They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That may have been true in the times of the Tao Te Ching. Now it starts by filling up with diesel at Sainsbury’s. So it is that my journey from South Devon to Orkney begins. I’ve loaded the car, locked the house and done everything I need to do before leaving, apart from checking my tyre pressure.
First stop is Bristol Airport to collect The Puffin Whisperer, who flies in today, for our car journey to Orkney. The flight is delayed which gives me an extra hour to get everything ready but somehow I still don’t check the tyre pressure. Bristol Airport has a new Short-Stay / Pick-up car park to replace the free space just behind the arrivals building. I see it only costs £1 for up to 20 minutes, which seems reasonable until I wonder why it should cost anything at all and then realise the car park is so far away it’s not possible to park, walk to the terminal building and be back in under 20 minutes. There’s nothing more infuriating than an impossible offer. All along the approach road to the airport are double yellow lines. In each field entrance along the road is a parked car with someone on their mobile phone. They are obviously the stubborn ones who can’t stand to pay the fee and lurk until the flight has landed before driving into the airport.
The flight is delayed even more than it was meant to be so I get an overpriced prawn sandwich from the terminal and find there’s nowhere to sit, so I squat outside amongst the dog-ends of the coach and taxi-drivers’ cigarettes.
Inside is unwelcoming. There are a handful of empty seats roped off with signs saying they are for people with mobility problems. People are sitting on these kick-bars instead of the empty roped-off seats. If Bristol Airport could have anti-homeless spikes, it would have; for their customers.
It costs us £7 just to leave the car park. The more flights are delayed, the more money the airport car park makes, and those who understand the system avoid the payment. Welcome to the modern world.
We reach Warrington before bed time.
In the morning we stop at Hamilton Services. It’s full of bald men with beards and women wearing sports gear. The newspapers outside WH Smith’s announce a new study which says coffee could add months to your life. We knew that already; they’re all the hours you didn’t sleep at night after that double espresso. The Daily Star headline is “Love Island Jonny quits over Tyla,” which I find slightly trivial because the real news is that we’re in the middle of the Earth’s sixth massive extinction event, this time caused by human destruction of habitat, use of natural resources and overpopulation. The only paper which even mentions that on its front page is The Financial Times. However, they don’t appear to sell the FT at Hamilton Services, despite the local football team, Hamilton Academicals, being the only football team still in the top leagues which was originally a school football team. Maybe there was an early morning rush and all the copies have been sold.
We must be in Scotland now because the garage at the Services is selling packs of 12 large bottles of Irn Bru for £12. That’s ‘Only £1 each’, is what their sign says. You don’t have to be an Accademical to know that, or that it’s far cheaper than the water they are selling.
I fill up with more diesel and we set off without check my tyre pressure.
I’ve brought my two-man tent and want to use it in the Cairngorms. I’d love to stay on the shores of Loch Morlich at Glenside Camping. That’s my romantic notion, anyway. I type today’s date into their website and it says there’s nothing available with a note that there’s a minimum two night stay. I increase the number of nights to two and it says there is space available and it’s £54.95; for rental of a piece of grass for just over 12 hours. There is space, they just want me to buy twice as much as I need. We can stay in a hotel in Kingussie for £69 and have beautiful clean sheets, an ensuite shower and full breakfast included, without having to pay for two nights. This time my tent pegs will remain unused.
Kingussie to Scrabster takes us through stunning scenery with a delivery lorry so close behind I can only see the driver’s distorted face in my rear-view mirror. That’s what happens when I’m ridiculous enough to drive at the speed limit.
We’re in perfect time for the Northlink Ferry crossing from Scrabster to Stromness. The journey wasn’t 1,000 miles, it was just 733, but what I’ve found is that it’s better to be approximately right than precisely wrong.
As I drive onto the ferry I wonder whether my tyres feel a bit soft.