The overall winners of the Scottish Malts 2021 are:
1. Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan – VW Golf Gti
3. Joel Wykeham and David Brown – Alfa Romeo GTV 6
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.
I like summer in Scotland, in fact it is probably my favourite day of the year, today however the mizzle and smirr greeted each and every competitor on day two of the Scottish Malts with a firm handshake – straight to the face. Whilst the weather wasn’t a patch on yesterday’s afternoon sun however, the roads that fell under tyre first thing this morning were more than a match for anything that had come the day before. Indeed, they were better, and those that had the fortune to be able to look out of the window (i.e., not the navigators!) the leaden skies laid on an ever-changing drama, as the road climbed up into the clouds that were hiding the peaks of the Grampian Mountains.
The morning was a busy one, with three regularities, the first of which offered up a cutely placed timing point very close to the start, just to check those in the cars were awake and alert. A quick glance down the detailed results will show anyone who is interested just who is a morning person and who needs the day to come to them a little more. Any calamities would certainly have quickly been forgotten or forgiven though with the quality of the driving on offer, and if that still didn’t do it then the piles of cakes at morning coffee would surely have assuaged even the most competitive.
A hill climb test kicked off the days speed-based activities, with a short but very sharp climb up to Kincardine Castle, the Victorian building aping something much older, although no less grand for it. Anyone watching the cars make their assault on its summit would have seen that they were aping much more junior machines, particularly the mass of Porches that careered up the test as if they were fresh from the crate. The noise of all the engines reverberating off of the trees was a treat for the sense though, there aren’t many better sounds than finely tuned motors under load, particularly in a setting such as this.
The provisional scores at lunch had seen a small lead appear for Malcolm Dunderdale and Anita Wickins in their Renault, with the yellow Elan of Graham Walker and Sean Toohey dropping just a few more seconds than the pair in the little French machine. After the scenery and grandeur of the morning, the afternoon put the route firmly back on the Whiskey trail, with no less than four distilleries on the route, including Tomintoul, Glenfarclas and Tamdhu. The ancient red doors of Glenfarclas provided a corridor for the second test of the day to funnel through and the historic railway yard at Tamdhu played host to tests 3 and 4 of this leg.
Tamdhu in particular caused many problems for those with a less than miniscule turning circle, with the Bentley Le Mans proving exceptionally difficult to navigate around the cones, if anyone see’s Andy Buchan tonight then please offer him a shoulder massage, as after that particular workout I think he will need one. The small crowd watching appreciated the efforts of the big Bentley though and cheered and clapped as it made its way through the test. The only car that elicited a bigger cheer was Ed Abbott’s Jaguar XJ-S, with the aforementioned pilot offering up a masterclass of machine control as he navigated the test with the poise and accuracy of a ballet dancer, although with a V12 soundtrack.
At the end of day, the two cars at the top had traded places once again, and the final days results showed a near immaculate day for the little yellow Elan, whilst the Gordini had drifted 12 seconds apart from the Lotus, with most of the penalties seemingly picked up on the days tests. There was also a change for third, as rally stalwarts Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan progressed one place up the order from yesterday. The VW mounted pair have so far gone quietly about their business, starting near the tail of the field each day, although tomorrow with the cars heading out in order of driver surname, they will be heading off near to the front of the field and no doubt doing what they can to progress up the scoreboard on day three. But first some sleep, and time to reflect on a day dominated by the landscape and the weather.
Upon the famed battlefields of Culloden is where our Heroes began battle on leg three of the 2021 Scottish Malts, within the realm of Cawdor Castle and the wretched Lord and Lady Macbeth. It was a day that would see bad luck strike a number of crews, with some of the most testing regularities yet, but who would rise triumphant from today’s Scottish Play, and who would suffer a Shakespearian tragedy?
It didn’t take long for the curse of Macbeth to strike some crews, with a tricky ford on the second regularity possibly washing away the chances of current leaders Graham Walker and Sean Toohey, as Grahams yellow Elan became more yellow submarine and the engine stalled in the dark waters of Muckle Burn. According to Sean, 25 seconds were lost, but it would remain to be seen what the consequences would be in terms of places at the end of the day.
At least the sun was shining, with the muck and mirth of the previous day a distant memory and people out along the route enjoying the passing of the cars as they travelled through the countryside. The altitude wasn’t quite as impressive as the day before, but there was still the odd low cloud adding a mystical mist pocket to add to the drama of the landscape, particularly in Cawdor Wood. How very apt.
The locations were just as grand as well, with a fabulous coffee stop in the grounds of Brodie Castle, that had been erected by Clan Brodie in 1547, although this version was restored in the 1800’s after the original had been burnt to the ground by Clan Gordon in the 17th century. After the antics in the ford, the odd competitor might have been tempted to resort to similar clan wars, but with tremendous cheese scones on offer thoughts of sabotage would soon have been forgotten, I’m sure.
There were more history lessons in the afternoon, with a resumption of distillery visits, including the famous Glenfiddich, although at one point in the day it seemed there was a still on every corner, such is the clamour for the spirit in these parts and a post lunch dram must have been tempting. It may have been especially tempting for Malcolm Dunderdale and Anita Wickins, who had left lunch in the lead of the rally for the second day in a row, but just one second behind were a resurgent Daniel Gresley and Elise Whyte, getting to grips with the 911 and the maps.
Elsewhere across the day bad luck befell cars 20 and 45, the Alfa Romeo’s of Judith Keiper and Katharina-Rabea Muller, and John Evans and Adam Harvie-Clark, the Italian machines suffering gear box problems and drive shaft failures. At the sharp end though, the afternoon’s regularities and solitary test had done a bit of sorting out. The slender lead held by the little blue Gordini had slipped away, and the wee Renault was now 11 seconds adrift in third and being threatened from behind by Graham Walker and Sean Toohey, who had dried out somewhat during the afternoon.
Second place then is now in the hands of Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan, who were very much out of the Gulags and on the up, Paul driving around the afternoons test as though the Spanish authorities were hot on his tail and dropping just 12 seconds all day. Sitting proudly atop the table though are top alcohol chargers Daniel Gresley and Elise Whyte, despite an error on the test that threatened their day, but even this uncharacteristic moment of indecision from the pair wasn’t enough to spoil their day. Their march on the summit may be timely, but with Messrs Bloxidge and Canavan on the case the final two days are likely to be anything but plain sailing.
An early start in the port town of Aberdeen kicked off day four of this years Scottish Malts, the penultimate day of competition and one that would see us heading south and west again. But on whom would lady luck smile today, and who would she scorn? With the leader board in a constant state of flux and with some monster regularities planned in for the day, it would take a brave punter to put a bet on the outcome of leg four.
On the drive west the eagle eyed would have spotted the yellow AA boxes on the side of the road, relics from a bygone era, but maintained, nonetheless. Their positioning was somewhat prophetic, an omen of what was to come perhaps as mechanical issues started bubbling up the surface for some of the cars. Before any gremlins could strike though there was a stop at the Glenesk Hotel, with its world-famous Whiskey bar that must contain nigh on 1000 different bottles of the amber liquid, although naturally the only liquid refreshment on offer to the teams was coffee or tea.
Shortly after here it was up into the hills again, and for early leaders Graham Walker and Sean Toohey it was straight into trouble. After celebrating his birthday, the previous day Graham must have been wishing he had been gifted an Elan sized umbrella, as the water ingested at the ford on the previous day had seemingly got into the electrics of the little Lotus and it was stuck fast on the side of the road on regularity no three, game over for the plucky Elan.
Another regularity followed to complete a long morning, but with lunch in the fabulous Blair Castle any road weariness would soon have been shaken off and the tremendous spread laid on by the castle would surely have remedied any road weariness, just in time to compete in the post lunch test within the grounds of the ancestral home of the Clan Murray. The high-speed hill climb would have shaken away any thoughts of a post lunch snooze, but the participation of Mark Simpson and Liam Hammond was in doubt, after their Rover P4 100 arrived at lunch with smoke billowing from the front brakes.
More regularities followed and by the time the rally had retraced its steps back into Crieff for the evening, the work had begun for the timekeepers, as the leader board had changed again. Malcolm Dunderdale and Anita Wickins had slipped out of the top five after finding their path blocked by every sheep in Scotland, as the ewes surrounded the car their challenge for the win dissolved under a woollen blanket and whilst it’s unlikely either will be sporting any knitwear anytime soon, Malcolm was heard asking another driver for a recipe for Lamb Chops.
It seemed that big penalties were being applied across the field, with positions changing everywhere. It seemed nobody was safe and with the mechanicals and other issues Joel Wykham and David Brown hauled themselves up into third place in their Alfa Romeo GTV. They had started the day in 12th place, so to climb at such a velocity was a tremendous effort, dodging the bullets as those around took hits.
Crucially, there was also a change for the lead, as Daniel Gresley and Elise Whyte dropped one minute and twenty seconds on the day, leaving Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan to muscle into first place, with a 35 second advantage going into the final day. Rallies have been lost on less of course, and with plenty more miles to travel before journeys end in Edinburgh it is all still very much to play for.
The final day of the Scottish Malts 2021, one last chance for places to be made up and results to be settled. The route headed west today, towards Loch Lomond and the famous hill climb at Rest and be Thankful. But would it be bonnie on the Clyde for our getaway Golf drivers, or would there be another twist in this year’s event, that would see the lead change hands again?
What was certain from the outset this morning is that everyone would be getting wet, with a heavy sky that seemed to get ever lower during the days first regularity, which picked a narrow path in the hills above Loch Freuchie and no doubt everyone was taking it steady and hoping that by some miracle the skies would clear as we headed west.
In fact, the opposite happened and with every passing mile the rain increased in intensity and the roads became ever more treacherous. By the time the test at Rest and be Thankful had begun the visibility in the valley was masking the usual tremendous views of Glen Croe and Beinn an Lochain, and the famous ribbon of tarmac was more waterfall in some spots than road. Steady away was the order of the day, although some did suffer minor moments on the ascent and the Porsche 356 of John and Moira Hilbery suffered some mechanical troubles forcing them to sit stranded on the side of the test as all others went past.
Of course, as the law dictates, the weather improved as everyone made their way back down to Loch Lomond for lunch and contemplated the remainder of the afternoons regularities that would do any final sorting that needed to be done. Come the finish and in the end the pairing of Daniel Gresley and Elise Whyte weren’t able to overhaul the deficit to Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan in first place, despite accumulating less penalties than them on the day. Third place was maintained by Thursday’s surprise package of Joel Wykeham and David Brown in the Alfa GTV, with another solid day in the saddle.
It was all smiles and jubilation as the cars came into the finish, with a traditional Piper playing the cars across the line. Jigs were danced and champagne was enjoyed as our rally competitors celebrated a wonderful week on the road, no matter where they had finished.
But to the victors the spoils and after an ever-changing leader board our eventual podium celebrated their success with a traditional champagne spraying, a wonderful sight to see after such a long time of not being able to indulge in such frivolities and jollities. The last words should of course go to our winners, Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan.
Ian: ‘We’ve done almost a thousand miles through fantastic scenery; it has felt like just the right level of challenge for a green event.’
Paul: ‘I’m over the moon to win, it has been a good long week and as always with the likes of Daniel and Elise a fantastic level of competition and all on superb roads and great locations.’
So that concludes another edition of the Malts adventure, one that has overcome a million challenges to put on and has felt like a real release from the problems of the past 18 months. Long live the Malts!