B-roading to Ballater and Beyond

It’s a fact almost universally-acknowledged that a B-road can test out both a car and driver’s talents. Living where I do, I’m lucky to have a selection of roads available for a good backroad hoon.

With the show car season now running, my first big meet of the year was hosted by Team Beard; a collective of JDM/Euro/slammed car fans who have quite a big following not just in Aberdeen, but nationally too. Check them out by clicking this sentence. The group convened at a local supermarket, where we headed to the Royal Burgh of Ballater; a picturesque town situated beside the River Dee. The 80-mile round trip promised to entertain, as the route we took featured a series of fast-flowing bends, tight corners and crests; staying faithful to the river’s path through Deeside.
Riverside views, winding roads and fun cars. Bliss.

As our group departed, I found myself in the company of a 3.2-litre Audi A3, Mk5 Golf GTI, Mk5 Golf R32, 2013 Focus ST and – inconspicuously enough – Andrew’s custom Mini, named Trig. Holding station just behind Trig, the rich smell of overfuelling and the comical pops that accompanied the little car’s jittery progress put a grin on my face. Today would be a cracking day of cars, friends and food.

Once most of the Sunday drivers had turned off towards Banchory, the road opened up for us. Our group quickly settled into an efficient rhythm, leaving a considerate gap for each driver. I was glad of the chance to really work the BMW. Each corner presented a welcome challenge for me, as the car’s entry speed was maintained with my grippy summer rubber and firmer springs. It was crucial to be in the right gear for the exit, though, as to change up too early would leave my naturally-aspirated straight-six trailing in the wake of the turbo’d hatchbacks ahead.
Despite being by far the heaviest and least-powerful car there, the E46 impressed me with its composure. Sure; out of damp corners shaded by thick forestry it was all too easy to let slip win out over grip, but with considered application of the right pedal, the car’s heavy steering and body mass inspired confidence through the bends. It may not have had the same outright grip as the 4WD VAG offerings ahead, but the BM’s balanced and forgiving chassis made me feel like I was piloting something much smaller than its saloon bodystyle would suggest. My car’s trump cards  – mid-range torque and front wheels unburdened with transmitting both power and directional changes – acted in my favour once the group had been spat out of sweeping S-bends, as I could utilise the big sixes’ power in order to lessen the gap between the others. 

Scotland - Drive - Deeside - Aberdeen | www.motormessenger.co.uk

Scotland - BMW - Drive - Deeside - Aberdeen | www.motormessenger.co.uk
Despite her age, the BM’s dynamic chassis still shone through

Scotland - Mini - Ford - Drive - Deeside - Aberdeen | www.motormessenger.co.uk
More than worth a visit

All too soon, we arrived in Ballater and had lunch at the Old Royal Station Restaurant which, as the name suggests, is a relic from the town’s bygone railway link between Aberdeen and Ballater.  Here we met with a gorgeous 325i Touring. Dropped on genuine staggered Style 32s and with an M3 bodykit, it was one of my favourite cars of the day. We also took the chance to look at some of the other cars that had made the trek from Aberdeen. VIP, VAG, Euro, JDM – almost all interests were represented by our little group. With copious amounts of Cullen Skink and ginger beer warming me after lunch, it was time to press on towards Glenshee. 

Scotland - Drive - Deeside - Aberdeen | www.motormessenger.co.uk
One of the UK’s most famous Lupos, now with Recaro buckets

Scotland - Drive - Lexus - Deeside - Aberdeen | www.motormessenger.co.uk
This Lex was distinctive, to say the least. VIP-style for Scotland!

Scotland - Drive - Supra - Deeside - Aberdeen | www.motormessenger.co.uk

Scotland - Drive - BMW - VW - Deeside - Aberdeen | www.motormessenger.co.uk
This E36 was on coilovers, not air
The drive up to the Glenshee Ski Centre featured many of the same challenging corners as before, but with the uncomfortable feeling of exposure that lands devoid of anything but heather and rocks afforded us. Our group pressed on as the forest receded and snow-capped mountains hove into view. The roads were now greased with a film of rain and mud, with gravel dragged across apices by cars which had enthusiastically held true to the quickest line. More than once, my enthusiasm with the throttle brought the E46’s tail into play; much to the delight/fear of my passenger. As we reached the ski centre, it only seemed right to pull in and snap a few shots of the cars together. 

Scotland - Drive - Deeside - Aberdeen | www.motormessenger.co.uk

Scotland - Drive - Glenshee - Deeside - Aberdeen | www.motormessenger.co.uk

Scotland - Drive - Deeside - Aberdeen | www.motormessenger.co.uk
The R32 and A3 were understandably supreme in these conditions, but in my opinion Andrew and I had the most engaging and entertaining tasks on our hands. My skittery, rear-driven 320i needed to be coaxed up the slippy hill without wasting precious grip, whilst Andrew’s stiffly-sprung Trig threatened to shake him off the road before he had a chance to utilise the power of his small 1.3-litre A-series engine. 
It may only be April, but I’m confident that I’ll be back in Glenshee sooner rather than later. Start your engine and take a country road to your next destination. It’ll be slower, but you’ll enjoy it much more.
                                                         
Scotland - View - Drive - Deeside - Aberdeen | www.motormessenger.co.uk
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