Award-winning travel writer Jonathan Thompson joins the Flash Pack’s MINI Adventure into the Scottish Highlands…
(Please note, we’ve slightly updated our Scotland adventure – you can see the new itinerary here)
Let’s be honest: it’s often a gamble travelling with strangers. What if you have nothing in common? What if there’s an incredibly annoying person in the group? What if you become the incredibly annoying person in the group? When confronted with a gamble like that, it’s a lot easier to stay at home. That’s right, the house always wins.
There is, however, one exception to this particular gamble – and that’s Flashpacking.
I first came across Flash Pack when sent by a national newspaper to review their Spanish Vespa tour a couple of years ago (above). And having loved every minute of it, I didn’t need to be asked twice when it came to joining their latest road trip – a MINI adventure across the Scottish Highlands.
You see, the best thing about Flash Pack isn’t simply their Danny Ocean-esque ability to pull together perfect groups of people. They also manage to cram more elements into their long weekends than you’d ever dream possible and find plenty of space for enjoyable downtime activities too.
The beauty of Flashpacking is that the destinations and activities act as a kind of natural selection filter, so when you find yourself there, you know those around you genuinely want to be there too.
It helps that in this particular case, “there” happens to be Scotland – newly crowned as the most beautiful country in the world. Plus the fact that the Vespas had been given a decidedly British upgrade – into a shiny MINI Countryman convoy.
Ah, the MINI Countryman. If, like me, you genuinely enjoy driving but live in a city where owning a car makes little practical or financial sense, then this is the trip for you. All of the behind-the-wheel fun; none of the behind-with-repayments responsibility.
And the Countryman is fun to drive. Especially on magnificent roads like the route through Glen Etive, made famous by Daniel Craig in Skyfall. Our little convoy of seven MINIs (shared among 14 Flash Packers and guides) stops here at sunset on day one to catch a breather, after a spectacular first day which began at historic Scone Palace and took in a bridge swing over the River Orchy (just as crazy and invigorating as it sounds), as well as some of the finest driving the Highlands has to offer.
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That evening, after a delicious dinner under the stars prepared by a private chef, we spend the night in a cluster of cozy yurts and luxury cabins at the foot of Ben Nevis.
The rest of the long weekend (our trip runs Thursday to Sunday) follows a similar pattern: physical challenges (add sea kayaking and zip-lining to bridge swinging), set-jetting (add Monarch of the Glen and Harry Potter to James Bond), magnificent castles (add Ardverikie Castle and Fonab Castle to Scone Palace) and some frankly phenomenal driving through magnificent Highland scenery.
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The MINI Countryman – which is TARDIS-like in its interior capacity – is a genuine pleasure to drive, particularly on these kinds of roads. The fully-integrated Sat-Nav means that any temporary separation from the convoy is never an issue, while the handy cushioned picnic bench (which folds out of the luggage compartment) comes into its own whenever we fancy stopping for a quick snack from the hamper placed in each of the vehicles.
After nearly four days of adrenaline-packed activities, breathtaking views, delicious food, seemingly endless laughter and genuinely extraordinary accommodation – from luxury yurts to ancient castles – I was genuinely sad to be handing back the MINI keys and bidding farewell to my fellow flashpackers. A gamble travelling with strangers? Nope. The ‘Pack always wins.
Images: Flash Pack, Jonathan Thompson, Instagram