A Magnificent Mythical McLaren 720S Whisky Tour Of Scotland.
We started our journey in Surrey at 9 am and headed north, basking in the explosive snorts of the 710 bhp McLaren 720S engine. My colleague David and I were pretty stoked about a week in the Scottish Highlands. As Lex Luthor so aptly condescended in Superman II "A good time? Is that all you care about? North, Miss Teschmacher. North!".
Oxford, Birmingham and Manchester flew past. The scenery improved as we reached the Forest of Bowland, developing into charming rolling hills as we passed through the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District. The mountains loomed ever more impressively as we reached the famous border town of Gretna Green.
Our excitement grew as we entered Bonnie Scotland and our adventure was genuinely underway. The landscapes around us were bolder with stronger hues and contrasting colours. All the guff I had listened to from Scottish friends about the beauty of Scotland, blah, blah, blah, was, fortunately, turning out to be true.
Our first stop on the trip was the 5-star Cameron House Hotel Resort and Golf on the shores of Loch Lomond. The lake was shrouded in evening mist as we sedately pulled the McLaren up outside the grandiose hotel entrance (we're not complete thugs) to be greeted by the tartan-clad concierge.
This 19th-century baronial mansion is splendid, one of the best hotels in the world and our stay was exceptional. My sprawling suite in Auld House was an epiphany of Scottish luxury with a view over Loch Lomond, the seaplane and the storybook hills beyond. That evening we dined like Scottish lords before supping our first whiskies on Scottish soil surrounded by oak shelves laden with a cornucopia of quality whiskies in the Great Scots Bar.
Cameron House has its own Boathouse and Marina so the following day we took a speedboat out with Sipho who showed us around Loch Lomond. The lake is the stuff of legend with swirling mists that curl around sunken trees draped over the many islands dotted about this 24-mile strip of freshwater.
In summer it hosts swimmers, water skiing, kayaking, windsurfing, luxury yachts and jet skis, to name but a few. The landscapes around the shore are mesmerising with immaculate lawns fronting Scottish castles to gentle mountains displaying every colourful hue and tone imaginable. There is no more beautiful spot anywhere in the world. Cameron House should be on everyone's bucket list for world-class hotels; the service, drinks, food, location, amenities, sports and wondrous surroundings are incomparable.
See here for the full Cameron House Resort Scotland Review.
We left Cameron House with fond memories and deep regret we had not stayed longer, heading off to Islay, 100 miles due west of Glasgow. We were now keen to see the islands and all the distilleries we had arranged to visit. Our route north took us further into the beauteous Trossachs National Park. The McLaren V8 performance was stunning on these open roads as we exploited the elegant poise and handling without needing to push the speed, simply basking in the insane acceleration.
There is a certain poetry and a definite thrill in navigating a rear-wheel drive supercar engineered over decades to such a level of powerful perfection through mountains and valleys evolved over aeons to form these breathtakingly rugged and majestic landscapes.
Scotland is a treasure trove of amazing vistas with long winding roads that pass through ever more mythical lands the further you are from any cities. The scenery is out of this world, far more tropical and exotic in nature than you would imagine.
After a leisurely drive of under three hours, stopping every few minutes to capture the picturesque scenery, we reached Kennacraig, where we joined the queue of cars and buses waiting for the ferry to Port Ellen. Much fun was had driving the McLaren onto a steel gangplank that raised ten feet in the air as soon as we exited, making room for more cars below. The two-hour-twenty-minute ferry ride past stunning marine panoramas on the West Loch was a highlight.
As we approached Port Ellen, its dramatic appearance hinted at the remote nature of this exceptional island. The town's mostly white two-story stocky terraced houses lined the quaint streets, with the main road running uphill from the harbour.
We drove out of Port Ellen towards The Machrie Hotel & Golf Links, and were immediately struck by the Isle of Islay's alluring charm, akin to a fairy tale. More akin to a fairy tale than anything we had ever seen. If unicorns ever existed, they belonged here. The coastline, roads, hills and scattered homes are ravishing, perfectly framed by rugged windswept honey-hued fields of barley.
The houses appeared infrequently, each separated by swathes of rolling slopes and heather-strewn meadows that extended into infinity. The occasional warm glow of windows and hearths punctuated the stark and stormy landscape in the evening light.
The Machrie Hotel, another gem in the crown of Scotland, occupies an immaculate championship links golf course overlooking Laggan Bay, a two-mile-long pristine beach on the southwest coast of Islay.
The mile-long approach to The Machrie Hotel featured strategically placed speed bumps, preventing us from fully exploiting the private road's length in the McLaren. Still, the fluffy Islay sheep grazing the borders were probably grateful.
A bright orange glow emanated from the dark granite hotel entrance, the only light for miles except for the sparkling stars above. The sound of crashing waves on the beach behind the golf course completed the serene, unspoilt scene. No noise or light pollution here, just stark nature.
Despite being the fifth largest island in Scotland, with 620 sq km of land, Islay has a population of only 3000, mostly employed in tourism, farming or the whisky trade. The Queen of the Hebrides remains a haven of untouched beauty.
Andrew, the assistant GM, greeted us with genuine warmth and enthusiasm. As a fan of both McLaren and good whisky, we hit it off immediately. He led us to our modern two-bedroom lodge with a living room and pantry kitchen, where we were treated to a spectacular view of the Links course and the Atlantic Ocean.
After settling in, we headed to the luxury avant-garde 18 Restaurant & Bar for dinner and an Islay whisky-tasting experience. The evening was an exquisite blend of delectable cuisine, superb aged whisky and great company. Despite being early November, the restaurant and bar were bustling with activity.
The next morning, we rose early before the kitchen opened, and Andrew personally delivered our breakfast.
The Machrie Hotel offers impeccable service that goes above and beyond to create an unforgettable stay. A modern take on Scottish lodges set amidst the rich, striking landscapes on an island blessed with natural splendour. The Machrie is a fabulous experience.
See our in-depth review of The Machrie Hotel & Golf Links on Islay, Scotland here.
Next, I'd arranged a private visit to Bruichladdich as I have been a fan for many years, particularly their unpeated Bruichladdich Black Art. The drive from The Machrie to Rhinns was inspiring, with the sea on one side and a colourful blend of bog, moorland, dunes, grasslands and marsh on the other.
Upon arriving, we were greeted by Mary McGregor, who showed us around the distillery with such wit, prose, and friendship that it warmed my heart more than the whisky itself. We were even privileged to tap from an exceptional barrel of rare 40-year-old Bruichladdich!
The distillery is situated less than 10 meters from the sea and is painted in the brand's signature turquoise hue, which represents the colour of the sea when the first aqua vita was produced after their reopening in 2000. It was an emotional moment for the distiller Jim McEwan and the Bruichladdich team when they tasted the first drops. I had the pleasure of dining with Jim a couple of times before his retirement, an exceptional master distiller, both witty and wise. Now, Adam Hannett has taken the reins with great skill.
Mary grew up on a farm behind the distillery, where her father worked, and the farm still supplies Bruichladdich with barley. Like many people in the area, Mary shares a rich family history with the brand. The highlight of the tour was sipping that sublime 40-year-old while listening to Mary's personally written prose, surrounded by the ageing barrels in the Bruichladdich cellar. A priceless memory that I will treasure forever.
The people of Islay are blessed to reside in such a secluded paradise and spend their lives creating magnificent whiskies metres from beaches and landscapes of heart-stopping beauty. Am I jealous? Hell, yes.
As we drove away from Bruichladdich, the views of the beach and coastline were so amazing that we had to stop and take them in again before heading towards Lagavulin. The dark outcrop of granite that greeted us as we arrived at the distillery was just another example of Islay's infinite variety of picturesque scenes. But Lagavulin Bay was something else, with a phenomenal Caribbean beauty that left us in awe. As we parked the McLaren 720S, a man reversed his car towards us at speed and introduced himself as Gus Newman. The owner of the house overlooking the bay and the manager of Islay Sea Adventures; a Scuba diving and speedboat outfit. We sat and chatted with him as we watched the local seal playing in the shallows a few yards away, with the sun setting in the background.
The air was so fresh it gleamed, and the beach was empty except for the frolicking seal and our McLaren, which seemed like a spaceship from the future lost on an isolated Scottish isle aeons ago.
After Lagavulin, we visited Ardbeg, Bowmore, and Laphroaig. Our collection of fine whiskies was now filling the front boot of the McLaren and we prayed that we wouldn't hit anything!
Our last stop was Lucci's Bar in the Bowmore Hotel in Bowmore, which was infamous among the locals. Mary had set us up with the two Peters, Peter Lucci Senior and Peter Lucci Junior, who were both whisky experts and loved sports cars. Peter Senior owns a gorgeous white Alpha Romeo 4C that I had reviewed when it launched.
Dinner at Lucci's was a joy, and Peter Junior and his girlfriend kept popping by with another whisky recommendation. The Peters know their whisky and stocked over 700 behind their little bar. One side of the bar was for regulars, with a lively rustic Scottish atmosphere, and the other side was the restaurant where guests could enjoy the finest Islay had to offer. It was a night of carousing and learning from the best in the liveliest bar on Islay, as the wind roared down the wide Bowmore streets outside. The Lucci's hospitality is legendary, and we left with a deep appreciation for the warmth and generosity of the people of Islay.
We bid farewell to Islay and boarded the 6 am ferry to Kennacraig. The relaxed sail back to the mainland was yet another captivating experience.
Our next destination was The Torridon Hotel and Stables on the west coast, a luxury hotel on the NC500 route overlooking Upper Loch Torridon.
The Torridon offers its guests a white electric Porsche Taycan 4S, which we eagerly took out for a spin around the loch, pitting it against our own black McLaren 720S V8. The contrasting colours of the two cars seemed to represent the opposing forces of good and evil as we marvelled at the stunning scenery around the hotel. Flawless tracks stretched for miles, framed by nothing but mountains and lakes.
That evening, we indulged in another remarkable whisky flight at The Torridon Whisky Bar. Their collection of 365 whiskies, one for each day of the year, seemed like an enticing challenge for whisky enthusiasts. We also tried their superb Arcturus Gin. As the night wore on, we sank deeper into the plush leather sofas of the dark oak bar. Our dinner comprised four courses, each paired with a carefully selected wine - Reisling, Pouilly, Barbera, Chateau Coutet and finally a Tawny Port.
The sunrise over Loch Torridon was simply breathtaking - one of the most colourful sights I've ever witnessed. The sunlight flowed like gleaming honey over the vivid emerald mountains before sinuously sliding over the loch and the meticulously manicured grounds of the hotel. I half-expected a mystical hand to emerge from the lake, holding aloft an enchanted glaive.
As we departed from the hotel, we had to stop every few seconds to capture yet another awesome landscape. We spotted a majestic stag standing proudly by the roadside, who sedately allowed us to take photos while a fine drizzle soaked his velvet mane. The stag and the mountains were the perfect culmination of our quest to experience the Highlands in all their natural splendour. It was strange how the vista could be so ethereal yet also sharper, starker, and more vivid than anything we had seen before.
Our winding route to Murrayshall Hotel and Golf took us through the Cairngorms, savouring the thrilling rear-wheel drive power as we playfully slid around corners. As Vinny Jones would say, "It was emotional".
Murrayshall, located in Perthshire, is a 400-year-old former stately hall with a 27-hole parkland golf course. The former residence of Lord Lynedoch, this countryside retreat offers a range of deluxe rooms and suites. My deluxe family suite in Balvaird House was enormous, complete with a spacious bathroom, a luxurious free-standing bathtub, a six-seater dining table, and a lounge area large enough for a family of eight. All with stunning views of the surrounding hills.
Later on a delicious five-course dinner and a small whisky tasting in the bar made for a truly indulgent evening.
The following morning we headed off to St Andrews for a walk around the town, the famous gold course and the beach. The last time I was here I played in the Pro-Am tournament with Ian Poulter, embarrassing myself mightily in front of the cameras, missing more shots than I hit. Luckily, Ian is a supercar enthusiast (he collects Ferraris), so we bonded over cars, rather than golf.
The road from Balmoral to Spittal Glenshee in the Cairngorms is nothing short of astonishing. The soft hillsides glimmered with hues of lavender, sage, hazel, and umber, punctuated by glistening streams and dark asphalt. The vivid contrast between the bright green grass and the azure sky above created an unforgettable landscape.
Our final destination on the tour was The Roseate Hotel, an imposing Victorian Townhouse located right in the heart of Edinburgh. I stayed in the finest room in the house, The Roseate Suite, which boasted a king-size bed and a roll-top copper bath positioned in the bay window overlooking the high street. As is customary in Scotland, we were warmly welcomed with a dram of 12-year-old Highland Park whisky in the Ba'Bar lounge, which set the tone for a wonderful evening ahead.
David and I decided to venture into town for a change, eager to experience some of the famous Edinburgh nightlife. We made it to the nearest pub and found ourselves enjoying a lively night of live music and Scottish hospitality.
Scotland is a truly glorious and luxurious adventure, set in a land of otherworldly beauty. With a climate that covers all seasons, Scotland caters to all types of travellers, from beach lovers to winter enthusiasts, who appreciate a convivial yet luxurious welcome. The combination of exemplary service, mesmerising landscapes, and crystal-clear lochs framed by ancient and multicoloured mountains is truly unbeatable.
Scottish hotels are a class above anything everywhere else. If you are looking for the ultimate adventure tour, however you travel, the lowlands and highlands of Scotland are the epitome of luxury with activities for all the family, unrivalled cuisine, excellent wines and of course the finest whiskies in the world. And nothing quite compares to driving a supercar of unbridled performance and power on Scottish roads, framed by forbidding, jagged mountains on one side and rolling hills and shimmering lochs on the other.
I apologise fully to every friend that harped on about Scotland and vow to join them in annoying anyone who has not yet been to the islands and highlands with what they are missing.
Cameron House Loch Lomond
The Machrie Hotel & Golf Links
Bowmore Hotel & Lucci's Bar
The Roseate Hotel