Fortunately, it’s not too often that a major milestone like 20 years of owning the same BX, nor 40th anniversaries, comes around. I’d long plotted to get away in the BX for my fortieth; well, it would be rude not to, but I didn’t have much of a plan for Tour De Forty.
Many options had been pondered over the preceding six months. However, watching Olly Blogs Le-JoG combine harvester run in June gave me an idea. I’ve been to Lands End but never to John-O-Groats. A few calls and texts later, I had a plan and, more importantly, travel buddies!
An excerpt of these words first appeared in the October edition of the CCCC magazine Citroenian.
I’m fairly familiar with five-day trips with a herd of cars and man-child drivers. But I must confess I usually take a vehicle that is a bit quicker with a fuel card. Route planning, hotel hunting and sticking to a budget are also part of the normal ‘planning’ operation, but this trip had some extra challenges.
Pre-departure woes, as usual
After the recent run to #BX40UK at the CCC National in Abbots Rippon, my BX 16Valve started to suffer from nearside front brake issues. For regular readers of the BXProject Blog, it won’t surprise you to see my car in pieces on the drive the night before setting off on a long drive. And this trip was no exception. The issue seemed to be around the hand brake not releasing correctly.
However, with the system apart, the route cause appeared to be a damaged or stripped hand brake adjuster mechanism. There was no time to replace the brake calliper, so the best I could do was lube and rebuild the mechanism as best I could. This wasn’t going to stop Tour De Forty from setting off.
Day 1 – Cheshire to Annan
With older and potentially slower vehicles, a more relaxed journey was needed, and that set a few ‘rules’. The first rule of the Tour De Forty route was to avoid motorways. This might seem daft as getting from Cheshire to the Scottish border is a simple affair up the M6, but the motorway is ‘adventure’ limiting.
The Tour to the Lake District
To avoid the motorway, we went up the A59, then A6, and out to White Haven before heading inland to Gretna. This was surprisingly taxing for the first few miles as we tracked through towns and villages. An over-height lorry that couldn’t fit through a rail bridge created some excitement. I’m glad nobody hit anything!
However, the pace picked up once we got past Haydock, and the roads became progressively easier to drive on. Quickly, the trip changed from slogging through slow-moving estates and tightly spaced villages to proper touring. Some would say we were ‘tanking’ along by the time we got up to Leyland.
Through the Lake District
The leg up the A6 gave us the opportunity to pick up some fantastic scenery in the Lake District. This is pretty much home for me. The national park is the one place I’ll always happily spend time in. Any excuse, and I’ll head to the Lake District, so long as I can avoid the grockles and hordes of tourists.
With the Tour De Forty taking a pleasantly slow pace on a route I would not usually take, there was so much to see. The scenery I wouldn’t usually get to explore on the west of the Lake District has changed my view of this part of the world.
On the way to White Haven, having seen several older and sporty-looking vehicles coming from a side road, we took a bit of a diversion. The single-track road took us up the back of Dent to some spectacular views of the Irish Sea. While it might have been a tight road littered with sheep, it was the first time in the day to unwind a few ponies.
Some 200 miles and six and half hours, one fuel stop and one minor bump later, all three cars reached Annan relatively unscathed. There was no particular reason to stop here other than cheap hotels, but I strongly recommend the place.
We stayed in the Queensberry Arms Hotel, an older hotel in decent condition, with low prices and excellent food. The staff were a good giggle, too. A quick ditch of luggage into the hotel room, and we headed out to wander around town. Much of the point of Tour De Forty is to do some exploration.
While relatively small, the town has some fantastic architecture and several bars and pubs. Just past the Blue Bell Inn and the main road crosses the river. At this point, the town opens up into some pretty rolling fields. Annan is undoubtedly worth a visit if you’re passing.
Wrapping up Tour De Forty Day One
I always find day one the most challenging whenever I’m running a car trip. Getting everyone herded up and on the road, along with ironing out any niggles is always stressful. And while there were niggles, Tour De Forty Day One went surprisingly smoothly.
Despite the sticking hand brake mechanism, the BX soaked up the miles surprisingly well. Returning reasonably economy, maintaining temperatures and finally getting over 118,000 miles. I recognise this is a shockingly low mileage for the car’s age, but the more it gets used, the more I fall in love again.
With the kids long forgotten at grandparents, this would be a week of minimum adulting. Some group members took this to extremes on the first night, opting for an eclectic dinner. Not surprisingly, not all of this sharing waffle platter was consumed!
Day 2 Annan to Ullapool
The following morning was an early-ish start for the longest day. The weather forecast for the week was getting ever worse. This leg of the journey would see a three-hundred-mile slog up to Ullapool to pick up the NC500.
From Annan, we headed up the A79 through to Kilmarnock and back towards Glasgow. For me, this is a route I’ve done a few times before, usually busy without being painfully slow. However, I found enough time to stop at the Burns House Museum in Mauchline this time. Although a small museum, we turned up right on opening time and had the place to ourselves.
The route through Glasgow and up to the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum for lunch was uneventful, with good progress being made. Then onward through Glencoe, another familiar drive for me. This leg of the Tour De Forty offered the usual spectacular view. I don’t think I’ve ever been through twice with the same weather.
An unexpected twist to the drive
From Fort William onwards, I took the opportunity to do something I rarely manage: to be a passenger in my BX. Allowing an EV owner who hasn’t regularly driven ‘stick’ for three years to pilot me was exciting. And to be fair, bar one hill start with an optimistic Astra driver very close. The ordeal was relatively painless.
A view I rarely see from the passenger seat did have me a little weirded out. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been a passenger in Jazz. The last time was more than likely on the way to my wedding. There aren’t many people I’d trust to drive her, but at the moment, XPO is in the garage most of the way to complete.
Well, it’s always best to keep a spare!
North of Loch Ness
While I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Scotland over the years, I’m usually between Edinburgh and Glasgow. The further north we went, my eyes were somewhat opened to just how spectacular a country sits just north of the English border. Passing Loch Ness marked just about as far north in Scotland as I’d ever been.
From here on in, the next few days would be entirely new territory for me. New roads, spectacular views and fabulous driving lay ahead on the Tour De Forty. While organised rather last minute, this was the point where I started to unwind and really enjoy the adventure.
Just past Muir of Ord, and we pick up the NC500. While not expressly trying to follow the NC500 tourist route, we would follow it for a few days. As tourist traps go, the NC500 has proven to be a fantastic idea by the Scottish Tourist Board. As we will find out, the 516-mile loop around the north of Scotland makes for a memorable journey.
Arriving in Ullapool.
Some 310 miles later and seven and a half driving hours, we had arrived at our overnight accommodation. Over the whole journey, this was the most expensive stop but also the most comfortable. I guess you get what you pay for, and I’m starting to feel a little too old for one-night camping.
Despite the distance and the pace, the damp and the traffic, the BX was really rather taking it all in her stride. I don’t consider the BX 16Valve a tourer, especially with the high fifth gear. No, I’ve STILL not done the TD gear mod. That said, sub 60mph, she’s proving to be a pleasant place to be.
Having found the hotel’s restaurant was fully booked for the evening, our party went for a short walk to find somewhere to eat. And what a walk it was. While I know Ullapool front has had a lot of work on the front recently, what a beautiful and clean place it is to have a wander around.
You’ll have to forgive the general lack of photos with Citroen’s in. A serious risk of spoiling postcard-perfect pictures with a thirty-year-old pink car certainly existed on the route. Every corner seemed to shelter another spectacular view.
The End of Tour De Forty – Part One
I can’t believe more than three months have passed since we set off on Tour De Forty and the celebratory trip around Scotland. Perhaps more worryingly, in those three months, I’ve only just got to writing up the adventure. And what a place to pause the story. Ullapool was excellent, and the evening and morning views were spectacular.
Part Two will chronicle the trip up to John O Groats and back home to blighty. Spectacular weather, BX royalty and some unexpected stop-offs should make for an entertaining second half.
Until next time!