Wednesday’s here!

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to write anything (due to the journey being even more exhausting than I had anticipated!) Only now, Monday 15th September, do I even feel the slightest bit ready to attempt this… *stares off into distance…* – Ok I’m ready! I’ll be uploading photos in the gallery soon – after I’ve sifted through the 200 or so!

Wednesday 10th September 

Day 3 of the Hum!

Waking up at Charnock Richard Services, 403.3 miles into the journey, I expect the day to unfold just as the others… full of much surprise and head scratching.

Indeed the first event I am made aware of fulfils both of these expectations. Once again Vince enters the (twin) room, wide eyed after being awake for hours, ready to tell me of his morning frolics. He has again attempted to charge the car in the wee hours. Luckily (you may think), the services have Ecotricity charging points, the currently seemingly reliable rapid chargers that only take 30-40 mins to charge the car. Oh by the way, because electric cars (and charging them) aren’t, of course, complicated enough… rapid chargers only really charge to about 80% of the battery capacity as not to ‘blow the battery’ or something… charging also slows down towards the end of a charge due to the resistance caused of a ‘nearly full battery.’ So when I say 30-40 minutes… I (think I) mean that’s how long it takes to get to 80% charged… hmmm.

So yes, Vince wanders over to an Ecotricity charging point, I imagine with a grin on his face at the impending certainty of an exciting reliable combo rapid charge. When he discovers a lot MORE about charging posts… Ecotricity… and other things than he’d bargained for.

Vince “had started to become slightly concerned that the charging failures we had met – continuously – may be down to the BMW i3 itself”… all this wiggling cables and posts encountering errors because of the car… nooo!!

After waving access cards and following the familiar instructions on the post, Vince plugs in the rather large rapid charging cable into the car… and waits. In his own words “it connected then died then refused to connect again.” I believe at this early stage in the story I reserved even a change in my tired facial expression as I was sure there was more to come… there was. After the rapid charger deciding it was not going to work for him, Vince attempts to plug the car into both of the ‘type 2’ fast charging (3-4 hour) sockets. “No Joy” – He then called the Ecotricity help line, at what I can only imagine was in the darkness during the smallest of hours.

After voicing his concerns about the i3’s possible problems, the operator (Richard Bachelor) replied with a certain “No way,” – stating that the car would not be the problem. Apparently Richard also said that “the posts seldom work.” I guess I should have called this guy during my pre-HUM research?

Turns out that the posts, or rather the connections on the posts, were not connecting to the car properly – like an ill fitting plug. Ecotricity man Richard then advised Vince that a “high level group of car and charging post manufacturers had been inspecting the problem.” – They seem to have tried a “fix” on some of the posts already (obviously not this one then?) and were waiting to see if it worked.

On the plus side! – It wasn’t the car! Yey! Good old i3. Just problems with the only reliable posts that we had found then.

Vince was then left to do what we all inevitability end up doing sometimes, when being given impossibly annoying situations by brand new super technology… use an older version. So instructed by Richard – the Ecotricity helper still over the phone… at silly o’clock… – Vince shifts his gaze to a seemingly insignificant, by comparison, older charging ‘post’ nearby. Apparently “these are the oldest charging network points and are always reliable” – indeed. Except it wouldn’t be a Vince story if it ended there… THAT post, that older, extremely reliable post… didn’t work either. Of all of its working counterparts around the UK, that specific one (plus one at the University of Coventry) – did not work.

Luckily… we were at one of the few service stations with a bridge over the motorway connecting the two services, so Vince travelled to the over side (southbound) to test out the posts there. After much fumbling, due to the inevitable necessary wiggling of the cables, Vince managed to charge the car. I’d like to point out that we are on a MAIN motorway… so I hold my breath for what the highlands of Scotland may bring!

So all of this… and we, well I, hadn’t even started the day!    

We leave Charnock Richard services at 10am with a long day ahead of us – we’re planning on making it all the way to Dunblane today. We have 55 miles of petrol in the tank and 76 miles of charge in the battery.

We take the route which involves travelling up the M6… and Shap Fell – a rather persistent hill climb.

I find a note in my journal scribbled with excitement, pencil etching deeply into the page with the word “BEAUTIFUL!!!” Nuff said? – I’ll find the pictures and upload them to the gallery soon. Of certain note is that the i3 actually MADE IT up the hillside on the electricity we had in the battery! (We kept the range extender switched off).

At the top we stopped at Tebay services (11:20am) – 466.7 miles into the journey, 55 miles of petrol still left in the tank and 4 miles of electricity, surely we can charge here? Vince stands still for a moment as he exits the vehicle and then turns to me. With a smile Vince tells me to “just breathe in that air!” I believe he has been here before as he notifies me of the delectable pies on offer in the restaurant. However first, we must find a charging post. We walk around and ask a few people… directed to a large out building we wander around and find a Tesla charging bay. Now… Tesla is another type of electric car, but not actually a normal one like the BMW i3 or its counterparts. It is a super car. The Tesla made the journey from John o’Groats to Land’s End in 2011 – with two drivers taking turns at the wheel who were extremely experienced with electric vehicles. You can look it up online to see how the journey went. As not all people are going to own a super car in their life time, Vince and I made the decision to make this journey as a guide and first step for the average car driver, to bring the ‘normal’ electric car into the spot light. So our journey is indeed, as stated on our Just Giving page, the first time a normal electric car will make it from Land’s End to John o’Groats – erm… with range extender!

So yes, we are at Tebay services and next to the incompatible Tesla charging point is another incompatible charging point – I think it might be a ‘Commando’ point. I mentioned in an earlier post the problems with compatibility of charging points… the BMW i3 accepts Type 2 Mennekes (fast) and Combo (rapid) – while others can take Commando (fast) and Chademo (rapid) – there might even be more I don’t know about!

But we’re here… and it’s beautiful… so let’s eat pie.

Vince comments on how this services “is NOT a service station.” – I would actually have to agree – it feels like we’re on a mountain in Canada or something. The views are spectacular, the food delicious and all I can sense is tranquillity. Though I do also get a feeling that the lowering levels of oxygen at this raised altitude may have begun to affect me? I think too little oxygen and too much caffeine made my company not so peaceful, as Vince went off to ‘explore’ at some point.

So we leave (at 12:27), bellies full – the car low on electricity with only 3 miles of charge in the battery and 55 miles of charging power in the petrol tank. We are aiming to charge and fill up in Carlisle, our next stop. Vince has developed a driving method to make sure the range extender works to its best charging ability – a smooth ride… downhill driving also helps.

We try calling Kim, Vince’s contact at chargemaster, to find our next charging post – but no answer. We try calling an Asda in Carlisle – but we’re hung up on.

I believe I convince Vince to pull into a MOTO services… we’re down to 36 miles of petrol, 5 miles of electricity in the battery (thank you range extender) and are 494.5 miles into the journey. It is 1pm and we begin our hide and seek game with the charging points… and lose. Vince comments that perhaps they only expected Tesla’s to make it up the hill. Oh well.

Onwards!

We finally find the Asda in Carlisle (506.7 miles in), assured by the evspeak online forum, that there is a compatible type 2 charging point here. So we drive around… and around… and ask some staff. “Oh no, nothing like that here.” – Argh. We fill up with petrol just in case our charging abilities are stifled completely this far north and fill the 9-litre tank to an equivalent of 96 miles (5 miles of charge still left in the battery) thank you range extender!

I continue to search zap-map and ask the BMW i3’s smart computer thing to find us a charging point… until score! A BMW retailer pops up! Off we go! Certain charging heaven!

1:30pm – We pull up grinning and Vince goes off to ask the staff about their charging facilities. After some time… seems not all the staff are familiar with the i3… we are directed to a bay around the corner with two type 2 (fast) connections. We park up, retrieve cable from boot and start the process of swiping our card when… we realise the thing isn’t switched on. So off Vince trots to find some help! While I’m waiting a ‘product genius’ walks over to the post – I grab his attention and ask “what’s going on?” – I’m told that only yesterday the whole area we are currently standing in was flooded with “monumental sewage problems” – nice – so they turned off the post but it may also have been damaged. Ok. Wish I hadn’t touched it now… (I had opened up the socket things to look inside and could only see dead spiders and cobwebs… ick – used often then?). He mentions a charging point in the work shop around back, so I ask the man to go and find Vince to ask him what he wants to do. Vince soon returns and we discuss our options.

We decide to go inside and have a cup of coffee. Vince is falling further and further into a sleepy pit and I am working on how caffeinated a person can get before losing the ability to close one’s eyes.

THEN! The lovely people at the Carlisle BMW retailer advise us that there are TWO Asda’s in Carlisle… and that we went to the older one. Of course we did! So new post code in hand – CA1 2EA – we head off to charge the car! Which we haven’t been able to do since we left this morning! And… Success! it is there! and it works! – It’s a Type 2, so a full(ish) charge will take around 3-4 hours. Vince decides to have a nap while I go off to work on the blog post from the day before.

About an hour and a half later I regroup with Vince (after meeting a lady standing by the post and explaining to her what we are doing) and unplug the car. We are 509.9 miles into the journey with 78 miles of petrol and 32 miles of charge in the battery. It is now 3:55pm and we are still heading for Dunblane.

Thinking I’ve caught Vince in a receptive moment, I ask whether he wants to call Ecotricity again – to check whether the charging post I’ve found along the route is working. A couple of minutes later he’s speaking with Owen Pearson – who informs us that the one in Pirnhall near Dunblane is indeed working! (According to his computer). He also informs us that he’ll be off duty by the time we get there… I wouldn’t blame him if this was more than by chance!

Bellies rumbling again (571.3 miles into journey), we decide to stop at a Welcome Break in Abington (5pm – 16 miles of petrol and 31 miles of electricity left) – we may also have hit upon a huge kW capacity type 2 charging post! (Yes… I really was as excited as I sound… by now numbers were taking over my mind! Luckily Vince used to be a maths teacher… he was pretty much my calculator the whole way). Before searching for the post, we fill up with petrol to allow us 76 miles of range in the petrol tank.

We had indeed struck gold in the Type 2 fast charging world… an Ecotricity post that allowed a 43kW charge – as opposed to the 7kW types that took around 4 hours. Considering a rapid charge (30-40 minutes) boasts 50kW of power, I could only imagine that this particular charge must take about an hour? I should mention yet ANOTHER detail in the charging world – there are AC and DC connections… the rapid ones are usually DC and the Type 2’s AC… Even now I couldn’t tell you what that means.

We plug in at 5:12pm – surrounded by a group of Chinese men who are interested in the car (they’re taking pictures of the car while I’m taking pictures of them). Vince communicates with them and later tells me that he was able to use his fluent mandarin… … … hmmmm.

Inside the services I stare longingly at the pies while Vince proclaims that these are real Scottish pies. And I must tell you they are… amazing. Two pies in one day… woops.

At 5:55pm we go back to the car and discover that 43 minutes of charging on a Type 2 fast connection has given us an extra 33 miles of electricity in the battery (now 63 miles). So it really does pay to take notice of the kW of each post you want to charge at! The petrol gauge has also jumped up to 81 miles in the tank for some unknown reason! Oh well, not going to question it!

Off to Pirnhall services we go!

We arrive at 6:52pm – 622.2 miles into the journey – with petrol tank still full (81 miles), but down to 16 miles in the battery. Luckily we find another 43kW post here and charge for 72 minutes (8:07pm)- bringing the battery up to 42 miles worth of range. I have very little in the way of ‘notes’ to explain what went on during this stop… I can only fathom that it was dark and I worked on the blog with a cup of tea. I believe my caffeine intake on this particular day was quite interesting.

The B&B – Ciar Mhor.co.uk

We had booked a b&b in Dunblane for the night – as advised by Struan. It is called Ciar-Mhor – and it is beautiful. I was so taken aback by the place that I completely forgot to write down the time we arrived – But I do know that we were 632.4 miles into the journey with 57 miles of petrol in the tank and 34 miles of electricity left in the battery.

If you EVER find your way up near Dunblane – please stay in this b&b. I am struggling to find the words that would do it justice… the views… oh the views. You are on the river! I woke up – drew the curtains and there was a river! what?! I will post some pictures soon. The breakfast was also out of this world – Vince even asked if he could come back on the way down just to eat breakfast there! (as the rooms were fully booked the night he would have arrived). The owner was extremely friendly and helpful – we felt comfortable and were looked after the whole time. Vince and I both contemplated what it would be like to live in the b&b… that’s how good it was.    

With our separate two rooms I settled down to sleep – going over the day’s events in my head – wondering how I would ever find the time during the journey to write it all down for the blog. And of course… I didn’t.

Wait for the post about Day 4 of the HUM – Thursday’s journey! We were aiming to go from Dunblane to John o’Groats by night fall! – I endeavour to post it either by tomorrow night or the next – Shortly followed by the pictures from the trip.

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