For around eighteen months, from December 2010 until May 2012, the lighthouse tour became the main focus of my life. Planning for the tour itself presented very few challenges, but there was one obstacle that needed to be overcome before I could even leave home: learning to drive. I am still uncertain as to how I reached the age of 27 without a licence, but I did and in order to successfully implement the UK lighthouse tour plan it was essential that I learnt to drive and bought a car within this eighteen month period.
Not having a huge amount of money to spend on a vehicle and taking into consideration the cost of insurance (which was huge, by the way), I opted for an X-reg Suzuki Wagon R+. She appeared to provide exactly what I needed: a small car with seats that folded right down in the back allowing for a lot of storage space and, without wishing to sound too shallow here, a great colour too! So, Geko Waggers (her formal name based on her registration and the type of car – must also be said with a hint of a Westcountry accent) was introduced as the most expensive item I had ever taken ownership of.
I passed my driving test on 22 October 2011, one month after purchasing the car, giving me a little less than seven months to get used to her ways and ready for the road. I feel that it is important to add at this point that this was not a cheap car to maintain during those seven months. I could list all of the problems she had (wheel bearings, coil packs, replacement of the front suspension, among many other things), but it would only bore you.
So, after dragging her through her MOT just a month before the trip, we were finally ready to go.
To start with she was fine and when I say ‘to start with’ I mean for the first two days of the tour. On the second evening her emissions control light came on, which was obviously a little worrying considering I still had 28 days of driving ahead of me. Based on previous experience of the car (that I was really struggling to like at this point), it was likely to cost a fair amount to get the problem sorted, so I stopped off at an independent garage to get it checked out. Due to her age they couldn’t run the diagnostic test and suggested I take her to a Suzuki dealer, but they did point out that it was “probably nothing serious as the car was still running fine”. So, this is my reason for not then hunting down a Suzuki dealer until…well, I just didn’t bother and carried on driving until day 30, by which point she was still very much moving! However, it’s not pleasant worrying every morning that your car won’t start or that it’ll just stop in the middle of nowhere, but you’ve got to take these risks sometimes.
We had our issues along the way: I almost got her stuck in sand on Spurn Point, I reversed her into a pavement which caused her rear mud flap to come loose, she hit a wall whilst turning around near a cattle grid (I am wording that as if it wasn’t my fault, I realise this), and one of her rear tyres exploded on the motorway. Those 30 days were hard going for poor Little Car (as she came to be known during the trip – mainly as a result of me say ‘come on, Little Car, you can do it’ when trying to force her up steep hills or ‘sorry Little Car’ along really bumpy “roads”), but she made it through. She also soldiered on after both of the bird episodes.
So, she may have returned home a little battered and bruised, but the most important point is that she did return home.
However, with the month-long section of the lighthouse tour over (the tour itself does, of course, continue) it was time for us to go our separate ways and she has gone on to a nice man at the garage (who himself has toured around the country a bit) who is going to fix her up and sell her on to someone who, I hope, will treat her better than I did (not particularly hard to do, I imagine, based on the aforementioned incidents).
I don’t want to get too sentimental about it as she was a complete drain on the old bank balance, but she did get me to some great places and I wouldn’t have met the brilliant people I encountered if she’d fallen at the first hurdle. I do, though, wish she would have saved me from the “unsafe men” at Peterhead and Wick, but that may have been asking too much!
So, thanks Little Car for getting me to where I wanted to be. May you have a happy and long(ish) future ahead of you! 🙂