Curves 8 - On Scotland‘s most beautiful roads
“Forget the Alpine passes, forget the Amalfi Coast, and forget Route 66“, an old codger with a warm smell of whisky on his breath confides to us late one evening in a bar down on the harbour, after eavesdropping on our conversation about hairpin bends for some time. “You‘ll find the world‘s most beautiful roads in the north of Scotland!“ Sure, we thought with a grin – and you’ve also got the most beautiful women and the best food as well of course. Even so, we couldn‘t forget what the old man had said to us that evening. What if there was something to it? Their enthusiasm fuelled by a few shots of whisky, perhaps the road builders really had been inspired enough to lay down some nice twisty roads leading into the Scottish Highlands? So, when autumn came around this year, we finally managed to make our way to the High North of the United Kingdom to look for the most beautiful roads between the Highlands and the North Sea.
As a fast, spacious, all-weather and, if necessary, whisper-quiet conveyance, we had chosen the new Porsche Panamera Hybrid. A wise choice, as we were later to discover – this was because it was not only possible to stow mountains of photographic equipment in our Highland Tourer, but so much whisky that even Captain Haddock himself would have joined us on the trip without getting the least bit upset. Our drive started in Glasgow and from there took us along the western shore of Loch Lomond and Scotland’s ragged west coast, which is indented with numerous sea lochs, up to the northern tip of the British Isles at Durness, then returning via Inverness with a brief excursion into the Cairngorms National Park to Edinburgh. The highlight of our round trip, however, was the North Coast 500, a 513-mile long scenic route, which was opened in 2015 and is currently regarded by curve freaks as one of the really great road trips.
And lo and behold, up here, in this barren corner of the British Isles, a driving experience of cinematic grandeur reveals itself: the road takes us in lazy curves through stunning, softly swelling mountainous landscapes with moss, shrubs and craggy rocks spreading towards the wide northern horizon in a patchwork of colours, with a new, unexpected and spectacular view waiting beyond each curve that forces you to stop and just gaze in awe. You glide past dramatic rocky bays and fairy-tale lakes with patches of drifting cloud reflected in the crystal clear water. You pass lush green moorland and wild enchanted forests, are captivated by the sight of massive fortified castles overlooking the sea with sea eagles circling overhead and wind through bumpy village roads and always manage to come to a stop at the right moment outside a cosy pub offering local specialities. Even someone who possesses eyes toughened from continuous media consumption is knocked out by the rapid sequence of images and the epic Panavision panoramas on the NC500 – but anyone really wanting to soak up every single view here in the North of Scotland and to take full advantage of each photo opportunity offered will need the lifetime budget of an immortal Highlander.
It is the vast desolate expanse, the sheer endlessness of the sky and the diffused light that make driving along the Scottish coast a unique experience. But it is also the omnipresence of water – in the sea and the lakes, but also in the lush meadows and pastures, the grey clouds and patches of fog – and the sea salty freshness of the spicy air blowing through the window that is always slightly ajar. Gliding through this glorious countryside at the wheel of the latest Grand Tourer from Porsche is of course a special privilege – but nature also works its magic on you when you are travelling along Scotland’s narrow roads in a battered Landy, an old Triumph or even on a racing bike with a tent tied on the luggage rack.
Having said that – even if you really prefer spending the evenings sitting around a campfire, you should at least treat yourself to a night at this very special place: Killiehuntly Farmhouse, located in some of the most wild and romantic scenery in the west of the Cairngorms National Park, has been defying the elements since 1304 and for centuries was owned by the Sandison Clan. A Danish couple bought the house some years ago, painstakingly restored it and transformed it into a stylish and wonderfully comfortable guesthouse for Highland travellers. And then, after a day outside – walking, swimming or fly fishing – you can tuck into premium Kinloch hot smoked salmon and freshly killed wild game before relaxing in front of the fireplace to mull over the impressions of your trip with a glass of fine whisky in your hands.