The ultimate hire car: A Highland fling in a Ferrari

How easy is it to enjoy Scotland's finest scenery from behind the wheel of a Ferrari? Matthew Bell braves some local amusement to find out

Nobody warns you about the sniggers. In my experience of driving old cars, I am used to being stared at. I like the waving, the pointing, the flicker of recognition from old maids as you trundle by in a Morris Minor. But in a Ferrari, a stonking, fat, rear-engined monster that gobbles rainforests for breakfast, the reaction isn't so favourable.

The most embarrassing moment came on the Isle of Skye ferry. I was in the Highlands for three days, driving a Ferrari 360 Spider. Not an obvious choice of hire car, but it was all they had left. Only kidding. This is a new initiative by a Glasgow-based travel firm to show you Scotland's finest views from the cockpit of a supercar. For the price of two nights at a luxury hotel, you get two nights at a luxury hotel, plus the use of the Ferrari.

Skye seemed the perfect destination for a day trip from my base, just north of Fort William. It's a 25-minute boat ride from Mallaig, which is 45 minutes from Fort William, and you can loop back via the swooshing Isle of Skye bridge and the A87. The conditions for our crossing were perfect: a clear blue sky and a reassuringly still sea. In the Western Isles, you park your car on an open deck and trot up a level to take in the view. The surrounding hills, russet and grey in the glow of a warm autumn day, seemed close enough to touch. The stillness felt therapeutic.

Then the ferry lurched into action. Off went a car alarm, shattering the calm. A woman who had seen me clamber out of my ludicrous slab of bling turned and said: "That would be the Ferrari!" Cue gales of laughter from the whole deck.

The Ferrari 360 Spider The Ferrari 360 Spider Never mind. You get used to it. The day before, on arriving at Fort William, I set off to explore Glen Nevis. This is Ben's little brother, the valley at the foot of Britain's highest mountain. A rocky path through the steep Nevis gorge broadens out into a wide valley and takes you to the Steall Falls, the third biggest waterfall in Scotland. It was unusually warm, and because the option had been available to me, I had spent the day driving with the hood down. Putting it up in the car park was memorable. In a 360 Spider, it is a two-stage action that one motoring journalist called a "stunning 20-second mechanical symphony". That's one way of putting it. Slow and fiddly is another, as the drizzle sets in, and the Czech tourists roar with laughter.

Still, I had the last laugh. Because for all the embarrassment of a car that some see as a statement on your manhood, the pleasure of driving it is worth it. It takes a little getting used to: the paddle gears; the impossibility of seeing anything while reversing; the ease of hitting 100mph by mistake. But once you adjust to these foibles, you find yourself relaxing into a relationship of mutual respect between man and beast.

Actually, relax may be the wrong word. Voltaire said that when he lost his libido, it was like being freed after a lifetime of being chained to a madman. By the end, I felt something similar. This is a car that demands to be driven fast, that overheats if you dare to pootle. This actually happened once on Skye, after I stopped one too many times to take photos. A warning light came on, and after some reading of the manual, I discovered the car's emissions sensors had got too hot. They needed a good blast of rushing cold air to cool them down. So, with a heavy heart, I put my foot to the floor, and the problem soon cleared.

My trip had started in Edinburgh, a city I usually can't wait to get to, rather than speed out of. Flying into Scotland from London makes it seem like a foreign country which, if the referendum goes Alex Salmond's way, it soon will be. The drive from Edinburgh to Fort William was a brisk three-hour introduction to what lay ahead: moors, lakes and looming grey hills. The M9 peters out at Stirling, the end of the motorway network. In Doune, the first town on the A84, graffiti on a sign begs you to "Please Drive Car Fully." If you insist! But it isn't until you pass through Callander, and get on to Rannoch Moor, that you start to involuntarily say "wow!" every couple of miles.

I did wonder, faced with three days of a 60mph speed limit, whether a Ferrari is quite the right car for the Highlands. Wouldn't it get frustrating, having all this power and nowhere to vent it? But one of the pleasures of driving this squat wide toad is how tightly it grips the road – you don't have to slow down for corners. When you get stuck behind a caravan, a little blip of the throttle quickly turns it into a speck in the mirror.

My base was Inverlochy Castle, a Victorian country house in Torlundy, two miles north of Fort William. Once the home of Lord Abinger, it sits in a quiet valley, commanding views of the surrounding hills and its own lake. Plenty more "wows" here. This is the sort of place where you toss the keys to a flunkey when you pull up. So, I duly handed them over and tried to keep cool as the baby-faced porter skipped away. Happily, neither he nor the chef could get to grips with the immobiliser, so we all agreed Sir would park his car from now on.

Chef more than made up for it in the kitchen. Philip Cargenie has a well-earned Michelin star, and in between dishes of locally sourced fare, such as parmesan-crusted scallops and veal sweetbread ravioli, waiters bring out amusing little mouthfuls he has dreamt up. Cauliflower panna cotta is certainly hard to forget.

You could easily spend a week without leaving Inverlochy. Drinking gin and tonics in the bath was a high point. Log fires roar as lunch gives way to tea, to cocktails, to dinner. But the West Coast demands exploration. As Jefferson Davis, the American statesman who stayed at Inverlochy in 1869, wrote in a letter to his wife: "The scenery about here is the grandest of all the sublime spectacles I have met in Scotland. You would find a wide field for your imagination in the mists and changing lights and shades which characterise the Scottish mountains."

The trouble is the excess of possibilities, especially with a Ferrari at your disposal. You would need a week to acquaint yourself fully with the entire coast and a couple more to see the islands. But I had come armed with an ambition. I wanted to fulfil a childhood dream of seeing an otter. The West Coast of Scotland is supposed to be the best place to see them, and the good news is that, after generations of decline, the population has enjoyed a revival in recent years.

Disembarking from the Isle of Skye ferry, I pulled into a filling station. "Where's the best place to see otters?" I asked. "You can usually spot them on the rocks along there," said the man, pointing to half a dozen spots on the map. "You have to be patient. And if they see you first, you won't see them." It was a beautiful day, perfect for mooching about on Skye's empty beaches. Hours slipped away clambering over rocks, then taking up position, to watch and wait. Gannets, egrets, cormorants and herons were plentiful. Occasionally, they would catch a fish. But otters there came none. Only when dusk began to fall did I see a spot on the map marked "otter sanctuary".

A sign by the hut at Kylerhea tells visitors to be very quiet, and says it's the best place in Britain to see otters. Built by the Forestry Commission halfway up a wooded hill, the shelter is fitted with free binoculars and overlooks the Kyle Rhea, the narrow sound of water between Skye and the mainland. Down below, you can see the ferry chugging between Kylerhea and Glenelg. It's the last turntable ferry in Scotland, a hand-operated shuttle of a kind once seen all over the Western Isles.

Darkness comes later in Scotland, but when it did, I was still watching and waiting. On the mainland across the water, Gavin Maxwell spent the late 1950s with Mijbil, the otter that inspired his book, Ring of Bright Water. Maxwell died young in 1969 (the centenary of his birth is next month), and if Mijbil's descendants were here, they had already seen me coming. I did spot a seal: a big, black, flubbocking chap, lying on a rock, flapping his fins. He was there when I arrived and, as night enveloped us, he was there still. Tomorrow, I was heading home, and my three-day dream would be over. I tiptoed back to the car, and strapped myself in for another wild ride.

Visiting there

McKinlay Kidd (0844 873 6110; seescotlanddifferently.co.uk) offers a three-day break starting from Edinburgh, with two nights at Inverlochy Castle Hotel from £1,215pp, based on two people sharing, with breakfast and three days' hire of a Ferrari 360 Spider.

More information

visitscotland.com

Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
PROMOTED VIDEO
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - York

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - Y...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us