In a certain pocket of countryside on the outskirts of Edinburgh, the usual dawn chorus was broken by a less than usual sound. A mere murmur at first, as the first couple of elderly engines spluttered into life, gasping in the cold air and detonating enrichened mixtures to beat the chill. The murmur soon became a clamour though, as the 58 cars of the 17th Scottish Malts Regularity Rally queued excitedly to pass underneath the starters flag and make off into the unknown wilds of Scotland and begin this hotly anticipated event.
Like all good things though, there was a certain amount of patience needed before the crews could really escape into the blue. First the gravitational pull of the capital city had to be broken, and many found the arterial roads clogged with Monday morning commuter traffic, as the masses travelled into Edinburgh along the vast concrete and steel of the Forth Bridge. Wordsworth this wasn’t, but as the trip progresses this minor dalliance with local traffic will no doubt feel a small price to pay for the solitude that will be experienced in the sticks.
A test greeted the clan rally as the first competitive element of the week, a chance to shed the monotony of the morning commuters and stretch the conrods of their mean machines. The location would be within touching distance of the Knockhill circuit, in the grounds of the Bus Museum, slightly slower track than that which rounds the gradients of Scotland’s famous hillside racing track, but the early pace setting test fanatics did their best to increase the average speed of the site. There were one or two tricky sections catching people out, particularly on the last set of cones, where a fair few eager drivers turned early and had to make corrections of a seismic scale to remain on course.
The road continued to pull the cars away from the populous, albeit steadily, with visits to Distilleries (all strictly zero alcohol visits, of course) and a chance to refuel body and mind in the salubrious and manicured grounds of Andy Murray’s Cromlix Hotel. Our man didn’t feel the need to meet his fellow sportspersons, though the weather, although overcast, was dry and so coffee was taken outside, overlooking the tennis courts, naturally.
Whilst all of this was entertaining enough, it wasn’t until the afternoon that things really started to get going. The sun broke and the malaise of the morning seemed to melt away, as post lunch began with the sort of transit section that is a staple of former editions of this rally. The topography gained almost instant altitude, and the road stretched out before all, picking its way through the supersized landscape in much the same way as a river might choose its path. The route through Aberfeldy and alongside Loch Tay may have been familiar to some, as would have been the climb up towards Ben Lawers Dam, above Killin, although these sights are usually observed in the depths of Winter on LeJog.
The aforementioned Dam stood sentry over the start of the day’s longest regularity, that headed north over spectacular mountain roads before a descent to the Bridge of Balgie and a run east alongside the River Lyon. Whilst not perhaps the most difficult to keep on route, this was certainly tough on the concentration of the drivers and the navigators and may well have a say in how the scores stack up at the conclusion of things, even at this early stage. By this time the hour hand was ticking its way well towards 5, but there was plenty more to come with two more regularities and more tremendous link roads to entertain and challenge in equal measure.
At the terminus of the day, in Pitlochry, the top of the scoreboard has Graham Walker and Sean Toohey at its head, in Grahams less than subtle bright yellow Lotus Elan, with Malcolm Dunderdale and Anita Wickins tied on penalties with them, in their Renault 8 Gordini, a car with an equally subdued colour scheme. Just four seconds behind the Ikea colour scheme of the top two, sits the equally recognisable green Triumph TR 3 of Steve and Julia Robertson, a car that has transported them on many a campaign.
Of course, it is only day one, and there is far more competition to come. Indeed, there is far more of everything to come and with six distillery visits in the offing tomorrow, as well as more tests and regularities the scores will no doubt change. How they change is up for debate, what is a given though is that the debate will take place on another smashing selection of Scotland’s wonderful roads, nestled in amongst its even greater scenery.