Okay, so this may not be a month long tour from one side of the world to the other in a Ferrari 250 GTO but for my little 1985 Austin Mini Mayfair, it’s going to be quite a journey.
I’ve had my Mini for about 5 years now and it has always been a real pleasure of mine with many great stories already dappled in its short history just with me. But this is by far the longest journey I’ve ever done in it so far and the longest solo road trip I’ve ever done.
I’m going to try and update this page daily with what I’ve been up to and what I’ve got planned next so if you’re interested in how it’s going, just pop back here and take a look. Big thanks to Farer for helping me make this happen and another huge thanks to Jimmy’s Iced Coffee for fuelling me with delicious caffeine along the way!
EDIT – Click here to download a PDF of the details of my journey! It includes lots of Google Map screen shots, tips and places I stayed if you fancied doing the same journey.
22nd November – Day 1
This isn’t quite a day but rather an evening. I arrived home from an amazing wedding I shot at the weekend and began to unpack and repack my gear and clothes, adding a number of thick socks and jumpers into the mix. My amazing folks knew I was strapped for time so had already marvellously prepped my car with full fuel cans, basic tools and replacement parts ready for me to head straight off. An update of iPod songs and my hotel postcode at the ready, I set off up the M1. Singing loudly with great enthusiasm (but poor results), the short couple of hours to Preston passed in no time. I needed to make a start this evening as I figured out during my planning that 6 days was simply not going to be enough and I needed to squeeze a little more time from somewhere.
Tomorrow I’ll be up early and heading to the iconic location near Glencoe where James Bond stood with his Aston Martin in Skyfall. Following that, I’m hoping to grab a shot at the Ben Nevis Distillery (and maybe a quick whizz in) before heading to Mallaig where I’ll be catching an early ferry to the Isle of Skye on Tuesday morning. That’s 347 miles, 6 hours 45 minutes driving without stopping. I think tomorrow is going to be a long one with multiple fuel stops…
23rd November – Day 2
The early start form Preston this morning now seems like a week ago. I set off after my delightful continental breakfast and up the M6, right after scraping the ice of my car and strapping my cans of fuel back onto my roof. I was passed a number of times by grinning OAPs, in big coats inside small cars, waving at me as they passed (I obviously waved back with great excitement) and soon hit the Scottish border. It was almost like a climate switch as I passed that blue and white signpost – the heavens opened and rain and sleet began to fall heavier the further north I travelled. What added to the interest of my journey was my intermittent heater and screen wash. Due to a slightly loose connection, 40 miles into Day 2 I found myself pretty freezing whilst trying to see the road in front through the building layer of muddy road spray. 20 miles later, a cheered a little ‘Hurrah!’ as the dodgy connection seemed to fix itself and warmth and a clean screen was once again resumed. Until another 40 miles later. Scarf was once again donned. 20 miles later, another ‘Hurrah!’. Luckily, the connection made up its mind after this point and played ball for the rest of the day.
Skirting around Glasgow, I eventually found myself plodding quite happily around the edge of Loch Lomond which was stunningly colourful. If I wasn’t so concerned about the safety of those around me, I would have taken many photographs but alas, this is the slight disadvantage of road tripping on your own.
The hours slid by with ease as I attempted to absorb everything I saw around me whilst still trying to keep my eyes on the road. I managed to get to Glencoe with a couple of hours before sunset but due to the continued cloud and rain, the sun was a mere promise somewhere behind the grey ceiling and the top of the hills around me only making shy appearances every now and then. Despite this, I got some pretty cool shots on the Skyfall road.
By the time I headed off again, I was sodden. Happy, but sodden. The red dufflecoat had never experienced such a battering and I must have used half a roll of kitchen paper just by continually wiping my lens from raindrops.
Darkness fell pretty quickly and I didn’t manage to get to the distillery but instead shamefully consumed my (rather delicious) McDonald’s McChicken meal before proceeding to head to Mallaig where I now write this post (admittedly, rather late). Tomorrow I’ll be catching the 8.30 ferry to the Isle of Skye and head straight to The Quiraing to drive along some beautiful roads and aim to experience the island just enough to understand it. I’ll then head to Plockton (where the kid’s TV show Balamory was shot) before settling in Ullapool for the night. I just hope that sun decides to make an appearance…
24th November – Day 3
Well, I never knew I’d be writing this from a place called ‘Saucy Mary’s’. I didn’t meet Mary but I did meet a delightful lass who referred to herself as Saucy Mandy. Saucy Mandy pointed to where I needed to check in and off I toddled to get the key to my room and immediately turn the heating on full to attempt to dry my, once again, sodden dufflecoat.
Sometimes photographs are really worth the pain, difficulty or just downright discomfort. Others are sadly not. The one disadvantage of doing a solo photographic documentary of a road trip is that if you want to get an epic shot of your car, you have to park it up somewhere, sprint to the point you want to stand, take the shot as quick as you can in the rain, and sprint back again. Now, I’m starting to get pretty good at this now but today I made a bit of a mistake. I park my car up (‘Great spot!’ I think to myself), start my casual jog in the slight drizzle (‘Oh, it’s so lovely to have a clearer day.’) when suddenly, a light drizzle becomes a slightly heavier drizzle (‘Uh oh…’) but my this point, I’m too far into the dedication of the shot (‘This…this is not good.’). So I continue to trek a little fast towards my capture point but didn’t reach it before the heavy drizzle becomes a full force downpour and I’m now a quarter of a mile from my car (‘…I’ve made a terrible mistake.’). The shot wasn’t even spectacular in the end. It was also one of my first shots after getting off of the ferry so I continued to stay sodden all day. Good job the sun did make an appearance in the end!
When joining the queue for the 8.30 ferry this morning, I was politely informed by a burly Scottish ferry man in a fluorescent coat that I wasn’t meant to take fuel in cans, currently strapped to my roof rack, on the ferry. I asked if he was able to pretended he hadn’t seen them and if I hid them in my boot, would be allowed to board to which, thankfully, he gave me a hesitant nod. Sat in the queue waiting to board, I sipped on my much needed Jimmy’s Iced Coffee and observed my carefully highlighted route of the day on my road map. Being in a total signal black spot, I knew I’d be map reading the whole day. There was a knock at my window as the burly Scotsman informed me I needed to begin driving on, bidding me farewell with a playful, ‘Go on, yer wee fuel smuggler.’
The crossing was smooth and uneventful, and actually rather beautiful with the sun rising through the curtains of rain. Once I reached the Isle of Skye, I stopped at a nearby shop and bought a little keepsake of my journey – a little wooden sheep – which now hangs proudly from my rear view mirror.
The drive up to The Quiraing was breathtaking and resulted in many, many driving shots and lay-by stops. Oh, and my failed attempt at an epic shot. Definitely the most fun I’ve had driving my car so far. The hours passed by merrily as I sang along to appropriate tunes and I also found from a number of stops for shots that my boots, were in fact, very waterproof (cheers Northface!).
I then headed into the little town of Plockton for some grub to only find that everywhere was either shut (well, it is November…) or had stopped serving. This concluded in me going to the open corner shop and purchasing a couple of pieces of fruit a a packed of crisps, washed down with a mug of my own preplanned thermos of tea.
All in all, a pretty epic day. Tomorrow is a simple day of amazing roads – what more could I ask for? Oh wait – dry weather.
25th November – Day 4
Bucket lists usually include experiences such as skydiving, see the Northern Lights, learn another language. Well, one that I now think that absolutely everyone needs to do is drive the Applecross Pass, followed by driving the A896 to Ullapool. These roads were moulded from the dreams of a man who loved the thrill of seeing a long, winding road before him and wanting to descend on two or four wheels with pure joy spread across his face. My face resembled that of Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat as the Mini and I whizzed down the pass in pure merriment. I got to the bottom and immediately wanted to go again but alas, November light was not on my side, even if the weather was.
My morning at Eilean Donan Castle was delightful. The castle had such an air of elegance about it – a postcard-perfect sight. I shared a breakfast bar with a robin before I headed off to Applecross.
Now, when it comes to fixing the Mini, I’m no mechanic but I like to think I’ve got a fairly good grasp of how fix things. I’ve enough spare parts in my side pockets and boot to stock a small garage so felt pretty prepared for any mechanical failures. Where my knowledge lapses however, is with the electrical side of things. As you may be gathered from an earlier entry, my fuse box isn’t the most reliable but I could still plod along happily without a heater or windscreen washers, no problem. So as I was journeying along the A896 this afternoon, the sun was just starting to get low (well, that was my educated guess anyway, the clouds just started to get darker) when I look down at my dash and realise my dash wasn’t lit. ‘Uh oh,’ I thought. This had happened in the past and I knew that this also meant my rear lights wouldn’t be working either. I stop and open up the bonnet and try waggling the wires around the fuse box a bit. Still no luck. I’d like to say I tried a couple of other tricks up my sleeve but to be totally honest, that’s all I had. Waggling. I hop back into my car (it’s now beginning to get pretty dark) and pull out from the rear side pocket The Bible. I’m not talking about the bible, but the Haynes Mini Manual. Flicking through the worn, oil smudged pages, I reached the section about fuses (still pure white). Reading away, I located the problematic wires and fuse. After changing the fuse and a clean of the wire connections, I sat back in my seat and pressed my light switch. The dash glowed its beautiful yellow light back at me. The cheer I released next was far too joyous for such a trivial moment but it was a glorious moment all the same.
Due to my numerous stops and extended time at the Applecross Pass, the last hour and a half of my drive to Ullapool was pretty dark (which I didn’t mind as I glanced smugly down at my illuminated speedo) but I did manage to grab just one last shot of the snow sprinkled mountains before the light disappeared totally.
Tomorrow is my last day travelling north. I’ll be heading to Unapool and Tongue, finishing up in Inverness for the night. I hope you’re enjoying the journey with me so far!
26th November – Day 5
As I sit here sipping my large glass of red and eating my spinach and walnut bread that’s just been served from a silver platter as as Enya plays through the hotel stereo (yep, you read that correctly), it seems a lot longer than 3 days ago that I was blasting through Glencoe, blaring music through my speakers and whizzing down twisty passes with gleeful ‘Weeeeeeeee!!’s. My only reminder in my current situation are the chunky, muddy boots on my feet, contrasting against high heels and polished shoes around me (I only packed two pairs of shoes… Walking boots and, well, another pair of walking boots).
This evening marks the first day back into civilisation which was made apparent pretty quickly with the sudden appearance of street lighting and the impatient Subaru up my arse for most of the A9. Still, when I walked into my hotel room and saw a bath, I may have cheered a little bit.
The journey from Ullapool to Inverness via Tongue today was an incredibly wet and windy one, hence the majority of my shots are from the viewpoint of my incredibly warm and cosy car (bar the image where I look comically concerned about the black skies behind me). I did venture out into the horizontal rain for a couple of shots, but a couple of shots was all I decided I needed. Driving along, I found it childishly amusing to have my wheels kiss the edge of puddles to see how big a splash I could make. However, every now and then I’d misjudge the puddle, resulting in my windscreen receiving some of the action.
The colours around me as I snaked between lochs and pools were that of such beauty and vibrancy, I had to keep rolling down my window to check my slightly tinted windows weren’t creating a saturating effect.
I soon reached the most northern point of my trip – Durness. My intention was to drive straight through and onwards to Tongue however, I noticed a sign just in time for a very important detour. I slammed on my brakes and headed towards my new destination, just 1 mile up the road. ‘Cocoa Mountain Chocolatier’. I quickly arrived at Balnakiel Craft Village where I was greeted with signs for glass makers, woodworkers and a gallery. It was quite obviously a post-hippy colony of pure, quirky delights. I stopped for an incredible hot chocolate and had a peek through the window of the glass maker’s. To be totally honest, it looked a little creepy so I didn’t venture in… Perhaps if I had, this post may have been a lot more interesting.
The remainder of my journey consisted of phone calls to my folks (I had my dad venture onto Google Street view to see exactly where I was and talked to my mum extensively about life until I lost signal), getting slightly nervous about my fast lowering fuel needle and then stopping at the first point of 3G to find directions to my hotel.
Tomorrow I shall be venturing to the capital of this fantastic country, Edinburgh. My intention is to rock up to a cool Mini workshop but after emailing them and receiving no reply, I’m hoping they don’t mind me rocking up at their doorstep and taking photos of them. I’m also going to hunt down a spa as driving over 1,000 miles in a 30 year old car has not done my shoulders any favours.
27th November – Day 6
Today I actually interacted with humans again that weren’t hotel staff or waitresses. I spent the majority of my morning and a good chunk of the afternoon sat on a very wet A9, attempting to soothe my struggling car from the harsh, bullying spray from the lorries in front. My vision was primarily directly in front and to the right of me, simply as they were the only places I could reach to wipe the dripping condensation from glass. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty damn boring. The highlight of the journey was the point at which I found my front left tyre still with air in it after hitting a pothole the size of a swimming pool as I began driving out from fuelling up.
My destination was a fabulous workshop just outside of Edinburgh – The Mini Works. Simon has been restoring Minis for the past 30 years and believes in achieving the very best of quality for his customers with absolutely no funny business. His morals are commendable however, they do come with the disadvantage that he has little time to work on his own Minis. Although if you want Simon and his team to work on your car, you’ll have to join the waiting list as this talented bunch are constantly inundated with work. From what I saw though, it’d definitely be worth the wait.
Tomorrow I’ll be attempting to find some gorgeous, quiet areas of Edinburgh to shoot the Mini before heading off south to the Angel of the North. I’m nearing the end of my adventure and I’m rather sad about it but so, so chuffed with how it’s gone.
I experienced some rather spectacular moments today; the moment I was driving along and for the first time in my life, saw a great murmuration of starlings above me; the slightly surreal moment that I receive a picture message of myself whizzing around a corner in Edinburgh from a photographer friend of mine; the moment I shot up the hill of the Angel of the North to capture a photograph I definitely shouldn’t have been taking. But the most spectacular moment of today was the moment I pulled up to fill up and I found the petrol was priced at under £1 a litre. Mind blown.
My final stop of the day was the Angel of the North. Now, I knew the shot I had in my head was going to have to be one of speed and agility due to the ever-so-slightly frowned upon nature of driving across pedestrian walkways to get it. I arrived knowing that I was almost out of daylight and if I was going to successfully accomplish the mission, I’d have to act quickly. The car park was pretty busy so I decided to grab my camera and do a sneaky reconnaissance of the area, figuring out whether the grass was too wet and slippy for me to make a quick get away if anyone challenged me and if there were any bollards that I’d have to navigate around. After figuring out my plan of action, I waited for a couple of minutes for the fine line of time between tourists leaving the top of the monument and new tourists arriving. I revved the Mini and off I went, up onto the pedestrian walk way. A hard right around the information board took me to my path up the hill to the foot of the angel. Engine still running, I grabbed my camera and ran down the hill, past a couple of confused tourists, and proceeded to snatch a couple of shots before running back up the hill (grabbing another couple of shots) and reversing back down the hill completing a 180 degree manoeuvre (via 4 points…come on, I’m not Bond), skimming back past the information board (two tourists reading it smiled and waved) and off onto the main road and out of sight. Mission complete. For something that really wasn’t all that ballsy, it felt pretty exciting.
Tomorrow I shall be returning back home to sunny ol’ Leicester via the beautiful town of York where I hope to get a couple of shots around its magical streets.
29th November – Day 8
I apologise that I’m keeping this final post short but it’s only been a very short day of the trip. I also have to be up at 5am to head off to a shoot but I’m getting picked up in an Aston Martin DB9, so I can’t really complain.
Today I stopped in a very wet York for just under half an hour to grab some shots, get told off by a miserable local and experience the gorgeous sound of York Minster before heading back to Leicester in time to just make it to De Montfort Hall’s Last Night of the Autumn Proms (which was absolutely fantastic, by the way. I waved my flag in a very patriotic manner).
This past week has been one of the happiest and most fun of my life. I can’t even begin to express how much good it’s done me and how much I’ve appreciated every moment with my little car. I’m so grateful for all of the lovely comments and stories that have been sent to me and I truly hope that I’ve inspired someone out there to complete their own road trip of wonders.
Thanks for following the trip, I really hope you’ve enjoyed it 🙂