The Highland Safari
July 20/21st 2003
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For pictures press the CoR 90
This was a welcome return to the Highlands after a two year break. In a highly unusual nod to the niceties of the Trade Descriptions act, and also an attempt not to offend the sensibilities of Highlanders everywhere, the title of the event when moved further South was altered to the more technically correct Scottish Safari. This year however the title as well as the event returned to its roots, the Highlands. We based our group at Evanton, North of Inverness. The town used to sit astride the main A9 trunk road but now is now a quiet lay-bye off that still busy life line to the northern most regions of Scotland. The Black Rock campsite provided us with good accommodation whilst the Novar Arms made us very welcome in the village centre. The campsites quoted boast of being a virtually midge free zone was treated with the sort of sceptism usually reserved for the 'pound in your pocket' or that other perennial 'the cheque's in the post'. However on this score they were correct, a little haven of virtual midgelessness, something well worth remarking upon.
Our two day route had been put together over the preceding months by Donald and Louise Sutherland. Day one was mainly routes we had used before with one stunning and occasionally nail biting addendum. Having reached the summit overlooking a hidden loch we usually carried on across the tops, this year we headed diagonally downwards towards the inviting sheet of water 700 feet below. As we dropped ever lower it became obvious that sooner rather than later we were either going to have to double back on ourselves or continue plunging into the very depths of the peat coloured water. Each crest in our downward track promised to herald the answer, and each time we continued onwards. Eventually with about 150 feet to go the hairpin finally appeared. Not content with being tight enough to require most long motors to need a shunt it also twisted along a rock ledge with a lengthy bank of scree for good measure. Excellent! With Donald on point my 90 was parked on the outside edge of the bend as a sort of target cum barrier should it go wrong. We spotted the rest of the extensive convoy through.... whether they needed it or not. Our Dutch crew, Gert-Jan and Irma in their diesel 109 camper, must have wished for power steering or a better lock or perhaps both. Their usual off road forays in Holland tend not to have a great many steep descents, and even fewer with rocks, scree and a drop off long enough to have your whole life flash before your eyes (that happened to me once, it was dead boring). Nevertheless their smiles never faltered as neat shunt was executed before continuing ever downwards. The series motors didn't like this corner at all. Robert Phillipsons S2, the genuine variety, a 2 not a 2a as he is at pains to point out to anyone who listens long enough, also coughed and spluttered and needed a shunt. However king of the corner award went to Barry Worsfold and his Range Rover. The back end dropped off the rock step and there was some sort of a meeting twixt the ancient Caledonian granite and Solihull steel comprising the fuel tank. The outcome of the meeting seemed to be a general consensus that the tank would leak and the rock would think its eons of existence hadn't been in vain. The subsequent temporary repairs enabled us to get the Range Rover back to camp for a permanent job (as is the way of these things there was alot of fuel on board) without causing any serious spillage on to the ground.Our final location for the day was a lookout spot with a vista that spread over the Dornoch Firth out into the expansive waters of the North Sea as well as South over rolling farmlands. The sky was blue the weather warm and all was well with the world. Better still was the thought of that evenings post teatime run to a beach nestling along the fringe of the Moray Firth.
The route into the beach caught a couple by surprise.... OK me actually. Both the vehicle and composure were rapidly recovered once the obligatory embarrassing photos had been taken of course and so on to the beach. Long experience has taught me that the beach is where adults regress to children. This was no exception. Large swathing rooster tails of sand were soon being shot towards the deepening twilight sky, the backdrop of the mellow Moray Firth providing just enough contrast to bring out the various reddish hues from above. Doughnuts, spirals, figures of eight. All were being etched into the firm golden sand by dozens of wheels. Great silver feathers of spray hurtled across the skyline like living, galloping beasts as brave souls went into the shallows at high speed. You think I exaggerate? Check the pictures and agree that words do poor justice to a magnificent evening. All completed in time for Mother Nature to erase all signs of our artistry with her cleansing tide.
Day two was a long long hike into the hinterlands. Some 60 miles of tracks were encrypted within the 13 page road books handed out that morning to lead us us through forests, farms, rivers, railways, bridges, hills, bogs and beastly bits. Those to whom navigation is but a chore stayed with myself and Redcoat Haigh to have the easier option of following us. Others with a penchant for a harder task split into their own groups and continued onwards with Donald and Louise popping up out of nowhere like a Land Rover character from Alice in Wonderland. The weather was less than clement in the early parts but by the afternoon as we headed well up into Easter Ross the weather had once again deigned to smile upon us. Despite the best efforts of the front runners no-one was to finish the whole of that days routes, which as disappointing as it seemed to some at the time means that there is still some new for 2004. Anyway staying out even later would have risked missing that evenings dinner and frolics at the Novar Arms so it was an easier choice. These evening soireés never fail to impress. Spontaneous wit is much in evidence as is a general disregard for political correctness, the latter is something we should all be in favour of. The quiz was dissected and eventually won though for the life of me I cannot remember whose talent took them to such dizzy heights of success so my apologies to you whoever you were. I do remember being co-erced into wearing a very fetching milkmaids wig but the pictures of that shall never see the light of day on this website.
My thanks as always to those who really made the event happen, Donald and Louise Sutherland. The legwork of driving routes (on average three potential routes for every one actually used) getting the necessary permissions (often several for one route) signed documents and the none too easy task of persuading a cynical landowner that off roaders aren't the reincarnation of the hordes of Genghis Khan, all fell to them. Harry Haigh managed to find Inverness again despite having no navigator and take up his rightful role as 4x4 facilitator and the entrants were as always a genial bunch of miscreants in every type and age of 4x4. Which, after all, is what it should all be about. Even the seals basking on the rocks of Dornoch Firth gave a nod of salutation as we packed and left the following day, great times great tracks.