My 987 mile UK road trip
This wasn’t intended to be a blog but to be honest, I really enjoyed the trip in the Jason Shankey Mini (a Mini adventure if you like) as I took in the challenges normally reserved for long distance lorry drivers.
My plan was to meet all of my new House of Fraser retailers who are stocking our male grooming product range, and it was going to be difficult. They’re spread out between Edinburgh in the north, down to Bristol in the south. I could have spent ages getting lots of flights and hiring cars, but the thought of spending hours in airports just didn’t do it for me. The alternative was to take my car from Belfast (in Northern Ireland) across on the ferry to Scotland and drive the trip myself. Always up for a challenge, I quite enjoy doing things in different ways, so I planned all the meetings, booked the ferry and some accommodation and off I went.
It was a 6 O’Clock start on a beautiful February morning to catch the 7:30 sailing to Stranraer. I had filled up with petrol and washer fluid the day before so I could get a good start. One of my customers works at the port check-in and gave me a ticket for priority boarding and disembarkation which was a nice touch. The sailing was smooth but took around 3 hours (I think they only run the fast, 2 hour ship in the summer months) and I had breakfast on board. Not the best food, but there’s nowhere really else to go.
When I arrived in Scotland, I was looking forward to getting off the ship first so I would avoid the lorries and car traffic taking the A75 to Carlisle, but the driver of the car in front of me must have fallen asleep on the ferry. He emerged, bleary eyed, just as everyone else had left so I ended up at the back of the traffic jam.
I was relying on my trusty navigator, Garmin, to take me to my first destination, Darlington, in the north of England. I hadn’t brought a map so Garmin was my only source of info for the route.
Lesson one: Don’t always trust technology. At around 5 miles from Stranraer, Garmin decided to take me left, off the A75 and onto another ‘A’ road. I thought this was strange because the A75 was, as far as I could remember, the direct route to the England/Scotland border, so I pulled over and zoomed out Garmin’s map; But it seemed to be programmed correctly, taking me on a direct route to Darlington.
So this apparent ‘A’ road was Scotland’s answer to the Circuit of Ireland rally. It was a mountain pass which went through a forest and the road surface was old and broken, most closely resembling a cross between gravel and a forest floor. Since the ETA was clocking up on Garmin, I realised I’d have to put the boot down to get to my meeting on time and ended up hammering along this road in the spirit of Colin McRae, aiming for a good stage time but what I didn’t know was that this mountain was also a training ground for RAF jet fighters. At one point, I flew over the crest of a hill, mostly sideways, with a car coming at me from the other direction, and an RAF Tornado flying right at me. I thought I was in a Bourne movie and slowed down a bit. I could make up time on the motorways where it was a lot safer.
It took about an hour to reach the end of this road, and guess where it took me? Yes, back onto the A75. Garmin must have had a change of mind and was perhaps jolted back to reality by our off-road adventure.
It didn’t take long to reach Darlington after that, perhaps a couple of hours, where I was to have my first meeting at 2PM. I couldn’t find House of Fraser at first and resorted to Google on my Blackberry, followed by the built-in SatNav, to get me to the front door. It’s actually called Binns in Darlington and I can only presume that Binns was a former department store which was taken over by House of Fraser.
I met the skincare sales manager Heather and we developed some great ideas to launch the product to the men of the North East. An hour later, I was back in the Mini, off to my next stop, Bristol.
Now, you’re probably thinking I’m a bit crazy driving all that way (I think it was about 6 hours), but I like a challenge and I was staying at my mate’s house who I hadn’t seen since August, so I was looking forward to a catch-up before our ski and boarding trip in April.
The drive was fine until I got to Birmingham where, for some unknown reason, I get stuck in a traffic jam, stationary for an hour. It was incredibly boring and wasteful of time, but once I got through it, it was a straight run down to Bristol. Garmin said I’d be there for 9:50PM and he was finally right!
However, I did experience some of the odd things that happen when you drive when you’re tired, and it may also have been something to do with the Costa caffeine overdose as well. The motorways around Bristol have chevrons and big signs that say ‘Keep 2 chevrons apart’, but at one point, I thought I was heading for speed bumps at around 70 mph. Not a pleasant experience! I can see now why they advise you to take good breaks during the journey.
It was good to catch up with Glenn. He’s been my skiing partner for around 7 years and his rock band, Doubting Kim, was playing the largest venue in Bristol the following night. We restrung his guitars and got them tuned up for the Wednesday night.
After a few beers and a good night’s sleep it was off to Cabot Circus the next morning, Bristol’s premier shopping destination, for my next House of Fraser meeting. I was given a tour of their spa whilst I waited for my meeting with their Apothecary sales staff. After a great meeting and some more ideas, it was off to Birmingham to meet staff there.
I got on to the M4 (or was it the M5, not sure) and set the cruise control to 70mph. It didn’t seem to take long to get there, but after the journey I’d had the night before, I wasn’t surprised.
Birmingham is big, with lots of roads going all over the place. I was glad Garmin was with me although he didn’t quite find the House of Fraser store. We ended up in the Albert Street car park, a few blocks away from the store and my Blackberry again took over, taking me right to the front door. I was half an hour early so headed up to the restaurant to fuel up before the drive to Edinburgh.
I had such a laugh with the staff there, I didn’t want to leave. Alison, Sue and Jane are like a comedy trio and once we’d tied down some opening promotions, it was back to Albert Street. As long as I remembered the square in East Enders, I would find the car.
£9.80 was an extortionate price for a couple of hours there but at least I got to see that building with the silver buttons all over it. It was just up the street.
The car was really dirty by this stage and if I didn’t get it washed, I thought I might not be able to see out the windows and mirrors for the next stage of the journey. I popped into to a hand car wash which was only £3, cheaper than Belfast. At least our logo was now on display as I drove through the city.
So, it was off to Edinburgh. Initially the weather was in my favour. There were blue skies and few clouds but it was starting to get dark. After another hour stuck in Birmingham traffic, I started moving towards Scotland’s second city (is that offensive?).
The six hour drive descended into a bit of a nightmare with heavy rain starting around Manchester and continuing right up to Edinburgh. Passing 40 footers at 70 mph in pitch black with spray like water cannons and huge potholes in the road, is quite a scary moment, especially when it happens around 150 times on the motorway. But the trusty wee Mini kept it’s composure and accelerated past them with ease. The Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works is a real flyer!
By the end of the drive, all I could think of was a cold beer. It had been quite a challenging run, but I couldn’t find an off license in Edinburgh. Finally, I found a Tesco Express store and had a look for some Guinness. The aisle was closed and the assistant told me they couldn’t sell alcohol after 10PM. Gutted, I headed to the small Hotel where I was staying. Whilst it is a beautiful hotel, it is family run and probably isn’t very busy during the winter. I was left a key and advised there would be no staff to greet me.
I got into my room and was absolutely delighted! The room was gorgeous and the owner had left out a bottle of wine for me. Result! Within an hour I was asleep, exhausted from the drive.
I was waking the next morning to the final day of my road trip and had meetings with House of Fraser stores in Edinburgh and Glasgow. I must say they are stunning pieces of architecture and I’m a bit nerdy like that. Both meetings went well and I couldn’t believe the scale of the Glasgow store. It’s like a palace! After the meeting, I checked up on my emails and headed into Zara to get some shirts for my wife’s 40th birthday which would be a couple of days later.
Leaving Glasgow for my return to the ferry felt great. I’d achieved my goal of having all my meetings in time and had enjoyed the ride. The weather was spectacular and the coast road was stunning, with amazing views of the island Ailsa Craig.
Arriving in Stranraer however was disappointing. I was starving and couldn’t find a decent restaurant. The pubs looked like somewhere to avoid and the Hotels were closed so I headed down to the supermarket cafe which did a reasonable panini, but horrific soup.
Getting back on the ferry was a relief as the journey was starting to catch up on me. The 3 hours turned into 3 ½ hours due to traffic on the lough. I headed back home and got in around 10:30PM. A cold Guinness and my day was at an end. I had enjoyed it.
The Mini was a great companion, achieving an average of 38mpg. It was also comfortable and doubled up as a great bin for my coffee cartons. I had gone through 3 tankfuls of petrol costing £160 in total. A quick wash the next morning and she was back to normal, and so was I. School run, Director meeting, Catch up on 150 emails…
I was back to reality.