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Scottish Malts 2023, Syd Stelvio Day 1 | Gleneagles to Oban

Scottish Malts 2023, Syd Stelvio Day 1 | Gleneagles to Oban

Scotch whisky must be matured for a minimum of three years and is often left for much longer to let its flavours develop. I daresay Clerk of the Course and route planner Nick Reeves would have liked a similar amount of time to put together the latest edition of the Scottish Malts, that began this morning in the shade cast by the famous Gleneagles Hotel, but time, and rally time in particular, waits for nobody and so at 8am the starters flag waved the first competitor of the event onward onto a five day adventure through Scotland.

I daresay it wouldn’t just have been Nick feeling the nerves this morning, as there is a fair few novice competitors on the event and even the more experienced hands get pre-match jitters but a bit of excitement keeps the mind sharp. Still, it’s always good to get into the groove early and after just a few miles the first competitive section of the event took the cars on a regularity into the Ochil Hills, a pleasant run in a morning that had largely broken into sunshine, although the blue sky was punctuated by large cloud formations, with those in open top machinery hoping that they would be remaining friendly.

One regularity passed into another as the route headed west, circling the Sir William Wallace monument and transporting the cars to the shores of Loch Lomond, the first Loch to be awarded national park status and just one of the incredible water courses that would keep the cars company on today’s 206-mile route to Oban. The first distillery visit of the event also took place with the Loch in sight, at the Loch Lomond Distillery that is not usually open to the general public. Its most expensive bottle is a 54-year-old tipple that will set you back a cool 24 thousand pounds, I’m unsure if there were any takers amongst our party but with a long way to go it was probably best for everyone to not peak too early.

Once clear of the distillery and with cheque books still intact a test and another regularity followed, with the final act of the morning’s activities being not one but two tests at the famous Rest and be Thankful. This old military road has seen plenty of motorsport action over the years, and the hill climb is always a favourite of competitors on Scottish events and with the weather still on our side the road was dry allowing the drivers to fully stretch their legs, and all of this on the first morning! Especially effervescent about their R+BT experience were Thomas and Marion Herold, who had achieved one of their ambitions by taking to the famous old asphalt. Their previous attempt had ended in mechanical failure, and but for the intervention of the sweeps it seemed like history was to repeat itself when an oil leak almost stopped them starting completely.

After so much morning action the timekeepers had plenty to do, but they’re an efficient bunch and the results showed that Stephen Owens and Thomas Owens had grabbed the early lead, followed by Dick and Harry Baines. Dick though seemed distracted at lunch, muttering something about a loose wire, although son Harry might contest it’s a screw.

The morning had been jam packed but the highlight of the day was to come after the midday break, as a loop around the Kintyre Peninsula beckoned, running along the rest of the length of Loch Fyne before a switch to Loch Tarbert. This is unusual territory for the Malts, and needed a bit of a concentration run to get to but I am sure that everyone on the rally would happily have driven it twice, regardless of the distance, as the views out across the water to Islay and Jura were bucket list experiences, with the skies above the water a mixture of dramatic rain filled clouds and blinding spring sunshine. ‘There is no comparison to the incredible Scottish Scenery and roads’ declared Martina Grattarola, the scenery that continued at the end of the regularity, with many cars stopping for photo opportunities. Whilst others were breaking out the cameras, Debbie Fitzcharles in the Merc 220 Cabriolet was breaking out her home baked shortbread to share with everyone, short bread she was taught to bake in person by Mary Berry no less! There were no soggy bottoms here that was for sure, not even for Ellen Groeneveld-van den Dool, who was so seduced by the blue waters of the Loch she wanted to go for a swim.

With all of this going on you would be forgiven for thinking that the rally had been forgotten, but The Malts is a different sort of event you see, it is far more than just a competition and for some the competitive element is merely a by-product of the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is about having fun and enjoying every single mile. But there are first day results of course, and top of the tree at the close of play were Dick and Harry Baines, regardless of any loose wires or screws, followed by the stunning Healey of Graham Platts and Neil Ripley with Stephen and Thomas Owens in third.

Regardless of where anyone finished today there was a real buzz in the dining room and bar of the hotel as tales of the day were recited back and with no serious mechanical issues to report everyone had seemingly got through the miles ok. As the chat continued in the hotel the sun sank over the crystal-clear waters of Oban Bay with Hutcheson’s Monument in the distance. It was a majestic moment to round off a majestic first act, and with Glen Coe and Rannoch Moor to look forward to tomorrow, there is still plenty to look forward to as the Malts continues the march across Scotland.

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