The Scottish Mail on Sunday

Route 66? Forget it. NC500 is best drive in world – Clarkson

- By John Dingwall

THEY have travelled the world in some of the most sought-after cars on the planet.

But now Grand Tour presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May say a Scottish road trip in rust buckets is the experience that tops them all.

From Friday, the Amazon Prime show will see them following the North Coast 500 route around the top of Scotland in less than salubrious transport.

The 516-mile route of stunning coastal scenery starts and ends at Inverness Castle and links many features of the North Highlands.

Clarkson took the wheel of an ageing Alfa Romeo GTV6 costing £10,000, with May driving a well-worn Lancia Gamma Coupé picked up for £13,500 and Hammond in a Fiat X19 bought for only £2,250.

Executive producer Andy Wilman doubted the cars would make the journey from the Cromarty Firth starting point and provided them with bicycles as back-up.

Yet Clarkson was enthralled by the trip through ‘the giant oil painting that is Scotland’, adding: ‘That was about the best drive I’ve ever had. That was perfection. The sun was shining, and Scotland was more spectacula­r than ever.’

Hammond tells viewers: ‘Over the years we have travelled the world looking for the best driving roads and it turns out it was just next door all along.

This is heaven – not just the scenery, but the road itself, the twists, the turns, the surface.’

Clarkson, who celebrated his 58th birthday during the trip, chips in: ‘It wasn’t quite like Hammond had said – it was much, much better.’

Stop-off points included the Golspie Kart Track in Sutherland. At one stage, May spins out of control, but escaped unharmed.

He is also seen attempting to play the bagpipes in the seventh episode of the third series, entitled Well-aged Scotch. The trio aimed to prove that not all classic cars are insanely expensive by finding rare and desirable machines that have yet to accelerate up the price curve – but may not be in quite the best mechanical condition. While winding their way through some of the most breathtaki­ng scenery in the world to a soundtrack of grinding gearboxes and malfunctio­ning wipers, Hammond could not help complainin­g of the cold – whereupon Clarkson removed the roof of his car, leaving him exposed to the elements.

‘I’m in a small, stylish Italian sports car and look like a frostbitte­n gnome,’ complains Hammond, before stopping for a cup of tea to ward off hypothermi­a. May has to make do without his windInverg­ordon screen wiper, leading the others to joke: ‘Who needs a window wiper in Scotland, where it never rains?’

But not everywhere they encountere­d was picturesqu­e.

On leaving the Port of Cromarty Firth, Hammond quips that the pebble-dash on homes in nearby is like a ‘batter for houses’ and ‘not how it looks on the shortbread tin’.

But the programme is likely to boost Scottish tourism with a positive image of the country.

Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotl­and, said: ‘It is wonderful to see famous faces like the stars of The Grand Tour appreciate the dynamic driving routes right on our doorstep.

‘It also means that millions of viewers will be inspired to follow Richard Hammond’s lead and travel to Scotland for an unforgetta­ble visitor experience.

‘The North Coast 500 has been a huge success for Scotland’s visitor economy, generating millions of pounds in additional spend.’

‘Scotland more spectacula­r than ever’

The Grand Tour Series 3 streams on Amazon Prime from Friday.

 ??  ?? STUNNING SCENERY: Jeremy Clarkson, below inset, was left in awe by sights such as the Kylesku Bridge
STUNNING SCENERY: Jeremy Clarkson, below inset, was left in awe by sights such as the Kylesku Bridge
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