Licensed to Thrill

Scotland made famous by 007

Written by Linda Jackson

James Bond is a lucky old spy, isn’t he, getting to drive an Aston Martin DB5. The bounder is even luckier to be paid to drive the iconic car on some of Scotland’s most spectacular roads through breathtaking atmospheric landscapes.

No matter, though, if you’re not of the racy James Bond ilk, not a Daniel Craig look-alike and not the owner of an iconic car. You just need wheels, hired or otherwise.

Whether travelling in comfort in the latest model BMW, Ford, Jaguar or Mazda, or getting wet and windswept on a motorbike or simply loving every bump and bend in a classic car, the scenic roads in Scotland are made for just driving… and for savouring every minute.

Being a bit of a petrol-head, having been seduced in seconds by a sexy Jaguar E-type a few years ago, I’ve discovered there’s nothing more thrilling than sinking into its leather seats, listening to the engine growl, and experiencing the impressive torque it boasts. Far from having a car as a means of getting from A to B as quickly as possible, I now delight in every mile I drive… despite its unquenchable thirst.

Regardless of my car’s continued attempts to bankrupt me, I am checking out scenic driving routes in Scotland with some classic-car-owning friends: our main destinations being the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye.

And our mission... to go through Scotland’s most scary mountain pass, then follow in the tracks of secret agent 007 along the A82, the stunning Glencoe location where the Skyfall driving sequence was filmed, where the towering peaks of Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag act as a backdrop.

After Loch Lomond, once we reach Tarbet (take the A83), the countryside really starts showing off. Nice sweeping roads rise to the Rest and Be Thankful mountain pass where we admire the views before we drop down to Loch Fyne. Taking the road to Inveraray driving along the West coast of Loch Fyne as far as Lochgilphead, is the most scenic route to take, but we head down the East coast of Loch Fyne as far as Tighnabruaich to meet up with friends, taking the ferry across to Tarbert.

At Lochgilphead we go off-piste to visit picturesque Crinan, a 350-year-old fishing village and home to the Crinan Hotel, at the end of the historic Crinan Canal where we watch a boat going through one of the 15 locks along the canal. Make time to pop into the café in the tiny harbour for afternoon tea and scrummy cakes.

On our drive North up the West coast road (A816 to Oban) we take a detour to the island of Seil – silly perhaps, but only in order to boast that we have driven across the Atlantic, albeit by way of the tiniest of bridges. In Oban we find MV Hebridean Princess, a floating country house, which was granted a Royal Warrant in 2012. Oban is her home port for her cruises to the islands which lie off the west coast of Scotland.

Our journey to the Isle of Skye takes far longer than planned, a lot of stop-starting, with digital cameras working overtime photographing breathtaking landscapes – one of which being Eilean Donan Castle. The ancient island castle looks foreboding under the dark skies, yet is still such a striking sight and an iconic image of Scotland.

What a mistake staying on the Isle of Skye for two nights. It should have been for two weeks, no less. Talk about jaw-dropping landscapes isn’t in it, but driving from one end of the other takes far longer than you imagine. Geologically, Skye is breathtaking – the formation of the landslip, the Quiraing, is stunning; there are extraordinary rock pinnacles, towering peaks, and a dramatic jagged ridge (the Black Cuillin). Decision made: next visit, walking boots replace the car.

We seem to be detouring right, left and centre. So many sights to see, roads to drive, quaint villages to visit, so little time!

On leaving Skye, yet another detour takes us to the charming village of Plockton, at the mouth of Loch Carron (not far from the Skye Bridge), where we find palm trees, a pretty row of cottages, lots of moored boats, a café overlooking the water (another great pit stop), and a friendly villager who tells us part of the film ‘The Wicker Man’ was filmed here.

Along the shores of Loch Carron we drive. We’re getting into a single track road with passing places here. Although our end destination for a couple of nights in Torridon we decide to take the high road rather than the low road, via the Applecross peninsula, after being told that the historic Bealach na Ba (Pass of the Cattle) is mind-blowingly scenic.

We take the A896 to Loch Carron and then climb, and climb. Handing over the controls to my husband was a wise decision. I am dying a thousand deaths, clutching the side of the car at each hairpin bend, suffering palpitations at the sight of a car far in the distance coming towards us, and threatening my husband with a fate worse than death if he takes his eyes off the road for even a second to look at the view. The gradient is about one-in-three, the height of the pass is 2,053ft; the distance is 11.4 miles… a very, very long 11.4 miles.

Descending the other side is absolute bliss, a gentle downhill run on another great Scottish road with awesome vistas to boot. There’s a nice pub by the loch in Applecross, a homely foodie place, and the gentle loch-side drive around the Applecross peninsula to Loch Torridon finally gets my pulse rate down. The Torridon, one of my favourite hotels in the Highlands of Scotland, is as blissful as always, the food superlative. We get up early and catch amazing mountain reflections in the loch, venture out on an 8-mile afternoon hike, and take a leisurely drive early evening to catch the incredible light on the mountains.

We are now ready for our final mission, to drive the James Bond Skyfall film location route, so we hit the road to Inverness, picking up the A82 to Fort William, then to Glencoe – one of Scotland’s most famed glens. What a brilliant drive, the landscape is different again… a plateau, lakes, towering mountains, the Rannoch Moor, huge vistas and vast skies.

Last but by no means least, how did we rate our driving tour of Scotland? No question… 10 out of 10. The spectacular Glencoe roads travelled by 007 in the movie Skyfall, the vertiginous roads in the Highlands, single tracks with passing places, scenic coastal routes, and picturesque loch-side country lanes… all are unquestionably licensed to thrill.

First published 27 June 2019. Information correct at time of going to press.