According to Rabbie Burns, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley” – and so it was to prove with my latest idea.
In thirteen days, when I was seventeen, I cycled the above-mentioned route, which, at the time, was nine hundred and twenty-one miles, with the aim of raising money for the Guide Dogs. The route is not exactly the same nowadays, because there are two new bridges in Scotland (one actually increases the mileage). Further, from driving the course, I knew, that, as long as the car’s electrical system charged, I could average twenty-five miles an hour and that one hundred miles had been covered in a weekend. Based on these assumptions, and in possession of a newly rewound Dynastart, I worked out that I should be able to cover one hundred and fifty miles each day, which made six days motoring with a morning finish on the seventh day and a run back to Inverness, to make a final total of one thousand miles in seven days. No problem….especially for a 90 year old Renault NN. Ah!
Simples…as those meerkats say. The next thing was to get both the start and both to the finish…or wherever we got to, which would require a second driver, in order to recover my trailer and to drive it to the end (or at least to Inverness or anywhere else that might take my car’s fancy).
Taking into account the possibility that the car might not complete the journey, it was somewhat logical for the trailer to be close to the route for the first three hundred miles, as the last thing one wants is to drive away and then have to come back. Thus leaving it at the third day’s target was the most sensible, as I would then only be two hundred and fifty miles from it. The idea would be to stay at a hotel at the start and then to move to being self-sufficient, by carrying camping gear.
This plan involved a chat with my mother and father to see if that was a good idea. They were happy with the idea, with mum staying at home to water the plants and with dad coming over to me, following for a few days and then heading off, so that he could meet me at Inverness on the return.
So this was the planned route:
Day 1 : Land’s End to Taunton, via Tiverton, hoping to meet two Renault Frères club friends and being joined by one of them for a few days. On the last occasion, I chose the Cheddar Gorge route.
Day 2 : Taunton to Ludlow via the Severn Bridge and the Wye Valley, hoping to meet up here with another Renault NN driver and her car.
Day 3: Ludlow to Shap, via the A49 Wigan and A6, probably meeting up with one or two Renault Owner’s Club members on the road.
Day 4 : Shap to Inverkeithing, via the A7 and the (5th) Forth Bridge.
Day 5 : Inverkeithing to Aviemore,using the road parallel to the A9 and then via the A9 itself.
Day 6 : Aviemore to Wick.
Day 7 : Wick to John O’Groats and back to Inverness for the thousand miles.
I had booked the Friday off work, as the holiday traffic around the Avon Bridge is world famous and, indeed, one can sit for hours, just watching the clouds go by. The one somewhat good thing was that the weather for the week promised to be okay, with the odd passing wet front (more on the weather later).
My suspicions were raised when, firstly, there were no traffic jams. Even a bike rack, which had liberated itself from a car, had not caused a road jam. Very strange. This meant that, actually, we arrived at our first hotel destination at about two o’clock. This led us to make an unusual decision, which would have consequences along the entire route.
I decided to start on the Friday, the idea being to clear Penzance and to join the A38. This would mean that we were not passing Penzance during the rush hour. Therefore, we moved our hotel to Bodmin and headed to Land’s End and to the ‘First and Last’ house.
As we were taking part in a charity event, at the start we received free passes and we were permitted to take a photo outside the house…and then to the off. Like all good drives, one forgets most of it. I recall stopping to fill up at Penzance, which was recorded on someone’s Facebook group for all and sundry to see and then to be shared round multiple other groups. If people did not know I was undertaking such a run, they did now!
Running along the A38, it gave me the chance to stretch the NN’s legs, something, which is often mentioned that I do. Generally, the car appears to be happy at around the thirty mark. Indeed, the normal running average is twenty-eight and the overall average is twenty-five – hence the six hours and one hundred and fifty mile ‘idea’ mentioned above. Top speed to date has been forty-three miles an hour. (note on the run back to Inverness I managed to find the sweet spot and briefly attained the dizzying speed of 48 mph…3 mph more than the manufacturer declared new!)
Therefore, it is not surprising that I arrived at the first hotel in a couple of hours – fifty-five miles, which involved climbing up mainly to just before Bodmin, but then the A38 gradients are generally ‘be patient’ rather than steep. For most of this leg, I was followed comfortably by the tow car.
At the hotel, I had the chance to carry out a quick check-over. On past trips, I had pretty much picked up punctures in all the tyres. However, I had replaced the tubes with new ones, but, checking the wheel nuts and pressures was in order, as I would then know if there were any issues. Also, I performed the usual fluid checks and I had noted the new Dynastart gave a continuous output of eight amps.
However, this did mean that, when the battery was fully charged, the voltage started rising up towards sixteen. Fortunately, I have fitted a hidden voltmeter, which made me aware of this problem, so I decided that I would run the headlights for a few hours to discharge the battery and then let it regulate the voltage. When the voltage reached twelve volts, I turned them off and, when the voltage climbed back up to fourteen point two, I turned the lights on once again. This method appeared to do the trick, but, if I stopped the car, when it was on twelve volts, I restarted it with the handle.
The mathematicians amongst us will spot the problem. Having covered fifty-five miles, Taunton was now only ninety-five miles ahead. One hundred and fifty was now Aust, where there is a Travelodge, which worked out well, as we were booking as we went along. A regular feature of this trip was either road noise or seagulls at the hotels!
Hence the need for a few phone calls to Les and to Ian, in order to give them our new ETA and off we went for a meal and bed.
The morning was grey, but the overnight rain was passing and it looked good for skirting the back of the clouds and having a dry day. We had decided to start early each day at about eight o’clock, so that the car settled in, before we hit too much traffic. In any case, the first stage of the journey for that day was along the A38, so there were not too many steep hills and, being a dual carriageway, other traffic could pass. This route would take us near to Crediton and then there would be the only ‘Devon Lanes’ part of the route. I remember them well. Tall hedges, steep hills and this time we met an oncoming car driven by a lady, with a cat on her lap. In fact, a surprisingly ‘not bothered at all’ cat!
After Crediton, I passed Ian, who was going the other way. I presumed that he would either spin round or wait for dad – the latter proved to be correct. I plodded on through more hilly lanes to Tiverton, where I picked up a sandwich for breakfast. The deal was that I would simply plod on, as I knew that dad was hoping to meet Les as well and I had clearly missed them. The route was known to him and, in my Laguna, he would easily catch up (bear in mind Rabbie Burns). On to Taunton and then up to Bridgewater for ten fifty-two. Here I made my second refuel and a ‘phone call to dad reached him in Taunton and planning to use the M5 to catch me up. Normally, that would be a wise choice – except for all the people returning from holiday.
I plodded on up over the flat lands to the end of the Mendips
and made the climb and later descent into Bristol. Here, the aim was to follow the Avon, to pass under the Clifton suspension bridge and then veer round to Aust. Those, who know this area, will already be laughing – yes, you are quite right. Bridgewater to Aust is fifty miles….i.e. two hours’ drive. If I am now in Bridgewater at around eleven o’clock in the morning, I am going to be somewhat early for the hotel!
Over some bumpy roads, due to construction work, round to Aust, and I arrived at just before one o’clock at the Severn Bridge. A quick ‘phone call to dad, in order to tell him that I was ‘pushing on’ and another ‘phone call to Mary in order to tell her that, with time to spare, I was passing within five miles of another NN, and this meant that I could get a photo shoot. Once again, I pushed on. I promised the toll booth operator that if the car broke down on the bridge, I could roll down the far slope, and so I started on what was probably the first motorway my NN had ever seen! Clearly the car was so scared that it shot over to the other side!
Then, I headed round Chepstow and up the Wye Valley and then, as expected, I saw Mary coming the other way, so I pulled over and waited. It was not long before she had turned around and had met me. This meant, probably, another first – a photograph of two Renault NNs in the Wye Valley, not to mention much welcome sandwiches for lunch and a quick chat. But, as with any long run and especially in the early days, one always wants to push on, as it takes around thirty minutes to fix a possible puncture. Accordingly, I made my apologies for my haste and was on my way, as there was no sign of the trailer car.
Following Mary’s advice, I headed up to Monmouth and then took a dog leg up the A40 to Hereford, rather than attempt the straight, but hilly road. At this point, I ‘phoned the trailer car, only to find it and Ian were in Monmouth, so I agreed that I would push on once again. I looked at where I was and the obvious night stop, if I kept going, was Ludlow, so I booked three rooms there and headed north. I passed Leominster and went on up to Ludlow, over some gentle undulations, but nothing too demanding. I rolled into the hotel at about five o’clock and about half an hour before the support car turned up. This meant that, by the time it came, I had already checked the necessary levels and I had topped up and greased what needed to be attended to. Then I had my first chance to actually say ‘hello’ to Ian.
Now the observant reader will have noticed that, I was at the end of the second day in terms of distance…on the first day. 250 miles on day 1. There must have been some magic involved, but as the hotel was playing host to what appeared to be an adult wizarding convention, with various people dressed up in Harry Potter outfits that was entirely possible…ah well, something’s never change!
As we sat down for dinner, we decided to tear up the original plan. In theory, Ludlow was when Dad would have headed home, but on Monday morning not on Saturday night. So now the plan changed to see ‘how it went’, particularly as I had, in effect, driven solo. I would set off at eight o’clock the next morning and see where I ended up, particularly taking into account that we would be passing through more built-up areas.
The first part was to be along quieter border roads, but, heading towards the Northwich where Ian turned off, Manchester, Warrington, Wigan area, it became busy. Also, I was supposed to meet Peter and Robert, but, being a day early, Peter was at Tatton and Robert was otherwise engaged. I sent messages to explain the agenda and suggested that “if we meet…we meet”. It was one of those days when one only remembers certain bits, fuelling in Ludlow and in Leyland, the traffic and the junctions – the NN hates them. But then we reached the A6 and headed into the edge of the Lakes…and Shap. Shap…mm… a long climb and the only glitch along the route. I decided not to be daft and to keep it in second gear, with the throttle half open. That would mean that the car just climbed. No record breaking. So, off we went, with temperatures normal, without any funny smells, climbing and climbing…and then a big stop.
So much so, that the clutch actually slipped. The car rolled back off the road and I dived straight underneath. Nothing hot. No shafts broken. The back-up car arrives and there is a suggestion to tow to the top….no, that’s cheating! The engine turned over and fired and the car drove – no dreaded fault found. I took it easy to the top and, indeed, continued to do so over the next fifty miles or so, as I was rather nervous. To date, all I can assume is that the top end seized. I squirted a load of Redex into the engine and some more into the fuel, but I still cannot find a reason for the mysterious stoppage.
I took it easy and pretty much freewheeled down the hill to cool the engine off and then trundled on to Carlisle, which seemed like a sensible point to stop, as thereafter, there were no hotels. In that town, we found a great Indian restaurant, which served proper Indian food and which also kindly gave us a donation. In fact, a bus load of Indian tourists turned up to eat there!
So Day 2 ended in Carlisle. Once again, the observant will notice that Carlisle is in the middle of the mainland (i.e. the midlands), although I know that it is often referred to as ‘the north’, which it is not. However, I do grant you that it may be in the north of England! Be that as it may, I had reached the ‘midlands’ in two days. Day 2 was when the trailer was supposed to head home, but, in order for the support vehicle to reach ‘home’, he virtually had to follow me. So why not follow me and divert towards the end?
An early start – many thanks to the seagulls – allowed us to leave Carlisle before the rush hour and to head towards the A7 and country three…Alba (Scotland, in case one is unaware of this). This route is well worth attempting, as it follows a river up and then down, it has few major hills and it offers some fantastic scenery, including a cracking fifteen-mile run down to the Edinburgh Bypass. This is a “necessary” road, but, if one has the time to go through Edinburgh, this is far prettier. I followed the bypass to the old (fourth) Forth Road bridge, next to the (third) Forth Bridge (often wrongly named the Forth Rail Bridge) and the (fifth) Forth Bridge, the new Queensferry Crossing – all very confusing, I know.
Here, I ‘phoned my support trailer to discover that it was in the garage next door! There, there was also a rather poorly-looking Clio, but, upon observing the damage, the bodywork appeared to have done an excellent job of protecting the occupants.
So now for Motorway 2 – over the Firth of Forth and then through Inverkeithing. Here, I have to admit that I stayed on the motorway until the next junction and thus I saved a load of hills and stop/ starts.
Now, I entered the territory where I grew up and go along the roads, which I know, even as I know those in Wales, where I have cycled a lot. Up the old road to Crossgates. If you ever visit there, do go to Divitos! We went there many times as kids and we watched them remove traffic lights to build Mossmorran. This is the Ice Cream Capital of the world. Not to mention Irn Bru, Spearmint, and many others. It should also be noted that reaching Inverkeithing was planned at end of Day 4 and we were still in Day 3….as we were to be for yet awhile!
Up to Perth and something, which one does not see often – an engine oil change in Tescos. They come every five hundred miles with Renault NNs, although it was a bit over! Better late than never! Also I saw my first Highland MOO of the trip, where are they all? Here I parted with my support crew. Right day – wrong place but, hey, no one is perfect.
Then I headed into the north and joined the A9. This is a good steady road, but it is quite busy. It helps that the trucks are allowed to travel at fifty miles an hour on a single carriageway – yes, that is correct – so they were able to pass. There are also frequent two way sections, but I admit that I pulled off a few times in order to let traffic pass. As the evening drew on, it became quieter and I pulled into my night stop at Kingussie at five o’clock. Here, the second glitch occured, as the electrics had stopped charging. At the hotel, I investigated and discovered a loose screw. I could not tighten it, as it had stripped, so I soldered the nut, but there was still no charge. What I had done?
A ‘phone call to arrange back-up options. Collect a spare battery at Inverness, as the car only needs to run the coil, and use the charger to top it up. Charge at the end. Pick up a generator. Sleep on it.
In the morning I woke up early….and I soldered on the wire, which I had accidently unsoldered, when I fixed the bolt. Yes, okay, I know. Back to charging….so now for the fun. I am at the end of Day 3 and I am at a point, where I should have been on about Day 6! It is downhill to Inverness and then there are the coast roads (with some terrible hills). So let’s go for the record! Inverness, fuel, Black Isle, new bridge, coast road, set the nose into the wind, Helmsdale, Wick (a message of apology to Bernard (Brown), whom I had planned to meet the following Sunday (it still being Tuesday). At Wick, I came across a hitchhiker, who wanted a lift to John O’Groats. Now JOG is one of those places, to which only tourists appear to go, so she was going to be waiting there a long time…so why not. Rucksack in boot – it is a four-seater! And it then rained! Okay, I guess it had to come at some time or another, but I could hardly kick her out!
And there was the sign – John O’Groats. Sure, I was about two days early (and the rest) and there were two on board and it was raining…oh no, it has stopped! So we were there. Me and the NN, so I took some photos and I bought a sticker. Next, I ‘phoned Mary and mum to say that I had arrived. And then it dawned on me – my trailer was three hundred miles away! Solution? Drive back and meet up in Inverness. And that will be one thousand miles in four days! So, back I go (albeit popping into Glenmorangie for a bottle…or two) and onto Inverness to meet up with the trailer and to load.
After all this time as I rolled into Inverness. Coming the other way spot on time was the support trailer. Perfect timing!
Weather-wise, it is hard to believe, but, bar two ten minute showers and a bit at the very end, it was dry. Somehow, I had skirted round the back of two major weather fronts and round the front of a third!
So, as mentioned before, one thousand miles in four days, averaging thirty-two miles to the gallon (to be confirmed), with no major breakdowns (well, nothing that took more than five minutes to fix), without any punctures and with the original clock working all the way. The only modern perk (sorry!) was a sat nav, as there’s no speedometer!
The only parts used from the support car were 4.5L of oil and a funnel to top it up, along with the catch tray for the service at half way. No punctures and a little oil from the bottle on the car.
Fuel wise, I started full and added 22.36 Litres at Bridgewater, 13.46 Litres at Hereford, 25 Litres at Wigan, 18.55 Litres at Carlisle, 25.55 Litres at Perth, 15 Litres at Inverness and 11.30 Litres at Wick. I also put in the 10 Litres from the can and ended up 10 Litres short of full at the end. So just shy of 150 Litres or 32 Gallons so around 32 mpg. For a low compression 951cc 6CV Car weighing around a tonne and using an original Renault Carburettor (known for being rich) I did not feel this was bad. The route also saw around 50,000 feet of climbing or 15,250 metres. For those interested in physical dimensions, that is like climbing Everest…twice! I also took around 300 photos and videos from various mounted cameras and (so far) have raised around £950 for the guide dogs via:
So next year when you think that a show 200 miles away in your new car is a bit far to go….think of me.
So what is next…well I am told there is a route across the Sahara, once completed by a Renault NN. That seems like a good place to start?