Photography

Reliability

Cairnwell Pass, Scottish Highlands, A93

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Compared with some of the tallest stretches of Tarmac in mainland Europe, the 3300m Veleta road in Spain’s Sierra Nevada, or Austria’s 2830m Ötztal Alps Road, it’s a stripe on a molehill. But add some winter weather to the equation and Cairnwell Pass, Britain’s highest navigable roadway, can turn into a formidable foe.

Originally a drover’s route used to move livestock from the Scottish Lowlands to the Highlands, Cairnwell Pass is part of the A93 that links Glenshee in Perthshire with Braemar in Aberdeenshire. Peaking at 640m on its journey through the Cairngorms, this roughly graded stretch of Tarmac snakes gently skywards until it reaches the Glenshee Ski Centre, Scotland’s oldest skiing centre, before dropping down again as it heads further north and to the east, past Balmoral Castle, a popular holiday residence of the Royal Family since Prince Albert purchased it in 1852 and commissioned the current building.

Drive it today in fine weather and your only thoughts will be of the beautiful bleakness of the moorland unfurling before your eyes. But until the 1960s when the road’s most challenging sections were bypassed, the A93 was infamous for the Devil’s Elbow double hairpin and a sign warning ‘Great Caution’ as drivers approached it.

Tourist Trail 

The demanding old road might have been slower, but it gave more opportunity to admire the spectacular scenery, something the Scottish Routes Initiative is keen to revive with the creation of a tourist trail from Blairgowrie to Grantown-on-Spey that incorporates an architect-designed Glenshee viewpoint.

Of course those early drivers didn’t have the benefit of a Subaru’s reliability and always-on four-wheel drive system. With all four wheels continually engaged in driving the car forward – unlike on some rival all-wheel drive cars - you can be sure that none of the engine’s power is lost in wasteful wheelspin, no matter how tricky the conditions.

Which is why in the depths of a Scottish winter, the very real threat of snow on the UK’s highest public road is no concern for a car with the resilience of a Subaru. Any stops to admire the scenery are entirely on your terms.

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