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Roma In Scotland

The last time a technologically advanced visitor from Rome arrived in Scotland, it didn’t end well. Two millennia later, a Ferrari Roma follows ancient legionnaires along the Antonine Wall, bringing grand tourer comfort to an enchanting environment
Words – Adam Hay-Nicholls
Photos - John Wycherley
Video – George Howson
Editor - Peter Davies

A dramatically beautiful but punishingly wild place, the furthest the Romans ever reached is marked by the Antonine Wall.

A turf fortification that runs across Scotland’s 63­kilometre long waist to the north of Edinburgh and Glasgow, it stretches between Old Kilpatrick on the Firth of Clyde in the west to Bo’ness on the Firth of Forth on the east coast.
Constructed from around 142 AD under Emperor Antoninus Pius, the Romans abandoned the Antonine Wall some twenty years later to retreat 160 kilometres southward to the previously constructed and more substantial Hadrian’s Wall that stretched across what are now the northern English counties of Cumbria, Northumberland and Durham.

Armed with a Ferrari Roma, I set out on a playful return to the insurmountable Lowlands some 1,859 years later. What I have in mind is a leisurely drive along the A roads and minor B roads that run parallel to the Antonine Wall, parts of which remain visible to this day.

My ‘Argento Nürburgring’ Roma’s urbane grand touring body and cosy dual­cockpit interior offers protection from the still­brutal Scottish elements, and its 620cv twin­turbocharged V8 proves that Italian engineering innovation has continued its stratospheric ascent. This time the natives would surrender to its charms, in most cases.

The Ferrari Roma at the Rough Castle ruins, whose background ridge indicates the ancient ramparts of the Antonine wall

My road trip starts at Blackness Castle, as bleak and foreboding a structure as its name suggests. Its three, 15th century stone towers gaze across the Firth of Forth to the Rosyth dockyard, which has a long history of constructing frigates and aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy. Back in the mid second­century AD this estuary would have been teeming with Roman long ships, powered by enslaved oarsmen.

This easternmost end of the Antonine Wall actually began about five kilometres away at Carriden, though there are no visible remains. The first hints of an ancient ditch and fortlet can be found one village further along the A904, in Bo’ness, which has a fascinating motorsport heritage.

Established in 1934 and situated on the Kinneil Estate, the Bo’ness Hill Climb was Scotland’s earliest purpose­built motor racing course, crossing the Antonine Wall itself. In its 1950’s and 1960’s heyday legendary drivers such as Stirling Moss, Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart competed here, and there’s a slice of Ferrari history too.
In 1949, industrialist and occasional Formula One driver Dennis Poore – who would bankroll the founding of Autosport magazine in 1950 – arrived in Bo’ness with an ex­Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo Tipo 8C­35, complete with its Cavallino Rampante badges.

The 3.8­litre single­seater had previously been raced, in 1935­36, by the tragic English driver, Dick Seaman, and Swiss racer Hans Ruesch. Poore had the car’s scarlet paintwork changed to Westminster Green and won the ’49 hill climb in a time of 33.9 seconds, the course being just 800 metres in length. The Bo’ness Hill Climb ran until 1966, before being revived in 2008.

Driving on, I take the B816 road past SeabegsWood, where the wall and the military way are still visible and peppered with attractive woodland. The road, now starting to dry after the morning’s showers, follows the ribbon of the Forth and Clyde Canal. I select ‘race’ mode on the manettino just to hear the full bore of the Roma’s incredible engine.

The grand tourer brought a flash of Italian style to the Scottish villages along the route of the ancient fortifications 

The smart Glasgow suburb of Bearsden has two sites of interest. The first is New Kilpatrick Cemetery where, among 19th and 20th century tombs and graves, the stone foundations of the Antonine Wall are exposed, including stone kerbs, cobble in­fill, and water drainage culverts.

The second is the Bearsden Bath House, where the regiment would partake of its ablutions, and relax when off duty. Unearthed by unsuspecting builders in the 1970’s, the remnants reveal hot and cold baths and several steam rooms. The ruin is now overlooked by a four­storey pensioners’ home.

I arrive at the northern bank of the Clyde, where the Antonine Wall would have ended, in the West Dunbartonshire village of Old Kilpatrick. Interestingly, we’re less than three miles from the modest Milton bungalow in which the aforementioned Scottish racer Jackie Stewart was raised and learnt mechanics in the family garage, before going on to win no less than three Formula One World Championships. In the mid­1960’s he also competed in a number of prestigious endurance races, driving a variety of Ferrari, including the 250 GTO, 250 LM, 275 P2 and the 330 P4.

Bowling Harbour: near the wall's westernmost end at Old Kilpatrick, where the Firth of Clyde faces the Atlantic Ocean  

The Roma’s final destination is Bowling Harbour, which boasts an enchanting view down the river Clyde. Ferrari was given permission to film, with the pretty sailing berths and fishing boats as a backdrop. But, despite the harbour master being on hand, a houseboat resident is not having any of it.

Triggered by what I promise was merely a gentle blip of the throttle, a rather substantial lady, clad in black and orange spandex, marches toward us, complaining mainly about the mooring rent she’s being charged by Scottish Canals. If we don’t leave now she’ll lock the gate and shut us in. Just as almost two millennia ago, when the angry Picts drove the Romans back, I feel urged to retreat from the Antonine Wall.