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Seven cold November days, six stunning locations, two bickering siblings, and one epic journey across beautiful Scotland.

08 Jan 2020

According to the digital cluster on the dashboard, it's 22:51, -2.5oC outside and 46km to my destination. I look in the rear view mirror and both wing mirrors and am greeted by the deepest black I've ever seen.

There is absolutely zero light out here other than my head lights. Focus now, Desmond.

My trusty ride on this seven day road trip is the new Skoda Superb
My stop for the night is Oban, a small and quaint town on the western side of Scotland. As I wind my way down a couple of sharp hairpins, two thoughts are running through my head. One, "Wow, these would make fantastic driving roads during the day." Two, "**** me, perhaps driving at night wasn't the smartest idea in the world." 

To be fair, this is not entirely my doing. My ferry was delayed, so it was a little past 10:00pm when I hit the mainland. Though, for the sake of full transparency, I'm not sure it would have mattered anyhow. My original 6:00pm ferry timing was already some time past sunset, so I would have been driving in pitch darkness anyhow. There would probably be some other cars on the road, though, earlier in the evening. Maybe one other car? That would be one more than I've seen in the past half an hour.

Peaceful and hauntingly still, watching the sun set over the Islay backdrop is an awe-inspiring sight
Lagavulin, Laphroiag, Oban, Port Ellen, Talisker, these are all names that I only know from labels on whisky bottles. I've headed to Scotland for a little roadtrip with my sister, and it seems only sensible that I transform these bottle labels into actual physical locations.

We've decided to split up for the initial leg of the trip. Well, I decided to split up, because I have a little pilgrimage to make to Islay.

Islay magic

Islay is quite a magical place, especially if you're a fan of single malt whisky like I am.

Islay is home to nine active distilleries, including my personal favourite, Lagavulin
It's a tiny island (about 15% smaller than Singapore), but it's home to nine active distilleries. Whisky fans will delight in touring the various distilleries (as I did), but the truth is that there's not much to actually do on Islay. The island is sparsely populated (about 3,000 people), and most of the land is devoted to agriculture.

The pace of life here, especially during the winter months, is remarkably slow and quiet - it impels you into an ethereal state of stillness. At times, the scenery doesn't seem to move. Even the sheep in the fields look eerily stationary, heads bowed to the ground. It speaks to the zen-like quality of Islay, especially this time of the year. Free of crowds, cars and any sense of contemporary society, you can thoroughly appreciate the quietness that it so heartily delivers.

The Scottish countryside is remarkable for its deep tranquility and gentle serenity
On Islay, you can truly delight in taking in the unspoiled landscapes - watch daylight slowly melt away, fading from yellow to pink to a deep mandarin orange, like a multi-layered ice-cream cake slowly melting. Then, look up at the stars, and let the serenity wash over you.

The dark night

Back on the mainland, I'm starting to feel the fatigue sap my concentration. Driving at night isn't for the faint hearted. The roads between towns are long, windy and completely unlit, so it demands concentration, attentiveness and presence of mind. When driving at night, one tenet trumps all else - slow is safe, slow is sensible. Better you get to your end point an hour late than not at all.

When driving in the dead of night in freezing temperatures, keeping 100% concentration is paramount
It's also wise to use the entirety of the road and drive on the centre lane dividing line. Worried about oncoming traffic? Yeah, it's so dark and quiet you'll see the oncoming head lights from literally a mile away, so you've got plenty of time to prepare.

It certainly helps to have a car equipped with powerful LED lights, with the automatic high beam on the Skoda Superb an especially huge plus. It automatically lights up road signs and safety barriers, and selectively shuts off certain lights when an oncoming car is detected, so as to not blind the driver. The dynamic cornering lights help to illuminate the side of the car while negotiating corners - useful considering there's not much runoff on these roads at all.

After more than two hours of lonely driving in the dead of night, I'm utterly relieved to see the 'Welcome to Oban' signboard. Civilisation at last! Time to get some rest and prepare for six days with my sister.

Endless Skye

Behind the wheel, the stunning beauty of the ever-changing Scottish countryside is a perpetual delight
Road tripping through Scotland makes for a spectacular holiday, especially if you get lucky with the weather. En route to the Isle of Skye, I'm struck by the sheer beauty that surrounds me.

Here, there's mile after mile of scenic roads flanked on either side by stunning scenery, rolling hills, and the Atlantic Ocean on the horizon. And, because of the way the roads wind around the base of steep hill faces, there's dramatic changes in scenery - one moment, it's bleak winter and ice-covered shrubbery, the next moment it's the middle of summer, sun glaring down and casting long shadows on the sun-kissed mountainside.

The Isle of Skye is remarkable for its stunning and immaculate landscapes
With its rolling hills, winding roads, crisp sea air and stunning landscapes, the Isle of Skye is more picturesque than a dolled-up Instagram influencer. The soothing landscape and unbroken quietness of the place is a welcome departure from the hustle and bustle of city life, and everywhere you look, it's a postcard on steroids.

I'm also rather glad that because the Superb is so comfortable, my sister is fast asleep in the passenger seat, meaning that she isn't complaining about my music or the fact that I'm going to drag her to yet one more distillery. 

Misty mountain hop

The upside of driving in Scotland in winter is that there's barely another car on the road
Going to Scotland at the end of November may not immediately seem like the greatest idea in the world. It's cold, it's wet, and there's not a ton of daylight hours to do all the things you want to. But, there are certainly upsides, especially if you are driving around.

Because it's the off-peak season, the roads are clear, meaning you never get caught in traffic. There's also barely a soul at even the most popular tourist attractions, so there's plenty of space to take your best photos. And if you get lucky like we did, the weather is a lot more forgiving than you'd expect (we only experienced one day of proper rain, which is unheard of).

Unfortunately for us, that one day of rain was when we decided to take a not-so-short detour to the Bealach na Ba, on our way to Inverness. The steepest ascent in Britain, climbing up to 626m elevation on a twisting single track road with minimal visibility is a slightly harrowing experience.

The Superb's forgiving ride meant that tackling the pothole-speckled single track mountain roads wasn't a back-breaking experience
Beyond that, though, the incessant pattering of rain lent the journey a different quality to the previous sun-soaked days - shrouded in mist and a perpetual moody greyness, the world becomes deeply ethereal, mystical and soothing.

With lots of Sigur Ros and Of Monsters and Men playing on the car stereo, this part of the journey consisted of long stretches of driving, where the Skoda's cruising comfort really comes to the fore. It's quiet, effortlessly brisk, and really comfortable considering the speckled B-roads the U.K. is notorious for. 

Old town road

We braved the erractic weather to catch a resplendent rainbow
The transition from small town to big city is stark. Some of the towns we passed through were so small that there's literally only one convenience store. Drive into Inverness and the stark modernity is crushing - the gigantic neon Tesco and Pizza Hut signs are impossible to miss. But, it's a good opportunity to fuel up, restock on snack supplies, and, um, head to Primark (yeah, that's my sister's decision).

The last leg of our journey took us from Inverness to Edinburgh by cutting through the gigantic Cairngorms National Park. However, a quick detour to Loch Ness is necessary. Despite my loud hollering, the Loch Ness Monster did not show its face. Probably hibernating.

My sister was less than pleased with my distillery-hunting escapades
This particular area in the Highland/Speyside region is one of the colder areas in Scotland year round, with an annual average temperature of 6.2oC. The scenery here is quite different - more greenery and forestation, but with gentler, broader landscapes too. The idyllic roads are occasionally disrupted by heavy vehicles (single track roads mean that there's only one way for everyone to get around), but the Scottish drivers are incredibly courteous. The heavy vehicles will even pull off to the side to let you overtake.

The Speyside region is home to approximate 50 distilleries, and roughly half of Scotland's whisky is produced here. However, after stopping at just two locations, my sister shouts me down and insists on taking the wheel and driving the remainder of the journey to Edinburgh. 

Time and adventure

On windy mountain roads, the Superb's prompt powertrain and agile handling delivers ample engagement and excitement
Through these seven days in Scotland, my trusty companion all along the way was the Skoda Superb (and yeah, my sister as well I guess?).

With the stunning landscapes and snaking mountain roads, you'd imagine a hot hatch would be much more exciting. And yes, in certain places like the serpentine roads at the foot of Ben Nevis, I'd concede as much. But would you want to deal with the nervousness and lack of cruising comfort of a hot hatch over a long 200km drive? I certainly wouldn't. Not to mention the practical compromises and alarming fuel bills. 

I didn't think this as first, but the Superb proved to be a brilliant car for this road trip. On long drives, it's comfortable and relaxing to drive. On twisty mountain roads, there's plenty of power from the 2.0-litre engine, with the car agile and dynamic enough to make things still exciting and engaging. The car has plenty of space, useful when you are as lazy to pack as my sister and I (just chuck everything in the back seat).

The Superb's massive 625-litre boot will easily accomodate four luggages, or one medium-size Asian woman
And, the liftback boot proved invaluable - in freezing temperatures, you want to be able to get your stuff out of the boot as quickly as possible. The car was also surprisingly efficient - over almost 1,600km of driving, we managed a very respectable 13.7km/L.

With her incessant clamouring for Asian food and my relentless hunt for the next nearest distillery, there was certainly been much to bicker about in our seven days here. I'm just thankful the car hasn't been one source of tension - easy to drive (even given her questionable sense of direction), plenty spacious and thankfully equipped with heated seats, the Superb was faultless throughout.

Driving is the perfect means of taking in the enthralling beauty of the Scottish countryside
Often cited as one of the most beautiful countries in the world, Scotland is a breath-taking holiday location. Driving is arguably the best way to experience the country - it allows you the flexibility to go where you want and do what you please. It also certainly helps that there's some absolutely stunning roads here. Singaporean drivers will also be thankful that it's right-hand drive, so it's not as intimidating for people driving overseas for the first time.

Planning your next great escape? Go to Scotland (but get out of the big cities). Beyond the stunning unblemished landscapes and century-old castles and distilleries, it's the warmth and generosity of the locals that sticks in my mind. It's a truly enchanting and enthralling country resonating in beauty, tranquility and history. 

Here, it is truly a land out of time. What a glorious, glorious country.

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