Obituary: Countess Arran, power-boat champion

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Born: 20 July, 1918, in Argyllshire. Died 16 May, 2013 at Castle Hill, north Devon, aged 94.

LADY Arran was considered “the fastest granny on water” when, in 1980, she reached 103mph on Lake Windermere in a rocket-like craft called Skean Dhu. She was a dare-devil lover of speed and won the highest accolade in power-boating, the Segrave Trophy, which is awarded to the British national who accomplishes the most outstanding demonstration of the possibilities of transport by land, sea, air or water.

Her love of speed began in her youth when she was brought up on an island on Loch Lomond where her parents owned a wooden bungalow on the Isle of Inchconnachan. The island is situated in a commanding beauty spot known as the Narrows and the name is Gaelic for “The Colquhoun’s Island”. Lady Arran delighted in breeding badgers and wallabies on the island.

Lady Arran remained a great champion of the area and gave many of her speed-boats Gaelic or Scottish names. She responded to the rigours of powerboat racing with typical fervour. Once she emerged black and blue after being buffeted around in rough water, admitting: “I only drive at two speeds – flat out and stop.” When asked why she did it, she replied: “For Scotland.”

Fiona Bryde Colquhoun was the daughter of Sir Iain Colquhoun, 7th Baronet of Luss, Chief of the Clan Colquhoun and a distinguished soldier in the First World War. Sir Iain married Geraldine Bryde (Dinah) Tennant, who was a champion golfer. Lady Arran was brought up mostly on the island – swimming before breakfast in summer and winter was obligatory – and educated by a governess.

While still a teenager, Lady Arran was introduced to the thrills of powerboating when she was driven across Loch Lomond in Miss England III, a hydroplane powered by Rolls-Royce aero-engines.

Just before war was declared in 1939, Lady Arran was in her husband’s supercharged Mercedes car when it clocked up 100mph on Oxford Street in central London. She exclaimed on emerging from the car: “That was rather fun.” During the war, she was a driver with the Wrens and worked for the Ministry of Information.

Lady Arran loved a challenge and in 1966 was the only female competitor in the Paris Six Hour Race and finished 14th out of 90 in her boat Badger 1.

Her love of badgers was life-long and Lady Arran campaigned for the animal’s protection and with the help of her husband piloted the Badger Protection Bill through Parliament.

Badgers roamed Inchconnachan – the family had to wear Wellington boots inside the house to prevent being bitten by them. Many other animals were housed on the island – alpacas, caged birds – but it was the wallabies that Lady Arran introduced in the 1940s that caused a stir locally. It is thought they are the only wallabies in the northern hemisphere and some say they threaten the capercaillies on the island.

Lady Arran began competing in offshore races in 1970, racing very successfully her beloved boat Highland Fling. It was notoriously difficult to handle – a fact that made it more exciting for Lady Arran. Highland Fling competed in the World Championships on Lake Windermere in 1972 and took the Class, setting a record for travelling at 82mph.

In her 50s, Lady Arran continued to enter strenuous competitions – taking part, for example, in the Round Britain offshore race. Her last power-boat was Skean Dhu, a highly technical boat whose design Lady Arran was much involved in. In 1979, 
she won the Class 2 world record from the Italians, when she achieved 92mph on Lake Windermere: she was 71. She was the world offshore powerboat speed record holder in Highland Fling and the first women over 100mph in Skean Dhu.

In the 1980s, Lady Arran decided to take up horse driving – maybe not so fast but still very demanding physically. Prince Philip, a great competitor in the sport, was amazed at her challenging driving and Lady Arran was described by colleagues as driving like Boadicea.

Lord Arran was an MP and a determined campaigner on a number of social issues – notably homosexual reform and he co-introduced the bill in 1967. They also owned a fine mansion, Castle Hill in Devon, which had been in a branch of her family, the Fortescues, since the 18th century. In 2001, because of the problems in the agriculture industry, Lady Arran was forced to diversify and decided to hire out the house and gardens for corporate events and weddings.

Lady Arran preserved a strong Scottish identity at all sporting events – invariably wearing some item of clothing of the Colquhoun tartan. She was a much loved figure in the powerboat community for her adventurous spirit and love of speed. As one commented yesterday: “Fiona was a wonderful woman on and off the water. She had drive, single-mindedness, love of her country and a warm personality.”

Her husband died in 1983. The elder of their two sons, the 9th Earl of Arran, survives her.