I had a grand trip home despite the mist and the rain for the first half of the trip. It started when I was standing there at the edge of the pavement in Craignure minding my own business. A black pickup truck cut the corner, whizzed past, just missing my bunnet and polishing the tips of my boots, then stopped on its nose. Shocked? I was all set for an altercation when James MaGillivray poked his head out of the window - laughing.
He was a foot passenger on the same ferry and we spent a good hour chin-wagging, the past, the present and the future - it was the wee ferry, the Coruisk, so we had to wait outside Oban to let the big ferry out!
And therein lies our biggest fears, the future. Not just for the Mull Rally but for the sport of rallying. Those in authority and expensive suits and fancy wigs seem to have it in for us.
We also remembered the good times. Y'know it's umpteen years and a few more (he couldn't remember the exact year either!) since he got himself the nickname 'Jock the Bull' (the word 'Bull' has to rhyme with 'Mull' for authenticity) when he and his Dad sold a bull for a world record price at the Perth Bull sales. Coincidentally, James' subsequent rally car selection took a leap up the Price Lists after that.
I remember an absolutely charming, gangly young bloke on Mull in the late 1980s who was taking an interest in this rallying lark. He finished 5th overall in 1990 in a 1300 Escort. He was 4th the following year with a 1600 Escort, 2nd in 1993 and 3rd in '94. In 1996 he was 8th in the Corsa and 9th in 2000, before going back to the Mk2. He only won the Tour of Mull once and that was in 2005 at the wheel of the Subaru Impreza. Funny thing, he's had at least 7 co-drivers over that time. So what does that say about his driving? Whatever, he's still an absolutely charming, but not quite so-young, man!
On eventual arrival in Oban, I gave him a lift into town, shook hands, and we parted, no doubt each thinking - will we ever meet up for the rally again? Here's hoping.
By that time most of the traffic from the ferry had gone by, but I latched on to the end of a small group at the head of which was a seriously mucky SWB Land Rover Defender with big wheels and an equally mucky old-shape Discovery. I had seen them get on the ferry, but these boys certainly knew the road home.
We were never over 60 all the way down to Lochearnhead, and rarely did I see any brake lights ahead, wet roads or dry, fast corners or slow. It was a treat sitting back watching that short wheelbase job on its chunky tyres. Nonetheless, a quick trip. Nice one boys.
Coming into Strathyre we picked up the tail end of a longer convoy at the head of which was a wee blue Fiesta driven by one of those Sunday 'joy-riders' who goes out looking for a twisty road just to see how many cars he/she can back up behind them. By this time it was a lovely night, cruising in the gloaming with light rain keeping the intermittent wiper in use, but what clear fresh air. Scotland at its best. Great slashes of late season almost phosphorescent sunlight, illuminating and highlighting the autumn streaked contours with dark, brooding rocky masses still cloaked in mist and cloud around them. Here and there a glimpse of blue sky through the grey turbulence above. Breathtaking. Simply breathtaking.
The Fiesta was still there through Callander as we approached Doune and since I knew there were roadworks traffic lights at the bridge I turned off through Doune village and over the back road past the Stirling Memorial (to Colonel Sir David Stirling, OBE, DSO, who founded the SAS) to pick up the Dunblane/Bridge of Allan roundabout on the A9 and headed south and homewards.
And you know what, up until that point I hadn't been too fussed about the Marco Polo. As I said to some of those on the island who asked, I liked it but wouldn't have one. That trip home converted me. Sitting there for a couple of hours in sheer bliss following the guys in front. Enough power to keep up and road handling to match despite the weight of the two bedrooms, kitchen and lounge behind me. Even on the tighter bends, only the rattle of cups and cutlery in the background indicated that the 190PS 2.2 litre 'big black beastie' was experiencing some g-forces. A proper old-school 'grand' machine.
If Mercedes-Benz can fix the price, then I'll have one.