Will we or won’t we get our car back today? Finding out is an effort in itself as there is no phone signal for ten miles and we have to resort to using the telephone box for which the minimum charge per call is 60p. I am sure it was 2d last time I used one. At 11.00 we are to ring back at 3.30. We decide to be optimistic, pack up the van ready to hitch up and start to head for Skye in the courtesy car, intended to ring as soon as we have signal and turning round if our car is not finished. So we head over the bridge to Skye for the third and in this case unscheduled, time. We top the courtesy car up with petrol. Strangely, the more petrol we put in, the lower the petrol gauge seems to go. Confident that we must have returned the contents of the tank to the required level, notwithstanding what the gauge suggests, we seek an opportunity to contact the garage. Unfortunately phone signal and potential passing places do not coincide. As soon as we spot a signal indicating bar appearing on the phone screen we pull in to a turning, as the road is too narrow just to pull up. Immediately we do so the bar flickers and disappears. This happens several times before finally signal and parking opportunity coincide and we are told we can collect the car in an hour and a half’s time, at 5.30. At this point we realise that we really should have eaten our main meal in the middle of the day. We use the spare time before car collection to acquire some very good fish and chips from Portree harbour, highly recommended. It is raining, what a surprise, so we have to eat these in the car. This means that we have to continue our journey with all the windows open in an attempt to alleviate the smell of fish and chips.
We find the garage and there is our beloved car minus its wheels. Correction, it is Chris’ car. When I see the size of the repair bill it is most definitely Chris’ car. Wheels affixed, we set off, hoping to get to Grantown-on-Spey tonight, some 150 miles away from the garage on Skye. We make good time back across Skye to the caravan site. Van attached and we feel our holiday is back on track. Five miles up the road and the car begins to sound like a jumbo jet, there is also a rather alarming smell of burning paint. Admitting defeat we limp back to the site we have just vacated and settle in for the night.
The next day we return to the phone box for another call to the recovery services. Whatever is wrong seems unrelated to the previous problem and we are told the car will get us home. Ok, I’ll admit, there was no mention of when. I am not clear on the nature of the problem in technical terms – something to do with thrusts or turbos. In practical terms our top speed is 50mph and that’s going downhill, uphill is a very noisy 30mph. This is the highlands of Scotland. The clue is probably in ‘high’; there are a lot of hills. Chris is convinced that it is ‘all downhill’ on the way home; I am sceptical. We have 642 miles to go and Bank Holiday traffic is looming, deep joy.
We begin the journey home as soon as we can, at midday. The weather is that typical Scottish combination of beautiful sunshine one minute and rain the next, although this is probably the best weather we’ve seen for a fortnight – inevitable really. We nurse the car southward, including along past Loch Lomond on a route that we have not traversed previously. After 150 miles and 4½ hours of annoying the traffic behind us we reach our first dual carriageway. We arrive in Glasgow for rush hour. Signs warn us that progress will be slow for seven miles, or in our case four hundred and seventy seven miles. Our not recently updated satnav doesn’t recognise this bit of road. We decide to ignore her instruction to ‘turn around where possible’ in the middle of the M74. We finally give up at Carlisle but at least we are back in England and the site has a television signal so we can watch Who Do You Think You Are?
An early start the next day as we still have 375 miles to go and the sooner we reach the south west peninsula the more likely we are to miss the worst of the weekend get-away traffic. The weather is glorious – no comment. Now we have motorway we can manage a steady 50mph, when the road works, traffic jams and accidents allow. On spotting a caravan that has come adrift from its towing vehicle on the M6, fortunately it seems without injuries, we realise that we could be worse off. In fact looking at the traffic heading north, which is solid from Manchester to Tewkesbury, we could be a great deal worse off. Getting through Bristol, eight hours in to our journey and during the rush hour build up is time consuming. Beyond Bristol things improve for us but there are clearly still serious north bound delays. At last we are thirty miles from home and the end is in sight when we see the dreaded ‘road closed due to accident diversions are in place’. Said diversion was up a narrow (narrowish – our caravan passed another going in the opposite direction without mishap) road and our convoy is being led by someone who has clearly never driven on anything more slender than a motorway. Their response to being on a road with only four foot on either side of their vehicle is to drive at twenty miles an hour; at least we are no longer getting the blame for impeding the flow of traffic. This diversion puts another hour on what has already been a ten hour journey. I reflect that, in the past, ten hours to travel the length of England, without getting wet or saddle sore, would have seemed like a dream; sadly though I have twenty first century expectations. At least I am compensated for the debacle and missing what promised to be some of the ‘best bits’ of the holiday by the fact that half my family are waiting to greet me at home. I have gate crashed their time in Devon but at least I can enjoy being a Granny.