Posted: Tuesday January 5, 2016
It was Christmas Eve and I had just arrived at John O’Groats. After a bite to eat I had a wander, took a few photos and prepped Edith with oil and water ready for our journey ahead the following morning. I had been a bit worried about Edith and her use of oil on the way up so decided to buy some classic oil in Penrith – it is non synthetic and works differently to modern stuff – it was a lucky find. Once I had Edith ready, I decided that at 5pm it was time to hit the pillow in my ‘Rural Retreats’ room.
I must have been sleeping fairly lightly as by midnight I woke up to the beeping of my phone from all my good luck messages and twitter notifications. At this point I decided 'what the heck' and got up. After a quick breakfast at just gone half past midnight and now officially Christmas Day I decided it was time to set off on what can only be described as an unforgettable challenge of a lifetime.
The start of my challenge began with me losing the car keys in the car park. It was very dark and quiet (Edith aside) when we left, no moon, rain or snow.
So we began. The first 150 miles soon proved to be the hardest. It was extremely dark when we set off and the roads go up and down (with some at 13% gradients). They are not straight and one particular hill which was about 50 miles in which, had a switchback like an alpine pass and a tough upward gradient. Edith covered these beautifully and worries over brakes were unfounded as it turns out. However fairly soon and with sheer drops to my left, heavy rain and sleet began. The ground was getting slippery and it became very hard to see; particularly with only one windscreen wiper! Shortly before I regained Aviemore the windscreen motor went entirely; the only reason I was still able to see was because the screen had been treated with ‘Rainex’ so that it repels water. I spent a long time driving with the full beam on though, relying on the cats eyes to enable me to see the curve of the road ahead through the rain. I spent all this time without any music as Edith just needed so much driving at this point. However, I am pleased to say that she was running beautifully but little did I know at this point that I was soon to face my first setback – Fuel.
I had planned all my fuel stops to ensure I would never run out. Edith has a 100 litre tank and I carried four 10 litre cans with me, theoretically giving me a 420 mile range, however, there were limited fuel stops across the Scottish Borders south of Pitlochry and I needed to refuel there for my planned route to work. I had used nearly 250 miles of fuel by this point. When I arrived, I was way too early for the fuel station to be open so I filled the main tank up using my reserves and changed the route. I figured that if I crossed the Forth Bridge and went down the M90 I would hopefully be able to find a fuel station open. I found one on the map and headed in that direction. At this point things began to go wrong. Within five miles of the fuel station, Edith's engine died. I tried to restart Edith but she would not fire up! At this point I phoned my friend who had promised to be on call throughout my challenge to help with any issues that may arise. It was 6:29am and we talked through various causes but eventually I realised that the fuel pump wasn't running or priming the engine. The Simon solution was 'the fuel pump is stuck - hit it with a hammer!’ Believe it or not, this worked and I was up and running again. I managed to reach the fuel station a few miles later and Edith and I were back in business, however my original route and planned fuel strategy were now in tatters.
By this point my map reading had gone badly wrong and 30 miles later I was now rather bored and realised I was heading too Far East. If I carried on any further, I would end up heading down the A1 and adding 100 miles to the journey! I was 100
miles from Carlisle across the borders so I took the rash decision to cut across Dumfriesshire. I was roughly 250 miles in at this point. The road rose considerably and took me back into snow which proved very slippery and again challenging. The next 100 miles were narrow bendy lanes and the most beautiful scenery. I was now officially lost, I couldn't match where I was on the map, panicked and drove faster and faster around some really stunning hills and roads until I finally found an ‘A’ road. Phew! Two hours later I finally came out 12 miles from Carlisle and onto the M6! Now 350 miles in to my challenge; I still had a long way to go.
The M6 brought the chance of another much needed coffee stop and at this point I realised just how cold I was. Two lattes later, I will still shaking from the cold. At this point, things started to go really wrong. I left the services and 5 miles on, Edith stopped again. I got her going again twice but only managed to go 1/2 mile each time – the fuel pump had gone again! I spoke to Simon again and using my earpiece he managed to talk me through taking the fuel filters out, and then the fuel pump. We did this for about 45 minutes but nothing changed. I split petrol everywhere and got covered in the stuff (just as well I don't smoke). Here we concluded the only solution was to call the AA and see if we could find a new fuel pump. I was stuck on the side of the M6 alone and not convinced that the AA would find a fuel pump. I really did think it was over at this point. It was at this moment that I realised how much I wanted to complete this and how much it actually meant to me to achieve it.
The AA turned up 30 minutes later but didn't even attempt to fix it. Kevin (the nice man from AA) had been ordered to take me to Tebay services and just get me off the M6. However, I explained what I was trying to do and he was keen to help. We got to Tebay (now 372 miles in) and started to see if we could fix it. In the meantime, Simon had done some research on the system and had one more idea worth trying. We took off the outer casing of the pump which we hadn't managed to remove before, freed the mechanism and amazingly, we were back in business! I offered Kevin a tip which he declined and offered to the Charity instead. Another donation towards my ever increasing fundraising total! Consequence of this was that we still had 500 miles to go and we had just 10 hours to do it in - this was going to be close!
What followed on was fairly dull in terms of driving. It was mainly the M6 and M5 and finally Taunton Deane services before the A30 into Devon. I was very tired at this point and at 7pm stopped for a quick coffee. Whilst at the services, a nice lady wandered up to me and asked if I was the driver of Edith. To my ‘yes’ she then said what a great thing I was doing and she was sure I would make it. This set me on my way again for the final leg.
When I arrived at Lands’ End I felt truly amazing. The support I had received throughout the whole challenge had been incredible. I have never driven a normal car 850 miles in a day let alone a 1930’s one – 22 hours later and £11k raised for Action for Children I decided that Edith certainly was a keeper.