(also see ‘Road trip stupidity article below)
So, in answer to my own question of whether planning to undertake a 1,500 mile, 11-day road-trip in a 1999 Barchetta was sheer stupidity, I’d have to say my experience, in late July/early August, was quite the opposite.
In the first four days, and taking in Fort William and a summit of Ben Nevis en-route from Hampshire to Aberdeen for the overnight ferry to Shetland, the Fiat behaved impeccably, achieving a remarkable 42.34 mpg over the first 700 miles of the trip.
True, I was in little hurry, setting out on a Saturday morning, and arriving at a rain-swept Fort William on the Sunday afternoon. However, the detour I took after Loch Lomond – taking the cross-country A85 route toward Oban – was a real early-trip highlight. All newly-laid ‘pink’ asphalt, with ice-bright markings, the Barchetta and I had the road to ourselves for a full 20 miles, each enjoying every twist and turn. I’d pay money to drive that route again, and if you ever get the chance to do likewise, westward toward the coast, just take it. Every time.
Nevis was summited on Monday, with Tuesday spent steadily zig-zagging across Scotland, and the mighty Cairngorms, toward Aberdeen harbour for the early evening boat to the Northern Isles. Rather a shame it poured the entire route but, thankfully, the sometimes-leaky Fiat chose to play fair in the rain.
Dawn rose on Wednesday just as the ship passed Fair Isle (population, 55), south of Shetland. When docking at Lerwick a couple of hours later, a beautiful day had developed, so it was hood-down, and onto another ferry, this one bound for the island of Bressay, en-route to the nature reserve on the Isle of Noss (population, nil) for bird-spotting and whale-watching. A day spent on an uninhabited island was a truly glorious introduction to Shetland, with its huge sky, sea like a mill-pond and some unexpected sunburn…
The rest of the week on Shetland was spent driving to the western side, to spend time on the North Atlantic coastline, near Walls, then heading northwards, taking in the Sullom Voe oil terminal, and onto to the very end of the British road network, at Skaw beach, via the windswept islands of Yell and Unst.
When I finally navigated the car to Skaw, I calculated this was the furthest north I had ever been on the planet and, less than 400 miles from the Arctic Circle, I suspect the furthest north any Fiat Barchetta has ever been too…unless you know otherwise, of course.
In between, I spent some fascinating days, including coastal-trekking – seeing puffins and gannets hovering above the sea-cliffs at Hermaness in a force 10 gale was special – and people-watching on Norwick beach, where the entire local community turned-out, in the wind and rain, to surf, or watch the competitive sea-angling. The winners – and watchers – of ‘Norik Eela’ were feted with a sea-side barbeque, traditional fiddle music, Orkney whisky and the inevitable Irn Bru.
As I finally turned southbound, on another glorious Shetland summer day, the hood was down all the way as I island-hopped down to Scalloway, the old Norse capital. The quaintest of tiny towns, I enjoyed its excellent sea-food, wonderful nearby cliff-top walks and even more deserted beaches for my planned Atlantic dip (brrrrr!!!) before Lerwick and the return ship south to mainland Scotland.
Spotting some Killer whales in the twilight en-route from Shetland to the Orkney Islands was one final, but unexpected, bonus, and somehow emblematic of my unforgettable few days in the northernmost part of Great Britain.
In all, the Fiat Barchetta covered 1,735 miles in 11 days, and produced an overall 40.23 mpg figure, which I thought was outstanding. I got to drive some of the very best roads in the UK – you can see where Shetland has spent some of its oil money – but even better than that, I met fascinating people, reported rare bird sightings, walked amazing landscapes and encountered a way of life I simply didn’t know existed in the country in which I was born.
To anyone contemplating such a road-trip, wherever you decide to go, I would say just do it. Sure, you’ll need to know how to pack (and re-pack!) a pared-down kit list to suit the tiny boot and cabin, plus undertake a little pre-trip preparation – I took the precaution of giving the Barchetta a service and four new tyres, and I carried a few simple spares – but the ‘little boat’ didn’t miss a beat in almost 3,000km and was a willing workhorse, despite everything the wind, rain, motorways, moors and mountains threw at her.