“I’ll make the place famous,” a young conquistador once alleged regarding his intentions to rule the kingdom. Well, such a place does exist. The infamous Loch Ness in Scotland’s Highlands decidedly drew our attention to the province’s salient landscapes, romantic ruins, historical monster myths and conspicuous castles where we studied, rested, dined and danced. And why not romance the region in Bentley’s greatest achievement yet; a 5700-pound, hand-carved British statement that sails from 0 to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and is grander than any achievement ever set forth by Parliament.
My prestigious journey began from Washington, D.C. where I traveled first class on United Airlines to London for a short layover to Inverness airport. The overly accommodating flight would give me a small taste of what to expect from the mindset of a Bentley connoisseur. As the British brand states, most customers buy a Bentley because it’s a lifestyle decision. Upon arrival to Inverness, the capitol of the Highlands, I was greeted with British hospitality and escorted to Bentley’s all-new flagship — the Mulsanne — named after the famed ‘Mulsanne Straight’ of Le Mans. Its Arnage predecessor was indeed a storied saloon with much appreciation, class and talent. Yet, it was time for Bentley to embark upon a new journey and chapter. We were escorted to the delectable rear seating of the Mulsanne and playfully gazed at Scotland’s majestic scene of glens, lochs (lakes) and hillsides. Unimaginable refinement optimistically influenced my reasoning during our half hour ride to the magnificent Aldourie Castle Estate on the southern shore of the world-renowned Loch Ness.
The weather was a bit chilly and the sun slightly subdued upon arrival to Scotland, which was fine for me since Washington had just experienced untimely heat waves. The breathtaking approach to Aldourie’s courtyard initiated an immediate feeling of extravagance, pride and respect. I’ve visited and slept in castles previously but never did I make one home for a few days. Again, this was a heralding for Bentley to showcase the grandiose lifestyle of individuals with similar passions for opulence. Castles were hand-built with architecture and features representative of its owner’s ideologies such as towers, turrets, footstepped gables, lancet windows, split roofs, and more to showcase prominence and wealth. Aldourie has been recently renovated by current owner Roger Tempest who allows the property to play host to wedding parties, prestigious guests and elite meeting groups like Bentley!
Bentley decorated the courtyard with three of their all-new Mulsannes garnished in Blue, Silver and White. Silver is one the more popular colors for winged B owners, and is the reason there are 13 unique shades while offering over 100 paint options in four various finishes. This type of bespoke customization results in sophistication where coach built Bentleys are individually crafted, articulately synthesized, and carefully nurtured with an infusion of visceral technology. The Bentley design team was tasked with incorporating design techniques from past Bentley models and artisans to understand where the brand has been so owners can enjoy an impeccable tenure with their Mulsanne. This strategy allowed them to keep the company’s heritage intact while manifesting the greatest Bentley yet. The cabin uniquely consists of 17 handpicked leather hides for trimming while eloquently placed veneers are proportionally matched to encompass the majority of the interior including the center console, hidden LCD screen, picnic trays and the veneer “waist rail” that encircles the entire cabin. Of the nine weeks it takes to produce a Mulsanne, 170 hours is committed to the interior. Superb. Enough fantasizing, it was time to explore Scotland.
The Butler took my bags and escorted me up a narrow spiral staircase to a third-floor suite featuring a grand view of the garden’s manicured landscape. After a quick change, I scurried back downstairs and slipped on a pair of traditional green Wellies (Wellington Boots) for our boat tour on the Loch Ness to Urquhart Castle, an embattled medieval fortress with a bloody past. There, I followed the footsteps of great lads tied to Urquhart history such as St. Columba of Iona, Sir Andrew de Moray, Sir Donald MacDonald and Sir John Grant who built the lofty Grant Tower from where the view of Loch Ness and the Great Glen is the best. Now we’ve all heard of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster. Well, this myth, glorified by the media, brings in a million tourists a year and has great financial impact on the local economy. No sign of Nessie, but it sure is cool to have visited the site of legend.
After the Loch Ness tour, the team headed back to Aldourie for a Scottish themed barbeque in the gardens. Yes, a barbeque at the castle! We feasted like it was a holiday and enticed one another with conversation; one of which detailed the Bentley table trays which are of course made from Bentley veneers. Our backdrop featured company founder Walter Owen Bentley’s personal 1930 8-litre, which he built to represent everything that Bentley encompassed during that period. The 8-litre was glorious and powerful and scared all competition in those days and is said to be the reason why Rolls-Royce purchased Bentley Motors from W.O., ending a brief yet, storied career.
After dinner, we all had tea in the Red Room and chatted with Brian Gush, Bentley Powertrain, Chassis and Motorsport Director and Board Member Christine Gaskell about Bentley’s history and the next day’s drive while portraits of family members and aristocrats seemed to be watching our every move. Brian briefed us on Bentley’s last victory at Le Mans and their relationship with Breitling watches, which we both were wearing. See, W.O. Bentley had a penchant for performance and set out for his cars to be the best. It’s the reason Bentley won five 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1924 to 1930. The Bentley Boys, as the wealthy racers were known, were simply unstoppable. So of course the Mulsanne needed to be infused with not just elegance, but power and performance! I retired to my suite with dreams of racing. How fascinating it must have been.
The following morning the chef made us a delightful scrambled egg and oatmeal breakfast. Healthy proteins would be needed for our exhilarating drive north along waters to the furthest point of the Highlands. I started in the passenger seat waiting to be “driven beautifully” by my co-pilot. I massaged the fine woods and fondled true metals and the new controls which mimic the aviation themed gauges of 1920’s Bentleys. The central controller—a rotary dial surrounded by four key buttons – reminds one of Audi’s MMI system (Audi and Bentley are both owned by the VW Group). Six memory keys allow drivers and passenger to store their favorite vehicle feature; iPods can be connected and placed in a hidden veneer tray outlined with real hide, and a massive screen rotates from hibernation when music (has cover flow mode just like an iPod), mapping or vehicle monitoring like tire pressure monitoring is needed. Listening modes such as the DVD changer, SD and SIM card slots are found in the glove compartment. However, it was still early so I didn’t want to blow out anyone’s eardrums with the optional 20-speaker, 20-channel 2200-watt sound system from Naim!
Our first stop for tea and lemon cake happened at Scardroy, quarters to Canadian Murdoch Lang and his lovely wife Lindsay. The quaint home sits on Loch Beannachan within a valley which is noble enough for postcards. The narrow, yet long path in and out of the estate showed us how customizable the Mulsanne’s continuously variable damping air suspension really is. It allows for standard or default mode, sport, comfort and advanced custom settings. Next, we headed to the Pool House for lunch along Loch Ewe. The fishing lodge used to be a training facility for the military since the boys sent off to war were dying young. Everything about this property was historic. I felt like a young soldier lost in time. Nevertheless, the freshly caught fish we ate at lunch was delicious.
After the Pool House I took the veneer -laden wheel, which sat on the right side while the driving is conducted on the left. Quite daunting at first, but simple after a few miles. From this position I was able to embrace the 505 horsepower and 752 pound-feet of torque in the 6.75-liter twin-turbocharged V8. An 8-speed automatic transmission manages power while paddle shifters put the controls in the driver’s hands. Top speed is 184 mph. Cylinder deactivation shuts down four cylinders when full power is not needed for fuel savings. “The thrill of effortless acceleration in a refined motor car is intoxicating,” – W.O. Bentley.
Our last stop was a visit to Glen Ord distillery near Black Isle for tastings of the 12-year-old The Singleton. Not sold in America, the Single Malt Scotch Whisky is exclusively set for the Far East. The company still follows the traditional guidelines since founded in 1838. Bentley was gracious enough to send us home with a bottle. After the tasting, we were chauffeured back to Aldourie for a full Scottish dinner, which ended with, bagpipes blowing and Scottish dancing.
It was a divine evening!