2 Jul 2019

Land's End to John O'Groats In One Day In Three Epic Cars

I had been driving for three days non-stop and had covered 1500 miles. On that third day I had left the northern coast of Scotland at 9.30am. I only crossed back in to England at Gretna at 5.30pm. I was completely worn out but still had three hours driving that day, and four more hours the next day...

Scotland is huge. Far larger than you imagine. I've visited it many times and you can get really lost in the place. You do see other people but not very often. Unlike most of England northern Scotland is not flat. In fact it undulates quite a lot.

The result of this is that the roads are half empty and twist and turn with the scenery. And because Scotland is an exposed, windswept place and wasn't part of the UK when the Inclosure Acts were in place farmers weren't forced to create small fields with high hedges around the outside.

And this means you can see where you're going. Which means that driving round Scotland for fun is a really enjoyable experience. If that's your kind of thing.

I don't need much of an excuse to head to Scotland for a drive. And neither does Hannah, a friend who would visit regularly in her Porsche, and then decided she would actually move there earlier this year. So she sold her house in the Home Counties and bought a converted church in Moray.

We had both previously driven from John O'Groats to Land's End in one day and thought it would be a good idea to do the trip again, but the 'proper' way round and in the summer. And this time we would do it in convoy.

So we set a date - the last weekend in June - and asked if anyone else would like to do the trip with us. One person answered the call. A chap called Pete, from Hull.

Hannah organised the accommodation and I organised the route (it wasn't hard, there really only is one way to do it) and we drove down to Cornwall. We met Pete and headed to the excellent Old Success Inn in Sennen Cove for dinner and a pint. We all gelled and discussed the day ahead.

I suggested we start at exactly sunrise - 5.16am - and attempt to get to John O'Groats before sunset at 10.24pm. We all agreed. With an early start ahead of us we headed for an early night.

Land's End

Through thick fog the three of us met at the Land's End visitor centre. We took a photo at the famous sign post and drove the cars around to the front of the centre, under the big sign, for photos and the start.

All three of us are petrolheads and our cars reflected this. Hannah drives a Porsche Cayman GT4, Pete a BMW M2 and me a Golf GTI. My GTI is a 2013 model with 230hp and a limited slip differential. The other two have a lot more power and are rear wheel drive!

I've owned the Golf since March and have really grown to like it. The LSD makes a huge difference and the power feels plenty for a front wheel drive car. The dealer who sold it me fitted it with brand new tyres which is great but they are a cheap Chinese brand which are not great. They're fine in the dry but in the wet are about as effective as Diane Abbot in a maths exam.

At 5.16am precisely we started. We were all absolutely buzzing. Despite the fog visibility was reasonable and we enjoyed careening round the Cornish lanes. Within a couple of hundred yards you are on the A30 but at this point it is a single lane and very twisty. I led and drove as fast as felt safe.

After the rush of the lanes we arrived in Penzance. At this early time the roads were almost deserted and we made good progress. I was in the lead and was taking the racing line where possible - white line to white line, cross the middle line where visibility allowed - to keep efficiency up.

We passed urban areas of Cambourne and Redruth where the A30 is more dual carriageway than motorway with roundabout after roundabout. 

That this trip was a convoy meant I had others to keep an eye on but it was apparent after a very short amount of time that Pete and Hannah were expert drivers. We were flowing well. We all indicated when necessary, kept appropriate distance without lagging too far behind and had good lane discipline. 

I had created a 22 hour, 291 song playlist and as we hit the open countryside - hardly visible in the fog - Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones was playing at max volume. My eyes were on stalks, checking for any hazard. 

Hannah was running in the middle of the pack and her GT4 looked epic in the mirror.

We had been messaging each other before the trip on WhatsApp and I thought I'd see if we could use the app to make a three way call. It worked and we chatted away about the roads, how happy we were to be finally underway after talking about the trip for months and about when we'd need to stop. 

None of us had set off with a full tank of fuel. From full my Golf will has a range of 400 miles on a good run but the Porsche and BMW would only manage 300 miles, and probably less at a decent pace.

As we passed through Cornwall and into Devon the fog lifted and we were greeted by fantastic views and open roads. We decided to by pass Exeter services, which are bloody awful and very expensive, and stop at the next.

Which turned out to be Cullompton. We fuelled up, bought food and drinks and left again at 7.20am.

I have never in my life travelled the length of the M5 and M6 without being stuck in traffic at least once but the next few hours were a dream. We saw other cars but the roads weren't busy. Amazingly the other driver's lane discipline wasn't too bad either.

We continued driving in tight formation, taking it in turns to lead, to be in the middle and to hang at the rear. Both the M2 and GT4 looked great in my mirrors and through the windscreen.

I was still on a high. Energy levels right up there. The road beneath my wheels was rendered smooth by the Golf's chassis. Music pumping. Big smile. Moving high and moving fast. Machines clean, so sweet and mean.

The sun was out and parts of Europe were enjoying the hottest day on record. England was warm but not scorching. I sat low in the seat, enjoying the buzz. Sunglasses. In the zone. Keep us on the road.

We chatted some more. Hannah and I knew each other only through social media before the trip. We'd spoken and messaged but only met once, at the Sunday Scramble at Bicester. Neither of us had met Pete in real life before the trip.

So we talked and talked. About our jobs and cars and life. Pleasant and enjoyable. Good company and good cars.

Charnock Richard

It was 11.15am and we had travelled 371 miles. The cars needed fuelling and we all needed a stretch and a refresh. We parked up and rolled out of our cars - Pete and I almost literally. Hannah, who's car was the most extreme of the three with bucket seats and harness seat belts was much more limber.

We swapped stories of what we'd seen and how we were doing and how we were all amazed at how little traffic we'd encountered.

It was good to walk around awhile. I bought a sandwich and we were robbed blind at the petrol station (£1.49 a litre!)

And then after just a short stop we were off again.

And after a few minutes we stopped. There was a crash on the M6. Arse. Hannah and I were using a satnav app called Waze which didn't suggest any alternative but to sit in the traffic but Pete was using his BMW's satnav and it reckoned we could save twenty minutes by turning off, so we did.

We followed a few local roads and then were stuck in urban dual carriageway hell. It took fifteen minutes to get out of a particularly busy junction, along with half the M6.

But then we found a quieter route and trundled through a place called Bamber Bridge which had some fairly interesting shop names. We all giggled at the Exotic Sunbed Lounge, guffawed at the Pump and Truncheon pub and laughed at the Blonde on Top - a hairdressers.

After a queue to get back on the M6 we were finally back on our route and up to speed.

Lancashire turned to Cumbria turned to the beautiful Lake District. And then we were in Scotland. The scenery didn't change dramatically. The motorway is a thin ribbon of tarmac cutting through massive, open, rolling scenery. Green from plenty of rain and just enough sunshine.

Happily the sun was out for us. The weather had been kind. After the fog burned off in the early morning we had only seen sunshine. But as we stopped again in Hamilton there were warnings of rain ahead.

It was 2.30pm and again the cars needed fuel and the drivers needed a break. We had covered 551 miles and were all beginning to feel a little weary.

We had continued to talk during the trip and all of us felt like it was the evening, even though it was early afternoon. It was almost a surprise that it wasn't. It was a kind of jet lag caused by a very early morning and nine hours on the road.

We got going again. Almost 300 miles to go but miles covered on Scottish roads. Our blistering pace would be slowed a great deal. Our sat navs said we would be at John O'Groats by 8.10pm - almost six hours away.

It is around Stirling that the motorway finally ends. It peters out from three to two lanes and the blue signs stop and the green ones start.

And then you are on the A9 and in average speed camera hell. The scenery is great and the road quite lovely but the average cameras castrate what could be a good drive. Drivers on the A9 don't think. They just comply. Cruise control set to 60 or 70 depending on whether it's single or dual carriageway and drone on and on and on.

Finally after two hours of this rubbish we were free. We passed through Inverness and our pace picked up.

Our energy levels picked up too. I had listened to an audiobook through the speed cameras but that was turned off and huge slabs of Metallica pumped through my speakers as Pete took the lead and I gamely followed, Hannah's Cayman in my mirrors.

The weariness and aching bones were gone and we developed a second wind, invigorated by the scenery, the roads and the Scottish air. We passed through a town and saw several people wearing kilts and tam o'shanters. Hannah and I argued on the phone whether a chap we had seen was a full ginger or a strawberry blonde.

The M2 and Cayman GT4 sounded awesome. I could hear both of them under acceleration. Throaty, growling roars. They also handled better than my Golf. They cornered flat and true whilst I had to be creative with the width of the road and aware of my grip levels.

The road became more winding and challenging. These were the drivers roads we had been seeking, We stopped for a break and photo op on the Dornoch Firth Bridge and that would be the last time we would stop. It was 6.30pm and we still had almost two hours to go.

The rain which had been threatening decided to set in. Sometimes drizzle, sometimes heavy. It affected our visibility and our grip levels. Hannah's rear slid a little and my front end slid a lot as I powered out of a corner and the tyres lost grip.

Teeth were gritted and eyes were on stalks. The drive was good and the cars looked, felt and sounded amazing. I don't think we could have picked three better cars for the job.

As the miles counted down so did the anticipation. We drove fast and we drove well. Everyone within their comfort zones. Everyone enjoying themselves.

John O'Groats

After a particularly intense final half hour we were finally there. John O'Groats. We parked up right next to the sign and hugged and high fived and jumped around. We took photos and savoured the moment.

And then it was over. We had driven 842 miles and we had arrived at 8.08pm, more than two hours before sunset.

We three had essentially been strangers before we started but we had bonded during our trip and after we dumped our stuff and met in the local pub for pints (and wine) and dinner we felt a mutual sense of satisfaction. That we had done something adventurous and extraordinary.

The next day we set off to our various homes. We met for coffee in Perth, hugged again and went our separate ways.

I decided to add an hour or so to my journey and avoided the dreadful A9 and took the incredible Old Military Road through Braemar where my car received a damn good thrashing and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I drove the entire day and arrived at my brother's house in Cheshire at 8pm.

As I said at the start Scotland is huge.

When I finally arrived home on the Monday I had covered 1655 miles, been in the driving seat for 30 hours 17 minutes and averaged 34mpg. And made two good friends.

By Matt Hubbard