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Why driving an EV across the Highlands isn’t all an electric dream

As a guy who has never driven an electric vehicle before, or a van, or an automatic, the prospect of getting a massive electric van without a gear stick all the way from Aberdeen to John o’ Groats seemed daunting to say the least.

An internet search told us our range, or distance we can travel on one full charge, was around 205 miles.

This was very encouraging news for my road trip partner/colleague Pip and I as we set off from Kincorth at around 11am on Wednesday.

Half our juice gone already

Unfortunately, such a lengthy range was not in fact on the cards for us and our van, as we discovered when passing Huntly and realised half our juice was gone.

We used the handy smartphone app Zap Map to find some chargers in the Aberdeenshire town, and veered off the A96 to top up at the first charger we spotted.

This would be the first of many lessons we learned on our electric adventure.

After a full hour on charge on a non-rapid charging connection, we were dismayed to find our van’s battery had only gone back up to about 75%.

This is going to be a long, long journey, we thought as we grimaced and persevered onwards.

Sighs of relief

Thankfully, a number of rapid chargers were available for use in Elgin, and so on around a quarter of a battery remaining, we plugged in and went for a wander around.

Shockingly, after just around 45 minutes, we went all the way from 25% to full, which resulted in two huge sighs of relief that we wouldn’t in fact be arriving in John o’ Groats well after midnight.

To boldly go where few EVs have gone before.

With our new rapid charging knowledge ready to go, we only required two further stops, one in Tain where we used our charging time to visit a lovely old-fashioned pub for a coffee, and one in Brora to top up to full before the final push to the very north of Scotland.

The pints that came soon after plugging in at the Sea View Hotel in John o’Groats at around 20% battery were perhaps the most welcome we have ever enjoyed.

Hurricane on the horizon

After a sleep only slightly interrupted by what I can only call hurricane-force winds, Pip and myself took the van down the road to the John o’ Groats sign for our first climate chat event on Thursday morning, where we interviewed locals and visitors about their thoughts on climate change and their hopes for COP26.

We didn’t know what to expect walking up to random people and asking them about the climate, but the pair of us came away pleasantly surprised by how eager the people we spoke to were to chat all things green.

‘Furthest spot’ in Scotland from a charge point

Our primary destination for the first official day of the climate crisis road trip was to Forsinard Flows, an RSPB reserve in The Flow Country, an enormous swathe of peatland stretching across a huge chunk of the north of Scotland.

The remote observatory tower we were meeting peat scientists from the University and Highlands and Islands to interview also just happened to possibly be one of the furthest points in the country away from an electric vehicle charging point.

After a minor detour to top up our battery to full at Thurso, I put my foot down to take us on a one-way trip across the peatlands via Forsinard to our final destination of the day, our hotel in Helmsdale.

Kieran and Pip get charge anxiety

What else could go wrong, we thought, as we turned down the single-track, passing place road towards the peatlands and saw a ROAD AHEAD CLOSED sign.

With good old battery anxiety back in play, we decided to persevere regardless, after seeing a delivery van coming the other way.

After our interviews at Forsinard, we noted our 75% charge and pushed on, and were pleasantly surprised to find that after a good few miles of sheep, moors, lochs, and more sheep, Helmsdale suddenly appeared before us, and once again we managed to plug in without going dead.

Rural Scotland needs more EV infrastructure

It’s a very interesting experience driving an electric vehicle on long journeys in rural Scotland.

It helps you to truly appreciate that right now, the electric vehicle revolution is just not there for those who aren’t city slickers who only take shorter journeys, as the infrastructure is just not there for huge geographic regions of Scotland.

It wasn’t all going to be sunbeams and smiles for Pip and Kieran.

The best way to think of taking an electric vehicle across the north of Scotland is to think of yourself as an explorer, navigating huge swathes of desert with only a few scattered oases to parch your thirst.

Except you have no idea if the oasis you arrive at will actually work, or be able to give you enough water for your camels in time.

Luckily for Pip and I, all of the chargers we’ve arrived at, despite our phone app telling us most of them are broken, have worked just fine, even if they did require a bit of the old switch-it-off-and-on-again before they cooperated with our van.

I keep calling it our van, and realise that although it’s a rental, we’ve still not got a name for it. That will have to change.

If you’ve got any ideas (anything but “Sparky, please”), go ahead and email me on and we’ll see if it sticks.