Patrick Tillard

Skye's the limit

Patrick Tillard
Skye's the limit

We needed to get away. We weren’t sure where to, but the thought of sitting through a World Cup final in England, after such a miserable home campaign, was tortuous. The happy montages, the discontent plastered across the pundits’ faces yet again, the ravaging of Lancaster’s anaemic crusade – there’s only so much hurt an English rugby fan can take.

So, where to escape? We took a road map of Great Britain (yes, some people do still use such things), and weighed up the options. The Gower? Edinburgh? The Lakes? None seemed quite remote enough, or far enough away from Twickenham. And then the clouds parted. The Isle of Skye.

Despite travelling extensively around Scotland, the rugged terrain and rough seas of Skye were alien territory for both my travelling companion and me, other than what we’d seen on the front covers of magazines and on postcard stands in every souvenir shop north of the border. So Skye it would be.

The next question: what car? The prospect of tackling the 12-hour, 640-mile journey in my aging city runabout did little to spark any tinders of excitement. No, we needed something rousing, something that would lift us from the doldrums of defeat. And that meant something stupidly fast. Something with the brawn to cope with the west coast of Scotland in late autumn. Oh, and it had to have a good sized boot.

Fortuitously, such a vehicle exists: the Ferrari FF (aka the Ferrari Four, because it’s four-wheel drive and has four seats), the most versatile and practical car from the Italian supremo to date. Yes, this is a saloon car. And yes, on paper, a saloon car bearing the prancing horse insignia makes about as much sense as grown men Morris dancing. But here’s the thing: the Ferrari FF is the fastest four-seater ever to go into production.

So we were set. No rugby, the Isle of Skye and a Ferrari. The perfect antidote to patriotic shame.

Cruising northwards from London and chewing up mile after mile of mulish M6 asphalt afforded us plenty of time to assess this machine as the everyday run-around kids-in-back supercar Ferrari is claiming it to be. Apart from a few confused stares at seeing two 20-somethings in a bright red £320,000 rocket, the occasional two-fingered gesticulation, frequent camera shots, one thumbs up and the impotent BMW drivers who sat an inch from our exhaust pipes, we soon forgot we were in a five-metre-long monster capable of covering 0-62mph in 3.7 seconds and hitting a top speed of 208mph.

As is so often the way with today’s supercars, the FF is as easy to drive as any other automatic. It can dawdle with the best, the difference being that when you put your foot down it turns into a spine-shattering bullet. In the blink of an eye that BMW was obliterated. We were itching to get onto the winding roads of Skye, where we could really push the car to its limit. Or rather where the car could push us to our limits.

But enough of the Ferrari for now, because once we crossed over the Kyle of Lochalsh the scenery instantly took centre stage. Skye is an untamed, primeval land, exposed to the punishing elements of the North Atlantic Ocean and home to just 10,000 hardy people. Its boulder-strewn slopes are some of the most dramatic in the country, dominated by the volcanic severity of the Cuillin mountains. The coastline is a series of peninsulas and bays, where waters with an emerald tinge – just like you’d see in the Bahamas – lap rocky shores. Little wonder then that these hills and seas have been the backdrop to so many Hollywood epics over the years. Michael Fassbender is supposed to have fallen for the island while filming Macbeth last year. How could he not? You’d have to be heartless not to appreciate the majesty of this place. Or allergic to shellfish.

In late October we had the roads to ourselves – Skye’s visitors come mostly in the summer – giving us licence to rip the stable door off its hinges and let 650 horses run wild. The feeling you get when you flick the Manettino dial into sport mode is frankly sinful. Burying your right foot in the floor, the seven-speed gearbox shifts fluidly from first into second, third and beyond, subjecting your organs to untold levels of g-force. Skye’s hills were alive with the sound of sweet, snarling, naturally aspirated music. What a stage. What theatre.

The drawback is that the FF will empty your wallet at the fuel station, but hey, this is an Italian supercar, not some limp-wristed eco-hybrid. And trust me, you’ll never have had so much fun on the road while being in so much pain at the pumps. Saying that, to own this car and worry about the price of petrol would be like pairing caviar and lobster with a £3 bottle of supermarket plonk, rather than a supple Albariño. Ferrari’s version of the imperilled V12 may only manage 12mpg while in its element, but when you experience its power, its pace, its iris-dilating violence, it’s just so hard to think about the polar bears… And I’m all for hugging a tree-hugger. But it really is that intoxicating. It’ll do 150mph as easily as my car will do 30. Apparently. It is extremely, savagely fast.

And extreme sits well on the Isle of Skye. From the landscape, punctured by the Quiraing – a spectacular series of rock pinnacles – and the Old Man of Storr – rocky gyrolite fingers that stretch into the sky – to the wonderful array of wildlife, colourful heritage and bounty of fresh seafood, nothing here is run-of-the-mill. The island also has its own unique attractions: the colourful frontage of Portree harbour; the Fairy Pools in Glen Brittle, which entice keen photographers year after year; and the striking Dunvegan Castle, which is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in all of Scotland.

We set about discovering the eclectic isle, flying from the Talisker Distillery, home to one of the world’s most popular single malts, to a full taster menu experience of scientific wizardry at The Three Chimneys. While some sections of tarmac begged us to hit fast-forward on the scenery and smash through the gears to explore the FF’s apparently idiot-proof power, other single-track ribbons through stunning moorland forced us to switch the dial into comfort mode and soak up our surroundings. There are few places on Earth more beautiful.

It was dark as we wound towards our final pit stop, Kinloch Lodge Hotel, which overlooks the vast shimmering expanse of Loch Na Dal. What a day. What an escape. We settled into one of the hotel’s tartan sofas in front of a log fire with a dram of the island’s finest in hand, still reeling from the raw acceleration of our two-tonne saloon, the island’s rich culture and heritage, the pure splendour of Skye and the characters who live here. Thank you Robshaw. Thank you Lancaster. Might even order the same for 2019.

This article was published in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of Gentleman's Journal.