ROLLS-ROYCE TO THE ECLIPSE MOVING HEAVEN AND EARTH
Luxury travel to watch the sun disappear. An unhindered view of the solar eclipse is Drive-My’s excuse to drive to the wilds of Scotland - in a #2015 #Rolls-Royce-Wraith-2013
. Words Glen Waddington // Photography Matthew Howell.
The sign welcoming us to Scotland flashes by on the A74(M), four hours and 250 miles since we fired up the #Rolls-Royce-Wraith
at the break of dawn. Our destination? Glencoe. Reason? A solar eclipse, the first since 11 August 1999 to come close to totality in the UK, with Northern Scotland offering the greatest proportion of visual obliteration on the British mainland. Draw a line from Fort William to Inverness (pretty much that of the Great Glen) and all points north are in for a view of 98% of the sun being covered by the moon. So long as the weather plays ball, anyway.
Scotland's bigger than you might think, so that way-marker actually means we're only halfway there. The route so far has passed in total comfort and without problem, as the UK's northern three-quarters is generally less populated than most areas south of our journey's Northamptonshire origin. The A1 offers pretty scenery, interrupted little by the proximity of ugly conurbations, so we'd drifted along, on cruise, the legal limit raising no more than a whispered backing track. Even on the A66 towards Cumbria, the ampleness of the 623bhp (not to mention torque of 590 lb ft, from only 1500rpm) made itself evident only by the ease of passage along hilly sections or when overtaking was required.
At last #Rolls-Royce
believes such figures are worthy of disclosure, even if the 'power reserve' gauge would be better usurped by a revcounter. You can hear the 6.6-litre twin-turbo V12, ear-pleasingly so when you're driving assertively, and it would be fair enough that in this, the Rolls for the dynamic driver, you should get a set of clocks to match.
After the border the topography becomes more interesting, more Scottish perhaps, all lumpy-bumpy hills and pines to please the eye. We're keen to get beyond Glasgow by early afternoon so choose to bypass 'The Second City of the Empire', catching only glimpses of bleak 1960s tower blocks and the rather more satisfying red-sandstone Victorian architecture it boasts, before the Erskine Bridge delivers us via Dumbarton into Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.
And so it's here, the last 100 miles or so, that our journey proper begins - also the final stretch of the 1907 Scottish Reliability Trial on which Rolls-Royce so famously proved the toughness of its early cars. The A82 winds itself along the western shore of Loch Lomond, hugged between stark rockfaces and the lapping water, so calm today that distant views are mirrored with haunting perfection in its surface, while pale sunlight falls droplet-like between bare last-gasp-of-winter branches far above. In fact, right now, the weather is defying the forecast (you guessed it, much Scotch mist and the dread description of dreich), so we can only hope the brightness holds through tomorrow morning.
We leave the A82 for the only petrol station for miles and a quick lunch stop, sitting on a bench by the water in the shadow of a mountain known locally as The Cobbler. Yet this is merely a taster of what begins half-an- hour further along. Lomond is lushly beautiful, with Italianate waterscapes and caravan-friendly pull-ins and coffee-stops. We're in search of something wilder and it begins beyond Tyndrum, the last inhabited outpost before Glencoe, where a Scottish Tourist Office sign says both 'Visit Scotland' and 'Closed'. Thankfully it's not.
The road climbs via a series of hairpin bends and the Rolls begins to divulge a few more secrets. By Lomond we'd discovered that, from behind the wheel, it feels nowhere near as big as it is; yes, you breathe in, metaphorically and literally, when a truck comes the other way but, on these broader curves, there's such poise, balance and an astonishing lack of roll that the Wraith's dynamic nature - evident not least in its organic steering - encourages you to drive it differently. Gone is the cruising mentality, in its considerable wake arrives the desire to gun that V12 and allow it to strive against a few of those eight long gears, all meted out precisely as you need them without recourse to manual override. There isn't a 'sport button' in sight. Instead, the Rolls makes all the decisions (sometimes you can feel it, however subtly, reining-in the throttle when it senses a little too much slip at the rear wheels) and allows you simply to enjoy the business of rapid yet always-refined forward progress.
The ride, on air, is impressive, rarely pillow-soft but instead allowing the car's 2.4-tonne mass to quash surface imperfections while controlling greater irregularities with remarkable damping control. Only once in 1000 miles does it ever use up all the travel, bottoming-out with a polite and distant ker-dunk as the car hits a vicious trough that you only see as you land in it. This is a proper Rolls gait, calling to mind those pre-Silver Shadow cars built on separate chassis, which filtered away road noise instead of amplifying it through the structure while ensuring that suspension movements were carried out as if by your butler.
We peel off again, onto a narrow lane signed for Glen Etive, where the sheer unlikeliness of a car so large (nearly 5.3m stem-to-stern and almost 2m across the beam) on such a thin ribbon of chippings is outweighed by the desire to track a route employed in the filming of Skyfall. And it's here, suddenly, that the Wraith's grand styling makes sense. There's been a wealth of opprobrium on social media, many Drive-My readers berating the Wraith's brutal proportions and uncompromising colour scheme.
In honesty, the latter is not one I'd choose myself (especially the white leather/lizard-skin combo inside) but here, away from urban connotations and merely human scale, the Wraith looks at home amid the majestic landscape, not competing but at one with it.
At which point the weather closes in, the light is fading and we're still shy of Glencoe village. We could do with locating a spot from which to view the morning's spectacle, and the presence of so many epic peaks is beginning to concern us: will the sun be high enough above them at half-past nine for us even to see it? And what if this weather doesn't clear? With an air of nervousness we push towards the evening's lodgings while the rocky mountainsides brood alongside and glower above us.
At 6.30am on 20 March 2015 it's light, the birds are singing yet it feels more like winter than the new season in store. There's a chill in the air and a pervading dampness; no rain is falling but the clouds are so heavy and low you could almost touch them. This doesn't augur well, but that incredible stretch of road climbing out of Glencoe and across Rannoch Moor is the inspiration I need to stop me longing for the comfy bed that I've just left.
Still, swing open that rear-hinged coach door, allow it to close itself (the press of a button activates a hydraulic ram) and settle into the massive electrically adjustable and heated (right up to the shoulders) seat while snuggling feet into shagpile rugs. What a combination: GT speed and responsiveness, limo-luxury that Rolls-Royce gets so right. There's tradition on display wherever you look, yet the ambience is unapologetically 21st Century. Just make mine navy blue with tan trim.
There's a little lane leading from Glencoe out onto the A82, likely the remains of the old road. Once you're clear of the trees, the sight of Bidean nam Bian - the range of mountains on the south side of the Glencoe Pass and location of the highest peak in Argyll - elicits whispered superlatives followed by the silence of awe. It really is staggeringly beautiful here. Beyond beautiful, in fact. Your response is akin to that which comes in the wake of a natural disaster, only here nature is working purely for good. We drove all day and 500 miles to get to this place. The visuals are worth it, and be damned with the eclipse.
Ah yes, the eclipse. The moment (well, the hour or so) of truth is almost upon us. We head east then south, never leaving the A82, one job and one job only in mind: to capture that moment when the lights go out. If we can work out what's going on in the gloom above.
Rannoch Moor plateaus at 1141 ft above sea level. We know because there's a sign telling us. Yet this is the valley floor, and we're at the snow line: it only becomes whiter the further you get from the road and start to climb. And it's spring tomorrow.
This is where we want to be. The valley is broad enough and the peaks distant enough to allow the sun to present itself (or, rather, announce its lack of presence) at the critical time. And - whisper it - we can see chinks in the cloud. This is it. We need to do it here. The question is: how do we get off the road?
The other-worldly landscape is a mass of bogs that coalesce into larger patches of water, known collectively as Loch Ba. Here and there are pull-offs, populated already by motorhomes whose occupants have camped overnight in readiness for today's show/no-show. Our only hope is for a forestry access, a track that leads across the moss. And we find one.
OK, getting onto it will be tight. There are a couple of boulders where it meets the road, about 6in further apart than the Wraith is wide, and I have to angle in from the road as there isn't room to come at it foursquare. Dodging speeding wagons on the A82 is fun too. But the Rolls helps all it can, raising itself on its air suspension and allowing me to creep in on idling torque.
What a car: Goodwood's off-road limo/GT/coupe. And with it we wait. Photographer Matt prepares for the moment to click the button while the weather, as if sensing our need, provides a gap in the clouds exactly where the sun is - and only there. It surprises us by being higher than expected, and our compass estimations were slightly out too, but it gives Matt time to alter his perspective while I manoeuvre the car minutely at his command.
The sun still looks bright though. What of the eclipse? It should be well under way by now, and the clouds have parted further so we can revel in the spectacle. The ambient light level has reduced significantly and we realise how much colder it now seems. Our increasing dismay is banished at 9.28am when, out of the comer of my eye, I perceive the crescent: try to look directly at it and all you see is glare. Matt gets the shot: job done, just before the clouds agglomerate, enough that we can now see the sliver of remaining sun with the naked eye, just for a minute or so. Then they thicken properly and the show's over. We couldn't have planned any of this; nature did it all for us.
All that remains is the prospect of the 500-mile journey home. And what a pleasure that is in this car. We pack up, fill the boot, settle back into those heated armchairs and waft our way off the moor ready one last time to enjoy the A82 - one of the most epic roads in the UK, after all - and ultimately our cruise back south.
Maybe we'll do it all again one day. I hear the west of Ireland will be a good spot to see the eclipse on 12 August 2026.
‘THE PROSPECT REMAINS OF THE 500-MILE JOURNEY HOME. AND WHAT A PLEASURE THAT IS. MAYBE WE’LL DO IT AGAIN ONE DAY’
‘WITH AN AIR OF NERVOUSNESS WE PUSH TOWARDS THE EVENING’S LODGINGS WHILE THE ROCKY MOUNTAINSIDES BROOD ALONGSIDE AND GLOWER ABOVE US’
Right Glen Etive, breathtaking scene of much action in the Bond film Skyfall. We only hope that spindly-looking bridge is up to bearing the Wraith’s 2.4-tonne kerbweight.
Top, above and left. Reflecting, literally and metaphorically, on the still waters of Loch Lomond; snapshots of the Wraith’s in-dash screen show the view from its outboard cameras and the co-ordinates of the final destination at Bridge of Orchy.
‘THE ROAD CLIMBS VIA A SERIES OF HAIRPIN BENDS AND THE ROLLS BEGINS TO DIVULGE A FEW MORE SECRETS’