Over his (mostly) illustrious career, Jeremy Clarkson has referred to many things as being the best ‘in the world’. With his iconic delivery of those three words he has probably helped several supercar CEOs buy second homes.
With his claim that Scotland’s North Coast 500 was the best road trip ‘in the world’, he inspired me, along with co-conspirator and photographer Michael Shelford, to drive it ourselves.
Aware that I know as much about Leica as he does Lotus, he was happy to let me pick the car.
Being life-long Braveheart fanatics, we felt pretty confident we knew what to expect from the Scottish Highlands – rugged terrain, challenging weather and hopefully still a whisper of ‘you may take our lives…’ hanging in the wind.
For this it was clear we’d need a 4x4 with a well-engineered, powerful engine and space for at least two people plus Michael’s all-important cameras (he’s got a grey one and a black one, they look very shiny and expensive).
So naturally, I chose the Lamborghini Huracan EVO Spyder. In bright orange. (Jeremy would be proud.) Thanks to parent company Audi’s obsession with Quattro it is, technically, a 4x4.
The parts are German so engineering shouldn’t be a problem and in terms of power, I think 631bhp should do it. It was perfect. Well, almost perfect.
Something becomes quickly apparent in the Huracan – although yes, as per my rudimentary stipulations, there was space for two and Michael’s camera equipment – but that’s about it.
Should you wish to take, say, a toothbrush or dare I stretch to a change of clothes then you’re going to have problems.
So, we organised – via the brilliant WildTrax 4x4 adventure hire company – for a Land Rover Defender to join us as a back-up vehicle. Aside from the extra storage, it allowed us space for another photographer (Chris Mann) and a filmmaker (Tristan Brooke) – and yes, I’m aware that one could say, this is the car we should’ve chosen all along. But then I wouldn’t have an excuse to drive a 200mph supercar, would I?
When taking on the NC500, the received wisdom is to start from Inverness – and head north driving anti-clockwise, that way the scenery increases with cinematic grandeur as you drive the 516-mile route.
Speaking of cinematic grandeur, the Lamborghini’s cockpit is positively theatrical. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the start/stop button – it looks like it operates an ejector seat on a fighter jet. Once you’ve pressed it, the noise isn’t dissimilar, either.
Photography by Michael Shelford
Photography by Michael Shelford
Being one of the larger roads on the route, the A99 is a great place to begin exercising your right foot. When you move the ANIMA control (a promisingly dramatic looking red switch on the steering wheel) into Sport mode, you are press play on a soundtrack composed by Thor himself.
Complete with rumbles, cracks and pops, the Huracan’s acceleration is worthy of a Marvel film, too.
Its four-wheel drive system harnesses all its 600 plus steroidal horses and hurls them into the ground with a sharpness and precision that has you surging from zero to 60mph in the blink of an eye. I think Michael screamed a bit the first time I did it, but to be honest, over the rapturous V10, you can’t really hear anything.
Our handsome cavalcade arrived at the Forss Hotel – our first night’s stop – where I promptly parked in the Manager’s spot on the hotel’s request. People want to see a car like this.
After a hearty breakfast the next morning, we had a quick run in with some armed police at a nearby nuclear power station. They encouraged me to enjoy myself on the country roads as there were no police in the Highlands (“Except for you” I proffered. “Ha! We couldn’t catch you even if we wanted to!”). I resisted the urge to use launch control on departure.
As we passed (at a legal-ish speed) through the villages of Hope and Tongue, the rolling hills and winding roads began to grow and mutate into something out of Lord of the Rings. And although the constant apexes asked questions of the car’s handling, the staggering scenery asked slightly different questions: How was it at low speeds? How quickly can you get in and out? How well does its ride height deal with the incessant pulling over for photo opportunities?
In answer to these, very valid consumer questions, I’d say that: in Strada mode, low speeds are easy and smooth; getting in and out will probably afford my osteopath an early retirement; and the inventor of the nose-lift button deserves a medal.
After a dinner fit for kings at Peets (a well-loved NC500 staple in Lochinver), we tucked up at a tiny BnB. We had arrived in the dark so had no real idea of where we were. But the following morning we found out: within minutes of leaving the hotel, we’d been transported from Mordor to Narnia. This is the Highland’s startling party piece – with every turn of the road you enter a new world – you can flit from JRR Tolkien to CS Lewis and back again.
Now, you’re probably thinking that the Lamborghini MACH VRT 250 would be more suited to these challenging, alpine conditions? And yes, Lamborghini aficionado, its 6.1-litre tractor with nearly 1000nm of torque would be ideal.
However, this confident little supercar bearing the same badge, breezed through – with even the deeper bits of snow in the laybys being no match for the four-wheel drive system. In a blur of Arancio Xanto (‘orange’ in fancy Italian) against the crisp white, we exited the Snow Kingdom.
Upon arrival at The Torridon, a stunning hunting lodge positioned with jaw-dropping drama on the edge of Loch Torridon, we collapsed into the welcoming sofas of its lounge. It’s amazing how tiring the trip was at times.
Maybe it was Scotland’s exhausting beauty or simply the 600 deep squats I’d done to get in and out of this low-slung supercar.
Post dinner we settled into the hotel’s fabulous bar – and a good number of the 365 whiskies on offer. (Sadly, we weren’t there for a year to try all of them.)
With the Lamborghini and Land Rover fraternally tucked up outside the lodge, we all found our way to bed, not before drunkenly promising we’d all be up for sunrise as it would no doubt be epic.
Predictably, my 6:30am alarm came and went but I still pulled back the curtains to one of the most outrageous hotel views I’d ever seen.
Over a very classy breakfast, we learnt that some of us were more respectful of that alarm. Chris had been so excited to capture the sunrise that, somehow convinced the hotel had locked all the doors, climbed out of his first-floor bedroom window to get the shot.
After agreeing he’d outdone us all, we reformed the cavalcade and roared away from the Torridon – off in search of Bealach na Bà, the most insta-famous road on the NC500.
Going the long way around (if there’s a wiggly looking line on the map near a coast or loch, take it, it’ll be worth it), we arrived in Applecross where the road starts.
There’s a warning sign implying that the road may be impassable, but I breezed past
There’s a warning sign implying that the road may be impassable at times but having already battled my way around this trip with ease in this V10 masterpiece, I breezed past the sign with a smug confidence.
The road is fantastic. It looks like something dreamt up by Ian Fleming, and as Michael likes to have movie soundtracks on constant loop, it wasn’t long before Skyfall filled the valley.
We made our way towards our final night’s stay – a couple of homely lodges on the banks of Loch Ness; the perfect place to digest the week’s events and what was left of our whisky stores.
As I put my foot down a few last times, our filmmaker Tristan (who was now riding shotgun with me) turned to me thoughtfully and said, “It just keeps giving doesn’t it?” I promptly replied: “Yeah – with more than 600 brake horsepower, it will do that”.
He cut in: “I meant Scotland.”