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Tracy Smith Elf sits beside Roddie Main Mini,
ready to start

Story author Dave Spence with Maureen in her 1958 Morris Minor

Mags Campbell drives her 1955 Sunbeam Talbot with Donald reading the map

Dornoch Bridge

Resting at lunch stop

view from Struie Hill

Tarbat Ness lighthouse

Gerry Robb's Ford Vic hot rod cools down at Tarbat

lunch stop at Portmahomack

Rigs laid up in Nigg Bay

view from Raddery Hill

Graeme Gallaoway's Anglia
Tour of the Firths - 16 April 2016
Story - Dave Spence. Photos - Dave Spence, Mark Forbes, David Knox

Gathering at the Fairways start

A bit of a departure for a Highland Car Club tour, instead of exploring the rugged mountains and glens of the west coast or lochs of the Great Glen, the 2016 Tour of the Firths took to the calmer waters (although not so calm on the day) of the area north east of Inverness, comprising the Black Isle and Easter Ross.

25 cars lined up at Fairways, Inverness on the morning of the 16th, there being 2 no-shows, one of which was Ian Smith's famous Imp. Where were you Ian??

There was the usual mixture of cars, ranging from the 1974 Aston Martin V8 of Robert Vincent and Buchan Ralph to the Ford Victoria hot rod of Gerry Robb and Lee Nimmo, seen on many CCHMSC, most recently the Galloway Gallop two weeks ago, and HCC events. The oldest cars in the event were Donald and Margaret Campbell’s 1955 Sunbear Mk3, again last seen on the Galloway Gallop, and Dave and Maureen Spence’s 1958 Morris 1000, the Capri being rested for this event. It was great to see crews coming from as far afield as Kilmarnock, Arbroath and Aberdeen.

The weather was clear and crisp (very!) with a fairly strong northerly blowing in occasional snow showers – none of the soft top brigade risked hypothermia by dropping the hoods.

The cars set off at minute intervals from 1031 onwards, heading across the Kessock Bridge then turning left into Charleston and the road along the first of the Firths, the Beauly Firth. It’s a nice tranquil run along the north shore of the Firth to Redcastle where the crews turned inland to the A832 and Muir of Ord.

It was then north to Conon Bridge and Maryburgh and then into Dingwall where they turned on to the old Evanton Road on the hillside parallel to the present main road, affording great views of the second Firth of the day, the Cromarty Firth. After Evanton, the cars turned north on to the B9176, the Struie Road, where after a few miles a few had stopped at the famous Struie Hill viewpoint with its view over the third of our Firths – the Dornoch Firth. The view was slightly obscured by some heavy showers to the north and west, and not many lingered around the viewpoint for long.

Back down to the main A836 the crews turned sharp right along the south side of the Dornoch Firth to reach the Dornoch Bridge roundabout, then after a few miles on the A9 turned left off it towards the old Tain airfield, now used as a bombing range.

After turning right it was a straight blast towards Portmahomack and Tarbat Ness, where the crews had a stop for a photo opportunity with the red and white Tarbat Ness Lighthouse in the background. Again – no time to linger for any great length of time as a rather sharp snow shower was heading in from the north.

So to lunch – the restaurant had been informed well in advance of our arrival, however I don’t think they expected the sudden arrival of our numbers. Nevertheless a very pleasant lunch was had by all at the Bistro by the Sea in Portmahomack overlooking the somewhat stormy Dornoch Firth. The organisers decided that a scheduled re-start would not be possible and crews set off for the second half of the tour as and when they were ready.

The second section began by heading south then turning left through the “seaboard” villages of Hilton, Balintore and Shandwick overlooking Firth no. 4, the Moray Firth. From here crews headed towards Nigg and then back to Nigg Bay with its dozens of parked-up oil rigs.

Travelling along the north shore of the Cromarty Firth via Invergordon and Alness led to the Cromarty Bridge which was crossed followed by an immediate left following the south shore of the Firth past the bird sanctuary of Udale Bay towards the village of Cromarty itself. The 2½ mile long straight on this section must have been fun for some of the cars, especially as there were some rather large unexpected potholes! No reports of broken springs though.

From Cromarty the cars headed south west via the minor road through Eathie again giving more great views of the Moray Firth. Then a small diversion to Raddery hill which descends very steeply into Fortrose, testing the brakes of some of the older cars severely. The Morris’s brakes were smelling a bit by the time we got to the bottom!

However it was worth it for the view from the top of Chanonry Point, Fort George and the inner Moray Firth. Following the shoreline through Avoch, crews then headed west to Munlochy and Munlochy Bay to end up back on the A9 and over the Kessock Bridge and Inverness to our finish destination at Fairways.

At Fairways there was a short wait until the meal was served and presentation of finishers’ awards. Quite a few stayed on to enjoy some refreshments and get the craic from their fellow petrolheads.

From what I can gather the tour was enjoyed by all and there were no reported incidents or breakdowns.

So what for next year to continue the theme? Various suggestions have been made – Glens, Bens, Castles, Distilleries etc. Watch this space.

HCC’s next touring event will be La Crofterra Pandemonia on 3rd/4th  September – look forward to seeing many of the crews then.

Updated 17 April 2016