My word, it seems like only yesterday since the Bentley Drivers Club (Scottish Region) were enjoying the slopes of Aviemore for Whit 2015 and yet Whit weekend has come around again, and what a gloriously summery weekend this year’s was.
The BDC Whit weekend meeting has a colourful history, dating back farther than the founders would like to remember. In the beginning a small group of Bentley drivers would meet each Whit to enjoy the scenery of the surrounding Scottish countryside and of course, their cars. Over the years the party has grown from those founding members to over 100 on many occasions. John has been attending these events since he was a youngster and I’ve been lucky enough to be invited along for the past few years.
This year we were in Troon – world famous for its spectacular golf course, and we were very lucky to be taking over the Marine hotel, already set up for the open, including giant grandstands that almost dwarf the hotel itself.
After arriving following a quick dash from Bristol to Glasgow to Troon it was wonderful catching up with friends and family that we haven’t seen for many a month and The Marine Hotel provided a lovely intimate-feeling backdrop. With spectacular views over the Firth of Clyde, this hotel also overlooks the 18th hole of the Royal Troon golf course, hence it’s popularity in Open season!
The first view of the car park at Whit is always an impressive sight, with upwards of 50 vintage Bentleys on show, accompanied by a scattering of other beautiful marks. The drivers of the BDC do take an exceptional level of pride in their cars and all were gleaming beautifully in the sunlight but, as with all vehicles of these ages, there had been the normal small flurry of problems and things to be tweaked following the journey to Whit, including issues such as a faulty magneto. Thankfully after comparing the various ailments in the sun surrounded by the chatter of loved ones, and with the accompanying glass of something cold, most of the problems were comfortably sorted out in undramatic fashion. Not such an awful way to spend an evening.
As we moved into dinner there were an array of flushed but smiling faces with greasy hands being hastily washed before tucking into some absolutely cracking food. Three courses pass far too quickly amid chatter and catch up and pondering the weekends events to come.
Saturday – Culzean Castle
Saturday dawned bright and sunny and saw us undertaking a run of 70 miles to Culzean Castle further down the coast. The Aryshire countryside really pulled out the stops and the run included moments of breathtaking beauty including a brief stop to take in the incredibly vibrant greens yellows and blues of the downland, gorse, and azure Irish Sea. It also provided a smashing backdrop to the traditional panoramic photos!
When we arrived at our lunch stop we found Cluzean castle, which showed us the height of baronial architecture in Scotland. The causeway and over-sea look-out were particularly impressive, as were the two BIG! canons positioned infront of the main house. The grounds, although more compact than neighbouring Dumfries house, were delightful. Including an Orangarie and Camellia house full of highly scented orange blossom, impressive lawn and fountain, and deer park, the gardens were just the right size to be viewed in a day and there really is something there for all the family.
Following a 20 mile dash back to the hotel which included John’s first 3 litre drive of the weekend (no gear misses so far!) we had an hour or two to enjoy the lasting heat of the day and compare notes on the Aryshire roads. The overwhelming majority opinion was, aside from a real couple of diamond spots, the pothole level was decidedly sufficient to rival Fife!
Saturday night dinner at Whit is always a stunning affair and, although not black tie, is decidedly suit and shirt. This year the men did us proud with three piece suits, Bentley Blazers and even the odd set of troose on show (thank you Mr. Ratcliffe!). As you’d expect the ladies of course kept up with the pace and perhaps, dare I say it, even out did our men on occasion with an array of tea-length, full-length and even high-thigh-length gowns appearing.
The dinner itself was lovely with a wonderful array of choice including the obligatory but very well presented haggis! And the over-dinner entertainment…. Well where to begin? Of course there was the usual 80-strong paper-aeroplane battle over the starters with every menu being called into service and tables arming themselves against their neighbours with ever-more ingenuitive designs. All this merriment was accompanied by Lincoln’s band who returned this year after putting on a brilliant show in Inverness (2014) and countered the over head origami battle with a splendid rendition of ”those magnificent men in their flying machines”. Throughout the meal and afterwards they serenaded us with big band pieces from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, occasionally accompanied by some rather sporadic dancing from yours truly, which progressed to a riotously busy dance floor as the evening matured. Ever-favourite and Whit regular Holly delighted the room with a sassy rendition of Peggy Lee’s “Fever”, and the Marine Hotel’s own manager, Alan, surprised the ecstatic crowd with his Frank Sinatra impressions. They have multi-talented staff at the Marine Hotel!
The Barraclough brothers, a BDC staple, rounded off an excellent evening with their incredible piano playing. Duets, classical, blues and swing, all delivered with poise and aplomb, and it was a happy crowd that slowly made their way to bed that evening.
Sunday – Dumfries House
The next morning found us tearing along narrow lanes with some cracking hairpin bends towards Dumfries House, the lunch time stop that day.
And what a spectacular lunch stop it was. Dumfries House was originally built in 1754 by the Adams brothers in the palladian fashion for William Dalrymple-Crichton, the 5th Earl of Dumfries. Aside from the fabulous gardens, the house itself also contains the best collection of Chippendale furniture in the country, including a cabinet estimated to be worth over £20 million! The house was recently taken over by the Princes Trust when Johnny Dumfries (a former racing driver who counted 24 hours of Le Mans amongst his trophies) was forced to pay two lots of death duties on the estate when first his grandmother, then sadly his father died, meaning he was unable to keep it. Just prior to the sale Prince Charles stepped in and the trust have undertaken what can only be described as a truely brilliant restoration project, lovingly restoring the sparkle to the place and beginning the process of starting to make it work for itself.
It was John’s turn to drive again this afternoon and progress was slow with only one magneto working although the machinery was not entirely to blame. However being down on power did give me a chance (not the choice) to practice the dreaded 2nd to 1st gear change on the hills. The run was great however, and opportunities to drive an open top vintage car in this country wearing just one layer of clothing are few and far between. Especially when you don’t know the route. Around every corner there springs into view a new vista, over a narrow river bridge one moment, into the shade of some trees and through some sweeping turns the next. All the while manipulating the big steering wheel to maintain the flow through the bends, pushed along by a throaty gargle from the exhaust.
Sunday evening dinner is usually more relaxed (although still a shirt and tie affair) and sees the awarding of three prizes which are traditionally given at each Whit. In particular the third of these trophies, we have to be honest, no one wishes to receive, is given to the car which fairs worst during scrutineering, as judged by Alix Shoosmith and Tori Ratcliffe. Each year these two fiesties make a point of checking out the new arrivals and the returning worst offenders and award the trophy in the form of a phosphor bronze wrench. This year they gave a slightly more spirited speech than usual (due of the effects of an extra gin from Gerrad we suspect) and awarded the concourse prize to new comers Kenneth and Helen Richards who accepted with exceedingly good grace, joking that they were sure there car would be returning next year, despite appearances!
And then, rather suddenly you wake up on Monday morning and realise it’s all over and it’s time to bid farewell to friends. A process which takes some time as all are reluctantly contemplating the return to everyday life. We’ll see them next time at the Bentley Drivers Club Silverstone meet in August, hopefully the weather will be just as obliging there!