Video credit: K Windrum
Miles travelled: 1,538
Time spent charging: 30 hours & 40 minutes (20.5 hours overnight or during activities)
Total cost of charging: £75.04
Approx. equivalent petrol cost: £176.09
This extraordinary adventure began with a Linked In post resulting from the poor customer service I had received at Enterprise Rental on our last experience with them in October 2020. My post went something along the lines of “fallen out of love with Enterprise. Are there any local rental companies who can supply me with a car for our road trip to Scotland?” Jonathan Smith, of Business Forums and now Talk Business fame, responded that Electric Zoo might be able to provide us with an EV; and the rest, as they say, is history.
Electric Zoo were founded by Lash and Charnjit Saranna following their careers in the automotive industry. They wanted to build a brand that raised awareness and educated people on the value of switching to electric. They offer Pay as You Go Electric options and a SmarTech tool to evaluate cost savings for your personal or business journeys. Visit https://www.electriczoo.co.uk/ for more details.
Electric Zoo responded positively and I was very excited about the opportunity to experience an electric vehicle for the first time. I had toyed with getting one in 2020 when my workhorse Peugeot finally gave up the ghost; but had been worried about the range for my longer road trips. Scotland was definitely the longest of our road trips. Long enough in fact that we found it better to rent a car rather than add a thousand plus miles to our own each time; so it felt the perfect time to really put an EV to the test.
Lash, Founder of Electric Zoo, emailed us a list of potential vehicles with their charging times and real-world range. We selected a top three (in no particular order) of the Kia e-Niro, Tesla Model 3 Performance, or the VW iD3. Lash selected the Kia for us and it was the right call. It was an SUV that still looks and feels like a car inside and not a spaceship! I loved it from the moment I sat in the driver’s seat and found it very easy to transition from my own Nissan Qashqai, which isn’t always the case for me with new vehicles.
Craig took me through the charging procedure and gave me a few tips. Real world range on the motorway was going to be closer to 215 miles depending on how we drove; CCS was the key to a genuinely fast charge; and he recommended Watts Up as a app to plan your route and the chargers along the way. We’d already used Zap Map as recommended by Lash and were pleasantly surprised at the amount of charging points that would be on our chosen route. However, as Craig started to tell me about the reliability issues with Ecotricity, the wonders of Instavolt, and the efficiency of the German charging infrastructure; I began to get a hint that finding charging points was only part of the story!
We took the car on a quick spin to Tesco and John’s parents house the other side of Warwick. It drove very smoothly and I could tell the acceleration was there although I didn’t put it to any real test. John’s Mum was also visibly impressed at how quiet and smooth it was pulling away! Then it was back home to plug in with our three-pin plug that Craig had given us and leave the Kia overnight ready for us with a full battery in the morning. There was also another cable for those charge points without one although I stupidly left that in the storage well underneath the boot and piled our stuff on top of it!
We set off at 5.30am as requested by John so we could allow for the extra charging hours and still get there at a decent time. As a result, he took the first stint driving! It felt a little bit like being in Apollo 13 as we tested and turned off anything that drained the battery from the heated seats to the radio. Luckily Gary Sinse allowed us to have the radio on but any attempt at temperature control was not permitted! We had planned a series of service stops using Zap Map choosing only those with CCS (rapid chargers) starting at 150 miles into our journey so we could flex depending on what we needed. CCS was crucial as any other advertised ‘fast charger’ could end up being a trickle charge and not much better than the standard three pin we had used at home. On the motorway with a destination to reach, waiting 12 hours to charge was not going to happen!
We didn’t want to go lower than 60 miles ideally to give us enough comfort to avoid range anxiety so we stopped at Tebay which I also knew was a Farmshop services. We’d done close to 200 miles. It was time for breakfast too. The contract for charging points at service stations in the UK was awarded to Ecotricity who don’t accept contactless payments so you have to have a specific app. Again we were going to learn the joys of downloading different apps and setting up payment details for each one. I’ve sat in too many conversations now about the need for ‘universal payment systems’ across different modes of transport when clearly we already have one in the contactless payment system! There was a car on the only CCS charging point when we arrived so we decided to stick our car on the slow charge (slightly faster than a trickle but not much!) and go in and eat. In hindsight that wasn’t the best choice and we should have waited for the CCS to be free. We came out 45 minutes later and the CCS was clear so we jumped on it. In the nick of time too as another Kia e-Niro arrived just as we were plugging in and we started our first chat with a fellow EV driver.
You don’t get the chance to chat with fellow motorists in a petrol station and I have to say it is one of the things I enjoyed most about driving an EV. We shared stories with enthusiasts, listened to the critics, and even ended up offering advice to those newer to the process than us by the end of our journey! This first chat was with an enthusiast who told us about the Kia’s regenerative braking (where the battery charges by using the usually wasted energy generated by slowing down); it’s acceleration power (0-60 in 7 seconds); and the fun of finding chargers that work. Apparently we were very lucky to have two Ecotricity points working side by side at the same service station despite the fact Tesla had six ‘superchargers’ over the road which I was told would always work and always charge at 50kw. He also shared the story of the RAC’s first journey of 1,000 miles in a motor car in 1900 and the petrol they had to carry with them. It was reassuring to remember that we developed a system that worked for all our ICE vehicles and no doubt we will develop a system for our EVs. I’m hoping we’ve learnt a bit along the way too!
Our 45 minutes on a slow charge cost £15 to get us just under 10% of additional battery (up to 27%) and our CCS charge cost the same to get us back to 80%. So after 90 minutes spent in a service station, we were back on the road. It was my turn to drive and, as I was nowhere near as efficient with my driving style, we were looking for our next charge after just 150 miles. By this point we were in Glasgow and we got our first experience of ChargePlace Scotland, the charge points we would use for the rest of the journey north. And our initial experience didn’t get us off to a great start! We had to download another app (we’re up to four now!) and we began to understand the challenges of charge point reliability. We first tried one outside a workplace which we couldn’t get to register, one by a pub which started working and then inexplicably stopped, and a third which told us it was unavailable on the app even though we could see it working in front of us. By this point range anxiety became very real! We consulted Zap Map and Watts Up to see if we could divert away from ChargePlace and found an Instavolt at a nearby Shell petrol station. I remembered Craig telling me they were reliable so we headed there and felt genuine euphoria when we found it, the CCS was free, and it accepted contactless payments! It was just under £15 again but it got us back up to 80%. However, we drove on a little concerned about ChargePlace Scotland and what the rest of the holiday might bring.
We stopped again in Tyndrum after another 70 miles to have food and get a trickle charge, which wasn’t ideal but was free. And it was our first success with ChargePlace Scotland although we did have to ring up the service team on the number on the side of the point to get it to connect! It seemed the issue was the app talking to the charge points so the team were able to start it remotely. As you can imagine we became best of friends with the service team over the next eight days! After Tyndrum, our final 35 miles were completed and we arrived at North Ballachulish in Glencoe tired but satisfied.
Our first morning in Scotland dawned bright and we headed out to find our charging point at The Clachaig Inn in Old Glencoe. It was a slow 7kw charger which we needed our own cable for but we had all day to leave it there so we knew (as long as it worked!) we’d be at 100% by the time we came back. I had a conversation with my Mum about our adventure and was happy to put her right about charging in the mountains! And it worked first time. So we spent a great day climbing and achieved a full charge. Happy days!! Monday started with a dip in the cold Loch followed by a very wet walk to the Lost Valley before heading off with our full battery to the Cairngorms. We made it the full 90 miles to Nethy Bridge and our glamping home for the next five nights. We also clearly impressed the owners of the eco-friendly site and maybe even inspired them to put a charging point in themselves for future guests!
Exploring our new location the next day, we took a trip into Aviemore and I got my first experience of EV rage when a Tesla was on the only general CCS despite having four of their own rapid chargers across the road! So it was a slow charge for us whilst we shopped and ate. It was ok but we knew we’d need a decent charge before we made the journey back across and up to Gairloch on Friday. We spent the afternoon at Loch Morlich and were a little amazed to see some snow falling – not knowing then that much more was to come!
Wednesday, we decided to venture up another mountain and had a bit of a panic when we typed our destination into the satellite navigation and the car told us we didn’t have enough charge to get there! It turns out it was because the engine wasn’t turned on but it did give us a fright! The inbuilt sat nav does come with recommendations for charging points on your journey and our Kia enthusiast from Tebay Services said it was great but I didn’t think it gave you enough points. It does seem you have to consult a few apps to be sure you’re seeing all the charging points available which feels a little laborious when you don’t know the area. We conquered the mountain, encountered more snow, and spent the evening drinking outside in a very cold beer garden! No charging done today so tomorrow it would be a must for our Friday journey.
We woke to a proper fall of snow and decided our planned mountain climb would probably not be sensible, especially as were aching a little from the day before! So we went in search of a charging point firstly at Loch Insh and then back at Aviemore. Luckily at Aviemore we managed to get onto the CCS with some help from ChargePlace Scotland Tech Support (there was a server error that, even as IT professionals, we couldn’t resolve!) and we charged there while having a coffee. We weren’t back up to 100% but we had enough to get us the 100+ miles to Gairloch the following day. However, an early evening stop off at Boat Garten saw us trying their Community Hall charger to top up simply because it was there. Turned out it was lucky we didn’t need it as the ChargePlace Scotland system of NFC cards for residents appears to trump the visitor app and we returned to find a very nice fellow EV owner had inadvertedly turned us off!
The journey to Gairloch was smooth but we had some nervousness about our arrival there as all the apps could only identify a CCS at the Community Hall and not much else anywhere around. We needn’t have worried as the charger there was well maintained and worked first time. We had visited the Community Hall in the summer last year in our petrol car to use the toilets before a camping night; and I had left a donation because they were so clean and well-looked after. So our heartfelt thanks to you if you are reading this Gairloch Community! The following day we had a lovely walk to our Windows 10 destination – the Rua Reidh Lighthouse – and from there a nice brunch at the Mountain Coffee shop (of Trip Advisor fame!) safe in the knowledge we had a lovely full charge from the kind people of Gairloch.
It was then 70+ miles down the coast to the Kyle of Lochalsh where we were staying in an Air B’n’B property which I had already confirmed with the owner as having access to an outside plug for us to charge. Like our B&B in Glencoe, this was a brand new venture for the couple who had built two studio apartments on their land to rent out so can I take this time to share both links and encourage you to check them out for your own travels. Both are in fantastic locations; are cosy, clean, and well-equipped; have friendly and warm hosts; and Gaynor at Woolly Rock also serves an amazing breakfast! Definitely 10/10 if we were giving Four in a Bed scores!
Glencoe: Woolly Rock, North Ballachulish – http://www.woollyrock.scot/
Kyle of Lochalsh: Creaggan Ard Lodge – 01599 566746. Available on Booking.com and AirBnB.co.uk
A slow drip charge overnight took us up enough to make our final journey to one of the most isolated parts of the UK and this is where we felt immensely grateful to be in an EV. We drove as far as roads would allow along the Knoydart Peninsula to Kinloch Hourn knowing we were not polluting the beautiful environment around us and we were rewarded with fantastic opportunities to come face to face with many wild deer. The feeling of behaving better towards our planet took away any of the short term frustrations with charging and I would love to have that feeling with every journey. The Kia was also so quiet and so smooth that when I got back into my petrol car on our return, the noise, rattle, and jerkiness of it felt horrible and I really missed the EV driving experience.
We spent our last day on a 20km walk of 25,000 steps over the rugged and remote landscape of Knoydart and ended it at our old favourite stop The Cluanie Inn – having treated ourselves to the deluxe room with beautiful four-poster bed and jacuzzi spa bath! We also indulged in generous helpings of their delicious bread pudding discovered on our previous visit, which is made to their own special and well-guarded recipe! A great night’s sleep followed and then a fully cooked Scottish breakfast before we began our return journey.
We were in need of a charge fairly quickly so planned to stop at Fort William. Sadly we met with a ChargePlace Scotland CCS we couldn’t connect our app to despite having seen a couple get it working with their resident’s card (we also chatted to them about the difference between ‘fast’ and ‘rapid’ charging as they were new to the EV world!) Even a call to the Technical Support team didn’t help us this time and we were taunted by the line of empty Tesla superchargers and the newly installed but not yet open for use contactless charging points! We weren’t able to get much further so we found a point at Glencoe at the Mountain Sports Centre which boasted ‘stunning views’ on the sign as we drove in. It most certainly did have stunning views but it did not have a working charging point despite Zap Map and Watts Up not having any news to the contrary. It looked like it hadn’t worked in a while as its surroundings weren’t well maintained and it was positioned at the very extremes of the car park – as if to say no one was prepared take responsibility for it! At our eco-friendly glamping site near Nethy Bridge, the owners had told us that the Scottish Government were giving out grants to fund the installation of new charging points; but I would argue there needs to be consideration given for the maintenance too. The locations were great in places like the Mountain Sports Centre and pub car parks as this is where people spend ‘dwell’ time; but if they don’t work and no one takes ownership of their care then they end up looking unloved and, more importantly, no longer able to serve their purpose.
By now we were back in range anxiety territory but luckily we knew there was a working point in Tyndrum (or at least it had worked on our journey up eight days ago!) so we headed there. Here we got a charge and a coffee and I did a little bit of souvenir shopping! I enjoyed the break but I could see John was conscious about the clock ticking as it was now after 1pm and we had a long way still to go with at least two 45 minute charges to come. Back on the road to Glasgow, we stopped again at InstaVolt for a 45 minute charge, lunch from the garage, and a check of our email back-log. On the road again we wanted to charge at Lancaster but Zap Map reliably informed us that the CCS had been reported not working an hour or so before. So we headed for Killington Lake, which was beautiful as we ate our fast food and watched a windsurfer glide effortlessly across the water; but by now we were approaching eight hours on the road and we were still a long way from home!
We charged on the CCS at Killington Lake for an hour 95% confident that would get us the 184 miles home. That conviction was rocked slightly when we had to take a detour off the M6 through the towns and villages of Staffordshire and the Black Country; but I drove as efficiently as I could along the dark roads until we made it home safely only twelve and a half hours after we had left! The car had just under twenty miles left which is plenty in my petrol car experience but lower than I would have wanted it to be in an EV. However, we were home and we plugged it in overnight and went to bed!
Our first electric journey was not without its challenges; but we definitely got bitten by the bug! I loved the smooth, quiet driving experience and John was hooked on the feeling of leaving no trace and no negative impact on the world around us as we drove through it. We travel to Scotland to enjoy the landscapes that have and will remain steadfast and strong long before and after human time so knowing we are not damaging them unnecessarily by our visit is incredibly valuable. Personally, I would like to drive an EV with a 350 mile real world range and a 30 minute charging time to 80% to make a Scotland trip a truly enjoyable end to end experience; but we’re already talking about our next EV road trip somewhere closer to home like the Lakes. I would also highly recommend getting a resident’s NFC card if you are thinking about an EV trip to Scotland.
LEPs and Local Authorities need to look closer at how we invest in the right infrastructure for true EV enjoyment and I am very lucky to sit around many of the tables where those discussions are taking place. It’s great to be able to input from real experience and it is interesting that the only EV owner I have come across in those meetings also has an ICE for his longer journeys! We will definitely buy an EV as our next car; but right now, with the availability of those to rent from Electric Zoo, they are great to keep trying out!