of the Glen". This could well have been the same location where this 19th century picture was painted. Traveling on we reached the farthest western tip of Scotland where an impressive structure sits in isolation overlooking the "Key of Durness". It's name, "The Cape Wrath Hotel". This was another check point and a resting place and for those of us who consider that three meals a day is a necessary component for a happy life soup and coffee was available at a modest cost. The walls of the hotel were covered with photos of happy fishermen holding oversize salmon, all caught in the local waters.

During the fishing season this isolated oasis becomes alive with sports fishermen and fishing women, from all over the world out to catch the biggest and the best available. With over 130 cars on this route the car park soon became crowed and we realized that unless we got back on the trail we could be stuck behind a few classic monsters like the 6.5 Bentley that had waved us to pass earlier in the day on a single track road, an interesting experience especially as the local sheep wanted to get involved as well! A soft rain started to fall in company with bright sunlight creating an interesting image as the cars glistened in the sunlight and the rays of bright light filtered through the dark clouds. Most convertibles had their tops up including ourselves but a nice MGTD wound its way up the track to the hotel with its top securely fasten in a down position. The rather damp looking occupants still managed to give us a friendly wave which we of course returned. Regardless of make or size of the cars the drivers and their companions always managed a friendly wave and a smile; after all we were all in this together sink or swim, win or lose. In all the years that I have been involved with classic cars and all that goes with the hobby, I have seldom met any owner who was not friendly and helpful. Sure there were the odd few who, like the mad antics on the coastal roads that I commented on earlier as people who should not be behind a steering wheel, but the vast majority are great people who it is always a pleasure to meet.


At this point the route turned south and then east with a brief glimpse of the Irish Sea at "Rhiconich". For the next 48 miles we passed loch after loch surrounded by high hills and small mountains that seemed to touch the dark clouds that forecast more rain. The largest of these is "Loch Shin", about thirty miles in length. As before the road was simply a narrow track with passing places every quarter mile. The local wildlife was in abundance and we had to watch both the road and these locals at the same time that seemed to have no fear of mechanical devices like the motor car. For no reason a few highland sheep would decide to sit down a few yards ahead in the middle of the track, or a few pheasants would walk across the same track forcing you to stop and give way. At one point two very large specimens of highland cattle stood adjacent to the road looking at the MGB as if it was a hostile creature from outer space, my concern was that they may make up their mind and decide that it was! We stopped to take a look at the scenery and consult the route directions, completely alone on a single stretch of semi road in the middle of nowhere. No idea where the other competitors might be, either they were lost or we were.(My money was on the latter!) We did not notice a Land rover pull up behind us until a voice inquired "Everything OK?" The question came from one of the "HERO" staff who had managed to sight us and drive over to see if we were in any trouble. Again I was truly impressed with this service, here we were obviously off the beaten track, not quite sure which way to go and from nowhere this Rover turned up to see if we needed help. We assured our benefactor that all was well and with a little help in the way of directions we pressed on. The drive to the bottom of "Loch Shin" is simply beautiful and then, almost without warning the single track develops into a passable road and then a double carriage way on route to Inverness. However, before we could start thinking about a warm bath there was another visit to a distillery at Alness near Invergordon. The Dalmore distillery is famous the world over and I certainly wanted to visit this location.

The town of Alness is like something out of a Scottish TV series, small friendly shops selling home made cakes and local tweeds. An equally friendly garage owner directed us to the distillery after exchanging words about his youth when he owned a MGB and all the things that happened with and in the car..Well almost all!

About fifty cars were lined up outside Dalmore like a parade of classic beauties. Jaguars nestled next to Alfa Romeo's.. MG's and Morgans overshadowed by the big Bentley's and a couple of Rollers. The object was to get through the iron gates of the distillery which were designed many years ago for a lower traffic flow! A local policeman waved us past the line up and indicated that we should proceed through the rear exit clearly marked "No Entry". However, who were we to disobey the instructions of the law so we duly drove through and found ourselves at the front of the entry lineup. Within a few seconds another car drew up behind us, an early Vauxhaul sporting a couple of South African drivers who, like us, had obeyed the constable. We collected our samples and had a brief conversation with a couple of cars then headed off to find our hotel in Inverness. Yes we did, like several others, get lost in this city as our instructions were not quite clear as to which hotel we were going to stay in . Three hotels had been booked for the group and of course we managed to visit all three before we found our destination. I understand that one or two cars actually visited four!

Morgan Plus 4

We hauled our bags out of the boot, registered and headed for the shower. That night there was a reception at City Hall for the whole group so we had to look our best despite the limited amount of gear that you can carry in a MGB with all the other necessary items. I had noticed that we seemed to have developed a rather sporty loud noise from the exhaust but a brief inspection on all fours reveled nothing of visible importance As the group was dispersed at three hotels we had to be collected by coach. Our pick up time was 6.30 p.m. so at the appointed hour we assembled in the hotel car park to await our carriage. By 7 p.m. several people were getting a trifle concerned. By 7.15 we were convinced that something was wrong and this was confirmed at 7.20. The coach had broken down but have good heart, another was on its way.. SOON! One and a half hours from the time we first took up our positions in the car park transport arrived; OK we would be late for the reception but with luck not the dinner. As we departed from the coach one of the group asked what time we would be collected? "Ten Thirty", came the reply. This confirmed that dinner was included somewhere after the reception. The Lord Mayor of Inverness greeted us with a few welcome words while the last of the sweet red and white wine was poured into my plastic cup. A plate of round things passed me by, and was consumed in a matter of minutes by my companions on the delayed coach. After an hour and a half the good goodies had obviously gone and we were left with the remains that usually go to the staff at the end of evening. As I have indicated we did not arrive until well past eight P.M. so when things came to an end at eight forty five and the bar shut down through lack of merchandize and the plastic plates were whisked away we were ready for a Scottish Dinner with all the trimmings. At nine p.m. we were outside the magnificent oak doors of City Hall where we were told we would be collected at 10.30.. "So off you go to find an ethnic Scottish eating place like Mc Donald's".

So much for dinner! With about a hundred people crowded on the front steps of City Hall is was difficult to get a cab. On top of that as far as one could see there was no dinning place within walking distance, not even a pub! It was now obvious that something had seriously gone astray so the priority was simple, find some means of transport back to the hotel in the hope that the kitchen had not closed. Walking a couple of blocks down the road we managed to find a cab, and within fifteen minutes were back ready to savoir the delights of the hotel chef. In reality we ended up with a packet of salted nuts and a pint of beer, yes that's right the kitchen was closed! The following morning the breakfast room was full of people trying to catch up on the missed evening meal. Large plates of food piled up on each table and I suspect a few doggie bags were utilized in case of future emergencies! Inverness is not a large city but it is spread over a large area. Our destination at the end of the day was Aberdeen, the center of the North Sea Oil Industry, and of course a major Scottish commercial center. Our route took us the long way rather than the most direct route to Aberdeen so we passed a memorial of Scotland's past glory. Two hundred and fifty years ago give or take a few years; Bonnie Prince Charlie fought his last battle with the English and was defeated at Culloden. It was the end of a Scottish dream for the rebirth of the Stewart Kings. Not only were they firmly beaten but the whole structure of Scottish independence was destroyed. Of course we stopped to see the battle site parking the MGB a few feet from the actual ground that once saw the slaughter of both the Scotts and the English.

I suspect that the ghosts of the defeated Scottish clans took their revenge on our English car for a few miles later the noise that I had noticed the day before increased in volume. By the time we made our first official stop at Glenfarclas where there was yet another driving test, the noise from the exhaust could have easily waken the dead. We took off to find a local garage, who, we hoped, could get the car on a lift and repair any damage. After a tour of the town we found a silencer..(muffler) shop. Up on the lift, close inspection with the verdict that the damage was terminal! Why? Because the resonator had cracked and the split was increasing with every mile. Spare parts? Maybe in about three days from Edinburgh. Weld the broken section? Sure except that the whole system was stainless steel and you can't weld that. There is a moral to this story as some of us have been known to spend hard earned cash fitting stainless steel exhaust systems in the belief that they will last for ever! What we are not told is that when they get damaged there is no easy way of repairing them like a simple weld. How did this damage happen? Who knows, it could have been a rock but more likely it was a dam speed bump that seem to be growing everywhere these days. Your guess is as good as mine, but one thing was for sure we were in need of urgent repairs if we were ever going to make it to Aberdeen. An hour later we found a motor shop that sold us an exhaust bandage and a tube of paste that was guaranteed to seal the damage exhaust for life! Out came the jack unused for many years by the look of it, and the car was maneuvered into a position where one of us, the one with the longest arms, could repair the damage. To achieve this feat of gymnastic wonder in a public car park, in a small Scottish community obviously attracted a few young spectators who from time to time gave encouraging words of advice.

Eventually the repairs were completed, a public wash room was utilized and we were once again on our way. The noise level had certainly reduced but under no circumstances could one describe the exhaust system as being user friendly! The repairs were directly under the passenger seat so any words of encouragement between driver and co-driver was extremely limited. There was a special test that we had decided to enter on this section of the trip, a real Le Mans start with drivers running to their waiting cars for a fast take off. All my life I had wanted to do this, bounding over the track, into the cockpit and away to lead the pack! In reality my guess was that my actual performance would have been a quick walk rather than a fast run while watching all the other cars disappear in a cloud of dust. However, we shall never know as by the time we were back on the road to Aberdeen it was mid afternoon. We located our hotel with ease, the first time during the drive. Back under the car to patch up the patch, talk to few friends on what we might be able to do and off to bed with a rather heavy heart as it was obvious that we were out of the game and had little choice but to head south in the morning with a journey in excess of 450 miles in front of us. The noise was certainly well above the legal limit and as were scheduled to travel to Balmoral Castle that day I was sure that the Queens household would not welcome a MGB with a straight through exhaust system. This was also the last day of the event ending up at Scone Palace, again not the ideal place to visit in our condition. We bid a found farewell to our companions, reported the situation to a marshal and set off on route to Cambridge and the MG Owners Club. .

To describe the return journey as unpleasant is kind.. it rained most of the way so this required that we keep the top up. This in turn enhanced the exhaust noise within the car and produced an environmental atmosphere of sixty percent exhaust gas and forty percent of breathable air. Add to this a heated passenger floor and the consequence aroma of roasting rubber from the underside of the carpet. In total accounting for a couple of stops to surface for air and take nourishment the driving time was in excess of ten hours as we could not exceed fifty miles an hours for fear of blowing what was left of our exhaust bandage. However the Gods are good to MG drivers and we handed back the car almost in one piece. I was a little sad to say goodbye to our sturdy wheels of the past week remembering that it was not the car that failed but some dam obstruction probably installed by a local government official. (Currently we have an ongoing campaign in my County to ban the use of speed bumps as statistics have shown that they do more damage than good and seldom stop the speed nuts any way!) The car had been a credit to Eddie's memory, never missed a beat throughout the 2,000 miles that we traveled over England and Scotland. Looking back I have to say that it was an educational experience. Did I get value out of my $8000 investment? Well in terms of a unique experience I have to say yes. I would never have driven over the highlands of Scotland for any other reason and the sheer beauty of the area is almost impossible to convey through the written word.

Would I do it again? If the question was simply to tour the highlands again the answer has to be yes, if you are asking would I partake in another Endurance Trial the answer has to be a firm No! To my mind a touch too much "Endurance", man can not live by bread alone! The HERO support organization was excellent, even in the wilds of Scotland, you were never alone, and help was always at hand. The accommodation ranged from Five Star to adequate and the food as good as any I have experienced throughout the U.K. The other support material in the form of maps and documentation was good; if you got lost it was your fault not the organizers. The down side was too much driving and far too many so-called tests that became a bore by day three. The high mileage expected each day tended to wear down the enjoyment and fatigue the drivers. The obvious screw-up departing from the City Center of Edinburgh did not set a good omen for the rest of the week and of course the rain did nothing to enhance the operation. I do know that certain of the competitors enjoyed every moment from the time they set off in the early morning whilst the rest of us enjoyed breakfast, to the midnight oil they burned planning the next day's route. I also suspect that a couple of marriages and or similar went through a sever test during the week as some couples tended to eat alone.. i.e alone from each other! Even when we changed over from competitor to tour status I still found the expected performance exhausting, it was probably better in a Rolls but still demanding.

I am sincerely grateful to the MG Owners Club for their ongoing support, with a special thanks to Roche Bentley , and my good friends Richard Ladds and Richard Monk. It was their ongoing support that made this review possible. I would also be remiss if I did not thank the Owners Club staff who maintained the MG before the event and my co-driver who shared in all the good and not so good experiences. If I were thirty five instead of twice that age it might have been another story and I could be counting the days to the next HERO adventure, but time is the one thing that we can not revise. As for the Malts aspect of the trip, certainly an attraction to this Scotch drinker of many decades, I can honestly say that this was almost as bad as the weather. No time to see the locations and the general attitude of the Distillery staff was, at best, DISTANT! Most of the competitors that I spoke with did not bother to collect all their samples. A week or so after I returned to the USA I received the official publication of the "Final Results" and was pleased to see that my friend from Cornwall in his MGB managed to win a silver award, also that the missing American car did arrive in time for it's owner to take part in the events. Needless to say we were not mentioned in these records so posterity will never know that Eddies MGB not only went to Moscow but also made it to the wilds of Scotland and back in great style!
© 2012 Geoff Wheatley Contributing Reporter/Writer

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