Monte Carlo Rally to return to Caithness

THE 90th anniversary of the first Brit to win the famous Monte Carlo Rally is to be celebrated in the coastal village of John O’Groats – the original starting point of the race.

John O'Groats, the most northerly tip of mainland Scotland. Picture: Hemedia

The north of Scotland is set to swell with international visitors to mark the event in the winter.

In 1926, Scotsman Victor Bruce left the village at the north easterly tip of Britain on a 2500km journey to the French Riviera in the famous Monte Carlo Rally.

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Against the odds, he became the first Briton to win the endurance rally; a feat which is set to be re-enacted this January, on the 90th anniversary of the victory.

While the starting cities for the Monte Carlo Classic Rally are yet to be officially announced, John O’Groats will stage a special ‘ceremonial’ start as part of the wider epic event.

Up until WW2, the northerly outpost was a regular Scottish start point for the rally, with cars often fighting through snow drifts on their drive towards the Channel.

The send-off will see vintage vehicles leaving John O’Groats on 27 January, just like they did in their heyday, before joining the other competitors at the official Scottish start.

Not only has the historic twist been blessed by Prince Albert II of Monaco, it has been warmly welcomed by local businesses who are set to benefit.

“It has taken two years of negotiations with officials in Monaco, but they love the historic aspect and we are delighted to add the John O’Groats send-off to the official Scottish start this year,” said Douglas Anderson from the organising Committee.

“The village was once a popular start point for ‘The Monte’. It put John O’Groats at the heart of what was a golden age of adventure and drivers chose it as an entry point because, in those days, you got extra points if you started as far away from Monte Carlo as possible.

“It was a tough place to begin the journey over the English Channel and the Alps and, after the Second World War, it was discontinued. The the village, sadly, lost its connection with the Monte.

“We are delighted, therefore, 90 years on from Bruce’s win, to re-establish that lost link.”

The 300-strong local population are gearing up for a touch of glamour during what is, traditionally, a quiet spell in the tourist season.

Walter Mowat, director of the Seaview Hotel, said: “I’ve heard some of the older generations talking about the rally. They must have heard about it from their parents, so it is exciting to have it back after all these years.

“We’ve had big events here before, like the Olympic torch, but nothing of this scale and prestige.

“It’s great for businesses here, there is going to be a real buzz about the place and we hope this international event will bring lots of people into the area.”

The departing classics will head south on a route which will remain as faithful as possible to the roads traveled by Bruce in his winning UK-built AC car.

Two local clubs, The Caithness and Sutherland Vintage and Classic Vehicle Club and Caithness Car Club, will assist with the organisation.

One Caithness Car Club member, 26 year old Storeman from Thurso, James Slevin, plans to take part with co-driver, Callum Cameron from nearby Portskerra.

He said: “It is great that an event with so much history is going to start here again, and I think it is also important for someone local to do it to show that it is not just a thing of the past.”

Bert Macleod, chairman of The Caithness and Sutherland Vintage and Classic Vehicle Club said: “This is great for John O’Groats, for the hotels and small businesses and it will be great for our club to be in the limelight for such a world famous event.”