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Byline: With the help of satellite navigation DEREK MASTERTON and chums find the road to the isles mapped out

IT doesn't seem so long since cars were little more than seats on wheels designed to transport driver and passengers from A to B.

Luxury was a radio fitted in the dash - coupled with a casette player in the really upmarket models.

But customer demand and the imagination of modern marketing executives have produced enough accessories to fill countless catalogues.

So, as the Fly Guys planned their annual fishing adventure to a far-flung corner of Scotland, it seemed the ideal opportunity to while away the journey testing some of the latest add-ons.

Comfort of ride is the main priority on a long journey, and experience has shown that there's one vehicle which hits that spot every time - the aristocratic Range Rover.

Joe O'Donnell, boss of the Shields Adventure Centre in Glasgow, was as accommodating as ever and offered a fresh-out-of-the-wrapper 2.5 DHSE - equipped with more extras than Ben Hur. A peach of a motor.

The outer Hebridean island of Lewis was the destination - an island littered with lochs teeming with wild brown trout, bars of silver salmon and sea trout.

The maps were packed ... maps? Who needs them? The car was equipped with satellite navigation. Shields obviously wanted to make sure we could find our way back to Glasgow with their pounds 43,000 car.

A quick course in how to use the sat-nav and it was time to hit the road to the isles.

The navigation system is an ingenious piece of technology, yours for pounds 2500. A CD-rom disc packed with info on the roads, towns and cities of the UK - there's a separate one for Europe - which fits into a box tucked away in the back of the car.

The six-inch dashboard screen displays a variety of modes including street maps of wherever the car happens to be sitting. Follow the instructions, enter the departure point, select the destination and off you go.

It's a bit like having the wife in the back seat: "Turn left in 100 yards, turn left now!"

But the female voice is the just the audio instruction mode on the sat-nav. And if you somehow miss the turning, she doesn't criticise, just suggests politely that you should make a U-turn if possible.

The box of tricks in the car is linked to a satellite orbiting in space via an aerial in the rear windscreen.

Sat-nav doesn't, however, take into account Sod's Law - that if anything can go wrong, it will. The journey to Uig on the Isle of Skye was progressing nicely as we headed through the stunning scenery around Loch Lomond.

BUT suddenly everything came to a grinding halt. There had been a road smash up ahead and the emergency services forcast it would take about three hours to clear.

Time, tide and Cal-Mac wait for no man and an alternative, longer route was necessary. At first the sat- nav girl was a bit perplexed. But after several miles of suggesting U- turns and being ignored, she gave in, worked out where we were then plotted a new course for us. And all without touching a button.

Crossing the ourageously expensive Skye toll bridge, time was running out to catch the only ferry of the day to Tarbert on Harris. But the Range Rover's superb handling, independent suspension and ABS braking - it saved the lives of a few sheep - came into its own and we made it with three minutes to spare.

Driving north from Harris, the pace was more relaxed and it was time to have a look at some of the other features.

If we'd had some bored youngsters in the rear we could easily have kept them amused.

Two TV screens in the back of the front headrests provide in-flight entertainment in the shape of DVD films. They can also be used to play PlayStation2 games. Each screen has its own remote control and set of wireless headphones. However, all this luxury comes at a cost - pounds 2000 extra.

For the front seat passenger, there's the on-board computer to explore. How far have we come, how much petrol have we used, what range have we got with what's left, how many miles are we getting to the gallon, what's the average journey speed?

We were getting a healthy 21.4mpg - remarkable given the stop-start driving along single track roads.

The six-CD changer music system comes as standard.

Just about the only piece of equipment we couldn't find a use for was the dashboard clock. Lewis is not so much the land that time forgot as the land where time doesn't exist.

The laid-back lifestyle of the islanders is a new experience for city dwellers used to the rat race.

But these must be the friendliest people on earth - never in too much of a hurry to stop and chat or offer advice - and their attitude is really infectious.

As we arrived outside the home of our hosts Neil and Rhoda McLeod at Shawbost, on Lewis's west coast, the sat-nav girl announced that we had reached our destination. We weren't so sure, but sat- nav is accurate to about two feet, apparently. So we took her word for it.

We were booked in to the couple's Kabuis self-catering accommodation but, island hospitality being what it is, we were treated more like part of the family than paying guests.

A glance through the visitors' book confirmed that everyone is treated to the same genuinely warm welcome - it wasn't just because we were visiting journalists.

Neil and Rhoda admired the car and all its extras, but weren't convinced about its off-road capabilities. Some of the lochs they had arranged for us to fish were miles out in the hills and we wouldn't want to get stuck in a peat bog, now, would we? It would be a bit embarrassing if the aristocrat of the road had to be rescued by a common breakdown truck.

Scaliscro Lodge's Crea MacKenzie had the answer - one of the very few vehicles that can go where a Range Rover can't - a multi-wheeled Argocat, an oddity shaped like a bath on wheels.

But while the Argo can handle just about any terrain and terrifying angles of ascent, it is still sometimes necessary to get out and push to avoid sinking into the deeper peat bogs. Still, it's better than sending for Naomi's truck from Stornoway.

THE Sabbath day on Lewis is strictly observed. Churches are open, everything else is shut. Fishing is frowned upon.

But we had heard of one hotel which, whisper it, does trade on a Sunday. Perhaps the sat- nav girl could help us out?

Into the information mode for Lewis and there it was - the Doune Braes Hotel at Carloway. Enter departure point and destination and 20 minutes later we're there.

The wonders of technology guided us to the most wonderful, freshest seafood platter imaginable - local crab, lobster, scallops, mussels and langoustines.

If only the sat-nav girl was as good at finding trout, salmon and sea trout

Car courtesy of Shields Adventure Centre, Glasgow
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 5, 2001
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