Chasin' the Haggis.                                                                    May 2004         

  Overlooking the Sound of Raasay on Day One.

    On the second weekend in May Pam and I and GSK 116, our A-H 100M (replica, some purists insist), joined a selection of the Scottish Sub-centre contingent on their annual �Chasin� The Haggis� Tour. We had heard rumours of this exclusive annual event over the past few years but, when we heard that the venue included Flodigarry in the north of the Isle of Skye, we decided to investigate more closely. Skye is our very favourite place, especially since we have always been lucky in experiencing the best weather necessary for the appreciation of this beautiful island on our many holidays there, albeit the last being over a decade ago, so we thought that a perfect way to renew our acquaintance would be in the good company of fellow Healey-owners.
     We joined Pam and Mike Jenkins from Ilkley at Tebay Services on the M6 and set our mood by travelling to Stirling, after lunching at Canonbie and then following the B709 from Langholm via Innerleithen to rejoin the A7 on the outskirts of Edinburgh � 60 miles of next to nothing except forest and wilderness scenery broken only by the odd farming hamlet. Oh for such roads around Manchester!

Day One. The following morning we travelled from Stirling to the Roman Camp Hotel at Callander for the breakfast start and I made my first mistake of the weekend by allowing Pam enough time to undertake a close inspection of the hotel. Of course it was exceptional and when she found that some of the Haggis Chasers had stayed there overnight the question was raised as to why I had treated her to a night in a Travel Lodge instead. Suffice it to say there was no satisfactory answer and my account was running into debit. The event organiser, Donald Gordon, unfurled and erected the new �Austin Healey Club, Scotland� banner and the car park soon filled up with the twenty-two entrants, all eager to commence their journey to Skye. We renewed acquaintance with several familiar faces, started to meet new ones, and were entertained at the antics of Messrs. Reid, Mackintosh, Levy, Mathews, and Munn who had arrived attired in what I can only describe as baby-grows for petrol heads. In fact they were period white mechanics� overalls with suitably-applicable badges sewn on, as inspired by their last visit to the Goodwood Revival Meeting. Donald was duly inducted as the sixth member of the team by the presentation of his overalls and the group were christened by one of the wags as the �Ayrshire Painters�. Would they prove better painters than mechanics? So in suitably light-hearted mood, and fortified by the bacon butties, we were flagged away on a beautiful morning into the Highlands.
     As our destination was some 235 miles away Donalds� choice of route was somewhat restricted and therefore fairly simple. But we managed to take a wrong turn beyond Tyndrum by heading towards Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe rather than to the West and the coastal route � our pleasure at following our usual route to Skye in such barmy weather had lulled us into a false sense of security. Still, the mistake was quickly noted and rectified by a lovely little diversion down Glen Orchy. Over the Ballachulish Bridge and almost at the eagerly awaited Onich Hotel lunch stop we came across Denis and Margaret Austin broken down at the roadside. The majority of the Ayrshire Painters arrived shortly afterwards and towed Denis the short remaining distance to the hotel. We were amused to see Mr. Nunn taking his overalls OFF before crawling under to attach the tow rope � obviously they must have been expensive.
     The Onich Hotel has a lovely setting beside the sea loch, Loch Linnhe, and always provides a perfect photo opportunity under good weather conditions. For us it was perfect. For Denis and Margaret it was less so because all efforts to fix their broken dynamo came to nought. Their only option was to ring the RAC and wait for them to pronounce before deciding what to do. In fact they had to stay at Onich for all three nights of the tour and conduct their own �chase�, by telephone, for a replacement dynamo or bearing, only meeting up with us again at the Muir of Ord on the third day. It was a shame that we were deprived of their company for two days but these things happen and they did accept their bad luck with good grace.
     After lunch, the road to Skye via Fort William, Invergarry, and the Kyle of Lochalsh. Beyond Invergarry the A87 is just the most perfect road for Healeys with long straights, sweeping curves and open vistas. In fact I believe it was voted the best driving road in GB in both Car and Bike magazines, and it certainly didn�t disappoint despite, for us at least, too much slow traffic. Passed the Five Sisters and the Eilean Donan Castle and �over the bridge to Skye�. Not quite the same ring to it as the song these days but I think they created quite a stylish bridge and it does cut out those long delays in the busy periods. Then the beautiful drive to Flodigarry, north of Staffin, skirting the Cuillin Hills, through Sligachan and to Portree where we stopped at the Bakery for tea and the famed (so we were assured by the Jenkins) carrot cake, only to find the latter was sold out. Having driven so far for his treat Mike was not to be deprived so he reserved four portions (not all for him) for the same time the following day. Whilst finishing our tea and preparing for the final leg of the journey we were amused to note the passing of Lynne Reid and Linda Mackintosh in their Mercedes course car, not once but several times, around the main square, the only square, in Portree. There are only three roads out of Portree and one of those is the road they came in on. With them bringing up the rear we carried on, passing The Old Man of Storr, stopping to view the flat blue of the Sound of Raasay and the Minch in the most perfect weather that Skye can offer, and passed Staffin and the Quirang. And so to the first of two nights at the Flodigarry Hotel and the end of a perfect day.
     The Flodigarry has a most beautiful setting, in the lee of the Quirang and overlooking Eilean Flodigarry and Staffin Bay right across the Minch to Loch Gairloch on the mainland. It is set in a little wooded valley which in Spring is covered in bluebells and primroses. Unfortunately we were about a week or so early for the full show but the primroses were just showing. Athur Levy in was particularly impressed with the flora.  I hope that his specimens transplanted into his garden successfully. The hotel itself has an historical connection with Bonnie Prince Charlie in that Flora MacDonald, who helped him escape after the battle of Culloden, used to live in a cottage on or near the site of the hotel. A recently refurbished cottage in the grounds is now named after her and the individual suites are named after each one of her seven children. Pam and I can testify to the comfort of at least the �Anna� suite and it seems everyone was well satisfied with their rooms. The food and service over the two days was exceptionally good and we certainly hope to return there soon.
     And so to the end of day one, a most perfect day except that we had not yet achieved our quest. We had not glimpsed or smelt a haggis.

The Ayrshire Painters  Preparing to tow Denis at Onich.)  AHC roadside assistance.  In the shadow of the Old Man of Storr.

Day two showed the ever-changing face of Skye. There was a sea fret and the mountainous backdrop was almost completely obscured by the mists. It was much cooler than the previous day but at least it was dry with prospects of improving. The morning drive was to the Skye Airstrip, between Broadford and Kyleakin, where Donald had laid on a �tarmac mystery�. An arrangement of cones, on the face of it very simply laid out, but, at least to some of us (yours truly included), unfathomable at speed. How on earth did he manage to get all those cones in his Frogeye � he never did tell us. Nevertheless the main objective was achieved as we did our best to wear out the tarmac and the grins were in direct proportion to the speed. Of the ladies only Joan (Walker) took to the course, although that was perhaps because she was tasked to regain the family honour having watched husband Ian spin out of contention.
     After lunch at Kyleakin the route took us to the west coast and the northern loop of Skye, through Dunvegan, Carbost and Uig and back to Flodigarry. We took a diversion to Glen Brittle on the western edge of the Cuillins to re-view another special place and then kept our appointment for, hopefully, free carrot cake in Portree (we assumed that Mike Jenkins would pay and he did)! And so back to the Flodigarry for another sumptuous meal and a treat in the form of an after-dinner quiz arranged by Joan Walker. There were three quizzes. A male-orientated set of questions, a selection of girly teasers, and a (the genuine authentic) written driving test. We were mixed-up and split into teams of six, single-sex of course, and spent a very amusing and not-a little informative remainder of the evening. A girls� team bested the driving test but could not maintain the momentum and were pipped on the line by one of the boys� teams so overall I would say face was saved and honours were even. For our team, if confronted by a similar quiz again, our motto should be �read the questions carefully�. It was a super evening and it allowed everyone to mix together some more. Our thanks to Joan for arranging the diversion but we went to bed without really addressing or pursuing the haggis � only one day left!

             Flodigarry car park in the mist.         Littleuns at Flodigarry.        Backup support crew.  

Day Three showed us almost every type of weather that Scotland has to offer. Flodigarry was misty again but dry and after yet another sumptuous breakfast we headed south, over the bridge, north-east  passed Loch Carron, then east at Achnasheen, and so to lunch at the Ord Hotel, at Muir of Ord. The weather had improved throughout the morning and lunch became a picnic in the gardens fronting the hotel with a clear view of the famous distillery next door. As least someone�s quest had borne fruition because Denis and Margaret Austin were there to greet us having succeeded in their search for a dynamo.
     After lunch a blast south down the A9 to Kingussie, unable to enjoy the road because of the ever-present threat of speed cameras and/or plod-volvos, but basking in the warm afternoon sun. Then a turn to the west along the A86 and a rude awakening as the skies got blacker and blacker and blacker. At Loch Laggan those with hoods wilted under the challenge and stopped to put them up. Half-way along the loch the storm hit, and did it hit! Pam was all for stopping because our visibility was almost zero, but, without a hood, we would have been drowned in seconds and I kept going figuring that following Mike Jenkin�s tail lights was the preferred option. Ten minutes later we were out of the eye of the storm and by the time we arrived at Onich the sun was trying to break through again.
     In the Onich Hotel car park we found out why the Reids had really brought their Mercedes. The official excuse was that the Northern Healey Centre had not finished Aladair�s car (hurry up Paul) in time for the event. The real reason was that they needed to carry a fully-stocked drinks bar in the boot and this would be difficult, although for a Scotsman not impossible, in the boot of a 3000. The final evening�s festivities commenced there and then and continued early into the following morning.
     The final evening meal was kicked off by Ronnie Stevenson, a new face to us but a veteran haggis-chaser so we were told. He had prepared a variation of Rabbie Burns� �Address to the Haggis�, suitably tailored to suit Healey car buffs, which he gave with what I can only describe as dramatic gusto. Apart from the odd word I cannot pretend to have understood any of it. Of this I was ashamed until, much later, Alasdair admitted that most of the Scots didn�t understand it either. Perhaps a published translation might be called for. At this point I should thank Ronnie, who missed the majority of the chase due to a family commitment, because it was his cancellation that allowed Pam and I our chance to attend.
     An energetic grace delivered by Harley Weston preceded yet another sumptuous meal and then, all too soon it seemed, Donald called us to order for the final presentations. There were several people with their heads down trying to avoid eye contact with Derek Chadwick as he commenced what we were told was his traditional review of the three days. Suffice it to say that he hadn�t missed much at all and there were a few red faces and much mirth. Everyone was a winner and as well as the memories we all received a lovely crystal glass momento to treasure. After a final flourish in the bar most thoughts of the haggis had gone, forgotten entirely in the balmy glow of a fine evening. And so to bed,  again without achieving the quest.
     The final morning weather beside Loch Linnhe was perfect yet again and it was a wrench to say our goodbyes and commence the drive home, although the prospect of Glen Coe, Rannoch Moor and Loch Lomond went some way to lifting our spirits. Back home, reassured that our dog didn�t resent us too much for having left him in kennels for five days, and reflecting on a wonderful trip, a few thoughts occurred to me.
     If the haggis is animal then perhaps the bits and pieces of Scottish fauna stuck to the front of my car would go at least part of the way to making up the ingredients for a small one.
     Perhaps Pam and I, famed we are told for our inability to partake of alcoholic drink, should turn to drink (Scottish drink, Scotch, or indeed any drink) and then we could be more like the Scottish contingent who (Ivor be careful here) couldn�t find their rears in the dark, let alone hunt and capture a haggis, without it.
     Or perhaps we did find the haggis after all. Maybe it isn�t animal or vegetable or even mineral. Maybe it�s just the memory of a wonderful time in a beautiful place with lovely people and the vehicle for us sassenachs to remember Scotland and its trustees by. Thank you Donald and Joyce for all your efforts and organising skills and to all you other entrants for your convivial company.

Healeys at the Ord House Hotel.  Ord House lunch stop.  Preparing for the storm.  Onich Hotel car park.  Adressing the Haggis, and Arthur.

      Ivor Davies