It is a remote spot, lonely and isolated even by the standards of Wester Ross. To reach Camas Mor, you have to travel 12 miles north from Gairloch, past the scatter of houses at Melvaig, and on to where the road ends near the Rubha Reid lighthouse. A rough path east, two awkward miles and some stiff climbs along the way, completes the journey. For a few, it might better be called a pilgrimage.

The stone itself is nondescript, but its brass plaque, well weathered after less than two decades, pays homage to on of the most fascinating characters motor racing has ever known: "Robert MacGregor Innes' Ireland," it reads, "Scotland's First Grand Prix Winner. One of Life's Rich Characters. 12.6.1930 - 23.10.1993."

There is a strange and strangely uneasy juxtaposition between the bleak and windswept setting and the high-octane lifestyle of the man the memorial honours. Yet in a sense it is also fitting that so complex and contradictory an individual as Innes Ireland should be remembered in such an intriguing way. Ireland may have lived his life in the fast lane, but it was still a life of fascinating twists and turns.

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Strictly speaking, he was not even Scottish, having been born in Yorkshire. But his father, a veterinary surgeon, brought the family back to Scotland when he was a youth and he subsequently grew up near Kirkcudbright. His early plans to follow his father's profession were scrapped when he realised the academic commitment it would entail. An early interest in engineering having been aroused by a neighbour's vintage Bentley, he instead took up an apprenticeship with Rolls Royce.

From there he launched the improbable career in which happenstance and serendipity seem to have played as much a part as the abundance of talent he was born with. A career, moreover, in which a raffish enthusiasm for the trappings of his profession seem to have been as powerful a motivation as the trophies and titles success would bring. In a tribute to Stirling Moss's powers of concentration, Ireland offered himself as a contrast: "I would find myself in the middle of a race, thinking about the party we would have that night," he wrote.

He was, according to motoring writer Andrew Frankel, "One of motor racing's true treasures: the last of a breed of men who did it purely for love". The assessment is perhaps a little simplistic - Ireland knew his own worth in financial terms - but it is certainly true that he straddled that point in motorsport history when racing drivers changed from being cavaliers to roundheads, when the dash and derring-do of the Bentley Boys and their ilk gave way to a far more scientific approach.

It was one of Ireland's many strokes of luck to spend part of his national service years in Berwick, a posting that put him in touch with the thriving Berwickshire motor racing scene that, ultimately, produced Jim Clark. The story goes that he went absent from the barracks without permission to take part in one of his earliest events, an escapade that seemed the perfect wheeze until his platoon sergeant happened to read a newspaper account of his race win. Typically, the story also says he escaped punishment by offering the commanding officer a ride in his car.

Ireland worked his way through the ranks of club racing, his break into the big time arriving in 1959 when he was signed to the fledgling Lotus team by founder Colin Chapman. This followed an association with the legendary Ecurie Ecosse team that he had almost rejected when first approached (on the basis that he was busy on a shooting holiday in the Highlands at the time) and even at Lotus his japes, scrapes and love of the high life suggested a less than rigorous approach to his duties.

At least that was the image he was happy to project, not least through his autobiography, All Arms and Elbows, which reads in places like an account of an extended prep-school outing. However flippant and happy-go-lucky his approach might have seemed, in the eyes of his fellow drivers Ireland was unquestionably a serious competitor.

"Everyone remembers what a good bloke Innes was," Moss once said, "but I'll tell you what, when the practice times went up you only bothered to look at three or four of them - and I always checked those that Innes put up."

Ireland had moved into motor racing's elite when he beat Moss twice in one day at the Goodwood Easter Monday meeting in 1960. The following year, now basing himself in New Radnor in Wales, Ireland joined the elite when he won the American Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, a first F1 championship victory for both Lotus and himself. While Lotus went on to greater things, however, they went without Ireland. Two weeks after winning in America, Ireland was sacked from the team.

The precise reasons were never revealed, but Ireland was to hold a grudge against Clark, who became Lotus's number one driver after he had gone, until his fellow Scot was killed in a racing accident in 1968. In truth, Ireland was more likely to have been a victim of the times than any manoeuvring by Clark, for already it was clear that the future of motor racing lay in the hands of a more dedicated and calculating breed of driver than he was ever likely to become.

"No one could ever deny that Innes Ireland was quick, and he could be phenomenally fast," wrote Graham Gauld, the respected racing historian who knew him well. "The trouble was consistency in racing situations, and there were times when it could be said that Innes was too emotional in a race rather than coldly calculating."

Ireland hung around in F1 for a few more seasons, mostly with the British Racing Partnership team, but never again tasted the success he had had at Lotus. His career petered out in a succession of lowly finishes and retirements, and he left Grand Prix racing at the end of the 1966 season. By then, even he appreciated he was a creature of a different era, that he was too much of a risk to teams beholden to the corporate world.

"There are no really riotous times such as we used to have," he complained at the time. "Everybody seems to be frightened of making merry as racing men once did. I suppose this is the way motor racing is going."

So Ireland went elsewhere. Over the next few years, he carved out a new and successful career as a motoring writer, although his distaste for the rat race and the endless regime of deadlines led him to take a lengthy sabbatical in the early 1970s, when he returned to Kirkcudbright and tried to create a new life as a trawler skipper.

The venture contributed more to his fund of anecdotes than it did to his bank balance. Yet he clearly had salt as well as petrol in his veins, a love of the seas that was also expressed in sailing, particularly off the north-west coast of Scotland. It was that activity that brought him to Camas Mor - the big bay - in the first place.

Ireland moved back into the mainstream of motor racing in his later years as a regular guest driver at historic motorsport events. In 1992, he was elected President of the British Racing Drivers, traditionally one of the most prestigious positions in the sport. However, tragedy soon followed with the suicide of his son Jamie and the cancer diagnosis that led to his own death the following year.

"Innes deserved to win a whole lot more than he did," Moss said. "The record does not do him justice."

But how many of those with more wins against their names lived as much of a life as he did?