We had arrived in John o’Groats triumphant… but we were not at the end of our travels. The final destination of the night was a hotel in Thurso – pleasantly named “The Royal Hotel.”
Staring at each other blankly in front of the ‘John o’Groats’ sign, Vince and I discuss monosyllabically whether we should find a place to sleep nearby or head for Thurso (baring in mind that it is quite late now and we were still on the verge of the car completely stopping if any hill was just too much for the range extender to keep up with it).
Perhaps we were already missing the challenge of getting to John o’Groats because we decided to head for Thurso despite the darkness and possibility of becoming stranded. Inevitability we couldn’t find it straight away… the most sophisticated and ‘smart’ navigation systems seem only helpful if you already know where you are going!
I nearly forgot to mention that we risked stopping on the side of the road (pulling away again might have been too much for the battery by this point) to call the hotel to double check the reservation (after looking at Vince’s phone I was unsure whether the booking had been completed). You might be able to imagine my mood… I had avoided the boot bed so far… but every possible snag still concerned me! Even though we’d driven over 1000 miles, I could still hear the boot bed calling. So I dial the number for the hotel and we end up talking to America (I think)… after being on hold for a while, and trying to explain that all we want to do is check our reservation… the line goes dead. Hmmm. I must say my faith in ‘services’ of any kind may have been dented on this trip.
We turn up (after looking at street view)… and the hotel wasn’t what we were expecting, perhaps not quite ‘Royal’ but an experience none the less! It turns out the reservation was fine… so again worrying and checking got us no where! We parked in the street as we were advised that there wasn’t really a police presence that would be around to ticket us. The room was… ok… big bathroom… even though it did seem to double up as a sauna. I think Vince and I were both relieved we wouldn’t have to sleep in the car (even though he already had many times on the trip). We got a Chinese takeaway and Vince got us a bottle of fake pink champagne to celebrate.
Friday 12th September
Day 5 – It’s not over yet.
I wake up feeling awful… perhaps the adrenaline has now left my body as the journey is over. Maybe I’d made the classic mistake of not saving enough energy for the return trip. Vince is convinced it was the glass of bubbly… hmmm.
As has become normality – in walks Vince to update me on the first 6 hours of his day, while I have been sleeping. It turns out that he’d gotten to know all of the staff in the hotel (classic), and someone named Angus had helped him to wire up the car to charge through an intricate network of extension cords and cracked windows through the slow ‘3-pin’ plug socket. We went from 3.5 miles in the battery to 30 (thanks Angus!). Having an electric car is certainly not boring.
I, of course… persuade… ok ‘force’ Vince to refuel on petrol as well – we go from 54 miles to 85 miles in the tank. So that’s a healthy total of 115 miles of electrical power to get us closer to home. We have driven 939.3 miles since Land’s End as well as the 345.7 miles to Land’s End from Cambridge – 1285 total so far! Can the i3 get us home too?! I was starting to think it could go anywhere… despite the charging network problems.
At 1:35pm we leave Thurso heading in the direction of Dunblane to stay at Struan’s house for the night (Struan is Vince’s business partner and friend who had advised us on the lovely scenic route to Inverness previously in the trip). Both tired and travel drained we quietly (well the i3 is pretty quiet) made our way to the next petrol station (we’d already learnt our lesson about trying to find charging points in the highlands)… it was hard enough finding a petrol station up here that was still in use!
We end up in Brora at 2:28pm (just 53.5 miles away) to fill up at the petrol station that had saved us the day before. We fill up the tank to 82 miles from 37 while the electricity stored in the battery reads 28 miles on the display… except when we pulled away it had 31 miles in the battery because actually the ‘smart’ sensors are constantly re-calculating… things.
We decide that as we’re no longer against the clock – except for the constant monitoring of the battery – we might as well do a little more sight seeing.
To Loch Ness!
We went the wrong way.
But we did get there in the end and walked around Urquhart Castle (The castle at Loch Ness). Everything was beautiful… and we found a man in a kilt! Kim, our contact at Chargemaster, had been in constant doubt that we could actually make it that far north in Scotland so had challenged Vince to take a picture with a man in a kilt to prove it.
And here it is!
Vince and a man in a kilt at Urquhart Castle next to Loch Ness. Scotland!
Instead of going south out of Loch Ness, Vince thought it best that we travel north to Inverness and then down the A9 to Dunblane as this would be the quicker route overall. By this point I was just going along with any suggestions… I still don’t know whether it was tiredness or trust from the fact that we’d already gotten this far.
We end up driving right through the centre of town in Inverness to get to the A9.
It’s probably the right time to say that I’d already decided that getting a night train from Scotland to London might be the way to go… as my brain felt like mulch and I was considering match sticks to hold my eyes open. Vince and I discussed it – with our tired minds – and we decided it would work out if I got the train from Dunblane, rather than where the train starts in Inverness, as Vince was going to sleep in Dunblane anyway and meander down to Cambridge in his own time.
Decision made… believe me it took a long time to come to this decision (brain mulch is hard to use in processing rational thought) we head down the A9 towards Dunblane.
At some point we of course needed to find a petrol station going south on the A9… charging the battery directly seemed like too much of a difficult task in Scotland. You might think we would be totally clued up on the charging / refuelling business by now… but of course we had discovered that technology can let you down badly. So… BMW i3… tell us where the next petrol station is please… please?
Next stop – Pitlochry. Will you have a working petrol station before the battery goes flat?!
Yes… thank you strangers on the side of the road that gave us directions. I guess this is another one of Vince’s lessons in ‘talking to people’ rather than relying on technology and planning.
With enough fuel in the tank to charge the battery we head to Struan’s house in Dunblane.
Arriving late we say hello to the Johnston family and Vince goes to bed. Struan takes (a very sleepy me) to Dunblane station – after first having a picture taken at Andy Murray’s golden post box! I must get that picture from Struan!
I buy the ticket and head to the platform with Struan. If you haven’t heard of a night train before (I hadn’t except for perhaps in Harry Potter), it’s where you either get a chair to sleep in for the 8 hour journey, or you get a little cabin room with a bunk bed. I was unable to reserve a bed as we bought the ticket too late… so with my standard ticket I was advised by Struan to get on the train and find an attendant to upgrade my ticket… and just hope that there would be a cabin free. He was pretty sure I would be fine.
After a little wait and banging my shoulders in the narrow train alley thing I speak to the attendant and… there is a spare cabin! Cabin 13… oh dear. Lucky for some.
I managed to get some sleep on the moving train in the little bunk, I’m not sure if I got any ‘real’ sleep… but it was better than if I had to sit in one of the chairs (that both Vince and Struan described as smelly and awful – Struan’s actual advice was that if I had to stay in one of the chairs that there was a kind of restaurant cart where you could buy a bottle of wine).
I awake and arrive in London Euston. Aletia picks me up at the station and drives me back to Cambridge. Home! This is where my journey ends. But of course Vince is waking up in Dunblane and still has to drive back to Cambridge in the i3! He has written a blog entry about his own return to Cambridge – which I will type up and put into a new post.
So what have I learnt? – a lot about electric cars.
That sometimes planning cannot help you. That talking to people can be better than relying on technology. That the UK is ‘not’ ready for the pure electric car. That we couldn’t have made it without the BMW i3’s range extender. That the BMW i3 (with range extender) is a very good car. That you cannot trust the ‘points of interest’ part of navigation systems to be up to date. And probably a lot more.
Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who donated – the just giving site will be left up in case anyone still wants to donate.
I also plan on updating the gallery so you can see the journey for yourself!