Oban was a tiny fishing village until 1794 when whisky changed everything, the opening of the distillery here, one of the oldest but also one of the smallest in Scotland, caused the village to swell into the town it has now become, so it was an appropriate staging point for the second day of The Scottish Malts. It was a second day of sunshine too, a pleasant rarity this far north in the UK and in the warm of the morning sun the competitors were getting sweaty.
Well, half of the competitors anyway, as the first of two tests on the runway at Oban Airport (don’t worry, it’s not quite Heathrow) required a Le Mans style start, which if you aren’t familiar with the concept begins with one crew member sprinting to the car. There were a variety of running styles on display, the “waddle”, the “cat on a hot tin roof” and the “I’m not running at all, you b******”, but, unlike the London Marathon at the weekend, nobody was dressed as Big Ben or a Dalek. Still, it got the blood pumping, did we mention this event is all about the fun?
The second test was a more traditional set-up and with the Ardmucknish Bay and distant mountains providing the backdrop it was superb way to begin the day. Once over the Connel Bridge and the Falls of Lora the competition switched back to regularity mode, with a delightful little run through Glen Lonan, illuminated beautifully in the golden spring light. There were one or two potential pitfalls to be wary of in here, including a herd of Heiland Coo’s and their young, that were being shepherded by the most enormous Bull. Those in the red car’s would certainly have been paying attention I am sure, although the number of Calves running about suggested he might be somewhat testosterone deficient for the time being.
After another regularity the route took a run through Rannoch Moor and Glencoe, possibly the most famous Glen of them all. This would probably spell disaster in the height of summer, but at this time of year it’s a little quieter and whilst there were still plenty of tourists to contend with there was room to take in the views of this incredible landscape. It is popular for a reason, and as well as the views the road provides plenty of entertainment for the drivers as well. It was a fun way to round out the morning and as Fort William and Ben Nevis loomed large on the horizon the first distillery visit of the day finished off things before lunch.
The scores on the doors at the mid part of the day suggested that not much had changed, with the Baines still leading the way, although second and third place had switched around, with Stephen and Thomas Owens swapping third for second with Graham Platts and Neil Ripley, but with three more regularities in the afternoon there was still plenty of competition sections to go.
With Fort Bill now fully in the mirrors there were a few transit miles to put in to get on up to Inverness, but in this neck of the woods the link sections are far from dull, and the continuing pattern of Lochs watched over by mountains kept the drive entertaining. In fact, the scenery was doing a total U-turn on the previous day’s afternoon, as sun-soaked shores were traded for snow capped peaks and there was even the odd flutter of flakes in the air, although nothing to be especially concerned about. It was more like the final shake of the fist from a dying winter, as spring begins to take hold, a futile attempt to stave off the inevitable.
For a lucky few of us there was a low-level flypast of RAF Typhoons, clipping across the tops of the peaks on regularity number four and there were perhaps a few envious glances from our navigators at the no doubt superior directional aids enjoyed by the jet pilots, although nobody was going too far wrong.
One pair that didn’t enjoy the jets was car 12, Mark Simpson (GB) + Liam Hammond (GB), who’s Volvo PV544 had lost an alternator and cracked an exhaust, so a visit to a Scottish garage was required to get them on the move again. An afternoon was lost, but one afternoon is better than losing the rest of the rally and the chaps will be back on the road with us in the morning.
Up until this point it has been a fairly quiet Malt’s for the mechanical assistance crews, although that has no doubt now cursed the rest of the event for them. They were required to use their expertise and cunning this morning though, when the beautiful blue Mercedes Benz of Peter Fitzcharles (GB) + Debbie Fitzcharles (GB) gave up halfway down Oban Airport runway with ignition problems. Take off aborted, and with no replacement coil it was time for the sweeps to make a coil from a Ford Cortina fit, a transplant that is so far working remarkably well.
Fast forward to the end of the day and the lunchtime top three has remained the same, as the competitors prepare for a loop north of Inverness tomorrow, that will allow the rally to push much further north than it ever has into territory that is usually the domain of LeJog and it will be a new experience enjoying this part of Scotland during the daytime, I can’t wait.