Shortly before Christmas 2005 I came up with an idea: I wanted to drive my 50 year old Series 1 Land-Rover to John O'Groats and Land's End - the two places on the British mainland that are furthest apart. Why? Well, lots of reasons, but none of them matter.
Firstly, some introductions:
My Series 1 Land-Rover is called Huffo, because the letters on her numberplate are HFO. She is one of the first of the 88" models, fitted with the spread bore 1997cc petrol engine, and was built in 1956.
My passenger, and back up driver for the trip was a chap called David that I had known for some years through an Internet Mailing List for Land-Rover enthusiasts, but hadn't spoken to directly more than a handful of times.
Also accompanying us for the first part of the trip, was a friend of mine called Kev, driving his Suzuki SJ known as Muffy because its registration letters are MFY.
We had one "rule" for the trip; no motorways, as they aren't fun in a Series 1. We also agreed that we should plan some stops at sites of industrial heritage. We weren't going for any speed records or taking the shortest routes between places, so we decided we might as well go via some interesting places on the way. The second day of the trip (Sunday 9 April) was the famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel's 200th anniversary, which was another good reason for setting the trip around locations with industrial heritage.
As I expected, I only slept fitfully due to stressing and worrying about the long trip ahead of me.
I woke up at 7am. I had packed almost all the gear into Huffo the night before, so there wasn't much that needed doing to be ready for the off. I pulled a couple of items out of the refridgerator, ironed a few shirts and sorted out some of the piles of unfiled bills and receipts that had been sitting around the house for weeks.
I was just out the back in my garage cutting some 18" lengths of wood to jam into the sliders on the front windows on Huffo's doors to act as window locks when John, a neighbour from up the road, turned up to be given last minute instructions on feeding my goldfish whilst I was away. I had just finished chatting to John and was about to go back to my woodwork, when David (my co-pilot for the trip) pulled up in his P38A Range-Rover. He was a whole hour earlier than I had expected, which was great as it meant we might be able to get onto the road early.
David loaded his kit into Huffo whilst I finished making the window locks and locked up my house. I also made last minute checks on all of Huffo's fluid levels.
Kev (who was planning to drive his Suzuki SJ in convoy with us for a least part of the trip) turned up at just the right moment as David and I were swapping Huffo and his P38A over on my driveway.
We took photographs of the vehicles before we all climbed in and started our engines ready for departure. A quick check that the CBs were working, and then it was handbrakes off, and off we go!
My stress levels started to drop gradually with every mile that was passing under Huffo's wheels. I was explaining some of Huffo's little foibles and idiosynchrasies to David as we went along, so that he wouldn't have to learn them all the hard way when it was his turn to drive.
Soon we turned off the A38 and stopped in a village called Kings Bromley to fill up with fuel and so that I could let David have his first stint behind the wheel of Huffo. I was keen that David got the hang of Huffo whilst the driving conditions were pleasant rather than expecting him to learn in the dark or rain.
David quickly got to grips with Huffo, and I was soon comfortably sitting back and enjoying the ride - although my back seat driving technique probably hid the fact that I was comfortable!
As we crawled our way through Derbyshire, the sun shone, and the weather was terrific. Huffo seemed to be behaving herself and I was in high spirits. Coming the other way we spotted an old Series 1 very similar to Huffo, but in blue rather than green. Of course we flashed our lights and waved vigorously at one another! Apart from this old Series 1, we didn't see any other Series Land-Rovers, and none of the drivers of the later Solihul products waved back at us.
At about 1pm we stopped for lunch near a reservoir at the north of the Derbyshire Peak District. It drizzled with rain, but we fired up my petrol stove and made tea to drink whilst stood under the shelter of Huffo's top tailgate.
We appeared to have made excellent time, so we reviewed our plan which was to stay at a campsite at Holmfirth that night, and decided that we would press on to a campsite at Tong, near Bradford, instead.
As we left Holmfirth, with me at the wheel again, the weather deteriorated even more. The rain came sheeting down, and quite a bit leaked in through the gaps around the doors and windscreen. Nevertheless, we pressed on through Huddersfield, and the weather gradually dried out again. A couple of wrong turns in Huddersfield put a few extra miles on the mileometer, but we arrived at the campsite at Tong at about 4:30pm. The campsite owner was away when we arrived, but one of the other staff told us we could pitch our tents wherever we liked. We drove around for a short while looking for somewhere out of the fairly strong and cold wind that was blowing across the fields. We opted to pitch our tents down in the car park adjacent to the on-site off road course. There were some motor bikes playing on the course, blatting around the site noisily, but we didn't mind that: It was simply nice to be out of the wind!
As the weather was drizzling intermittently, and it was still a bit breezy from time to time, we decided to drive up to the Greyhound Public House to see if we could get some food and drinks.
At the pub we ate heartily and Kev and I indulged in some rather pleasant Green King beers. After the food, we freed up our dining table for others by moving across into the public lounge bar. There we got talking to some locals - who were already quite merry by all accounts.
When we finally left the pub, David was the nominated driver and he drove Kev and I back to the campsite in Kev's Suzuki SJ, but via a petrol station and a Co-op supermarket where we picked up milk and bacon for our breakfast.
As we pulled back onto the campsite, we remembered that we hadn't actually managed to speak to the proprietor, so rather than wait until the morning we popped over to the house to see if he was there. A lady spoke to David, and took just £2 for the overnight camping - a bargain in our opinion, even though the site was very basic and we didn't make use of any of the facilities a campsite normally offers.
A cold night, so the first priority was to get the petrol stove fired up and the kettle on. Bacon butties were munched, and then we put away our wet tents and hit the road.
Unfortunately, one of Kev's knees was playing up, so David drove Kev's Suzuki SJ with Kev in the passenger seat. Kev was in a lot of pain so we dropped him off at Leeds hospital. This was very frustrating for Kev, and a bit depressing for the rest of us. Nevertheless, in the typical British fashion we said "chin-up" and pressed on north without Kev.
We had a lot of ground to cover today - all the way from Tong to Edinburgh. We were on the road out of the north of Leeds by 10am. We drove through the middle of Harrogate and through some beautiful Yorkshire countryside with David at the wheel. The sleet was at the horrible density where it blows in through the door gaps and the perished seals in the bulkhead.In order to try to get some miles under Huffo's wheels we opted for half an hour on the A1. Huffo is quite uncomfortable on fast roads like the A1. She will sit around 50mph, but it's noisy and draughty. The outside air temperature was low, so my feet were very cold by the time we pulled off the A1 at Scotch corner. From there we followed the dead straight roman road that undoubtedly used to be the old A1, but is now the B6275.
We stopped briefly at a rural filling station and then got back on the road.
Eventually, after what seems like an eternity we make it to the Scottish Border. We stop to take a few photos.
The roads open up a bit, but the hills are steep so the gearbox has to be stirred constantly to keep Huffo moving.
A friend (hi Chris!) recommended the A7 as being an interesting road, so we headed for Hawick to pick up this road. It is indeed beautiful and windy, with the exception of a couple of industrial parks which we bypassed by driving through some twisty white roads.
We were running a bit ahead of schedule, as I had told Ian that we expected to arrive at his house (to stay the night) shortly before dusk, and it was only early afternoon. Ian had said to ring when we were on the Edinburgh city bypass, but we were cutting across country so we weren't going to use the bypass. It isn't practical to use the mobile phone in Huffo (even as a passenger) due to the noise levels, so we spotted a likely looking view point to stop and ring ahead.
As we were arriving at the view point (about 12 miles as the crow flies from Ian's house according to the GPS) we came across a substantial wind farm. We counted 26 wind turbines. The weather was changable, with gusts of sleety wind blowing across every few minutes, but we rang Ian and arranged for a slightly earlier arrival. We still had half an hour to kill, so we walked a few yards along the road to the viewpoint, where we tried to read the viewpoint information boards despite the intermittent wind and rain.
Having arrived at Ian's house, we drank a much needed cup of tea and got gossiping. After a couple of hours talking (!) we dashed off to the pub to grab a delicious meal. I had chicken stuffed with prawns and smoked salmon with new potatoes, courgettes and carrots. Yum!
Back from the pub, a quick check of the emails and update the diary before bedding down for the night. Just before bedding down for the night I received a text message from Kev to say that the hospital had released him and he had managed to drive up to Glasgow. His text implied that he was spending an enjoyable evening in the company of a delectable female brunette and a bottle of mead.... lucky chap!! Nevertheless, we had also had a great day, so I went to sleep contented.
What a day?! Let me explain...
It started off great, as I was woken up about 8am with a cup of tea. Ian zoomed off into the village to buy eggs and bacon for our breakfast whilst I had a quick bath (Ian's hot water has a lot in commin with the geezers in Iceland, in that as it comes out of the tap it goes vertically upwards as steam rather than dropping down into the bath as one might normally expect water from a bath tap to). When I got out of the bath, Ian "force" fed David and I generous quantities of fried eggs, bacon and tea.
After the nosh, Ian and I hopped into Huffo to run up the lane to his garage where I admired his collection of Land-Rover parts, some of which are already assembled into Land-Rovers, whilst others are being taken apart and others appear to be in storage for spares.
Talking of spares, Ian kindly contributed armful of Series 1 spares that were surplus to his requirements, which I stowed away in Huffo, thereby virtually guarenteeing that those specific parts of Huffo would perform faultlessly until the day after the one when I decide to stop bothering to carry those specific spares with me in Huffo.
Having loaded me up with spares, we went back to Ian's house, packed up and set off. We left Ian's house at about 10am, hoping that we had avoided the Edinburgh rush hour. We skirted around the north edge of Edinburgh on the coast road, and passed through the industrial area of Leith. When planning the John O'Groats to Land's End trip I had wanted to take a picture of Huffo with the Forth Rail bridge in the background.
We found our way down to the bank of the Firth of Forth adjacent to the rail bridge. After a couple of minutes we spotted an excellent parking space where we could park Huffo in a good pose with the bridge in the background. David and I took photographs, and then climbed back into Huffo to wend our way back up onto the road to go over the Forth Road Bridge. We needed fuel, so we dived into a petrol station, and then swapped drivers so that I could take photographs whilst David drove Huffo over the bridge.
Once over the Firth of Forth, we headed up to the Firth of Tay trying to avoid the main roads. We got stuck in a small queue for roadworks and made a couple of minor wrong turns, but nevertheless saw some picturesque villages and fantastic sea views.
Eventually, we were approaching the Tay bridges (road and rail). Again, I wanted to take pictures of the bridges, so I navigated David down to the waterfront looking out over the water at the bridges. As we pulled up, I noticed that there was a nasty squeaking noise coming from the transmission. There was no obvious defect, so I merely left Huffo to cool for 15 mins whilst taking photos, eating some crisps and fruit and phoning Kev for an update on progress.
Kev had made a late start from Glasgow, but because of our relatively slow speed and regular photo stops he was at about the same latitude as us - just a bit further west at Perth. We told Kev of our plans, which were to go to Arbroath for a smokey (smoked fish) and then head on north. I then climbed into the driving seat and we set off. We had only driven a few yards up the hill before the squeaking from the transmission had me seriously worried. I chose to nip underneath Huffo and check the oil level in the rear differential, as this seemed to be where the noise was coming from and I could see that there was clearly a little bit of a leak from one of the oil seals on the back axle.
After topping up the oil, the noise seemed no better, be in the absence of any other real options we pressed on. Over the Tay Road bridge and along the fast dual carriageway A92 towards Arbroath. David snoozed briefly in the passenger seat as we cruised at a steadyish 50mph (sleeping in Huffo is a quite amazingly noteworthy achievement!).
We drove into Arbroath and parked in a car park right next to the harbour. There were various shops selling smokeys. After a short walk around the town I chose a shop to buy my smokey. It was delicious, but there wasn't very much of it, and I must admit I pinched a few of David's chips that he purchased in preference to sampling a smokey.
Just as we contemplating what our next move would be, the phone rang. It was Kev asking exactly where in Arbroath we had stopped, as he was just pulling into town. He wasn't far away, and in a couple of minutes he was pulling into the parking space adjacent to us. It was really great to see him! Last time we'd seen him he'd been limping into A&E in the middle of Leeds. We each had a few stories to share, so we brewed up some tea and caught up on the news.
Eventually, about an hour and a half after entering Arbroath we were ready to get back on the road. The problem with a road trip like ours is that you don't get a chance to spend sufficient time anywhere to really get a feel for the places.
We started up and pulled out onto the road. The squeeking from my transmission seemed worse than ever, and seemed to be accompanied by a slight dragging. I pulled into a bus stop and announced I was going to pump some more grease into the prop shafts. There was clearly something wrong with Huffo, but I didn't know what and I was clutching at straws hoping the problem could be magicked away.
About 10 minutes later, the prop shafts had been greased. The squeeking seemed to have been cured. Little did we know it was only a very temporary relief, and in hindsight a complete coincidence!
By the time we drove into a village called Brechin, about 14 miles from Arbroath the squeeking was back with a vengence. It was seriously loud, accompanied by graunching and a definite dragging from the transmission. I muttered an oath and coaxed Huffo around a mini roundabout into Somerfield's supermarket car park. Little did we know it, but Huffo wasn't going to be leaving this supermarket car park for over 24 hours - time that would seem to me to be considerably longer!
So, what was the problem? There was nothing immediately apparent simply from looking underneath. I unpacked the hi-lift jack and some other basic tools and proceeded to lift the offside front wheel off the ground. There was a slight graunching when the wheel was turned by hand, but it was hard to believe that this was the same noise as when the vehicle was driven. Nevertheless, I removed the brake drum. The first thing to notice once the brake drum was off, was that the top spring that returns the leading brake shoe had snapped. I didn't have a spare. Across the road was a HiQ tyre and exhaust place, so I walked over to ask them if they had a spring: they didn't. It was now five-to-five, and we had already found out that today was a local bank holiday, so it was looking unlikely I was going to lay my hands on a suitable spring. Nevertheless, the chap at the HiQ said it was worth nipping down to the local motorfactors. He gave me directions, and I sprinted off to see what I could find. I can't have listened to the directions very carefully though, as I didn't find the motorfactors. I sprinted around the town for the whole five minutes, but once five O'clock had been and gone I admitted defeat and wandered desolate back to Huffo.
A bit of inginuity with a cable tie soon had the spring bodged back in place with some tension to pull the brake shoe off the drum. I put the drum and the roadwheel back on, lowered Huffo back down and did a lap of the car park, but the noise was as bad as ever. David walked alongside Huffo whilst I drove at low speed and diagnosed that the problem was definitely something in the back axle. The noise wasn't noticeably worse on one side of the car than the other. We feared it might be the differential. After a few minutes consultation, and looking at the manual, we confirmed my suspicion that on a 1956 88" Series 1 Land-Rover equipped with the semi-floating back axles, it is not possible to remove the half shafts and drive the vehicle using front wheel drive only. On a Land-Rover with semi-floating back axles, the half shafts are supported by the differential at the inner ends, and the drive flanges with the mountings for the road wheels are integral with the outer ends. In desperation I phoned Ian down near Edinburgh where we had stayed he previous night, knowing that he was quite intimately familiar with Series 1's.
Ian was brilliant. Over the telephone, he carefully explained the process for stripping down the back axle, verifying what we had summised from reading he manual. He also said that he had some 4.7 ratio diffs (correct for Series Land-Rovers) around at a friends house, and he would collect the diffs and then meet up with Kev half way between his house and where we had broken down. Kev was willing to help out, so he set off driving his SJ, whilst David and I started to remove the rear prop shaft from Huffo.
Once the prop shaft was off, we hoped that the grinding graunching noise might go away if we drove with just front wheel drive. Another quick lap of the car park demonstrated that that hope was in vain. So I proceeded to pull more of Huffo's back axle apart.
Using one road wheel and the spare wheel as an impromptu axle stand, we propped the chassis up under the rear cross member. I removed the six bolts that hold the drivers side half shaft onto the end of the axle casing, and the ring of bolts that hold in the rear diff. It was now past 6pm, and Somerfields supermarket where we were parked had shut for the night. There were still a lot of potential customers arriving and leaving disappointed - they hadn't foreseen that Somerfield would shut early on the bank holiday.
Despite having removed all the bolts that we thought we should have in order to remove the drivers side half shaft, it wouldn't budge.
David and I checked the manual, but couldn't see that we had done anything wrong. I tried beating various bits of the end of the axle with Land-Rover maintenance tool number one (a large hammer) partially from frustration, and partially to try to shock the bits loose. David and I tried positioning the Hi-lift jack in a horizontal plane, with the foot on the leaf spring and the finger hooked under the road wheel drive flange. Nothing seemed to want to make the half shaft come out.
By this time, Ian and Kev had met up, and they both independantly rang to say so. When I spoke to Ian, I explained that we were struggling to remove the hald shaft. Ian suggested that if the half shaft had broken off at the diff end it might be jammed in the diff. The best suggestion he could come up with was to try removing the passenger side one, and then we might be able to drift the drivers side half shaft out with a broom handle on similar.
It was quite awkward to safely jack Huffo up on the Hi-lift to remove the passenger side wheel when we had no road wheel on the drivers side rear.
Afer hours, Somefield's supermarker in Brechin seems to become the local race track for the rice boys in their souped up BMWs and Escorts. Whilst I was struggling with bolts underneath Huffo, I was being 'treated' to the joys of the locals smoking their car tyres and screeching around the car park, passing only a few feet away from my precariously propped Land-Rover.
I had just about removed the brakes shoes and the six retaining bolts for the half shaft on the passenger side when Kev got back with the complementary differential from Ian.
I was pleased that Kev was back, and that potentially we had the part to fix Huffo, but I was also frustrated because the part was going to be of no use whatsoever to us if we couldn't get the half shafts out.
It was now long past 8pm, and I was stressed out, tired and frustrated. David was remarkably calm and level headed. He sent Kev off to try to find us somewhere to stay for the night, whilst he tidied my tools away and I swore at Huffo and tried to free up the half shafts. I also spoke to Ian on the phone once again. Kev was back quite quickly, to say that he had found a B&B literally 2 minutes walk away, and he had booked us in. He told us that although the B&B had officially stopped serving food, they had offered to knock something up if we went across promptly. I was very grateful, and didn't care what the B&B was going to cost! I quickly transferred my valuables across to Kev's SJ ("Muffy"), locked up Huffo and and walked across to the B&B with David.
David and I cleaned our hands up, and took showers. By the time I walked into the bar, Kev had ordered bacon and eggs and a Guinness for me. This was exactly what I needed!
After the food and an extra Guinness for good measure, I went to bed.
In the morning we were down for breakfast at 9am. Ian had already texted me with a phone number to ring to start my search for elusive parts for my 50 year old Land-Rover. If my half shalfs were damaged, then I was faced with three options:
The first option was looking far too likely... and the third seemed like a frightening amount of work to me.
Whilst eating my breakfast I made a few phonecalls and tried to track down parts. We all also discussed various ideas that we had all had for removing the stubborn half shafts.
At about 10am I walked over to Somerfield. Huffo was still intact and didn't appear to have been tampered with during the night. I went into Somerfields and spoke to the Duty Manager to apologise for turning part of their car park into a vehicle dismantaling yard. The Duty Manager was extremely understanding and wished me good luck in completing the repairs.
David and I got my tools out, and fitted a brake drum back to front on the studs for the passenger side half shafts to see if we could use the brake drum as a kind of slide hammer to get the half shaft out. However, there didn't seem to be enough weight for this to work. In a minor fit of frustration I starting thumping away at the end of the axle casing with the hammer: the half shaft moved! The gap was tiny, but the half shaft was definately coming out. A few more thumps and it came free!!
We went around to the other side, and I started to thump away at that end. I wasn't doing anything that I hadn't already tried before, but it worked!
With both half shafts out it didn't take long to pull out the differential. By this time we had a few large oily chunks of Land-Rover spread over the parking bays either side of Huffo.
David and I carefully examined the diff, but it seemed to be absolutely fine. However, a quick twiddle of the halfshafts revealed what the problem was: the wheel bearing for the drivers side halfshaft had broken up.
Now Huffo has a semi-floating back axle, which was only fitted on Land-Rovers manufactured in the first 8 years or so of production. This means that getting parts for this component is expensive and sometimes difficult. Also, with a semi floating back axle, the bearings are pressed onto the half shafts with the drive flange, brake back plate and a couple of other components all intergral. You need a substantial press to strip the half shafts down or to replace the wheel bearings.
Much of the morning was spent ringing around various places on my mobile phone and following up all sorts of leads that we got from different people.
Seeing as all our mechanicing was taking place in a busy Somerfield supermarket car park, with people constantly streaming in and out, we had an awful lot of locals stopping to offer help and advice. We got lots of leads from different people: some were dead ends, and some simply lead to more and more phonecalls to more and more remote places!
Eventually, through a contact in the Series 1 club (to whom I am eternally grateful - and she knows who she is!), we tracked down a pair of half shafts about 50miles north of where we were. The owner was prepared to sell them to us for £50 apiece. I said I'd take both! Kev was again willing to act as a courier in his little SJ, so I equipped him with cash, directions and instructions and sent him on his way.
No sooner had I dispatched Kev, than one of the locals who we had been chatting to in the morning rang to say he'd tracked down a suitable half shaft just 20 minutes away! The local's name was Colin Smale, and again, I am exceedingly grateful to him. He arrived in his Escort with the phone number of the chap with the half shaft. I rang the number Colin gave me and spoke to Pete Babbs. Pete invited me over to collect the half shaft. There was no point in turning the offer down, as I couldn't be sure that the half shafts that Kev might return with would be any good at all.
I leapt into Colin's Escort with him, and he took me on a fascinating guided tour, chatting about all sorts of things whilst we nipped over to Pete's house. Pete lives down possibly the most picturesque little track ever, hidden away from the road, and not very far from the North Sea. I could have stayed chatting to Pete for hours, because he was so friendly, cheerful and helpful. He knew old Land-Rovers (and Rileys) inside out, and gave me lots of encouragement to fix Huffo. He is also a complete star because he let me have his intact half shaft with working wheel bearings in exchange for my half shaft with knackered wheel bearing, at no charge! He said that instead of paying him, I should do a good turn for another Land-Rover owner some time - and that I surely will!
Colin drove me back to Huffo, and in no time at all we had the half shafts back in, the differential refitted, the rear prop shaft back on, the brakes bled (after a fashion), and the road wheels back on. A quick test drive around the car park watched by the bemused locals confirmed Huffo was fixed.
Kev returned with more halfshafts, which I stowed away in Huffo. They looked good, and would be great back up spares should I ever need them. I was now carrying a spare pair of half shafts and an extra differential that I hadn't planned on lugging all around Great Britain!
Now that Huffo was fixed, the three of us consulted the map and made revised plans for continuing our trip. I was keen to try to make up for lost time and wanted to get a good deal closer to John O'Groats that same night if at all possible, so we chose a target campsite about an hour and a half away, and set off.
Once we got onto the road, I realised that with my oil contaminated rear brakes, and inadequate bleeding of them, I had extremely little stopping power (even worse than my dubious Series 1 brakes are at the best of times!). Rather than stopping and spending a lot of time trying to re-bleed the brakes, I opted to drive extra cautiously and slowly instead.
It took about 2 hours to get to the campsite, by which time I was completely and utterly shattered, not suprising considering the amount of energy I had expended working on Huffo and worrying about whether we could complete the trip. Kev rustled up a filling and tasty meal amazingly quickly, whilst David and I pitched our tents.
Kev announced that he was not going to put up a tent, but was going to sleep under the stars. I felt sure that he had gone completely barmy, but was too tired to question him too much! (It turned out that he did sleep under the stars without a tent - he's a complete nut case if you ask me, but he raved about the experience saying it was great.)
Whilst we were cooking and setting up camp some workman were trying to push start a van near by. It came to light that they had been playing the radio all day which had flattened the battery. Lots of people had done us good turns that day, so I decided it was about time I started to do some for other people right away. I rapidly unpacked Huffo to get to my jump leads, and in no time at we had given them a jump start and sent them on their way.
I devoured the food Kev had cooked in seconds flat, and was ready for bed. I barely remember crawling all the way into my sleeping bag before I was fast asleep.
I woke up hugely refreshed and with more energy: the trip was only a day behind schedule, so I was eager to get fed, bleed the brakes and press on with the journey. We did these things without trauma or diffulty. Even so, the brakes still weren't quite right - the back brake shoes were covered in oil from where a wheel bearing oil seal had failed. For the remainder of the trip it looked as if I was going to have to drive extra cautiously with increased stopping distances. I had spare brake shoes, but not the oil seals required, and in any case I didn't really want to strip the back axle down once again to fix the brakes.
David navigated whilst I drove. We crawled up steep hills and careered down the other side, all the time mesmerised by the awe inspiring scenery. We steadily plugged our way up into the snow covered mountains, eventually coming to the top where there was a ski resort crawling with tourists. We stopped to take photographs and admire the vast machinery used for preparing the snow for the skiers.
We were stood next to a massive heap of old car and van tyres watching the skiers coming down the slopes and then getting dragged back up on the ski lift. Suddenly I spotted an Avon Traction Mileage tyre in exactly the same size as was fitted on Huffo! This was funny, because prior to the trip I had hunted high and low, and even gone so far as to placing wanted adverts for these tyres before my trip. Huffo had had two excellent Avon Traction Mileage tyres on her, but the other three were almost completely worn out. It had taken more than a little effort to track down better ones to fit to her for her trip - and here was one lying in the snow at the top of a mountain in Scotland! To be honest, the tyre I had found had virtually no tread on, so it wouldn't have been any use at all to me, but the find amused us all anyway.
As we pressed on north towards John O'Groats I requested a detour to take in the Nairn viaduct. This is the longest masonry arch viaduct in Scotland. For more than 100 years, it's 28 brick arches have carried trains 550m across the valley with the River Nairn itself at the bottom. We found a quiet side road within sight of the viaduct to stop and eat our lunch.
Whilst we ate lunch, we discussed whether we could make it to John O'Groats that same day, or whether we would have to camp somewhere within striking distance for the following day. We opted to press on as best we could and see where we ended up.
As it was, we found the A9 up the west coast of northern Scotland wasn't a bad road at all in the most part, and we made excellent progress. Huffo took a lot of hard driving, going flat out crawling up the hills, and popping and banging on the overun as we descended the other side under engine braking.
We passed a large blue coach in one village whilst it was dropping off or picking up passengers. It soon caught me up again, and tailgated me for a mile or to before overtaking. It was quite frightening being passed by such an enormous vehicle, but the driver appeared to know the road well and had loads of power available. When we caught the bus up a couple of villages later as it dropped off more passengers, I opted to wait patiently behind it rather than pass it and then be overtaken again on the twisty hilly road.
At about half past five in the afternoon, we pulled into John O'Groats. It was bucketing down with rain. We had been warned by various people that there was virtually nothing there to see, and the place was very dull. They were right! We took obligitory photographs, and I did my best to flatten my phone battery by ringing lots of people to tell them that we'd made it.
When the rain stopped, there was a rainbow, but I was too slow to position Huffo to get a decent picture of her with the rainbow and a pretty back drop.
There is a campsite right at the end of the road at John O'Groats, so we checked in. There were only two other groups camping there: both in camper vans. We brewed some tea, and then discussed food. It was really windy, so we decided to see if we could eat out.
By the time we had loaded ourselves into Kev's SJ and driven to the nearest likely looking places for a meal, they had all stopped serving. In the end, we drove a 30 mile round trip into Wick, where we ate a very nice Chinese meal in a restaurant and celebrated reaching John O'Groats with a few beers.
When we got back the campsite, it was cold, wet and windy, so we turned in for the night without stopping to watch the blinking of the light houses for more than a minute.
We were all up and about by half past eight, but it was still raining intermittently and quite windy. The best plan seemed to be to just take advantage of the toilet and shower facilities and then get onto the road as quickly as possible without stopping for breakfast or even a cup of tea.
We were on the road out of John O'Groats before ten O'clock.
We drove along the coast to visit the northernmost headland called Dunnit Head, where we took lots of photographs, and then carried on to Thurso. In Thurso, we filled up with fuel (99.9 pence per litre! Ouch! The most expensive petrol I have ever bought!) and then ate a hearty fried brunch in the adjacent cafe.
We journeyed south along the A9, back along the road we had driven up to John O'Groats along, but it looked very different driving in the opposite direction. Crossing over the Firth of Cromarty we commented on the oil platforms moored in the Firth.
We stopped briefly for a leg stretch down a tiny little side road in the middle of nowhere. There was an unpleasant rumbling from the back of Kev's SJ, which turned out to be a worn our universal joint on his rear prop shaft, so I climbed underneath and removed the offending prop shaft. Kev then engaged his freewheeling hubs and selected four wheel drive with the intention of driving the rest of the trip with front wheel drive only.
After our comfort break, we drove along the A-road along the side of Loch Ness and then various other Lochs down to Fort William. The views were absolutely beyond desription, and the road wound around making the driving challenging and good fun.
We arrived at the campsite, which was virtually sodden, at about 6pm and tried to find a dry spot to pitch our tents. Kev demonstrated his excellent catering skills once again, before we bedded down for another nights rest.
I woke up at about 8am and crawled out of my sleeping bag. Although the skies were clear the ground was covered in dew. I took a few pictures of the spectacular snow capped mountains surrounding the campsite on all sides, but this was mainly to put off actually doing anything productive in the cold and damp! Eventually, I faced up to the fact that I really ought to check the fluid levels around Huffo once more. There had been a bit of a whine from the tranmission the previous afternoon, and this is more often than not symptomatic of low fluid levels.
I pulled out a black bin bag to lie on on the wet grass (we never did find the small tarpauline that I felt sure I had packed for exactly this purpose). I then fished out the EP90, an adjustable spanner, and the grease gun. Lying under Huffo on the bin bag, my elbows quickly got sodden and my fingers horribly slimey and mucky.
Whilst I was lieing under the car, Kev came over to say that he had decided to set off back home to Coventry. The financial and physical strain of driving an average of about 200miles per day for the past week in his little SJ had taken its toll. It wasn't a huge suprise that Kev had made this decision, as he had been talking about cutting the trip short for the past couple of days. I was sad that Kev wouldn't be with us for the rest of the trip. I knew he had put a lot of effort into getting his SJ sorted out for the trip, and I felt Kev's frustration that it was his own mechanicals (his knees and back) that were letting him down rather than his car! I tried to cheerfully wish him a safe journey home, but I fear my sadness showed through as frustration. The previous day I had tried to encourage Kev to continue, but I think he had already made up his mind.
Anyway, from my vantage point underneath Huffo I saw both Kev's feet disappear upwards out of sight, then his engine started up and he was gone. All of a sudden it seemed very quiet, and I was a little bit lonely without Kev's permanently cheerful banter.
I finished off greasing the prop shafts and topping up the swivels, diffs, overdrive, transfer box and main gearbox. I remembered about an hour later I'd forgotten to do the steering box. I felt pleased to have completed the task, but at the back of my mind I was still pondering continuing the trip without Kev. I changed my jumper for a dry one, and put the kettle on.
David and I packed up our tents and loaded up Huffo. Without Kev tagging along behind at a safe distance I was a lot more conscious of the impatient drivers behind who insisted on tailgating Huffo. I pulled over or slowed down to help them past me whenever I could, but too many of them were just plain stupid and ignorant and sat immediately behind Huffo when with a little bit more care and attention they could so easily have safely passed me.
We crossed over a massive green steel girder through-bridge carrying the A82 over Loch Leven. Immediately after the bridge I swerved into a lay-by and strained to a halt (straining, because my oil-contaminated back brakes had significantly diminished my braking power and any serious stopping required a heck of a shove on the brake pedal!). I leapt out and ran back to take some pictures of the bridge.
When we set off again, we started to see signs for Glencoe. "Glencoe" just so happens to be the name of my parents house (in Gloucestershire) so I was interested to find out whether this particular glen was as pleasant as my parents farm house. It certainly was! The sun shining brightly certainly helped, but Glencoe made a lasting impression on me as being one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland we had seen so far.
As we were climbing up the glen along the A82 we saw signs warning of road works. We queued for a good few minutes waiting for the traffic lights to change. This gave me an opportunity to take some pictures back down the glen from the drivers window of Huffo.
Huffo was playing her old trick of not ticking over nicely - some days she ticks over sweetly at 700rpm, other days she barey keeps her engine alive at around 400rpm, and very occassionally she'll sit there with the engine thrumming away at about 1000rpm. Today, she was in her almost-stalling mood. I kept blipping the throttle lightly to keep her alive whilst we waited for the queue to move on.
Eventually, we got to the front of the queue and found out the reason for the wait: Nuttalls (the contractors) were replacing a bridge. I drove slowly over the bailey bridge they had erected to temporarily carry the traffic and tried to see what they were doing whilst keeping a half eye on the winding road at the same time.
Cruising along the A85, I was trying to keep one eye on the mileometer and one on the road - the reason being that the trip mileometer was about to click over 1000 miles since leaving Birmingham almost a week ago. The GPS trip mileage didn't exactly agree with the mileometer - it reckoned it was about 50 or 60 miles later that we clocked up the magic 1000.
After what seemed like ages, we came to a road junction, where we opted to turn off onto the A85 as it lead in the direction of the Falkirk Wheel which was our next intended 'industrial heritage' stop.
As we were winding along the A85 through the pine woods, my stomache started to rumble. I had skipped breakfast (just drunk a couple of mugs of tea) as the weather hadn't looked too promising and I was eager to get on the road. We were just thinking about looking for somewhere to stop when we passed a sign for Lix Toll. Now, Lix Toll rang a bell in David's head and he felt sure that someone we had spoken to on the trip had said something to us about the place. We were just trying to think what it was, when we rounded a corner to be faced by a Cuthbertson and a Forest Rover parked on the verge at the left hand side of the road. We remembered: Ian had mentioned this place to us when we stayed with him near Edinburgh on our way north a few days ago. Some people reading this won't know what Cuthbertsons or Forest Rovers are:
Cuthbertson used to make a factory approved conversion kit for Land-Rovers which fits them with catapiller tracks. Each road wheel is replaced with a triangular assembly of three wheels with a catapiller track passing around them. The Land-Rover itself ends up standing about 10 feet high, but it has go-anywhere ability albeit at a slow speed. The utility companies in Scotland would have bought Cuthbertson conversion kits as this would enable them to use the vehicles to access pylons or telegraphs poles out on remote boggy Scottish moorland.
A Forest Rover is an even rarer conversion, built by Land-Rover themselves. I don't know if it was ever sold, or how many were made, but there are just a few in existence. Most of the mechanicals are standard Land-Rover parts, but the axles are uprated and bodywork modified to accomodate the tractor wheels that the vehicle is fitted with. Yes, tractor wheels, about 5 feet diameter!
Anyway, there was an example of each of these two unusual vehicles pulled up on the verge outside a petrol station and garage. It was a kind of advert for the place. Niether vehicle looked like it had moved for quite a while, but we stopped, took lots of photographs and looked all over both vehicles.
Once we'd had our fill of anoraking, we decided that a garage forecourt was possibly not the most appealing place to eat our lunch, despite the Land-Rover attractions, so we got back on the road. We headed south along the side of Loch Lubnaig until we spotted a beatiful spot at the waters edge in the woods at the side of the Loch. We put the kettle on, ate sandwiches fruit and crisps, took photographs and planned our route to the Falkirk Wheel.
The previous day we had debated missing out our proposed visit to the Falkirk Wheel, as it was well off the most direct route between the two places where we proposed to stay. However, given that we had the time and that Huffo was behaving herself quite well, we decided to go to the wheel.
As we drove into Stirling, the beautiful countryside rapidly changed into dreary housing estates and unpleasant suburban sprawl. It was quite a contrast. We had expected the Falkirk Wheel to be well signposted, but it wasn't at all. It was only when we got very close that we found a few confusing and illogical signs that barely helped us to find our way into the car park.
We paid £2 to park Huffo, and then walked into the visitor centre. Unsuprisingly, the place was very busy. It was bright sunshine, and we weren't interested in actually taking a ride on the wheel, so we went straight out of the other side of the visitor centre to get a good view of the wheel and the marina in front of it.
Once again, for the benefit of any readers who don't know what the Falkirk Wheel is: There are two canals (not sure what their names are) that meet at Falkirk, but they are at significantly different levels (I guess by about 40 feet). Rather than putting in a whole stack of locks to get boats from one level to the other, some ingenious individual came up with the idea of a monster boat lift in the form of a wheel. There is a beam, fixed at its centre on a pivot. On each end of the beam is a big tub with sealing doors at each end. With the beam in the vertical position and the appropriate seals open, boats chug along the two canals, through the sealing doors (open) into the tubs at the top and bottom. Then the sealing doors are shut, the wheel turns 180 degrees, and the top boat is now at the bottom and vice versa. The seals are open, and out chug the boats. This is quite spectacular to watch!
We spent a couple of hours watching the wheel moving boats up and down between the two levels. We bought ice creams and took lots of photographs.
Eventually, the novelty wore off a little bit, and we realised we still had some mileage to cover, so we went back to Huffo and climbed in once more for some more arduous driving. We got a bit lost driving south out of Falkirk, as the road signs in general seem to be about as bad as the ones for the Wheel itself. We were keeping a half eye open for a shop where we could get some food to replenish the stocks that we had eaten over recent days.
As the surroundings weren't all that attractive, I found myself straight driving past shops that would probably sell what we wanted, in an effort to get back into the rural countryside. Before we knew it, we were back out in the sticks. I stopped to take a photograph which gave David a good opportunity to ring ahead and find out which campsites had space for us. It appeared that our first choices were fully booked - not entirely a suprise seeing as it was now the bank holiday weekend when lots of people would be off on their holidays. David managed to find a promising looking site which the proprietor assured us over the telephone had space. It was some distance away, and the proprietor warned us that there were no petrol stations on the roads approaching the site, so we had better top up before we got near.
We popped into the village of Moffat to buy petrol and a few provisions before retracing our tracks climbing back up the hill in a northerly direction out of the village to make our way to our chosen campsite.
We made good progress and were on the right road only about 15 miles from the camp site when we very suddenly came up to a road closure where a railway bridge over the road was being replaced. We both swore a little bit, because the obvious alternative road was a massive diversion which would add about 15 miles to our journey. I crept past the signs to see if there was any chance at all that we might be able to get through if we spoke nicely to the contractors working there - but there was no way we would fit, even if we could get permission to go through. Despite the 'rules' we had set ourselves for the trip about not using motorways, it was the only way we were going to get to where we wanted to before it went dark. We turned Huffo around and set off for the nearest motorway junction. The road we were driving along ran parallel with the motorway. We were zipping along at about 35mph when we passed a gateway that gave contractors access to the motorway hard shoulder. The gate was unlocked and open. It would have been wrong and illegal to have backed up and driven through the unlocked gate and joined the motorway there, thus saving ourselves two miles to the nearest motorway junction and then two miles back along the motorway to where we were, so we didn't do it. Ahem. (Nasty cough, excuse me!)
Anyway, we got to where we needed to be. The 14 miles down the A702 from junction 14 of the A74(M) to Thornhill were fantastic! It is a long and winding road, with no turnings off it and the whole lot is down hill. The campsite proprietor is absolutely correct that there are no petrol stations, but we could have coasted the whole way down with the engine turned off! It was a great road.
We pulled into the campsite in a little village called Penpont. It was a very quiet campsite, extremely cheap, and the lady who runs it was lovely. She advised that we could go into the nearby village of Thornton if we wanted an evening meal, so we did. We ended up at the Buccleuch and Queensberry Hotel in the village where we ate a really excellent meal - and eyed up the absolutely stunning local girls... ahem (that cough again)!
David volunteered to drive Huffo back to the campsite, so I was free to enjoy a couple of beers with my meal. It was the first time David had taken the wheel since the day of the breakdown in Brechin four days prior. I had been hogging the driving because I had been worrying about Huffo and all the noises, smells and vibrations she makes. I felt more comfortable when I was at her controls. Nevertheless, David drove Huffo competantly in the dark for the first time, and without any mishaps.
We decided that we could do with a break from covering large distances today. We had easily made up the 24hours we had previousy lost with the earlier breakdown, so spending a whole day relaxing and recovering from the exertions seemed like a good idea. Plus, there is a Lead Mining Museum not far from the campsite that we wanted to visit. We thought we would only be able to do the place justice if we spent a bit longer there.
We woke up a bit later than usual, cooked some breakfast and drank tea before climbing into Huffo to drive the 10 miles or so to the museum.
It was a very steep hill up to the museum. We knew the museum was at the highest village in Scotland at 1500 feet. At one point the signs said it was only 4 miles away (along the road), the GPS said it was only 2.5miles away (as the crow flies) and the GPS also reported we had over 1100 feet to climb! We did some mental maths as we drove the road and worked out the average incline must be about 1:30. It was much steeper than that in places.
When we got to the museum, we paid the entrance fee and started to look around. There was a guided tour just about to set off, so we joined that.
The first part of the tour took us about 120yards into the middle 'drift' (a horizontal mine shaft - also known as an 'adit'). Sandie, our guide explained in great detail and with a lot of enthusiasm about how the minors would have worked the mine in the 1750s and in later years.
Once we had seen the mine itself, another guide showed us the sorts of cottages the minors would have lived in.
We spent about 4 hours looking around the museum, which essentially consists of a number of discrete building scattered through the village. There are currently only about 60 people living in the village, but at its peak, the village would have been home to about 900 inhabitants.
In addition to mining lead, the stream running through the village was also used successfully for panning for gold. There is an opportunity to try panning for gold yourself at the museum, but we elected to just watch others trying it, as I suspected the only people who might be getting rich through gold panning were those who sold the licenses to do it!
I would thoroughly recommend anyone who's in the area to take the time to visit the Scottish Lead Mining Museum.
After visiting the museum and having a bite to eat in the museum cafe, we pointed Huffo back down the hill to the campsite. We got back to the campsite by early afternoon, and still had a couple of hours to spare, so we went for a wander. There was a river running along the campsite, which appeared to have footpaths along both sides. I decided to walk along the footpath on the nearside, see where I could cross over to the far side, walk back along the far side past the campsite until I could get back over to the nearside.
We set off in one direction along the river, and soon came across a bridge crossing to the far bank. We set off back, and soon passed our campsite on the 'wrong' bank. I had a suspicion that there was a narrow masonary bridge back over the river about a mile away, as we had driven Huffo over such a structure each time we had gone into the village. My suspicion proved to be wrong: It was over a completely different river! The walk turned out to be about 3 miles, about half of it along roads to get back to the campsite.
After our walk, David and I used Huffo to ride into town again, where we went to the same hotel as the night before for our evening meal. I am slightly restricted in what I can safely eat by my Gluten-Free diet, but I had really enjoyed the trout that I had had the night before, so I decided to be un-adventurous and have exactly the same again. It was just as delicious the second time.
Again, David drove Huffo back to the campsite.
A dull day, with not a great deal to report.
We realised as we were loading Huffo up that we had neglected to pay the bill in the hotel for our meal the night before, so our first stop was going to be there to settle up.
Whilst I nipped into the hotel to pay the bill, David rang ahead to see what campsites had vacancies. We were concerned that with it being the Easter Bank Holiday weekend we might struggle to find anywhere we could get in. And we were right!
There didn't seem to be any campsites in the Lake District that could fit us in. After considering lots of alternatives, we decided that we would press on a bit further south and miss out our planned stops in the Lake District altogether. It was bound to be very busy around The Lakes, and the nearest appealing campsites that we could find space at that were on our route were a long way south.
We drove about 100 miles on boring A roads, with not a great deal to report, apart from the occassional nice view, before pulling into the seaside town of Bolton Le Sands where the campsite we planned to stay at was. We had covered the ground much quicker than we had expected.
We looked at the map, the clock, and the crowded windswept campsite and decided to press on a little further south. Hunting through the Camping and Caravan club guide book we spotted a camp site that appealed, and rang them to check they had vacancies. They had, and were only about an hour and a half away, so we set off at a casual pace.
When we arrived, we found that the campsite that we had chosen is on a tiny smallholding immediately adjacent to the M6. Bert, the proprieter welcomed us, warned us not to drive on the grass lest we got stuck, and advised that his wife would show us where to pitch our tents. There is only room for up to 5 pitches. Apart from the noise of the motorway traffic, which one quickly gets used to, the site was very pleasant, and ironically seemed quiet as there was so little apparently happening around us.
We chatted to Bert's wife, who asked if I ever showed Huffo (straight away I decided I liked her!) and then told us about her husband 'chuffing around with old tractors'. 'Chuffing' appears to be the local vernacular meaning the same as tinkering. Having set up tents and drunk the obligitory mugs of tea, we sat around and made plans for the next few days until it was time for the evening meal.
Bert's wife told us that there were numerous pubs and restaurants (including Chinese, Indian, fish and chips) in the village (Adlington), which was only a five minute walk across the edge of a field. We locked up Huffo and set off on foot. There were only a dozen or so shops in the village, but there were a number of pubs and restaurants. We didn't fancy Chinese or Indian food that night, and we wanted something a bit more formal and substantial than fish and chips, so we started to check out the pubs. They all had signs saying "Good Food" and the like, but none were displaying any menus. We chose one purely on the external appearance and went in. It was busy, but when we asked the bar man about food he said "not tonight". When we asked if he could tell us of anywhere that was doing food, he said that none of the other pubs in the town would be, but there was a 'very nice' place about a mile and a half along the road. We didn't want to walk back and fetch Huffo, so we set off down the road on foot.
I had a few phonecalls to make, so I walked along with my mobile phone clamped to my ear. It didn't take too long to find the restaurant, although by the time we reached it we were sufficiently hungry that virtually anything would have been acceptable!
The place was a restaurant called the Millstone. The food was pricey, but after eating a delicious meal (including starters and puddings) we agreed that it had been worth letting the moths out of the darker recesses of our wallets for. My starter in particular, grilled squid, was superb.
The walk back from the pub to the campsite seemed quick and easy - no doubt helped by the proverbial 'beer coat' and 'beer scooter'.
When we got back to the campsite, the noise from the motorway had died down considerably (although without a beer or three inside me I might have found it more intrusive). I took advantage of the dark and the adjacent bridge over the motorway to take some long exposure time lapse photographs of the red and white car lights whizzing underneath.
In the morning, I had a bit of an lie in. By the time I had woken up and crawled out of my tent it was after 9am.
The plan for today was to meet up with a couple of friends along our proposed route and possibly call in on a couple of points of interest. We hoped to make it as far south as Hereford, or possibly across near Stratford Upon Avon.
Despite my lie in, I still had time for a vast bowl of Gluten-Free Porridge and a couple of mugs of tea.
Our first stop was to be at the house of the World Famous Land-Rover journalist, Frank Elson. We drove for about an hour, getting thoroughly lost on the way, to eventually find ourselves outside Frank's house. I had arranged with Frank that we would arrive at 11am, and when I looked at the time as we pulled up it was spot on 11am. We had made good time despite getting lost.
We spent two hours with Frank, meeting his wife Marjory and seemingly most of his family who had all been to stay for the Easter weekend. The time flew by as we chatted about all things Land-Rover, and all too soon I realised it was time we got back on the road. Frank came out to see Huffo, then he and Marjory wished us a safe journey, and we set off.
Driving south from Frank's house, there is little choice other than to drive through the metropolis that is Manchester and Salford. Quite frankly, horrid. I was getting more and more stressed out by the dreadful and inconsiderate driving, and I felt that David was getting frustrated at my impatience.
The Swing Aqueduct at Barton was only a couple of miles from our route, so I persuaded David without too much effort to let me divert off course and follow the GPS as it guided us in the correct general direction. Eventually we found the right place, but not until I had got to the stage of muttering abuse at most of the other drivers we came across.
To be honest, the Swing Aqueduct was a little disappointing, as there were no signs for it, no information boards, and the whole thing looked somewhat derelict and unloved. The heaps of litter on the waste ground all around didn't help. Nevertheless, I took some photographs, and then we got back into Huffo to carry on our journey south.
As we were almost emerging from the far side of Salford, I was in the right hand lane of two lanes of traffic at traffic lights. You could go straight ahead from either lane, or turn left or right from the left or right hand lane respectively. The lights turned green, and only then did the car in front of me stick on his right hand indicator. He barely pulled across to the centre of the road, so to get past him I needed to move a couple of feet over to the left, so I put on my left indicator. There is a huge blind spot behind and to the left of Huffo, as she has no windows in her hard top, and there is no wing/door mirror on that side. Throughout the trip, David had been great at advising if there were any vehicles lurking in that blind spot. The car behind me realised he was also going to have to move over to the left, and so he put on his left indicator. As the left lane cleared, the car behind me quickly started to move over and flashed his lights for me to go ahead of him. I put my foot down to go and David screamed something. I didn't hear what he shouted, but by some miracle I didn't hit the car that had crept up the inside of me.
David turned to me with a face like thunder; I meekly said "I didn't hit him!", but inside I was feeling dreadful. David started to have a go at me: he was clearly shaken up. Admittedly, my driving had been getting more eratic as I got frustrated by the traffic, but I was quietly seething that David was making such a fuss about the near miss - after all, although it had been close it had worked out okay. I didn't say another word, but quietly started to sulk, and after a moment David was quiet too.
We drove on in stoney silence (well, I mean that we didn't talk: there's never such a thing as silence in a Series 1!) apart from occassional terse directions. After about 5 minutes, we had both calmed down a bit, and we started to talk again, tentatively at first.
For a number of years I have been in email communication with various Land-Rover enthusiasts, but a great many of them I haven't ever met. This trip around the country was a great opportunity to put a face to the name, and to even swap some Land-Rover parts with some of them. One such person I wanted to meet was Kevin B, who lives near Stoke-On-Trent.
We were cruising out of the built up areas south of Salford and it was getting more rural. We looked out for a lay-by to ring Kevin to arrange to meet him. We soon spotted a suitable parking place, and pulled up. I rang Kevin, and made arrangements to meet him in about an hours time at a junction on the way to Shrewsbury.
Out in the countryside, the driving was more fluid with less stops and starts than in suburbia, and I started to enjoy it again. As with most people I think, I am pretty sure my driving is better when I am enjoying myself.
We arrived at the agreed meeting point at exactly the right time, and Kevin arrived a couple of minutes later. Despite agreeing to come on this little adventure in Huffo, David isn't really very enthusiastic about old leaf-sprung Land-Rovers, unlike Kevin and I. Kevin and I really got talking, and Kevin looked all over Huffo. Despite it drizzling with rain, we had the bonnet up, doors and back open and played with all the bits and bobs. Meanwhile, David patiently rang campsites to arrange somewhere to stay that evening.
Finally, I realised the time, and not wanting to be setting up camp in the dark, I made my excuses to Kevin. David had found a campsite near Hereford, which was about 40 miles away.
The roads were fast, but the rain had really set in. Driving into a headwind, the windscreen wipers were really taking a buffeting. The driver's side windscreen wiper started to make a nasty screech and a graunching noise as it reached the end of its sweep in either direction. I switched the wiper off, and tried driving without it for a while: impractical. Fortunately, there is a little lever on the back of each wiper motor, right in front of the driver and passenger so that you can operate the wipers by hand if you wish. This lever is also useful for parking the wipers. To try to reduce the risk of the driver's side wiper motor breaking down and necessatating swapping it for the passenger side one, I opted to manually operate the wiper for a quick wipe now and then when needed. The motor was fine when we drove at slow speed, by whenever we went faster than about 35mph, it would graunch and squeek.
I watched the mileage decreasing on the screen of the GPS as we got closer and closer to the campsite. It seemed to take ages, especially as I was conscious that the transmission seemed to be getting noisy once again. I quietly promised Huffo that I'd give her gearbox and diffs some EP90 if she just carried us to the campsite without incident.
At about 6pm, we arrived at the chosen campsite at Morton On Lugg, near Hereford. My initial reaction was that the place appeared to be like "The Darling Buds of May" on the television. There were geese and chickens, games rooms, pony rides, tractor rides and every other form of entertainment children could possibly want. It was a slightly bucolic version of Butlins! Absolutely great if you are camping with children, and fine for us for one night.
The owner of the campsite (not David Jason, much to my disappointment) recommended the pub that was virtually straight over the road from the campsite. We walked across the road to the pub, only to be dismally disappointed as it was the chef's night off. The landlord recommended the "The Bell Inn" at Tillington and gave us directions. It was about 3 miles, so too far to walk. Huffo was going to get another drive. We got a bit lost in the back roads trying to find the pub, but eventually tracked it down.
David and I were both tired, so didn't order anything too exotic from the menu but instead simple sustaining food. The food was adequate, certainly not the greatest we had eaten in the past week or so, but nor was it the worst and it was reasonable priced.
Once again, David wasn't drinking, so he volunteered to drive Huffo back to the campsite. We got even more lost on the way back, but despite this our diversion didn't take too long.
Once again, I had a bit of a lie in. The ground was dry and the skies clear when I woke up, so I scrambled under Huffo to check all her fluids were at the correct levels. I greased everything that needed grease and had a quick look around to check that nothing was working loose or broken. She took a couple of litres of engine oil, but nothing untoward.
We were about ready to set off, and the campsite owner was giving pony and trap rides to the children. I was too slow with my camera to get a picture though.
Despite our own "no-motorways" rule, we decided to drive south over the original Severn bridge, because it would be more interesting than going up to Gloucester and then bypassing around Bristol. It didn't take us very long on A roads to find our way from the campsite down to the bridge.
As we came off the far side of the bridge, I pulled into the "Severn View" services, hoping to get a good picture of Huffo with the bridge in the background. This wasn't to be, as the only car park where I might have got such a backdrop was blocked with a barrier which would only lift for patrons of the hotel. I settled for a picture of the bridge without Huffo in.
As we got back on the road, David suggested that we could go and see the Clifton Suspension bridge as it was on our route. This seemed to me like a great plan. It didn't take us long to find the bridge and then the road that led up to it. We parked up, and I got really carried away snapping shots of the bridge, some with Huffo in, and even a few without(!). We walked onto the bridge and took photographs up and down the river valley.
After seeing the Clifton suspension bridge, we motored on into Bridgwater. There was nothing really to report about Bridgwater, but I was glad to turn off the main roads and start winding my way down the more interesting A39. This is a road I already know reasonably well as I have friends who I sometimes visit in this part of the world.
As we were driving near Bristol airport, I became conscious that Huffo was mis-behaving, with bad hesitation on acceleration and occassionally backfiring slightly as we went down the steep hills. I spotted a vacant garage forecourt and pulled off the road to investigate. I suspected the points gap had started to close up, as I had experienced similar symptoms when Huffo had done this before. I was suprised and slightly disappointed to find that this wasn't the case - if anything the points gap was a bit too wide. I adjusted the points gap fractionally tighter and we plodded on again.
One of the places that a friend had recommended visiting if we got the chance was the Bakelite Museum at Williton. It was barely off our proposed route and we had a couple of hours in hand so we decided to drop in. I'm glad we did, because it was great. The museum curator is Patrick Cook, who has been collecting Bakelite and other plastic ephermia since the 1960s. Depending on your outlook on life, the stuff he has accumulated is either utter rubbish, or a fascinating insite into the past. The exhibits are laid out in a neat ordered fashion all labelled up, but are mostly laid out on tables or the floor with the occassional note or operators manual scattered about to explain what you are looking at. There is so much there to browse through, with a few absolute gems hidden away amoungst all the bits and pieces. I couldn't help but laugh out loud when I found a genuine bakelite coffin (apparently they never caught on because the smell was appauling when a body was cremated in one!).
After browsing around the museum and drinking a pot of tea in the shop, we hit the road once more. Our planned destination was a campsite near Lynton. The route would take in the extremely challenging and twisty hill up out of Porlock, which used to be a test hill for old cars. We got up that in second gear without any serious bother, although I don't think the cars following us really appreciated what hard work it was for my old vehicle!
We hurtled down the hill into Lynmouth with the engine screaming. Popping and banging coming from the exhaust as we flew into the village in second gear under engine braking.
The climb back up out of the village was just as exciting. I'm sure the hill is steeper than that at Porlock, but just not as long. I very nearly had to select first gear at one point - which would have been interesting as there is no synchromesh on first or second gear and double-declutching into first gear on a steep hill is a difficult art!
By the time we arrived at the campsite at Lynton, there was serious heat pouring up through the floor boards and footwells. Huffo's poor little engine and gearbox had really worked hard.
On arriving at the campsite, the owner told us that he was having a day off, and therefore we should pitch our tents and then go back to him in the morning to book in. There was a folder in reception which listed details of local places to eat, from which we selected the nearest place, which was just back up the road in Barbrook.
When we found the pub in Barbrook, there were three Series Land-Rovers parked to the side of the pub. We quickly found out that it was the hotelier who was into old Land-Rovers, as he commented on Huffo as we walked up to the bar. We only conversed about the marque briefly though, as the hotelier had other business to attend to.
There was a campsite immediately adjacent to the pub. We cursed having chosen the campsite we had pitched at, as the adjacent campsite would have avoided the minor inconvenience of having to drive after going to the pub.
After a delicious evening meal (I enjoyed sea-food yet again), we drove back to our camp for a slightly breezy night.
I woke up in the morning to find it drizzling with rain. I stood underneath the nice warm showers inside the toilet block for quite a long time hoping that the nasty cold showers outside might stop. No such luck. Made a couple of cups of tea for David and myself and packed down the wet tents.
I wanted to cover most of the distance to Land's End today, so that we could have an easy journey to the south west tip of Great Britain in the morning and meet up at 12 noon with my friend Ed as had been tentatively arranged some weeks before.
The rain didn't let up, and the drivers side windscreen wiper was still making nasty graunching noises whenever the wind caught the wiper blade making the elderly motor work a little bit harder. When the wind was at its strongest I kept the wiper switched off and just manually flicked the wiper back and forth every so often to ensure I had a barely acceptable view forwards.
With the weather being miserable, we just pressed on determindly down the A39 putting off stopping for a break until the weather improved a little.
At about 1pm we arrived in Newquay, with the weather finally sunny. Despite the nice weather, we were still reluctant to stop as Newquay is a fairly typical sea front holiday town with gaudy arcades and shops selling tourist tat. Just driving through towns like that reminds me that there's a world of difference between my ideal holiday and that of a fair proportion of the rest of the population.
Huffo was getting thirsty (ie. we needed to fill up with petrol!), so despite my reservations about the place I drove through the centre of Newquay in the hopes of finding some fuel. We emerged from the other side of the town unscathed, but unsuccessful in our search for fuel.
With the fuel gauge needle pointing resolutely at 'E' we turned back onto the Newquay bypass to see if there was a garage there. There was! A Texaco, and one at which the price of the fuel didn't require me to sell my house first! I filled the tank to the brim; it took 43 litres, which meant I had been down to my last couple of litres - that might have carried me 10 miles on a good day. I always carry a can with some extra fuel in, but I feel it reflects poor planning if I have to resort to using that.
We set off along the coast road to try to find somewhere else to stop for a bite to eat. We hoped to find a pleasant quiet village with a scenic view and a bit of shelter from the wind. We were lucky to find almost exactly what we wanted at the town of Perranporth. We found a convenient parking spot on the cliffs overlooking the beach and put the kettle on. Whilst sipping on tea and munching a sandwich David rang some campsites and I took loads of photos of Huffo. I think the people sat in their Euroboxes admiring the view thought I was completely barmy to be taking pictures of my car but I didn't care, because I know I'm only slightly barmy, not completely.
David found a campsite near the village of Hayle, only 20 miles or so from Land's End, so we set off again. A journey in any bouncy old Land-Rover like Huffo after inbibing tea inevitably meant that we needed to find a public toilet. Those in Perranporth were shut, so we were pleased to find that those at St Agnes, which is the next village along the coast were open. We didn't stop for longer than absolutely necessary, and by 3pm we were booking into the campsite.
The next few hours were filled with a short walk over the adjacent dunes, and then I switched on my laptop to catch up my emails. I had managed to resist the temptation up until this point in the holiday, but the convenience of living in the 21st century caught up with me.
At about 6pm David and I set off on the 15 minute walk to the pub to get our evening meal. The walk took us past fields which the farmer had been muck spreading on, so we held our noses and hurried past! The pub turned out to be run by an extremely enthusiastic young couple. As the evening wore on, we discovered we were lucky to be able to eat there, as it got very busy later on. Most people who wished to eat in had booked well in advance. Once again I enjoyed a few beers with my meal, which made the walk back to the campsite seem very short.
Today we only had a 20 mile drive to Land's End. We had arranged to meet with my friends Ed and Caroline at noon at Land's End. They were going to take photographs of Huffo as we drove her across the finishing line. The planned 12 noon meeting gave us plenty of time to pack up the tents (wet, yet again) and casually drive to Land's End. We planned to visit the Levant Steam Engines at Pendeen before driving to Land's End.
The drive from the campsite to the Levant Steam Engines was uneventful, however I could feel the excitement building inside me as we neared Land's End and the successful completion of the trip.
The Levant steam engines at St Just were used from the 1840s to the 1930s to power the pumps that kept the tin mines dry. The National Trust now own the site and upon payment of a fee allow one to go into the mines. As the museum wasn't due to open for another hour, we made do with simply climbing about on the derelict remains of the old tin mine buildings, and then taking photographs of the sea from the cliff tops.
At about 10:30, we had seen everthing that there was to see without paying for museum entry, and in any case the museum was still not due to open so we wondered back to Huffo. I was wondering how we were going to fill the hour or so before we were due to meet at Land's End, and contemplating finding a cafe when the phone went: It was Ed. They were about ready to go to Land's End too, so we brought forward the meeting time and agreed we'd set off there right away. If we dawdled a bit, then Ed and Caroline should get there ahead of us.
We got stuck behind a German tourist bus, and then a tractor, but I didn't mind at all as I didn't really want to get to Land's End ahead of our welcoming party.
At about 11am, we pulled up to the pay kiosk for the car park at Land's End. I handed over the £3 car parking fee and drove past the barrier. Ed had the camera poised, and Caroline was waving frantically, so whilst tooting the horn triumphantly I drove into the Land's End hotel car park. The car park had a loose gravel surface, so I couldn't resist doing a gentle low speed donut in the wide open space. I parked up, greeted Ed and Caroline and introduced David. We chattered and wandered around for a few minutes before we realised that we needed to take pictures of Huffo actually crossing the finishing line which is painted on the road immediately infront of the hotel. I carefully positioned Huffo, and then we all took pictures. None of the other tourists or staff at Land's End batted an eyelid as we celebrated our acheivement.
Needless to say, that evening vast quantities of beer were consumed to celebrate successfully completing the trip.
The following day, I drove Huffo down to Lizard Point, which is the southernmost point on the British mainland. I could then say that Huffo had been as far North, South, East and West as it is possible to drive her on the British mainland.
Although I still had to drive a further 200 miles to get Huffo home, if Huffo let us down now and had to be recovered home, it would be a shame, but it wouldn't detract from the fact that we had been able to accomplish the main aim of the trip: to drive from John O'Groats to Land's End.
Following the excellent example of the Oxford and Cambridge Universities "Far Eastern Expedition" from England to Singapore underaken in Land-Rovers similar to Huffo back when Huffo was new and recorded in the book "First Overland", I won't be writing up the story of our journey back home. Suffice to say that we completed the journey home without incident, whereupon I set about the list of necessary repairs to Huffo, starting with some new wheel bearing oil seals and new brake shoes.
I am proud of my achievement of driving my 50 year old Land-Rover 2334 miles (or 2181 miles according to the GPS) around Great Britain over a two week period, but I have also gained an even greater, almost reverential, respect for my 50 year old Huffo.