Rosemary's Blog

From Orkney to Sussex and back - 1600 miles in a 24kw Nissan Leaf

When did you last have a good conversation while filling your car? The experience of travelling from Orkney to Sussex in our five year old - and therefore not state of the art - Nissan Leaf was full of them. It was a driving experience that belonged to a time when motoring was an enjoyable, adventurous way to travel instead of a frustrating slog. We knew the journey would take us several days and would involve a steep learning curve about inter-charge risk management. We didn’t know how much interest there would be in where we had come from and where we were going.


Our Leaf has one of the smallest ranges of electric cars currently on the road at around 70 miles. From our home near St. Margaret’s Hope in Orkney the easiest way to get to the Scottish Mainland is by the Pentalina ferry. The A9 south to Inverness then has rapid electric chargers at just-about-do-able distances for us but they are not the most reliable. As this was our first big EV journey we didn’t want to fall at the first hurdle - or fail at the first charger - so we booked onto the overnight ferry from Kirkwall to Aberdeen to land fully charged first thing in the morning and make our booked hotel stop at Tebay Services, south of Carlisle, by late afternoon. A force 8 gale and driving rain in the hours leading up to departure for our first time, 7 hour ferry crossing was daunting, discouraging us from getting soaked through if we recharged after the drive to Kirkwall. We were both more than apprehensive as we dosed up with Stugeron tablets for the ferry journey and thus we boarded our boat with not quite the range we had anticipated.


Planning an EV journey that is not on motorways requires a smart phone and various apps that show where the chargers are. The Leaf has a ‘nearest charger’ display but ours is quite out of date for anywhere except Orkney. As our travels progressed the car’s system was constantly updating with ‘new’ chargers that we used. We can also report that not all apps are completely accurate. Nick had spent a good deal of time on our routes but the first post-Aberdeen charge depended on a full range from the ferry port. We therefore topped up in the suburbs on the way out of town to make our first planned stop.

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We had chosen a charging point at Forfar just off the bypass which turned out to be at the Council offices and we arrived there at just about 09.00, the same time as all the council employees. One of them beat us to therapid charger and was presumably already at his desk hard at work, so we decided to hook up to the type-2 charger and look for breakfast while he finished his charge. Rapid chargers will put an 80% charge on our car in about 20 minutes, giving us a 55-60 mile range. Type-2 chargers take about 3 hours to give us a charge and a 13amp granny cable is really an overnight or emergency only way of ‘filling up’. The only breakfast option in the area was a McDonalds - as a benevolent food writer I shall just say that perhaps we chose our food badly but the coffee was good.


When we returned to the car another Leaf had parked between us and the Rapid with the driver patiently waiting for the car still on charge to finish. The protocol is that once a charge has ended the connector can be removed by someone waiting so that it can be used again. It goes without saying that you close the covers on the other cars charging port. The charger cannot be removed if it is still working without the car owner stopping the charge with their card or app. In Scotland we pay £20 a year for a card which operates all the public chargers and each charge is then free. Had we lost our place in the rapid queue to the other Leaf? Not at all.


We Leaf Owners chatted - it’s a bit like being a 2CV driver (remember those?), waving as you pass etc - and our new friend was more than happy for us to do a quick charge to get us to Dundee: that’s the EV owner spirit! She was the first of many people to be amazed that we were travelling from Orkney to Sussex and back and told us how wind and rain can sometimes interrupt the signal to chargers putting them temporarily out of service. She also showed us her cable for the type-2 charger - each car has its own - which had a coiled bright orange flex and gave us cable envy. We told her about eco-cars.net the Orkney-based second-hand EV business which will source vehicles for customers. Jonathan Porterfield is one of the pioneers of EV motoring and a great source of knowledge having driven the length of the country to collect and deliver vehicles many times.

Jonathan had flagged up the new Dundee charging hub in one of his YouTube videos and we were keen to take a look. Most people visit the city at the moment for the V&A but the Princes Street car park is also worth a visit if you drive an EV. High above the river with a great view and easily accessible from the town or the bypass, this is Dundee’s second EV charging site and offers six rapid chargers and 4 type-2’s. The charging bays are covered with solar panel laden canopies. A brilliant facility and one which all councils should be looking to replicate. With electric taxis on charge while we were there Dundee is obviously promoting zero-emission motoring.

Our next stop was Auchterarder, close to both Gleneagles hotel and the Tullibardine distillery - we had visited for the whisky on our way to live in Orkney. The rapid charger was plugged into a car that had finished its charge and we were just about to disconnect it when the owner arrived, full of apologies for keeping us waiting - which of course wasn’t necessary. We chatted, us telling him of our planned journey and he revealing that he actually enjoyed driving his wife’s Leaf more than his Jaguar. We had our lunch at the excellent Cafe Kisa while the car was enjoying refreshment as well.

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Allendale Water Services presented us with our first problem. We had taken a gamble on getting there and run ourselves down to about a 16 mile range. The charger would not work. The help-line said it just needed to cool down after the last user but we had been trying for about 15 minutes and we were late for Tebay so anxious to press on. Checking the apps we headed into Lockerbie, which we just about made, only to find the charger was a Type-2: we’d read the map wrongly and the Rapid we expected to find was back in the other direction in Moffat. So we sat for about an hour, until we had enough charge to get us to Gretna, musing over Lockerbie Council’ s wisdom in installing a 2-port charger between two spaces, one of which was for disableddrivers only.

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Once topped up at Gretna with a generous charge for the remainder of the journey we eventually arrived at the Tebay Hotel about four hours later than we had hoped and were easily tempted by the almost fine dining menu at the hotel which uses all the excellent local produce on sale in the farm shop at the services. Tebay, both in Cumbria and on the M5 near Gloucester, has brought a whole new level to the motorway hospitality experience.

We wanted to reach Sussex the next day and our friends were very accommodating about our arrival time. We had 300 miles to cover and needed nine charges to make the journey. Whilst that might sound frustratingly slow we both arrived fresher and more relaxed than on any other long journey by car. We left with a full charge at 08.00 hoping to miss the commuting traffic hotspots and we did. Our first stop was long enough for us to catch up with the first house tour on a downloaded Escape to the Country programme on the iPad, which sits comfortably on top of the dash so that we can both see well. It passes the time perfectly but we’d always rather have a conversation.


At one services we were asked directly how much our charge had just cost us and Nick was able to show on his phone the billed amount of £1.48. We had chosen Ecotricity as our energy supplier when we moved to Orkney as they are a totally green energy provider and have installed the electric highway on the motorway network in England. We had had in mind our trips back to Sussex to see my mother in her nursing home as well as our enthusiasm for renewables. As customers we get a 50% discount on our charges in England: something to think about when choosing your electricity supplier if you are considering moving to an EV or a hybrid vehicle. Two people chatting to us by chargers commented that they would be put off going electric if they had to have a smart phone to use the charging network. I’m sure this will change very quickly.

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We decided to take the M6 rather than the M6Toll as there are no services on the newer road and we knew we would need another charge before Warwick after Stone. We got to Warwick in time for a late lunch on a picnic bench in the sun. By then we knew that we would get to Sussex for a late supper. Again we were aware of being watched as we plugged in which led to a chat with a chap who was involved in a scheme to install a charger at the village hall near his home in Shropshire. Had we met him on the return journey we would have said to ensure it was a rapid charger and not a type-2, but more of that anon.

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Our final motorway-style charge was on the A34 at Sutton Scotney, just north of Winchester. Yet another conversation and more amazement that we had travelled from Orkney. This, we knew, would be our last rapid charge and we drove across country from there to Chichester, a shorter route although it had more gradients than the flatter, longer coastal route. It was nostalgic for us to drive through Downland villages and we were amazed that our ascent of the scarp side of the South Downs at Harting Hill, a short but steep climb, took seven miles worth of power from the car. That’s certainly something to consider after hundreds of miles of relatively gentle gradients on motorways. We got two miles of power back going downhill with regenerative breaking - take your foot off the throttle going downhill and the breaking puts some power back into the battery. We were ready to stop as we plugged into a 13amp socket with our granny cable in our friend’s garage but we also felt an immense sense of adventure and achievement.

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Our final motorway-style charge was on the A34 at Sutton Scotney, just north of Winchester. Yet another conversation and more amazement that we had travelled from Orkney. This, we knew, would be our last rapid charge and we drove across country from there to Chichester, a shorter route although it had more gradients than the flatter, longer coastal route. It was nostalgic for us to drive through Downland villages and we were amazed that our ascent of the scarp side of the South Downs at Harting Hill, a short but steep climb, took seven miles worth of power from the car. That’s certainly something to consider after hundreds of miles of relatively gentle gradients on motorways. We got two miles of power back going downhill with regenerative breaking - take your foot off the throttle going downhill and the breaking puts some power back into the battery. We were ready to stop as we plugged into a 13amp socket with our granny cable in our friend’s garage but we also felt an immense sense of adventure and achievement.

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Our journey back was most successful and without incident, although we did make an overnight stop at Warwick after leaving the south coast late in the afternoon. This was to get us to Tebay to enjoy an earlier dinner than on the way down.  We had been ‘iced out’ at a mainly truckers services on the way south, but there were no incidents on the return journey. This means an ice - internal combustion engine - vehicle has parked in a EV charging bay thus preventing us from getting a charge (until the van driver returned). It’s very annoying and social media often comes into play to try to bring shame on the culprits. The highlight of the journey home in terms of conversation was with a man who owned an aggregates and gritting business and was about to buy an electric car for a new member of staff. We were en route to the Glengoyne distillery and he had the gritting contract there - it’s a small EV world.

Driving around Sussex, however, was not as simple as driving in Orkney, in Scotland or on the motorways in an EV. We were staying near Chichester and the nearest Rapid was in Midhurst, about a 20 minutes drive north over the Downs, at the South Downs National Park Centre. All the other public chargers were type-2’s and on a mix ofnetworks, requiring different apps or charge cards. The charger closest to my mother’s nursing home, which could have been so very convenient as it was literally just over the road, was a 13amp socket type which is the slowest and no use at all except for an all-day or all-night charge. The railway stations all had type-2’s: great if you are a commuter and plug in for the day but, in a crowded station car-park, the chance of being able to disconnect a finished charge and use the charger is slim indeed.

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We had made arrangements to meet friends for coffee one morning in Lewes, a ‘green’ town about forty miles from Chichester and we knew there was a Rapid there from our ZapMap app. That worked well and we had plenty of charge for our return journey, even with a detour to a mega M&S, which we both found utterly daunting, for the sort of shopping that most of us do at that store! We were agreed that the only way forward down south, with a real lack of commitment to electric motoring evident, would be to get a hybrid. That said, if you are able to afford a Tesla, there appeared to be plenty of charging options on their exclusive network as well as ranks of usually 6 Tesla-only chargers at most motorway service stations. Knowing only too well how air quality is such an issue at traffic black spots like the Worthing ring road, and Arundel and Chichester by-passes, some encouragement for people to make the change to EV’s would surely be a good idea, for the present and for the future? I don’t mean financial incentives, I mean getting on with the electric highway and installing Rapids in accessible public car parks on the outskirts of towns by major roads. We can’t imagine driving anything but an electric vehicle now and will certainly drive south again.


Our total public charger bill for the journey? £37.67 of which £7.70 was the two charges in Lewes and Midhurst.